How to build financial wealth when starting from nothing

Everyone wants to be rich, but that can seem like a catch-22 if you are starting with very little or even nothing. You have heard the phrase “it takes money to make money” and think you’ll never be able to build significant wealth if you don’t already have some money to work with. But that isn’t quite true; there are some simple steps you can take to build not-so-insignificant wealth over time even when you don’t have a lot of spare change.

It’s important to remember that you have to start somewhere — even those who inherited large sums of money had parents or other relatives who built wealth somewhere along the line. While it can feel like you are behind, don’t compare yourself to others. Instead, focus on what you can control, which is your own financial situation. Once you get started, you may find it isn’t as difficult as you expected, and building wealth can be empowering. Here are some strategies to get you started.

Live Below Your Means

Living below your means is quite simple in concept. If you don’t live below your means, that means you are spending all (or nearly all) of the money you earn. In that case, you won’t have anything left over to start saving and investing. But living below your means is one way to start getting rich. “That means you have to have more money coming in, than going out,” said Brett Sohns, co-founder at LifeGoal Investments.

When you have more money coming in than going out, you can contribute more to your employer-sponsored retirement plan or Roth IRA. These plans are tax-advantaged, meaning that in addition to investing, you can also save on taxes.

Set Up a Budget and Financial Plan

This may not be the first time you’ve heard you should set up a budget, and that’s because it just works. When you first start budgeting, it can be a discovery process because you may not know where your money is going until you see it laid out in front of you. On an ongoing basis, a budget can hold you accountable for using your money the right way.

The reason a budget is so powerful is because it doesn’t do just one thing. “Creating a budget and financial plan can help you save more money, understand your financial goals, and pay off debt faster,” Sohns said.

A financial plan is the next step; it should contain both short-term and long-term goals for everything you want to achieve financially. That can include paying off debt, increasing your income and investing. The idea is to make the steps challenging but achievable so you push yourself without setting yourself up for failure. The latter can make you discouraged and cause you to give up on your goals, which of course is something you want to avoid.

Live Frugally

Living frugally goes hand-in-hand with budgeting, but they aren’t quite the same. Whereas a budget may lead to saying “no” to that invite to go out with friends or to something you want to buy on Amazon, living frugally is more about being creative. “Live frugally by purchasing pre-owned items when needed rather than buying new,” Sohns said.

You can also opt to repair something that is broken or damaged instead of replacing it or pick up an item from a local Buy Nothing Group. As you can see, the point in living frugally is not to deny yourself the ability to have something; instead, it’s to find ways to make those things cheap, if not free.

Increase Your Income

So far, we’ve covered budgeting and living frugally. While these things can be powerful, there is a limit to how much anyone can scrimp and save. At a certain point, you may find you must increase your income, especially if you want to reach your wealth goals more quickly.

There are lots of ways to increase your income, from asking for a raise to finding a new, higher-paying job. “Make an effort to network so you can get a new position with a higher salary, or to exceed expectations at work so you can get a raise,” said Kelan Kline, co-owner of the personal finance blog The Savvy Couple.

Invest Your Money

If you want to get rich from nothing, investing is a must. After you increase your income and cut expenses, investing will put your money to work for you. Compounding interest allows it to grow much more quickly than simply accumulating money in a checking account.

And yet, there isn’t just one way to invest. Certain speculative investments such as gold and especially cryptocurrency have picked up steam in the past few years. However, the experts who have your best interest in mind recommend investing most of your money in time-tested assets, such as stocks and real estate. “The first step to building wealth is to evaluate your financial goals, develop a long-term plan, and focus on building a well-balanced portfolio, so all your eggs are not in one basket,” said Sachin Jhangiani, co-founder and CMO of Elevate.Money.

Jhangiani puts an emphasis on real estate because it is one of the most effective ways for the wealthy to preserve wealth — and build more of it. “Real estate has many benefits, such as being backed by a real asset and having less volatility than the stock market or cryptocurrencies,” Jhangiani said. He also highlights the numerous benefits real estate investing has in today’s economy. “It also provides the potential to earn passive income, the potential for the property to go up in value over time, and it’s proven to be a good hedge against inflation which could be helpful in today’s environment.”

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