Dr. Lakisha Simmons, an author and single mother of two children, saved $750,000 in four years and is on the road to be a millionaire by the end of 2022. However, this wasn't always her reality. The Nashville, Tennessee resident once described herself as "house poor."
Growing up, Simmons followed the "American Dream" path until she realized it wasn't the dream it was sold to be. "I was doing all the things that you're taught you're supposed to do: Go to college, get a good job, a nice car, house, get married, and have kids," she told xoNecole.
But that path led her to hit rock bottom. After a divorce in 2016, her finances were being used to keep up with a lifestyle that no longer satisfied her and left her feeling depleted. "It was completely draining me," she said.
"My money was going into the house and utilities with $300 a month. The lawn care was $150 every two weeks. I'll never forget. I was in this huge house that was supposed to be a happy home, yet I was broken and cried my way into the new year in 2017."
After hitting rock bottom, she knew there was nowhere left to go but up. She started asking herself questions about her finances such as: What can I do to grow my money? What can I do to be financially independent?
After being honest with herself and researching, she discovered a solution that would change the trajectory of her life: the FIRE Movement, which is an acronym for Financial Independence Retire Early.
Courtesy of Lakisha Simmons
For adopters of the FIRE Movement lifestyle, the intention is to save and invest in extreme amounts over a short period of time with the goal being to retire early as a result. Lakisha explained:
"I focused on the idea of financial independence by saving up 25 times my annual living expenses and I will live off of 4% of that lump sum."
Simmons is now teaching people through courses and workbooks about her financial freedom journey and how the FIRE Movement put her on a path to becoming a millionaire.
"I've consistently invested 60% of my income and proceeds from my workbook to help women learn how to skills to make themselves more marketable in The Unlikely AchieveHer. Not having to 'work' to pay my bills and live a comfortable lifestyle is a stress-free way to live so it isn't difficult for me to cut back on some luxury items here and there in order to invest more money. I have more choices on how I spend my time and that's what life is all about," she added.
If you're ready to level up your finances in 2021 and expand your mind to what is financially possible for you, then here are the steps Simmons recommends.
1. Reduce Your Expenses
Courtesy of Lakisha Simmons
One of the first steps Simmons took was selling her home. Even though the appearance of it was nice, she knew she no longer needed it for where she wanted to go. This decision allowed her to save $12,600 a year, according to Business Insider. To slash your expenses, you should look at where your money is going line by line in your budget, and identify areas you can cut back on.
- Cut your grocery bills by considering Aldi (gluten-free, organic, and fresh produce options available).
- Cut your phone bill by switching to Mint Mobile - plans start at just $15 a month. Simmons says she's been a customer for years.
- Shop around for auto and home insurance every two years.
- Don't be afraid to downsize, don't be ashamed.
Ask yourself what you truly value, and determine the expenses holding you back that can go. No need to keep up with Joneses!
2. Invest. Invest. Invest.
Simmons highly encouraged women at any age to start investing. "It's not as scary as it seems," she said.
Adding, that a common fear she noticed was that people believed they would "lose all their money in the stock market." She explained that you should calculate your risk in the stock market and allow your money to sit, grow, and mature.
"We're going to plant a seed out of our 401k this year, and in five years, seven years, 10 years, that seed will be fully grown in blossom and harvest into a nice lump sum."
If your employer doesn't contribute to your 401k, she went on to explain what it's still important to contribute:
- Your contributions are tax-deferred which means you get to invest the money pretax. That actually allows you to save money that isn't taxed and lowers your taxable income on your paycheck.
- Compound interest is your friend. Over the years, the stock market's compound interest is working for you growing your money even if you stop contributing new funds.
3. Maximize Your Retirement Accounts
Courtesy of Lakisha Simmons
One of the main challenges Simmons sees among women is that they are not taking advantage of their tax-deferred retirement account at work.
"That's how I built most of my wealth," she said. She noted that she has a 457(b) through her employers. A 457(b) plan is an employer-sponsored, tax-favored retirement savings account. With 457(b) plans, you contribute pre-tax dollars, which won't be taxed until you withdraw the money.
"The benefit of the 457 is as soon as you leave that workplace, you can start accessing that money. So it's perfect for people in the FIRE Movement because I'm planning to retire early. I can go ahead and start using my 457 as soon as I decide."
One of the biggest challenges she had to overcome was her mindset and belief that she could do it. She encourages women to find community. Simmons offers a free Facebook group people can join and courses and coaching opportunities for people ready to dive in.
Looking back on her financial journey, she can't believe how far she's come, and if she could tell her younger self anything, it would be to be fearless.
"I would tell her to be fearless, set a stretch goal for yourself. Because anything that you put out in the atmosphere that you want, you can have it as long as you believe you can have it," she said.
For more of Lakisha, check out her website.
Featured image courtesy of Lakisha Simmons