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“I’m afraid I’ll lose money” is one of the most common complaints I hear about investing. I believe you can invest without fear. But I still struggle to deal with this fear on your behalf. I’ve learned, over the years, to become unafraid myself. I’ve benefited from the risks associated with investing and enjoy its rewards.

Still, I’ve come to realize that investing the mortgage payment (which I would never do) is much different than investing extra money, cash others may spend on clothes or coffee (I’ve spent more money on Starbucks shares than its food and drink).

So, I’ve developed stages of finance that you can move through to arrive at fearless and then fierce regarding your finances. You are free to invest at any time (I did!). But if you’re more concerned about loss than gain (most people are), then readying yourself and moving through these stages can help you get to where you want to go – on your own timeline.

Stage One: Focused

Here are signs you’re focused on your finances. Take care of these steps within this stage and you’ll build a strong financial foundation.

In this stage, you’ve got:

  • a checking account into which you put your paychecks and any earnings from businesses or freelance work
  • a savings account which holds funds for 1) unexpected expenses (like car repair bills), 2) money to support yourself between jobs if you happened to lose a job or major client and 3) major expenditures such as a down payment for a house
  • credit cards, which you pay off monthly or are working to eliminate within a specific time frame
  • appropriate insurance coverage, such as health insurance, auto insurance, renters or homeowners insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, etc.

On a regular basis, you

  • stash away money for non-monthly expenses, like annual insurance bills or property taxes, in your checking or savings accounts; or you make enough money to pay these bills out of your regular earnings
  • check your credit score offered by credit reporting agencies or credit card companies
  • give to charity or support the needs of friends and family
  • make sure any debt payoff is proceeding according to your schedule; you know your balances, terms, and interest rates

Being in this stage means you’re aware of how financial products work and how to use them wisely.

Stage Two: Fearless

Here are signs that you’re becoming fearless. You’ve set up your banking accounts and stay on top of your obligations, whether monthly, yearly, or long term.

In this stage, you are:

  • knowledgeable about the employee benefits offered to you, such as insurance coverage and stock options; or you’ve created your own benefits as a business owner or freelancer
  • setting aside money in a retirement account, such as a 401(k), 403(b), or IRA
  • thinking of ways to save on taxes, either now or in the future
  • budgeting your charitable giving

You may have opened and funded a:

  • Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA)
  • 529 plan to save for your college or your children’s college expenses

Further, if you buy a home with a loan, you get a mortgage at a competitive rate and payment that leaves you with plenty of extra money for spending, saving, giving, and investing.

Being in this stage means you’re thriving financially and prepared for the future. It also means that you are investing (in a retirement, health, or college savings plan), even if you don’t yet feel like an investor.

Stage Three: Fierce

Now, you’re moving beyond investing for specific goals into investing to build wealth and become financially fierce.

In this stage, you have opened accounts, such as:

  • a regular brokerage account, outside of your retirement and college savings accounts
  • a managed portfolio
  • a donor-advised fund or similar fund for charitable giving

You are investing in one or more of the following:

  • individual stocks of companies you admire and believe will generate strong profits in the future
  • personal or commercial real estate
  • a business in which you’re not directly involved

When you make a big purchase, such as a car, boat, luxury vacation, or wedding, you pay cash.

You’re now planning for these activities:

  • this year’s and subsequent years’ federal and state income taxes
  • post-work/retirement
  • next business
  • leaving your legacy

Being in this stage means you’re in control of your finances and becoming a confident investor.

Do these stages describe your situation?