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In some ways, feeling “rich” is less about how many zeros you have in your bank account and more about knowing how to use them to get what you want out of life.
For author and certified financial planner Tom Carley, the rich feel comes from having an Irish pub-style structure in his New Jersey backyard that allows him to invite friends over for outdoor drinks. For Liz Gendreau, founder of the website Chief Mom Officer, that feeling takes advantage of free, fun activities like visiting local state parks in her home state of Connecticut. And Andy Wren, a financial advisor in Raleigh, North Carolina, finds that feeling when he climbs into his RV and goes on a road trip.
“Wealth comes from having small, clear financial goals that you’re working toward,” says Megan McCoy, assistant professor of personal financial planning at Kansas State University. Those goals can be something as specific as paying off student loan debt, buying a house, or building a backyard.
We asked financial experts to share their tips on how to get rich today, given the current level of financial uncertainty and stress. Here are their top tips:
Reflect on what you value
Gendreau knows that cars aren’t important to him, but family time is. So instead of spending money on a new car, she puts her money into family activities. They stretch their budget by taking advantage of free museum passes, local libraries, and free state parks.
“It’s not really spending a lot of money but it’s all about finding fun things that bring a lot of joy and happiness,” she says. Indulging in such adventures makes her feel rich, even if they are not expensive.
Carley, author of “Rich Habits,” calls that strategy “value-based spending.” He encourages people to think about what really matters, whether it’s traveling or spending time with friends and family, and to focus on directing money toward those areas instead of material goods that don’t bring much happiness.
Choose healthy patterns
That happiness-focused approach also helps with feelings of financial envy. “If you don’t have value-based spending, you can fall prey to comparing yourself to others and lifestyle creep,” warns Carley, which means spending grows along with income.
When we’re constantly comparing ourselves to rich neighbors or influencers on Instagram, it’s easy to become dissatisfied, says McCoy. “We need healthy comparisons. Is there someone else you can compare to, like your ex or your aunt, who worked so hard to get the retirement of her dreams?”
Gendreau suggests hiding posts on social media from people who inspire feelings of jealousy or put your own spin on them. “If I see a lot of fun at a fancy place that’s out of my budget, I might think, ‘Can I do something similar for less? Should I go to a nice beach place or can I go somewhere close by?’ I don’t need to go to the Caribbean to have fun on the beach.
Read: Do you have financial envy? Don’t be fooled by the money mirage of social networks.
Build resilience with savings
“You’re going to make mistakes,” says Heath Carelock, a financial advisor and coach based in Prince George’s County, Maryland. To move past them, it’s important to forgive yourself and build a financial cushion, she says. When he started out in the working world, he did what he called the “1-2-3-4-5” challenge: he saved $123.45 every paycheck.
“Watching your money accumulate is a key way to double resilience,” he says. Then, if you are faced with a sudden unexpected expense, you have a financial cushion to protect yourself, which creates a feeling of “wealth” or comfort.
“People feel more relaxed if they have emergency savings so they know they can pay any bills they need each month,” Wren says. Even having a month or two’s worth of expenses gives an inescapable feeling of financial well-being, he says.
See also: 8 simple rules to increase wealth at any age
Create a budget and pay off debt
“If you’re not tracking where your money is going, you’re going to feel financially insecure because you’re always worrying, ‘Where is my money going?'” says Gendreau. He suggests using a budget to track your spending, especially given the current level of inflation.
Debt can keep people from following their dreams, Carelock says, because instead of putting money toward starting a new business or taking a vacation, you’re putting it towards paying off debt. “If it’s not a dream killer, it’s a dream delayer,” he says. Using an online calculator can help you make a plan to pay off your debt.
Also read: This couple traded their house for an RV and paid off a $200,000 loan — and then the money started rolling in.
Celebrate your progress
When McCoy finally paid off his six-figure student loan debt, he celebrated the first repayment-free payment. But instead, he says, it would have been better if he had celebrated his progress along the way.
“I only had a moment of happiness, which quickly faded. If I could do it, I would celebrate every $10,000 I paid – then I could celebrate 10 times over.
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Kimberly Palmer writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Kimberlipalmer.