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Declare Financial Independence Day

With the Fourth of July upon us, it’s time to think about financial independence, too.

Sadly, many Americans are beginning to wonder if that’s attainable. In a study conducted late last year by LearnVest and Chase Blueprint, only 43% of respondents believe that achieving the American dream is possible.

What is the American Dream? That’s difficult to define, but approximately 80% of respondents said it included owning a home. Roughly half said it involved attending college, getting married or having children.

Here are three tips to help you reach financial independence and achieve your American Dream:

Create specific goals: We all know we are supposed to save and invest. But for what? What do you (and your family, if you have one) need for the future? And what do you want for the future? Perhaps you want to buy a home. Or maybe you are happy renting to avoid maintenance costs, property taxes and other expenses. If you have children, you may want to save for college. On the other hand, you might want to plan for taking an exotic vacation every year after you turn 50. Only by clearly picturing your goals can you even begin to save enough money for them. Money Management International has an excellent online worksheet.

Measure your progress toward your goals: Once you’ve identified your goals, now comes the challenging part. How much do you need to save, invest and earn to reach them? If you want to buy a home, for example, you need an idea of your desired location so you can monitor home prices. (See U.S.A Today’s list of best real estate research sites.) You also need to know approximately how much money you will need as a down payment (based on your credit history and other factors), and how much your outlays will be for a mortgage, insurance, maintenance and other expenses. While educating yourself about all your goals might seem daunting, it’s been shown that the only way to truly achieve a financial goal is to know the details as precisely as possible.

Make your money work for you: Working with a financial advisor, learn the tips and tricks to increase your savings and your rate of return on your investments. For example, set up automatic payroll deductions into savings and brokerage accounts to make saving foolproof. Also, lower your tax bill. Obviously, any contributions to your 401(k) come from your pre-tax income. But also consider investing in municipal bonds (paying tax-free interest), funneling money to a qualified college savings plan or opening a healthcare savings plan.