At the outset of a new year, it is natural to consider what can be done to improve your financial situation. Building a strong financial foundation can help you prepare for financial freedom down the road. Chances are that you may not be able to achieve financial freedom in one year. However, it is possible to work on getting certain aspects of your finances in better shape during 2011, and moving on to others. Achieving financial freedom is a journey. Here are 5 tips that can help you build a strong financial foundation for the future:

Photo: Paul Goyette

1. Find Ways to Earn More

One of the keys to strong finances is earning more than you spend. You should rein in your spending, true, but you should also look for ways to boost your income. This doesn’t mean that you take a second job and never see your family. It means that you look for ways to build alternative income streams. Web sites, a side business, or royalties can be good ways to earn alternative income.

2. Avoid Debt when Possible

When you have debt, you are paying someone else interest. This is money that goes straight toward enriching someone else, rather than yourself. Avoid debt where you can, being picky about what you will go into debt for, as well as borrowing as little as possible. You don’t need to borrow $15,000 for a car when the $8,000 car is perfectly adequate. Save up for a down payment when you can.

If you already have debt, pay it down as quickly as possible. Make a plan to get rid of your debt — especially credit card debt which is expensive and can be devastating.

3. Invest in the Future

Be prepared for the future by saving up. Have an emergency fund, and save for retirement. Adjust your budget (or spending plan) so that saving is an important and prominent part. Proper preparation for the future can help you avoid running out of money during retirement, or being financially devastated by unforeseen money problems, including expenses and unemployment.

Properly diversified investments can help you achieve your long-term goals (especially for retirement). Consider your asset allocation, and consider prudent investments to help you get ahead.

4. Invest in Yourself

There are a number of ways that self-improvement can help you build a stronger financial foundation. Develop skills that can make you more marketable. This can help you increase your earning power. Additionally, you can take the time to educate yourself about money and how it works so that you make better decisions that can help you more efficiently put your money to work for you.

Don’t forget to take the time to enjoy yourself and develop affordable hobbies. You will enjoy better productivity, and possibly better health (saving money), if you take the time to eat well, get sufficient sleep, and develop talents and hobbies that can help you reduce stress and relax. This also includes developing healthy relationships with loved ones.

5. Charitable Giving

It may seem strange to consider that giving money away is part of a strong financial foundation, but it is. Many financial experts recommend that you give some money to charity, or to a church, or to some other good cause that you believe in. Charitable giving can also be a good way to strengthen your community and the economy, which benefits everyone.

Can you think of some other tips for building a strong financial foundation?