While the traditional definition of financial freedom is that you have enough in investments, savings, and passive income that you don’t have to ever work for money again, it can also mean that you reach a point where you don’t stress out about finances.
Unless you’re a bit eccentric and nerd out about numbers, you’d much rather spend time on just about anything else. But as many people continue to fret and feel overwhelmed about managing their money, how can you get to the point where you’re motivated to make it a priority?
Besides the havoc and stress that neglecting to manage your money undoubtedly creates, it boils down to having options. When you’re constantly cash-strapped, you might have to take a high-interest loan because you need the money in a pinch. (That’s debt you’ll be saddled with and will need to pay back down the line.) Or if you’re in between jobs and don’t have much of a cushion, you’re more inclined to take the next job that comes your way — even if it’s doing something you loathe.
Here are a few pointers on reaching financial freedom so that you can have more options in the areas that are most important to you:
Examine Your Financial Garden
Let’s start with a metaphor. In the workshops I give on financial wellness, I compare money to a resource, like water. And you need water to both maintain your house and your garden. In this metaphor, the house represents your recurring, monthly living expenses.
And your garden represents things you really value, and would like to spend more time “watering.” This could be anything from nice clothes to vacations, or more free time to spend on passion projects or with family.
If you’re too busy trying to maintain your home, and it’s constantly under the threat of running out of water, you’ll want to figure out what exactly is causing this water shortage. It could be that your bills exceed how much money you’re raking in. Or perhaps you’re spending too much in the wrong areas. Maybe you don’t have enough of an emergency cushion. From there, you can make changes to reach financial freedom.
Pinpoint the Culprit
Next, you’ll need to figure out the root of the problem. Why are you constantly stressing out about money? If you need to free up more money, focus on the big or easy saving wins. Big wins could be saving on major spending categories — food, housing, and transportation. You can net easy wins by saving on recurring subscriptions.
It also could be that you’re under earning. In that case, you may need to switch jobs, ask for a raise, or find ways to earn extra cash on the side in order to stress less about money.
Envision Financial Freedom
What exactly does financial freedom look like to you? Maybe it means not having to use your credit card to cover some of your bills each month. Or maybe it means having enough of an emergency savings so your world doesn’t crumble should you lose your job. It could also mean that you’ve reached a place where you don’t have to choose between saving for retirement or taking care of aging parents — you have the wherewithal to do both.
When my car hit the 10-year-mark, I decided I wanted to have the option of paying for my next car in cash. I didn’t want to be burdened with a large monthly car payment, nor pay a boatload in interest fees. So I figured out how much money I wanted to have saved by when, and auto-saved a minimum amount each month.
When I earned extra money from side hustles or freelancing gigs, I socked away a little more than the minimum. I held on to my car for another five years, and by the time it was time to go car shopping, I had enough to pay for most of the car. While I decided to finance part of it, I could stress out less about making sizable car payments each month.
That’s just one goal. Maybe you’d love a F— Off Fund so you can leave a job you hate, take a sabbatical to see the world or work on a personal project you’ve long been putting off.
Reverse Engineer Your Goals
Once you know what financial freedom looks like to you, you can home in on a game plan to help you stress less about money. For instance, when 33-year-old Garrett Philbin decided to embark on a seven-month road trip with his partner, he did some basic math. He figured out how much he needed to save to hit the runway with his goal. And within three months he purchased a used car, ramped up his savings, and made adjustments to his lifestyle to make it happen.
“To me, financial freedom isn’t about having millions of dollars in the bank,” says Philbin, who is the founder of Be Awesome Not Broke. “It’s about having the freedom and flexibility to travel. I’m able to take this trip while making less money than my friends and colleagues do.”
Financial freedom boils down to having freedom of choice. By taking a good, hard look at your numbers, and devising a step-by-step game plan, you can stress out less about your money situation.