When you think of “The American Dream”, what comes to mind? Is it owning a house with a white picket fence? Is it being able to practice your religion without government persecution? Whatever your definition, it all boils down to freedom. And for me, financial independence is the key.
Is there anything in this world more desirable than freedom? Wars have been fought and people have died to get a taste of it. Freedom means being able to do what you want, when you want, for how long you want. Nothing holding you back. Not the government, not your parents, and especially not your money.
Unfortunately, money is one of the biggest obstacles that people have between them and freedom. That’s what makes personal finance so important. The essence of freedom is within your reach if you just put in the work and sacrifice a bit to get there. If you want to be free, get rich.
What is Financial Independence?
Everybody has their own definition of FI, and there’s new fad variations every day. SlowFI, CoastFI, BaristaFI are a few examples–yes, these are all real. Tons of dopey names that all say the same thing. You need to have enough money to do what you want.
Financial independence is freedom from worrying about money. It means having enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life. For some, this will take $5 million. For others, $500,000 is enough to retire at 30. The number will be different for everyone.
Do what is right for you. Use resources like this calculator to see what your FI number might look like.
“What do you mean freedom? I was born in the good ole U.S. of A. I put ranch dressing on my eggs in the morning. Can’t be anymore free than that!” says guy waving the American flag in a speedo two sizes too small.
How little you know, sir. Living in the United States–or any other developed country for that matter–certainly provides many freedoms that we take for granted. There are also many more to be had.
Freedom of Employment
For many, the biggest reason to be financially independent is to have freedom of employment.
Most people think of retirement, but that isn’t the only outcome. Freedom of employment means being able to work wherever you want. Or it can mean not working at all. It’s completely your choice.
How many times have you been interested by a job description, but you changed your mind when you saw the salary? Well, no more. When you’re financially independent, salary doesn’t matter anymore. You already have enough money to live for the rest of your life. After that, money isn’t even on the radar.
I’ve always loved the idea of starting my own distillery. Whiskey is such a fascinating subject to me, and I would love to learn how to make and sell my own. My biggest obstacle is the money. Aside from the startup costs, I would also have to learn how to distill properly.
As an apprentice distiller, I might find a job for $12 an hour. If I worked my way up to master distiller, I might pull in $40,000 a year–less than half of what I make now. So instead of chasing my dream of making drams, I’m taking the safe route.
Until I become financially independent, my focus is on saving and making money.
Maybe you want to work at an animal shelter or become a personal trainer. Maybe you just want to sit at home all day playing video games and eating cheetos. That’s completely fine, too. When you’re financially independent, you can spend your time doing whatever you like.
Which leads me to my next point…
Freedom of Experimentation
What if you don’t know what you want to do?
It sounds silly, but this is a common reason why retirees become depressed. They don’t know what to do anymore. The good news is you will have plenty of time to figure it out.
If you’ve been a construction worker your entire life–even though it’s not your “passion”–striving for financial independence should be your number one goal. With your money situation covered for life, you are free to try new things to find out what you do like. And try everything. Even things you didn’t think you would like. You might be surprised what strikes your fancy.
Let’s say that I quit my job to pursue my dream of being a master distiller. I worked hard and found a spot to hone my craft…but I end up hating it! What now?
If I didn’t have a good financial foundation, I would have to start over at square one. Doubtful that anyone would hire a financial analyst that quit their last job to make whiskey. I’d be screwed.
By being financially independent, I would be free to try something else. If I hated my whiskey job, I could take up beet farming or underwater basket weaving or anything else. When you have the money to live, you’re free to try anything and everything.
Freedom of Location
Being financially independent also means you get to live where you want.
Don’t like the area you’re in? Leave it. Always felt like travelling the world? Do it. When you have enough money to live for the rest of your life, you are free to live anywhere you want.
On my pursuit to being a whiskey distiller, I might want to start in Scotland. After all, scotch is my favorite variety of whiskey. If that doesn’t work out, maybe I go to Japan or Kentucky or Manitoba. When you’re financially independent, you are no longer constrained by geography. Feel free to move wherever you please!
Freedom is a spectrum; it’s not black and white. A person who is not a slave is not necessarily free. There are many more factors that play a part. One of those being money.
Money helps you to become free. It opens up doors and allows you to do things that are impossible without it. It’s true that there are things that money can not buy–happiness, love, trust, etc. It’s also true that there are a lot of things that money can buy. Save enough money and reach financial independence to move yourself closer to freedom.