Financial freedom means different things to different people, but it generally boils down to one or more of the following things:
- Having sufficient retirement savings
- Having the income to afford your desired lifestyle
- Being able to rely on investments or savings to cover most or all of your expenses
What this means in terms of dollar amounts might differ depending on your needs and the size of your household, but financial freedom is a goal that many Americans are actively working toward.
But becoming truly free financially requires discipline, and if it is a dream of yours to someday be able to quit your job for good, here are four practices you need to incorporate into your daily life.
Budgeting is the single most important money management tool available to you, and if you aren’t drawing up a weekly budget and strictly adhering to it, you’re never going to be fully free from financial worries.
It’s generally a good rule of thumb to pay less than a third of your income on rent, and to save at least 20% of every paycheque, but you may want to increase that to 30 or 40% if you are serious about early retirement.
2. Consolidate Your Debt
When it comes to achieving financial freedom, most Americans aren’t starting from zero: they’re starting from a position of significant debt.
According to CNBC, American consumer debt hit a record high of $14.3 trillion earlier this year, and for millions of Americans, simply not being in the red is a goal in-and-of itself.
The first thing anyone working toward financial freedom needs to do is get in touch with a certified Credit Counsellor from a non-profit credit counselling agency who can advise them on their options for consolidating their debt.
Consolidated debt is significantly easier to pay off, and will give you more financial room to maneuver (you can learn more about debt consolidation here if you think this might be a good option for you).
3. Invest for the Long Term
American pop culture is swimming in stories about savvy investors who can make a 10-to-1 profit off of their money by buying up stock in the next big thing before it starts taking off.
But the truth is that for ordinary people, an indexed mutual fund or other instrument that offers compound interest that will slowly but steadily increase in value over time is the much smarter bet. Expecting a huge return for your money in less than ten years is unrealistic, and investments that offer this kind of return are generally very risky.
4. Stick to Your Plan
The boring truth about financial freedom is that the people who attain it tend to be people who worked steadily toward their goal for years at a time, salting away their savings in smart investments and living below their means.
The money (and time) you invest in your twenties can pay huge dividends in your forties and fifties, so don’t be distracted by get-rich-quick schemes and short-term status-boosters. If you really want financial freedom, you need to be patient and play the long game.
Paying your debts as soon as possible, keeping your expenses low, and sticking with long-term investments will all be worth it when you get to spend the second half of your life on one long holiday.