I have been following financial social media accounts for years. There are great YouTube channels, Twitter accounts and finance blogs that teach you about the basics of finance and that can bring you excellent new investment ideas. However, as of late I noticed these channels increasingly gain more followers, use more clickbait and love to mention one specific topic more than ever before: Financial Freedom.
In a pursuit of financial freedom, I see a lot of people on social media focusing on dividend investing, growth investing, product flipping, affiliate marketing and a lot of other initiatives (hustling?) to try to achieve the magical end goal: passive income. Apparently, the definition most people assign to financial freedom is a life where you don’t have to do anything because the money automatically comes to you (and you no longer have to actively work for it).
But is that actually what financial freedom means? And how ‘SMART’ (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) is this goal for the average person? And most importantly: would you actually be satisfied if you were a product flipper or affiliate marketer for a living?
My Definition of Financial Freedom
Personally, I define financial freedom as a life where you are not restricted to do something you want because of money (you don’t have), or where you have to do something you do not like to do because of money (you need). By that definition, I achieved financial freedom just over two years ago.
Six years ago, I was temporarily living abroad and I was strapped for cash. I had to pick the activities I could do over a weekend, limiting my opportunities to enjoy my time in a foreign country. That is the moment where I realized that money was in control of my life and that I wanted to become financially free.
When I was back home I started a new job and a new life. I budgeted, saved, and invested. It took me four years to build an investment portfolio and a savings account that equaled twice my annual expenses. Continuing that trend, my portfolio and savings currently stand at just over three times my annual expenses.
My Freedom and My Options
You are probably thinking right now that I still have to work in order to sustain my current lifestyle, and you are absolutely right. The secret to my financial freedom is that I absolutely don’t mind doing that because I found a job that I absolutely love. The best part is that this job also enables me to save 50% of my income each month. This means that every year, excluding any investment returns, I save one additional full year of expenses. For every year I enjoy doing my job, I don’t have to work one later (if I ever wish to completely stop working, which I don’t want to at all).
This personal situation actually offers me a range of opportunities that I would define as financial freedom. If I would become very sick, I would not have to worry about money for the first three years, not taking into account any social benefits. If I would lose my job, there is social security to support me and I have enough savings to last until I find a new job that I love (or I can even start my own business). I can even decide to quit my job myself, start to work fewer days a week, or I can decide to move abroad, and start a new life again. The world is open for me to explore, and money is not a limiting factor. That is my definition of true financial freedom.
What About You?
You may be someone who is just reading this for fun, or you may be someone who is trying to achieve financial freedom yourself. Whatever your definition of financial freedom (or financial independence, which I would associate with a passive income that covers all expenses), I think the best thing to do is to start small. Here are some steps you can take to get started with your personal financial planning.
1. Define financial freedom for yourself
The first step would be to define financial freedom for yourself. The way I went around doing this was to ask myself the question: what do I want life to be?
Try to imagine that life for yourself. What would you need to get there, and more specifically, what financial resources would you require to live that life? That’s your end goal.
2. Break your financial end goal down in SMART goals
Your end goal ideally is SMART, so you can break it down into smaller SMART sub goals, which you can reach in shorter amounts of time. An example for the first year could be to save 20% of your income and to read a book about investing.
I believe leaving some room for error is important here, as it allows you to sometimes deviate from the path to do something spontaneous. This just happens in life and it should not make you worry about your financial goals. Carpe diem.
3. Build tools to track your progress
Use Excel or a Google Spreadsheet to build a model you can use to track your progress on, for example, a monthly basis. Think about monthly budgeting, investment planning (and tracking), or schedules to pay down your debt.
A fun way to motivate yourself to track your progress is to sometimes reward yourself. For example, when you did not overspend your budget in a month, buy something you like or plan a dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. This way your life improves both ways.
4. Act on change
The hardest part of setting ambitious goals and to act on them is that it is sometimes necessary to make changes in life. These changes can be hard or easy, but remember to always continue to do the things you love.
Keep in mind that saving money does not always save you money, depending on what you decide to spend less on. I once decided to stop my audiobook subscription, finding out that this was actually the source of a lot of inspiration for my work and investments. I started noticing that saving money on audiobooks actually cost me money (and joy) in the long-term.
“Saving money does not always save you money”BeursWolf
Something that can help you in making these decisions is to make a spouse, close friend, or a family member part of your plans. They will understand and support (or challenge) you when you need it the most.
5. Allow for change
Everyone who once made plans in their life knows they probably won’t stay the same, and that is fine. When your life changes, for better or for worse, absorb the change into your plans and move forward from there.
If you were following your plan, you should be resilient enough to get through a downturn without too many problems. If your life changes for the better, for example because you made a promotion, don’t be afraid to increase your living standards if that makes you happier, and change your plans accordingly.
The secret to financial freedom is that it is actually more attainable (on the short-term) and more fulfilling than most of the role models make you think. Financial independence may be a nice goal as well, but can you truly ever be financially independent? Remember that nothing in life is guaranteed, and some changes just cannot be predicted.
Thank you for reading this post, which I would like to fittingly end with a BeursWolf Quote.
“Money is in service of your life, your life is not in service of your money”BeursWolf