In order to achieve true freedom and happiness you need to be financially free, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this, right? But the big question is “How to Achieve Financial Freedom?”
But what does that mean to you?
Unless you know what it means to you NOW you can’t know how to achieve financial freedom in the foreseeable future and stay financially free for life. Yet most people when asked this question will give answers like:
“Having a million in the bank”
“Earning 100,000 a year”
“Not having to work again”
And nobody can say that these aren’t the right answer for someone. But is it the right answer for you?
What Does “Financial Freedom” Look Like?
Somebody who has absolutely no money and no income might consider themselves financially free if they can keep a roof over their head and grow enough food to feed them and their family either day by day or for life.
Somebody who earns 100,000 of whatever currency isn’t financially free if they spend 100,010. Or, they might be if they also have enough money in the bank to make the difference for the rest of their lives (and how long is that?).
And in my time as a wealth manager I met a lot of people who’d sold a business, inherited money or won the lottery. And most had more than a million in the bank. But if they wanted a million in the bank to give them 100,000 a year for the rest of their lives it wasn’t going to happen (unless they were 90+ years old).
Equally, someone who loves the work or business they do might consider themselves financially free if they earn more than they spend and plan to work until they drop (but what then?).
I hope you see where I’m going with this!
If it helps put it in perspective, my personal idea of financial freedom is to be debt-free and have sufficient passive income (or income I can earn from anywhere in the world) to enable me to live the life I want, following my passion for kitesurfing and travelling.
So what I’m going to hopefully show you in this article is how to work out what financial freedom is to you and the first 4 steps to achieving that financial freedom and keeping it.
In my research for this article I came across people talking about 4 steps (which I liked – obviously) and 7 steps…..all the way up to 21 steps. But let’s get real! who can remember the last 21 steps they took, never mind plan the next 21?
These 4 steps are possible for anyone and are the starting point which will lead you to many more, depending on where you are now, where you want to be and how you decide to get there.
This is absolutely vital! And possibly the hardest step. But the good news is it costs nothing apart from honesty with yourself.
If you don’t get your mind around why you want this and what you need to do to achieve it, you won’t ever get there. Because, depending on the starting point i.e. how near or far you are from financial freedom, there will probably be some difficult changes to make.
But if your definition of financial freedom is truly what it means to you and you can visualise it, then the seemingly difficult things you’re going to have to address, and the changes you will need to make, will become a lot easier.
A bit like climbing a mountain. If all you see in front of you is an uphill slog, then each step is just mind-numbingly tiring. But if you can visualise a fantastic vista and overwhelming sense of achievement at getting to the summit, then each of those steps is just a small task on the way to the summit.
I’m not preaching here….I’ve been through it. Great job, nice cars, great holidays, what I thought of as prestige.
And then it all came crashing down and I had to decide if any of those things were important. To change my outlook and work out how to get my life back.
And it didn’t happen overnight or even in a few years. Because for a long time I was the ostrich, working 80+ hours a week to stand still and not even considering financial freedom, but thinking, in my ostrich way that it would get better. Until I gave myself a big kick in the ass and realised I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life. I needed a plan to get out of the rut. And now I’m well on my way to achieving my financial freedom and getting my life back.
DON’T BE AN OSTRICH!
Einstein said “The true definition of madness is to keep repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome”. And I think we’d all agree that he was a pretty clever guy!
But how many of us (myself included until I decided to do something about it) do just that – repeating the daily chore of working like dogs in the hope that something good will just happen?
Don’t get me wrong – there will most likely be hard work involved – but it will have a purpose and will be focused on achieving your goal of financial freedom. And that feels rewarding.
At this point it’s massively important to re-assess what is important. We’re all guilty of amassing things. A house that we maybe can’t afford, cars, televisions, the latest gadgets, expensive fashion that we’ll wear once and then cram in the wardrobe – possessions that we don’t need but that make us feel good for a short period of time. It’s one of the drugs of modern day life. A brief high then nothing apart from the cost.
And often (as it was for me) the true cost of that obsession with material status symbols is that you spend all your days working long hours at the expense of the truly important things, family, friends, and just enjoying life’s experiences. And when you’re not working to pay for it you’re probably too stressed to enjoy life anyway.
Does this strike a chord?
So step 1 is to decide what is truly important. That you are prepared to do everything you need to achieve it. And to visualise what it will feel like when you get there.
Feel Good About Yourself – No matter how far down you are financially, you’ve just taken a massive step to make it right. That sets you apart from 96% of the population. So find the good things about yourself – your experiences are a good place to start. You can turn them to your advantage and help others at the same time.
You have skills, knowledge, and the ability to learn new ones. So take time to consider these and how you can put them to work.
Give Yourself Time – This isn’t going to happen overnight. So set yourself a realistic plan that you are going to achieve your goal by a certain time. And break that down into smaller goals. That way you can reward yourself along the way.
And don’t be a loner in this – Bring the people who are important to you in on it. Because without their support you can’t do it. But if they share your vision you’ll have the support you need to get there.
I’ve written a separate article “Free Your Mind” that describes what is working for me.
Step 2 – Spend Less Than You Earn
– Now for a lot of us this is the most painful step. Because it means facing the reality we’ve been hiding from.
-But you can’t get to where you want to be if you don’t know where you’re starting from.
-So write it down. Work out all your costs, and if you have a partner, theirs too. Include everything right down to the smallest amount.
-Put down the non-discretionary costs first – the ones you have to pay. Then the discretionary ones – those that you could do without if necessary.
-And be brutally honest.
-But factor in that you have to have a life – It might be a tough journey so you need to have time to reward yourself along the way. And pay yourself first. That bit is your reward and the rest is what you have to work with.
-Now write down your current income, and your partner’s.
-If the income is less than the costs don’t despair – it’s part of the process and believe me there is hope. If there’s a surplus great!
-Next you need to go back to the costs and start reducing them. Again you need to be brutally honest, because if there isn’t sufficient (or any) surplus then you can’t ever achieve your aim of financial freedom. So re-assess whether those “non-discretionary” costs are truly fixed in stone.
-It’s amazing how, when you write it down like this you can find significant savings by getting rid or reducing payments that simply go out every month. Start with the small ones – they add up. Re-negotiate utility costs, insurance premiums, credit card payments ( a whole subject on it’s own).
-Consider everything. It might hurt your pride to get rid of the status symbols but ask yourself whether you want to be a pauper in fine clothes, car and home, or a rich person in last year’s clothes and with less of the material possessions that mean nothing in the long run.
-Sell stuff you don’t need – eBay is a great place to do this and it’s surprising how addictive it can be once you start de-cluttering and seeing money come in. Try not to be sentimental about stuff that you haven’t touched
-for years. Remember the vision of financial freedom and focus on what you are achieving.
-Consider whether you can get cash out of old savings plans, insurance policies or even pensions. They might have been there for the future, but you can’t have a secure future if the present is unsustainable.
Earn more than you spend – A much more positive way to look at this! But once you know where you are you’ll be motivated to do what you need to. Still carry out all the cost-cutting, because that’s the reality now. But if you can earn more by working harder or smarter, negotiating a pay rise, re-training or getting a “side income” then it’s going to make the path to financial freedom shorter.
This is the hardest part of the process, but once you’ve got clarity you can start moving forward with a plan.
Step 3 – Eliminate Debt
It’s no surprise that the single most common cause of financial hardship in the developed world is credit card debt.
If this represents any part of your outgoings then that’s the first thing you need to start reducing at all costs. Start small if necessary and if it’s not already out of control. Use the savings you’ve made to increase the monthly payments to more than the minimum.
– Use whatever you can make extra from selling stuff or earning a bit more. And set yourself a target that you’ll pay XYZ card off within a do-able time frame.
-Look at switching expensive credit to cheaper introductory offers from other card companies.
-Maybe negotiate a fixed term personal loan to pay them off completely in a period of time.
-And cut the cards up – don’t use them again – they’re toxic!!
-If you’ve got a mortgage, that’s probably the cheapest debt you’ve got but see if you can re-negotiate a cheaper deal. And use the savings to reduce the most expensive debt first and then the capital on the mortgage.
-You don’t necessarily have to eliminate the mortgage in a short period of time as long as it’s within your definition of financial freedom. But why not consider down-sizing? Remember what you’re aiming for here.
-Or here’s an idea – rent somewhere cheaper to live and put your current home on Air B’n’B or a similar service. Turn your biggest asset (apart from you) into an income.
-Finally, if the situation seems out of hand, don’t be ashamed to seek advice from debt counselling services. Most countries have free non-profit organisations that will help you assess where you’re at and negotiate with your creditors to reduce the debt and/or the payments to a manageable level. It’s not in the credit company’s interest to have bankrupt customers so you’ll be amazed at what can be done with the help of these organisations.
-Once you’ve started reducing your debt don’t use the savings to take out more. Sounds obvious! But it’s easy to be tempted when the car needs renewing. But better to buy a cheaper car from the money you’ve saved and stick to the goal. Remember that vision?
Step 4 – Build Passive Income
This is what it’s all about! Certainly for me anyway.
There are lots of ways to achieve passive income but essentially it’s income that continues without a huge amount of time commitment from you.
The simplest form is from capital invested, so this could read “build capital”.
But other ways include pension funds, property rental, or building an online business such as a website that produces income when readers click on your site and go to another where they purchase goods or services. otherwise known as “Affiliate Marketing”.
The ideal situation to aim for is multiple sources of passive income so that you’re not relying on one stream working all the time.
I’ve chosen initially to go down the route of affiliate marketing as it takes time now but very little capital, and as it builds up surplus income I’ll be investing that in other streams such as property and/or capital investments. But that’s just my plan – you need to decide what’s best for you.
Whatever route(s) you decide to take, you should start as soon as you’ve got your costs and income sorted out so that it has time to grow.
Your Journey to Financial Freedom Has Started!
This is pretty hard hitting stuff I know! But I’ve been through all these stages myself and I can assure you, if you follow the concepts I’ve outlined you’ll be well on your way to a better life, now and in the future.
Give yourself a pat on the back for doing what 96% of the population don’t want to face – taking the first steps.
And I would love to hear your thoughts, questions or comments, so please leave them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m happy to help in any way I can.