Financial Freedom. Now that’s a loaded topic. It can mean so many different things to different people. It can be the ability to travel and stay in the finest hotels. It can be the ability to travel while carrying everything you own in a backpack. It can be living in a penthouse in Manhattan after getting made partner at your law firm. Or, it can be living debt free in a ‘tiny home’ in northern Minnesota. Drive a Tesla or ride your bike, start a new business or retire early, the time to focus on your passions or the flexibility to focus on your family, buy an organic farm or simply afford organic at the local co-op – all of these can be forms of financial freedom. Suffice to say the personal significance of the phrase is often as unique as it is varied.
However, the problem with the idea of financial freedom isn’t that it is an unattainable ideal, it’s that we often idealize the unattainable. Worse, we idealize the photo-shopped images presented by the media and various celebrities. It’s all too easy to confuse what financial freedom would truly mean for us as an individual or a family unit with what that means to characters on the television screen, in magazines, or the people and brands you follow on Instagram. At the end of the day, the financial freedom we end up with, if at all, has nothing to do with us and everything to do with someone else, or worse, what someone else was selling.
Financial Freedom = More Money?
We often think the path to financial freedom consists of more money. If that was always true, most lottery winners wouldn’t be bankrupt within a few years of receiving their winnings. In their case, the short-term ability to consume more ultimately led to a more constrained existence. As they encountered, unbridled consumption can be just as restricting as a tight budget. Unfortunately, a similar story plays out for many professional athletes after their playing days are over. Once again, short-term desires win out over long-term freedoms.
That isn’t to say that financial freedom has nothing to do with money. It has plenty to do with money, just not the endless pursuit of it. Often, the more we make the more we spend because more money just means more things – a bigger house, a nicer car, or a larger lifestyle. However, the problem with the endless pursuit of more is that it never ends. Financial freedom, in contrast, is about the pursuit of enough and what that means in your specific case.
I have come to realize that financial freedom is such a loaded concept that it has for all practical purposes become relatively meaningless. However, I think it’s imperative that we take back this phrase and redefine it for ourselves. This way, we are not stuck listening to the cultural siren song that measures us by our relative consumption rather than our unique and soulful production (and by production I mean art, love, kindness, service, family-strengthening, community-building, passion-projects, and our work).
What is becoming clear to me is that financial freedom has more to do with our lifestyle than our income level. If we are pursuing a passion, it is the freedom to do so without excessively worrying about rent or debt payments. If we are starting a new business, it is the ability to stay afloat and focused during the initial growth stage. If we are looking for more time, it is the ability to unburden ourselves of nonessential tasks and distractions. It may even be as simple as developing more mindful and intentional spending habits – freeing us, so to speak, from unconscious consumption or ‘consumption brain‘ as I like to call it. However, at the end of the day, what matters is what financial freedom means to you.
Possibilities and Initial Steps
I don’t mean to imply that any of this will be easy – it will take a great deal of dedication, habit-building, and, possibly, some mental and emotional shifts. However, it is important that we realize that for many of us financial freedom is possible without a huge increase in income or a financial windfall. In other words, it’s not an ‘if/then’ equation. If I made ‘x’ amount of money then I would feel financially free. Rather, it’s something we can start reflecting upon and working toward today regardless of our starting point.
To begin our quest, an initial question for reflection:
What would your life look like if you were financially free?