As a young professional I was earning a respectable income and living a pretty good life. I was a homeowner, while others rented, and traveled frequently with friends to beautiful beaches and foreign destinations. I was also successfully balancing a car loan, two student loans, and three credit cards funding my “good life”. While I didn’t have everything I wanted, I was living comfortably in debt, paying the minimum amounts each month – living paycheck to paycheck.
Preparing for a night on the town, I jumped in the car with friends and came across an ATM receipt in the passenger seat where the checking account balance just exceeded $15,000. I was in awe that someone had that kind of cash at their disposal. At that time, my checking account balance rarely exceeded one paycheck (with the exceptions being that once a year tax refund or that third monthly paycheck that sneaks in twice a year). That one ATM receipt shifted my perspective of money management, not based on the balance alone, but also because that receipt belonged to my peer – someone I never perceived to be in a better financial position.
I was always told to live beneath my means, but this was the first time I was able to visually connect its practical application. The idea of having thousands of dollars in MY bank account now seemed more attainable. I was intrigued, inspired and motivated to understand and experience that kind of cash cushion – that kind of financial freedom. With this new perspective, the very next day, I took a long hard look at my financial life.
I looked first at my spending habits and saw a lot of waste. I cut luxury expenses like magazine subscriptions and switched from everyday brand name products to their generics. I sought savings at every turn, including lowering rates on recurring bills like auto insurance and cellphone coverage. Finally, I began to take every extra dime from those savings to aggressively reduce my consumer debt. Consistency was the key. With the exception of my mortgage, within 22 months, I was debt free and in a position to save and invest more of my income.
I soon defined financial freedom as the ability to comfortably meet my needs, the choice to enjoy luxuries guilt-free and the option to give generously to causes I felt passionate about or to individuals in need without the expectation of repayment. Today, I am achieving these milestones, living debt-free, and pushing toward greater levels of financial freedom which include sharing lessons learned with plans to pass on the wealth I’m building to future generations.
I want to hear from you. What’s your definition of financial freedom? Are you there yet?