What does financial freedom mean to you? For years I thought it was a certain dollar amount. And while I still have numbers tied to different levels of financial freedom, the concept of freedom means so much more to me.
As my husband and I achieved different levels of freedom over the years, I began to realize it wasn’t really about the money. It was more about the feeling.
We live in a society where money is the medium of exchange so I’m not saying that money isn’t important. We all need a certain level of income to be able to survive. Beyond survival, the more financial margin we have, the easier some areas of our lives become. But beyond a certain level, more money doesn’t make us happier.
For me, financial freedom is about money. It’s about living debt-free, saving and investing, building assets, and spending on things that bring us joy.
But financial freedom also means not staying stuck in a job you hate because you need the paycheck. It means living with integrity because you’re not ruled by fear. Financial freedom means not having to worry about the furnace going out or fighting with your spouse when they have to buy an expensive flight to attend a funeral out of town.
When you have your finances in order you’ll enjoy less stress, better health, and a more peaceful work and home life. You’ll be able to do more of what you love and be free from worry and guilt.
What would financial freedom mean to you? How would it feel? And how would your life look different 10 years from now if you could (and you can) make financial freedom a reality?
The Day it Happened
My husband, Jeremiah, and I got up early that sunny Saturday in May of 2014 to do something we never dreamed of until three years earlier. I remember feeling scared, nervous, and excited all at once. We got ready and drove to the closest branch of our credit union. It was unexpectedly busy when we arrived, so we stood in line for what felt like an eternity. We were so anxious that we didn’t say a word to one another.
When it was our turn, the teller asked, “How can I help you today?” Not wanting to call attention to myself, I quietly whispered, “We’d like to pay off our mortgage.” “Oh, that’s exciting,” she shrieked, “just go over there and I’ll send a banker right over to help you.”
Jer and I sat down and silently waited for the young banker. When he sat down, he confirmed that we were there to pay off our mortgage and proceeded to write down the amount we owed. I had the biggest pit in my stomach. What if something happened and we needed this money? Were we making a huge mistake?
Nope, I told myself, this is what we came to do. We’d been working toward this goal for years and today was the day. I had to bite the bullet and write the check.
In addition to making extra payments, we had also been stashing all of our extra cash into a money market account over the previous three years. This was a huge sum of money for us and I had to triple check to make sure I had all of the numbers correct.
I slowly handed the check over to the banker. I prayed one more time that nothing would go wrong since a big chunk of our safety net was now gone. The banker entered some notes into his computer and said, “Okay, you’re all set.”
We stood up and he shook our hands to congratulate us. Then he rang a bell and announced to the entire bank that “Holly and Jeremiah just paid off their mortgage.” Everyone clapped and we made our way back to the car. It was a surreal moment.
When we were back in the car, Jer asked, “how does it feel?” “I don’t know,” I responded. “How do you feel?” I asked. “It’s weird,” he said, “hard to believe. It feels good, like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
It still feels kind of weird all these years later. We grew up believing that debt is something you have to deal with until you die. You buy a starter house, then upgrade to a bigger one, then a nicer one, and don’t forget the cars, and furniture, and home improvements. I’ve always had goals to be wealthy, but up until our mid-thirties, I never considered I could achieve that with zero debt.
That One Day Changed Everything
We decided to pay off our mortgage three years earlier because we saw it as a way to get us closer to our long-term financial goals. We never imagined how much it would change our entire lives. That one decision has become the foundation for much of what I coach and write about, building a foundation to do more of what you love.
First and foremost, I believe that we need to feel healthy enough to have the energy to focus on the things that are most important to us. I believe that good health includes our bodies, minds, and spirits. Our finances affect our stress level as well as the food and activities we’re able to afford.
The next thing we need is to have healthy and supportive relationships throughout our lives. This is especially important when you’re trying to make big changes in your life. Whether it’s your health or finances, the right people will cheer you on along the way.
Everyone I know who has achieved a big financial goal has at least one story about naysayers who made fun of them or tore them down. That’s why having at least one person who will cheer you on is so important. If you don’t have that person, I’ll be there. I love getting texts of $22,000 wads of cash that friends are using to pay for a new roof. And what’s more exciting than a picture of a credit card with a zero balance?
The next part of being able to do more of what you love is building some level of financial freedom. This is going to mean something different for everyone. Without getting into specifics, I’m going to assume that we all want to live a good life without financial worries.
The final thing I talk about is personal growth and lifelong learning. If you’re alive, you’ve got more to learn. I’m a completely different person than I was 20, 10, 5, and even 2 years ago. The more I learn and grow, the more I realize there is to learn. I recognize that I may have just made that sound overwhelming and intimidating so let me remind you that it’s personal growth. That means you get to decide what that looks like to you.
In theory, it probably makes sense to start with health. However, we found ourselves focusing on financial freedom first. Not long after, our health became a priority and is one of my three nonnegotiables to this day. Relationships followed and continue to be a lifelong area of growth. And personal growth has been a part of the entire journey.
Each of these areas are interconnected. Heck, every aspect of our lives are interconnected. It’s hard to love your whole life if everything is compartmentalized. I’m sure you will also find that as you make progress in one area, you’ll simultaneously advance in others.
I also feel like it’s important to mention that our lives are not perfect by any means. It’s likely that we connected through social media or that you follow one of my feeds. I really try to show real life, but I know it can look like I’m just showing my highlight reel. I consider that often and try my best to be real.
The truth is that even though we have a certain level of financial freedom, we still have stress, worry, and other struggles. The difference is that the struggles we face today are not comparable to what they were 5 to 10 years ago. Since we’re working from a stronger foundation, today’s concerns are more growth-focused. It’s a fun, interesting, and challenging place to be.
Having lived with and without debt, we wouldn’t choose to live any other way. There is absolutely nothing money could buy that would make me feel as good as financial freedom feels. Living debt-free has been an indescribable blessing to our life and our marriage. So without further ado, here are the top 10 ways financial freedom has changed our lives.
10 SURPRISING BENEFITS OF CREATING FINANCIAL FREEDOM
10 – YOU’LL BE FREE TO FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, NOT WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO.
I recently heard a psychologist talk about reframing the things you have to do, as things you want to do. Research shows that people are more apt to stick to habits, like working out and eating healthy, if they view it as something they are choosing to do.
Since becoming completely debt-free, most of what we do is stuff we’re choosing. I don’t have to grow a garden. I choose to put in the work because we enjoy having nutrient-rich organic produce in our backyard. In our professional lives, we no longer feel stuck working in jobs or with customers who are not a good fit, just to make ends meet.
When you have debt, at least part of your life is going to revolve around doing what you need to do to make those payments. The more debt you have, the more stuck you feel.
When you’re not worried about making payments, you can set your life up to enjoy more of what you love each day. For most of us, those are the little things like going for a morning run, enjoying daily family dinners, or simply winding down with a good book after a fulfilling day of work.
9 – YOU’LL MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON LONG-TERM GOALS, NOT IMMEDIATE SURVIVAL.
The way we make decisions today is very different from how we made them as little as five years ago. When we had big debt payments that were due each month, our tendency was to not rock the boat. We were focused on a short-term false sense of security. We just needed that next check to come in.
Today we look at things very differently. Our timeframe for thinking, planning, and taking action has extended out much further. Conversations often begin with where we’d like to be ten years from now and what we need to do today to get there.
8 – YOU’LL IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MONEY AND SPENDING.
Other than politics, I can’t think of a subject that creates a more visceral reaction than money. It’s simply a medium of exchange. It’s a tool that people use to build lives, businesses, and create change. But the topics of student loans, wages, and taxes make some of the most rational people fly off the handle.
As Jer and I have become more secure in our finances, we’ve changed how we experience money. We have less of an emotional attachment to money. We see it as a tool to create a life that’s meaningful to us. Not something that defines or controls us.
Our goal to pay down a large amount of debt quickly forced us to reframe how we saw wants versus needs. In 2013 we spent a mere $455 on clothes and shoes for both of us. During that journey, we discovered that very little of what we used to spend money on were things we actually cared about. Today we choose to only spend money on things that bring us joy.
The most significant change, however, was learning to not care about impressing others. When I entered the working world after college, I thought the goal was to show how successful I was by wearing expensive clothes and driving a nice car (with payments of course). When we purchased our most recent vehicle (with cash), we went with the most practical choice instead of buying something that would make me look like I “made it.”We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like. ― @DaveRamsey Click To Tweet
7 – YOU’LL CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ABOUT SACRIFICE.
Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I made a sacrifice. Everything I do is a choice. How’s that for empowerment?
As I mentioned, we cut most of our spending during those three years we were paying down debt. And you know what? Those sacrifices weren’t as painful as we expected. In many cases, they were kind of fun.
Countless spending cuts that were meant to be temporary haven’t been added back to our current budget. We continue to camp because we enjoy it, not because it’s the cheapest way to vacation. We’ve come to prefer eating at home and so our dining and entertainment budget hasn’t increased much. We found a new way to live life and we’re enjoying every bit of it.
6 – YOU’LL HAVE MORE MONEY AND FINANCIAL PEACE.
Six months after becoming completely debt-free, Jer and I began making arrangements for me to leave my corporate job. The numbers worked out on paper, but I worried about losing an entire income. After I left, other things fell into place but there was still a significant difference in our monthly income.
It didn’t take long to realize that even though we were making less, we were able to manage what was coming in better than when we made more and had more payments. It’s amazing what you can do with your income when you’re not using most of it to pay back the bank.
No matter who you are or how much you make, stuff happens! When you’re not spending most of your paycheck on payments, you can set some aside for unexpected expenses. When you need a new furnace, a new roof, or a new car, it’s a minor inconvenience instead of a disaster. This new way of being will bring you a greater sense of financial and emotional peace.
5 – YOUR ACTIONS WILL ALIGN WITH YOUR VALUES.
When I had a “real job,” there were times I was told to do things that I felt were wrong. But since I needed to keep the income coming in, I felt I had to play along. As soon as we were no longer dependent on that job for survival, it was like a switch flipped.
I began to speak up in meetings and say, “we’re approaching this all wrong.” In case you’re wondering, that new voice was not well received. But it felt amazing to finally speak up about what I believed.
Now I understand how living in resistance to our values is physically and emotionally unhealthy. I can’t tell you how many times over those last couple of years I called Jer crying because I was being forced to do something that was wrong or utterly ridiculous. It affected me emotionally and I believe it also took a toll on my physical health. I’m so grateful I was able to get out of that cycle before any serious health issue arose.
Jer has expressed similar feelings. While discussing our new found freedom, he said, “One of the best things is not feeling constant stress at work. I no longer feel trapped and I don’t make decisions based on fear.”
When we’re stuck in the cycle of debt, it’s not uncommon to sacrifice what’s most important to us to make ends meet. I’ve been there and I learned that you don’t have to stay stuck. Freedom is closer than you think.
4 – YOU’LL VIEW YOUR FUTURE WITH A NEW PERSPECTIVE.
The plans we’re discussing for the next ten years weren’t imaginable when we started this journey a decade ago. In the past, we’d have big dreams but would eventually succumb to facing “reality.”
For instance, when we got married in Hawaii 16 years ago, we came back and announced that we were going to retire there. Everyone said, “There’s no way you’ll be able to afford to live there.” And we believed them. Feeling defeated, we started looking for cheaper options, like Mexico, Nicaragua, and Thailand. (Remember what I said about relationships?)
Today we have a new perspective. Instead of accepting defeat we ask, “What can we do to make this happen?”
With the freedom that comes from living debt-free, our dreams have grown far beyond retiring somewhere warm. Our dreams are no longer some far off vision that will happen someday when we retire. Our dreams are continually growing and evolving, but more importantly, we believe that we can get there.
3 – YOU’LL ENJOY BETTER HEALTH.
I’ve shared the ways we feel less stressed and there are other ways our health has improved. Most importantly, we’ve been able to take back control over how we live our everyday lives. We’ve built a foundation that allows both of us to exercise daily and consume healthy home-cooked meals. We’ve been able to work in rest and healthier morning routines. We drink less, sleep better and live all-around healthier lives.
We also have a greater sense of emotional peace. There’s less anxiety about making money. And we’re happier and more content overall. It’s been a much better way to live life.
2 – YOU’LL FEEL MORE CONFIDENT.
This is a big one for both Jer and I. We struggled with low self-confidence for most of our lives.
In another blog post, I wrote “confidence is something we carry within us and not a series of particular behaviors. As we begin to feel more secure in ourselves and our abilities, our confidence will become visible on the outside in its own special way. Confidence is a skill. We can’t read, wish, or meditate ourselves into more confidence. We have to practice the things we’re trying to become more confident in.”
In short, confidence requires action. We took action and ended up achieving a goal many people never achieve. Obtaining and maintaining debt-free status is a pretty big deal and something we deserve to feel good about.
This confidence has spilled over into other areas beyond our financial life. We’re more confident with our health, looks, and body image. We’re more confident in our relationships and communication. We’re more confident in our careers and life choices. It was an unexpected, yet welcomed bonus to achieving financial freedom.
1 – YOU’LL ENJOY BETTER RELATIONSHIPS, ESPECIALLY WITH YOUR SPOUSE.
It’s hard to express what working on and achieving a goal like this does for a relationship. And I have to imagine it’s different for everyone. So here’s our perspective.
Working on something like this as a couple requires a high level of honesty, follow-through, and trust. Your success depends on your ability to communicate and work as a team. If you can stick with it, achieving your goal will bring you closer together.
There are many ways our relationship has improved. We feel less stress overall. We have more quality time together. And we continue to learn and grow as a team. This is something we will always share; the experience of a lifetime that brought us closer together.
I invite you to think about how these benefits could play a role in your life. Then take some time to think about what financial freedom might look like to you. I share our story, not as the only strategy that works, but to inspire you to write your own.
Here are some questions you might want to consider.
- How much money would you need to reach the next level of financial freedom?
- Does financial freedom mean living debt free?
- If so, how much debt do you have to pay off? How quickly can you do that?
- If not, how much debt are you willing to live with?
- How much would you need to earn to not have to worry about making ends meet?
- How will you manage your finances in order to maintain your financial freedom?
Now take some time to think about why this is important to you and your family.
Answer these questions and visualize the answers as though they’ve already come true.
- How would your life be different if you created financial freedom?
- How would your daily life be in alignment with what you most value?
- How would your relationships develop through this process?
- How would it feel to achieve this goal?
- How would you use your freedom to create change in the world?
Finally, there is no change without action.
Write down one small thing you can do this week to start moving toward more freedom.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June of 2018. It has been completely revamped for accuracy, comprehensiveness, and readability. Please enjoy and feel free to share this newly revised content.