The first step towards financial freedom is actually pretty obvious, yet it is completely missed by most people, including myself for years:
In other words, what’s important is not how big your paycheck is, but how much money is left over AFTER your bills are paid. Maximize this number.
Expenses are like holes at the bottom of your savings account bucket. You need to plug up or at least reduce the size of as many of these financial fissures as you can. Credit card debt, car loans and any unproductive debt besides your mortgage should be your first priority. Unproductive debt is debt that does not produce income. A mortgage on a rental property or a margin loan in your brokerage account are examples of productive debt. Borrowing money to go on an extravagant vacation or buy a new flat screen TV is unproductive debt and should be where you focus your initial efforts.
Then eliminate as many recurring subscription services as you can. Do you really need a 100+ channels, a land line and the morning newspaper? Go line by line through your subscriptions to see where your money goes and then determine if it’s justified.
Most likely, your biggest expenses are your home and taxes. Depending on your situation, it may make sense for you to consider downsizing. I went from a 3,000 sq ft house to a 1250 sq. ft. condo which cut my monthly mortgage and utility bills substantially.
I am not a tax expert, but there are a several good strategies you can research that will allow you to reduce your tax burden. Starting a business can open up a multitude of deduction opportunities as well as provide another income stream. Of course you can maximize your contributions to tax deferred savings accounts like 401k’s and IRA’s. If you are willing and able to move out of the country there is the foreign earned income exclusion which allows you to make up to $100,800 (for 2015) tax free. Finally, you can potentially move to Puerto Rico, as I have, to cut your taxes on capital gains to zero by obtaining an Act 22 tax grant.
Obviously you’re not going to be able to increase your wealth through cost cutting alone; you are going to need sufficient inflow. If you want to make good, honest money, it’s not about who you know or how long you’ve been around. You generally get paid according to how much value you add. For example, Steve Jobs improved the lives of millions with the now ubiquitous iPhone and he was richly rewarded financially as a result. This demonstrates the inherent morality of true capitalism where serving others is in your self interest.
Be a value adder, not a value extractor. How this looks in practice will vary according to your interests, aptitudes and circumstances. It may mean that you see a need around you so you quit your job and start a business to meet that need. Or, you might keep your job and adopt an “entre-ployee” mindset, where you proactively look for creative solutions rather than wait for someone to tell you what to do.
Only you can figure it out for yourself but put in the time on this because it’s vitally important. If you get it right, not only will you be financially rewarded, but you will receive the deep satisfaction that comes from providing real value to your customers who will benefit tremendously from the solutions you provide. A voluntary, free-market transaction is always a win/win for everyone involved.
In summary, don’t chase money directly. Instead, relentlessly look to solve problems and provide value. Be generous with ideas and solutions and the money will come.
Freedom is a beautiful thing. Live and let live. No person or institution using force to impose it’s will on another human being.
It’s a wonderful goal that we should all aspire to in our lives and in our dealings with others. Unfortunately though, for most, personal freedom remains a starry-eyed fantasy, an elusive “if only”. That’s unfortunate, because most of the shackles that enslave us are of our own making: self-limiting beliefs, a refusal to venture out of our “comfort zone”, and allowing fear of failure or fear of rejection by others control our actions.
Futhermore, self-imposed financial shackles like suffocating debt and an uncomfortably high lifestyle burn-rate mean we often go to work each day not because we want to, but because we have to.
The first and most important step we must take to end this cycle of self-sabotage and achieve personal freedom is to free our minds. We can never truly be free as long as we are seeking approval and validation from others. This is much easier said than done because this requires undoing much of the “training” we have received since childhood. This is a big topic that deserves several blog posts but I’m going leave it there for now.
Once you get that right, I believe the second most effective measure you can take to achieve greater personal freedom is to build wealth. Financial freedom enables you to pursue your happiness, whether that means spending more time with family and friends or traveling the world and experiencing different cultures.
Financial freedom also empowers you to exercise your most fundamental and consequential voting right; the right to vote with your feet.
The pursuit of freedom is ultimately what this blog is about. If this is important to you, identify those activities that materially increase your freedom and spend your limited time and energy there. Let me give you a head start: politics and religion don’t make the cut. In fact, most of what is generally accepted by society as important won’t make the cut. The truth is, “society” doesn’t give a damn about your freedom and would actually just prefer a good citizen who falls in line and can easily be controlled.
Remove your self-imposed shackles. Free your mind and then invest time and energy increasing your wealth, and by extension, your freedom. I guarantee it will change your life. It has certainly changed mine.