What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, financial freedom? Is it the same thing that comes to mind when you hear the word, retirement? The word freedom indicates being previously constrained or shackled. The shackles might mean mortgages, student loan debts, credit card payments, and a job you hate (with a boss that makes it even worse). The word retirement has financial, emotional, and self-expressive dimensions.
From a financial perspective, retirement is associated with the promises of pensions, social security, and the like; however, they may not pay as much income as you expect. These payouts do not promise to be enough for your needs, much less wants and wishes. The checks generated are based on someone else’s idea of how much income you should have. Typically, the income formula is based on your working income and the age when you claim benefits. The payors aren’t necessarily concerned with helping you keep up with the rising expenses experienced throughout life. On the positive side, you may find that your pension, social security, and current savings will provide lifelong comfort.
Retirement may also conjure negative emotional and self-expressive images. It may mean looking at past financial choices that didn’t work out. That may include saving less, spending too much, and taking on debts and mortgages that you are saddled with.
If you don’t have passions to pursue in retirement, the term may conjure up dread. If you are like many, much of your identity is tied to your career. You may be forced to retire because of failing health or company policy. In the case of pilots that might have to do with getting to a certain age as opposed to cognitive abilities.
Let’s turn to financial freedom. Do you associate the word retirement with a time period that is decades into the future? Perhaps it’s something that you feel you can wait on. Why would you wait to pursue financial freedom? At any age, I believe it is possible to calibrate and activize a financial freedom plan. Are you ready?
What is your financial freedom number? If you were guaranteed $50,000 pre-tax per year, cost of living adjusted, would you stop working today or wait until Social Security’s definition of your full retirement age? Would that allow you to live the life you want (we’ll cover your wish later)? Would it allow you to escape a bad job or a bad relationship? Before saying yes, I recommend pricing out what the life you need and want will really cost. It is easy to over spend without a plan.
If $50,000 pre-tax per year, cost of living adjusted, isn’t enough what about $75,000, $100,000, $150,000. What is your number? Typically, the more money you make your wants and wishes increase. What are they and how much do they cost?
This exercise is about dialing in your wants and wishes. What changes are you willing to make in lifestyle spending so that you can attain your preferred lifestyle tomorrow? This is your idea. It may not be same for the Jones’, Jung’s, or Jimenez’s. While others may make more money than you, you should have your “enjoy” amount. If you really can’t see yourself not working, you could donate your time free of charge to a near infinite amount of charities that could use you. You may have no heirs to give the money to so having wealth to conserve and to pass on is of little importance to you (consider creating a will that gives what you do have to a charity).
Are you ready to break the chains of financial slavery? Then start by assessing your current spending. You may opt for pen and paper, spreadsheet or an electronic version. Separately, create your financial freedom spending plan that will pay for the financial future you envision. This may require doing some advanced financial calculations. For example, how much do you need to save and what rate of return will you need to create your future income? Don’t forget that costs will likely continue to rise, so you need to think about a time span, not just a point in time. Your calculations will likely take a few iterations to find a successful combination for what you can save along with your tolerance for the ups and downs of the market.
Are there gaps between the two? Are you able to reallocate current spending to the categories needed in your financial freedom spending plan? If not, what steps can you take to move you closer to where you want to be. This may mean overcoming student loan debt, credit card debt or other items that are not so easy to change overnight. Are there additional changes you can make to close the gap? You’re likely to find that you can’t do it all in one year. All is not lost. What matters is that you’re making progress.
However, the longer you wait to save in your 401(k) (set up that Roth IRA, start the 529 savings plan, pay off revolving debt, pay down student loans etc.), the more difficult attaining the life you want will be. In the case of investing, you will likely need to increase the rate of return that you are targeting, increase savings, or push your timeline out. In the case of debt, the amount that you will have to pay is increasing if interest is being added to your balance. Tip: If you’re making minimum payments to your balance, it will continue increasing if the minimum payment is not covering the interest being added to your account.
I recommend adding an accountability partner. Your partner should aim to achieve your same goals. You might want to consider hiring someone. Life’s demands can easily sideline the best intentions. Keeping the financial freedom you envision as your North Star should help you persevere.