Your Financial Independence Day

“The year 1776, celebrated as the birth year of the nation and for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year of all-too-few victories, of sustained suffering, disease, hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too they would never forget.”
― David McCullough, 1776

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I find the words of the Declaration of Independence to be incredibly inspiring. You have a group of people who are dissatisfied with their lot in life, who recognize that they have the ability to build a life for themselves that’s closer to their ideals, and they’re stepping forward and taking action based on that ability.

They knew it meant big changes. They knew it meant a rough road ahead for them. They knew that many people they once considered allies and friends were going to laugh in their faces and possibly even work against them.

Still, they persisted on. They dreamed of something more for themselves and their countrymen.

On this day in 1776, our founding fathers declared it to be their independence day.

When will it be your independence day?

When you make the choice to turn your financial life around, you are a revolutionary of sorts. You’re making the active choice to step away from the financial train wreck that many Americans find themselves heading toward, even though those changes aren’t easy and definitely aren’t supported by the culture of the day. That’s an act that takes a great deal of courage, especially when you persist with it.

The lessons of the American revolution shine through brightly on the path to financial independence.

The path to financial independence requires you to want a new direction so badly that you’re willing to make fundamental changes to your life.
In the revolutionary years, the colonists were willing to give up all of the safety and protection given to them by the British Empire in order to be able to establish their own path in the world. They were willing to give up quite a lot of safety in order to achieve the liberty they wanted.

It wasn’t easy. It was far easier for them to simply remain a part of the British Empire, to continue to pay the outrageous taxes that King George demanded, to enjoy the benefits of being a part of the British Empire. The desire to be free simply was too great for them, and they signed that declaration on that fateful day.

What do you want? What are you willing to give up for it? What are you willing to change about your life for it?

Just like freedom, financial independence isn’t a right, nor is it a gift given to you by others. It’s something that you have to work for, or else you find yourself right back under someone else’s control. Do you want to be steered by the whims of your employment for the rest of your life? Or do you want to be captain of your ship, steering it where you want to go?

The path to financial independence means giving up some of the easiest grooves in the road ahead.
It was undoubtedly more convenient for the colonists to set sail and do business under the flag of the British Empire. It enabled access to ports and kept pirates at bay. It enabled favorable trade with a lot of people. It enabled a free flow of many types of luxury goods. Throwing off those conveniences definitely meant a convenient and pleasurable life, in the short term.

But at what cost?

There’s no doubt that spending money gives us conveniences. The ability to just go to a nice restaurant for every meal spares us having to worry about the effort needed to prepare food. The ability to just buy whatever book we want at any time using Amazon spares us from having to actually go to the library or actually return books. The ability to hire someone to do our laundry or clean our house spares us from the drudgery of those chores.

Yet, when we do that, we are trading financial freedom for convenience. We cede more control over our future to our employers and to our customers. We give them more and more power over our lives in exchange for the ability to not have to cook up a pan of scrambled eggs or do a load of laundry for ourselves.

The path to financial independence isn’t an easy one, but it’s a free one. It’s one where, as you travel down that path, you find yourself less and less under the control of a cruel boss or an unforgiving job market. You control those things now, rather than them controlling you.

Sure, you give up things like some restaurant meals or perhaps your cable bill or maybe you go on a less luxurious trip for a few summers, but from that you gain freedom and lose stress.

The path to financial independence means going against some of the things that society seems to expect of you.
If you paid your taxes and swore loyalty to the crown, you were accepted as a citizen of the British Empire. That’s what was expected of you in the colonies in those days, and to do otherwise meant that you quickly aroused suspicion. Even as the war began, the cities and the countryside were filled with loyalists. Before the revolution? You have to be careful because, as a revolutionary, you were going against the grain of society.

Much like the spirit of 1776, charting your own path to financial freedom means bucking a lot of the prevailing trends of the moment. Modern society is set up to encourage you to spend, spend, spend. Turn on almost any television program and you see people showing off expensive products and doing expensive things and they’re all beautiful and you’re supposed to want to be like them. The commercials are even more geared toward that. Flip through most magazines and it’s the same – lots of articles about spending money on stuff and experiences. The same is true for many websites, too. The core idea of modern America seems to be to spend, spend, spend so you, too, can be beautiful and happy.

Financial independence takes either a great deal of luck or a conscious rejection of that core idea (or both). You don’t need stuff to be happy. You don’t need to be some specific definition of beautiful, either. You just need to be you, committed to some real core values that aren’t centered around an endless array of stuff.

Go against the grain.

The path to financial independence means finding new ways to do things.
Back in those days, the soon-to-be United States acquired most of its goods from other parts of the British Empire, which made it easy to acquire all kinds of things (while stripping America of its wealth through taxation, but that’s a whole different story).

The path to independence for the colonies involved losing those advantages. They could no longer rely on a steady stream of tea or coffee or fruits or anything else they couldn’t grow directly at home. They had to find new ways of doing things – new trading partners, new industries at home, and so forth.

The path to financial independence for you is much the same. If you keep doing things the way you’ve always been doing things, you’re going to get the same results you’ve always been getting. If you want financial independence, you’re going to have to do some things differently.

For most people, that big change is a reduction in spending. Financial independence requires spending substantially less than you earn and saving the difference, and the real impact of that on day-to-day life is less spending on unnecessary things. This means finding new hobbies, rethinking old ones, letting go of some less-important luxury goods, shopping around for things like insurance, and so on. For many people, those are new ways of doing things, different than the patterns they’ve adopted in their adult life.

Are you up to the challenge? George Washington was. Thomas Jefferson was. They walked the path to independence. Will you?

The path to financial independence may require letting go of old friendships.
During those days, the colonists were split among those who were loyal to the British crown and those who wished for independence. Neighbors often couldn’t trust neighbors. Neighborhoods and communities were split. Sometimes, even the people that were most trusted turned out to have unexpected allegiances, such as Benedict Arnold.

As the colonists fought for independence, many old relationships fell by the wayside. In an effort to fight for something new, they had to let go of some old things, too.

You may find the same phenomenon on your own path to financial independence. You may find yourself surrounded by people who aren’t supportive of your goals, who claim that it is impossible. You may find that old friends who once spent a lot of time with you now avoid you because you’re not spending great deals of money on the latest things. Those changes can hurt.

Remember this, however: if a friend ceases to be your friend because you’re working to improve yourself, how good of a friend is that person? If a person was only in your life because of the things you spent your money on, were they friends with you or your money?

Some friendships may fall, but thankfully many will remain true.

The path to financial independence likely requires building new friendships, too.
It wasn’t too many years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence – just thirteen years, in fact – that the colonies were at war with France (via the French colony of New France) in the French-Indian War. For American independence to succeed, the colonists had to find new friends in unexpected places and the French were chief among them.

Not too long before, the French were the sworn enemies of the colonists. Scarcely fifteen years later, people like Lafayette and Rochambeau were essential pieces of America’s fight for independence.

Just as with those colonists, your path to financial independence may find you forging new friendships as well. You’ll find that, as you engage in new activities and learn new ways of doing things, you meet new people who appreciate you with fresh eyes, and you may even run into old acquaintances who now see you differently.

Welcome those new friendships. Let them become a part of your life. You’ll find that these new friendships are powerful ones, as they’re founded on the basis of the values of freedom and independence upon which you now base your financial aims.

The path to financial independence means having courage and not being afraid of change.
There are many moments during America’s Revolutionary War that show incredible courage, but I want to mention one in particular, Joseph Plumb Martin. Martin was a light infantryman during the Revolutionary War who later published a narrative of his experiences, which can widely be found under the title A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier.

His book isn’t one of heroics. Instead, it’s about ordinary life as a Revolutionary War soldier. He doesn’t talk about the people we think of as Revolutionary heroes. Instead, he elevates the role of the regular soldier, putting the spotlight on the huge individual sacrifices and pains and challenges that so many anonymous people accepted in those years. It’s about courage and guts in the face of change and in the face of challenging events.

It is hard to muster courage when the road is hard. It’s easy to want to quit and to take a simpler path, but the simpler path rarely leads to anything more than regret at a chance missed.

Don’t let your life be a chance missed. Put on your courage and march down a different path. When challenge faces you, push through it. Make the most of it. Push for something bigger. You don’t have to be anyone special to do this, just a person with some fire in their belly. Just like Joseph Plumb Martin.

The path to financial independence means charting your own path, often beyond the familiar patterns.
Out of the ashes of the Revolutionary War, the citizenry of the United States, without any form of active government in place, came together to unite under a collective governance, writing their own Constitution. Such a thing had never been accomplished before – constitutions before then, when they existed, had always been created by those already in power rather than by elected or nominated representatives of the citizenry.

They forged a new path, different than all those before them, and the document they created endures today.

Today, we live in a nation where three quarters of the people don’t have any sort of emergency fund and a strong majority have no retirement savings beyond what Social Security can provide for them. The mere thought of having enough money to retire early or to live financially independent of the need to work sounds preposterous to most citizens.

And, yet, it’s a path that some among us still try to accomplish. It is a rarely-trodden path. It’s likely far different than the path of many around you. Yet the way forward is clear, if you take the time to look around you, evaluate your options, learn good strategy, and take that first step.

The path to financial independence is a long one that requires patience and will include many difficult battles.
The path to independence for the colonists was not an easy one. The war was nearly lost more than once. Many hard winters were faced. Many challenges were overcome. It took thirteen years from the signing of that Declaration for our nation to form, with many of those years in outright warfare and others spent trying to form a nation out of a bunch of fiercely independent colonies with wildly divergent ideas.

Those individuals, however, were driven by a desire to have a life different than the one they once had, a life that enabled them to pursue their dreams without a burden upon their shoulders. They were willing to fight and sacrifice for that opportunity.

Your path will not be a short one. It will take many years to achieve your big financial goals. There will be moments when it is incredibly hard. You will face challenges, and it will be up to the quality and determination of your character to overcome them, to achieve your dreams.

Are you up to that challenge?

Take the path set before you.
Today, you may find yourself celebrating the independence won by the generation of 1776. As you enjoy your cookout and your fireworks show, may it remind you of the ideals they cherished, the challenges they faced, and the great victory that they won.

And as you drift off to a pleasant sleep afterwards, ask yourself whether you’re ready to take up their standard and make today your independence day.

Good luck.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.