“Financial freedom” is a concept that’s constantly bandied about among personal finance writers and presenters. I think it’s mostly used because it sounds good: freedom implies some sort of escape from oppression, and applying that sentiment to personal finance creates a picture of a future where you’re not beholden to creditors or lenders or your boss.
What does it really mean, though? Every time I consider that statement, I find myself puzzling over a series of questions. While these questions don’t necessarily help me to explain what exactly “financial freedom” means, the questions often do leave me with a better sense of my own future and my own philosophy for financial success.
So, let’s dig through those questions.
What am I seeking freedom from? I mentioned a few of the trite answers above – creditors, lenders, bosses. These are the immediate things that come to mind when we think about what financial situations we want to escape from.
Yet, the more I think about it, I recognize that the source that I’m really seeking freedom from is my own tendency toward poor financial choices.
Let’s roll back the clock six years. If I had the opportunity to wave a magic wand and eliminate all of my debts, I’d be thrilled. Honestly, though, I would likely have been right back in debt before too long.
When it comes to finances, you are your own oppressor. We’re often sitting in situations where we suffer from our own mistakes of the past. If we work for “freedom” from a debt, if we’re not free from our own bad behaviors, it’s just a matter of time before we’re back in debt.
What does freedom even mean? When I hear the word “freedom,” what does that really mean?
Freedom, according to dictionary.com, means “exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.” Of course, there are several definitions; another is “the power to determine action without restraint. ”
In general, freedom seems to mean the ability to make choices without restraint from others.
The thing is, we’re really only as free as we allow ourselves to be.
Take my own life. My only outstanding debt is my mortgage. I could be “free” of that debt by walking away from it, but my credit history would be devastated.
I have three children that are ongoing expenses. I could be “free” of that by walking away, but again, I would be a complete scumbag for doing that.
What about simply having a pile of money? Even then, I wouldn’t be “free” to help every charity that I’d love to help.
Simply put, a responsible adult never has total freedom. We are always restricted by some aspect of our life, whether it be debt, personal responsibility, or something else.
What we’re striving for when we reduce debt isn’t freedom, but better options to choose from. Instead of being strongly bent towards dumping my money towards debt, debt freedom means that I can choose to save that money for our country house or give it to a charity. Both of these options are more in line with what I want from life right now.
Where do I want to be, then? The next logical step is to simply look at my life and ask myself what I want from life right now. Freedom means the ability to make choices that move me towards those things that I want instead of using my resources to cover up other mistakes or to move in other directions.
Simply put, it’s all about goals. What do I really want out of my life? Where do I want to be in the near future? These are goals, and simply spending the time to identify one’s goals is a big step towards personal freedom.
Why? A goal gives you some guidance as to where to go, rather than acting aimlessly. It guides you towards making choices that work well together and push you to somewhere you want to be rather than working in opposition to each other.
Some people view goals – and particularly the plans that lead to achieving them – as a restriction on personal freedom. I view goals as the ultimate statement of freedom. I have enough control over the choices in my own life to move toward something bigger rather than just holding onto what I have and hoping for the best.
Freedom is a powerful word, but it means something different to everyone.