Financial Freedom: What It Is and How to Achieve It

Here it is – the most important financial advice you'll ever receive.

Spend less than you earn.

If you cut back on spending, you'll be able to pay off debt, build an emergency fund, give more generously, and start saving for college or retirement or a trip to Europe.  Spending less will reduce your stress levels and improve your sleep.  It might even improve your marriage.

Spend less enables us to achieve financial freedom.  But in a country where 78% of us live paycheck to paycheck and the average American has over $7,000 of credit card debt, the message to spend less doesn't seem to be getting through.

Minimalism is not about living with no comforts or modern conveniences.  But a minimalist does embrace the concept of intentional spending.  Once you find balance by shedding the things you don't need so you can focus on the things that really matter to you, you realize that mindless or impulsive purchases burden and distract you.  More than that, they steal your life energy.

"Your money or your life."

If someone thrust a gun into your ribs and said that sentence, what would you do?  Most of us would turn over our wallets.  The threat works because we value our lives more than our money.

Or do we?

As consumers, we act as if money has the capacity to meet all of our needs, wants, and desires.  Most of us believe that if we had more money, we'd be happier and worry-free.  That might be true if you make less than $25,000 a year, but people with six-figure incomes feel the same way, often because of lifestyle inflation.  (More about that in a bit.)  

But we need to remember that money represents our life energy.

When we go to work, we trade our life energy for money.  Life energy is our allotment of time here on earth.  It's precious because it's finite and irreplaceable, and because our choices about how we use it express the meaning and purpose of our lives.

So when we spend money thoughtlessly, or worse, use credit and spend money we don't yet have (promising our future life energy in payment), we may be harming ourselves more than we realize.  When we work more hours or take on more responsibility and stress – all to chase a higher income and an ever-increasing standard of living – we may be forfeiting our lives for money.  If we aren't receiving fulfillment, satisfaction, and value in proportion to the life energy we gave in exchange, we are the losers.

Financial freedom comes when we identify our needs and thoughtfully purchase items and experiences to meet those needs.  If we spend life energy on stuff that doesn't ultimately support our values, we end up with lots of clutter and a lot less life.

piggy banks
This isn't about guilt and deprivation.  It's about honoring and valuing our life energy, a limited resource.  When we become conscious of our unrewarding spending patterns, we can start to use money in ways that bring more contentment and well-being.  

And we might just realize that we have enough.

Enough for survival.  Enough comforts.  And even enough little luxuries.  With enough, we have everything we need, and nothing extra to weigh us down.  We can appreciate and enjoy what money brings into our lives without purchasing anything that isn't needed or wanted.  

"He who knows he has enough is rich."

That's how the ancient Chinese book of wisdom, the Tao Te Ching, puts it.  This mindset is what helps us avoid lifestyle inflation, the tendency we all have to increase our spending when income goes up.  But when we do this, it's impossible to get out of debt, save, invest, contemplate changing careers, or work less.  Lifestyle inflation forces us to keep working just so we can pay our bills.  

We might justify excess spending by saying, "I work hard so I deserve this" or "Everyone else I know is buying/doing this."  But we're putting ourselves in financial bondage.  We'd be so much more secure and happy with less debt, less stress, less clutter, more time, and more long-lasting satisfaction.

A funny thing happens when we stop trying to buy things we think will make us happy.  We can redirect our energies and discover our true calling and identity – which our culture usually equates with a job, but is so much more than that.  When we gain financial freedom, we can use our life energy to build real wealth:  knowledge, skills, creativity, relationships, community, gratitude, and generosity.

Updated January 2023


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