No matter how much money you have or which life stage you’re in, becoming financially independent starts with a dream. Your dream might be to finally pay off the mountain of debt you’ve accumulated, or to stop relying on someone else for financial support. Or perhaps your dream is to retire early so you can spend more time with your family, travel the world, or open your own business. Financial independence, however you define it, is freedom from the financial obstacles that are keeping you from living life on your own terms.
Envision the future
If you were to become financially independent, what would change? Would you spend your time differently? Live in another place? What would you own? Would you work part-time? Ultimately, you want to define how you choose to live your life. It’s your dream, so there’s no wrong answer.
Work at it
Unless you’re already wealthy, you may have had moments when winning the lottery seemed like the only way to become financially secure. But your path to financial independence isn’t likely to start at your local convenience store’s lottery counter.
Though there are many ways to become financially independent, most of them require hard work. And retaining wealth isn’t necessarily easy, because wealth may not last if spending isn’t kept in check. As income rises, lifestyle inflation is a real concern. Becoming — and remaining — financially independent requires diligently balancing earning, spending, and saving.
Earn more, spend wisely, and save aggressively
Earn more. The bigger the gap between your income and expenses, the quicker it will be to become financially independent, no matter what your goal is. The more you can earn, the more you can potentially save. This might mean finding a job with a higher salary, working an extra job, or working part-time in retirement. And a job is just one source of income. If you’re resourceful and able to put in extra hours, you may also be able to generate regular income in other ways — for example, renting out a garage apartment or starting a side business.
Spend wisely. Look for opportunities to reduce your spending without affecting your quality of life. For the biggest impact, focus on reducing your largest expenses — for example, housing, food, and transportation. Practicing mindful spending can also help you free up more money to save. Before you buy something nonessential, think about how important it is to you and what value it brings to your life so that you don’t end up with a garage or attic filled with regrettable purchases.
Save aggressively. Set a wealth accumulation goal and then prioritize saving. Of course, if you have a substantial amount of debt, saving may be somewhat curtailed until that debt is paid off. Take simple steps such as choosing investments that match your goals and time frame, and paying yourself first by automatically investing as much as possible in a retirement savings plan. Time is an important ally in the quest for financial independence, so start saving as early as possible and build your nest egg over time. (Note that all investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.)
Make adjustments. Life changes. Unexpected bills come up. Some years will be tougher financially than others. Expect to make some adjustments to your plan along the way, especially if you have a long-term time frame, but keep going.
Track your progress. Celebrate both small milestones and big victories. Seeing the progress you’re making will help you stay motivated as you pursue your dream of financial independence.