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Financial independence may mean different things at different times in a person’s life. I’ve pondered what financial independence means to me and how I’ve felt varying levels of it in my life. Furthermore, I’ll share the financial independence I’m now striving for, which is my biggest money goal yet.
My first taste of financial independence
I would say this first level of freedom occurred to me when I first started working. My first sources of income happened around 12ish when I started babysitting and working at the family golf course. My early working career progressed to becoming a wheelchair washer at a nursing home. However, I soon landed what I consider to be one of the smartest jobs a 16-year-old can obtain. I became a waitress at Perkins. Yeah, you remember Perkins? Steak and cakes!
It was at this job that I recognized I was in control of my earning power – the better mood I was in, the more efficient I would be, and the more money I earned. I earned good money for a 16-year old and tasted the freedom that came with it. With this decent income, I recognized I could actually support myself and probably could go anywhere and find a job.
I did go to college but oh the meandering path I took!
- I first started taking classes at Cuyahoga Community College
- Transferred to Kent State University
- Got the travel bug and sold my car
- Hopped on a Greyhound bus to NYC
- Spent a month living with a friend, walking the streets of Manhatten, and reading free books at Barnes & Nobles while nursing a cup of coffee.
- Hopped on another bus and moved to Colorado
- Worked and stayed at the hostels in Boulder for several months
- Moved to Denver
- Became a resident
- Started attending Metropolitan State College of Denver
- Excelled at Economics
- Traveled to Europe
- Missed my family & friends and moved back to Ohio
- Got married
- Bought a house
- We racked up some debt
- Got divorced
- Filled bankruptcy
- Went back to school at Cleveland State University
- Graduated in 2002 with my BA in Economics
Phew! That is basically 10 years for a 4-year degree. The funny thing is in my 30’s I got my Master’s Degree in 1 year. Through all those years, guess how I supported myself? By waitressing. I made decent money too as I worked my way up to fine dining restaurants. I squandered most of it away and had poor money habits back in those days. However, I was good at waitressing and knew I could find a job anywhere in the world. That simple fact allowed me to feel a bit of freedom.
Darkest before the dawn
In my early 30’s I had an epiphany that I was meant to teach. Furthermore, I knew I was meant to teach mathematics. I took out $40K in students loans, did some post-baccalaureate work and got accepted into graduate school at Kent State University. I excelled in my studies and had a 4.0.
However, I got knocked back from my dream of teaching because I still lacked some serious self-awareness. I had poor self-worth and found a lot of solace in drinking and formerly drugging. Yeah, this habit waxed and waned through the years but ultimately it came back to bite me in the end.
Just about the time I graduated with my MA in Teaching Curriculum and had a promising career ahead of me, I was re-introduced to my drug of choice. I had no defense against it.
I walked away from my dream of being a teacher and became a wine sommelier. The next 2 years of my life lead to a very dark bottom. It was a bottom that I’d wish on no one, but it was also the springboard to the glorious transformation that has occurred in my life.
I got out of an abusive relationship in August of 2009 and quit drugs. I returned to faith and got into recovery programs and set out to unearth the roots of my propensity for addiction. Ultimately, I decided to quit drinking too as the risk was too great. My sobriety date became February 1, 2010, and I have not found it necessary to take a mood and/or mind-altering substance since then.
Baby steps before gaining financial control
As you might imagine when I set out on my sobriety journey, I was bankrupt mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually and basically financially. I had some wise people guiding and encouraging me to focus solely on my recovery. They knew if I couldn’t stay sober, nothing else mattered.
Initially, I reduced some of my expenses to stay afloat financially but essentially I worked, paid bills, and worked on recovery for the first 4 years.
I became ready to work on my finances in 2014. If you’ve read or heard my story before you know that I followed the first two of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps to dig my way out of debt. It took perseverance, losing a house to foreclosure, humbling myself, and ultimately staying laser focused to pay down my debts.
On December 29, 2017, I paid off my final payment to my student loan debt and became debt free for the first time in 24 years.
When I made that final payment, I felt the chains break off. It became clear that I owned my entire paycheck and could use it to do what I wanted. Well, this transformed girl knew she was freed for a purpose.
Prior to paying off my debt completely, I had saved enough money in an online savings account which covers 6 months of expenses as well as enough money for a new used car when my old one dies. I did this prior to paying off the debt because I was faced with the possibility of having pay taxes on the waived deficiency of my foreclosed house.
The financial independence I feel with being 100% debt free and having an emergency fund can be wrapped up in one word…peace. I’ve never had this type of financial peace in my life before. Now that I have it, I never want to lose it.
Increasingly in sobriety, I’ve been able to focus more on my career and growing my income. My ability to grow my income is directly related to my work in recovery, paying off my debt, and telling myself a new story.
I genuinely feel a sense of well being and do not fear emergencies or job fluctuations. However, I have a new feeling on this side of the line. And that feeling is a responsibility to be a good steward of my finances. I continue to do a cost/benefit analysis on everything and ultimately make frugal choices in favor of a high savings rate which leads me to my next goal…
While I was still in my debt pay off journey, I was turned onto the ChooseFI radio podcast and learned about the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community and came to understand that if one can save 25 times their annual expenses through investing, they can live off ~4% of their investments for the remainder of their lives.
I knew I was late to the game but decided this would be my next goal.
I now track my retirement projections and machinations through the best retirement calculator out there…OnTrajectory.
I’m calculating that I should be retirement ready at age 60. Not super early but pretty darn amazing considering the backstory of my life.
I’ve had so many money mentors who’ve helped me to this point.
So what does this big lofty goal of financial independence mean to me? It means having enough assets that I don’t have to work another day in my life. Additionally, it means that my assets are diversified in several investable sources: index funds, real estate, and business. Ultimately, it means I can go wherever God leads and have the resources to be generous.
It’s a good goal to have and I’m having fun aiming for it.
Through the past year, I’ve dove head first into the Financial Independence (FI) community and have become friends with so many kind people who are farther down the road than I. The amazing thing about this community is that pretty much everyone is willing to help you, no matter where you are at along the financial spectrum.
While the destination of FI is the ultimate goal, I’ve learned for me it’s really about the journey and the people I’m meeting along the way.
Today my interview with ChooseFI went live and you can take a listen here. These guys are true professionals and know how to bring out the best in other people. Just a little disclaimer, I get raw. We laughed, we cried and it was a true honor to share my story on their podcast. I’m 100% certain my life would be different had I not met them.
Bottom line, if you have financial goals, get into a community. One simple way to do this is to join a local ChooseFI group in your area. There are groups all over the world.
Why the palm tree?
Now might be as good of a time as any to share the reason for my logo.
I’ve always loved palm trees…so much so that when I was twelve, I told my Mom that I was going to get a palm tree tattooed on my ankle when I was old enough. When I was 18, I came home and said to my Mom, “guess what?” And she said, “hmm, you got a palm tree tattoo on your ankle.” 🙂
In my self-aware adult life, I’ve thought about my attraction to palm trees. Growing up my Dad was the breadwinner of the family and I did not get to spend much time with him. Furthermore, we had a very strained relationship. However, my Dad always took us on a family vacation every year and that typically included a beach and palm trees.
For that one week a year, I was able to be with my entire family without anyone having work interruptions.
My attraction to this FIRE community is that I see families creating space for quality time. I love it.
The good news is my family & I now create that space too. Achieving financial independence will just allow more of it.
Through reflecting back, three levels of financial independence really stick out to me:
- Being able to work and support myself
- Getting out of debt and having an emergency fund
- Ultimately being able to retire
Even though I’m not at the ultimate level of financial independence, I feel complete financial freedom. I enjoy being a wise steward of my finances. And for something which used to bring me such fear, I now feel peace. That right there is true transformation.
So how about you? What does financial independence mean to you?