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Have you ever fantasized about winning the lottery? If so, part of that fantasy probably involved quitting your job. Maybe you would also travel, or relax, or start working on that novel you’ve always wanted to write.
In other words, you would do more of what you want, because in many ways money buys freedom.
If, for you, freedom means being able to purchase big houses, expensive cars, and a private jet, you might want to buy those lottery tickets and hope for the best. But if you win don’t follow the example of the many lottery winners who lost it all.
Another option is to spend decades working to get rich in business. But of the 28 million small businesses in the U.S., 22.5 million don’t even have employees, and these “nonemployers” average just $44,000 in annual revenues.
That makes hitting it big in business seem a bit like the lottery, but with a lot more work. For some of us it also sounds less like freedom and more like being enslaved by a dream.
But maybe, like myself, your idea of freedom is less about buying bigger and better things and more about your day-to-day choices. Maybe you’d be happy to be free to quit a job when you feel like doing so, to live where you like, and to spend more hours enjoying life than you spend fighting for survival.
In that case, you can buy freedom for a lot less money.
Position Yourself for Freedom
There are some key financial factors that determine how much practical freedom you have from day-to-day or year-to-year. They include…
- Your Life Overhead
- Your Money Making Skills
- Your Money Management Skills
How do you maximize your freedom then? Try this:
Minimize your life overhead while you develop and effectively use money making and money management skills.
When you have a lower cost of living, and you know how to make money when you need to, and you can manage what you have, you have many, many more options. That’s a position of greater freedom.
So let’s look at these factors one at a time…
1. Life Overhead
“Life overhead,” is the month-to-month cost of survival — all of your bills and regular expenses. It’s a crucial financial factor when it comes to your personal freedom, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
Here’s a simple example: Assuming your income is the same in either scenario below, which one provides you with the most freedom to do what you like?
Scenario #1: You have no debt, a small affordable house, and an older dependable car with no car payments.
Scenario #2: You have large credit card debts, a big house payment, large utility bills, and two car payments.
Obviously the second scenario leaves you with fewer options in life. It’s tough to quit your job with such heavy financial responsibilities hanging over you. That means you’re less free to move where you like, or do what you want.
This isn’t just theoretical. In recent years my wife and I have moved five times, traveled, eaten out regularly, and quit six jobs, all while our income dropped 70%. We were free to do these things because we keep our basic cost of living (our life overhead) very low.
Let’s look at the elements of your life overhead one at a time, with an eye toward how to reduce the cost of each in order to free up money, which frees up your life choices.
Some long-term responsibilities fall into our laps. For example, you’re probably not going to walk away from a family member in need. But you choose other responsibilities that add to your life overhead.
For example, on average it costs $233,000 to raise a child. Being a parent may be worth it, but make the decision carefully, because the cost alone suggests nothing will limit your freedom more than having kids.
My wife and I have always wanted to remain child-free. On the other hand, we treat our cats like children, and pets are also a long-term financial responsibility. Some estimates put the lifetime cost of owning a dog between $27,000 and $42,000. We’ve made expensive home-buying decisions based on the needs of our cats.
To maximize your freedom you could decide to spend time with other people’s kids instead of having your own. You could also volunteer to walk dogs at an animal shelter instead of having your own.
When you owe a lot of money you’re obligated to work more, and you might not be able to quit a job you hate. This is too big a subject to address in detail here, but do whatever you can to get out of debt.
The exceptions to this rule include debt for business or investment purposes (debt that creates more income than it takes), and debt for an affordable home (debt that saves you money).
If you have no kids or debt housing is probably your largest expense. And if you don’t really value having a large or showy home, don’t get trapped in one.
Keep in mind that your total housing costs may include rent or payments, interest, mortgage insurance, utilities, property taxes, hazard insurance, and maintenance, which are all part of your life overhead. They also all tend to cost more when the home is larger.
My wife and I own a one-bedroom condo, because we want to go to movies, eat out, and travel whenever we feel like doing so. An expensive home would limit that freedom.
My post on cheap housing options covers 40 ways to put a roof over your head. Another post covers ways to save on rent. Every reduction in your monthly housing expenses frees up money to do more of… whatever you want.
My wife and I have a 2015 Hyundai for which we paid cash. I don’t know the model offhand — it’s just transportation.
If you have the misfortune of being afflicted with a love of cars, at least try to pay cash to avoid debt. Other ways to cut down on transportation expenses include going carless, doing some auto maintenance yourself, shopping for cheaper insurance, and reading my post on 63 ways to spend less on gas.
The Huffington Post reports that a treatment for COPD (a respiratory ailment) costs about $100,000 at one hospital, and only about $7,000 at a hospital 30 miles away. Clearly, if you don’t have health insurance you should shop around for the best prices.
You have to pay taxes everywhere, but some places certainly put a heavier burden on you. Think carefully about this element of life overhead when choosing where to live.
For example, a tax table shows the top state income tax rate in California is 13.3%, while next door in Nevada it is 0%. I love the mountains in California, but if I wanted to be near them, I would move to Reno, Nevada (30 minutes from California)..
The Frugal Potential
You could see this as an example of how to be happy living on less, but here’s another thought: What if you earned the median household income of $56,600 and covered all of your family’s needs with $14,000? What would be possible with the rest of that money? That’s freedom.
2. Money Making Skills
Investing in education and skills can provide you with a lot more freedom. For some that means paying a fortune to go to college.
Congratulations if you’ve already done that, especially if you didn’t come out with big debt and you got a degree that lets you do what you want to do.
But if you’re looking for cheaper ways to freedom, consider alternatives like these:
- Work temporarily at jobs with the most projected openings so you’ll have experience that makes it easier to find work wherever you go in the future.
- Do volunteer work that provides you with skills and builds your resume.
- Start a side gig to develop your business skills.
- Invest a little in the stock market just to learn how.
Ideally you want to be in a position to lose or quit a job anytime without much concern, because you know you can always find a way to make money (and you know how to manage money). You can get to that point in many different ways.
For example, after building houses with Habitat for Humanity, working for a house-flipper, and fixing and selling several of our own homes for a profit, I’ve developed the skills needed to make money in real estate if necessary.
Working in a variety of areas helps too. In my 20s I had dozens of assignments through a temporary agency (greeter, sample distributer, factory worker, construction worker, highway flagger, mover, sign holder, etc.).
I can emphasize whichever experiences I like when applying for a job.
If you have no college degree you might consider getting experience as a bartender or waiter. These positions have high turnover, so you can find openings almost everywhere.
If you need a higher income and haven’t been to college, check out a list of high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. Find one you like and start developing the skills needed to qualify.
3. Money Management Skills
Neither good earning ability nor low expenses can keep you out of financial trouble (remember those lottery winners who lost everything?). You have to be able to manage what you have if you want more freedom to do what you want.
If you haven’t done so already, you probably should learn to budget, especially if you have weak impulse control.
My wife and I don’t have a formal budget, but I write down everything we spend daily, separating the expenditures into a dozen categories. We review it all monthly.
We know what we value, so seeing where our money goes provides enough feedback to motivate any necessary changes.
Another important part of personal money management is saving money. There’s nothing like having money in the bank to make you feel comfortable and free.
If you have at least enough in savings (apart from retirement funds) to cover your life overhead for a year or more, you have the freedom to:
- Quit your job if it’s boring you.
- Take a trip.
- Take unpaid time off to be with your kids.
- Cut your hours at work so you can write a book.
- Help out a friend or family member.
- Take a mini-retirement.
Another part of money management is learning how to do things and buy things for less. I love our stays at Hyatt hotels, but especially since they’re all paid for using credit card points. And when my wife and I go out to eat we often have dinner with a beer or two and a margarita for under $20.
When you learn how to pay less for things you have options that might otherwise be too expensive, or you get to have more of everything.
Think of it this way: Would you feel freer if you made twice as much money? Well, paying half as much for everything effectively doubles the purchasing power of your income.
Putting It All Together
These factors all work together synergistically. A lower life overhead makes it easier to manage your money, and when you know how to manage money you need even less of it to get what you want out of life.
Add money-making skills to your low cost-of-living and budgeting skills, and you’ll easily cover your basic expenses and much more.
For example, my wife and I have had good income and lived below poverty level, but we’ve never felt stuck in a job or unable to move or to do something new and interesting.
Currently we work a little and live a lot, because we chose to buy freedom instead of stuff we don’t need.
You don’t need to win a multi-million-dollar lottery to be more free. In fact, if you take the right steps you can buy a large degree of practical freedom for a lot less money.
If you have your own examples of how you manage you money for greater freedom, please share them with us below… and keep on frugaling!