Financial Freedom

Financial freedom isn’t the same as being rich. Although people often confuse the two, they are completely separate goals. One person could be completely financially free earning $15,000 per year. Another person could be trapped, even with millions of dollars.

Last week, I touched on the topic of financial freedom. I wrote about my goal to build an emergency fund with a year’s worth of living expenses in savings. This would give me the freedom to make drastic career or business moves without feeling the effect on my bank account for an entire year. But this is just a first step towards financial freedom.

What is Financial Freedom?

I define financial freedom as not needing to worry about money. Money shouldn’t be a dominating force in making decisions in your personal or professional life.

A good way to view financial freedom is another type of freedom most people in the Western world enjoy: freedom from hunger. As a human being, I need to eat to survive. But the relative abundance of food in my life has meant hunger is never a driving force in my decisions. If food were scarce, getting enough to eat would probably occupy all of my thoughts.

Being financially free, is the same as being free from hunger. Money will always play a role in your life. But you are free when it no longer becomes the dominating influence on your goals.

Financial Freedom is More Important than Wealth

With food, there is an upper limit to the amount you can consume. Once you reach a minimum threshold, freedom from hunger is basically guaranteed. But there is no upper limit for spending money. That’s probably why there are far more people free from hunger, than those free from money.

Wealth is only part of the picture. If your spending outpaces your income, it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor: you aren’t financially free. Pursuing wealth is a noble goal, providing you do it by contributing value. But it doesn’t guarantee the peace of mind and satisfaction associated with financial freedom.

Originally all of the financial goals I set were strictly income or savings goals. Have $__ by a certain date. Now I realize that this isn’t enough. Earning more money won’t bring me closer to financial freedom unless I also make progress in the other elements of financial freedom.

There are three main elements to financial freedom:

  1. Automatic income to sustain yourself without needing to work
  2. Higher income than spending
  3. A low poverty threshold

1) Automatic Income: Not Needing to Work

Complete financial freedom would mean your income is automatic: either through interest on savings, passive income or a business. If you stopped working for an extended period of time, your life wouldn’t make a noticeable turn for the worse.

Of course, this is an extremely difficult goal to achieve. However, you don’t need to achieve 100% financial freedom to enjoy the benefits. Making progress towards any of the three elements will improve your life.

Building an emergency fund with one year of income is a large positive step towards this first element. If I’m living paycheck to paycheck, I’m forced to work to survive. With a large enough emergency threshold, I have at least a one year buffer before being forced to work.

In a perfect world, material wealth would vastly outstrip needs so that people pursued work entirely for the joy of creating and a professional mission. That’s not reality, but you can be another step closer by having enough automatic income or savings to create a buffer between you and the need to work.

2) Greater Income Than Spending

It’s amazing that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we have so much consumer debt. Some debt is an investment. Student loans or borrowing money to launch a business are often necessary to reach more important goals.

But much of today’s debt has nothing to do with investing in the future. It’s excess spending on credit cards. Buying bigger cars and bigger homes in excess of our means. Consuming for today at the price of tomorrow.

In this point, the difference between wealth and financial freedom is most noticeable. Persons earning six-figure salaries are often burdened by consumer debt. If your expenses outpace your income, you can’t be financially free. You are always sitting on the knife’s edge of your ability to spend, so money must be a constant factor in your life.

The goal, of course, isn’t just to eliminate debt, but to be actively saving. When you have the ability to put away 10%, 30% or 50% of your income into savings, you have increased freedom. Now, there is another level separating you from the chains of money. Instead of wondering whether you’ll have enough food to eat, you always have an excess in your cupboard.

3) A Low Poverty Threshold

The poverty threshold is a term I use to describe the minimum amount of money you need to enjoy a comfortable life. Some people require $70,000 per year for comfort. Other people need less than $10,000.

A low poverty threshold means you could be perfectly content with a bare minimum of material conveniences. If all your savings were stripped from you, and your income was reduced by 80%, could you still enjoy yourself? Or would you be miserable having to adjust to a lower level of income.

Your poverty threshold is psychological. It’s not about actually having to survive poverty. Having a low threshold simply means you’d be willing to sacrifice more to make bigger changes. For example, iimagine your poverty threshold was roughly $50,000 per year. If you had the opportunity to switch to a more exciting career, but the starting pay was only $40,000, you wouldn’t be able to make the switch. A lower threshold is freedom.

Building a low poverty threshold is about occasionally conditioning yourself to go without. Go an entire week without spending any money. Travel for a month and stay in hostels instead of nice hotels. Go without your car for a month.

Experiencing mild poverty in small doses allows you to lower your threshold. It’s just like dipping your feet in a lake to get used to the cold water. Occasional splashes keep you from being afraid to dive in when you need to.

I think this last element of financial freedom is the one most away from current advice being given today. It has nothing to do with money, but entirely your mental disposition towards money.

Isn’t Consumption Insatiable?

Economists make the assumption that people have unlimited wants. While that assumption may be useful for drawing graphs, the evidence is to the contrary. Studies of happiness have shown that, beyond a minimum level, money doesn’t directly contribute to your happiness.

There will always be material desires. But if you build enough financial freedom these desires shouldn’t dominate your life. More important desires like meaningful work, relationships and self-improvement should have a bigger influence on your decisions.

Isn’t Earning Wealth the Hard Part?

One discussion of financial freedom could argue that earning all the money is the hard part. Your mental disposition is relatively easy, once you have a high enough income and savings.

I disagree. I know many people who are unhappy, even though they have more material comforts than I do. I also know people who appear to be content, even though they have less. In fact, I’d say that earning the money is the relatively easy part. Your mental disposition is far more stubborn.

It’s easy to be seduced by competing for wealth, advertisements and getting too comfortable with your possessions. The struggle for financial freedom has to be waged on both fronts: earning enough money and building the mental discipline to keep that money from controlling you.

“The Stuff You Own, Ends Up Owning You”

That header is a quote from the book and movie, Fight Club. I think much of the popularity of the book stems from that single idea. That instead of rewriting the rules of the game, we’ve decided to play within them. Earning more money, without evolving our disposition towards it. Building ourselves a comfortable prison.

  • Enrique S

    You’re correct that at a certain point, money doesn’t add to happiness. It’s not just about having enough, it’s about recognizing what having enough means. I know some people who are well-to-do, but sadly, perpetually unsatisfied. Consumption may be insatiable, but that doesn’t mean that it makes you happier.

  • Steve

    It is most important to cultivate the person you are, the character of a wealthy person, and to provide the value that most weathy people provide. That way, the wealth comes naturally, as a by product, versus you straining toward it with a poverty mindset.

  • dano

    Just wanted to drop you a comment. Dude, you have been crushing it recently. Every post has been excellent and very dense. Thank you and continue on!

  • Ari Lestariono

    Completely true, the idea free is you have to let go all your wantings and desire , then you’ll be peaceful.

  • Laurie | Express Yourself to Success

    While having financial freedom may not make you happy, it certainly gives you peace of mind and can help you sleep at night without the worry of how to pay the bills.

    Your reality check on an individual’s poverty threshold is an interesting test and one that may bring surprising results – what we can really live without and what we absolutely must have to live ‘happily.’

  • Scott Young


    “Crushing”? Is that what the kids are saying these days? :)

    When I read the first sentence, I didn’t realize it was actually a compliment. Thanks!


  • Spesh

    One aspect of wealth that you didn’t mention is that as your wealth increases it changes the opportunities that are available to you and therefore creates an added dimension of potentially exciting and satisfying ventures. You may not even be aware of these opportunities if you make enough money just to maintain a certain lifestyle.

  • sergio siacunco

    Hi Scott,
    Just ran into this site. I liked the idea of the speed reading. Thanks for the tips. Also, I liked what you said about being financially free. I have not thought about it as simply as that but that’s great! Thanks for being a great example. I know for sure that you have a plan and you are gonna get it done by just finding out about your goal and that you have a pretty high personal development.

    Keep up the great work and God Bless!

  • Scott Young


    That is also true. Having more wealth allows you do to even bigger and better things. Angel investing or starting philanthropic organizations require a large amount of personal resources.


  • acnemedication

    everyones goal in life is to have Financial Freedom that is why i am doing affiliate marketing and blog monetizing. i hope i could earn more money online.

  • | Melatonin effects

    my goal in life is to achieve Financial Freedom through making money online. I monetize my websites and blogs using Adsense and Adbrite. Hopefully, with more work and time i might just achieve financial freedom.

  • Aimee

    Financial Freedom is the goal of most people. i also work so hard and look for oppurtunities like make money online to attain my own personal financial freedom.

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  • Carlene

    My ultimate goal in life is to have Financial Freedom where i also have lots of extra time for leisure. Financial freedom does not come easily without lots of hard work and positive thinking.

  • Kaylee

    i would love to have Financial Freedom by owning a real estate related business. my dream business is to own several unit of apartment for rental.

  • Lady Jhen

    we can have Financial Freedom as long as we work very hard and become focused on making money. nowadays we can also make money online and it is a good deal to earn money.

  • Joseph W.


    What you said really hit me! I really like the way you explain financial freedom. I think I’m going to start trying to save a years worth of finances. You gave the best definition of financial freedom I have ever heard! Thanks for the wonderful suggestion!


    Joseph W

  • Baker

    I like the terms and vocabulary you used here. Financial freedom is a reality for a lot of people, it’s great to see others like yourself spread the wealth of information.

  • Erika

    i wish to have Financial Freedom in the next 5 years or so. i was able to establish a small internet retail store last year. i am hoping to gain enough profit from this store.

  • Luke Jackson

    i am hopping that with very hard work on Affiliate marketing, maybe i would be able to achieve Financial Freedom in 2 years time.`’~

  • hermes handbags

    i wish to have Financial Freedom in the next 5 years or so. i was able to establish a small internet retail store last year. i am hoping to gain enough profit from this store.

  • John Anderson

    Love the Fight Club quote – very true!

    da Vinci has been quoted with “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” That’s a phrase I’ve applied to my financial thinking for many years; works wonders for keeping goals in focus and overall peace of mind.

    Cheers on the great post.


    Thanks a million.I have just had many “things” reaffirmed & the action will start Now. Javez khan, Bradford, England.

  • Green Stickman

    This is great article. I am also writing articles about financial freedom. If you may allow, I am posting a link (you can remove it if it is not ok with you):

    This article is all about our “Allies to Financial Freedom”.

    Thank you in advance! I hope you will allow my post. More power to your site.

  • Chuck

    Great article. My first step to financial freedom, no more consumer debt. I pay cash for everything. Second step, written monthly budget. Give every dollar a name. I redo my budget every month. It is amazing how much money just sifts through your fingers without you knowing it. If you do those two things you will find yourself with a “raise” without increasing your actual income. The stress relief of not having to worry about paying off debt is amazing!

  • T.K.

    I can see that this was written a while ago but the idea is timeless. Another way of looking at it is envoking the standards and philosophy of being a minimalist. Such an idea would help to break free of the notion that more material things are needed, thus making it easier to live at a much lower poverty threshold.

  • Pinkster^^

    Financial freedom recipe

    1. separate real needs from mere wants (excel chart it!)
    2. determine minimum cost of living (know your bottom line clearly!)
    3. add 10-20% to #2 for savings & retirement
    4. accept an occupation in the field of your dreams that pays at/above #3
    5. save a liquid emergency cushion (6mos. minimum (#2×6+ mos.))

    1. put away the 10-20% for retirement (no questions!)
    2. have & stick to a budget (absolutely no buts, ifs, or maybes!!!)
    3. don’t touch the emergency fund unless it’s a true emergency (hlthcare/job loss) & replenish ASAP!!!
    4. be a star at your dream job (secures promotions & raises)

    Investment options (in order of risk factor)
    CDs, Money Markets, Mutual funds, bonds, Stocks

    Investing in financial products
    Depending on risk tolerance factors (age, earning power, etc.), have a diversified portfolio of large, mid., & small cap.s in a well balanced commodities & service industry sectors.

  • MA

    If there is 2-3 year retirement plan instead of 45 plan and make you financial freedom, would you like to try it??

  • Kati

    I’m a grad student married to a post doc. Despite the fact that we’re young, came from lower middle class families, live in California, put off real work for years to pursue advanced degrees, and earn just an average income, we’ve managed to save a little more than $60,000 so far, which is way more than we need to keep us going for a year or two of unemployment, illness, etc.

    To save, you really have to be committed to it. We have no consumer debt, and no car loans or leases. We have a real budget in place; we set aside *something* for every category each month, including those expenses that only materialize once or twice a year (e.g., vet bills, car registration and repairs, travel expenses to see our families). At this point, just about anything could befall us–car accident, death in the family, job loss–and we’re prepared to cover it without worry. Having that little stash o’ cash in the bank really does make you feel FREE!

  • Maya

    This is by far the best, most succinct explanation of Financial Freedom that I have ever read! Thank you, Scott!

    I recently realized what has allowed me to come close to having financial freedom. It has to do with the second main element to financial freedom- having higher income than spending. The problem is that people of all income levels overvalue that which is hard to get (this, for example, causes a lot of people to buy houses that they cannot afford). For more, check out

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  • Craig Potter

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  • Maria

    Scott, thanks for writing such a great post, I am also on my way to financial freedom and looking for anwsers. I think we need a shift in the way we see life and sometimes we need help also to stop being a propaganda victim and get out of debts forever.
    I’ve marked up your blog yo keep on reading.

  • Brett G.

    I love your enthusiasm! Living financially free is probably the best stress reliever you will ever experience. Before I became free I was buried in credit card debt and had a student loan balance that could have financed a large home. It wasn’t until I found did I final strike gold and gain the independence I’d long sought.

  • Rob

    Money simply makes you more of what you already are.

    You are off target here friend. . . . .

  • Lewis Saka

    just found yourwebsite after listening to an old interview you did with pickup podcast. I find your writing and thoughts very insightful


  • jayaprakash

    hi scott thanks for your valuable tips man. Its an eye opener. Im a doctor by profession wit good salary but still not financially free as you said. Will apply your rules in my life. Thanks. Take care scott.

  • malcolm

    I am living in a tent by choice and 90% of my income is disposable and I never felt happier and excited to be this free with no other bills, cars and other material or financial things to pay for 😉

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  • Clayton

    Financial freedom is something that I believe everyone wants. This is a way for many people to experience life to its fullest.

  • gerson

    Hi Scott,

    I would like to share my blog with you


    ps maybe you can write a brief post on my blog

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  • Sachin

    I can’t help feeling very inspired by your extremely sensible and really useful posts. They are helping me think much more clearly than before. What’s more, you’ve actually implemented what you say in your own life as far as I can see. That makes what you say a hell lot more meaningful. Thanks a lot Scott!

  • lynne

    Hi, great insights! I will keep your words in mind, that “earning enough money and building the mental discipline to keep that money from controlling you”. Do not let money over power you, financial freedom will lead you to a more satisfied,happy life. Thanks for sharing.

  • Bruce Harpham

    Simple and timeless wisdom with this observation:
    “If your expenses outpace your income, you can’t be financially free.”

    I find that financial freedom involves managing both assets (e.g. investments and savings) and income (outcome less than income). It took me quite a while to properly understand the difference and significance of these ideas. “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” was the book that first made it all clear to me.

    Like any foundational idea, I appreciate having it reinforced and deepened – thanks for your contribution.