It’s easy to see how being a “kept person” by one’s spouse or family limits one’s freedom. One’s actions are limited to those which won’t upset the source of the money. But even when you’re earning (or living off) your own funds, financial missteps and obligationscan significantly limit your freedoms.
Here’s what they’re not telling you. Money, in a modern capitalist democracy, is freedom. The more money you owe, the less freedom you have.
The formidable Jocko Willink is famous for saying “Discipline is Freedom.” And this is certainly true when it comes to your personal finances. If you make good decisions now, you’ll enjoy more freedom later on. However, if you splurge and spend today, you’ll find yourself in thrall as the years go by.
Below are six stirring examples of this in action, and some things you can do while you work toward the goal of total financial independence.
6 Ways Financial Dependence Limits Your Freedom
1. Freedom of Movement
If you work a job, you only get to travel when you’re doing it for your boss, or during the handful of vacation days your employee grants you. Beyond that, where you live is proscribed by where you work. You might get some flexibility, but you usually pay for it with a longer commute.
And forget about long-term travel until you’ve retired.
The good news is that you can find your freedom with a location-independent job, one where telecommuting is the norm instead of the exception. Or, you can work for one of the many companies offering unlimited PTO benefits. With that and a laptop, you can work from anywhere with decent wi-fi, and change your environment whenever you’d like.
2. Freedom From Scrutiny
Although it has been under severe attack for nearly two decades, the right to privacy is fundamental to personal freedom. If you rely on somebody else for your income, that almost always comes at the cost of that person feeling like they have the right to know your business outside of your employment responsibilities. They will look at your social media, subject you to drug tests, and might even track your movements via your cell phone.
To combat this, start any financial relationship with a solid understanding of what you will accept, and choose to work elsewhere if an employer demands too much. However, most of us already have jobs with invasive policies and can’t afford to quit on the spot. The first step here is to make intrusion more difficult by getting off social media, using private browsers like TOR, and keeping your cell phone’s location functions turned off when you don’t need them.
3. Freedom of Association
Even though the U.S. Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights forbid it, your employer might fire or discipline youbased on what groups you join and who you spend time with. Social media is a wide-open window to everybody’s off-hours, and the courts have sided with employers rather than the employed in most related cases. Your freedom to choose your friends, associates, and communities is a direct function of how tolerant your boss is.
Fight for freedom in this area much like you would with your freedom from scrutiny. Until the world starts to value freedom more highly, the best you can do is make it harder for people to invade your privacy. All of the steps listed above are valuable first efforts in this ongoing battle.
4. Freedom From Illness
Financial freedom doesn’t mean you won’t ever get sick, but it does mean you get to choose your health care system. Instead of selecting the health plan demanded by your employer or labor union, you can make the choice that best fits your needs. Further, you get to choose when to seek medical care on your own instead of conforming to any policies about getting a doctor’s note to confirm your illness. Finally, your financial independence could be delayed by years if you become seriously ill and rack up medical expenses beyond what your employer promised to cover.
To protect yourself from such hardship, establish a large savings account to cover medical costs, co-pays, and premiums. If the numbers work in your favor, opt out of any insufficient employer insurance plans and choose the one that works best for you.
5. Freedom of Time
This is much like the Freedom of Movement we started this post with. If you work a job, your employer decides when you come to work and what time you can leave each day. You have to ask permission to visit your child’s school, take a longer lunch, or even go to a doctor’s appointment. Even flex-time and vacation time make this cage a little larger and more comfortable. At the end of the day, you’ve given control of one-third or more of it to somebody else.
Consider finding your financial independence through consulting or freelance work. By their very nature, these jobs let a client suggest or request when you work (for example by setting deadlines or giving a list of their availability), but you still have the final choice over when you do what.
6. Freedom of Choice
On the one hand, you could view each of the five freedoms above as versions of this critical freedom. Financial dependence limits your ability to make choices about your time, your location, your health, your privacy, and your associations. On the other hand, those are just a handful of the choices that get curtailed when you’re dependent on others for your financial wellbeing. Just a handful of others include how you dress each day, whether or not you own a car, where you eat lunch, and what causes or political parties you support. The bottom line is that the freer your source of income is, the freer you are.
Find your freedom of choice by making a “choice list.” Keep an informal journal for a week, noting everything that you did out of obligation instead of personal choice. This won’t solve the problem but can be a powerful motivator toward doing what you must to get out from under financial dependency.
As mentioned in the beginning, the ultimate freedom comes from financial independence. With financial independence, you can stop working entirely or own a business that gives you control over the source of your financial lifeblood.
The first step toward becoming financially independent is to eliminate whatever is dragging on your financial freedom — debt and unnecessary expenses are two examples. Once you’ve done that, you can accelerate your retirement by years or even a decade. In the meantime, consider some of the short-term solutions we mentioned above as ways to make your financially-dependent life as free as possible.
Bill Thompson is a freelance journalist and research assistant. He writes about personal finance, health, and business for a variety of publications. When not working, he is likely sailing or playing golf somewhere on the East Coast.