What it Takes to Achieve Financial Freedom

Have you thought about life where you’ve achieved financial freedom? But do you often find yourself waiting for your next payday as well? No worries – you’re not alone. If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, I urge you to keep reading.

A couple of years ago I was in the same spot. I’d just graduated from college, where I learned all the worst ways to handle money. They don’t teach you much about income management when you study international relations and Middle Eastern studies.

For some reason, they don’t even teach you at school what to do with your first salary either. “But hey, at least I know Pythagoras’ theorem” – said no-one ever.

I’m not saying the knowledge we’re taught in math classes is completely pointless, as it trains your brain and teaches you the basics about maths. What I’m saying is that the link between real life and maths is completely missing from the school curricula. This picture sums it up pretty well:

Math classes are irrelevant in school
This text accurately describes my feelings for maths at school.

Thankfully, I somehow (more like magically) passed high school maths and started receiving regular paychecks from 18 onwards. And no, not from my parents – as most college students do, but from the university I attended.

This meant I had to start calculating my earnings and expenses, to last until the end of the month. That’s pretty basic maths which I, fortunately, knew how to do.

In the university, I was a full-time student-athlete on a full scholarship, which meant I was paid to do sports and study at the same time (spoiler alert: it’s not as glamorous as it sounds).

I didn’t know much about saving, let alone investing back then, so I got into the habit of spending my entire stipend. After spending it all, I started waiting for the next payday every month.

By the time I got my first ‘real’ job in the ‘real’ world (in 2015), I had the same mentality and it was hard to change.

Throwing money when you get paid will not get you closer to financial freedom
Me when I got paid.

Bad Spending Habits = Nothing In Your Savings Account

Everything in life starts with habits. You don’t need to be good at math to know this: if you can’t control your spending, you’ll never get in the habit of saving.

Most likely you’ll live from payday to payday or go broke when financial hardship hits you. And even if you earn millions, like Johnny Depp for example, you can still go broke when you spend more than you earn.

Earning money from a relatively young age can be an extremely valuable lesson. Receiving paychecks in college made me somewhat aware of how I was spending. When you dedicate about 20 hours per week to rowing, or any sport really, you need to eat a lot just to stay alive. So naturally, most of my money went on food.

Spending all my money on food after workout
An accurate image of me after a long workout

However, as the dining out culture is huge in the US, I also felt the need to participate and spent ridiculous amounts on eating out. Some of it was justified, as I didn’t have much time to cook between workouts, school and work, but most of it wasn’t.

Spending most of my money on food left me with less spending money for the summer, when I was back home in Estonia (as I didn’t receive the stipend during the summer months).

I tried to save up for each summer, but most of the time I failed and had to ask my mom to help me out. This always made me feel crappy, as I know I could have avoided it if I would have had enough savings.

Asking for help because someone is poor
Me approaching my mom

In 2015, shortly after graduating, I got my first job in the financial sector. As many people think, I also thought that once I start making ‘real’ money, I can do what I want with it. At the time, I wanted to buy nice things, take nice vacations, get more cute house décor, etc (well, this hasn’t changed, but it’s under control).

So, Financial Freedom then?

To make it plainly clear – no, I’m not financially free. Not yet. Nor am I close to achieving financial freedom in the next couple of years. But I’m trying to look at things optimistically: I don’t have any debt besides very low mortgage payments. I have a rewarding and enjoyable job, and very clear financial goals which I’m moving towards.

And most importantly, I’m confident of achieving financial freedom in the near future

I started believing I could have a brighter financial future about 4 years ago. I was lost in the internet, as often happens, and stumbled upon a financial article, all about the concept of financial freedom. I hadn’t even heard the term before, and the words ‘investing’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ were pretty alien to me.

When I was growing up, there was nobody in my family who was an entrepreneur, investor, or enjoying financial freedom. For a long time I thought the ‘Business client login’ option in an online bank is just for bosses of huge corporations.

I imagined the CEO of Telia or someone like that logging in there with their bank credentials. Silly, I know, but thanks to meeting the ‘right’ type of people in my late teens, my opinion about entrepreneurship changed.

I can’t recall what type of article or blog I stumbled upon back then, but after a while I found myself visualizing a life of financial freedom. The image in my mind was something along the lines of drinking cocktails on a beach and constantly traveling the world. It’s fair to say that image has long gone, thanks to continuously educating myself about financial topics.

The fact is, it’s impossible to achieve financial freedom if you’re not smart with your money, and if you spend every penny you earn. Making wise financial decisions can be tough, especially as we live in a consumerist society, where we’re subconsciously influenced to buy stuff we don’t need.

swiping card constantly to buy things you don't need

How to be Smart with Money

I’ve heard countless stories of people traveling and taking nice vacations without having any savings, or even worse, paying for vacations with money they loaned.

Aside from it being financially irresponsible, it can even be dangerous, as you never know what could happen during your travels. You never know when you might need a large amount of money to bail you out. Starting from robberies and kidnapping, and ending with insanely high medical bills.

Most of the relevant articles, books and podcasts which teach us how to be smart about your money recommend to start off by analyzing your spending. I definitely agree as it’s the cornerstone of achieving anything financially. On a small scale, I started with this back at college, where I soon realized I cannot save money before I know where I’m spending it.

There is a Way…

I often found myself spending small amounts here-and-there, but back then I didn’t really focus on them too much. Now, things have changed, and I make sure I’m not buying a 3€ coffee every day or a new pair of jeans without really considering whether I actually need them.

I’ll share with you 3 very basic habits I started using about 3 years ago, which have completely transformed my finances. Focus on adopting these habits if you want to control your money, instead of your money controlling you.

Create These New Habits for Achieving Financial Freedom:

1. Create the Habit of Saving

I cannot stress this enough. For me, the move towards financial freedom started with saving. I didn’t set a percentage I’d set aside from all of my earnings back then as I do now (50%), but I believe you should have at least 3 months’ expenses available in your bank account. Because you never know when something could happen to you or your job – it’s often called an ‘emergency fund’.

It’s especially important to have an emergency fund if you have a family to take care of. To this day, I’m thankful I haven’t had to use mine.

Saving is a conscious decision you need to make, and it’s best if you write down your target amount and allocate the funds to your savings account every payday.

Besides saving, I slowly started looking very critically at my spending (I actually recommend doing this before you start saving). I had to consciously convince myself in the store that I really don’t need an 18th pair of shoes or that cute 20€ jar that would match the kitchen tiling so perfectly.

I had to consciously convince myself in the store that I really don’t need the 18th pair of shoes or that cute 20€ jar that would match the kitchen tiling so perfectly.

It’s only logical to assume, that the better spending habits you have, the more you’ll save. For clarity – I’m nowhere near recording every cent I spend, and I do splurge occasionally – but only on stuff which is high quality and will last me another 5-10 years.

2. Educate Yourself on Financial Topics

I would recommend watching video courses here, but I often find they’re created by people who aren’t experts in the field but just want to make a quick buck with an e-course.

Don’t get me wrong – there are definitely some valuable video lessons out there, you just have to know where to look. That’s why I’m suggesting books instead (or audiobooks, if you’re not friends with reading).

Book cover of The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
The investing bible, which is a bit too tough to read as your first investing book, but needs to be read before you make any investment decisions.

Some of the best financial books I’ve read are all written in very simple terms. I started with books that taught me very basic information about money and financial freedom, so simple a 9th grader could probably read them.

I then slowly moved on to books about entrepreneurship and investing. And that’s where I got into investing in dividend stocks, side hustles, entrepreneurship etc.

3. Invest Wisely

Nobody has ever achieved financial freedom by only saving money. They’ve also invested it very wisely. Winning a lottery is often perceived as one way to achieve financial freedom, but in reality, it almost never happens (first of all, what are the odds, and second of all, most of them spend it on a lifestyle they can’t afford). To hold on to your win for more than a couple of years, you need to invest it, and not speculate with it.

To invest it wisely, you need to follow the point above (educate yourself!) – either through books about investing or by learning to read the financial reports of companies.

Selling stocks after holding on to them for a couple of days/months or participating in your friends’ scheme that promises a 300% yield is not investing. This is speculating, which in most cases ends in disaster.

I wrote about what’s the difference between investing and speculating in this post, but this graph gives you the basics.

Comparison table of investment vs sepculation

A Lucky Speculator?

In one of the best investment books ever written – ‘The Intelligent Investor’ – the author Benjamin Graham states that you are a lucky speculator if you only lose two dollars for every dollar you gamble with.

Therefore, I encourage you to be extremely careful with any type of speculation. Whether in cryptocurrencies or “investing” in your friends Ponzi (or Pyramid) schemes.

You are a lucky speculator if you only lose two dollars for every dollar you gamble with

Benjamin Graham

After you’ve created a habit of saving, and read books on handling money, you’ll discover that people who enjoy financial freedom save and invest regularly, create budgets, are extremely aware of their spending habits and constantly live below their means.

You can read here how to get started with investing, even if you’re from a very poor background. I’ll also be writing an article in 3 parts, all about how to get started with investing wisely. Stay tuned!

Related articles:

How to Save Even More by Spending Less

If you’re not into books on money management, or currently not interested in educating yourself on investment topics, I’ll make it even easier. Start from small things, and see where they lead you.

There are so many easy ways to spend less and save more if you’re fully committed. So, here are some things you could start doing today to move towards financial freedom.

Pay Back Your Credit Card Debt (and Avoid Using it at All Costs)

This applies to all high-interest debts – pay them back asap if you want to save money. The interest you pay on your credit card debt varies depending on where you’re from and which bank you’re with.

In the US, living above one’s means has become the norm, so maxing out your credit card seems to be a normal thing to do. It’s not. You’re donating money to your bank every month by paying the interest. It’s much easier to achieve financial freedom if you don’t pay insane interest every month.

I suggest you follow this simple, but golden rule: If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it!

Burn credit card

Create Budgets

Based on your income, and the savings you want to have in the future, create monthly budgets for groceries, clothing, dining out etc. There are so many apps these days that make it super easy for you. I started creating budgets on a piece of paper and tried sticking to this plan as much as possible.

Order Food from Online Stores

This way you won’t buy unnecessary stuff in the store based on your current emotions, and it’s easy to know in advance how much your bill will be. Another perk of doing this is staying healthier – when you’re buying food online, you won’t be as likely to add those chocolate bars to your grocery list. I order my food from FreshGo – it saves me tons of time and money.

Take your lunch with you

Saving starts with controlling your small purchases. If you spend 2-5€ every day on coffee or a chocolate bar, it adds up. The same goes with lunch. Stop spending 5-7€ on your lunch at work, and it adds up to 100-140€ per month.

If you do a little bit of meal prepping in advance, you can already save a good amount of money just by bringing your own food. Even if just for 3 days a week!

Stop Buying Overpriced Coffee

When I first started saving and budgeting, this was the first thing I stopped doing. The office I work at helped me achieve this as well, as we have free coffee (like a lot of companies these days).

Spending 3-4€ on coffee is financially insane, and that’s why you should stop doing it. If you don’t have free coffee at your workplace, buy yourself a coffee machine for home – if you’re in love with coffee the way I am, it’ll end up saving you lots of money.

Here’s THE BEST coffee maker of all times: A Nespresso Coffee Machine (which also has free shipping in Europe). It has saved me so much money and has made my mornings so much nicer!

Check on All Your Online Subscriptions

Are you signed up for Spotify, Netflix, online newspapers, video games etc? If yes, take a look at your bank account and see how much you spend on them each month. Think very critically if they’re that important, or they’ve become just part of your habits.

Buy Used Books and/or E-books

If you love reading as much as I do, it can become a costly hobby. Used books and e-books are often cheaper than hardcopies. I recently looked at how much I spend on books and was horrified to see that across a year it worked out as about 80€ a month, or 960€ in one year!

Bonus for Book Addicts: Don’t buy New Books Before Finishing the Old Ones

I definitely think that you don’t have to finish all the books you read. If it’s not interesting, don’t force yourself, it’s a waste of your precious time. But I know that I have about 100 books on my reading list, about 40 of which I’ve already bought. Financially, it’s definitely not a wise thing to do, so you (and I) should stop doing it asap.

Conclusions

Creating the habit of saving can be hard at first, especially when you feel like there’s nowhere to cut your costs. Start small – having 200€ in savings is better than 0€. By making small changes, you can create new habits, which will put you into a much better place in years to come.

These habits will move you closer to your goal of financial freedom. Therefore, if you want to do the things you love in the future, start saving now. 

If you’re not into books as much as I am, I suggest you start listening to these podcasts (all available on Spotify), as they will change your understanding about finances, working, entrepreneurship etc.

Entreleadership

The Side Hustle Show

The Side Hustle Project

The Chris Hogan Show

The Tim Ferriss Show

And a little overview to you all who just scrolled the post till the end:

save money now

3 thoughts on “What it Takes to Achieve Financial Freedom

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.