Path in the woods

If you ask ten different people what financial freedom means to them, you will likely get ten different answers. Some people view financial freedom as that mythical land where they no longer have to work. Others seek financial freedom by starting businesses or ditching the 9-to-5 grind for the freedom of the gig economy. For others, being financially free means living below their means so they can put cash aside for a rainy day.

No matter what financial freedom means to you, the road to this destination is not easy. It is best to think of the road to financial freedom as a series of small steps instead of a sprint to the finish line. You may dream of winning the lottery and quitting your job the next day, but that is unlikely to happen. If you want to pursue financial freedom on your terms, you need to start with a realistic goal.

For example, if your dream is to leave the grind, figure out what you want your "gig" job to be, and start it— just on a small scale. Dedicate a few hours each week (or month) to get your new biz going. Before you know it, you can start adding more and more time, which in turn will lead to more and more money. If you want to supercharge your new endeavor, invest all the money you start earning directly back into that business. Spend it on supplies, marketing, training, licenses, anything you may need to get it to the point where you can comfortably leave your full-time job.

Beyond that, the number one thing workers can do to pursue financial freedom is to live below their means. It does not matter if you make $30,000, $300,000, or $3 million a year; if you spend more than you make, financial freedom will always be unlikely. Of course, living beneath your means is easier said than done, and getting there is no simple task. If you need a place to start, you may want to focus on purchases that bring real joy to your life instead of merely keeping up with what the neighbors are doing.

Having a thorough monthly budget in place can also help pave the road to financial freedom—the more detailed your budget, the better. A customized monthly spending plan should also be included.

Your budget for December, for instance, will likely include lots of holiday shopping, while your April budget may have a line item for payment to the IRS. You can start with any number of free budget templates, but customizing the entries will help you make that spending plan your own.

Once your budget is in place and your spending is under control, you can further the path to financial freedom by automating your savings and investments. The easiest and most effective way to do this is through your employer; if you have access to a 401(k), 403(b), or other workplace retirement plan, signing up puts you on that path to automatic savings.

If you do not have access to a workplace retirement plan, you can set up an automated saving and investment program through a discount brokerage firm or mutual fund company. Automating your investments can be as simple as transferring a set amount from your savings account to your favorite mutual fund once a month.

This automated investment strategy can help you reach financial freedom, but it also helps reinforce your "live below your means" strategy. By taking a set amount off the top, you force yourself to live on less, which can be good news for your future financial freedom.

Investing in your career is another crucial stepping stone on the road to financial freedom. Putting money aside in a mutual fund and building up your 401(k) is fine, but nothing can jump-start your finances like a string of lucrative promotions. By investing in your education and your career, you become a more valuable part of the team, and good employers will recognize and reward that dedication.

Depending on where you work, you may not have to invest much of your own money to advance your career. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs that help their workers build toward a better future, creating a win-win situation for workers and companies alike.

The journey to financial freedom is not an easy one and no two people will get there in the same way. By taking a combination approach, one that includes investment in your career, smart spending, and consistent (not constant) savings, you can bring the elusive goal of financial freedom into reach for yourself and your family.

Make Informed Decisions About Your Finances

We recognize that mastering money and finances is a continuous journey. That's why we want to provide you with the tools to create a bright financial future. No matter where you are in your financial journey, there is always room to learn. Visit our Financial Wellness page for more articles and resources on a variety of financial topics.

Financial Wellness Resources