We all have our ideas of what the “perfect life” would be like but often the images in our mind are a far cry from the reality we are living. If you were able to travel back in time and ask a younger version of yourself if this is the future they’d choose for themselves, what would their answer be? Twenty years ago, could you have envisioned the life you have today? Is it everything you’d imagined or have your dreams evaporated into thin air?
Chances are, the life you are living today is nothing like the life you expected to have. You sold your ideals for a dollar bill. Why? “Because that’s just what adults do.” We have to make a living to pay the bills. There’s food to buy and television to watch. How are we supposed to save the world when we’re up to our eyeballs in debt? The mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself, is it?
“It is what it is.” There’s no time for dreams. Dreams don’t pay the bills or put food on the table. Our younger selves didn’t understand what it meant to be adults. We have obligations now and we’ve built our lives around some idea of what it means to be a “responsible adult” in today’s world. What we ended up with is a career that steals our time and energy, a mortgage that drains our income and debt from all the Stuff we bought to furnish and decorate our home. We have many thousands of dollars in Student Loans and a couple of cars to pay for. Oh yeah, and the credit cards…
It looks like being an adult isn’t all that we’ve been led to believe. All of our lives we’ve been told that adults are “responsible”, implying that it’s somehow more virtuous to fall in line and follow the leader than it is to follow our youthful ambitions. The “responsible” thing to do is find a job, get married and have children, buy a house and a couple of cars, then keep your nose to the grindstone until it’s finally time to retire. When that day does come, we hope that our health will last long enough to enjoy the life of our dreams; the life we’ve been waiting our whole life to live.
And what has it all amounted to? A garage full of Stuff we never really needed in the first place, kids that seem to resent our very existence unless we’re buying them something, a spouse that we barely seem to know anymore and a huge house we aren’t able to enjoy because we are at the office earning a paycheck to pay the mortgage.
Sure, we have all the Stuff we could ever imagine. We drive nice cars and wear nice clothes. Our home is decorated like a magazine cover and on the weekends we are able to relax with a cold beer in the backyard. On the surface things seem wonderful. A little deeper though and things don’t look as good anymore.
What are we sacrificing to create this image of the “perfect” life? Our time, our energy, our sanity? If the average person starts working fresh out of college at the age of 22 and retires at 67, that’s 45 years of life sold for a dollar bill. We’re trading our life to fill our garage with junk, for a heap of metal to take us to a job so that we can pay for that same heap of metal.
What if there were a different way? What if you didn’t have to spend your entire life working? Would you do it? If you knew that in 10 years you could be financially able to walk away from your job with enough money to pay for all your expenses, would you have the ambition to make it happen?
There is a way, it is possible! The only problem – of course there’s a problem – is that to get there, you have to minimize your spending and save. “But that’s Un-American!” Our entire lives we’ve been told to “get out there and boost the economy.” After the attacks on September 11 we were told to go shopping as a way to stand up against terrorism. Does that mean we’re supporting terrorism by saving money? Of course not!
What I’m talking about isn’t a new concept. It isn’t impossible. It’s been done before and it’ll be done again. And not just by a few outliers but by many thousands of people. Will you be one of them???
What’s the secret?
Live Frugally: Cut your expenses to the bone. Anything that doesn’t offer real value to your life is out. That might mean going without a contracted cell phone, cable television, TiVo or Netflix. Find alternatives or other ways to occupy your time. It may seem impossible now but you can live without these things.
Get Out of Debt: You can’t be financially independent when you’re in debt. Get out, get out, get out! By adopting a frugal lifestyle, the extra money you’re able to save can be applied towards eliminating your debt. After you’ve saved up enough money to cover six months of living expenses, every penny should be thrown at your debt.
Save: Once you’ve paid off the last of your debt it’s time to save like never before. It may take you a few years, maybe even ten or 15, to save enough money to become financially independent but that’s better than 45 years!
Invest: This is where the magic is! With the money you’ve saved, you can invest it into conservative investment vehicles which will pay you interest in fixed intervals over a specific length of time. If you’ve saved and invested enough, this interest will cover all of your monthly expenses. Now your money is working for you, not the other way around!
If you’d like to learn more about the process outlined above, I recommend checking out the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.