What Does Financial Freedom Mean To You?

DailyWorth today has a great feature of stories about how women across U.S define financial freedom and how they achieved it. My favourite highlight of the article is how much our money in the bank says very little about how free or empowering we feel in regards to our finance.

We could be earning RM10,000 a month and feel like we still don’t have enough, or we could be living in a 400 sq. ft. house and feel like we are the luckiest person on earth. It’s all about mind over matter.

How I define personal freedom: A peace of mind, and the ability to live life on my own terms.

I am lucky enough to learn by example from my parents that money is only important as far as it meets our needs. You need to have shelter, clothes, food, and education – and the rest of the stuffs are just frills.

More importantly, what you do with your life and how you live it matters – YOU, not anyone else.

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My mom was ahead of her career when she quit her job from the Central Bank to move across country with our family. 20 years later, a family crises put her loyalty and sacrifice to a test. She got through it with gumption, and on top of it all, she still managed to have her own retirement income and buy her own house.

This was the greatest lesson my mom has taught me, that you have to look after yourself, that you are responsible for your own life, that no matter what happen, own yourself.

How I achieved it:

Like my mom, the family crises we went through made me question my life. At 18, I learned with a terrifying realisation that I can no longer rely on anybody except myself. It’s terrifying, but when I came out of it it’s also the best feeling in the world.

From then on, nothing else matters. Every time I make a decision, I would ask myself: what do you want?

I changed my major from Pre-Pharmacy 1 to Pre-Biology because I want to work in the forest like Simon Jackson. I shunned any thoughts of doing paid internship because I want to work with the wildlife department in the forest, with no mobile or internet coverage for three months. I went on to do a graduate degree in policy analysis because I prefer looking at the big picture instead of working in the lab. Instead of working in the public sector or academia as I thought I would/should, I am now working with a donors project and local companies.

Do you know the best part of it? Deciding for my own education and career has an impact far and beyond what I can imagine.

I am enjoying my work, and I’m rewarded for it (my income has increased 100% since I started). My classmates and I became the best of friends until today, some of them from all corners of the world from my postgraduate stint in Sydney, Australia. I went on a journey of acceptance and forgiveness during my year abroad and I am far better off emotionally today than I was at 18.

I am content driving an 8-year old car, I don’t care about the latest fashion, owning branded handbags or matching shoes and I have no plans to buy an RM400,000 house. I have the comfort of four cats I rescued from the streets, I enjoy spoiling my nieces and nephews with books, and games and trips to water parks and zoos, and I take my friends to hikes when they come visiting. On top of it all, I am saving for my retirement and my overland trip project in 2015.

People often ask themselves, how do you know when you have made it? I didn’t know it then, but that moment when I went to see my course advisor to change my programme from Pre-Pharmacy to Pre-Biology and he exclaimed jokingly, “Everybody who came to see me wants to move up 2, and you want to move down? Well done!”, that was my first step.

What does financial freedom mean to you?

Notes:

  • I didn’t get into the Pre-Medicine programme, so Pre-Pharmacy was the next option. It’s one of the best paid job after medicine! My relatives were saying).
  • Most students who didn’t get to Pre-Medicine programme often try to perform well in their programme and apply to it during the foundation programme.

It Doesn’t Matter How Slow You Go As Long As You Don’t Stop

If you ask me 5 years ago, I wouldn’t be able to imagine a PF blogger in me.

Sure, I had a (non-) working budget, I made plans every time I receive my 3-month allowance from my sponsor, I know how much should I set aside for rent and utilities, and I was aware when my balance in the bank hit rock bottom – but I had no notion about money and how it should work for me in the long term.

Retirement, investing and health insurance – who think about these things at 23? (Apparently, some people do).

My journey in personal finance has been slow and oblique. It took me six months or more to recognise buying a mattress is a need and Starbucks coffee is a want (guess which want I opted for, most of the time?), it took me two years to be comfortable with my own budget, and a lot longer than that to be confident with my savings capability (and I have no debt, therefore saying very little of my self-determination).

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Nevertheless, as many PF bloggers would concur, personal finance is, if anything,personal.

I recently went on bouts of spending money – both for needs and wants of different measures. I was apprehensive, at first, thinking if I’m indulging myself far too easily, worrying if I’m able to meet my goals in time, with highest possible number.

But I had to stop and give a slap to myself, what are you talking about?!

I find it funny even for someone as diligent as I am, who earns for her own living and who saves for retirement, emergency and other life goals – I’m still tricked into being guilty when it comes to money.

My friend and I were talking recently about turning 30. Our parents are beginning to worry we would get past our “Best Before” dates and remain single forever.

I worried about turning 30 before. But then I thought, what the hell I was thinking? I have another 30-40 years to live – I’m not going to stop living and chasing my dreams just because I turned 30!

Similarly, in the world of personal finance – I could be earning $100,000 or reaching $250,000 net worth if I work a little harder by age 30 – but for what?!What’s wrong with right now, right here? Even when we are in debt, or have only three-figure net worth? Why do we even put our self worth to how much money we are making or how much money we have amassed?

I don’t think it really matters if we make a little error, have some debts, spend some money – we are human – we are not designed to be perfect.

Making it doesn’t mean having it all on a plate at the same time; high net worth, a house with a yard, a brand new car.

Making it may mean paying for that debt today, or bumping that savings tomorrow, or signing ourselves for a health and disability insurance later, or giving it all for a cause we believe in. It’s a work in progress. It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you don’t stop…