Everyone knows that the Fourth of July marks the day – at least approximately – that the American colonists signaled their intention to break away from British rule.

But what many people forget is that the real cause of that decision was economic…

Specifically, the colonists were sick of paying a series of newly imposed taxes without having a say in the way they were being governed.

The truth is that finance and freedom have always been deeply intertwined.

These days, money typically gives you more choices – whether it’s better health care, nicer meals, the opportunity to live where you want, more free time, or a million other things.

So how do you move toward greater financial independence?

The first step is defining what freedom means to you.

I’m not talking about a number. That comes later.

I’m talking about a picture in your mind or a list of concrete goals.

For example… As a kid, I always wanted a house in a nice beach town, a cool car, and enough money to travel and eat well. And I wanted to work on my own terms doing something I enjoyed.

I’ve since accomplished all that.

But it was only possible because I defined those goals ahead of time.

Of course, everyone’s picture is different.

Maybe you want to retire sooner. Take the trip of a lifetime. Have enough extra money to send a child to college. Or buy a fishing boat and always be able to top off the gas tank.

It’s okay to dream big. But you also need to prioritize.

Once you have a sense of where you want to go – and how much money it might take to hit the basic goals – it’s time to move on to the next step…

Create (or revisit) your budget.

Why a Budget Equals Financial Freedom

Most people think “budget” is a dirty word.

It sounds restrictive. A process that will take away all the money earmarked for fun and enjoyment.

In reality, it’s the opposite…

Once you understand how much money you’re spending – and where – you can streamline your life and place greater focus on the activities and goals that matter the most.

More than that, when you earmark a specific amount of money for the things you truly love, you can enjoy them guilt-free.

Start with your necessary fixed costs – housing, utilities, car payments, insurance, etc.

From there, tally up the more discretionary categories – clothing, restaurants, greens fees, and so forth.

Be as granular as possible, using actual bills, receipts, and invoices. Look back a full year or two to get an accurate long-term picture of your outlays and spending habits.

Now, create an accurate picture of your income from all the possible sources – regular employment, side hustles, investments, retirement plans, etc.

Once you have that, start asking some questions:

How much of your earned money is going to necessities versus discretionary items?

Are there changes you could make without real consequences?

And are there different priorities you should emphasize going forward?

You also might find some easy adjustments can be made, including recurring items like:

  • Memberships and subscriptions you aren’t using all that much or could easily be downgraded

  • Landline or cable bills that are redundant with other services you now have

  • And regular indulgences that don’t meaningfully improve your life or create lasting memories

You might also start contemplating bigger changes that could seriously alter the equation going forward – even things like switching up where you live.

The critical part is having a full inventory of your past habits so you can tweak them and get closer to the picture you outlined in the first step.

Make sure your necessary expenses are covered.

From there, allocate money to the discretionary items and pursuits that really give you the most pleasure.

And try to carve out as much money as possible for positive financial maneuvers like debt reduction or increased savings.

Going forward, monitor your progress on a regular basis. Monthly or quarterly would be great. But at the very least, revisit your budget once a year.

You can do this whatever way suits you best – pen and paper, spreadsheet, or an app on your phone.

The key is consistency.

And even if your current life is still far away from that future ideal, don’t get discouraged. The sheer act of defining your goals and honestly evaluating your finances already puts you way ahead of most other people.

Once you do those things, it’s time to start making more of your money work for you.

I consider this part to be step three.

Prioritize and Then Invest

You’ll hear experts talk about different approaches and a lot depends on individual circumstances.

But for me, it’s critical to have a solid emergency fund set aside – anywhere from a couple months of expenses all the way up to a year or more.

This money gets put into something very liquid and very conservative – cash, a savings account, a money market, or something similar.

Your goal isn’t earning a return on investment. It’s making sure you’re ready for any curveball that life throws your way.

After all, if you go ahead and put your extra money into a more volatile investment only to be forced to pull it out on a moment’s notice, you might find doing so either unprofitable or downright impossible.

And reducing high-interest debts should also be high on the list – especially credit card balances.

The reason why is simple: Paying down debt with an interest rate of 15% or 20% is equivalent to investing your money and earning the same type of return. The only difference is paying down the debt is risk-free.

Now, assuming you have tackled – or are actively tackling – the other two, it’s time to start putting more money into investments that can rapidly move you toward true financial independence.

A few months ago, I outlined Daily editor Teeka Tiwari’s recommended “asymmetric investing” strategy in another article, but just to recap…

It entails putting some of your money into conservative investments that generate consistent profits and income.

Then you risk some of that replenishable income on “positive asymmetric” ideas that have the potential to deliver life-changing gains in short order.

I know this might sound like a long, involved process. It might even seem hopeless or impossible.

But if there’s one lesson from Independence Day, it’s that the biggest achievements in history begin with the simple act of putting pen to paper and committing to a larger idea or goal.

Your own financial independence is no different.

Best wishes,

Nilus Mattive signature

Nilus Mattive
Analyst, Palm Beach Daily

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