The nebulousness of "financial freedom"

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 12, 2023, 11:29 PM | comments: 0

The other day I was reading some random opinion column that suggested the American aspiration of "financial freedom" is dumb. There were some distractions about how if we all had healthcare maybe maybe this wouldn't be the goal, and while I tend to agree that might be true, the real problem is that people who do have "financial freedom" are not really any happier, or really all that free. Obviously, exclude celebrities and dotcom unicorns, as he wasn't talking about them.

The argument was that if people were more specific about moving toward the specific things that they wanted to do, instead of building wealth to have the option to do whatever they wanted, they would lead a more fulfilled and happy life.

Not gonna lie, this hit me like a ton of bricks. Because I think it's true.

Applied to my own life, I haven't until recent years really defined what it is that I want to do. Life can be funny that way, because we get into a career and parenthood and real estate, and we're suddenly in a box to make sure that we continue to have all of that tidy. I'm far from a Type-A box checker, but shit, I'm in that box.

But a funny thing happened when I started thinking more seriously about retirement in recent years. I've gradually come around to the idea that I don't necessarily want to stop "working," and that the thing that I'm really after is working on whatever I want. I mean, I see these "retirees" working at Walt Disney World all of the time, and at that age, I know they're not doing those often hard jobs because they need to. While I want to "retire" at a certain date, it doesn't mean that day I want to sit around scratching my ass and play Lego Star Wars for the hundredth time. So it's not that I want the freedom to do "whatever," it's to do something specific. I'm just not sure exactly what that is just yet.

Most of my life I've really approached the road to "freedom" as only acquiring some level of "F-you" money. That was pretty dumb. In recent years, I was already treating specific financial goals as a more fulfilling kind of freedom. Our trip to Europe this summer was fairly deluxe in nature, and we could do it because I was disciplined enough to know that it was an outcome that would make me happy. Budgeting for the film equipment is in the same category. Getting Diana into long-arm quilting a few years ago was also a happy outcome. This year I've found freedom and happiness by targeting specific outcomes today, not some point in the future. And right now, I'm saving for that lighting console, partly for the joy of learning and doing something new, but also because it could become what I do.

Could I have been doing this my entire life? The answer is obviously yes. I have in some ways been doing it ever since we left Seattle, and it's the reason we live where we do. And then we discovered all of this other stuff that was possible like going to and working at the theater, going on cruises, building a home bar for entertaining, becoming electric car enthusiasts (which is fortunately getting closer to just having a car). I think the big swings were the move, the Europe trip, and probably all of the cruises, but these are things that have definitely been happy outcomes.

Does this mean that you should piss away whatever you're putting away for later in life? Definitely not. But I think we should all have specific things in mind, because the goal isn't the dollars you have, it's the things that you'll do with them. You don't need to do your best to be a multi-millionaire for that (unless following your bliss means having a yacht, I guess). This is more about how you think about the life outcomes instead of actual financial outcomes. Sure, the more you have, the more you can enable specific things, but the goal itself shouldn't be having more. You can't take it with you.


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