While money can certainly buy plenty of things, it offers something far more valuable than that tangible stuff: freedom and choice. The more money you acquire and properly pour into channels that can support you now and into the future, the more freedom you have to make choices based on desire — not financial obligation or necessity.
If you want the option to trade in cubicle life for self-employment, kick your roommates to the curb, or eventually afford ocean-front real estate in Naples, FL, financial freedom clears a space for you to seriously consider your options. But reaching this place means ditching all the not-so-great money habits you’ve acquired and picking up the ones you’ve been avoiding.
Here are a few things that could be inadvertently stripping you of your ability to take financial freedom by the horns.
1. Not tracking your spending
In a world where digital spending reigns supreme and cash is often the last thing you’ll find in your wallet, it can be hard to understand how much is actually leaving your account every day. Even the trickle of minor impulse purchases can eventually lead to a major dam break and a nagging feeling that you just don’t know where your money goes every month.
If you want to sit in the driver’s seat and tell your money where to go instead of asking where it went, you must track your spending. Whether you use an app (such as Mint or LevelMoney) or you simply track your receipts, this is the only way you can really understand your money habits and the holes they’re leaving in your future planning.
2. Not saving for retirement
If the word “retirement” conjures up thoughts of wasting away on a couch watching soap operas, now is the time to shift how you think about your golden years.
Retirement is simply a time when you can fill your day with choices instead of obligations, and the earlier you start saving, the sooner you can make this monumental shift.
So if you tossed the 401(k) contribution form at work, or you’ve settled on a contribution rate that is less than 10% of your current income, you’re simply resigning yourself to more years of the daily grind.
If you don’t know where that extra money will come from, take a careful look at your spending. There are likely minor expenses that could be cut to make this dream of retirement a reality.
3. Not treating your savings like a bill
If you’ve ever been told to “pay yourself first” and been puzzled at the prospect, it’s simple: Pay your savings (both short- and long-term) just as you would any other bill.
Treating your savings as a holding ground for this month’s leftover funds means your discretionary spending will likely be far higher than it should be and your savings rate far lower than it could be. Removing money from your available spending bucket at a predetermined rate on a predetermined day each month ensures your impulse spending doesn’t get the extra padding that your savings should be getting.
4. Not seeking financial knowledge
The personal finance world is vast and filled with lots of complicated subject matter. Unfortunately, most of us weren’t schooled on how to get a mortgage or how to create a sustainable budget — these are things we must learn, either through expensive trial and error or by seeking out information on our own.
If you aren’t a regular knowledge seeker, chances are, you’re making less than optimal financial decisions for yourself, or you’re simply avoiding these things altogether. Reaching financial freedom requires careful thought and planning, something that becomes infinitely easier with the right information.
5. Not setting financial goals
Without concrete goals complete with dollar amounts and achievement dates, you are traveling a complicated path without a map. You might still get to your destination — say, owning a home or reaching retirement — but the journey will take far longer and might not look exactly as you’d imagined.
If you’ve thought about goals but only in vague terms, now is the time to really determine the shape and size of these goals and the plan you will follow to achieve them. Only then will you begin to understand how you can create your own version of financial freedom.