What Does Financial Freedom Mean to Me?


I’ve written before that most of my big money decisions are based on whether it helps me achieve either of my top two financial goals:

  1. Security
  2. Freedom

Security is something I’ve valued for a long time. I’m generally a conservative person who likes to stay in my comfort zone, and I get a little uneasy when there are big rocks to the boat. The big financial benefit to that mindset is that I learned very early on to embrace the beauty of insurance and I’ve always made it a priority to build a secure financial base for my family.

The idea of financial freedom is something that is much newer to me. Like many of us, I grew up with the standard life path in mind: get good grades, go to college, find a job, advance your career, work until 60-65, retire.

It wasn’t until recently that I’ve started thinking that things can be different.

What is my definition of financial freedom?

My definition of financial freedom is simple:

Financial freedom is the ability to do what I want with my time

That’s it. No more. No less.

But what the heck does that mean?

Good question!

To me, financial freedom is not defined by whether or not you are working. It’s not defined by how much money you have in the bank. Instead, it’s defined by our freedom to use the most precious we have:


If my son has a school play in the middle of a weekday, I want to be able to go to it.

If my wife has an opportunity to do something that will advance her counseling practice, I want to be able to take the kids so she can do it.

If we decide that we want to take a few weeks to travel the world as a family, I want to be able to do it.

Some of these things require money (particularly the travel), but more than anything they require that you have an ability to decide how you use your time. No one is dictating the use of your time other than you. That is true freedom.

How will we reach financial freedom?

So let’s step back for a minute and think about how this can be achieved.

To be completely honest with you, my wife and I are still forming our ideas around this. As I said above, it’s a concept that’s relatively new to us and our plan is still developing. But here are some of the basic ideas for how we anticipate achieving this kind of freedom.

1. Spend money on things we value, not on things we don’t

Notice that I didn’t say that we want to cut our budget to a bare minimum. Less is not inherently better.

We’re happy to spend money on things we value and that bring us real happiness. A good example is the money we spend on travel to see our family in Florida. That’s real money that if saved would help us quit work sooner. But quitting work isn’t the goal. Spending our time how we want is the goal. And we want to see our family, so we spend to do it.

On the other hand, we’re more than happy to cut spending out of our lives when it isn’t providing us with real value. We recently cut our cable, but it had nothing to do with being able to afford it or thinking cable is evil. It simply wasn’t something we valued very highly, so it was cut out of our lives.

The goal here is to make sure that your money is spent purposefully. A big part of having the freedom of time is minimizing your financial obligations that don’t have importance to you. It’s much easier to go see that school play when you don’t have the financial pressure of paying off the cost of all those “things” you barely ever use.

2. Start businesses we love

Just over three years ago my wife started a mental health counseling practice that she currently runs on Saturdays. She’s bringing in some incredibly helpful income already, but more importantly she has the ability to scale it up or down as she pleases. And even more importantly she loves the work.

I’m way behind my wife, but I have plans to build something similar. The goal is to build something I love doing and that allows me to be flexible with how I spend my time.

Remember, my definition of financial freedom has nothing to do with whether or not I’m working. It has to do with how I spend my time. If I can spend it running a business that I love and that gives me ability to do the other things I love, that fits the bill.

3. Invest early, often and consistently

You can read all about our personal investment plan here. We recognized from an early age that investing early and often is one of the big keys to generating long-term wealth. Staying consistent with that plan is another key to success. Our only big changes will be in the amount we contribute, which we hope to increase over time.

If you’re stuck on how to get started investing, you can read my two-part guide here:

  1. How to Start Investing – Part 1
  2. How to Start Investing – Part 2

4. Keep family at the forefront of all decisions

For my wife and I, the primary reason we want financial freedom is because we want to be able to spend time with our family. But that’s not just a future goal. It’s a present one as well.

There are career paths I could explore that might cut our time until financial freedom in half because of the salaries they pay. But they would also require me to spend almost all of my current time at work and would rob me of years of family time.

For some people that tradeoff would be worth it. For us it’s not. We want to work hard and make something of ourselves, but not at the expense of forming the strong family bonds that will carry us through our lives.

If time with family is the ultimate objective then for us it needs to be a constant one.

The journey is ongoing

An inherent part of my definition of financial freedom is that there is no end point. As opposed to the traditional definition of retirement where you reach a certain amount of money and then quit working, there is no definitive marker saying “now you can use your time how you want”. And even when you do reach that point, there’s the possibility of it slipping away from you if you don’t keep that goal at the forefront. A business you loved 5 years ago may not be a business you love today. If that’s the case, some work needs to be done to recapture that freedom of time.

So to me, financial freedom is more of a journey than a destination. It’s more of an approach to life than it is an end goal.

But it’s an exciting one. And it’s one I look forward to pursuing.

Start building a better financial future with the resource I wish I had when I was starting my family. It’s free!

50 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Color Me Frugal November 18, 2013

    Love it! I couldn’t agree more- we are striving for financial freedom so that we and we alone can determine how we spend our time. I think having a solid plan like this is really important to achieving such a huge goal. Thanks for the great post.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      Thanks a lot. Our plan is definitely still forming but I think the end goal is worthwhile. Time is the most valuable asset we have.

  • Holly Johnson November 18, 2013

    We’re like you in that most of our decisions center around being more available for our kids. To me, financial freedom means being able to make the life decisions that are best for us with family as #1 and our finances as the #2 consideration.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      You’re one of the few people who’s already able to practice what they preach. Time and attention are really the best gifts we can give our kids.

  • Mrs PoP @ PlantingOurPennies November 18, 2013

    We have a similar view on financial freedom / independence. We mostly want to remove the requirement that we sell our time from our lives, leaving us time to pursue whatever it is we want. =)

  • Ben_WealthGospel November 18, 2013

    Great article! When I was in college, I wanted to be a big corporation executive, but when we had a bunch of big corporate execs come and speak to us, all of them were asked at the end about the work-life balance and every one of them struggled. At that point, it suddenly became completely unattractive. No one, on their deathbed, is going to say, “I wish I spent more time at the office.”

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      I had a lot of classmates who went into investment banking type jobs right out of school. Most of them are making a ton of money now, but that was never appealing to me simply because of the hours required. I’m all for working hard but balance has always been important to me. I think you hit it right on the head here.

      • Ben_WealthGospel November 18, 2013

        Investment banking is the worst. The money isn’t worth it.

  • Ree Klein November 18, 2013

    I love your definition of financial freedom, Matt. So many people see “it” as some distant point in time rather than the journey you suggest. In fact, we gain financial freedom with every choice we make…the choices we make today, this instant. Each choice gains financial freedom or steals it away.

    Your example of taking a vacation to visit family is a great example. The decisions you made up to the discussion of whether or not to spend the money to go gave you the freedom to even consider the trip.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      That’s a really great way of saying it Ree! You’re absolutely right that every choice we make either brings us closer to freedom or pushes us further away. When we’re willing to give up the things today that we don’t really value, we gain the ability to choose tomorrow the things we do.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money November 18, 2013

    Starting businesses is also part of my plan for financial freedom. My blog has been a big help both psychologically and financially when it comes to pursuing this goal. I want to continue to build my business as well as diversify until I’m bringing in the same amount I am at my full-time job.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      That’s a great goal. Blogging has definitely opened my eyes to some of the possibilities out there as well. None of it is easy, but there is a lot of opportunity.

  • Andrew November 18, 2013

    I define financial freedom the same as you and think this is a great list. I think we are following the steps, except for #2 and part of me thinks that we should pursue that but it’s tough. It’s great that your wife has a practice that she can scale up at some point and that she enjoys what she does. At one point we wanted to open a child care center but opening a business has many risks and needs capital to invest in. When my wife was offered a stable government job, she took it, but she misses teaching kids. As for me, I’m not sure what type of business I would open, but that is something I’d like to look into. Do you have a goal as to when you want to achieve financial freedom?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      Starting a business is definitely tough. For my wife, it was something she’d been saving up for for years so there was money specifically set aside for it. It was also before we had our son, which made things easier. I’m working on some ways to get some traction with minimal up front investment and hopefully use some early profits to re-invest and grow. We’ll see.

      We don’t have a specific timeline defined. Like I said in the article it’s hard to define an end point with my definition, so it’s more like a continuous journey. For me I think it’s more about defining the kind of lifestyle we want and taking continuous steps to get there.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules November 18, 2013

    Good article Matt! That’s pretty much what was behind my motivation in leaving my day job – the ability to decide how I wanted to spend my time. Time is such a precious commodity that I want the ability to do things that benefit us as a family and help others that have need. The purposeful spending is a big one as well. So many miss it, but being purposeful with your spending can be incredibly helpful so you can truly look at the value you’re deriving out of whatever it is your money is buying.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      You’re a great example of this principle in action John. It would have been much “safer” to stay in your previous career track but from everything I know you’re not only much happier having broken off to work for yourself but you’ve also been very successful. I’d love to be following in your footsteps some day.

  • Tonya November 18, 2013

    Great article Matt! I couldn’t agree more. Right now I’m not where I’d like to be regarding financial freedom. There are things I value that I’m not allowing myself to spend money on because I have competing values that have to take precedence, meaning I value travel, but I’m behind on putting money towards retirement. I’m still in an either/or mode, but I want to be in a both mode. Trying! 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      We’re still either/or on a lot of things as well. A ton of my friends have gotten married over the last couple of years all over the country, and I’ve had to miss a lot of the weddings because of a limited budget. That’s part of the choices we’ve made and I’m happy with how we’ve prioritized things, but I would like to have a little more “and”.

  • AvgJoeMoney November 18, 2013

    I used to think of myself as an “anti-frugal” blogger, but now I’m realizing that isn’t the case at all. I’m with you: spend money on things that matter and then eliminate the rest. Clutter is the bane of my existence and I’ve found myself eliminating not just costs but things that get in the way of my big goals.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      I’ve been trying to de-clutter my life in terms of the number of things I do from day to day. I tend to let myself get distracted by a lot of small, unimportant tasks and I want to get rid of those so, like you say, I can focus on the big things that really matter. It’s an ongoing battle, but the days where I’m successful are incredibly satisfying.

  • MyMoneyDesign November 18, 2013

    I didn’t know that both you and your wife were self-employed. That financial coaching service is going to be an exciting project to watch you develop. I’ll be very interested to see your updates on how that matures.

  • E.M. November 18, 2013

    I love everything about this post. I agree that time is very precious, and financial freedom would allow us to do what we want with it. You only get one chance to live your life and make the most of it. I saw my parents slave away so many hours to jobs they hated, and I don’t want to end up like that. I also wouldn’t mind working if it meant doing something I love – something worth spending time on, but I also want to be able to travel and have flexibility. It’s so important to prioritize, and I really like the point of spending only on what you value.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      Thanks E.M. I think the big thing we all want in our lives is choice. We want to be able to choose how we do things and not be forced into anything we don’t enjoy. Managing our money well can certainly make it easier to have more choices.

  • Retired By 40 November 18, 2013

    Love this, especially being willing to spend money on things that we value! For everyone, this is different, and I have to remember not to be judgmental of what others value. I especially appreciate this because your definition of financial freedom is remarkably similar to mine! Family always, always comes first, and financial freedom facilitates that!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      Really great point. We’re all going to value different things and that’s totally okay. It’s actually what makes the world interesting.

  • Stefanie @ brokeandbeau November 18, 2013

    I too like to travel but I think spending money on pets is a total waste. Someone else may think I’m nuts. I think it’s all about remembering that we have different priorities. As long as we’re prioritizing somehow and not indulging every whim then I think we’ve laid the foundation for financial freedom.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      Yeah the pets one is a tough one for me. I really like having pets, but there’s definitely a limit to what I’ll spend on them. We got a new cat 2 years ago and had a ton of medical bills the first few months. We started having serious talks about whether we could keep doing it when we got lucky and he just got better. But the breaking point was nearing, especially with our first child on the way.

  • Kyle James November 18, 2013

    Love your perspective. For me, financial freedom is being able to be there for my kids when they need me and loving what I choose to do every day. Whether it be work or play.

  • Alexa Mason November 18, 2013

    I 100 percent agree with you! Financial freedom is not about having a bunch of money or not working. It’s about being able to do what you want with your time and concentrate on the people you love and the work you love. That’s why I am so happy I have such a low cost lifestyle. If it weren’t for me being able to get by on so little I wouldn’t have been able to do what I am doing right now! Awesome post!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      You’ve really done a great job defining the life you want and making it happen. Definitely an inspiration, and you’re absolutely right that keeping your costs low makes it all easier.

  • Shannon Ryan November 18, 2013

    Love this, Matt! You know that I am in total agreement with you. I am firm believer that money is a gift and should be used joyfully. Spend it on what matters and save it on what doesn’t. When you view it through that lens, it becomes pretty easy to figure out where you should and shouldn’t spend your money. Our definition of financial freedom are much in alignment and I feel fortunate that my husband and I both have the flexibility that when our kids need us – we can be there.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      I actually think that even when you’ve defined your priorities it can be tough to cut out the spending on the other stuff. We get so used to our “norms” and habits can be hard to break. Then there are situations like me with cable, where it used to be something that I used a ton. But now that we have our son (and I have this blog) I just rarely ever used it. But it took some time for that to really sink in and make the change. That’s why I really believe that this is a journey and not a destination.

  • Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way November 18, 2013

    Very well said Matt! Spending the money on the right things and to start even a small business is just one of my plan. I will take things one by one to slowly achieve my financial freedom and of course my family is my top priority in doing that.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      Good luck Clarisse! Taking it one step at a time will get you there before you know it.

  • Brian @ Luke1428 November 18, 2013

    Your definition sums it up for me as well. Just spent the evening watching my daughter play JV basketball…Loved every minute of it! Time is finite (just like money) and I want to be able to maximize the time I’ve been given.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 18, 2013

      Man I can’t wait for those days! How’d she do? I’m so excited for soccer to start in a few years. That’s going to be a lot of fun (assuming he actually wants to play).

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup November 19, 2013

    That is a great definition of it Matt and I certainly agree.

  • Done by Forty November 19, 2013

    We strive for freedom & security, too. But Joe mentioned a little parable in his podcast a couple weeks ago along the lines of the person reaching for security not being able to have both, or something like that.

    I think you’ve hit on the main goal, or what it ought to be: better access to our limited time. In my case, I do feel that I have pretty great access to it now. I don’t work crazy hours, I get to work from home so the specific hours I work aren’t that rigid, I generally have a good amount of free time. The rub for me is that increasing access didn’t achieve the main goal. When I didn’t have enough free time, I thought getting more would solve the problem. Now that I have it, a new problem emerges: how do I actually use it well?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 19, 2013

      Have a kid! That will solve your “how to use it” question, haha. In all seriousness though, I think that’s a main reason why I don’t see leaving work as a necessary part of financial freedom. If I can find something I love and that pays the bills, that would actually be preferable to me than not having anything to do.

  • Debt and the Girl November 19, 2013

    Financial security means being able to do whatever you want and when you want to me. It means being able to not have to worry about the little things and just live without that worry. Oh, it sounds great!

  • Dan Meyers November 19, 2013

    I agree with your point that your “financial freedom” should be considered a journey rather than an endpoint because our ideas of “freedom” are constantly changing! My wife and I just got back from a 9 month round the world trip, and while we loved it, we’d never want to do it the rest of our lives! As we start to think about kids, our freedoms will morph and we’ll have to plan our financial habits accordingly.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney November 19, 2013

      Wow, 9 months around the world? What a cool experience! I think you’re spot on about our ideas of what we want being very fluid. I think back to just a few years ago and my life was totally different. I think what we all really want is the ability to make choices, whatever those choices end up being.

  • FIFighter November 19, 2013

    Time is what I value most b/c you can’t put a pricetag on it. Once it’s gone… it’s gone for good.

    Good luck on the journey to FI! I’ll be following with interest.

  • Lisa vs. the Loans November 20, 2013

    I love toying with the idea of financial freedom. I don’t have any concrete plans yet, but I’m currently working on paying off all of my debt since that will be a big piece to the puzzle.

  • Pauline @RFIndependence November 22, 2013

    I value freedom more than security, life has been changing so much over the past few years that I can’t even bet where I’d be or what I would do in X months, and I trust my ability to make money even as a waitress if things go bad. You guys are really lucky to have time on your side, and there is two of you so even better.

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