I’ve heard it asked before, and it’s worth asking oneself regularly:
If your life were a book, would you read it?
It’s pretty incredible to look back, retrospectively, and see a number of chapters of my own book now written.
And it’s just as amazing to look forward and see that the chapters yet to be written are likely to be the best yet.
But first, I’ve often framed the journey to financial freedom as a climb up a mountain, so let’s see where I was, where I am, and where I’m going.
I’ve spent more than six years of my life climbing Mt. Freedom.
Starting out in early 2010, at 27 years old, I found myself worth a negative amount of money. I was literally less than zero. Below broke. Children and animals were worth more, financially, than I was.
How did I end up like that?
Not being conscientious at all about my general decision-making process, and specifically as it related to money.
Moreover, it wasn’t long before this point in my life that I was laid off from my dealership job – I was working in the auto industry just outside Detroit in 2009, meaning I couldn’t have been in a worse industry at a worse place at a worse time.
That’s really only part of the story, though. I spent more than I earned. I didn’t budget. I chased consumerism, thinking it would make me happy (even though it turned out time and again that it didn’t). I made bad choices, putting the future me in a terrible position.
So when sudden and unexpected unemployment compounded a situation that was already pretty bad, I found myself in dire straits. Furthermore, it was then that I realized that I wasn’t at all in control of my money, my time, or my life. All it took was an employer to decide that I was no longer useful to throw my whole life into a tailspin.
Finding this unacceptable (who can blame me?), I embarked on a journey that has transformed my life in many, many ways.
I moved to sunny Florida in mid-2009, where I found better jobs that paid more, not to mention a more dynamic economy. Saving money via a 0% personal income tax rate also seemed like a no-brainer. And I knew that if I were to ever get rid of my car, it would surely be easier and more enjoyable to use public transportation if it weren’t freezing outside for half the year.
I started cutting expenses to the bone not long after the move, eventually selling my car, moving to a cheaper apartment, and eating (more than) my fair share of ramen noodles.
I rode the bus – to a luxury car dealership (my place of work). The irony.
Nights out on the town were replaced with quiet evenings at home. Safer, cheaper, and more intimate.
Our living space was substantially downsized, both in terms of the level of luxury and size. Home became cozy.
In the process, my savings rate skyrocketed well past 50%.
I was then regularly buying high-quality dividend growth stocks with my excess capital, slowly building the six-figure portfolio I now control. By the way, I call this portfolio the Full-Time Fund. It’s an apt name – it works full time so I don’t have to!
But backing things up, the portfolio started off meager, as I had meager means – 2010 was the first year I was able to crack $40,000 per year in income. However, the Fund was starting to generate income all by itself almost right from the start, further bolstering my savings rate and capital availability. A small snowball was starting to roll. The climb was becoming a bit easier.
In early 2011, unable to find anyone doing quite what I was doing and willing to openly share the ups and downs of such a transformation, I started a blog, Dividend Mantra, to document this climb in real-time.
Perhaps audacious in hindsight, as I didn’t have any prior climbing experience, but I knew I wanted to reach the top. I knew I wanted to be free. I knew I wanted to be in control of my life.
To control my life, I need to control my time. And since time is money, I decided to build enough passive income to become financially free.
I knew I’d be willing to do whatever it took to change my life, to gain control of my life, to be free. And I figured if I could inspire others in the process, it’d make the journey that much more worthwhile.
A Journey Or A Destination?
Now, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect once I got to the top. At least, not at the beginning.
Perhaps there’s a part of me, back when I was still very young and naive, that thought all of my troubles would be solved. It was almost as if I thought that doves would fly out of doorways everywhere I went, like a music video. I’d be a rock star!
Financial freedom was a destination. And if I could just get there, life would become extremely easy. I’d have all the answers. Problems would just melt away.
Well, I then kind of came upon the notion somewhere in there, maybe a few years in, that financial freedom was both a journey and a destination. There’s certainly a destination aspect to it – you’ve arrived once you’re financially free. But there was also the journey aspect, too, as the climb was just as much part of the solution. Without the hard work, it’s difficult to really appreciate the rewards on the other side. Money without the knowledge, appreciation, and experience is almost worthless.
However, I can now say, after climbing this mountain, that it’s actually not quite either one. It’s neither a destination nor a journey.
Financial freedom is simply part of an overarching journey.
It’s just one chapter of your life’s book.
I’m now financially free. I reached the “crossover point” (passive income/expenses) just before turning 34 years old.
The passive income I earn – most of which is dividend income – is enough to cover my core personal expenses. Plus, I’ve set aside an auxiliary fund to cover any temporary gaps or large one-time expenses that may come up. And knowing that almost every single company I’m invested in has a fantastic track record of growing profit and dividends for years on end, it’s highly likely that my passive income will only grow from here (faster than the rate of inflation, at that), further increasing my level of freedom. With that growing freedom comes more opportunities.
Attaining this level of freedom at 33 years old – seven years ahead of schedule – is remarkable. (I was originally aiming to hit the mark by 40.)
Knowing that I don’t ever have to work a job I don’t want to is an amazing feeling. It truly is. It was, after all, the hatred I felt for my job that, in large part, motivated me to become free in the first place.
Owning my time and creating my own daily schedule is most certainly the greatest luxury I’ve ever had the pleasure of indulging in.
Look, I’ve eaten the finest steaks. I’ve seen the other side of the world. I’ve driven some of the nicest cars man has ever made. I’ve been in giant mansions. But waking up when my body tells me it’s ready and casually beginning my day without a care in the world is… priceless.
Financial freedom goes like this: I wake up when I want. I spend time only around those that provide me great company. I have no dress code. I write a little. I read a lot. I think constantly. I spend time with our puppies. I exercise. I eat when I’m hungry. I go to the beach when the weather is nice. I get lots of sunshine every day. I take long walks everywhere (I own no car). I go to bed when I’m tired.
Summing it up, I pretty much do what I want, every day. I answer only to myself. I’m my own boss – and I’d like to think I’m a pretty good boss. (I give myself glaring reviews!)
But I can tell you this: no doves fly out of doorways, marking my entrance. Music doesn’t play everywhere I go. I have no hype man. The world keeps on spinning like it always has.
I’m still just me. I’m still Jason.
And so after an initial honeymoon phase of a few months or so where I kind of patted myself on the back, I started asking myself: now what? What’s next?
So I looked out in front of me, gazing upon the view I worked so hard for.
And you know what I saw from the top of Mt. Freedom?
It’s an entire range of mountains, folks.
Now, none are as high as the one I’m standing atop. At least, I don’t see any as high as this.
But there are others out there. A lot of them.
These mountains represent challenges, opportunities, possibilities. They’re relationships. Ventures. Experiments. Travels. Passions. Pursuits. Experiences. Long stretches of leisure. Victories. Setbacks. New ideas that can change the world… or new ideas that never leave the incubation stage. Capital, physical, and emotional long-term investments. Moments that haven’t yet come to pass. Chapters waiting to be written.
It’s a view I wasn’t quite expecting, though perhaps I should have. Either way, it’s an incredible perspective to now be blessed with.
I spent five years of my life blogging about the climb, writing more than a thousand articles and a best-selling book in the process. I covered just about everything I could over that time frame – the ups and downs, the money I earned and spent, every investment made, every dividend collected and reinvested, the dividend growth strategy in general, and how all of this holistically fits together. I read plenty of books and articles written by people that had already made the climb, retrospectively showing how they did it. I instead wanted to show what the climb looked like in real-time for a regular Joe.
And now I’m at the top. I made it to the summit.
However, I now see that it’s not the only mountain around.
But this is a good thing. Financial freedom is just one challenge of many. And so I now hope to spend future years not only sharing the benefits of being atop the tallest mountain around but also discussing, perhaps, other climbs down the road.
I want to share what financial freedom looks like so early in life. What’s the point of climbing this mountain anyway? What’s the point of getting to the top? What is life like post-financial freedom?
If Dividend Mantra was the how, I plan for Mr. Free At 33 to become the what and the why.
With that in mind, I hope to share daily insights, certainly, but I also hope to share ideas that develop over time on how to best leverage this position in life to not only maximize my own happiness and quality of life but others’, too.
Of course, I’ll continue, as well, to discuss stocks because investing is still a large and exciting part of my life.
But I foresee, more than anything, an ongoing dialogue about what all of this is for. I’m incredibly proud of being a driving force behind this huge community that has sprung up over the last few years, where there are so many people climbing their own mountains and sharing their journeys with the world. But I also think there’s a dearth of quality content as it relates to what this is all for, once one is on the other side. Why make the climb? What now?
This is all indeed incredible. I consider myself very fortunate to be not just financially free myself but also in a position to share everything with you readers, to help inspire and motivate others.
However, I now realize that financial freedom is neither a destination nor a journey, in the singular sense. Financial freedom is simply part of a larger journey… part of life, if you’re lucky and willing to take on the challenge. It’s just one chapter of your book. A great chapter, no doubt about it. But it’s quite possible that the greatest thing about this chapter is that it can make all future chapters that much more exciting and flexible. The book kind of goes from an instruction manual to a thriller.
If my life were a book, I think it’d be worth reading. And like a good book, life isn’t completely linear. Life is dynamic, with ups and downs… ebbs and flows. What’s great about financial freedom, however, is that it gives you the flexibility to end a chapter when it’s no longer fun. Write new chapters. Change the story. Financial freedom gives you the control. You become the author of your own book.
Financial freedom is not the end, folks. It’s just the beginning!
What do you think? Is financial freedom just one chapter? Are you looking forward to writing even better chapters after you reach financial freedom?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: lekkyjustdoit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.