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How to Start Your Journey to Financial Freedom

Craig Curelop
7 min read
How to Start Your Journey to Financial Freedom

The first step toward financial independence through real estate investing is finding ways to earn more and spend less so that you can save up for that first house hack. You will see many of your friends spending close to half of their income on rent, buying (or leasing) new cars every few years, and frequently going out to fancy restaurants. After all, they have been living on a college student’s salary for four years. They deserve it, right? Not quite.

Starting the Journey

You, on the other hand, have looked at it from a different perspective. You are used to living like a college student, so you continue to do so. You live a couple of miles from downtown and share an apartment with roommates just like you did in your college days. You avoid the lifestyle creep. You know it’s much harder to scale back your lifestyle than it is to scale up.

Your friends and colleagues will have an idea as to how much you make and will be confused as to why you are choosing to live like someone who earns half of what you do. You’ll try to describe the concept of financial independence. Some will not be able to grasp the idea, others will understand but not believe it, and few will actually understand and be convinced.

In the first part of your journey, be prepared to continue to live on a college salary, while earning a grown-up salary. It will feel weird. It will feel different. Embrace it!

man with blue geans and sneaker shoes in stair

This, of course, is easier said than done. This will be the hardest part in your journey toward financial independence. How do you get through it? First, you will need to find your “Why?” In other words, you will need to find the ultimate purpose as to why you truly want to seek financial independence. It can’t just be that you want a lot of money. It must be deeper than that. Your why must be non-monetary and is your purpose for living. Perhaps it’s so you can quit your job to spend time with your (future) kids? Maybe you want to experience what the world has to offer and give back in terms of volunteering or starting a nonprofit? The things you could do once achieving financial independence are unlimited. Do not limit your beliefs. Do not let society limit your beliefs. Close your eyes. Picture your perfect life and know that financial independence will help you get there. (Seriously, take a few moments to do this.)

My purpose, my why, is to completely free up my time while never having to utter “we can’t afford it” again. That way, I can pursue my true passions. I can spend time with my parents as they grow old, my (future) wife as we grow old, and my (future) kids as they grow up and have kids of their own. That is why I wake up: to go to work, to earn a paycheck, to invest in cash-flowing assets, to create financial freedom. To be able to provide my family with what they want—which I believe more than anything will be time spent with them.

How do I make this time I spend with my family invaluable and unlimited so I will rarely need to worry about choosing work over precious moments? I need to create passive income streams that sustain my life’s expenses. To simplify, with $10,000 of monthly passive cash flow and zero hours worked, I will be able to sufficiently support my family while making my time invaluable. Ten thousand dollars divided by zero hours worked is infinity.

Whatever your why may be, I promise you that this will help you push through the first few years of penny pinching and saving aggressively toward that first down payment.

If that motivation of why is not helping you and you are still feeling like you have no support from people in your life, I recommend finding a group of people in your area that are similar to you. Search your area for local ChooseFI groups and BiggerPockets meetups. People in these groups have the same goals of financial independence and many are already living it. They will keep you motivated, make you feel included, and confirm that you are in fact doing the right thing.

Related: House Hacking 101: How to “Hack” Your Housing (and Get Paid to Live for Free!)

Mid-Journey

Now, you’re a couple of years into your journey. You’ve been saving. You have purchased your first, second, or maybe even third house hack in the past one to three years. This in itself is going to be different from your peers who will still be trying to save for their first “forever home.” You, however, already have a few properties that you are renting out and the snowball is accumulating at an exponential rate.

You are saving 70-80 percent of your income, your net worth climbs into the hundreds of thousands, and liquid cash may be approaching high tens or low hundreds of thousands of dollars. You are now able to dole out $50,000-$100,000 for an investment without having a material impact in your lifestyle.

Just a couple of years ago that $100 expense, which seemed like a big hit, barely moves the needle. Now, the $100 expense feels more like a $10 expense. This is where you need to be careful though because, after all, it is still a $100 expense. This is not a time to be frivolous; you still need to practice frugality. You can lighten up a little bit from your first couple of years but keep your eye on the prize!

two puzzle pieces about to be fit together with blurred cityscape in backdrop

As an example, here are a few things that I spend money on that I used to refrain from:

  1. Going out to eat/drink socially one to two times per week
  2. Traveling to Southeast Asia and visiting friends around the country
  3. Learning to snowboard and getting a rock climbing gym membership

These add value to my life so I’m happy to not pump the brakes on every expense. If you go all out the whole time, you will burn out. Remember, spend money on things of value and enjoy the journey.

How can you tell what is of value to you and what is not? First off, you need to get it out of your head that people care what you do. No one cares what car you drive, what you wear, what type of wine you drink, or where you decide to go out to eat. They are too busy worrying about themselves to worry about you. If you purchase anything to impress anyone else, you are doing it wrong. Only purchase things that add value to you. If someone is going to like you based on the things you have, they are shallow, and you should not want to be friends with them anyway.

At this part of your journey, you will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You will see passive income coming in and you may just be a few steps away from having your passive income fully exceed your expenses. Stay the course. Do not let the extra money get to your head. However, do spend money on things you enjoy now and will continue to enjoy for the rest of your life.

Related: What’s a Better Financial Strategy—Making More or Spending Less?

Post-FI

Congratulations! You have reached financial independence. You have spent the past five years house hacking, spending money on only things you absolutely love, and now have enough passive income to cover all of your life’s expenses. It is time to start reaping the rewards. This does not mean you can start spending lavishly. You can quickly move backwards along this journey if you start spending your money frivolously and it is no longer providing the passive income you need to cover life’s expenses. It’s best to sustain your frugal lifestyle even through the first few years of financial independence.

I know what you are thinking.

What the heck?! I thought the purpose of financial independence was so I don’t have to worry about money. Now I’m there and I still need to worry about money?

Yes, once you have reached financial independence, you are able to sustain your current lifestyle through passive income and do not need to worry about working for your money. You officially are no longer tied down to your salaried job. You don’t have to quit, but you have the option. After achieving financial independence, you can confidently walk into your boss’ office and ask for a raise, extended time off, to work remotely, or anything else that will make your day-to-day life more enjoyable.

If they say yes to your request, great! If they say no, you have the power to quit and make your passive income your main source of income. This is what the house-hacking (real estate investing?) community likes to call FU money.

silhouette of man standing in front of water during sunset with hands stretched overhead symbolizing gratitude

If you do decide to quit, now you can pursue a passion. But again, be careful! You cannot just spend money on whatever you want. You do not want to slip backwards out of financial independence. If you do want to elevate your lifestyle, continue saving as much money as possible and investing in assets that provide you with passive income. As your passive income grows, you can spend more and more money on the things you may enjoy. If your passive income can sustain that BMW payment, or that boat you’ve always wanted, or that nice Armani suit, go get it. But I can’t reiterate it enough. Only get it once your passive income can sustain it.

Now that you have financial independence, you can do whatever you want with your life. You have very little responsibilities. Whether that be travel, spending time with family, volunteering, or growing your own business. The world is your oyster.

No part of this journey toward financial independence is normal. You start off looking much poorer than most of your peers but end up much richer than them. In the first part of the journey, you are rarely going out and just saving any way possible so you can start house hacking. Then, you are owning property, but still living with roommates in perhaps not the most ideal situation. But by eliminating your largest expense (housing) and continuing to be frugal in other aspects of your life, you will save 70-80 percent of your income while your bank account grows exponentially. It’s much better to be rich than to look rich. Finally, you hit the point where you reach financial independence and while your peers are stuck in a cubicle for the better half of their lives, you can be scuba diving in the Galapagos, catching your son’s little league game, or volunteering weekly at your local food pantry.

Does this sound normal to you? Of course not! But who wants to live a normal life? I want your life to be extraordinary, and to do that, you need to do things differently than everyone else. Dave Ramsey, a businessman and creator of Financial Peace University, says: “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.” House hacking is the first and largest step you can take to live like no one else now, so you can live like they dream later.

[ This article is an excerpt from The House Hacking Strategy by Craig Curelop. ]

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Have you begun your journey toward financial independence? Where are you—beginning or middle? Do you have any questions for me?

Let’s talk in the comment section below.

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.