Financial Freedom is Closer Than You Think

by | BiggerPockets.com

If you grew up in an American household, you have an idea of what the “American Dream” entails. You’re born into a middle-class family. You go to school for the first 18-22 years of your life. You enjoy a nice career for 40-50 years. All while getting married, having kids, and climbing the corporate ladder. You retire at age 65 and have a nice nest egg to tap into so you can live out your remaining years “financially free.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

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40 Years?!?

Rewind the tape … 40-50 years?!?

Am I the only one that thinks that’s an incredibly long time?! Let’s break that down. The average American life is ~80 years .

It can be segmented into 3 parts: school for the first 22 years (assuming a Bachelor’s degree), work for the next 40-50 years, and then retirement thereafter. To help visualize, check out the box below:

Conventional American Life = 80 years

Look at that box. For about 80% of your life, most of your time is dedicated to achieving that final 20%. By the time you reach that final 20% (age 65), you will not be able to move like you once did, your kids are likely adults and your parents have either passed or are extremely old.

In other words, of the 80 years that you will live, only 15 of those years are doing things that you truly love with the people you truly enjoy. Most of which, you likely will not be healthy enough to fully appreciate.

Not to mention, you may not make it to 65. I don’t mean to be morbid, but there are countless stories of hard working people dying in their middle-aged years. Whether it be from a tragic accident, an illness, a natural disaster, etc.

If this is the “American Dream,” I need to either leave this country or wake the hell up.

For now, I will choose the latter.

Related: Behind on the Path to Financial Freedom? Here’s the Good News You NEED to Hear

A Different Approach:

If you have not read Scott Trench’s book, Set for Life, you are doing yourself a serious injustice. $20 and a few hours of your time will save you multiple years of hard work making your boss rich.

I promise that I do not get paid a penny for plugging Scott’s book. It is legitimately a fantastic book that everyone who desires early financial freedom (or retirement) should read. Even if you are approaching the conventional retirement age where the concepts may not apply, you can give it a read and instill wisdom in the generations to follow.

By living frugally, saving at least 40% of your income, and investing in high yielding, passive income streams (i.e. real estate) you can significantly expedite your “retirement” or achieve “financial freedom.” And I’m not saying retire at 62 instead of 65. I’m saying retiring in the next 5-10 years. Depending on your age, this could be as early as your late-20s or early-30s.

Let’s see how this “box of life” looks.

Life of the “Financially Free”

With the Set for Life formula, you are tripling your “freedom” time and halving your “working” time. You will have the optionality to do whatever the heck you want for 45+ years (age ~35-80).

You can dedicate 100% of your time to your family. You can travel, golf, ski, or play video games whenever and for as long as you’d like.

Heck, you can still work if that’s what you prefer.

But you will be able to work wherever you want because the pay will not matter. You will know that in the back of your mind, you do not NEED that job. As a result, your stress levels will be significantly lower than those who could not survive without one.

Not only that, but you will be doing something you love. For many people, that’s much more fulfilling than a fat pay check.

It’s NOT baloney:

As you embark on your journey, I’m sure you’ll get excited and try to explain your goals to friends and family who are living conventional lifestyles. You will soon find that most of them will not understand. Most will call, “baloney” or shrug you off and say, “yeah, okay.”

That’s fine. Do not let them bring you down. If you feel like you need someone to talk to who has a similar mindset, jump on BiggerPockets and message someone in your area for coffee. There’s a high probability they will think similarly and re-motivate you if you feel you need a lift. I do this ALL the time.

The Numbers:

If you’re reading this and you think I’m full of baloney – or if you believe me, but want to show the non-believers the numbers, read on.

Let’s run the numbers with the following assumptions:

  • You are making a salary of $65,000 per year
  • You can save 40% of your income
  • Your return on investment is 10%
  • You are 25 years old
  • You receive an average annual pay increase of 3% to keep up with inflation

How the heck do you save 40% of your income? Explaining exactly how is beyond the scope of this article, but let me brief you. The average American spends ~50% of their income on housing (33%) and transportation (17%).

By removing these expenses through house hacking and riding your bike to work or working from home, you can save upwards of 50%. Not to mention that if you want to go the extra mile and life hack by renting out your car, you can save even more.

Does a 10% return on investment seem unreasonably high? By investing in real estate and having the four wealth generators working for you, you will see that it is absolutely a reasonable (if not conservative) assumption.

Here is what the numbers look like assuming you are starting with $0 at age 25.

Related: How to Achieve Financial Freedom By Calculating Your “Rat Race Number”

You will see that with these assumptions, by year 10 (35 years old) you will have over $50k of passive income. That is certainly enough to live a sufficient middle-class lifestyle without needing to work.

Do you feel as though you need more? Keep working until your passive income reaches the lifestyle you want to live.

You can see this file in as the Excel version here. Feel free to play with the model to see where you stand.

Conclusion:

I encourage you to take a step back and reflect on what matters most in your life. When you look at the average lifespan of an American, less time is spent on what matters most like family, friends, or other hobbies: travel, video games, golf, skiing, etc.

This is why BiggerPockets exists. We seek to educate the middle-class American and show them that there is a way out of the rat race. To show them that there is a life out there to be enjoyed. And you do not have to wait 40-50 years to get there. We show how it can be accomplished in as little as 5-10 years through real estate investing.

No one said achieving this goal was easy. However, with some self-discipline and determination, it is much more possible than everyone seems to think. You will experience setbacks along your journey. Keep pushing. Keep your eyes on the goal of financial freedom.

You will get there before you know it!

What are your tips for finding financial freedom? Tell us in the comments section below!

About Author

Craig Curelop

After developing a huge love for real estate investing and personal finance, Craig decided to join the BiggerPockets team as a financial analyst. Over the past few years, he has looked at hundreds of financial models of startup companies. His experience will help BiggerPockets reach the next level as a startup company. Craig has a passion for helping others get out of their "comfort zones" to get what they want and achieve the "impossible." In his spare time, Craig enjoys traveling, hiking, exercising, and sports of all kinds.

55 Comments

  1. Alik Levin

    I especially like the visuals and the logic behind them as well.
    Unfortunately I woke up when I was past 40…
    Fortunately, I *woke up* albeit shifted my breaking point from 40 to 50… hey, they say 50 is the new 30, eh? 😀

    • I woke up at 52. Sold my house to buy investments. I now have 12 rentals plus my own home. This gives me a very nice retirement income and more importantly, choice. This was also from a very low income base as a single person. I have never regretted it.

      • Karen O.

        @Jenny Vincent, what did you do for housing if you sold you primary residence? Did you invest in the same area near where you lived or did you got into a different market all together? And did you invest in your own name or through an LLC for your rentals?

    • Matt Mainini

      I’m feeling that in my 30’s. Let me tell you a little inspirational story…

      My mentor just fully retired fully around 65 years old and picked up sailing, completely out of nowhere. He just decided to learn it and bought a small boat and go for it. He took my family out on the water and we all had a blast.

      We’re learning at 30, 40, 50, and beyond. You’ve got time my friend. Enjoy the learning!

      • Craig Curelop

        Hey Alik,

        It’s never too late. As the old addage goes, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is right now.”

        Age is just a number. At 40, you’re likely making more than a 24 year old so you should be able to save more and invest in more properties. This may even expedite your timeline. If not, and you can put yourself in a position to retire in 10 years, you’ll be ~50. That’s 15 years earlier than the rest of America.

    • Pedro Antonio Jimenez Caraballo

      When you have the capacity to cover all your economic needs, without depending on anyone, or doing something that is not to your liking, you can say (without fear of being wrong) that you enjoy economic well-being and you have financial freedom.

      The opposite of financial freedom is financial dependence, that is, when people depend on others to provide them with the money they need to cover the expenses with those who meet their needs and sustain their lives.

  2. Kurt K.

    I like the general theme of this post. However, I think it may be misleading to paint the “average” life as misery for 65 years and 15 years of “freedom”.

    Many great times/memories can be made in a working lifetime. It is wise to not “save up your dreams for retirement” but to do the things you want to do along the way, during vacations.

    Many people actually find retirement (early or not) as new kind of misery. Whether you are working or not life is what you make of it. Happiness always returns to your baseline.

    Again, with that said, I think this post is helpful to get one’s thought process going.

    • Craig Curelop

      Hi Kurt,

      I’m not going to argue with you there. Great times and memories can be made.

      Though, I would argue that by saving 40% of your income mainly through house hacking and reducing your transportation costs, you will not be sacrificing much vacation time AND you will still be able to achieve financial freedom.

      I have not skimped out on any vacation time. I’ve taken a month or two and traveled Europe and South America where great memories have been made. That may have set me back, but I like to do the trips as a “taste” of freedom.

  3. Angelo J Argentieri on

    Does the calculation take into consideration tax? I live in NY where about 30% of my income goes to taxes. I make $95,000 annually and am 27 years old currently so I will be fine. However, I do not want this post to portray unrealistic expectations for those making $65,000 annually.

    • Craig Curelop

      Hi Angelo,

      The calculation does not take into consideration income tax. It’s based on gross income and I was well aware of that while writing this article. I wrote a blog post about how I saved 40% of my income while living in SF (comparable to NY). Feel free to check that one out.

      If you can house-hack and reduce your transportation expenses (average 50% of American’s expenses), I believe you can save very close to 40%. Though, everything in NY is more expensive… especially if you go out to eat. Feel free to download and play with the model I provided to see where you stand.

  4. Nischal Belthangady

    Great math, seems all pie in the sky, but, you have not taken into account the elephant in the room: Inflation. The $50k passive income in 10 years just won’t be worth as much as it is today. It will be worth $30-35k at best in today’s dollars: not something you can achieve financial freedom on.

  5. Casey Christensen

    I think the basis of this article is very good. The one problem I find with it is if you make $65K/year you are really only taking home roughly $45K/year after taxes and insurance and what not. so your savings rate would be closer to $18k/year. I still think doing this is the right thing to do and I hope for it to lead to financial freedom. It is just a big difference between trying to live on 60%-65% of $65K compared to living on a full $65K. That is $1,600 less per month that you are living on.

    I would also like to hear what some of the people who have done this would have to say about not contributing to a company sponsored 401K plan. My company matches up to 4% on their 401K plan and it would feel like throwing free money away if I didnt contribute at least that much to the plan. Would your stance on this be that you risk less by keeping the money and investing in assets that make 10% ROI? Do you have any advice that way?

    Thanks for the article. It is definitely one that motivates you to continue to pursue financial freedom even in the face of opposition.

    • Craig Curelop

      Hi Casey,

      You make a good point here. However, when I assume saving 40% of your income, I intended that to be the gross amount. If you can house hack and have low transportation costs you can save ~50% of your gross income right there. The next 10% may be from a little bit of frugality in terms of drinking less or eating out less?

      With the 401k match, I recommend to take the match. It’s free money! You get a 100% return and plus or minus whatever the market does.

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your reading and the points you pose.

    • Craig Curelop

      Hey Kurt,

      Doing this around the U.S. may be difficult. However, I have been able to travel for under $3k a month in South America and even in Europe by staying in hostels, taking advantage of free meals, and cheap transportation.

      You have to be relatively frugal. If you wish to live a lavish lifestyle, then you will obviously need more than $50k/year.

      If you’re earning USD and spending pesos, it’s much easier to achieve this.

        • Craig Curelop

          Definitely. With a family, it’s much harder.

          That’s why I gave everyone a link to the model so they can play with it according to their situation.

          However, you can spend more time with your kids if you have enough income to replace your W2 income. Maybe it’s not traveling around the world, but great memories can be made in your own back yard.

      • Brandon V.

        One cool thing about the model is you can easily expand it by dragging the formulas across. $50/K a year might not be enough but if you just work an extra 5 years and go until year 15, you have doubled your passive income to 107k, which that would now easily be able to travel golf and ski. Add on additional 5 more years and its 201k and you’re really rolling. By then if you are 25, puts you at a retirement age of 45, still wayyyyy earlier than most.

        • Craig Curelop

          Hey Brandon,

          Thanks for pointing that out! That’s absolutely true. And some people, after purchasing a couple of properties, are saving well over 40% of their salary.

          Not to mention that getting a raise over 3% annually is highly likely from age 25 to 35.

  6. Jiri Vetyska

    Let me get this straight:
    with gross income of 65,000, after paying taxes and health insurance etc, will be net 55,000.
    to save 26,000, means that you will have to live on 2,417 a month. That is assuming you have no student debt which most people at that age and with that income will have.
    And while you can commute to work on bike, you’ll need to live close to work where you may not be able to afford to buy a real estate, which means you’d need to own a car to go find the investment properties. Of course, in this example you could just buy stocks that provide average return of 10% and not have to deal with any of the craziness.
    Then there is also the little thing that ruins everything, called reality. More often then not, some people will give it everything they have, slave away for 10 years eating grass and living with 10 roommates, and then recession comes and they loose everything.
    In conclusion, it is a great theory, great idea if consider everything you are giving up. There is no silver bullet, you are trading in the best 10 years of your life for hope that maybe someday you’ll have more normal life. It will work for some.
    But if the formula is so simple, that I would argue, you’d have much better life and a chance at success if you enjoy your early years, actually learn and get better at what you do, experience the world, start a family and then, when you earn considerably more money, spend 10 years saving and investing, as you’ll be better at it, you’ll have higher chance of actually succeeding and you will also have some money to start with.

    • Naren Gunasekera

      Living on 2,417 a month is not that tough right? I love to cook and I eat well for a meal cost of around 1-1.5/meal so around $150/month. Fuel and car insurance comes to $250/month (with car paid for cash). I live in LA so $1,200/month for rent (assuming no house hacking). Still would leave me with over $800 a month on discretionary income.

      • Lauren Messenger

        I was living off 1500-2k a month while paying rent and saving for my first house. Purchased at 23. Just sold it and now I can really get started on my portfolio thanks to the rise in the market and my ROI. It can be done for much less than 2400 a month; off smart financial decisions. It was hard, but now Im reaping the benefits (this is in a sub city of Portland because that market was and still is way to expensive for me)

      • Craig Curelop

        Naren,

        That is great! If you can make it work in LA, I am a firm believer that it can work anywhere. A lot of people just think it’s “not possible” and those are the people that are going to be slaving away for the man for the next 40 years. Figuring out to make it work (which you have done) is highly commendable and you will 100% be better off by doing it.

        • Naren Gunasekera

          Thanks Craig. I’m hoping to house hack next year either through a small multifamily or now that LA has passed the ADU ordinance to leverage that into buying an SFR that needs work, adding an ADU and living in the smaller unit.

    • Matt Mainini

      Hmm…what exactly are you giving up besides the privilege that you’ve become accustomed to in a “wealthy” society? I think looking at the positives of the method, holistically, clearly set you up for a better future while not ruining your youthful experience. For example, I’m very happy that I spent several years in a 430 sqft apartment rather than a 3000 sqft home that I could technically afford. If that is too extreme perhaps, even a little extra saving/investing would go a long way if you don’t wish to “give up” all those things you are concerned about. There is likely a balance that works for your situation, you just need to look for those things you can accept for yourself. I’m always looking for those things I can accept for myself. One good read I can recommend is Millionaire Next Door…it taught me the value of a good defense in addition to good offense.

      • What are you giving up? A home and family, that’s all. Nothing much. I never read the part in the Millionaire next door where it said to stop working with only $500K saved up and take up a bunch of expensive hobbies like Travel and Skiing.

      • Craig Curelop

        Jiri,

        Saving $2,400 a month is not crazy by any means. Especially if you are house hacking. Through my house hack, I make ~$700 a month after expenses. Add this to the ~$1,000 I’m saving in rent and there is $1,700 right there. This is additional savings. I was already saving ~$600 from my W2 job before the house hack so there is $2,300 right there with NO lifestyle change.

        Everyone is different. Maybe they can’t find a househack like mine or they do not want to make some of the same “sacrifices” I made. There are other ways to earn more and save less. You need to find what works best for you.

      • Craig Curelop

        Couldn’t agree with you more. I also think it’s all about perspective too. Sure – some people might think we are “sacrificing.” I don’t think that way. I think that we are giving ourselves an “opportunity” to live a better life and are “privileged” to have be able to think of ways to get there.

        Every little thing that is done is just a step down the road to financial freedom. Making more and spending less is part of the equation.

    • Deanna Opgenort

      Under $2k/mos to live on if you put away $26k/year savings. Fed tax+Social Security+Medicare/cal/FICA/state taxes (if any) take a chunk out of the gross. “After tax net income” would be a better starting number, since that’s what you actually have available to spend.This also seems to presume that some large expenses (ie medical insurance) are provided 100% by employer, and that some things like “house hacking” require $0 of up-front investment.

      • Craig Curelop

        Deanna, thanks for your comment! Your point is valid.

        For some people that is absolutely enough. If you have a family and kids, maybe it is not. That is why I gave you the model. So you can tweak to see what you think is realistic for you. I’ll admit that that is closer to my scenario. However, let me tell you this.

        I am confident that I can increase my salary by more than 3% per year. From ages 25-35 is like the puberty of your career. You grow the fastest and increase your income at a higher rate. Assuming little lifestyle changes, this allows you to save and invest more.

        Your point on the $0 up-front investment on a house hack is absolutely true. However, depending on where you live and the amount you make, you can absolutely save $26k per year if you reduce the two main expenditures: rent and transportation.

  7. Joseph Copeland

    It is crazy to me the amount of Millenials who are so caught up on retiring so early in life. As if W2 jobs are not available that can provide enjoyment while young and still invest for a larger than life retirement when it comes.

    I reached financial freedom in my mid 20s but most definitely never considered it enough to say bye bye to the W2.

    IMO while single you should be able to save an incredible amount of money for investments. Once you get married and begin having kids the amount of your W2 earnings should help with your lifestyle and giving your family all you can. The CF off your investment properties you acquired while single can help off set the additional money being spent with your family.

    Be aware of what you desire in your future and set your goals accordingly. Find a job which makes you the most money you can and invest like crazy. Keep that job until the investment CF can exceed the amount required to fund the lifestyle you desire and enough extras for the unforseen difficult times.

    Last thing left out to me is insurance once you quit your job. If you have or want to have a family 1k will go to insurance not including all deductibles….

    • When you are young and single, you are making the lowest you will ever make. You also don’t have combined income with a spouse. You are also taxed the most because you have no dependents and probably no house. Saving any money in your first 5 years is tough and it will be a paltry amount compared to what you will be able to save later on.

      IMO, the best ways to get ahead are buy a house which gives you a tax deductible housing expense that appreciates and 401K which is automatic and tax deductible and if you are lucky matching. If you make six figures, those two vehicles should easily put you over a million by retirement.

      That being said, a million is not really enough to retire in your 50s let alone your 30s. And the article is advising to retire with half that! Yikes!!!

      • Brandon V.

        That really depends on your perspective Kurt. 1,00,000 is plenty if you only plan on taking out 4% or 40,000 a year. With only taking out 4% you have a very little risk of ruin for a long time, even outlasting a recession.

        Many people in the US make far below 40,000 a year and somehow manage. However if you really want to be free, a million might be a little low.

    • Craig Curelop

      Hey Joseph – Thanks for reading and offering wise advice to the BP community.

      When it boils down to it, I agree with you. Achieve financial freedom in your 20s or early 30s and then you get the option to work. I do not see myself fully retiring and doing nothing at 30 years old, but I do see myself being financially free so the work I do is enjoyable and if emergencies happen or I want to take time off, I can .

  8. Joseph Copeland

    Kurt,

    I disagree. I am a Millennial who set myself up while single and began at age 21 in real estate. I have plenty of friends who are Millennial who, while single, sacrificed some luxuries to set themselves up for down the road.

    I partake in the 401k investing only for the match and tax break and then invest that money into real estate, however I am not a big fan of relying on a 401k for retirement.

    • I am not sure what specifically you disagree with. I contribute more to my 401K than my entire salary was when I first started working. It is hard to argue saving then would have been easier, if I had saved 100%, it would have been less than I save now.

  9. Joseph Copeland

    Kurt,

    Hey man, don’t want you mad or upset with me. Investing in a 401k is better than not investing at all. I lean more towards investing primarily outside of the 401k to allow for the CF to be used in conjunction with further W2 money to creating additional passive income.

    The 401k limits one’s ability to grow large amounts of investment properties due to restrictions (mainly one cannot finance a purchase without substantial tax obligations and will require full out cash purchase). Also, someone cannot use personal money to maintain the asset as the 401k has to maintain it on its own.

    I use my 401k to invest in real estate now holding notes on new construction and started that once it accumulated 285k.

    When single if you live below your means, which shouldn’t be hard as you haven’t been introduced to an elevated lifestyle, you should be able to save a substancial amount of income for investing. This along with financing deals will enable one to build a great portfolio at a young age and not wait. To buy and live in one property every year could assist in purchasing as a primary residence securing low interest rates for 30 years and create great CF. Not to mention a great start to real estate investing.

    Marriage may bring an additional income sometimes (my wife does not work by our choice) but lifestyles generally grow as well. One can only sacrifice for so long until living life and using more money comes along.

    • It depends how long you want to be single. If the plan is to stay single until you are a millionaire, that basically means you are sacrificing ever having a family realistically. To me, that is a messed up priority.

      Money is not that important.

  10. Ryan Johnston

    Kind of deceiving when you throw the numbers up there. Someone making 65k salary does not get to keep 65k. I get taxed, as does everyone, and in order to make 65k post-tax you’ll need a yearly salary of about $90k-$95k. I’m not sure what 25 year old you’re talking to, but they don’t typically make that type of money 3 years out of college. I’m not saying that they can’t save 40% but that 40% is not going to be 26k like you refer to. It’s going to be more like 15k if they’re good about it. I’m not trying to be a bubble popper, I just like actual numbers and not fairy tale numbers.

    • Craig Curelop

      Hey Ryan,

      That’s a fair point. I don’t say anywhere that saving $26k is going to be easy. But I can assure you that I did it, while living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (San Francisco).

      If you don’t agree with my assumptions, that’s fine. I encourage you to download the spreadsheet, adjust the assumptions, and see where you are at.

      Even if you can only save $15k per year, after two years you would have $30k and this model would be one year off. Still not too shabby.

  11. Joseph Copeland

    Kurt,

    I make well above the norm and was able to put up money very well by living on roughly 25 percent of my pay (my first home was a 220k brand new home and 3 roommates covered the mortgage). That home was paid off in full by my 23rd birthday…

    I am 30 now with two kids and have been married going on 3 years.

    If someone wants to be successful, they will be. I have stories of firefighters and self employed people making 65k or less with multiple rentals as well and they are 31 or less in age….

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