Once you've decided to head off towards your freedom and indepence, you probably want to know what are the steps towards financial freedom? Every one's route will be different, but those who save and invest their way out of the need to work use a similar financial freedom roadmap. And they all budget and know how to live below their means. In other words, they spend way less than they earn. The route markers below are my own 9-step plan to financial freedom. Remember to celebrate every milestone of your own journey.
9 Steps to financial freedom
1Maximise your income
Your skill set makes you a richer human being in the widest sense of the word. So, celebrate every time you add a new skill or qualification, or expand your network. It should also translate to more material wealth and allow you to jump to a higher-paying job, or add a side income. Keep on investing in your ability to earn more income by expanding your skill-set throughout your life.
2Get rid of ‘bad’ debt
Examples of bad debt are store cards, loan shark loans, and credit card debt. Even car finance. Anything that charges interest at a higher rate than a home loan. To free up the cash to start chipping away at your debt, you would need to make a few changes to your budget until you are living well below your means. Once you've banned bad debt from your life there's no going back. This is how I live below my means and stay out of debt.
3Set up an emergency fund
As soon as your bad debt is paid off, you need to start working on an emergency fund - the first and most vital piece of your portfolio. This is where you build some security in case you lose your job or a big unexpected bill comes your way. Make it a priority to save up at least three months' expenses in a high interest earning money market or bank account. Here are some ideas on where to find the best interest rate. Don't use a tax-free account for this part of your portfolio; tax-free accounts should be for saving and not touching your money for at least 10 years to get the full benefits. An emergency fund should always be accessible within a day or two.
As opposed to bad debt, student and home loans are OK for a few years of your life, because they finance an asset - either your home (so you can look forward to living rent-free one day) or an education (that allows you to earn an income). Still, get rid of even these loans as soon as you can. You’re making your bank rich.
Once your emergency fund is fully funded, you can become a 'serious' long-term investor and start to save tax free, which is available to all SA residents. Currently the law allows you to save R36 000 per tax year into a tax-free savings account. Make it your goal to max out this amount every year. Don't withdraw money from your tax-free account as you will lose part of your lifetime allowance of R500 000. (This product is not for saving for a short-term goal like a new car or an upcoming holiday. It's part of your FIRE - financial independence, retire early - pot.)
6Use the retirement tax break
Somewhere along your journey of constantly cutting costs while increasing your income you'll reach the point where you have more than R36 000 per year to invest. You'll also notice that your higher income has led to higher tax. That becomes the moment to set your next ambitious savings goal: alongside the R36 000 towards your tax-free account, also save up to 27.5% of your income into tax-efficient retirement products (an RA or your employer's pension fund) every year.
7Sort out your older self
Make sure that when you’re 70 you never ever HAVE to work again. You don't know what your health and energy levels will be like by then. Reaching this milestone - called coast FI in the FIRE community - doesn't mean that you can stop working now; only that you no longer need to save towards retirement. It means that you have enough in the savings 'pot' so that the pot - if left untouched to grow at more than inflation - will give you enough income from age 70 onwards. Your younger self needs to continue working to provide in your immediate needs from now to age 70.
8Reduce your working days
There are many definitions of financial freedom. The most common one is: only doing the work you want to do, when you want to do it. Your financial freedom savings pot may not be enough to quit what you're doing, but maybe you feel it's grown enough that you can start working less and still stay on track with your financial goals. Maybe you want to start working only 4 days a week and march to your own work-rest beat the rest of the week. Or maybe you want to take a sabbatical. If you are in the financial position to do so, that counts as another milestone towards financial freedom.
8aStart a business for passive income
I call this milestone 8a because it's entirely optional. You don't need to start your own business to become financially free. There are two ways to set up passive income for yourself: 1) saving and investing, and 2) having your own business. You can use either or both to attain financial freedom, as long as your business allows you to focus on that which you really want to do with your life.
9Work becomes optional
Listen to this audio clip to find out how much you need to be financially free.
Where am I on this journey? I started investing and (slowly) getting my act together at age 31 and only recently made it to milestone 8. I'm aiming for financial freedom before age 52 and have saved up 95% of the amount that I would have needed to stop working at the end of 2022. In other words, I'm 50 and 95% towards the financial freedom goalpost.