Financial Freedom, financial independence, early retirement, what freedom means to mewe've learned

Why “Financial Freedom” Means Something Different to Me

For years now, in writing this blog, I’ve gone along with the “financial freedom” terminology that is the common parlance of financial independence and early retirement writers. But nearly every time I’ve written the word “freedom,” I’ve done so with a little twitch, a little nagging feeling that it wasn’t right.

I completely understand the sentiment behind the phrase, and I know it’s 100 percent well-intentioned by those who use it. But there’s an entirely different way of defining “financial freedom” that includes so many more of us while taking a broader view.

Why Financial Freedom Means Something Different to Me // Financial Freedom, financial independence, early retirement, what freedom means to me

Where My Definition of “Freedom” Comes From

I’m a product of the Cold War. Army dad stationed overseas, civilian mom from a formerly occupied nation. Put them together and you get me.

At regular intervals throughout my childhood, we’d go back to Europe to visit family, and while we’d be in free Europe, we were never more than a few miles from the other Europe — the half under Soviet control, behind the Iron Curtain.

Sometimes I’d hear stories, of people who died trying to flee, of people ratted out by their neighbors and imprisoned, of people risking their lives at border checkpoints hiding in every imaginable part of a car, including being sewn into a car’s seat. And sometimes I’d actually get to look over the wall at the bleak, apocalyptic scenes. The landmine strips, the crumbling buildings, the towers full of armed guards.

It looked more like prison than a city. 

The people I saw on the other side, they looked just like any of us, but they couldn’t travel where they wanted, they had no say in their government, they could be imprisoned for no cause and with no recourse, they couldn’t say a word against anyone in power (or be perceived as thinking those thoughts), and they couldn’t even confide in friends, neighbors or family. Everyone was a potential informer. (How many of us have never uttered a word of frustration about politics or our government? Imagine going to prison — a Soviet prison — for one little statement.)

Even at nine years old, I grasped that things must be truly horrible if people were willing to risk everything to escape, and I saw a tiny slice of it with my own eyes.

I’d hear the success stories, too, of course. Those who had tunneled out, run past the rifle shooters or escaped via marriage or diplomacy. Nearly all of those people left with nothing but what they could carry — including currency that was worthless in the rest of the world — but even if they got out with literally nothing, they all felt that it had been worth it, because their escape came with:


Not the kind of freedom we talk about when we talk money, but the most basic things: not fearing that anyone you meet might report you, not fearing getting shot for walking too far down one street, not fearing losing your life just because the political winds change.

To me, freedom simply means not living in constant fear. And if you happen to get some choice in life, too, that’s bonus. If you’re used to living under horrible oppression, freedom has nothing to do with your net worth or what you need to do to make ends meet. Freedom is simply being allowed to exist without fear that that existence could be taken away at any time.


Freedom on Maslow’s Hierarchy

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? It’s a perfect way to think about the different types and levels of freedom.

Financial Freedom and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The most essential needs are at the base of the pyramid: safety and physiological needs like food and shelter. The lack of freedom I witnessed as a child was at these tiers, the most critical.

In between those tiers are the psychological needs: self-esteem, love and belonging. And only way up at the tippy top of the pyramid is the area that financial “freedom” is focused on: self-actualization.

Financial Freedom and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Self-actualization is wonderful, and we enthusiastically support all those who pursue it, but it’s really the icing on the cake, not an essential component of freedom. We just don’t always see that, because most of us have never known what it feels like not to be free.

You’re Probably Already Financially Free

Though financial independence has a million different meanings depending who you ask — it can mean everything from money never being an object again to just having the flexibility to work for yourself if you want to, even if you still need to earn an income — I still prefer it over “financial freedom.”

As always, I encourage everyone to choose their own terms and define their own definitions, whether that be for financial independence, early retirement, work or anything else.

But you won’t read me talking about “financial freedom” here, because I believe that’s something I’ve always had. The ability to go to good schools, to have upward mobility, to choose my career path, to take on debt if I want to, to buy whatever I want with my money — heck, to spend money on opposition political candidates’ campaigns, and on groups advocating for policies the current government doesn’t agree with! Not everyone has had as much financial freedom as I’ve had, some have had more, but most of us have still had it in an objective sense.

There has never been a day in my life when I haven’t been financially free, and I will always be grateful for that.

Chime In!

I’d love to know what you guys think of these definitions. Does FI feel better to you than “financial freedom”? We’ve talked terms around here a lot lately, and I’m curious if anyone has had a change of heart — any terms you used to use that don’t feel right anymore? Any stories to share that have shaped how you see certain terms that people use casually? Anyone just want to celebrate your financial freedom?! Let’s discuss it all in the comments.

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79 replies »

  1. I’ll be sticking with financial freedom. It implies a certain sense of wonder, lightness, and awe to those not on the same path. Also, right now I’m not financially free. I’m in handcuffs, chained to my job. The handcuffs might be invisible, and comfortable, but they’re still there and chafing at me. Yes we have it tons better than people in say, North Korea. There will always be people in the world I have it better than. There will also always be people who have it better than me! I wish everyone were equal but alas, our world isn’t set up that way :(

    • I love the wonder part of your definition, but I do want to press you: Are you REALLY “handcuffed” to your job? You have tons of skills, and could easily find another. “Handcuffed” means you literally have no choice, which clearly doesn’t apply to you. And you just bought a multifamily home at a young age as a single person — that sure sounds like financial freedom to me. You made that choice — an audacious one, at that! — all on your own, and made it happen through your own ingenuity and grit. I can’t think of any better word for that than “financial freedom.” ;-)

  2. Wow, a great read this morning. To even be able to pursue ‘Financial Independence’ or ‘Early Retirement’ is a huge privilege. The odds are good that anyone reading this blog is already in the top 10% of wealth in the world. It’s also good to remind yourself that only 10% of the world has ACCESS to all 5 of: food, water, shelter, transportation and sanitation.

    So, I also pursue something more, such as ‘Financial Independence’, but not without realizing my lucky lot in what Buffet calls the Ovarian lottery. I am really lucky to be born where I was. I don’t want to squander it. Have I? Yes, that is my struggle. But I lie down, and I won’t focus only on myself. As you have stated, I already have freedom, which is so amazing. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Thank you! I agree totally with Buffett’s Ovarian Lottery principle. Or in my case, the fact that my mom lived where she did in Berlin, and not two blocks away, where she would have been closed in behind the wall. I wouldn’t exist if that had happened, and her whole life would have been incredibly different (and worse). So let’s all celebrate our financial freedom instead of lamenting its perceived (but false) absence! :-)

  3. I don’t think I’ve ever used the term financial freedom. Simply put I agree with you I’m already free. I can move a thousand miles from here and open a surf shop if he spirit moved me. If an employer would allow me I could work out of the back of a travel trailer traveling the country. The only thing that stops me from doing so is finding the right job and situation, the right opportunity. Financial independence to me is about options and opportunities. What I choose with it is my choice and is deeply personal.

    • :::clap clap clap clap::: You’re so right: you’re financially free and the only obstacles are pretty much related to your own effort or lack thereof in finding those opportunities. That’s soooooo different from not being able to find those opportunities.

  4. Powerful story and it shows how our upbringing and what we’re exposed to has such a lasting impact on us. I have similar feelings, having been told stories of my grandparents escaping communist China, and how my entire life I’ve never once lived with the fear that my life was in danger in that same way. Everything is relative. :)

    • Thanks, Jim! And yeah, wow, I bet you’ve heard some crazy stories about China. I think it would be impossible for those stories NOT to impact your world view, and just even knowing that you could have been born into a very different life if they hadn’t escaped.

  5. Very interesting article!
    Interesting starting point – with the different meaning of the word “freedom” compared to “independent” when it comes to finances.
    I myself come from a former communist society (even if I was born after it was “free”) and I admit even after the new order, Romania still has been and will be affected by that mentality for a long time.
    And I do have to agree that the word “freedom” has a much deeper meaning and value and can sometimes be loosely used when talking about financial independence, being able to so whatever you want without depending on anyone, or any specific situation.
    Makes you think of how deeper “freedom” goes and how “independence” is rather more appropriate to use, but that is of course for someone that has a grasp of how important “freedom” as a concept is. Because it’s a bit harder to grasp if you haven’t felt it’s lack (not saying I have, I was lucky to be born after it was a given). But the mentality is different indeed.
    Thanks for the awesome article and the opportunity to think about this for a bit (even if now I live in a totally different society – the UK).

    • Oh my gosh, you must have heard so many terrible stories from the older generations! Thank goodness you yourself weren’t born under the Ceausescu regime. From what I know, that seemed far worse than the East Germany I (sort of) witnessed. But either way, I’d imagine you grew up surrounded by people with a much deeper appreciation of freedom than many westerners have today!

      • Thing is that most of the situations were viewed as normal. 45 years of the same regime shifts people’s take on life – they just take it as is. There are many books about people and their experiences especially those that had a taste of freedom and had to come back. Or those that risked it and succeded to escape, but knew that they could never go back, nor any of their family ever leave (no chance if you had someone out).
        Anyways. Growing up there you don’t take everything for granted, so yeah, freedom has a different take.

      • I’m sure all of that is true — we can adapt to anything and make it seem “normal.” But still, just as you said, there’s a different appreciation for freedom.

  6. Nice perspective and some really good points here. I still like the clarity of financial freedom meaning you can support your chosen lifestyle spending forever without being dependent on income from your active efforts. That is a clear level of financial freedom and peace of mind vs needing to work and depending on someone to pay money for your labor.

    You bring up a great point though that we already have an amazing amount of personal and financial freedom. In the FIRE community, we often talk about needing to work as slavery that we are trying to buy ourselves out of . That’s a bit of an overstatement since we do have many choices in where we choose to work including deciding to work for ourselves. But we still need to do some active labor to bring in an income if we don’t have enough savings and that restricts our important time freedom in life.

    In reality, we are always dependent on others to some extent. Even passive investors rely on companies/renters/etc paying them. Whether you actively work (direct payments for our work) or passively invest (paid for the benefit of using our capital) for income, ultimately we need to provide value to others to get paid ourselves. But I like the time freedom of passive income that covers my lifestyle costs so I’ll still consider that true financial freedom.

    • YES to the point that we’re always dependent on others. Even if our income is completely “passive,” we still need renters, or consumers to buy things we ourselves wouldn’t buy from the companies whose stock we own. So in that sense, we’re never truly “independent.” But that doesn’t mean we aren’t free to make our own financial choices and to create our own financial circumstances, and that’s why I much prefer FI over “financial freedom.” ;-)

  7. I’m with you. I like the term Financial Independence better than all of the other vernacular out there. Even early retirement gives me that little twitch that you talk about. I think FI is the purest way to express the concept we all strive for and talk so much about. Very thought provoking post!

    • “Retirement” at least is still a very new word and has enough different meanings to folks that we’re all free to define it for ourselves to a large extent. Freedom feels less malleable to me, but we each need to do and say what feels right for us. ;-)

  8. Your essay is beautiful and powerful. I remember the day the Berlin fell. A line from an old song came into my head, “The prayer of every man is to know how freedom feels.”

    • Thanks, Lizzy! I remember that day well — my mom crying, the calls the relatives. And later the photos of my grandma taking a pickax to the wall (we still have those fragments). :-)

  9. Love your perspective, including your awareness of privilege and your commitment to generosity. I don’t see this world view in the other FI blogs I read.

  10. Oh yeah, I think it depends from what lens you view the word “freedom.” In your definition, I’m already financially free. I can spend my money how I choose. I’m free to make good or very bad decisions with my money and it largely won’t carry any legal consequences.

    That’s why I prefer the phrase “financially independent.” It implies that you’re independent from money being your motivating factor, which is what I’m after. :)

    • Yep, perfect articulation of how free you already are. ;-) And I agree that FI is a much clearer description of what you’re after. I almost even want to call it “independent of finances.”

  11. I was literally cutting onions when I clicked on this. That might be the best-timed click of my life.

    I try not to focus on labels. Context is everything.

    This reminds me of an exercise of my semantics class in college… what is the definition of a chair? Does it need legs? (Nahhh… as a skier you know about a chair lift that doesn’t have legs). Does it need arms or a back? Nope.

    Your “chair” might be different than my “chair”, but we generally understand each other. We aren’t getting confused about one person talking about a chair and the person thinking it is a television.

    • Aww. :-) I think semantics exercises like that are super important and interesting. But, I do think the words we use matters because they shape how we think, and if we think of ourselves as not financially free, or as “chained” to our jobs, then we see ourselves as victims, and we create a situation in which we don’t have all the gratitude we could for our many gifts. (I’m of course taking this to the extreme — plenty of people use this language and don’t see themselves as victims.) It’s also just insensitive to people who actually have experienced hardship that those of us pursuing FIRE will never know. But I decided it was finally time to talk about why “freedom” is such a loaded word for me. ;-)

      • Don’t use my high school term paper on 1984 against me ;-). Yes words can and do shape how we think… or maybe tripplethink ;-).

        I appreciate that you are opening yourself up and writing about it. I’m so over-privileged that “freedom” makes me think of Janis Joplin singing about Bobby McGee.

        I’m going to pause, because there’s more onions to cut (why am I always cutting onions?), but I’m going to imagine a world where everyone views “freedom” in the same that I do based on their experience.

      • Haha. And you’ll be glad to know I was singing Bobby McGee all last night after reading your comment. Even after Mr. ONL reminded me that I am not nearly the singer Janis was. ;-)

  12. Interesting and thoughtful perspectives. Financial freedom never felt like a good word to me anyway, despite not having those charged memories. I wish I had a catchy 2 or 3 word description but I like to think of it as removing money from the decision making equation altogether. And I think that protecting our rights and those who have less than we do is quite important as well. Donations of time and money in those spaces can go a long way. :) I think these online communities can help to create some of the momentum we need to move the needle in more positive directions. So keep speaking your truth!

    • That’s totally how we think of it, too — removing money from the equation altogether. Which is different from financial freedom, and waaaaay different from freedom itself!

  13. I agree, and I appreciate your work to defend the deep importance of “freedom” – and the sacrifices of those who have provided it! I use financial independence as well. When I mention freedom, it’s in reference to something specific, like the freedom to ____. Like you, I believe we already have a historically unprecedented amount of financial freedom. It’s all too easy for us Americans to forget just how free we are.

    • Love this — YES! We have SO MUCH freedom on EVERY level, especially in our finances, and we shouldn’t downplay that by positioning freedom as some future goal rather than our present state. ;-)

  14. Hm, I see what you mean but I use it for the same reason.

    Financial freedom is different than freedom from tyranny / Communism / an oppressive state or government in our lives. My parents and grandparents lived through a war against Communism, and escaped with their lives, and not much else. They arrived on the shores of America with nothing but rice sacking turned clothing. They didn’t have money, or the freedom of choice that money brings, but they had essential life freedom. With that context, for me, calling it financial freedom highlights the fact that I already have essential freedoms of speech, of thought, of living the life I choose within the constraints of my health, ability, and budget.

    That leaves financial freedom as the frontier that I’m responsible for facing down. It’s a specific type of freedom: free of the pinch of poverty, free to make choices that are best for you and not the least bad one that you can afford this week before the paycheck comes in, but maybe you have to skip paying the electric bill. That’s the kind of freedom to choose that I didn’t always have in my life. In earlier years, I couldn’t choose many career options because I didn’t have the resources to take risks without health insurance, the lack of good healthcare combined with limited money meant that my chronic illness wasn’t even identified until a few years ago, much less treated seriously so that I could live anything like a normal existence.

    It can’t exist without the other freedoms at the more basic and essential level, but to me, financial freedom is a true freedom that has serious impact on a person’s life. It doesn’t diminish the larger freedoms, it complements them.

    • I think that makes total sense, and I see why you use the term “financial freedom” that way. But I’d ask back: Do you not already have that? I see your point that you feel you didn’t have it earlier in life (and understand, I’m not saying that any of us have ABSOLUTE financial freedom — obviously I can’t just buy a yacht or a private island because I feel like it), but do you not think you have financial freedom now? I get that growing up with very little means you are pre-wired for a scarcity mentality, but comparing you guys to 99% percent of the world, it sure *looks* from the outside like you have financial freedom now.

      • That’s true from a comparative sense, I have some financial freedom. I think it’s like having a quarter tank level of financial freedom. It’ll take me some places but not very far yet, especially given our specific future costs (buying an SF place, raising at least 1 kid & 1 dog or more dogs in this HCOLA, health, etc). I have the freedom to raise my small family reasonably well but at the moment I don’t have the option to have more children (bio or not), I can’t afford to. Or to rescue a second dog. The constrictions are still granular enough that this isn’t freedom yet, it’s partial freedom. Or freedom in progress. I’m not looking for massive yacht-size freedom but something where we have the choice to grow our family, to help more people and animals, even to devote our time to more meaningful work when the time comes. Or for just me personally, the ability to choose to work only part time or even take the time I need to heal if I’m really sick/broken down, which I cannot do right now. I have to work full time, full stop, no matter how many joints are badly swollen, or how badly I’m limping, or how dizzy I am – examples just from this week alone. That might be the biggest one – being able to rest and live like a human even when my body is in full revolt.

      • You deal with some major health challenges that don’t affect everyone, and that undoubtedly has a huge effect on your situation. It’s shameful that our country doesn’t provide better safety nets to allow people they need to rest or heal without fear of bankruptcy (or major stigma). I witnessed that first hand growing up with a disabled dad/single parent. He opted to take the disability benefits (in large part because he couldn’t find another job after his company laid him off right before the ADA went into effect!) but not without a major cost — first, they were far lower than his previous salary, and second, he had to deal with a ton of stigma and negativity for being a “drain on the public.” (And you know how I feel about that — that “drain” is what let me become a highly productive member of society instead of ending up pregnant as a teen or in prison or whatever else.)

  15. I’ve always used Financial independence as well. Freedom doesn’t really define what we’re after. Reasons for it are probably all being mentioned in the comments above.

    It’s interesting how it means something different to one another. If you think it through, independence (in financial terms) might have a different meaning as well if you consider that working for your OWN money already is being independent.

    Like the reference to Maslow’s piramide as well. Reminds us on how fortunate we live our lives already…

    • You’re so right — anyone who can even contemplate FI is already so, so fortunate! And you’re right, too, that every term is open to interpretation. I’m not advocating for anyone to give up a term they feel a connection to, but “financial freedom” sure doesn’t feel like the right way to describe our goal, at least to me. ;-)

  16. I was two years old when my country got it’s independence from Soviet Union in 1991. I don’t remember that time really, but it has influenced how my parents and grandparents think and act.
    My grandparents are typical hoarders, who don’t throw anything away; they are very self-sufficient growing everything themselves (they are too old for animals now); can cook delicious yet cheap meals and saved a lot with very small income.
    My parents are embracing consumerism instead because they didn’t have anything when they grew up. They are buying everything they want and don’t pay much attention to saving.
    They have freedom to do whatever they want with their money now, but previous experience is definitely affecting their independence to make decision around their finances.

    • I think a lot of that is generational — the folks who lived during the Depression tend to be more on the saving and hoarding end of things, regardless of what regime they grew up under. And the baby boomers have led the vanguard on consumerism, even among those who grew up with freedom all along. But I definitely agree that having freedom after not having it must certainly influence a person’s thoughts and actions!

  17. I am going to guess Eastern Germany, is that where your family is from? You didn’t leave a lot of hints but you left some.

    Anyhow I am always proud that my grandparents left Slovakia in the 1920’s so my dad and future generations didn’t have to put up with the BS of world war II or the communism that followed. So yes, it hit close to my heart. Thank you Mary & Josef G********. RIP.

    Freedom and independence I suppose mean the same to me. Financial freedom I suppose we all have, but if you are tied to your job you aren’t completely free. Being able to leave your job and chill at the pool all day, like I hope to do soon (July 5th being my last date of work) seems free’er or more appealing.

    It’s hard to say what a big accomplishment is. I am retiring at 41 and my grandparents came to America knowing no English and a sixth grade education. In my mind I have outperformed my “college” peers by leaps and bounds, but on paper they probably look more successful in a more mainstream definition of success. Now ask them if they love or even like their jobs, and I doubt many at all do.

    • I will share LOTS more about all of this after we give notice later this year. ;-) (Though I didn’t try especially hard to keep things secret in this one!) I guess to me using “freedom” in this way just seems to be totally insensitive to those who have a much more elemental definition of freedom. Because in truth anyone is FREE to quit their job and lounge by the pool, they just might have ramifications from that that you won’t face. ;-) But either way, your accomplishment is pretty huge and amazing, even if others might look more “impressive” on paper. ;-)

  18. For me, financial freedom or independence, doesn’t mean I have more money than Midas. It means I have enough not to have to worry about it.

  19. I love this post. Most of us lucky enough to be reading this are far freer than we think, and are more able to forge our own paths in life than most people in the rest of human history. It seems like the appropriate response is gratitude, and that one of the ways to express that gratitude is to take responsibility for our lives and our finances. Thanks for writing this!

    • Thank you, Grace! And that is so true — we have more upward mobility now than ever before, the benefits of the safest and most peaceful time in history and the democratization of information via the internet. It’s an incredible time of freedom on so many levels — not for everyone, but certainly for anyone blogging about money. ;-) And 100% with you on gratitude!

  20. Freedom is something we tend to take for granted in our first world lives, but really shouldn’t.

    Regarding financial freedom, I also chose to distinguish it from financial independence, but in the opposite direction. Independence means we no longer rely on an income to maintain a lifestyle, but Freedom means we’re free to do more. Free to spend a bit more, free to give more, free to take in all the experiences at a destination, not just the more affordable ones.

    I defined Financial Freedom as Core Expenses + 2x(Discretionary Expenses). If our baseline spending is $70,000 ($40k core, $30k discretionary, FI happens at 25 x $70k = $1.75M, and FF happens at 25x $100K = $2.5M. The latter allowing us to double the “fluff” in our annual spending.


    • Just because I’m feeling sassy, I’ll play devil’s advocate: Does your definition of “financial freedom” mean that you haven’t already been free to make these decisions (going to med school, choosing your job, choosing to save and invest, etc.) that have put you in this position? ;-) (And P.S. I do like your delineation of the different levels, I’d just use different terms if it were me.) ;-)

  21. Really important message here. Thanks for sharing your story. I agree that a “reality check” and perhaps also a “terminology check” is useful once in a while because the blogosphere and even life in our usual context can start to feel like a bit of a bubble. As you may already know, we prefer “financial flexibility” to FI or financial freedom. We don’t want to view ourselves as not free to do what we want, because we are. And while I agree with the mathematical definition of FI, we hesitate to declare our selves “independent” from God’s provision (be it through our talents, opportunities, jobs, or investments, etc.), since that is an important part of our faith.

    • Thanks, Kalie! And it’s soooo true that there are bubbles everywhere, especially in our PF blogosphere, and it’s helpful to take a step back every once in a while. I think you put the issue here so perfectly: By talking about financial freedom as some future goal, you think of yourself as not free to do what you want. And that’s both not true, and not a positive way to view one’s situation. And the independent issue is another great big one. Literally none of us, whether we consider ourselves religious or not, are truly independent. We need the markets to stay strong to support us, which relies on other consumers buying things we ourselves wouldn’t buy because we’re too frugal, or we need tenants to pay the rent in our rentals (at a rate that’s probably higher than we ourselves would pay), or we need others to keep buying whatever we invest in (gold, pork futures, whatever) to keep the prices high. Which means “independent” is itself a misnomer, and — worst case — we even become slightly hypocritical for relying on others to live a lifestyle to support our passive income that we ourselves might rail against. Maybe I’ll expand upon this idea the next time I feel the need for a rant post. ;-) Hahahaha.

  22. I read most of this post, and I think you made great visuals and concepts with the pyramid, which is similar but more simplified than Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. That is a concept I learned in psychology, and you made it much more simple and streamlined. Yes, self-actualization is optional, but really is the best part of life, that is why religion and meditation is optional but still enriches your life.

    I’m on a fixed income trying to regain financial independence. I publish a blog on wordpress and I have two volunteer writing jobs. I don’t like the concept of retiring. You should retire to heaven when you die. That means, try to find work you enjoy, and you won’t have to labor all your days. As long as you are physically able, you should be productive. Even creative works like music and art and writing is a type of work, so really no one ever retires, they just stop getting paid for their work. Money is the root of all evil, that is my view. But we got to deal with reality.

    Keep up the good, well thought out writing.

    • It’s interesting that society has so deeply ingrained this idea of retirement as idleness in such a relatively short time, only a few generations. We have no intention of not being productive, and I haven’t heard from anyone else aiming for retirement that they won’t ever work again either. But we sure will retire. :-)

  23. Definitely food for thought here. I agree with you that freedom is a more powerful term than most of us mean for finance, but independence isn’t quite right either. Maybe we’re independent from our day jobs, but not from the stock market’s whims, renters, encore careers, etc. Maybe financial flexibility? Because we have more options and more of a cushion. Or maybe another term that will hit me at 2AM as this idea marinates.

    • Totally true that we can never be independent from economic forces, unless the plan is truly to live in a cave and hunt our own food somehow. Yeah, I like flexibility a lot better!

  24. I prefer financial freedom. I’d like to never worry about money again and be able to spend without any consideration to cost. Like some billionaires have said, “you’re not rich until you can buy a Lamborghini without looking at the price tag”.

    • That actually sounds like you’re aiming for something closer to “financial blissful ignorance.” ;-) You want to be able to never pay attention and be just fine.

  25. Financial freedom for me, personally means that I can decide for myself without having to consider what others say just because they provide for me, like my parents in my case. So financial independence, I believe leads me to financial freedom.

  26. Haha, this reminds me of the time a year or more ago when there were some bloggers writing about being “freedom fighters” but referring to FI. Ugh… I was tempted to write an anti-freedom fighters sort of post, because I felt upset about the seemingly flippant use of the word freedom and not giving it the gravity and respect it deserves.

    I honestly don’t know whether I use the term financial freedom or FI more often or if I go back and forth. I feel like I use FI more, but who knows. We hosted a Cambodian refugee for a while back in the early 80’s and it was pretty eye-opening hearing her background, stories and that sort of thing. Looking back I can better understand the huge differences betwen our upbringings and experiences and like you point out, realize that I’ve been “free” all along.

    It might not have always felt like it, but to not be in an environment like the one you described or our guest described puts you way ahead of most other people. Just having the opportunity to save/invest and willingly exit the workforce before 50 is impressive and an extraordinary opportunity. I guess that’s why I’m amazed more people don’t strive for that.

    • I wish you’d written that post, although then I couldn’t have written mine. Hahaha. And wow, that experience hosting a Cambodian refugee must have been pretty powerful. Kudos to you for recognizing that you always had true freedom and financial freedom!

  27. Knowing that my rights as an LGBT person are often under-attack locally and abroad, I don’t ever feel fully free. I know that parts of my liberal East Coast city would be dangerous to hold my girlfriend’s hand in. I know that her new city in the deep South is “safe enough,” but that we can’t necessarily travel safely through it. Having the income I now do is blessing and has alleviated some of these burdens, ie, I don’t have to live in the place I am “from” and be at risk daily, but the money can only keep me so safe. Texas is trying to prevent lgbt from adopting as I type this.

    • That’s such an important perspective for everyone to keep in mind, ZJ! When not everyone in the U.S. even has true freedom, we should not be minimizing the meaning of the word to mean, in fact, “an extremely high level of privilege.”

      • Yep! Folks in my class keep asking me why I don’t travel more. I tell them that it is literally illegal to be gay in nearly 80 countries, and they respond with “just don’t say you’re gay,” as if that makes me safe or is even good advice. I avoid places that are hostile to my existence. At the very least, I don’t think homophobes should be able to profit off of me. They value travel highly and think that my priorities are out of whack. They’ve never had strangers try to kill them for their sexuality. (They also don’t realize that unsolicited advice & then further arguing about what a minority “should” or “could” want to do is not a good look.)

      • Sigh. What a tough situation. I’m sure many people *think* they are giving you this advice out of good intentions, because they want you to be able to see the world, and not be limited in your experiences, but they are totally blind to both the other side of it, and to the offensiveness of telling someone else what risks you are supposed to find acceptable. :-( But I completely support you in both not wanting to put yourself in unsafe situations, and not wanting to vote in support of those societies with your dollars. People pay far too little attention to the value of the monetary vote. There are companies in the U.S. we won’t buy from, and it’s the same thing.

      • I would give them a little more credit if they wouldn’t keep arguing. I will never trust a straight person who says that I could “just not say I’m a lesbian.” Folks are coded by being different – many folks don’t have to be told. And it’s such terrible advice. Just lie about yourself to “feel” safe in a place where you are not.

      • :-( Kudos to you for trusting your own internal compass and not feeling pressured by advice that, even if it’s well meaning, is still insensitive and bad.

  28. At work, and on my blog, It is clear to have a good definition and term of the key concepts that you use. I used to think…whatever…

    I only read this post after I wrote my definition of FI. I am struggling to come up with the right word. FI is not ideal, as it has so many loadings and assumptions that come with it, especially combined with RE.

    Financial Freedom sounds good, reading how you and SSC in the comment define freedom, means that I am free already since birth.

    And given that I do not plan to stop working, given that we plan to slow down our life already now without having the assets to cover our spending, another term is needed. SCC has a good term: Lifestyle Change. I might with that!

    • I agree that there is no perfect term! I’ve always liked the SSCs’ “FFLC” term, but it is a bit of a mouthful, too. ;-) For a while I was thinking about “self-sponsored athletes,” but that also made it sound like all we care about is sports, and that’s not true either. So I will keep thinking, and you should too! :-D

      • I really like that term to speak to the transition. I think, though, it would be weird to be 10 or 20 years into early retirement and still call it “lifestyle change.” But that’s just me. ;-)

  29. I was born on the other side of that wall. I spent my childhood in this political climate. My parents were those who were exposed to the lack of freedom, as a child I didn’t really know what’s going on. Before I was a teenager the wall went down and we can leave our freedom our way ever since. All I can say is that I will be financially free in couple of years and the upbringing my parents had no other choice to give me only enhanced my frugality, the respect I have to money earned through long working hours and to any kind of freedom, even the financial one. I agree, we live in a privileged world, those of us who can even spare time to think about that, but we aren’t predetermined to be one or another through our birthplace, nationality or anything else.

    • Wow, Dorota — You must have so many stories and memories, if not your own, then your parents’. I’m so glad for your sake the wall came down and you have the freedom now to pursue your own path!

  30. The book “Rich dad, poor dad” by Robert Kiyosaki is the best book about financial freedom that I ever read in my life! This book changed my life for ever and totally changed my view of how the life should be for those who want to enjoy life! Doing what you want in life is your goal, isn’t it? Not doing what other are saying whole your life, every day? I highly recommend this book for everyone! I read this book 3 times and could more! :D

    • Definitely a popular one among a lot of folks, though I couldn’t get into it.

  31. I appreciate your post. Sometimes in my quest to be able to quit my job and be able to live without worrying about money, I forget how much “financial freedom” I already have. I can make as much as I want as long as I am able to, I can spend it on what I want, and have a wide variety of things I can do to attain funds if I need them. My blog promotes financial freedom in the sense that I want to provide people with any information I can that can help them to advance their financial stability. Who wants to work paycheck to paycheck? Who doesnt want good credit.

    This grounded me a little and reminded me to have gratitude. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks! And I love how you put it — most of us, or at least most of us considering FIRE, already have and probably have always had a tremendous amount of financial freedom.