How I Found Financial Freedom

When you hear the term, "financial freedom," a few stock images may pop to mind: The lottery winner rolling in sudden cash; the wealthy socialite dripping in diamonds; the silver-haired couple sailing into retirement on a yacht. But financial freedom doesn’t have to be about when or if. Ultimately, it’s about making the choices that will help you live the life you want right now. And it’s just as much about how you feel as it is about what you own.

Photo courtesy of Jen Boulden

Gaining Financial Freedom

When you hear the term, “financial freedom,” a few stock images may pop to mind: The lottery winner rolling in sudden cash; the wealthy socialite dripping in diamonds; the silver-haired couple sailing into retirement on a yacht. But financial freedom doesn’t have to be about when or if. Ultimately, it’s about making the choices that will help you live the life you want right now. And it’s just as much about how you feel as it is about what you own.

“Net worth and what you have in the bank are only part of it,” says Meadow Devor, money coach and creator of the Money Love workshop a self-guided course to changing how you think about money. “Financial freedom is also determined by your thoughts and emotions about money and worth. I’ve worked with millionaires who worry just as much as people barely above the poverty line. To me, financial freedom means no worry. It means peace.”

Here are seven women, including Meadow herself, who are living proof that you can attain financial freedom at any age and from any walk of life–and sooner than you may think. Keep reading to learn how they did.

Meadow Devor, 39, Money coach, Los Angeles, CA

How I define financial freedom: A state of mind. Before, I would have said: A lot of money. A big house. A walk-in closet. A fancy car. It was always about stuff, not about freedom. Losing all of my “stuff” changed everything for me. I learned that living a simple and frugal life brings me so much joy. When the clutter was cleared away, I saw that what really mattered was the amount of love in my life, the people that I connected with, the time I spent with my daughter. The striving for more and more kept me from focusing on what I did have in my life and it clouded my ability to feel gratitude.

How I achieved it: In early 2009, I was a newly divorced, single mom with more than half-a-million dollars in debt. I spent the next two years working three jobs—as a coach, a piano teacher, and an Apple sales rep. I sold everything I owned—handbags, shoes, jewelry, an armoire, garden pots, a lawn mower, even my favorite Gucci dress. I sold my house and moved into a small place, and rented out part of it. At first I felt defeated, scared, and really stupid. But the self-loathing wasn’t helping me pay the debt off any faster, so I decided to forgive myself and focus on what I could learn and teach others. Every time I sold something, or made another payment, I rewarded myself with self-pride. I shared the journey openly with my daughter (who was in elementary school at the time). During the payoff years, she knew that any extra money went toward debt and that we were making sacrifices as a family for our future. I socked every dime toward paying it off, which I did by November 2011. Since then, I set a new Net Worth Goal each year and share the details with my students. If I do buy something now, it must meet these three criteria: Do I love it? Will I use it? And can I afford it? If so, I pay for it–in cash.

Katie Clifford, 36, Manager, outfitting for the U.S. Olympic Team, Colorado Springs, CO

My definition of financial freedom: The ability to be generous. I grew up in a home where cost dictated every move. My dream was to reach a point where I could be comfortable, feel safe, and be generous. I tithe 10 percent to my church, give money to folks who need it, save for the short-term and for retirement, and take my intern out to lunch once a week because I remember what it’s like to be broke. Being generous keeps me from being too attached to money, which is the greatest freedom of all.

How I achieved it: I credit a work ethic that started with a paper route when I was 12. I live in a small apartment and drive a Subaru, even though I could afford more. I’d rather have a season ski pass or a plane ticket than an iPhone 5. I am not wealthy, but, at 36, I’m secure—and it’s the best feeling in the whole world.

Jen Boulden, 39, Eco-entrepreneur, Los Olivos, CA

My definition of financial freedom: Live large on less. I used to believe it was owning horses and a private jet. But now, it’s about living with less stuff and reconnecting to what matters most. I recently launched, where I’ll be broadcasting lessons on how to do that from my new home in California wine country, which I share with my husband, a corgi, two rescue bunnies, four chickens, a pair of goats, and a horse. We source some of our own food from the chickens and the goats (amazing omega-rich eggs and goat cheese). I’d always dreamed of living in a sweet little town with gorgeous hills and mountains, not too far from the ocean. My soul’s inspiration and peace is found in nature, so why not surround myself with it?

How I achieved it: I worked so hard I’d still be in PJs at 6pm. I ate all 3 meals in front of the computer (one of which was usually corn chips and beer). I tuned out the naysayers. It was like my head was on fire and I was running toward a well. That work paid off when I sold my company, Ideal Bite, to Disney for $20 million before the crash of 2008. That helped. But as they say, luck favors the well-prepared. I shared the money with investors and employees, and invested my share in what I care about most. About 40 percent of it went into my 3 houses in Bozeman, Mont., Los Angeles, and Los Olivos, Calif. (I love to transform homes into lovely spaces I can enjoy or rent out.) Another 20 percent is in a foundation that was set up to help animals. (I’d like to start a free-range animal shelter and use it to teach people about the importance of connection with nature.) I give all profits from the foundation investments to groups that are fighting the good fight like the Humane Society, Environmental Working Group, and Farm Sanctuary. I invest the last 40 percent in socially responsible investments that help promote waste and chemical output reduction and set up systems for resource renewal (instead of depletion), like Highwater Global Fund II.

Jill Russell, 33, Web editor, Los Angeles, CA

My definition of financial freedom: Doing what I want to, not what I have to. I grew up always having to buy the cheapest version of everything (shoes, towels, even bread), or not buying anything at all. I’ve supported myself since I was 18, but only recently shifted my thinking about it. I still don’t have the nicest wardrobe or the nicest home, but if there’s a $30 fitness class I love, I’ll do it. I rented an apartment in the location I wanted, and maintain a non-negotiable vacation fund. I buy better shoes. I have cable—just because I like it. I’m able to do these things because I follow a strict monthly “extras” budget, which covers eating out, clothes, recreation, and entertainment. Once I hit my limit, I’m done. No more shopping or nights out. Some people are afraid to look at their budget this way, but I find it so much less stressful when you know what you’re spending and where.

How I achieved it:? Hard work. I have been working without a break since I was 15. I’m also more willing now to take roles a little outside of what I thought I wanted to do, including managerial ones which may be less creative. There comes a point when salary and promotion opportunities are just as important. Sometimes I still feel guilty buying shoes that cost more than $100, but I’m getting better about it. It’ll always be a work in progress—just like my savings account.

Madison Barras, 24, PR/Marketing professional, Lafayette, LA

My definition of financial freedom: No “IOU”s. I used to think it meant having all the money in the world to do whatever I want, whenever I wanted. Now I see it as not being tied down or having debt. It’s covering my expenses with some extra money left over to dedicate to the things that are important to me—which right now are a motorcycle, travel, and retirement.

How I achieved it: I started working the Monday after I graduated high school and I have not been without a job for one day in six years. The day I got my first paycheck after college, I started paying off my student loans; I just made my last payment. Now I can focus on saving for me, not paying off debt. I think it’s important, especially for young people, to dedicate even just an hour a month to go over their finances, check their bank statements, and see where they can save money.

Jessika Dubay, 32, Part-time assistant, Pet-sitting business owner, Somerville, MA

My definition of financial freedom: Deciding myself how I spend my money. I’m divorced with no children, and I have no car loan, no mortgage, no student loans, no credit card debt. I believe in owning things outright, rather than borrowing or paying interest. I feel free because I don’t owe money to banks or pay interest, and I can make my own decisions on how to spend my money.

How I achieved it: I attended a local satellite branch of the University of Maine and only took classes as I could pay for them. I earned an associates degree, loan-free. I work part-time at a university now, and plan to earn my bachelor’s there with no loans, at an employee rate. I got a roommate to save rent. I stopped getting manicures. And I switched from Whole Foods to Trader Joe’s. But a big part of what enabled me to be free was a mental shift I made. I used to think I needed that fancy car or a big vacation. Then I realized I didn’t have to have something just because I could afford it. At the same time, I also don’t believe in living bare bones just to be debt free. It’s not about giving up everything, but doing things on a smaller scale, and doing what you love. When I booked a vacation recently I did it through Airbnb, instead of a luxury hotel. But I still went on vacation.

Katy Wolk-Stanley, 45 Part-time nurse and author of The Non-Consumer Advocate, Portland, OR

My definition of financial freedom: Having nothing to do with the Jones’. I’ve had my job for more than 18 years—and I work two days a week. That means I get to hang out with my teenage sons, run the household, see friends, sneak off with library books, and watch anything produced by Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams. (And spread my message of frugality and thrifty goodness on I decide where my money is (and isn’t) spent. And I made a conscious choice to value time over money. By keeping our expenses low, my husband and I could avoid daycare when our boys were younger. Though they’re teenagers now, and we could technically work more, we don’t. (He works 36 hours per week; I work 16 to 24). Before you know it, they’ll be moving out, and we decided we’d rather have the luxury of time with our kids than a luxury vacation.

How I achieved it: I made an unconventional choice: With the exception of socks, underwear, and consumables, I buy nothing new. My motto is: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. I have been practicing The Compact, an international buy-nothing-new movement since 2007. I did this because I started to recognize in myself a lifestyle creep of spending more just because I had more. I had been totally happy when we made less money, so why change? Also, I was concerned with the environmental and societal implications of the over-manufacturing of unnecessary stuff when our thrift stores are overflowing with perfectly usable items. It’s gloriously freeing! No more impulse purchases. My money goes farther, and I don’t have the burden to earn as much. My life has a richness and freedom that can only come when a person is not stuck working endless hours in a job she hates in order to afford endless and unnecessary stuff.

These profiles were compiled by Terri Trespicio, VP of Talent & Business Development for 2 Market Media and a lifestyle expert. Visit her at or on Twitter @TerriT.

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