What Financial Freedom Means to Me

In honor of the 4th of July, we interviewed women across the country about what financial freedom means to them.

Today, we celebrate the 4th of July and our country’s independence. That got us thinking about financial independence: what is it, whether we have it, and if we believe it’s achievable in our lives.

We asked seven women — of varying ages, who live in different areas, and who are dealing with diverse financial situations — about what financial freedom means to them. Here are seven principles they identified.

Stable Housing

Jill Shepard is a 38-year-old single mom from Massachusetts. She works part-time as a bus driver and receives about $50 a week in government assistance, which goes toward keeping her 4-year-old child in daycare. She is living temporarily in a relative’s house and has been hoping to buy a home. She recently received news that despite having good credit she is unlikely to be able to buy with her current income.

DW: How would you describe your financial situation?

JS: Last week I would have said comfortable, but today my answer seems to be complete despair. That’s because of the insecurity of not having a stable place to live. With the housing market how it is, I’m not doing OK financially. A rental is out of reach — even more out of reach than a mortgage. I calculated that I would need to make double what I’m making to afford a rental without assistance.

DW: What does financial freedom mean to you?

JS: Having affordable housing. Having secure and stable housing is the foundation for everything. It doesn’t matter what your credit score is [or] if you have a down payment — it’s all unattainable as a single parent.

I thought it was going to be attainable. I thought I did everything I needed to do to be on the way there. I improved my credit and got a job that was making more money. To find out that it’s still out of reach is becoming more and more frustrating.

The Ability to Do What I Want

Sherry Ridge, 53, is an instructor of business at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Ill., and also works as a consultant helping people become debt free. She lives in McHenry, Ill., with her husband.

DW: How would you describe your financial situation?

SR: Comfortable. I am completely debt free and have been since January 19, 1999, when I paid off my 30-year mortgage in six-and-a-half years. I live a debt-free lifestyle and am now in wealth-building mode.

DW: What does financial freedom mean to you?

SR: Financial freedom means to me that I can do what I want, when I want, and with who I want. It means I make more than I spend, I have no debt, and I save for the future. It is very important to me because it allows me to help my family, my friends, and my community.

Grocery Shopping Without Worry

Catherine Fennelly, 44, is a hair stylist and married mom of three from Massachusetts. Her husband is a laborer at a construction company.

DW: How would you describe your financial situation?

CF: I will describe my financial situation as staying afloat but slowly drowning. They say passion doesn’t pay, [and] I can attest to that. I would love to be financially comfortable with a goal in mind to hit financial freedom.

DW: What does financial freedom mean to you?

CF: One of my three children passed away two years ago. I want to be there for every moment with my two girls because I know how valuable each day can be, and I never got a chance to be with my son all the time. I had a great job and was financially comfortable, but [I] missed a big part of my son’s younger years because I was always working. I know life can be short, and money cannot bring back everything I’ve lost. And yet I feel like money is getting in the way of my time with my girls and keeping me from being able to watch and cherish all the little things in life with them.

If I had financial freedom, I would be an at-home mom, raise my children, and take vacations once a year. But the saddest, and yet the most important, thing: I would love to be able to go food shopping and not have a calculator with me in the fear that I might not have enough money to pay for it.

Being a Resource, not a Burden, for Family and Friends

Brittanye Mackey, 28, recently finished graduate school. She’s working as a temporary employee in higher education while looking for a full-time job and living in Michigan, where she attended school.

DW: How would you describe your financial situation?

BM: I am temporarily comfortable — until August 25, to be exact. I have secured enough part-time work to sustain my needs (rent and groceries), but not having a full-time job leaves other things, like health and car insurance, neglected.

DW: What does financial freedom mean to you?

BM: Financial freedom means all my basic needs (food, shelter, health insurance) are easily covered, I have savings for emergencies (I suppose at least a month’s rent and groceries in reserve), and there are extra savings to travel to visit family, friends, weddings, and other vacations.

Financial freedom is extremely important to me because I think it is the basis for me to feel and truly be independent. It will allow me to move forward with other things in my life, namely getting married and starting a family. Perhaps most importantly, I feel financial freedom will mean I am not a burden on my family and friends, but a resource instead.

Matching My Income and Desires

Becca Sullivan Volker, 47, is an American expat living in Germany and teaching English as a second language. Her husband is an engineer.

DW: How would you describe your financial situation?

BV: I’d say we are comfortable, but I think that has as much to do with our desires and goals as with our income. We don’t have any grand expensive habits, except the annual trip back to the United States.

DW: What does financial freedom mean to you?

BV: Financial freedom is being able to do the things you want to do — without having to make really painful sacrifices elsewhere. To help afford trips back to the U.S., I drove an old beat-up car until it died last year. Then [I] bought the least expensive car with acceptable reliability I could, but that wasn’t painful because what car I drive isn’t that important to me. So I suppose financial freedom is really the art of matching your income to your desires.

It’s also being prepared. When we moved to Germany, I became financially dependent on my husband for the first time in our marriage. When my husband’s sister died, leaving her husband to care for two small boys, my husband started to urge me back into the working world. His motive wasn’t financial; it was the thought he could die as easily as his sister and leave us without income.

I’ve been gradually increasing my working hours. Teaching doesn’t pay very well, but it does provide a platform from which to spring into full-time work and financial security if it’s needed.

Plus, living in Germany, the knowledge that there’s a robust system of unemployment insurance and welfare, as well as affordable public health insurance, helps compensate for the lack of nearby family and the support they’d give if there were problems.

Hope for the Future

Mac Josselin, 30, lives in Stamford, Conn., and is an administrator for a non-profit organization. She moonlights as a social entrepreneur and is passionate about personal finance and working toward financial freedom.

DW: How would you describe your financial situation?

MJ: I am not paycheck to paycheck, but I’m definitely not where I want to be.

DW: What does financial freedom mean to you?

MJ: Not having to [work] a 9-to-5 [job] to support myself. Being able to support myself financially without a job is extremely important to me. I am being intentional with learning about finances and actually investing and saving my dollars. It’s not an afterthought; it’s [my] first thought.

Being intentional is worth it because I know the better choices I make today, my future self will thank me for. I learned about personal finances when I was 25, and it’s been a blessing to the last five years of my twenties. I just turned 30 last week, and I feel good about it.

Being Able to Give Back

Kathleen Sullivan, 58, is a mother of two grown children in Massachusetts. She stopped working when her daughter was born 25 years ago. Her husband, a PR consultant, is semi-retired as well.

DW: How would you describe your financial situation?

KS: It has been comfortable for many years. We were married 10 years before having children, so we had built up significant savings and investments. Having savings and financial security is very important to me. I never wanted to live “on the edge” the way my parents did. We worked hard to become and remain debt free. And we have tried to instill that in our children.

DW: What does financial freedom mean to you?

KS: Financial freedom is having enough money to live comfortably and some extra to do some fun things, [to] support some social causes, and to provide support to my local community.

Having financial freedom allowed me to be an at-home mom. I have always been able to volunteer in my children’s classrooms and their school library, teach their religious education classes, and help at and attend their extra-curricular activities. My kids are grown, but I still volunteer in a local school as well as a local hospice. In addition, my financial freedom allowed me to care for my mother during her terminal illness and take her to medical appointments and still be around for my kids. And then a few years later my father required care.

I know how lucky I have been, and I never take it for granted. I love the freedom that I have, and I love that it gives me the opportunity to give back to my community.