15 signs you’ll be financially free in the next 5 years

Money isn’t freedom.
Freedom is your time.
Money buys back your time.

The reason you want to be financially free is so you can spend time however you choose.

“Financially free” does not mean a millionaire with a Lambo parked outback. That’s Instagram porn designed to make you vomit into your coffee mug. Financially free means you have paid off your debts.

The quickest way to pay off debt is simply to take on less of it in the first place. When you start with less debt you reach the happy place of financially free faster. If you’ve taken on too much debt already then you can downsize your home, car, and luxury items and sell them to some other schmuck who seeks the nightmare of status.

One of my mentors once forced me to read “One Up On Wall Street.” He used the book as bait and refused to tell me the rest of his investment philosophy until I read it. You might be thinking he was some uber-successful dude. Nope.

He was homeless and famously had more than $100 million in assets taken away from him. The mystery of why his millions were taken away continues. His lawyer, who holds the secret, took it to his grave after he was shot in the head attempting to save a woman from being abused by a bike gang member.

This unlikely mentor sent me down a rabbit hole that continues to this day. It led me to banking, then blockchain, then personal finance, and then writing about personal finance.

Each year my understanding of money changes. When you spot an upcoming change in your financial thinking it feels incredible. Here’s an example.

Mr. Electric Musk Stick (Elon) said this:

The thing we call money is just an information system for labor allocation. What actually matters is making goods & providing services.

We should look at currencies from an information theory standpoint.

Whichever has least error & latency will win.

What a thought! It will take months to unpack. The beauty is it makes you think, then rethink what you understand about money. Questioning your thinking allows you to build on your knowledge. That’s the first sign you will eventually be financially free. Here are more signs to look out for.

You value time, not money.

You look at meeting requests differently. You outsource chores you hate — like ironing — because you understand your time is better spent elsewhere. You attempt to have less to do, not more to do. When you have less to do, you can do more of what you want.

Doing what you want is how you do work that produces value.

Restricted thinking due to financial necessity produces pain. Free thinking creates stunning work.

You do other work on the side.

You don’t use phrases like side-hustle that make non-self-help lovers upset. You simply do “other work on the side.” It starts out as free while you build the skill. When you have the skill you decide to earn a little money from it. You teach other people the skill. Or you step into the game of content creation and share your thoughts.

It’s slow for a while. But you don’t care. You are patient. You are prepared to put in the time because you enjoy the process without being married to the outcome. One year passes by. Before you know it, it has been five years. You’ve become a master of your other work.

You get paid more for your other work than you do for your normal work. You’ve reached the intersection. You make the switch but the risks are far less. You have evidence to support your change in the way you get money. Zap. Magic. Flashbang. The stars align. What evs…

You challenge the concept of inflation.

You don’t blindly accept that prices rise 2% every year.

You’re not an economist though. You just want to protect your purchasing power, so you don’t pay the hidden tax of inflation and end up stuck running on an exercise wheel like a rat with a stick of cheese in front for motivation.

You know inflation is measured by a basket of common goods and services. But the thing that is keeping you from being financially free is the cost of your home. So you care less about whether milk goes up by three cents more. And more about whether the cost of owning a home is rising steeply each year, or the stocks you need to own for passive income in retirement are skyrocketing when the underlying stuff the business sells hasn’t increased.

Inflation is like a mirage. You can’t see it based on conventional wisdom.
Your financial education has to be uprooted in order for the mirage to turn into an enemy you can easily defeat.

You understand Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Not because you’re a crypto lover. Not because you’re cool or trying to be trendy. You understand Bitcoin and Ethereum because it’s like understanding what the internet was going to become in 1992.

You see the store of value, and ownership, as two huge concepts that remain broken. You cheekily figure you can make a little extra money in the process too. Nothing wrong with that.

You put money to work.

The cool kids call it investing. You’re not into bullshit. You like putting your money into places where it can grow — businesses, content, assets. You don’t get fancy with the places you can put your money. You know you can buy stocks, bonds (debt), gold/silver, digital currencies, and property.

You don’t think of it in fancy terms like “portfolio theory” or “investment strategy.” You think of putting your money to work as placing a percentage of it into each basic asset type. Simple. The percentage you allocate to each is something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. The percentage in each asset changes yearly based on your age, life goals, and money you made from your work that year.

You take the time to understand asymmetric risk.

This little gem you can find in any good investment book is one you’ve come across (or just learned). A simple graph a 3-year-old kid can read highlights a concept more powerful than the idea of compounding interest.

You take a small financial risk to gain a disproportionately higher return.

You don’t bet.

You believe gambling is for losers. You see the lottery as a scam. You don’t throw money at individual stocks because you’re not a professional investor with a Ph.D. in finance. You don’t just wake up one morning and bet $20,000 on Tesla because everyone else did. You don’t care for trends or the general public’s opinion on investing.

You diversify.

In case a black swan event like a global pandemic occurs, you put money in a few different places. In case you invest money in something that accidentally becomes the end of an era, you have money in another place as insurance.

You read finance books occasionally.

You don’t binge read them. You’re not trying to get a try-hard job on Wall Street to impress the opposite sex and lean against Musk Stick’s pink Tesla.

You read finance books because you’re curious. So much of your time is spent away from your family to acquire money. It’s worth understanding.

You see money as a product.

You wouldn’t buy a washing machine without reading a few reviews and doing some research or going to the local store to see how she purrs on a full load of washing. Why would you use a product like your country’s currency and not understand its features, benefits, and downsides? Of course, you would understand the product that is money.

Books help explain money so you don’t spend the rest of your life depending on the acquisition of it.

You hear “create money out of thin air” in every politician’s speech.

When a politician or a central bank says stimulus, quantitative easing, fiscal stimulus, airline/bank/corporate bailout, expansion of the money supply, all you now hear is creating money out of thin air. Borrowing money from the future to pay for the present.

Free money decreases your purchasing power. Free money is a tax between the people who understand the idea and the people who don’t. You understand this fact so you don’t get hit as hard by the invisible tax.

You laugh at the world’s total debt.

You know the trillions in debt will never get paid back. You can add up like a child with their first Casio calculator doing basic addition and subtraction for the first time. You ask yourself, “If the debt doesn’t get paid back then what happens?”

You look at history to understand money.

You know the basics of the 2020 Covid Recession.

You know the basics of the 2008 Great Recession.

You know the basics of the 2000s Dot Com Bubble.

You know the basics of the 1930s Great Depression.

You know the basics of Japan’s “Lost Decade.”

You see each moment in history as not too dissimilar to the present. You treat money, investing, and the way you think about money accordingly.

You are aware of your financial psychology.

You understand at a high-level that how you think impacts the way you invest, spend, and save your money.

You’re not trying to be Sigmund Freud. You just understand that when you feel like shit or you’re fearful, you make different decisions about money. It’s normal to watch the world shut down by an invisible virus and be scared about what it means for you financially.

You have detached yourself from dumb, meaningless stuff like Lambos.

A Lambo is an Italian nightmare. You don’t get it.

You feel fine in a Toyota Camry with the aircon cranked up to the fullest.
Your exhaust pipe doesn’t reflect the shape, size, or sound of your genitalia.

You’d rather spend time with your family, see the world, read, do work you enjoy, have the freedom to control your time, and choose who you work with. Man-made objects don’t make you orgasm.

You want to use money to serve beyond yourself.

Without all the need to own stuff and get into debt, you have a giant financial hole that doesn’t need filling. You take the money many would use to fill that hole, and channel it towards things that go beyond yourself.

You’re not a philanthropist. You’re not Gandhi or Mother Teresa. You simply understand it’s interesting to use money to contribute a little something towards others. You understand all of us to have some level of privilege.

You like to back an underdog. You like to see people who are homeless or facing ruin or in need of desperate help obtain a comeback. You realize you’re not so different from them. They are you. By helping them you’re helping yourself.

The discovery rewires your financial thinking.

If you’re not trapped by debt. If you don’t desire to own stuff. If you had your time back. Imagine the possibilities. With the possibility of something beyond digits on an internet banking screen, the world opens up.

Understanding the basics of finance can set you free. The feeling of owning your time again is a feeling you will never forget for the rest of your life.

Imagine seeing your parents grow old. Imagine seeing your kids grow up. Imagine spending unrushed time with your partner. These are all fruits of being financially free.

First, you need to get the bank off your back and make the debt disappear. Second, your financial thinking needs to evolve. Third, you need to understand the product that is money. Fourth, you need to understand basic financial history to understand the present and future. Fifth, you need to decrease your desire to own material illusions. Finally, you need to understand what money can do for others so you can feel the experience that links you to every living thing.

You can be financially free. Get a basic financial education. Embrace simplicity.

This article is for informational purposes only, it should not be considered Financial or Legal Advice. Consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.

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This article originally appeared in Medium.