Declaring my freedom.

Fireworks © by bayasaa

On Wednesday I read “A message of freedom” over at DailyWorth. It pointed out that “happy Independence Day” could also be read as “happy freedom day,” i.e., the freedom to live the way you want if you take responsibility for your finances.

“Happy freedom to dream differently, choose carefully and slow down a little right now day,” wrote site founder and CEO Amanda Steinberg.

“Declare it. What is your freedom?”

Steinberg’s statement jibed pretty well with what I’ve been mulling over for the past few days: Frugality made me independent and it keeps me that way.

Being careful with my money helped me earn a midlife degree. Sheepskin in hand and unencumbered – no student loans, no consumer debt – I realized that there was no urgent need to look for a full-time job. Good thing, since I was pretty overwhelmed.

In the 31 months since leaving the University of Washington I’ve roamed around the country, gone to five conferences (and spoken at two of them), visited family and friends, donated to various causes (including a scholarship fund that helped me), spent a couple of weeks in the United Kingdom, written a lot – and never once thought about a typical 9-to-5 gig.

When I graduated I told myself that I needed time before applying for a full-time job. What I likely knew all along is that I don’t want to take that kind of job.

If I were in my early 20s and looking to start a career, sure. But I’m in my soon-to-be-mid-50s and I’ve had a career (print journalism) that segued into a second, related career (Internet journalism). At this stage of life, freelancing suits me. So does that new catchphrase, “location independent.” As long as my work gets done my editor doesn’t care where the doing takes place, whether it’s my daughter’s spare room or a McDonald’s in Cardiff, Wales.


What is stability?

I’m luckier than many freelancers in that I have an annual contract. As nice as that is it’s still, well, annual. Sometimes I think stability would be nice, but I get over it. (Edited to add: That situation changed quite suddenly in September 2012.)

Besides, ask anyone with a square job how stable he thinks that line of work is. I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m lucky to be a writer – people will always need newspapers.”

Do you know anyone who is completely confident that his job will last for decades? I don’t. If I did, I’d suggest a course of anti-delusion pills.

Life could change at any time, which is why I continue to fund my own retirement, build an emergency fund and add to savings. To do that while living the life I’ve chosen, it’s necessary to be judicious about spending.

Careless use of money would greatly limit my options. Frugality supports them. Happy independence day, indeed.

Readers: I’d love to hear your answers to Steinberg’s challenge. Leave a comment declaring your freedom, or your plans to get yourself there.

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  1. My freedom is if the company I work for really pissed me off one day, I could quit on the spot and not have to worry about money for several years.

    I have had the opposite of freedom in my twenties then since it has taken this time to save up, but now knowing I can walk anytime I want, I feel complete freedom. Unfortunately, I do have a lot of days where this almost happens.

    Money saved = freedom to me. Which may or may not come from the fact that I watched my mom stuff twenty dollar bills in her pockets. Pockets of her hanging clothes in her closet, so that she always had money in her pocket if need be.
    Don’t ask.

  2. Donna Freedman

    @Kathryn: Having a “take this job and shove it” fund is very liberating, even if you never use it.
    I think that money = options, which is pretty much what you said.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  3. I continue to declare my freedom from hoarding. As a result, I have $$$ that I never had before and a house that grows emptier by the month. I still have hoarding tendencies to overcome, my weight for example ~ it’s a tough journey.

    Congrats, Donna, in doing so well for yourself. You are inspiring.

  4. Freedom to live the life I want to live how I want to live it. Not to be bothered by the thoughts and opinions of others and not to let pesky and annoying in-laws irritate me anymore.

  5. Exactly! Earlier this year, sources like the Guardian (as here http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/07/how-america-became-nation-freelancers) and NPR pointed out that approximately 42 million Americans are freelancers, which would be a significant number of the working-age population.

    You’re absolutely, 100% right. No job is stable now, not with at-will employment and “right to work” laws. There’s basically no difference between at-will employment and trying to land one’s next gig.

    Furthermore, it’s often the case that salaried workers can do the simple math of reviewing the many hours they spend working for employers (not being paid overtime), realize how little they’re making hourly, and see that they could do as well or better working for themselves. Think how many more people might be able to do this with better options for non-employe provided health care!

    Thanks for the terrific post.

  6. “location independent.”-I think this is truly what I aspire too. DO you think the kids will find me?

    • Donna Freedman

      @SonyaAnn: Not if you dye your hair and follow through with that sex-change operation.

  7. Samantha

    As I get more confident with my money choices, I have declared the freedom to do what I want to do, according to my own priorities. (and not those of the ubiquitous “Joneses”) It is truly liberating to NOT buy the Coach purse that a friend has just bought (read: charged), get my nails done every week, or immediately rush out to get a new car loan when my old car kicks the bucket. To be free from caring what other people think about your money: that is my independence.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Samantha: Amen! It’s so liberating not to worry about what you “should” have or if you’re buying the right things. Get your nails done if you want, but only if it’s what you want (and can afford).

  8. A take this job and shove it fund would be awesome!

    For me at the moment having a steady day job works. I am paying down my debt and I get great health and other benefits. While it can be annoying, I do like having the routine. Freelancing seems appealing in some ways, but it seems like it might be difficult to get into a routine if I worked for myself.

  9. Bet you work more hours than you would if you had a 9-to-5 job. One of my editors remarked that freelancing is great because it allows you to choose your own hours — any 18 hours a day you please. 😀

    • Donna Freedman

      @Funny About Money: In my particular case, that’s not true. The MSN Money job is enough to live on. If I chose to give up the Get Rich Slowly gig, quit writing my personal site and took only selected additional one-time gigs (or not), I’d be working far less than a 9-to-5 job. Right now, I choose not to give up anything.
      Besides, I didn’t work a straight 9-to-5 in newspapers, either. It was unpredictable: super-early mornings, late evenings, weekends and ordinary days that stretched to 10 or 12 hours. That was the nature of the job and I didn’t (usually) mind. We were allowed to come in late or leave early to make up for too many hours and were also encouraged to take “mental health days.”
      Although I’m pretty busy right now I still have some flexibility as to when I’m busy. For example, I had a mammogram appointment the other day; afterwards I went to the U District for a massage and a plate of teriyaki, and poked around in the University Bookstore, and wandered around on campus enjoying the summer day. Couldn’t do that (easily) if I had a square job still; these days, so many people have been laid off from my former workplace that I’d be worried whether my newspaper bosses would get the idea that they could live without me as well.
      But you’re right that many freelancers live job-to-job and are always scrambling for the next one. That was me before I got the MSN gig. Frugality helped a whole lot then, too.

  10. Donna, My freedom is knowing what “enough” means. Actually, I have more than enough so I have freedom. Wanting less is so much better than feeling deprived and desiring more.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Barbara Friedberg: Absolutely! I have enough enough as well. In fact, I have so much enough I can share it. So much better than gnashing my teeth and wishing I could help.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. I would like to declare freedom from being “broke.” Well, my version of how Donna put “not spending my money wisely.” After a recent job loss (I have another one now) I realized how dangerously close to REAL poverty I am. I had no job, and $500.00 in the bank. I hadn’t paid my bills for the month yet and my son has to see a specialist on a regular basis. I live in a nice house with lots of stuff and yet I never seem to be able to make ends meet. I’m grateful for that job loss, it was my wake-up call and will always serve as a reminder of how close I came to danger. My finances are still under serious overhaul but I’ve come a long way and I intend to keep going!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sandi: I like your attitude about the wake-up call. Good for you for taking charge of your life and finances.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  12. ImJuniperNow

    Even tho I’ve always lived well below my means and socked away a good chunk of change in my retirement and non-retirement accounts, the reality of it all didn’t hit me until one day I (purposely) said the wrong thing to one of my co-workers and almost got fired (it was a workplace bullying situation, I was the victim). First thing I did was go home and add up my assets. It made me feel so much better to know I had that cushion. It also made me up my contributions to my 401(k) to the max.

    I hope that everyone, no matter their situation or income, will start to put SOMETHING away, even if it’s change in a coffee can or a couple extra cans of soup in their cabinet.

    Thanks, Donna!!!

    • Donna Freedman

      @ImJuniperNow: That cushion makes all the difference. Losing my job would be terrifying, but at least I’d know I could manage until I found new employment.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  13. I thnk I have one of the last of a dying breed – a job that really is extremely secure. I am a tenured librarian at a large college. The college has very solid finances, and only 1 library, so though tenured faculty (librarians are faculty at this place) can be let go for “fiscal exigency” or if their department closes, there can’t close the only library, or they would not be able to grant degrees. The only time the place cut faculty for budget reasons, over 40 years ago dring a huge crisis, they kept everyone with tenure, and released only those without. It is very difficult to fire tenured faculty. It can be done, but usually only for serious misconduct. I realize I am incredibly lucky. It took a long time to get to this, and I left a few previous institutions before I found one I love. But for me, finding this position and earning tenure were my freedom. I have a job that, while challenging and difficult in recent years, with the budget cuts (I’m a manager), is fabulous. I work with people who are intelligent and love what they do, and I like almost all of them. With the stability we finally obtained, we paid off everything but the mortgage, and are chipping away at that. We bought a tiny house – 1000 sq ft – and are saving for a used car. No car loan – ever. I have a defined benefit pension, and a couple of CDs that serve as a kind of emergency fund, and am saving a more liquid one. And best of all, my husband was able to quit the work he was doing that was literally killing him, with stress, and has taken up freelancing himself, writing about sports and music. He loves it, and is starting to earn a small, regular income, but more importantly, he is off all meds and his blood pressure s normal. To me, time with my husband, a secure job I love with reasonable (not lucrative, but passable) retirement prospects and good insurance, two cats, and a tiny place of our own – that’s freedom. No vacation travel, no car for years, no fancy clothes, and no fancy restaurants (take out Chinese is about it). And I love it. Enough is definitely as good as a feast.

  14. Sorry for the couple of typos – auto-correct on the iPad is killing me …

  15. Donna I really enjoy your articles. You are a guttsey lady with lots of determanation. Sorry about the way this is typing out/words appear on one line than jump to another. NO I dont drink!!!! 🙂 At present am a 70 year old Grandmother raising a 13 year old grandson,whom I adopted at age 5. Recedently quite a job I had for almost 5 years because of the related stress. Getting paid for 3.25 hours M-F wasn’t worth the ulcers and headaches,etc. it was creating. Thanks to social Security plus we have enough to survive. Am looing for more work ,so credit cards and car loan can be paid off sooner. As you can guess got into being more responsible after retirment. Boy IF I had purched stock in McDonalds-IN&OUT,etc would be rich now.HAHA Thanks for being a great teacher.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jane Flores: Wow, raising a grandchild — that takes guts. My hat is off to you, ma’am.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment. Be sure to come back and enter the weekly giveaways.

  16. Suzanne in VA

    Long time reader here~ I wonder though if you could have achieved your free lance gigs w/o the college degree? So many ppl are in debt to their eyeballs to get that piece of paper then they dont really do anything different with it. Not you obviously but in general. Curious your thoughts on this.

    • Donna Freedman

      Yes, I could have — in fact, I’d been making a living as a writer for a little more than 20 years when I went back to school. After a year at the community college I got the Internet jobs.
      But I do think that college improved me as a writer (and a person) because of all the reading. Would I have found books like “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” “Lives on the Boundary” or “Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth” on my own? Maybe. Maybe not. And I definitely wouldn’t have had the lectures and class discussions that helped make what I learned more real.
      In terms of other people, those who don’t get in through the back door/between the fence rails….Maybe, maybe not. In an age when even McDonald’s can throw out job applications that don’t include a college degree, I think it’s a big help to have those initials after your name. The trick is not to overpay for them because, as you say, you wind up with a lot of debt but not necessarily a job.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.


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