What does it mean to be financially independent?
For Independence Day, I was curious to hear what financial independence means to members of different generations. Their answers reflect worries that are front-and-center at each stage of life—not to mention how we get a bit more philosophical as we age.
“To be financially independent is to be able to provide for yourself completely and care for your future without outside support. Even though I am an entrepreneur and have opened a Roth IRA, I don’t consider myself financially independent because I don’t pay for my education, clothing, or taxes (all things my parents do). Once I have a job after college or graduate school, I will be on my way to becoming financially independent.”
—Trina Anton, 17, student, Galveston, Tex.
Takeaway: Kudos to this precocious teen! First, she has already opened a Roth IRA to save some of her adolescent earnings, allowing compound interest to get to work on her retirement savings as early as possible. Second, she understands that achieving financial independence is a long process that won’t necessarily end the minute she gets her diploma.
“It’s not requiring any form of financial assistance from friends or family to live a life I am happy with, and to do so without racking up unreasonable debt that I may not be able to pay off in the future.”
—Gary Blankenship, 32, startup founder, Denver, Colo.
“On one level, it’s not having to rely on help from anyone, particularly parents. When I was out of college, had my first job, and was paying rent and bills with my own income—that’s the first time I felt financially independent. On another, it’s having enough money saved up to not live paycheck to paycheck—and enough to go without a job for at least six months.”
—Jarvis Saltzman, 35, nonprofit coordinator, Savannah, Ga.
Takeaway: When the initial stages of your career are in the rearview mirror and the thrill of signing your first lease wears off, bigger financial goals begin to loom. These include building an emergency fund, paying off (or avoiding) debt, or saving up to buy a car or a first home.
“Financial independence is a form of freedom, mainly from worry about the future. It’s knowing that you have a strategy in place to save and invest any extra money, and a quiet confidence that will help you manage any setbacks. It does not mean that you are necessarily rich, nor do you achieve it at a particular moment. Financial independence is a long game that you have to play every day. Have a plan for the day when you no longer have to rely on a job, where working can be a soul-enriching option rather than a soul-crushing necessity.”
—Orlando Alavarez, 47, news editor, Arcadia, Calif.
Takeaway: As you mature, good habits become ingrained in your everyday money decisions—or at least they should. After all, you’ve had practice doing this on your own for decades now. Retirement may not be on the horizon yet, but it isn’t some far-off pipe dream either. Simple, smart, and steady money moves—such as saving automatically from each paycheck, staying within your budget, and paying off that credit card in full each month—will help you get there.
(Quotes have been edited for style and length.)