8 Countercultural Decisions to Find Financial Freedom


“You all laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.” — John Davis

Financial advice abounds everywhere we look. It is not difficult to discover. And yet, the statistics paint an ugly picture that it may not be working so well. The average American family still holds $6,700 in credit card debt and 76% live paycheck-to-paycheck (just to name a few).

Unfortunately, most people think more money is the answer. And while there may be some truth to this solution, most of us would readily admit that our most basic needs (food, shelter, and clothing) are financially covered. It appears then that most of our financial troubles are not based in need, but in cultural expectations—that because we live in a society based almost entirely on consumption and the promotion of it, we have too subtly bought into the lies and built our lives upon them far more than we realize.

Perhaps, then, the pathway to financial freedom requires a bolder, more countercultural approach. One that intentionally begins to question the messages we believe and looks elsewhere for answers. To that end, consider this list of 8 Bold, Countercultural Decisions to Find Financial Freedom.

Each of them questions culturally-accepted norms. Before you begin, know that we believe and practice each item on this list. We have found wonderful freedom in them. And whenever appropriate, I’ll share the story of how we arrived at each decision.

Eight Countercultural Decisions to Find Financial Freedom

1. Purchase based on necessity, not possibility. Especially in large purchases, consider necessity over possibility. When we bought our first home, we went to the local bank for pre-approval. They approved us for a loan up to $135,000. And… we immediately started looking at houses up to $135,000. We based our search entirely on possibility. There was no consideration given to our actual needs. When we found a new, higher-paying job, we were pre-approved for a $300,000 loan and… we immediately started looking for homes in that range. Our purchase became a heavy burden in payments, maintenance, and upkeep. During that season of life, we discovered minimalism. Our desire for physical possessions changed dramatically. As a result, when we moved into a new home two years ago, we determined our ideal house based on necessity, not opportunity. Our payments are smaller. Our upkeep is easier. Our lives are more freed to pursue other passions. We have never regretted the decision. And I actively encourage others at every opportunity to purchase based on need, not possibility.

2. Never carry a car payment. One financial decision that has had a profound impact on our financial well-being was our wise decision to always pay cash for our vehicles. Subsequently, we have never had a car payment—ever. I bought my first car from my parents with money I had earned working at a local carwash. And all future car purchases were based on the most reliable car (or mini-van) we could afford with cash already in the bank. We have never owned a brand-new car or one that turned heads in traffic, but we’ve also never felt stress or regret over a car purchase. And if you ask me, that’s a pretty fair trade.

3. In dual-income households, don’t spend the lesser income. One of the most valuable pieces of financial advice we ever received came early in our marriage when both my wife and I were working. My boss encouraged us to live entirely on my income and save every penny my wife earned. We did just that. Her earnings became our first down payment on a home. But more importantly, it prevented lifestyle creep from setting in. And when our first child was born, becoming a one-income family was an easy transition.

4. Avoid alcohol. Countercultural? For sure. Financially-beneficial? Absolutely. Even-possible? Definitely. I inherited the lifestyle from my grandparents. Both sets refused the consumption of alcohol for different reasons (some personal, some religious). But regardless of their reasoning, the pattern continued with my parents, myself, and my siblings. While financial concerns were never a chief motivator, the decision has resulted in significant, personal financial benefits for us. Americans spend $50 billion each year on alcohol—despite the fact that 34% of Americans don’t drink. This is a significant expense for many families. Removing it completely returns a significant amount of discretionary income. And adding other unhealthy behaviors to this decision results in even greater returns.

5. Never retire. I learned it from my grandfather. He is 92 years old and still works full-time (40+ hours/week). I learned from him the value of work and the importance of seeing work as contribution. This view of work changes everything. Work is no longer something to avoid or retire out of as soon as possible. Instead, work becomes joy. Now, just to be clear, it is still wise to plan financially for the future and old age. The truth remains that our physical bodies break down and some types of work become difficult (or impossible in some cases) to continue. I would never argue against the importance of transition in life or saving for it. But getting set in a mindset that only looks forward to retirement without the possibility of embracing work during it is one that should be adjusted. And ought to impact our financial decisions today.

6. Pay with cash. Every study reports the same finding: We spend more when we pay with plastic than when we pay with cash. And one of the most commonly offered pieces of advice for those trying to stick within a budget is to pay with cash rather than credit. Yet the strategy remains rarely used. While we have only used the strategy off and on over the years, we have found great personal benefit each time. Not only does it help us stay within a budget, but it also helps us keep a tighter record of where the money is going. And greater intentionality in tracking expenses is advantageous regardless of your income level.

7. Give away (at least) 10%. There are numerous religious traditions that teach the importance of giving away 10% of income. Personally, it is a financial philosophy that we have put into practice during times of both little and plenty. Certainly, the gifts benefit the receiver. But more than that, the gifts benefit the giver. Generosity is an important step towards contentment. It brings the fulfillment and joy and meaning to life that is often sought in financial purchases and personal gain. It reminds us of how much we already have and how much we have to offer others. And while it seems entirely counter-intuitive, one of the most important steps we have taken to financial freedom is to embrace the practice of giving some away.

8. Put the spender in charge of family finances. While this may or may not suit your family’s unique dynamics, it has been entirely helpful for mine. I hold a college degree in Banking and Finance and Accounting was one of my favorite classes in high school (seriously, thanks Mr. Fink). I understand budgets, spreadsheets, assets, and liabilities. But my wife is a bigger spender than me. And one of the most helpful actions we took as a family was to put her in charge of the finances rather than me. Because our bank account levels were always small, she became far more careful with her purchases… and worked hard to keep me in line too.

Again, I don’t offer this list as an exact prescription for each reader. Each and every family situation is entirely unique. What has worked for us may not work for you. But if financial freedom has eluded you, earning more money may not be the answer. It may require a bolder, more countercultural decision instead.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Great post!
    For the last few years I’ve been giving away 10% of my money to charities. The way I structure it:
    -80% to charities I’m passionate about (I’ve picked five)
    – 20% ad hoc
    I track with a spreadsheet. I like if people ask me for one off help, I can do it. It’s all budgeted

  2. Anna says

    Nice article but the above quote is a translation of an original quote by Mikhail Bulgakov, Russian writer.
    (“You all laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.”)

  3. Natalie says

    Couldn’t agree more. Especially about the house, cars and credit cards, because those are the things me and my husband have always followed.
    Your blog truly inspires me and keeps me in line.
    Would be great if you could share some tips on maintaining spreadsheets.
    Thanks and looking forward to your articles, DAILY. :)

  4. Ralf says

    After university I went straight to welfare. I took my welfare money and divided it by 30. Rounded down to the next 10. Which was 10/day. And that’s the amount of money I had at max in my pocket when I left home daily.
    I could only spend 10 per day. After a while I had even saved a little, so I could get out and buy larger packs with a lower per unit price.
    When I got my first job a short time after, I continued to live like on welfare.
    I didn’t have much choice. I got a job in one of the most expensive cities of the world. I needed to find a home, organise a new life.
    After 10 years I was able to buy a house for my parents from the cash I saved. No mortgage, no interest.
    Now, with the family secure I am free.
    We are still renting, moving according to the jobs. The place needs to be big enough to provide space for sleeping, cooking, eating, hygiene and relaxing after a hard day. A small house needs less cleaning and heating, and there is the limit to cluttering.

  5. David says

    There are a lot of great things in this article. The only thing that I didn’t like was seeing “work as contribution”. Work can be contribution but it depends on the kind of work. I think that it is important in a finite system of jobs for people to step aside from salaried positions to allow other younger people to have a job as well. I also strongly believe that our Western society puts an intense amount of undue social status on income generation. If you are working your whole life just to obtain more things and feed your ego then you have missed the point. Step aside, enjoy your retirement, and give back to the community and world by meaningfully volunteering using your skills and talents to produce an effective change.

    I am successfully, self employed and look forward to creating systemic lasting change when I am a little more finacialy capable with both time, energy, and connections. Although, I don’t think I will ever fully retire, being self employed and taking a salary are two different things. Either way I have heard this same quote from my parents in there 60s and I am in my late 20s. Work does not equal contribution. Competing for finite jobs and status in a rigged system where only a few can be winners is a failure in itself. Work that is meaningful and effective in changing the lives of others is contributing. This is done most truly when it comes from a place where no financial remuneration is required.

    • Adam says

      I agree 100% about the attitude towards work. I plan to work in my current capacity exactly as long as it takes to leave the rat race and live comfortably. At that point, I will “graduate” to more fulfilling endeavors, such as volunteering, spending more time with family, and doing all of the things I can’t do today because I’m at work. Spending roughly 1/3 of your waking life at a job doesn’t sound appealing to me, no matter how much you like your job.

      I also did a rough calculation. If I maintain my current savings rate (with 3% yearly increases) and earn an 8% return on my investments (historical S&P average is higher), I will have approximately $68 million dollars when I turn 92! Why on earth would I spend so much time at a job to earn approximately $67,000,000 more than I need to live comfortably?

      Other than the point about work, I think everyone else was excellently thought out and well written. Great article overall.

  6. ~Riz says

    Well if everyone adopts this lifestyle then there won’t be much in the way of an economy left. If people do not aspire for better things than they have then what will be their incentive to improve themselves. Also if everyone stopped using credit then spending would go down and therefore jobs would be effected. Every £ spent creates 8 jobs it is said. The economy needs people to spend not to be austere, this is how an economy grows.

    • says

      I’m not an expert but this isn’t true. People getting into too much debt as a result of wanting better things leads to defaulting on loans which leads to bad news for economies. It’s much more complex than what you state.

    • Corey says

      Wrong. If everybody lived life like this the tourism, entertainment, any industry that people get enjoyment from would thrive. All be it, the financial industry as we know it would crumble because they make their billions on the slavery of debt.

      • Jeff says

        You are right. When people have more disposable income from less debt, they do seem to spend it on enjoyment industries like tourism and entertainment.

  7. Annette says

    Personally I am so thrilled to find this site. I have indeed followed so much of the advice and continue to appreciate new insights. However, we found ourselves having just enough income to live simplistic. Therefore I strongly felt I needed to retire, others needed paychecks and have been more than fulfilled in volunteering over the last decade. We also did live on one income, my husbands, raised four sons and when I DID WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME HAD JOBS I really enjoyed.

  8. says

    I love this article Joshua, thank you. My husband and I are about to transition to one income because I’m 30 weeks pregnant. We have had some rough knocks with our health requiring a lot of money spent on surgery and physio so our financial situation isn’t where we want it (we have a large mortgage but no credit card/personal loan type debts). We are really tough on ourselves because we want freedom, we don’t want to be tied to a job we hate to pay the bills. But we know it’s also a process to move to a more simple and minimal life. We can’t change course overnight, we have to steer our entire life slowly and deliberately in the right direction.

  9. Justine says

    We do have Credit cards but pay them off in full each month, always have done this. Never taken the step to only using cash yet though. But certainly food for thought.

  10. says

    While I like many of the things you state (especially buying a home for less than what you’re approved at) I disagree about only buying things with cash.
    I have never had to pay interest on a credit card because I pay the whole balance off before it’s due. I also take advantage of the 1.5% cash back each time I purchase and each time I pay the balance. Essentially, my credit card company is giving me free money.

  11. says

    Isn’t the power of #1 amazing? It’s such a huge brain shift for most people. It is really hard to honestly recognize the difference between what is and is not necessary. But once you start to make that shift? Wowza. You suddenly have more money than you know what to do with! Well, until you think about all of the wonderful investment options. ; )

  12. says

    Great list! Some people are so shocked by things like this, like there is no way it’s possible. I once suggested on my blog that you can save money if you cut back on alcohol, and the backlash was big. Even by eliminating drinks at restaurants and just drinking at home you can save a lot of money!

  13. Toonna says

    Hallo Joshua and all else,

    I’m recently moved from a different continent to Canada, Quick question about credit cards; I don’t have one but been contemplating getting one because of the pros people insist come with one and how I can’t buy a house, borrow a loan, etc if I don’t have any credit. Is this necessarily true? Is credit necessary to survive in the North American economy? If yes, is there any other way to build credit without using a credit card?

    Thanks for any response.

    • says

      Well your post is almost a month old and this page much older than that but I will give you my opinion. The correct answer is no you do not need credit to survive but it makes things much more simple. I know several people that have been bankrupt and therefor they have no credit. You can still get loans without credit but they are at crazy high rates that you would never want to pay. You will never be able to buy a house without credit but you can buy vehicles through the high rate lenders.

      I would strongly suggest getting a credit card. At the start you have a hard time getting one because you have no credit but start with a capital one secured mastercard. They regularly report that you are making payments and within no time you will start gaining a higher score.

  14. says

    I think that the article is great but it does not talk about owning your on business to achieve financial freedom. I think if you want to work for a company and live frugal that’s fine but you can have your cake and eat it to. I think having an online business is the best way to create passive income. It requires work just live everything else but there is no limit on what you can make. If you want to learn how I am achieving financial freedom my website is http://www.myfinancialfreedom.org

  15. On Wisconsin says

    A few years ago, I set up my credit card for “auto-pay” where the full balance is paid automatically on the due date via a transfer directly from my checking account.

    It was very convenient, but it came with a cost. I totally lost touch with how much I was spending on the card because I never even looked at the monthly statement.

    Recently, I started downloading my statements into Quicken, and using some of the reporting features. What an eye-opener!!! So much spending on stuff I didn’t need.

    Now, I look at every statement, and I’m moving (slowly) to use the card less each month.

  16. Cammie says

    I have only been in debt once in my life due to an over spender in a relationship that no longer exists. It took me three years to pay back that debt. I have been debt free for the last 18 years or so. I don’t drink or smoke. I buy my car cash but I do buy them new. I just buy what I can afford usually Honda or VW, maybe a Toyota next time or even a subaru. That said, I have been out of work for a year and a half. I live frugal. I am on medical leave from work. I feel abundant most of time and am working hard and healing and getting back to work. Most of my money goes to healthcare (mostly alternative care), I would add to this list to eat healthy, exercise and cut down on household chemicals, because once you lose your health climbing out of that hole can be a long haul. I have been healing for almost 7 years now though I only stopped working a year and a half ago out of necessity for my healthy. Also, right now I give with my kindness and time not with money. There are other ways to give not just money. Wherever I go, I leave someone with a compliment that will keep them smiling all day long. Give with your heart even if you can give with your wallet.

  17. Angela says

    Cannot agree about not retiring! I worked continously for 40 years , and planned financially so that I managed to retire at 58. Although I have to live within a pretty tight budget I love the freedom of not having to work. It does help that I live in a country where there is free health care.

  18. Rich G says

    Right on, Josh! Your ideas and reasons for simplicity reiterate the voices of the ’60s, my era. Back then the same beasts of Wall Street, Madison Ave and Hollywood were harping in our ears, telling us how we should live the “good life” filled with needless stuff and useless action. VERY FEW folks took heed of the counterculture’s warning…most were swept away by the current of consumer culture. This later mind set still prevails, as is evident by recent comments to your posts. More power to you!

  19. Ana says

    In the course of twenty years, my husband, five kids and I have downsized from a 4/2, double garage ranch, 2500 sq ft to a 1955 modest mid-century 3/2, single garage 1200 sq ft. I do not miss the housework. I got rid of 90 % of our stuff. I no longer shop at Costco. I own two pairs of jeans, two pairs of shoes and five tops. I do not need fancy clothes because I am home with the kids. We now can afford vacations. We have paid for two kids’ colleges, no debt. We have paid off our mortgage. I have lost weight because I have time to walk at 6am to 7am. I am 51. All I want to do is put my kids through school and do things with them. I want memories. Going to a mall makes me physically sick. Headaches. Stop the stuff. Consumerism is a thief. It robs you of experiences and memories.

  20. Deborah Groom says

    I really enjoyed the article. During a time of paper thin finances I needed to track every cent. I budgeted my fixed expenses, reducing what I could, and then making envelopes for the variables. The difficulty with using credit cards is you do not have the same boundaries as you do with cash. Each month I take out my variable money and divide it at set amounts for Christmas, birthdays, haircuts, ferry travel, travel, clothing, auto repairs etc. You have to be honest with yourself. I budget for two pedicures a year because I know I’ll do them. That is a budgeted treat. I found that I saved, on average, $600/month. I was shocked. At Christmas I know exactly how much I have to spend and budget accordingly. Now I couldn’t imagine living any other way.

  21. Critter says

    The biggest spender having financial control is what got us into financial trouble. My thinking was, ‘he can’t possibly continue to spend like this if he sees the impact it has on our family’. I was so very wrong.

    • Annette says

      Thanks for some real life input. I thought this rule would be very hard for me as well and I didn’t think it was a good idea. My husband makes more money, but also spends WAY more than he makes. So, to put him in charge would allow him to see where all the money goes, right? Well, after reading your comment, I don’t think I’ll be doing that. And sorry that things didn’t work out for you. What do we do when one spouse is ultra conservative and the other is the TOTAL opposite?

  22. Bill says

    From my perspective as a semi-retired self-employed entrepreneur, there are a number of excellent points made.

    I’ve only bought 1 new car in my life (a 69 BMW 2002 which is currently worth more than I paid for it). Govt auctions have supplied almost every vehicle I’ve owned.

    Very little is said about investing. I’ve never made a lot of money but was able to save by setting up a self-directed IRA. My advice from personal experience is to use the lowest fee mutual fund company available. In my case, that is Vanguard. Their philosophy results in your money working for you & not your broker. When a broker or fund invests your $10K & takes 7-10% off the top, your $9000 to $9300 has got to earn 8%-12% just to get you back to break-even. Yearly fees after that are too onerous for you to make the return Vanguard can offer.

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