8 Countercultural Decisions to Find Financial Freedom

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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Comments

  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.

  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.

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