I had a deadline at work. My boss told me I had to get into the office after everyone had left for the day and test the data migration for the new Operating System install we were doing for a client.
The only problem was that this conflicted with my grandfather’s funeral. But there was this work deadline that couldn’t be moved and my boss didn’t give a shit about my personal life.
So I worked from home that morning and went to the funeral. Then I skipped dinner with my family and jumped on a train to go downtown to work.
As you can imagine the data test went as well as the rest of my day. It didn’t work and I couldn’t get it to work. I looked up and realized that if I didn’t leave now I would miss the last train out of downtown and would sleep in the office. And sadly I debated that decision.
I jumped on the train and was surrounded by drug dealers and some unsavory people. A police officer came on the train and took one look at me and asked, “Bad day?” He wasn’t used to seeing a person in a polo shirt and slacks at this time of night. He let me sleep and watched my back until my stop. He was a good man.
It was then I realized that I was basically an indentured servant because I didn’t have enough money to stop working or tell my boss no. I left that company several months after that for obvious reasons.
These ideas are based on my personal experience and opinion and should not be considered professional financial investment advice. Furthermore, the ideas and strategies should never be used without first assessing your own personal and financial situation, or without consulting a financial professional.
- What Is Financial Freedom?
- Define Your Goals
- Evaluate Your Current Financial Situation
- Live Below Your Means
- Pay Yourself First
- Create Emergency and Retirement Funds
- Create a budget
- Invest Money Wisely
- Know Your Retirement Number
- Don't Forget to Live For Today
- Take Action and Enjoy Financial Freedom!
- Get a Handle on Your Finances
- Need to Save More Money?
- Debt Payoff and Budget
- Where Is Your Money?
- Are you living your best life or are you stressed about paying the bills?
- About Dwight Scull
What Is Financial Freedom?
Financial freedom is the ability to live your life without worrying about money. It means having enough money to cover your basic expenses and being able to save for your future. It also means being debt-free and having the flexibility to spend your time the way you want.
There are many different paths to financial freedom, but they all require making smart choices with your money. You’ll need to save regularly, invest in growth opportunities, and be mindful of your spending. With discipline and a little bit of planning, financial freedom is within reach for anyone. Given enough time and discipline.
Define Your Goals
In his book The Great Rat Race Escape by MJ DeMarco, he talks about his “F This Event” or FTE for short. Some people will call this determining your why.
I have several “F This Events” in my life. One was when my mom suddenly and unexpectedly died in her sleep at the age of 52 with no money and our family was all up to our neck in debt. I put her cremation on a credit card and struggled to pay it off for many months. I didn’t want to put my family through that so I got serious about paying down my debt and learning about how money actually works.
My other FTE was when my grandfather died and I won’t recap that story from above.
The FTE from my grandfather’s funeral made me realize that my company owned me and that I had allowed it. I should be able to take the day off. To hell with the project. To hell with the deadlines and testing.
If I dropped dead or was killed on that train at 1 am (the train at 1 am in Denver isn’t a fun place btw) I would have been replaced and the project would have moved on.
If you want to make a life change like getting debt free or financially free or being able to retire early then you NEED to identify your F This Event.
What is your F This Event?
Literally, write it down. How did it make you feel? Why do you NOT want to feel like that again? Burn this feeling in your brain. You are going to need it to free the shackles that bind you!
Evaluate Your Current Financial Situation
Honesty time. How far in debt are you?
Do you even know? Or do you do what I did and pay the minimum credit card balance and try to not look at the total until you maxed out the cards?
Write down everything you owe and how much. Also, take note of the interest you are paying.
Now write down what you actually own that has value. Your home, maybe a car’s blue book value, investments you may have, that sort of thing.
If you need more help check out my article in the green box below for figuring out your net worth.
Get a Handle on Your Finances
Knowing what your net worth is and how your actions impact your financial future is probably the MOST important thing you can do for you and your family.
Find out how to do it quickly and put it on autopilot. Money doesn’t have to be hard.
Ok, now that we know where you are at – and it is totally fine to be in the negative hundreds of thousands of dollars (I was like negative $105k net worth in 2013) we can get started. If you are at 0 or in the positive – congratulations you don’t have to dig yourself out of a hole first.
For some Americans they were at their most highest net worth when they were a child and owned nothing. Since then they have been digging a hole.
Live Below Your Means
If you don’t do ANYTHING I TELL YOU, at least DO. THIS. ONE. THING.
Seriously this is the literal foundation of financial success and security. Live below your means! Don’t have a beer budget and a caviar lifestyle.
This was the rut my parents and pretty much everyone I used to know were in. You see life is so painful being poor that you must escape and man debt is the only way to feel good about yourself for a little while.
I have seriously been there, done that, bought the t-shirt (on credit), took a year to pay it back, and spent twice as much as I should have – really shouldn’t have bought the damn thing honestly…but I digress.
So seriously commit to yourself that you will do whatever you must do to start to live below your means. Or at the very least have a plan to get there. Keep reading, as I have a plan for you.
Pay Yourself First
The first step is to do something so counterintuitive that most people think it is dumb. And it is dumb —- dumb that we don’t do it.
Are you paid by direct deposit?
If you work for a company chances are very high they want you to enroll in direct deposit because it costs money to write out paper checks. So they want to save money and not hand you a physical item that someone had to sign and fill out.
Is there an online portal then for your direct deposit information? Or a form to fill out to change or start your direct deposit? Unsure? The human resources department or person is paid to answer this question so make them work for their paycheck. Ask them how to change your direct deposit.
But what do you want? Simple, you want to have some of your money go into your savings account FIRST and then the rest go into your checking account. That is it.
How much should go into savings?
Well, that is a great question. I have learned to live on a lot less than I make so I have my wife’s entire check deposited in savings and $1k from each of my checks deposited in savings as well.
Now I couldn’t do this until we were able to make serious money. So if you are just getting started out and landed your first job at 50 to 75k out of college or your developer boot camp (the smarter one in this example, sorry I have thoughts on college in today’s world) then try to put in $100 to $500 into savings every time you are paid.
But Dwight, what if I can’t afford to do that?
Ok, you understand you can transfer money out of savings right? If you need the money you can move it into checking before you bounce any payments.
Personally, I have found that I only look at the number in my checking account and tend to forget that the money in savings is even there (unless I need it).
Out of sight out of mind, they say.
The money in my checking account is fair game. The money in my savings is a hassle to move – I mean I am lazy and 4 clicks are just TOO MUCH.
Do you get me? Ok, go pay yourself first!
I will tell you that if you pay all your bills first and then save what is left you will SAVE NOTHING! Don’t do this. SAVE FIRST and then pay your bills and learn to live on less (yes live on less than you make).
Create Emergency and Retirement Funds
Oh, look. You are already putting money in savings and creating an emergency fund.
Seriously, Dave Ramsey recommends $1,000 in a savings account you only use for emergencies and it is a good rule to follow.
Emergency Fund – Why?
I went into my tire place to get free air because I had low tire pressure. I can normally notice yellow lights on my car’s dashboard, but that is the extent of my car knowledge. I went to my tire place and they were like, um your tire is bald. Sigh.
Well, they were all bald and snow was coming into town in like a week. $800 later I had four brand new tires and didn’t kill the people on the road next to me on that sharp left turn I took a little too fast…I won’t tell the cops if you don’t.
Ok, so my old me would have said, “crap do I have a credit card (or two) I can put this on?” The new me that pays himself first and lives in my means pulls money out of savings (yeah those 4 clicks on my phone, but I was waiting for the tires so I had some time) and pays for the tires.
Then I keep saving money to get my $1k savings built back up. Does this make sense?
Did you just pull $1,000 out of your butt?
LOL. Pretty much, but Dave Ramsey will tell you there is a lot of research around it, so I just believe him. But ultimately it is just a number. You could have $500 and feel good (I still recommend $1k and with inflation probably $2k now). You might have big expenses and feel that you need $5k just in case. Cool, I don’t judge, just have more than $5 or $100 in that account okay?
Need to Save More Money?
Would you like to know how to save $3000 in 3 months or 6 months?
Maybe you are just looking to develop good habits to have an emergency fund to stop living on credit card debt.
Check out my article for many easy-to-use tips, regardless of your income, to save money in the long haul that doesn’t look like “Just use door dash.”
Click here to learn how to save $3000 in 3 months.
What about retirement?
What? You don’t want to work until you literally die at your workstation? Cool, I don’t want that either – for me or you.
Does your employer offer a 401k match or a similar type of match? Typically if you put in 3% they match 3%. Or 5% or 6% or even more. If they offer you more than a 6% match can you drop me a line at Dwight@DwightScull.com and let me know if you are hiring (just kidding, well maybe….drop me a line but don’t tell anyone…thanks, you are the best).
If they aren’t offering a company match….look for another company to me this is a game changer. Ok, that is financial advice and I am not legally allowed to do that, but seriously have a hard look at other companies.
I digress…Go to the site and make sure that you are at least putting in enough money to get the full matching amount from your company. Why? Because it is FREE money!!!!
But Dwight, I can’t afford to lose 5% of my salary.
Let’s say you make $100,000 a year. 5% of $100,000 is $5,000….. Oh and let’s say you are paid 26 times a year (every two weeks, God I love those 2 extra bonus checks). $5,000 / 26 is a little less than $193 a paycheck. Oh and this is before taxes (unless you put it in a Roth 401k). Seriously you won’t miss this.
Oh did you forget the best part? In that example, your company is giving you an extra $193 a paycheck.
But you just said that I would lose $193 a paycheck and now you are telling me that I didn’t lose it but I gained $193. Bro, my paychecks don’t show that.
Right, “bro” they are $193 less, but you now have $386 a paycheck or $10,036 a year in your retirement account, because your company matched your $193 every paycheck. And if you were to invest it in funds (that you research yourself because I can’t give you financial advice and this is for entertainment purposes only) like the S&P 500 that historically earns at least 10% per year on average over any 20-year period in US history that $10,036 a year grows exponentially given enough time (cough invest now!). You could learn more if you read my article about How to Invest on Autopilot here.
Create a budget
I know you probably won’t read this section because it is boring and yeah budgets suck. Counting calories on a diet suck. Exercising sucks. Anything that involves any effort whatsoever sucks.
I get it, man. So what if I ask you to remember that F This Event I asked you to write down (I know you didn’t…) at the beginning of this article? Remember how it felt to have all your power taken from you because you were basically an indentured servant working for the “MAN” and you were too scared to get fired so you did the thing you didn’t want to do and disappointed yourself and/or others? Remember?
I know you remember.
What does this have to do with a budget? Literally everything.
Look if you want to get healthy you count your calories and you exercise.
If you want to get financially successful, you create a budget so you know where your money is going and then divert it to the places where it will help you the most. Understand?
Ok, lets try another tactic.
If you don’t measure something you can’t track it. How much money did you spend last month on eating out? Like to the penny? Do you know? Probably not, do you think it was too much money though? Most people might say “yeah it was probably too much.” But you don’t know.
How can you make a plan of action if you don’t know where to start? So let’s say you eat out for $18 a meal three times a week for lunch. And you also spend about $25 for dinner 4 times a month. Now we have some real data to work with. Do you need to eat out 3 times a week for lunch? Can you pack a lunch and pocket or divert $76 a month to your 401k just by making a sandwich once a week?
What if I told you that if you invested just $76 from the age of 20 to 65 assuming only an 8% annual interest rate you would have $324,198!!! And you only put in $41,040 of that money.
Can you see why investing is smart?
This is the power of a budget. You know where your money is at or going. You can choose to break your budget, but like counting calories every meal you get to make the choice. Right now you aren’t really choosing you are on autopilot and that leads to more and more moments in your life where you are powerless like in your F This Event.
Debt Payoff and Budget
If you are stuck in thousands of dollars of debt like I used to be (80k in student loans, more than 10k in credit cards and two car payments, etc.). This can help you.
Learn how to pay off debt – set your money goals and get a plan to get your net worth positive.
We track your income, debt, savings, and investments so that you can reduce debt and grow the other three.
Invest Money Wisely
Oh, this is the fun part. Putting money into something that grows without you putting your blood, sweat, and tears into it. Look there is a lot that can be said about investing.
I will cover a couple of points here so you will have a foundation. In America there are two big types of retirement funds: IRA and 401k and each has limits and rules that change almost every year (normally for the better so relax and breathe).
An IRA is a fund that anyone (minus some really high earners but even then there are ways) can put money into on a regular basis. You can get an IRA from a website like Fidelity / Vanguard / Voya and probably others. I have accounts with Fidelity and Vanguard (I am horrible about consolidating my accounts after leaving jobs, it is the reason I use Personal Capital, which is a great solution for me at least).
401k / 403b / other numbers and a letter
Most people have a 401k but my wife worked for a non-profit and they had a 403b. She now works for a city and 457b. These are all different retirement account types and it wouldn’t shock me if there are like 30 others I have never heard of. Regardless, your employer has to set these up for you and enroll you.
They have an annual limit to constrain how much you can put into it. Note that your company match doesn’t impact this number. You can put in the max and if your company gives you a match then that is free money and allows you to invest over the max. The government only cares how much you put into it not how much your company does.
The best way to deep dive into this subject is with the article in the green box below (otherwise we will be here all day and I got other things to cover for you).
Where Is Your Money?
Most people don’t know what they are invested in when they start a new job and open up a 401k.
Do you know exactly what the fund or funds you are investing in even are?
How much are you spending on fees?
What if there was a way to invest in the biggest companies in the world easily and with fees less than 0.1%?
Know Your Retirement Number
Do you know
where you will go if you die tonight (sorry couldn’t resist, don’t throw things at me) how much do you need to retire?
Well if you take your expenses (i.e. what you need to live on) and multiply it by 25 then you are probably close enough.
If you think you need $100,000 to live on then you will need $2.5 million dollars at 65 years old to live off of and potentially not outlive your money. This is based on the 4% rule, which is controversial.
During the pandemic, I was hearing we should call it the 5% rule. Then in 2022 with inflation at 8% (cough 11% cough) everyone is like no it is the 3% rule because of 40-year high inflation.
Cool, so the lesson is no one knows the future. I know, you’re welcome for that epiphany.
If you plan for 25 times you will be close but literally, NO ONE KNOWS what you need to retire.
I can tell you that you need more than everyone thinks if you don’t want to be beholden to social security. And even according to the social security administration they will need to cut everyone’s social security paychecks by 25%!!!!! in 2035 (probably sooner) if nothing is done.
Also, some calculations will take your payment and then do 70% of it and multiply that by 25. They do this because they assume that you will have your home and cars and such paid off by 65 or 67 years old. The issue is that most Americans aren’t doing this so they still have a mortgage in their 70s. Please don’t do this unless there are good reasons.
Don’t Forget to Live For Today
I see a lot of people that take this journey to race to early retirement make a huge mistake: They forget to live well.
Some of the FIRE (Financially Independent Retired Early) people do is they figure out how to squirrel away $400,000 and then move into a van (down by the river….Chris Farley anyone…no?….sigh) and travel around. Personally, my 2300 sq foot home is nice and I couldn’t imagine being with my wife in a van for 30 years (I love her, but I am not easy to live with, just saying).
So budget for vacations by putting an extra $200 a month or so in savings. I am all for cutting expenses, but enjoy your damn latte because I know you aren’t skipping [put your fav place name here] and then immediately adding $5 to your IRA.
So live for today. My mom died at 52 years of age (she was a heavy smoker and didn’t take care of herself, but still people). There is no guarantee you will live to be 100, 120, 70, or even tomorrow.
I have known men that retired and died within 3 months. It happens a lot. The two biggest risk days for men to die is around the day of our birth and our retirement.
You see we men put way too much of our identity in what we do. Go to any event.
“Hey my name is Dwight, I work in IT. What do you do?”
So who are we once we retire? Exactly, many men are nothing and they stop living and have a heart attack in their 65th year of life because everything they have been striving for is gone and there is no going back.
So live a little and try to disconnect your identity from your job or career. ***Steps off soap box***
Are you living your best life or are you stressed about paying the bills?
In this quick 2-page PDF, I cover 5 ways you can get your financial life back on track.
I used to live paycheck to paycheck and after years of paying off debt and maximizing my investments I am now able to save and invest more than 45% of my wife and I’s gross pay.
This allows me to live comfortably (not a crazy rich person) and sleep better at night. If you want this let me know where I can send it to you below.
Wow, you read a lot to get here. Can you do me a favor, please? Can you leave a comment if this was helpful to you or if I missed something? Alternatively, it would help me out a lot if you shared this content with those that might need to see it. Thanks, you are the best!
Take Action and Enjoy Financial Freedom!
Hey, you made it to the bottom of this article. I am sure not many people made it this far. Thanks!
Do me a favor and take some action, please. Don’t do it for me, do it for you.
I don’t want you to be living off of social security which is 25% to 50% less than they said you would get. I don’t want you figuring out what dog food is the cheapest that still tastes ok (I wish I was joking about that). I don’t want you to live in a house that is falling apart because you don’t have enough money for food and medication let alone home maintenance.
Live on less than you make.
Make smart decisions with your money.
At least track major expenses and direct your money into retirement accounts.
Don’t let fees kill all your gains in your investments (that is from my other article on investing on autopilot – you should read it here).
Live your life, but remember you actually might live to be 100 or more years old. Medical tech with stem cells and 3d printers are advancing at an exponential pace. My granddaughter could live to be 200 or more years old. So make sure you don’t outlive your money. Also, imagine what will happen to social security if the majority of people retire at 70 and live to be 120 years old…
About Dwight Scull
I have been married to my wonderful wife, Rebecca, who puts up with me since 1999. I am a proud father to my Gen Z, son, and daughter-in-law. Grandfather to my favorite granddaughter who was born in 2021.
I lost my mom, father-in-law, and 12 others in 2013 and was DEEPLY in debt. I started reading and watching all the financial info I could find.
I chipped away at my debt and went from a negative $105k net worth having one home paid off, no credit card debt, and saving/investing 45%+ of my gross salary.
I used these daily habits to lose 100 pounds and keep it off.
I believe that you can overcome any challenge you face if you just take small daily actions and be consistent with them. It is how you will be financially successful.
Join my free Facebook group to get a ton of free resources to help you get out of debt, learn how to invest your money and work toward having the option of retiring early.