It’s been a long time since I wrote about the general state of my financial affairs. A few readers have written to express concern that I’ve lost my way. I haven’t. If anything, I’m more devoted to this stuff than ever.

But as I wrote earlier this year, I’ve entered a different stage of money management. During the first two stages of personal finance (debt elimination and establishing a foundation), things happened quickly. They did not seem quick at the time, but they were.

Now I’m in the third stage of personal finance. Progress is steady, but there’s not a lot of scenery. Have no fear: I’m still on the road to financial freedom.

Starting with quick wins
When I started paying down debt, I achieved a lot of quick wins. I’d pay off one debt, and then nix another a few months later. Back then, time seemed to drag — no question — but in retrospect, my progress was constantly visible. Even if I wasn’t writing the final check for my computer loan in a particular month, I could see that my debt snowball had reduced the balance by a significant amount.

When I made frugal changes to my life, I could see the results immediately. Cut my television bill? Fifty bucks a month in my pocket! Cancel the magazine subscriptions? More money for me! And as I gradually weaned myself from bookstores and comic shops, my positive cash flow grew faster than I imagined possible.

By giving up certain things I had thought were necessities, I was able to find more money to throw at my debt, which just accelerated the entire process. As I say, progress seemed slow when I started, but I was actually reaching new landmarks all of the time.

The third stage of personal finance
Today I’m in a different place. I no longer reach significant milestones every month. It’s more difficult to find new ways to be frugal. That doesn’t mean I’m not making smart choices, that I’m not making progress. I am! It just means that the landmarks are spaced farther apart. Here are some of the things I’ve done (or continue to do):

All of these things are fantastic. I’m ecstatic to have turned my financial life around. Earlier this evening, Kris said, “You’re not even the same man you were five years ago. You’re like the new and improved J.D. I like it.”

She’s right.

I feel like I’ve reached a sort of financial nirvana. I’m not financially independent — but that doesn’t matter. I’ll get there. Meanwhile, I no longer experience the guilt of overspending. Though I do make the occasional financial mistake, I’m no longer in danger of overdrafting my bank account. I don’t incur late fees. I have enough money to indulge myself.

This feels good. This is what it’s like in the third stage of personal finance.

The road ahead
My journey isn’t over. My financial engine is humming smoothly. I’m ripping down the highway of life on the road to financial independence. There aren’t many landmarks to share right now, but I know there are many ahead.

More than that, there are new paths to explore. I’m eager to discover (and to share) tips for those who have mastered the basics of personal finance. How does one buy municipal bonds? Is real estate a practical investment for the average joe? What’s the best way for me to use my money to help others? What can we do to optimize our financial systems? How can we boost our incomes while remaining frugal? How can we keep our psychological weaknesses in check?

And at the end of it all, there’s financial independence. Will I ever reach this goal? If you had asked me five years ago, I would have said “never”. Now, though, I’m more optimistic. It may not happen this year. And it may not happen next. But I think I’ll get there before traditional retirement age.

It’s not my goal to gloat or to brag or to have you write, “Great work!” My goal is to show what can be done through hard work and perseverance. It’s true that we’re all different and that we all start from different places. But I sincerely believe that given enough time, nearly everyone can get rich slowly.

I am doing it, and so can you. I’ll be here to help you find the way.

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