This guest post from Lisa Mueller is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income. Want submit your own reader story? Here’s how.

When I was in my twenties, I didn’t really understand the point of wealth accumulation. To me, it kind of looked like greed.

I had grown up in a solidly middle-class family as the daughter of a successful stockbroker. One would think that in this context, I would have been extremely savvy with personal finance and on the path to building wealth myself. But I actually took quite the opposite path, choosing to volunteer, and work at low-paying jobs in the non-profit sector. I didn’t really understand the purpose of saving for retirement at such a young age, or saving for any other goals for that matter.

Saving can create freedomIt wasn’t until I finished my master’s degree (with $33,000 in student loans and negative net worth) at age 30, that I started to take my personal finances more seriously. I slowly started to develop an awareness of the need to save and to contribute to retirement. But what really got me going was when I realized that saving isn’t just about building wealth; saving can also create freedom and flexibility.

I read a lot of personal finance blogs (including Get Rich Slowly) to keep myself focused and expand my knowledge. I read early retirement blogs, get out of debt blogs, investing blogs, economics blogs, and simple living blogs. Each blogger brings his or her unique perspective. It’s from this exposure to a broad range of ideas that I’ve found what resonates with me: the idea of building a freedom fund.

I admire the early retirement bloggers, and it’s useful to see how they got where they are, but my ultimate goal isn’t early retirement. I like to work. What I want is the flexibility to not be tied to any particular income level, career path, or cubicle/office job. I want the freedom to choose my schedule, to work in a job or career that fuels my passion, or to work part-time if I want to. This is possible with a freedom fund.

Many people fail to realize that they have the power to build a better (or different) life for themselves. I have friends who are high earners but who are drowning in debt due to their choices (and in part due to the housing crash). But what they don’t see is how they can use their income to create freedom and flexibility in their lives. I think if they could see the possibilities, they would be much more motivated to save and would make different choices with their money. The consumerist mentality and the work-until-you’re-65 mindset is so ingrained in our society that many people don’t see that they have much more control of their lives than they even know.

I had a co-worker several years ago who understood the concept of the freedom fund. He was in his mid-twenties, lived very frugally, and had a sizable portfolio of assets already at that young age. He, unlike me, worked full-time while he went to graduate school and saved religiously. Even during the most stressful times at work, he was never stressed out.

I used to wonder how he could be so calm and collected all the time. I’m sure that part of it was just his personality, but I also think a big part of it was that he didn’t actually need that job. He wasn’t living paycheck-to-paycheck. He wasn’t drowning in debt like many of us. He had a freedom fund! He had the peace of mind that if anything should happen to his job, he would be okay. And he had the flexibility to change his career path at any time.

The concept of a freedom fund means different things for different people.

  • Maybe it means that you can take more risks at your full-time job.
  • Maybe it means that you can take that six-month vacation to see the world.
  • Maybe it means that you can leave your corporate job to purse your dream of becoming a teacher or to pursue your dream of starting your own business.
  • Maybe it means that you can fulfill your goal of being a stay-at-home parent.
  • Maybe you don’t know yet what a freedom fund would mean to you, but don’t delay in getting started.

My freedom fund has allowed me to walk away from a 9-5 job (at least temporarily) to re-examine what it is that I really want out of life. It has allowed me to travel, to re-connect with friends, to take a class, to enjoy summer, and to think about what I am passionate about. Without a freedom fund, I wouldn’t have the flexibility to take this time for myself.

Take action to build your freedom fund. You have the power to create the life that you want and each dollar that you put in your freedom fund will help you get there. What does your freedom fund mean to you and what dreams will it help you fulfill?

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After more than a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are. Henceforth, unduly nasty comments on readers stories will be removed or edited.

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