Financial freedom is time freedom

For the past month, my entire life seems to have revolved around repairs and maintenance on the new house.

Some days, I'm the one doing the work: shoveling level ground for a planned writing shed, crawling under the house to check for leaks, pruning the overgrown hedges. Most days, however, I'm meeting with other folks: roofing contractors, siding contractors, HVAC contractors, plumbing contractors, pest control contractors. For the past thirty days, this has almost been a full-time job!

“You know, you're lucky,” a friend said to me a few days ago.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Most people don't have the freedom you have,” he said. “It seems like you're able to just press ‘pause' on life to focus on your new home. You can shift your time and attention. Most people have to go to work every day. They can't get eight roofing contractors out to bid on the project because they can't take time off to meet with eight different companies.”

My friend has a point.

Because I'm financially independent, I'm able to structure my life in such a way that I have tremendous flexibility with how I spend my days. I guess this is somewhat obvious, isn't it? I mean, I've written before about how frugality buys freedom, about how, in a very real sense, time is money — and money is time.

But our conversation made me consider this concept in a new way. It made me realize that what I value most about my financial situation is that it gives me the luxury to do what I want — when I want to do it.

I've written before about the six stages of financial freedom. The more money you save, the more freedom you have, and the greater risks you can take.

[The Stages of Financial Freedom]

I feel like a similar set of stages exists for time independence. They don't line up perfectly with the milestones on the road to financial freedom — somebody who gets financial support from his family might have plenty of free time, for instance — but there's a lot of overlap.

  • When you're in debt, for example, your time is not your own. “Debt is slavery,” writes Michael Mihalik in his book of the same name. When you owe money, your freedom is restricted. When you work, the money you earn (from your time on the job) belongs to somebody else.
  • Once you're debt-free, your time becomes yours again. Your wages go into your pocket and fund your future. But what you can do with your time is still limited by your ongoing expenses. If you don't have anything saved, you can't afford the time and money to pack up and travel the world. You can't afford to stay home with your family. If you're spending exactly what you earn, you're essentially treading water with time.
  • When you begin to earn a personal profit — when you begin to earn more than you spend — then you begin to bank time. Sure, you're actually banking money, but that money represents future freedom, future minutes and hours that you can use to do whatever you choose.
  • With good fortune and hard work, you'll eventually reach the latter levels of financial independence. At these stages, how you spend your time is dictated almost exclusively by your goals and your personal mission statement. All of the weeks and months and years you worked hard to save money come to fruition. Your days belong to you.

In my case, financial independence has allowed me to structure my days so that I can pursue my priorities. Instead of having to drive to the box factory at 6:30 every morning (as I did for many years), I can get out of bed and drink my coffee while checking email. I can take the dog for a walk. I can go to the gym. I can sit in the living room and read. When I feel moved to write, I can write. And if I feel like I need to spend an entire month working with contractors, I can spend an entire month working with contractors.

Money gives you freedom not just to have the things you want, but also to do the things you want. Financial independence is temporal independence. Financial freedom is time freedom.

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Mao
Mao
2 years ago

This is a great way to good at FI. It actually reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We all start from the most basic. As we start moving up the ladder we enjoy and pursue more emotional or even time luxury so to speak.

Matt @ Optimize Your Life
Matt @ Optimize Your Life
2 years ago

This is far and away reason number one that I am pursuing financial independence. There are obviously a lot of great things that can come about from FI, but I want control over, and flexibility of, my time. I want that ability to turn to one area of life and just focus on that for a while before moving on to something else.

The financial freedom is great, but I’m really looking for that time freedom.

ZJ Thorne
ZJ Thorne
2 years ago

I’m the same! I want to continue with my own business once I no longer “have to,” but ratchet down to a level of work that feels more balanced for me. Appointments that don’t involve rush-hour. Fewer days in the office.

Ron Cameron
Ron Cameron
2 years ago

“When you work, the money you earn (from your time on the job) belongs to somebody else.” If everybody (especially young people) grasped this concept, we’d live in a different world. It’s voluntary slavery. Every latte, every PS4, every gallon of gas gets us more into slavery. I’m always amazed how people reach their 60’s+ and still don’t see the problem with debt.

I like my time. I like my money. I’d like to not be forced (by my choices) to give it to others!

Joe
Joe
2 years ago

Great insight! Personally, I think financial independence is a bit easier to achieve. Time freedom seems more mental. We could hire out everything, but I’m too cheap to do so. Maybe when I’m older, I’ll change my mind.
Also, time freedom is dependent on other people around you too. Our kid demand a lot of my time. I could put him in camp all summer, but that’s not why I left my job. It’s okay for time freedom to take a backseat while our kid is still young. He’ll be a teenager soon enough. 🙂

sagar nandwani
sagar nandwani
2 years ago

Nice write-up and good inspiration

Steven @ The 1000 Lives
Steven @ The 1000 Lives
2 years ago

Love the Infographic! I am definitely pursuing the “Abundance” stage. Having more than enough to promise security for me and my family, while at the same time being able to leave a lasting legacy is what motivates me to save aggressively.

I also see that by being financially independent, you’ve put yourself in a position of power as it comes to big projects like this. It is expensive to go with the first contractor that comes your way; having the ability to interview a series of contractors cuts down cost dramatically.

Lyn Alden
Lyn Alden
2 years ago

I find myself perpetually busy.

One of the reasons I haven’t invested in real estate is that between a full time job and side hustles, it just sounds exhausting to deal with repairs, contractors, etc.

I’m on stage 3 of the graphic there, so it’s not as though this level of work is necessary. But it’s something I find myself doing all the time and an area I’ll be looking at reducing in coming years.

WantNotToWantNot
WantNotToWantNot
2 years ago

Great post! Thanks for the reminder about the value of Time. I really began to grow up in my 20s when I read somewhere that money is unlimited but that time is not. Up until that point, I had thought of money as finite and hard to come by, and my time as limitless; that one observation made me shift my priorities entirely. I began to make different choices. Of course this comes with the huge caveat that these choices are available to those of us with the unearned privilege to live in a stable (relatively) democracy, grow up in… Read more »

Jason@Debt Reckoning
2 years ago

Ah yes, time freedom is a great way to look at financial independence. You’ve achieved a point in your life where the balance has tipped in favor of doing what you want to do, rather than what you have to do. There will always be things we “have to do,” but hopefully that becomes a smaller a smaller percentage of our world as we approach FI.

The Side Gig Guru
The Side Gig Guru
2 years ago

I recently did a full renovation of my house to sell it. We did a cost/benefit analysis and figured we could get something like a $300k return on $100 of expenditure. It nearly killed me. I feel your pain of doing your home building and wish you the best of luck!

RetirementSaver
RetirementSaver
2 years ago

Great article. I’m working through my stages now, but would be happy enough with security. Unfortunately, I started late. I’m still learning, and have just found your site. What I will be most interested in reading is how you and others moved from debt to security, independence and abundance. I will definitely read more of your posts looking for advice and tips.

Andreaus @ The Blue Pants Budget
Andreaus @ The Blue Pants Budget
2 years ago

Great post, J.D. Time is the only thing we can’t get back. I’ll be on Stage 2 next year after paying off my auto loan. I plan to keep my car as long as possible to get the most value out of it.

Chris @ Mindful Explorer
Chris @ Mindful Explorer
2 years ago

Understanding those stages and working hard to quickly move them is very rewarding. I feel fortunate to have read blogs and websites such as yours that helped me snap out of the routine and clue in there was another way. Stage 5 is feeling really good right now but I’m motivated to reach Stage 6.

Thanks for another friendly reminder and a great blog post

Eric Bowlin
Eric Bowlin
2 years ago

Love this article. I reached financial independence when I turned 30, finally my passive income is enough to cover all my expenses. But I can never reach the time independence, I believe it is more about the mindset you have and like you said “the things you want”. When you receive some small achievements in your life then the next stop you will want to pursue more and bigger achievements, in such way I can never receive time independence. Will need to work on that.

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