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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