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Senior Correspondent

We’re all chasing something. It’s what gets us up in the morning, right?

But how much thought have we given to what we’re chasing? And how do we know when we’ve caught it?

Are You Chasing Financial Independence?

Years ago, I read an article that defined what the author saw as his journey to financial independence. As I remember, he said the path to financial independence usually looks something like this:
• I’m stumbling through life, buying more than I should and watching my credit-card debt escalate. Money is fuzzy, something I guess is important, but that feels pretty disconnected from me.
• One day something happens that makes me wake up to the realization that, if I don’t stop this behavior, in my old age I’ll end up pushing a shopping cart through the streets and eating cat food. (Well, maybe not cat food.)
• I find something or someone to help me understand what I’m doing with my money and, more important, why I’m doing it so I can start turning around my finances.
• Now that I “get” money, I adjust my behavior and start paying down debt, eventually getting it to zero.
• In parallel, I start saving and investing enthusiastically for later years so I can live not only “debt free” but also “fear free.” I won’t have to worry about money in my old age.

That describes a superficial program that leads to “financial independence,” which has about as many definitions as there are articles written about it. Everything from “earning enough from non-work to support a preferred lifestyle” … to “freedom from fear around money” … to “having enough, plus some.”

So if that’s superficial, what are we really looking for? Well, I tend to believe that our goal is actually financial peace of mind.

Is Financial Peace of Mind Much Different?

To start with, it’s not related to a specific number. It goes deeper, primarily into beliefs and values. It’s extremely individual because it reflects how we each envision enjoying our later years. And it’s personal because we have to know what makes us tick — what our purpose or intention is in this life — if we’re going to feel fulfilled and if money is simply going to be the tool that allows us to achieve that feeling.

Financial peace of mind begins with our intimate relationship with money: how we (1) earn it, (2) spend it, (3) invest it and (4) give it away. And, think about it: each one of those little phrases is loaded with meaning.

• Do we earn money doing something we love or doing whatever we have to in order to accumulate it?
• Do we spend it on things that matter to us and bring us joy or do we squander it on what ends up as clutter or in the landfill?
• Do our investments have social merit, producing goods and services that benefit the world, or are they made in whatever brings the greatest return, regardless?
• Do we have causes and belief systems to which we contribute gratefully or do we write charity checks to soften our guilt (if at all)?

Next come our beliefs around scarcity, abundance, prosperity, sufficiency, wealth and poverty. (Have you ever stopped to define each of those concepts for yourself? Or are they all a blur?)

What stories do we tell ourselves about “when enough is enough”? How much of our sisters’ keepers are we?  Can we only be rich if we have endless material possessions? How much of our lives are driven by outside forces, compared to what’s driven by what’s inside of us?

The goal here is not for us to pinpoint exactly how we’ll put together a lifetime financial plan. Instead it’s for us to take our thoughts about money beyond whether or not we can pay our bills. Or how much we’re saving. Or whether the stock market will reach 18,000.

The goal is for us to realize that our relationship with money is all tied up with our life philosophy. And reaching financial peace of mind is dependent on all aspects of our lives being coherent with that philosophy.

Let us know in the comments section below the last time you gave your life philosophy any thought.

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