We are all familiar with the usual expectations laid out in front of us in order to be successful. Get a proper education, and seek good employment. Save up and invest in your retirement fund so that you and your family are taken care of. In the meantime, try to progress in every way possible – by getting a larger house, couple of cars and other material possessions.

In such a world, and with those priorities, the vast majority of your time is dedicated to work and moving up the social ladder. Which is all fine. However, what happens if one wants to enjoy the fruits of their labor not in their retirement years, but in their prime?

This is where freedom comes into the equation. By tweaking those set expectations and limitations, you can gain the financial freedom allowing you to expand your options. For instance, take a year off and travel. Or switch your job and start your own business. Freedom relates mainly to choice.

Defining financial freedom

Instead of pursuing the usual “dream” of gaining freedom in our retirement years, let us break down the path towards freedom, one that you can embark on right now.

1 – Status quo

The starting point most of us find themselves in. A vicious cycle of relying on a steady income which pays the bills.

2 – Momentary relief

First sign of financial independence is cutting down your expenses and saving up some funds. These can then be invested, and the profit can be turned into a new regular income source. As your savings increase, so will your freedom. At a certain point, you will be able to start your own business or switch into a new professional field.

3 – Full independence

This is when the income gained by means other than employment surpasses the amount which covers all your expenses. You gain flexibility, which leads to independence. If you can afford to quit your previous job at this point, this means that your side business or investments have provided you with that option. Of course, a side business also implies much work, perhaps even more so. But if, in your case, it reflects your ambitions and desires, it is very much worth it. Remember, it is not a matter of what pays better. We are after something much bigger here – independence and freedom.

4 – The next step

The next and final step is getting to a point where your free savings are comfortably surpass your expenses. For some people this means not having to work any longer and living off their savings. For other, it is a platform for the creation of additional wealth. What’s in common is that reaching it will provide you with even more lifestyle-related options.

Is this the right concept for you?

To answer this, evaluate your current situation: does your current way of life satisfy you, are you happy with the balance between work and free time and does your job fulfill you?

These questions are not only for you to answer, but also for your partner, family, etc. Answering them won’t be easy, but when you do, you will have a much clearer picture. Maybe you’ll come to realize that your current job is perfectly satisfactory. In that case, pursuing phase No. 2 as described above might be what you should aspire to. Or you will find yourself in the large category of people who are not overly enthusiastic about their jobs, but are generally not eager to make any sudden changes. If so, the right way forward would still be to pursue a greater level of financial freedom. That way, you will be able to reevaluate your position and potentially switch careers in the future.

Naturally, if you belong to the group which is absolutely dissatisfied with their current work situation, you should immediately begin pursuing financial independence. In that case, don’t hesitate to make some unpleasant cuts with your eyes on the big picture. For instance, eliminating all unnecessary expenses, or even relocating to a place with lower living costs. It may sound drastic, but if your work makes you unhappy, these are steps worth taking. Just remember that money can be made (and saved), whereas time cannot.

That in mind, the future You will be grateful for every action that you take sooner than later.