The Secret to Financial Freedom


What is the secret to true financial freedom?

I already said I don’t believe in financial freedom/independence. Most people define financial freedom as never having to worry about money again, living off investment income instead of work. For many the secret to achieving this means earning more; for a few it means living on less. For most it requires 40+ years of toil and fading faith in Social Security. But according to the Bible’s ancient insight the only real financial freedom comes from contentment.

Take it from a first-century Roman prisoner who wrote about financial freedom. I’ve visited the Mamertine prison and it’s just a dank, dark hole in the ground. So for the apostle Paul to write about contentment from there (or a similar prison) is shocking. He said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11b-13).

Paul describes real financial freedom as being content whether you are rich or poor, whether you have too much or not enough. So often we think the key to curbing our spending is a new detailed budget, a cash envelope system, or more self-discipline. Any of these approaches could help, but we have to be operating from a basic position of contentment rather than feeling deprived. Otherwise we’ll feel self-pity because we’re constantly denying ourselves of good things. Contemporary marketing has done much to catalyze this false belief the human heart is already predisposed to.

If you’ve started implementing some of the practical ideas on this blog maybe you’re starting to feel deprived. Or maybe it doesn’t seem to make a big difference since skipping Starbucks isn’t paying dividends just yet. But feelings of self-pity, denial, or deprivation don’t make for good long-term motivation. Maybe you’ve experienced this with dieting. When it comes to money, marketing teaches that when you feel bad about yourself, you should buy something. “Treat yourself! You deserve it!” is the message of modern advertising, a marked change from “you need this” or “this will improve your life” techniques of yesteryear. The latter messages are now considered insulting to today’s consumer who is supposed to have achieved a fulfilled and happy life through materialism already.

When people today talk about financial freedom they mean you are so rich you can have whatever you want, maybe without even working. But countless celebrity stories have proven there’s never enough money to make you happy—because money isn’t what brings real satisfaction. Fulfillment in the richest sense come from following God by loving others. Because Paul was serving others even in prison, he could honestly say he was content, regardless of his financial circumstances. True financial freedom is trusting God to meet your needs, material or otherwise, as you work hard as a good manager of his resources.

Should we be content to stay in our current financial and work situation all our lives? By contentment I don’t mean complacent. The same author addressed this question in his historical context: “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 6:21, 23, emphasis added). (No, the Bible does not support slavery, but we can’t get into that right now.) Today, we could apply this to employees. If your current work situation works, don’t worry about it. If work feels like soul-sucking slavery to The Man (and you don’t just have a bad attitude), then why not “become free”? Free means flexing that financial flexibility. Why not put yourself in a position where you can be content with lower expenses so you can consider doing work you’re more passionate about, or even just hate slightly less?

The average American sees 5 gazillion ads per day and this is a huge challenge to contentment. But you know the secret–that material things will never make us truly happy and we need a lot less than we think we do. It’s actually quite fun to pretend to be poor. It’s fun to fix things up instead of buying new ones, which will probably crap out sooner because new stuff is poorly made. It’s fun to rock old clothes that you’ve kept so long they are finally back in style, and brag about how you’ve had them since high school. It’s fun to drive an older car and perform the lost art of cranking windows. Pretending to be poor is a whole lot more fun than pretending to be rich, with all the heartache and bank-ache that comes with debt.

A friend described the perspective change from deprivation to contentment this way: “I walk into Target and think, ‘I can have anything I want. I could buy whatever I wanted.’ And then I realize I don’t want any of that crap. Thinking this way takes the power [of discontentment] away.” Part of fostering this attitude is realizing how little value “that crap” adds to your life. The principle of diminishing returns is acutely applicable to material possessions. While our lifestyle is far from ascetic, it’s slightly less extravagant than average, and this actually makes us more content, as well as more flexible.

So what could you do with this flexibility? How about:

  • Get out of debt. Permanently.
  • Have one parent stay at home with young children.
  • Work for a church or non-profit for half your current salary.
  • Volunteer helping the needy full time.
  • Take your children on a short-term mission trip.
  • Become a missionary.
  • Substantially fund causes you care about.
  • Choose a job based on your priorities rather than just the paycheck.

How do you combat the feelings of self-denial that come with spending less? What do you think of our definition of financial freedom?

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27 Responses to “The Secret to Financial Freedom”

  1. Mandy Tomko says :

    Sooo true!! No matter how much you have, it will never be enough until you learn to be content where you already are! We are so inclined toward ingratitude and selfishly seeking more, yet amazingly God SO good and has already given us SO much if we simply open our eyes to see it and realize how much we DO have to be grateful for and content in! Thank you so much for sharing!!

  2. Suburban Finance says :

    I agree with you — financial freedom doesn’t come from the ‘outside’ but from your own self. It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you don’t think it’s enough, on the other hand, it doesn’t matter how little money you have as long as you’re content with it.

  3. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says :

    Whenever I’m feeling restricted, I just remember that I’m spending on my budget so I can keep staying at home with out Little Miss, then it doesn’t seem like a sacrifice at all.

    There are so many messages telling us that we NEED more than we have and what we have isn’t enough (my favourite, that I find myself using sometimes, is “you deserve it”) but learning to be content with what you have is a truly freeing lesson.

  4. Drew @ says :

    To me, it’s a combination of freedom and fulfillment, although many get fulfillment *out* of freedom.

  5. Joe @StackingBenjamins says :

    Whenever I get into the “I want….” feelings, I remember the line from the movie Wall Street, “How many yachts can you water ski behind? When is it enough?” …and it goes away (mostly because I barely know how to water ski, so the yacht would be wasted on me….).

  6. Mrs SSC says :

    I realized recently that since I’ve started trying to break out of the consumer cycle, that I get a lot of satisfaction from making/fixing/repairing things myself. I was surprised at how much more things mean to me if I make or fix them… it increases their value in my eyes, and so I feel richer.

  7. Brian says :

    I have financial freedom and contentment. I consider both mindsets and achieve them by having what I need. Anything else is considered a want. I do not struggle or get concerned about obtaining something in the need category. For a want, I will go through a process determining whether I should buy it.

    I do not think any external source should be used for a feeling of contentment. It is a mindset or philosophy one can achieve through life changes. Figure out needs versus wants, do not deprive yourself any need and reward yourself with a want when you it is affordable (debts should be paid before rewarding with wants).

    We need a phone, but do we need the latest if our phone works fine? Do we need a piece of clothing that is the latest fad or has a label inside no one can see? How about a gas guzzling SUV or truck that is meant for towing trees when you are the only one driving? Does your child have to participate in the “best” pre school, be in all the activities and take prep programs for a expensive private college?

    • Kalie says :

      Distinguishing wants and needs is important, though sometimes difficult because of cultural assumptions. Good examples, thanks!

  8. Mr Zombie says :

    This. Is. Awesome.

    That is all.

    *Motivation refilled*

    Mr Z

  9. Victor says :

    Neil i love this this post and how you show how Materialism cannot bring real happiness, just temporary imaginary happiness that will fade away in a moments time.

  10. David Paxton says :

    Outstanding post and full of wisdom. Madison AVE has destroyed many lives by convincing us that we have to smoke this to get that guy, drive this truck to get that girl etc. etc. What I would give to have know what you shared 30 years ago, my life would be so different.


  11. Natasha says :

    This put into words the exact change that I pray God does in my heart. Than you so much.

  12. EL says :

    I Agree as contentment is a big part of having the right attitude in life. To me financial freedom is about having choices to do more of what you really want to do and once you reach it, things should fall into place as to how we were really meant to live life. Having money shouldn’t change you, but when you really dig deep it can change things like aka real freedom.

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