Growing up, I never really had a proper understanding about money, and have never heard about the term “financial freedom”. To me, to be rich means to have nice cars, big houses, and the ability to travel or buy whatever we desire. Because that was the kind of “rich” life I saw when I was just a kid.
But as I grow up and pick up more about personal finance and financial freedom, I came to realise that financial success does not equal to financial freedom.
One prominent doubt was that no matter how rich they claim or show they are, they never seem to stop working, never seem to have time for themselves or their family.
The media often portray financial success as having supercar, luxury watches, mansions, private yacht, private jets or even to an extent that we ordinary people simply couldn’t imagine. (Have you watched the movie Crazy Rich Asians?) Even more often, we see these luxury in online scams, targeting our deepest desires or pain points.
The problem is, the way they are portrayed may not be real or legit financial success, or it seems too unrealistic that it sets our motivation off.
Today in this article, we are going to discuss why financial success can be disguised, and is definitely not the same thing as financial freedom.
We all feel amazed by big houses, nice cars, and we assume that people who can own these things are definitely successful financially. That is why, as one progress in their career or business and increase their incomes, these “assets” usually comes along in their possession. If you’re Asians, your old folks probably talk you into getting a car and a house as you begin your career.
But are home or car owners financially free? Are home and cars really assets? Very unlikely. Why? Mortgage!
Most people would buy houses and cars with a loan from the bank, and the bigger their income, the bigger the loan the bank will approve, and the better and more they think they can afford. As long as their next paycheck continues to come in and they are able to pay off that mortgage.
And if they can’t, the bank evict them and take back the houses and cars. So tell me, are those houses and cars your assets or liabilities? And whose assets are them exactly? You or the bank?
(Don’t get me wrong, even Mark Zuckerberg has mortgage for his $6 million house too, to perhaps all people on earth, mortgage is essential for us to own a house or a car. The question is, is this property an asset to us? Because to acquire financial freedom, we need to acquire assets that put money in our pocket, not just make us look or feel rich)
Buying power used to be an accurate measure of one’s wealth, and then credit shows up.
With credit, you don’t even have to be rich to buy the things that will make you look rich.
With credit, A RM4899 iPhone 12 Pro will now cost you only RM204 per month.
Have RM2000 to spare every month, great! You can buy a RM500,000 condominium per month.
As long as their next paycheck continues to come in and they are able to pay off that credit card bills.
Well, either we are real rich or just “rich”, spending our money on things and experiences is actually how most of us have lived our lives, or witness how others live their lives. At least they get to enjoy the things with the money we don’t have yet, right?
If you notice, I repeatedly highlight the phrase, “as long as their next paycheck continues to come in and they are able to pay off that mortgage.” In one word, income determines everything. Income determines how much credit or loan we can get from the bank, and what kind of lifestyle we can afford. As long as our income streams keep flowing in.
The problem is, if your income sources comes from the traditional way, which is working a job, you are trading money with your time and health, which is finite.
It does not matter if you are in a skilled profession or an ordinary salaryman, our income increment usually can’t keep up with our expenses, because of the increase of our obligations and inflation. Our time is finite and our body is not a machine, we cannot work forever. And we don’t know what life will throw at us next.
The true price of the things we buy may not be printed on it. If you earn RM2,500 per month and you buy a RM4,899 iPhone, you’re paying it with two months of your life.
Everyone Can Live Lavishly, Not Everyone Can Live Freely
COVID-19 is the best example, the world suddenly stood still. For many of us, we lost our jobs, our businesses get badly affected, our steady income stream suddenly stop flowing, but the bills continue to come in anyway, we begin to worry about our house and car instalments and credit card bills.
We look around us and realise not everything we buy do add to our net worth. Not every asset that we possess is really an asset. Not everything belongs to us.
So what really is Financial Freedom?
Thank you for reading until here. If you are feeling uncomfortable after reading this article, don’t be. This article is not to promote minimalist or monk-like lifestyle, after all we are ordinary human beings with basic desire, it is natural to desire over material possessions, or experiences.
There is no right or wrong if you are living frugally or living lavishly or living moderately, we all have different life circumstances to deal with, but I do hope that you always live within your means. In the end, it is our own choices that make up our present life.
The question I would like us to think is that:
Is this what you want? Do you regret?
We will dive into financial freedom deeper in the next article, stay tuned!