7 Steps to Financial Freedom for Women
It has been a year since I discovered (by accident) that I was paid way less than my colleague. By way less, I mean that my colleague, a woman no less, was paid 47% more money than me for virtually the same job. We had the same degree, managed similar sized teams (of 20 staff), and she was only a couple of years older than me. Since that day, I have had deep questions of self-worth, and a huge amount of personal development and personal growth.
Women, Finances, and Self-Worth
The most impactful money book on my journey was “Worth it” by Amanda Steinberg. In fact, I’ve read it twice. First, as a library book on my tablet, then as a hard copy book from the store (covered in sticky notes).
I love the way she links women’s relationship to money back to their values, the way they see the world, and their own sense of self-worth. I love the way she challenges, inspires, and motivates you to want to change your own assumptions - not because you should, but because it will benefit you. Pretty much I just LOVED this book and the message she gave.
Now that a year has gone by, it’s also interesting to reflect on the things that haven’t changed. Despite huge life changes in the past year (I quit my job and took a brave leap into the unknown and started my own consulting company), it’s interesting to reflect on the ways in which I have not changed – I am still uncomfortable talking about money.
When I started Balancing Bravely, I had a vision that one quarter of all posts would be about finances, but I struggle to write the posts about money. For a while I thought it was because I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough, competent enough - so I read more and more. But, I can see now that my reluctance to talk about money goes so much deeper than that.
Why are women so uncomfortable talking money, finances, and financial freedom?
It all comes back to my money story, the story that has been running in my mind about my relationship with money. My story was:
“If I work hard and don’t complain, then I will get paid what I am worth.”
I can see now that this is blatantly not true. I have significantly changed the way I approach money and getting paid this year. But at my core, I realized that money is not my top priority - it probably doesn’t even make the top 5.
I want a job I love. I want a job that is intellectually stimulating. I want a job where I believe I add value to the world. I want to spend quality time with my family, enjoying the small magical moments. I want to have friends with whom I can be totally honest and share my true self. None of these life goals are about money.
At the end of the day, I don’t value money as a top priority.
Money, Values, and Work-Life Balance
Even if money is not one of my primary motivators, even if I don’t want money to override my other decisions, I have grown to see how money provides stability and then freedom – freedom to take greater risks, freedom to try to new jobs, freedom to give my children opportunities.
But how do I reconcile these two perspectives?
When I feel stuck and torn between different perspectives like this, I know that I need to ground myself back with facts, steps, and stages (that’s the researcher in me). I want something solid and concrete to work through and work towards.
I was in exactly this head space, stuck, spinning out, confused about money, when a book I had pre-ordered arrived on my doorstep. Literally, I opened the door and there was my Amazon package - Millennial Money by Grant Sabatier. That night I dove right in and within a few pages came across what Grant calls the Seven Levels of Financial Freedom. As I read them and processed, I knew this was a starting place, a great concrete way that we can temper our emotional reactions to focus on the facts.
1. Clarity - when you figure out where you are and where you want to go
I think it would be easy to skip over this stage, but it’s been a year since I first started thinking about this and one thing has become very clear to me in that time: “If you don’t know what you want, you can’t ask for it, and it’s not very likely you will get it.” Take the time, figure out what you want - not just how much money you want, but what your life would look like in an ideal scenario - what is your Tuesday morning?
2. Self-sufficiency - when you earn enough money to cover your expenses on your own
Are you living independently or with support from parents or others? I want to add a caveat that if you are a family unit (e.g., with a spouse and kids), then the question is really, “is your family self-sufficient?” Each adult does not need to be self-sufficient and separate from the other.
3. Breathing room - when you escape living paycheck to paycheck
For many people, this seems to be a magical moment, stress levels decrease, happiness increases, you can really start to dream. Once you reach this level, I think it’s totally worth it to revisit your #1 - what does your dream life look like?
4. Stability – when you have six months of living expenses paid and you have repaid bad debt (e.g., credit card debt)
I love that this is called stability, because I think for so many mothers, we are looking for stability, so once we get here, we think we have “made it”. We are at the end of the line. We can see how far we have come and how comfortable this is, so we settle. I definitely settled. I paid my bills, I paid down my mortgage, I took my 1.5% cost of living increase, and I felt like I was on a long road to ultimate financial success and retirement. But Grant Sabatier has 3 more levels after this!!! This is literally half way.
5. Flexibility – when you have at least 2 years of living expenses invested
Wow! This seems like a huge accomplishment. I will admit that I’m not yet here, but working towards this. What I love about this is that it seems concrete and achievable. When I run a retirement calculator and get a number in the millions, it feels overwhelming and unachievable. When I think about saving up 2 years of living expenses, that seems possible - not easy (I have a mortgage and daycare to pay for), but possible.
6. Financial independence – when you can live off your investment income, so work becomes optional
If #5 seemed like an accomplishment, this seems like a pipedream, but I can see how they build. If you have reached flexibility, this is a lot more work, but just another step in the journey, albeit a BIG step (Grant says this is the biggest leap of the 7).
7. Abundant wealth – when you’ll have more money than you’ll ever need
I take financial independence as a pipedream, so this is literally beyond what I can imagine right now. I figure I can think about it more as I start transitioning from Flexibility to Financial Independence.
First, start by figuring out your money story – what is the story you have been telling yourself about your relationship with money?
Second, review the 7 steps to financial freedom. Start by getting clarity on your money goals. Then figure out where you are in the seven steps and start to imagine how you will work your way to the next level. Don’t get discouraged by where you are in the process, focus on how far you have come and where you are going next.
What is your money story and are you ready to create a new one?