Why Independence Day Means Financial Freedom to Me

When my husband, Earl, left his job as a national accounts manager for book publisher John Wiley & Sons, the very last email he sent from his corporate account carried the subject line “Independence Day.”

Like many people who leave a job, Earl (shown at right, and above with me) used his parting missive to wish his colleagues well, to thank his mentors, and to relay his future contact information.

He also took the opportunity to declare – emphatically – that he was freeing himself from working for someone else, once and for all. “I’m happy,” Earl’s email said. “I’m going to start my own business and take my consulting activities to the next level.”

And just like that, he bid his colleagues farewell.

That was in July 2002. Earl will soon be coming up on his tenth year of financial freedom from corporate bosses, long meetings, a 9-to-5 schedule, a grinding commute, and all the other stresses that typify life in Corporate America.

Having his own business and answering to no one (except maybe God and family) has become his new reality. And that’s what Independence Day means to Earl.

Seems my husband and I are kindred spirits.

I met Earl in 2003, the same year I went through a downsizing and lost my job as a Wall Street Journal reporter for CNBC. And I wasn’t alone: 200 of my colleagues received pink slips, too, casualties of slumping advertising revenues and fiscal challenges at my former employer Dow Jones & Co, which was the parent company of the Journal at the time.

At first, I thought it was all so unfair. But once I resolved to move on with my life – which happened pretty quickly – I decided to start my own business.

My last day on air at CNBC was March 1, 2003. That very same month, I launched my own company and began working as The Money Coach.

Thus Independence Day is also about financial freedom to me. Freedom in my career choices. Freedom to say “yes” to certain clients and work opportunities — and the freedom to say “no” to others. Freedom to spend my time busily writing, doing speaking engagements or promoting my books in the media. Or the freedom to do nothing at all.

Most of all, I value – and fight every day for – the financial freedom to live my life in the manner I deem best for me and my family.

I like being able to shuttle my 5-year-old daughter to and from school every day, to take her to camp, or to watch her in swim classes and ballet lessons. And best of all, I like the fact that I work from home so I have the good fortune of juggling clients and work, and still being home when all three of my kids need me.

It’s not always easy, and I struggle constantly to maintain a healthy work-life balance. But for the most part, I’m happy with the freedom my lifestyle now offers.

In my previous work life, my hectic schedule as a full-time journalist kept me away from home and in a corporate office for far too many hours. I liked the work, but I didn’t like how I had to do it – which, frankly, was on other people’s terms.

Too often, though, we don’t have the independence to do what we want because of financial constraints. A majority of Americans have considered starting their own businesses or say they want to become their own bosses. But most people never take the plunge, largely because of their fear of losing a “steady” paycheck.

So even though there are roughly 9 million self-employed people in America, and the entrepreneurial start-up rate hit a 15-year high in 2010, overall, the U.S. lost about 1 million self-employed firms over the past three years. And many potential businesses fail to get off the ground because of fear over finances.

Similarly, 60% of workers polled by Right Management said they wanted to quit their jobs – and indeed planned to do so — but only after the economy improves.

For now, many of these would-be entrepreneurs and job-seekers remain trapped in unfulfilling roles. Some of them are overworked and underpaid. Others are toiling away in the wrong industries or for companies they don’t like. Still others hate their work environment or dislike their bosses and colleagues.

On the personal front, too, financial constraints hold too many people back from achieving true happiness and independence. Countless people slog through unhappy relationships and marriages because of economic considerations. Amid the recession, the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that divorce filings were down by 40%, mainly because many couples couldn’t afford to split up. The New York Daily News called the trend “sleeping with the enemy.”

So on this July 4th holiday, as we celebrate our national independence, it’s worth spending some time thinking about your own sense of independence and what that means to you in financial and personal terms.

In my view, it’s not about the size of your paycheck, what model car you drive or the ZIP code in which you live. It’s about whether you feel imprisoned by your financial standing or liberated by it.

Regardless of whether you make $25,000 a year or $25 million, if you’re managing your money properly and living a lifestyle that gives you room to breathe and grow and live life on your terms – well, then, that’s cause to rejoice.

That’s one of the very best ways to live out the true meaning of financial freedom on Independence Day.

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