In an article at the beginning of the year, Jacob of Early Retirement Extreme asked us what we consider freedom and whether we absorb barriers internally and limit our own freedom. Since those of us who pay off debt often refer to that blessed state of being out from under our debts as “debt freedom,” I began thinking about when and whether I’d be free and how much that mattered.
As Jacob points out, there’s an extent to which we wouldn’t notice even if we weren’t free. Some people live happily without ever leaving their country. In the States there’s an awful lot to see even if you don’t leave. I’d feel restricted, however, because I have relatives in other countries and want to be able to attend my cousin’s wedding in Canada or see my aunt and uncle’s new home in France.
There are other people who feel very restricted by 9-5 jobs. They want to work at these less or not at all. Even though many people find these restrictive, I look forward to working at a particular kind of library job–and while you can have a library on your own, I’d rather work in someone else’s archives so I don’t have to do as much admin work and can focus on the materials. That’s what I want to be free to do. So, in this case, a 9-5 is something I’d like to do for the rest of my life, because it’s my passion.
Is freedom the same for everyone, are we necessarily bound by something?
Yes, I think we’re all bound by something–and I worry about those who aren’t bound to something. We’re bound to the people we love, we’re bound to our passions and the actions we commit to to fulfill them, we’re bound to our goals.
I didn’t move to DC because I like cities, I moved here because I’m in love with someone who’s working/studying here. We didn’t have the same freedom some young couples do, but because I love him and think what he’s doing is good and he loves his work and thinks it’s good, we’re both ok with not being free for now.
Because we both have particular desires of career, we also won’t be free to move just anywhere. We’ll have to move somewhere where either we can both fulfill our main goals or one person can fulfill while one person fulfills other goals. We know that both of us will probably pass up some opportunities that we could take if we were single, but we want to be together more than have these opportunities.
What about debt freedom?
For many, debt is taken on as a trade-off for fulfilling some other goal–like a college education or having a home. The problem with debt is that, unlike living in an area or working a particular job, debt continues to hold us back after we’ve gotten the payoff. Having student loans may mean that someone can’t fulfill the non-profit career he wants until he’s paid them off. Debt is a trade-off that lingers.
That’s why I believe debt freedom is a particularly useful goal. Being free of debt (or of non-mortgage debt), means that you’re free of a long-term trade-off and able to move on. If you have plans and goals and people you love, you’ll never be entirely free to do what you want–and that’s ok, because you want your plans, goals, and people too.
If you’re free of consumer debt and student loans, then you’re able to take lower-paying jobs if that’s what you’re passionate about. You’re able to move to other countries without worrying about funneling money back to the loan payments in the states. You’re free to save up extra money and start your own business. Debt freedom is possibility.