Ask an Expert·6 min read

How to Get on the Financial Freedom Path, Even With Debt

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February 8, 2024

A self-taught personal finance expert, Jamila Souffrant realized that financial independence didn’t require big bucks, so much as big goals. As Souffrant plotted a path out of corporate America and towards financial freedom (aka not being dependent on a boss for a paycheck) she began a blog (which spawned a website and podcast), Journey to Launch. Now, in her book, “Your Journey to Financial Freedom,” she details the steps she took to become financially free and the benefits of making financial freedom a goal — even when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

Featured Expert:

Jamila Souffrant

Jamila Souffrant - Personal finance educator, founder of Journey to Launch, and author of “Your Journey to Financial Freedom

What was your journey to financial freedom like?

I was commuting from Brooklyn to New Jersey. In my twenties, I dealt with it. But as I got into my early thirties, pregnant with my first child, the commute became unbearable. I realized this was not something that I could sustain. So I started to research how to quit my job and retire early, which is how I found blogs and podcasts talking about the FIRE movement. I dove into that rabbit hole and learned about how people saved and invested their way to financial freedom.

Financial independence is a very lofty goal, the idea that you don't ever have to work again for money and can do what you want. It gets me excited, but I understand why some people just roll their eyes and say: "Yeah, right." But for me to even just attempt this goal, I had to think and do things differently, and I had to learn new skills. I'm still not completely financially independent, but I have work flexibility because I was able to quit my job and I'm working for myself. 

Can I achieve financial freedom on any salary?

One of the first steps, other than just mentally having the courage to start, is to look at your numbers. What do you make? What do you spend? What do you owe? What do you own? Four important things. From there, you can start to create a plan to move forward. Maybe you’re not earning much yet or you feel like you’re not earning what you should. Talking to people can help you understand that there are opportunities out there. Maybe talking to someone will help you realize a new line of work you could do or help you discover a new skill set to earn extra money. Be creative and dig deeper within yourself, which will allow you to see more opportunities.

Advice for working toward financial freedom while raising a family?

If you are already paying for daycare, sports, or other kid activities, maybe some things need to go or be done on a budget. Maybe you're not going to Disney or you have to wait a bit and figure out how to do it on a budget. It’s important to be flexible with the goals that you set for yourself and recognize that you actually can't do it all. I always say the best thing you can do for your kids is to just be financially OK, and make it so they don't have to worry about you as you get older. This could mean reframing what it looks like to give to your kids and having conversations about money with them as they grow so they realize its value and accept that you can't do everything.

I have debt. Can I still achieve financial independence?

I tell people to focus on their consumer debt first (student loans and mortgages are in a different category). It probably didn't take you just a couple of months to get into that debt, so it will take however long it takes to get out of it, even if it's a five-year journey. If you can’t think because you have debt and you can't move forward, I’d say: Take a look at the total balance of your debt and what a payoff plan looks like. People can have different paths. I think as long as you understand the trade-offs, then you own it. I'm a big proponent of still investing (even with debt), in a retirement plan or a Roth IRA. You just don't want to lose out on that compound interest.

Can I reach financial independence without giving up little pleasures?

There are stages that you travel through to reach financial independence. In the earlier stages, when you're just trying to get on your feet or get out of debt, I think you should focus more on your financial goals. That’s not to say you can't have any money set aside for going out, but the majority of your savings should go to financial goals. But as you get further along in your journey, you can spend more on lifestyle goals, and maybe even peel back on some of your financial goals. That might take a couple of years, but if you want to get out of your situation and be able to spend more on things you like in the future, then you’ve got to get out of those beginning stages.

Look at your budget to see what you're spending and where you can cut back, because you might be spending on things that you don't actually care about. Then, that money can be allocated to the things that you care about, like going out with friends. Create a budget and assign reasonable dollar amounts to different categories while you think about what you want your long-term financial goals to look like. You can also look for opportunities to increase your income.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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