Since graduation five years ago I have lived a life of complete financial freedom. After a six years struggle with my economy as a student, working extra on weekends and still many times not affording more than beans or plain pasta for food, I made a thing out of not caring about my spending once I got my first salary. My first job was a pretty sweet expat package deal in Asia where there was no way, regardless of how hard I tried, that I could spend even a third of my income (travels excluded). I lived alone in a new built fancy apartment made for several big families, I had a full time maid and cook, and a private driver. I was 25 years old. The savings I accumulated I spent on travels. I went somewhere almost every month, once I even bought 10 flights in the same month. The point is, I never made any financial planning or budgeting, I barely even looked at my bank account.
It was much later, towards the end of my time in Barcelona last year, that I started with personal budgeting. I realized I needed to start saving to provide options for myself and put a limit even on traveling. However, now I am following an absolute minimum spending budget, as I have zero income, and it’s a whole new ball game. But to be honest, I get a kick out of it. I have always loved challenging and pushing myself and to me it has now become a personal quest to live on as little as possible. Living on the edge is where you can feel life the most, both its ups and downs. Having complete financial freedom feels great and it’s liberating, but can honestly also make you a little numb. Living on an extreme where every spending hurts makes you feel alive. It fills your life with appreciation and gratitude.
As soon as I took the decision to enter a life without income, a shift of perspective started to take place in my mind. It’s a perspective that was a bit unexpected and that I am very grateful for, I hope it stays with me forever. The revelation I had was that I started seeing money and spending as time, and more specifically as freedom. I knew that I could live a decent life with a monthly total budget of 1000 euros (at least in Spain and Brazil), which translates to roughly 30 euros per day (incl. rent). This means that for every 30 euros I spend that is not absolutely crucial for my survival and well being, I cut my own time and freedom with one full day. Going out for dinner at a nice restaurant? It costs me two days. Buying a new pair of shoes? Three days. A return flight ticket to Sweden from Barcelona? One week. In December last year I walked the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and before the journey I felt that I needed a high quality rain and wind jacket. Still being partly in my old financial mindset, I bought a Patagonia jacket online for 500 euros. I realized that I had bought a jacket I wasn’t sure I was even going to use after the trip for half a month of freedom, and I decided to return it before it even arrived. That was the turning point that lead to a big shift in my mind and behavior. Today I think twice before every single spending and in addition to giving me a better personal economy, it has made me seriously question materialistic possessions, and spending in general. The simplicity and feeling of freedom that this perspective brings is amazing. My life has become so much more focused and clear. Having the pressure of no income automatically creates a clear separation of things I want from things I need. I have started to love this simplicity, clarity and focus. It has become part of who I am, and it has made me stronger.
However, having now lived on both sides of the spectrum, I have to admit that there is in a way as well great freedom in financial security. The life I lived before gave me the privilege to never have to think about money and I was free to do or buy what I wanted. Life sort of felt like I was in an amusement park and I had a free pass to go on whatever ride I wanted. In a way, that was incredibly liberating. I don’t regret having lived the way I did, I got to experience a way of life that only a very small percentage of the world have the chance to, I’m happy I gained that perspective and I truly feel that I made the most out of the life I had. That is why I felt I was 99% happy, my life was really, really good. I just felt I could do more, that I could be more. I think it was my thirst for new experiences, for growing and for new perspectives on life, that ultimately made the decision to change for me. After having lived “the good life” for half a decade, I was ready for a new way of living, I was ready to hit the bottom. In fact, I was looking forward to it.
As I mentioned, I prioritized travels and new experiences over savings, and I do not come from a family of money. I have already gotten a taste of the pressure that comes with no income. I know that my days are limited and if I don’t “make it” before my savings are finished, I might have to give up on my dream. I am witnessing one of my best friends, with whom I live here in Rio de Janeiro, going through this pressure quite intensely right now, which makes it all the more real to me. He is now on his 21st month without income working on his start-up, and he has about two months worth of savings left. He is an extremely optimistic person so he handles it exceptionally well, but what is even more interesting is that he argues that the realization that his time is limited automatically makes him more aware and pushes him to truly make the most out of it, and the closer he gets the more motivated he becomes. He means that for him, there is no plan B, he believes so strongly in his dream that nothing else matters, he is all in. In fact, he argues that thinking about a back-up plan would only interfere and restrain his focus and commitment and perhaps even stop him from reaching his dream.
We often hear that people who have a near death experience or people that are diagnosed with a limited time left to live, go through a major shift of perspective when they get close to death. Realizing that our time is limited is perhaps the most effective tool we have to fully live. This seems to be valid for business and chasing dreams just as it is for life. Steve Jobs used to say that death is the single best invention of life, and as he so eloquently put it:
“Almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
All love and no fear,