Creating a roadmap to financial independence

One of the narratives that often remain untold during the celebration of political Independence from Britain every August 6 is about personal financial independence and its importance. We know the rocky but ultimately thrilling story of the country's struggle for self-government and emancipation from the clutches of slavery. But what about personal financial independence?

What is financial independence?

You may think financial independence, or financial freedom, is self-explanatory. But the truth is that it means different things to different people. For some, it's about paying off credit card and other debt. For others, it represents their ability to meet financial obligations without assistance from family. Others think it's being in a position to provide financially for their children's education. And still others think financial independence comes with retirement when they are finally able to do the things they've always wanted to, like travel. In actuality, these are only some by-products of financial independence.

Financial independence really means having enough wealth to live on without working. Well, not if you don't want to. Because let's be clear, there are people who have no desire to stop working. But the bottom line is that a financially independent person has enough assets, investments, savings, and cash at hand that can generate income or cash flow that is at the very least equal to their expenses and will see them living happily and comfortably. With this in mind, can you say that you are financially independent? If the answer is that you are beholden to a job in order to survive from one day to the next, then you aren't financially independent.

Achieving financial independence

In pretty much the same way that our heroes and freedom fighters mapped out a plan to see their fellow Jamaicans earn freedom from British rule, you must have a plan to become financially independent. That is if you really want it; there are people who don't care one way or the other. Remember there were people —ex-slaves at the declaration of emancipation in 1838, and the descendants of slaves on the eve of Independence in 1962 — who vehemently opposed self-determination. These people even today think the worst mistake was lowering the Union Jack. But if your ambition is to come as close to financial independence as is possible, you have to acknowledge that it cannot be achieved without discipline and sacrifice. Freedom in any form is not earned in an ad hoc fashion. It is hard-won and earned by hard work and determination. As the saying goes: No guts, no glory.

Come up with a strategy

To achieve financial independence you must first understand that it involves planning a long-term strategy now and sticking to it if you're in your twenties and thirties. Be warned, though, that this will mean significantly less hanging out at the "spot" and buying drinks and food every weekend.

If you're older, say, in your fifties to mid-sixties, you may not have the benefit of decades for your plan to yield fruit. Still, that doesn't obviate coming up with a strategy. At this stage, you probably would have already put your retirement-savings objectives in motion, which can help. But even if you haven't, it's still not too late. Note, however, that a riskier investment strategy might be necessary to make up for the lost time. And if you're risk-averse, it might simply mean redefining what retirement comfort means to you. Maybe you're OK with a somewhat independent lifestyle that you supplement with a passive income. It all depends on what exactly you want out of life.

But if you want full independence and never have to work again, consider the following.

1. Start by making a list of your life goals. Then decide how you will achieve them. No plan has a chance for success without first articulating what you want.

2. Make a monthly budget to cover your expenses and stick to it.

3. In that budget make allowances for paying off debt fully, especially credit cards. Going forward, carry as little debt as possible. Avoid spending more than you can afford. If you can't clear your balance in full each month, this means you can't afford what you're spending

4. Set up an emergency savings fund that you automatically contribute to each month, as well as contribute to your employer's retirement fund. Yes, even if you're many moons away from retiring.

5. Begin investing now to start building wealth. Read financial news. Ask knowledgeable people who are money pros — mentors, relatives, financial advisors — if you need help.

Bottom line

The road to financial independence requires a lifetime commitment to continuous budgeting and investment. There are no shortcuts. That's why so many people never experience it. But it's achievable if you're determined and willing to sacrifice now for long-term financial reward.

Lamar Harris vice-president, wealth management, NCB Capital Markets

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