The Stages of Financial Independence

You can’t go from broke to rich in a single step. There’s no magic fairy who will suddenly transform your financial life for you. You have to do it yourself. 

But you can work your way through a path that leads to financial independence and complete abundance. That path has stages and you should celebrate your progress at every stage!

Stage 0: Financial Dependence

We all begin from a place of dependence on others. You may be a young adult transitioning from under your parents’ care to being self-supporting. Or you may have hit a rough patch in life as an adult and needed the help and aid of others.

Regardless where you’re starting from, the first step is to transition from being dependent on others to being self-supporting and financially solvent.

Stage 1: Financial Solvency

The first stage of financial independence is to become financially solvent. This means that you are able to support yourself on your own income without the aid of others and that you are current on all of your bills.

There are many strategies that you can employ depending on your starting point. You may need to create an income for the very first time in your life. You may need to transition from an unreliable or low income to a bigger and better income. Or you may need some ideas to renegotiate your debts with your creditors.

It doesn’t matter why you’re behind. It only matters that you get your income to a point where it’s equal to or greater than your expenses.

Stage 2: Financial Stability

Once you’re current on your bills, you need to build a buffer account. Call it what you will–emergency fund, rainy day fund, cash reserves, buffer account–the purpose is the same.

Unexpected problems happen. Unexpected opportunities present themselves. You’ll need money. If you don’t have any money saved, you’ll fall behind on your bills and wind up in debt. Or you won’t be able to take advantage of a perfect opportunity because you didn’t have the cash.

First you figure out how much you need in the buffer account. Then you save it. Then you declare yourself financially stable.

Stage 3: Debt Freedom

If you have debt, you’ll probably want to get rid of it. Not all debt is created equal. But you’ll need to sit down and look at your debts and make a plan to dump the debt that’s not getting you closer to financial independence.

That definitely means getting rid of any high-interest rate debt. It certainly means clearing your name from any old, unpaid debts. It probably means dumping any consumer debt tied to depreciating assets. And it likely means having a plan to clear the debt on any productive business or investment assets.

Being debt free means you can enjoy greater freedom and independence in your life. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Stage 4: Financial Security

Your long-term goal is to de-couple the expenses associated with your lifestyle from your need to work to pay for them. That happens when the income from your investments is sufficient to pay for them.

This happens in stages–small at first and larger later. The first stage is to have your basic living expenses covered by your investment income.

That means your housing expenses, utilities, food, transportation, and insurance. When these basic needs of life are covered by your investment income you’ve attained a high degree of financial security.

Stage 5: Financial Independence

When your current lifestyle expenses can be met with your investment income, you’ve reached the point of financial independence! Congratulations!

You can choose to disconnect yourself from work if you want to. But of course you might choose not to.

The key at this stage is simply to know that it’s up to you!

Stage 6: Financial Freedom

It’s possible that you have some lifestyle goals which are beyond the lifestyle you’re currently living.

This might be things you desire to buy, experiences you desire to have, or philanthropic goals you wish to meet.

If so, the important thing is to clarify these goals and fund them with your investment income. At that point in time, you’re truly financially free in every sense of the word.

Stage 7: Financial Abundance

When you reach this stage of your financial journey, you’ve reached the most challenging stage of all. But it can be a very enjoyable challenge!

You’ve accumulated wealth beyond the amount needed to fund your own lifestyle expenses with a comfortable margin of safety.

Now you have to decide how to responsibly manage the surplus. How will you allocate it productively while you control it? And who will control it when you’re done with it? How will you assure that the money is used for good and not for evil?

It’s a real challenge, but it’s one faced by all those who have faithfully and steadily built wealth throughout their lifetimes. It’s the most important stage of all.

Stage 0: Financial Dependence

You need to transition from depending on the support of others to providing your own support with the work of your hands.

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Stage 1: Financial Solvency

You need sufficient income from your own efforts to pay all of your living expenses and you need to be current on all of your bills.

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Stage 2: Financial Stability

You need to save and accumulate a buffer account so that unexpected expenses and opportunities don’t cause you to fall behind or miss out.

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Stage 3: Debt Freedom

You need to make a plan to become debt free and follow through until it’s accomplished. Think and plan carefully for each debt.

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Stage 4: Financial Security

You want to have your basic living expenses covered by your investment income alone without the need for you to work.

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Stage 5: Financial Independence

Your current lifestyle expenses can be paid from your investment income without your needing to work to earn money.

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Stage 6: Financial Freedom

You’ve built your investment income to a point where it funds your current lifestyle expenses and any desired lifestyle goals as well.

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Stage 7: Financial Abundance

You’ve accumulated enough money to fund all of your desired lifestyle expenses with room to spare. Now, how do you responsibly allocate the surplus?

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Please understand that I will not be able to respond to every comment. RPF Community Guidelines.

7 Comments

  1. eric mcshannon

    I think the stages all make since. You mentioned some wanting to condense, I don’t think I would condense.

    While listening I actually visualized between stages.

    On the later stages I like to think of them the way you were leaning in this one as cash flow replacement, getting side businesses / investments that get enough cash flow to replace. With that mind set think some of us can find things that work for us that will get us there with a lot less then someone going for 4% rule.

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  2. Steve Miller

    I achieved Financial Independence at 50 yrs old (3 yrs ago). One important aspect of achieving it was tracking my expenses. Free tools like Personal Capital (http://apple.co/1IqS2Hj) make it easy.

    I also used a tool similar to Count Us Down (http://www.CountUsDown.com/Retirement) to countdown the days to financial independence. It was fun watching the days melt away and the clearer picture of FI approach.

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    • David Jones

      Agree with the countdown idea. Good suggestion. But… serious BOOOO for the spam. Especially for a product that you haven’t even finished yet. (shaking head)

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      • David Jones

        Just to clarify… BOOOOing Steve Miller who incessantly spams to build traffic to his website, promoting a product that does not exist. Def no boo for RPF! Keep up the excellent work! And congrats on the duplex. 🙂 Sounds like a win-win-win for the family.

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        • Joshua Sheats

          Ahhh, that’s helpful! I couldn’t figure it out. Thanks! I’ve never heard of the guy.

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  3. Lily @TheFrugalGene

    Great write up! Thank you for the clarity – I will reference back to this because it is much easier to explain when it’s on paper and in order than just word of mouth 🙂

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  4. Irene

    The key to acheiving FI is just living below your means. When I was a 9-5’er, I would spend $10 on coffee and $20 on lunch and $30 on dinner. I was miserable. Living on the cheap now has made me much happier and has given me more time to do what I love (surf, in my case). Everyone has a choice and if you choose to live below your means and save you will save. That’s a fact!

    Most will say they can’t live below their means because ..(insert some excuse here). How many of these people that simply CAN’T save anything have iPhones, tattoos, brand new cars, Netflix and HBOgo, eat fastfood all the time, etc.

    Of course they look at me like I’m crazy when I suggest they cut a $100+ a month cable bill. Or switch to a cheap cell phone provider like metropcs. Or drive a car that is 3 years old. Or only fill up their tank from the cheapest place according to GasBuddy. Or get $25/month budget car insurance from Insurance Panda. Or cook their own food instead of spending a hundred a week on restaurant food (or far more if they like the bar).

    We make the beds we lie in. Be responsible for yourself, and you can achieve FI.

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