Each July 4 we celebrate the nation’s freedom with fireworks, barbecues and parades.
Yet for many Americans, personal freedom can be more sobering—because it’s often tied to the less-than-stellar state of their finances.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
"My husband and I took out a 30-year mortgage, and it felt like having a rock tied around my neck,” says Paige Hunter, referring to the feeling of hopelessness that motivated the couple to rework their budget and aggressively pay down their mortgage. As a result, the Hunters are now "reaping some serious happy rewards."
That's just one of several feel-good stories we sourced from people across the U.S. who've taken control of their money and achieved true financial freedom—whether by padding a retirement account, building and then selling a business, or paying off student loans.
So here's hoping their liberating experiences inspire you this Independence Day.
“I Paid Off $30K of Debt Before Saying ‘I Do’”
Christina Yumul, 33, public relations executive, Maui, Hawaii
“When I moved from San Diego to Maui at 26, I was about $50,000 in debt due to college loans, overspending on vacations, and living the single life with my girlfriends.
Ironically, even though Maui has a higher cost of living, the lifestyle is more affordable. Nightly cocktails, expensive dinners, and weekend road trips to Palm Springs and Vegas became a thing of the past. Instead, my free time is spent hiking, at the beach, and at friends’ houses—all of which provides the same emotional satisfaction but without the high cost.
Very slowly, I started paying more than the monthly minimums on my debt, and in a couple of years, I paid off my car. My original plan was to buy a new car, but then I got engaged. My fiancé was very good with his money and never had debt. I was embarrassed by the $30,000 of debt I was bringing to the marriage, so I made a decision to buckle down and pay it off before our wedding in two years.
I signed up for automatic transfers from my paychecks to my loans. When I went to the grocery store, I only shopped for what I needed that day. I carried only my debit card in my wallet. And a couple months before our wedding, I made the last payment.
Although my initial motivation was to feel financially confident going into my marriage, going debt-free has meant so much more. I have changed my spending habits, and I now have my own company.
My husband and I save, so that we have money allocated for goals and don’t have to worry about paying it off after. Up next? We’re budgeting for a trip to New Zealand."
“I Took a Career Leap of Faith—and It Paid Off”
Bill Fish, 38, founder and president of Online Reputation Management, Cincinnati
"On September 1, 2001, at the age of 24, I signed on to a project with Nextel (now Sprint) where I would manage the upgrade of all of their cell towers so that people would be able to send photos via their phones.
I couldn’t have been more excited. Then 9/11 happened, and Nextel put the project on hold, laying off 450 people, including me.
Four months later I found a job in a completely different field, making one third the salary I had earned at Nextel. That same week, my best friend and I hatched an idea for an online marketing company.
I stayed at my ‘real job’ for one year, and worked on the new business at night and on the weekends. We were eventually acquired by a private equity company on November 6, 2006, with a nice cash payout. I vividly remember going to dinner with my wife, thinking that we were now financially free.
In roughly five years I went from losing a great job to scraping by at a dead-end one to selling a business. It was an amazing ride, and I wouldn’t change a thing."
“I Paid Off My Mortgage ... 23 Years Early”
Paige Hunter, 41, business and health coach, San Antonio
"My husband and I took out a 30-year mortgage in 2005, and it felt like having a rock tied around my neck.
So, together, we got aggressive and paid off our home within seven years.
The day we paid off the balance, I felt mounds of stress fade away. We're both kayaking buffs, so to celebrate, we purchased his-and-her kayaks—"red river Ferrari" for him and "yellow river Lambo" for me. We set sail on our maiden voyage in the San Marcos River feeling truly empowered to enjoy life to the fullest.
The best part of being financially free is being able to give to the causes that matter most to me, and traveling the world. Earlier this year we made an extended trip to Asia—visiting friends in Japan, taking a junk boat cruise in Vietnam, exploring Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and volunteering with our favorite charity in Thailand.
On the first of every month, I still get a mortgage reminder in my inbox. I haven't unsubscribed because it conjures happy endorphins. It makes me feel so proud that we teamed up to make it happen—and we are reaping some serious happy rewards."
"I have humble roots—I grew up in a small, one-stoplight town in South Carolina—so just making it to the bright lights of the big city is a huge accomplishment."
“My Savings Hit Six Figures”
Jessica Jabbar, 27, advertising executive, New York City
"I truly felt financially free when I logged into my bank account a few weeks ago and saw $100,000 of exclusively hard-earned savings.
In six years working in New York City, I went from making $6 an hour at my first advertising internship to over six figures in my current role.
I have humble roots—I grew up in a small, one-stoplight town in South Carolina—so just making it to the bright lights of the big city is a huge accomplishment.
To meet my savings goal, I set a very detailed budget, with limits for everything from groceries to entertainment. I also follow the 24-hour rule when shopping—I wait to see if I’m still thinking about an item the next day before making a purchase. And while you can easily drop $100 per person at dinner in New York, with a little more effort, you can find a hidden gem and only spend $20 per person.
Now that I've personally hit the $100,000 milestone, I need to start investing—those savings could go to better use than just earning 0.99% in a bank account."
"I Didn’t Have to Think Twice at the Gas Pump”
Terry Carter, 45, founder and C.E.O. of Travertine Spa, Santa Ana, Calif.
“After graduating from law school, it took me more than a year and a half to find full-time work. I couldn't afford to do much but look for a job, buy a coffee, and drive along the coast to clear my head.
I moved in with friends for two weeks, which became two months. I was day-trading stocks and working temp jobs to cover my bills. Eventually, I moved back home, and was finally hired as in-house counsel at a medium-sized software company.
During this time, one of my best friends and I set budget goals and agreed to call each other to rationalize any big expenses. Having to explain why you think you need a new surfboard limits frivolous purchases!
After three years of saving, I had enough for a condo down payment. About this time, I was at a gas station when I realized I no longer had to budget how much gas I put in the car. I just started the pump—and even cleaned spare papers out of my car while it filled up. This is when I began to feel financially free.
I always wanted to run my own business, and my current role as C.E.O. of the Travertine Spa Collection contributes to my feeling of financial freedom: My saving, budgeting, and strategic planning allowed me the option to change careers.”
“I Cut the Financial Cord to My Parents”
Sara Woznicki, 25, marketing specialist, Richmond, Va.
"When I graduated from college in 2013, I got an interesting job offer in Richmond and took it—in spite of a low salary.
Between furnishing a new place, paying for rent, and tackling other living expenses, my budget was very tight, and my parents graciously helped me out.
Later that year I got a higher-paying job and felt somewhat financially free as my parents began transitioning expenses to me a little at a time, so I could adjust without feeling overwhelmed.
But I didn't feel totally free until they pushed me to get my own car insurance. I was finally getting handed total responsibility, which is also total freedom.
I can't say I love paying for everything, but my parents waited until I was able to, which is a blessing. To celebrate my newfound independence, I saved up to travel outside the country for the first time."
“I Slashed My Fixed Costs ... and Built a Better Life”
Jill Bong, 37, entrepreneur, Days Creek, Ore.
"I felt financially free earlier this year when my husband and I decided to sell our high-loan-payment home in Colorado and move to a more affordable rural area in Oregon.
We had been in the process of creating a homestead—which included growing food, composting and energy production.
So we did our research, crossing out states with a high cost of living, harsh winters, too-hot summers, and poor growing climates.
We settled on southern Oregon, where we purchased 50 acres with ponds, pasture land and forest that we could pay off within five years—at just over $1,000 per month—rather than another eight years in Colorado at a $3,000 monthly payment.
Now we can afford to invest more in our food gardens, and we have more leisure time because we aren’t worrying about jobs and expenses. We can also save a lot more even though we make quite a lot less."
"I paid down $28,000 of student loans in three years—while just making around $30,000 a year."
“I Realized the True Value of My Hard-Earned Investments”
DJ Whiteside, 35, test engineer, Swartz Creek, Mich.
"My wife and I have a longstanding goal to retire early and live off our investments in ten years, when I will be 45.
Recently, we were talking about moving and decided to evaluate how much of our monthly incomes we could stop saving and defer to a mortgage, if necessary.
Our investments are worth approximately $700,000 in stock, mutual funds and cash. We ran some extreme numbers and, to our surprise, calculated that even if we stopped saving for retirement, our current investment and retirement funds would, in theory, continue to compound and grow to the point where we could still hit our target nest egg amount of an inflation-adjusted $1.2 million—and pull off early retirement.
In other words, our money is now on its own path to perpetual financial freedom, regardless of what we save from here on out.
That was a pretty powerful thing to realize. Not only did it make us both feel good about what we've done so far, but it also gave us confidence about the future."
“I Sacrificed to Pay Off My Student Loans”
Zina Kumok, 26, marketing and communications specialist, Indianapolis
"I paid down $28,000 of student loans in three years—while just making around $30,000 a year.
After putting about half of my take-home pay toward my debt, it felt so liberating to finally make my last payment.
When I watched friends go out and spend money, I felt jealous. But in the end, it was my decision to pay off my loans as quickly as possible so I could achieve my goals.
Now my husband and I have a fully funded emergency fund, as well as money for a move to Denver. And we each contribute 10% to our retirement accounts.
This financial freedom means that I don't have to fixate on money so much. If my dog gets sick, I can focus on getting her better, instead of worrying about vet bills. If we want to go on vacation, I can focus on planning a trip, instead of saving every dollar.
Money doesn't have to be my priority anymore."