I’m an old skool frugalist on a quest to reach financial freedom.

Although I’m frugal, I’m not cheap—quite the contrary. I have a refined palate with a taste for quality, but I don’t need nor want lots of things, just a few select well-made, beautiful items that add value to my life.

Deep frugal tendencies dovetail with my limited interest in material possessions, but frugality hasn’t always been my guiding force. At one time in my life (in a galaxy far, far away) I worked in the fashion industry. I was in deep credit card debt. It’s true I had killer shoes, but I could barely keep up with the minimum payments. The idea of financial freedom was far from my mind.

By a stroke of good fortune, I’ve always had a money-saving streak, despite my youthful, careless spending (of money I didn’t have).

Unlike lots of people I knew at the time, I never defaulted on my credit cards, and to this day, I maintain a FICO score in the top two percentile (which means nothing unless you want a loan or credit card—two things I don’t want or need).

Once I got that excessive consumption phase out of my system (a stage that would periodically resurface over the next several years) and spent the next decade recovering from the damage I did to my net worth, I got down to serious debt repayment and savings. In those years I never made much money (retail, people!), but I was able to pay off my debts, and buy a house when I was 21 on a retail manager’s wages. And that, my friends, was a long time ago.

Since then, I’ve stayed out of debt, mostly, and I’ve also bought and sold several homes. This experience has changed my perception of home ownership (spoiler: I don’t ever want to own again unless I can buy outright), but that’s a subject worthy of a post.

Life-Changing Books

In my mid-twenties, I discovered the book Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. That book changed my life and solidified the feelings I had about not wanting to be a part of the mass compulsory consumerist culture and set my commitment to live a simpler intentional life. The second book that had a dramatic impact on me was Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Your Money or Your Life makes the distinction between making a living and making a life—and this made a lifelong impression on me.

From then on I was hooked on frugality and simplicity.

In the last several years, thanks to websites like Mr. Money Moustache, Early Retirement Extreme, and Get Rich Slowly, the concept of financial independence/freedom and early retirement have been gaining steam.

For many, the idea of having enough money to retire early seems like a pipedream. But it’s not—it’s possible at any level of earning. It’s about savings rate, not how much money you make. I’m not saying it’s easy, but the formula is simple. You just have to want it enough to make it a priority.

And, although I subscribe to the philosophies of financial freedom and Early Retirement Extreme (both the book and the blog), I have been an inconsistent practitioner.

This inconsistency, sadly, has landed me past the early in early retirement, but young enough to buck  statistics and pursue financial freedom before traditional retirement age.

A word about the word retirement.

When I use that word, I’m not suggesting NOT working any longer; I mean being at a point where it’s not a financial imperative to continue working for pay.

With freedom being my deepest-held value, I want to be able to create and orchestrate my life the way I want. That means freeing myself from working for dollars so I can spend time doing the things that matter to me (and yes, some of what matters is working—I just want to be sure it’s the kind I enjoy doing).

And lest you think this early retirement/not-really-retired status (still a few years away) will put me in the leisure lap of luxury, well, no, it won’t—and I wouldn’t want that, anyway.

My plan for financial freedom will require me to live on less than 50% of what I’m currently living on, and to do so will require some fancy financial footwork and planning on my part. I’ll share more details on that process and where this will take me in a later post.

According to a MotleyFool.com article titled 10 Incredible Financial Statistics That Sum Up the Average American:

As of January 2017, the average retired worker’s benefit was $1,363 per month, which translates to $16,356 per year. Twenty-one percent of married couples and 43% of single retirees rely on Social Security for substantially all (90% or more) of their income. However, Social Security is only designed to replace about 40% of the average worker’s pre-retirement income.

A friend recently told me that she anticipates working for the rest of her life. That’s great if one is physically able. Most people who think this don’t factor in getting sick or disabled (the statistical probability) and being pulled out of the job market before they planned to be.

Do you think about your financial future? Have you thought about how you will live once you stop working—or if you have to stop working? If you are in the average range, how will you live on $1,300/month?

I hope this essay inspires people to think more strategically about their future and money. Tell me, do you have a plan?