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When I was 21, I bought a car on Craigslist for $400.

That’s not a typo. I didn’t put the decimal point in the wrong place. My car cost four hundred dollars. I negotiated it down from the asking price of $450.

I drove it for a year and a half, and I didn’t put a dime into it other than standard oil changes. Of course, I didn’t drive much.

Most of the time, I walked everywhere. To lead that pedestrian lifestyle, I needed to live in the center of town. But square footage in the center of town is expensive, so I lived in a tiny apartment. It was was so small that I could reach my kitchen sink from my bed. I could stand with one foot on my mattress and wash the dishes.

When people hear about those days, they often say: “Your life must have sucked.”

You know what sucks? Sitting in a cubicle all day. Wasting your life in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Missing your family because you need to work late.

I never have to do that again.

By ruthlessly slashing expenses that didn’t matter (while still spending lavishly on what matters most), I amassed a mountain of money, traveled the globe nonstop, and returned to the U.S. brimming with renewed energy and vitality.

That energy spurred me into creating the Afford Anything movement while also investing in real estate until I created a lifetime of self-sustaining financial freedom.

That’s how mastering your money can set you free.

If you’re looking to get out of the 9 to 5 grind and launch your own venture, you’re in the right place.

Here are the guiding principles that you can use to plan your escape and reclaim your freedom. 

Mind the Gap

You earn $X. You spend $Y. The remainder is called the “gap.”

Your job is to grow and invest the gap. That’s it. Money management is nothing more than the daily habit of minding the gap.

At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, there are only two ways to achieve this: earn more, spend less. Let’s look at both options.

Spending less is the quick win, the low-hanging fruit.

There are two surefire ways to spend less:

#1: Adopt the Anti-Budget.

Does the idea of scrutinizing a line-item budget sound super lame to you?

Cool. It sounds lame to me, too.

Don’t waste your time with it.

Instead, skim your savings off the top and live on the rest.

This is called the “anti-budget,” because you’re not detailing the amount you spend on groceries vs. electricity vs. toothpaste.

Your job is simple: automatically divert savings from every paycheck. Stash this in a separate account, which you use for debt payoff, investing, or storing cash reserves. Relax about the rest.

#2: Boost Savings in One Percent Increments.

Feel like you can’t save anything? Start with one percent of your income, which is $10 for every $1,000 that you earn.

Siphon this into savings (anti-budget style), and live on the rest. Next month, increase this by another one percent. The following month, repeat.

These one percent improvements — known as the “aggregation of marginal gains” — make a massive impact on your financial life. Within a year, you’ll be saving 12 percent; within two years, you’re saving a quarter of your income.

I’m using “save” as a generic term for any net worth improvement: investments, retirement contributions, down payments on a rental property, aggressive debt payoff, or literal cash reserves.

Don’t get stuck on this step. Obsessing about saving money is a mistake for three reasons:

  1. Mentality: In the beginning, saving money boosts your resourcefulness. Beyond that point, though, an obsession with saving money pushes you into a penny-pinching scarcity mentality. Frugal is good; cheap is not.
  2. Limitations: There’s a limit to the amount you can save. Your income, however, holds unlimited upside potential. Focus on finding opportunities.
  3. Consumption vs. Creation: A savings-and-deals focus means that you’re thinking about consumer consumption. Sure, you’re trying to buy things for less, but you’re still thinking about consumption. An earnings-and-investment focus means that you’re thinking about how to create, build and offer something valuable to the world. That’s a far better legacy.

You don’t want to spend the rest of your life pinching pennies. (What kind of a life is that?)

Implement the anti-budget; boost your savings with one percent tweaks, and then turn your attention towards the more lucrative side of the equation: earning more.

Create a “side hustle,” a microbusiness you run for roughly 5 to 10+ hours per week. This holds two benefits:

  1. You hold multiple streams of income. Don’t rely on your boss for 100% of your income. That’s risky.
  2. You can harness every dime of this extra income into boosting your net worth. After all, you don’t “need” this money. You’re already living without it.

You can read hundreds of articles about earning more on this website, including:

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The Relationship Between Money & Freedom

Afford Anything is a movement against the standard advice that you should shackle yourself to a desk for 40 years, buy crap on credit, and pat yourself on the back if you save 10 percent for retirement. Ugh.

This movement is based on one radical idea: You can afford anything just not everything. Every dollar is a trade-off.

Remember how I said I lived in a super tiny apartment? And that people assumed my life sucked because of it?

My life was actually pretty awesome during those first few years. I hung out with friends. I snowboarded. I grew plants and read books and had long, leisurely breakfasts.

I had zero debt and a sky-high savings rate. I stashed fifteen percent of the income from my day job into my 401(k); I wrote freelance articles during the evenings and weekends as a side hustle and stashed every penny, after taxes, into my travel-the-world fund.

Every time someone looked at my junky old car or my microscopic apartment and said, “Wow, that sucks,” I’d think:

You know what sucks? NOT having the choice to bike across Spain, ride a camel near the Pyramids, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, view the Taj Mahal, see the Colosseum in Rome, check out Komodo Dragons in Indonesia, ride bikes in Burma, scuba-dive in Thailand, taste my way across Vietnam — all of which I did, and much more, by age 25.

Those experiences are leagues better than living in a gorgeous home.

To be clear: This proposition won’t always be an “either/or.” If you have the money to enjoy both (world travel and creature comforts at home), that’s awesome. (I easily have that type of money now — which is why I’m a massive advocate of ramping up your income and investing like a warrior.)

Investing, real estate, building businesses, creating passive income — these are self-sustaining long-term successes. Learning to be a Top Performer is crucial for the long game. This allows you to create wealth, which leads to financial freedom. And once you achieve complete freedom, you can enjoy anything.

But that’s the long game.

For the moment, living according to the above principles will help you focus on the short game: hopping onto an airplane and launching your next adventure.

One of Afford Anything’s core philosophies is that you should experience adventure at every stage of life, rather than defer happiness until the end. You should enjoy mini-retirements throughout your life; treating work and life like an interval race. You should embark on your epic travels today, while — behind the scenes — you simultaneously lay the groundwork for a permanent escape

Travel is different when you’re 25, 35, 45, 55, 65 and 75. None of these are ‘better’ or ‘worse,’ they’re just different. Not only will your own values, priorities and interests shift over time, but the world around you will also change. Nations will splinter apart or join together; leaders will rise and fall; the landscape will be different. Don’t you want to experience it all?

Here are a few more ideals this community shares:

  • It’s insane to trade time for money, only to trade that money for crap.
  • An adult should never need to “submit a request” to human resources to spend a day as they please.
  • Your money should work for you — not the other way around.

If this intrigues you, check out a few of my favorite posts:

New to the world of mastering your money? No problem. Here's the simple guide on everything you need to know about money mastery summed up in 3 words.