Jamila Souffrant talked to Easy Money about her journey to financial independence and how to get started on your own.
It took hitting rock bottom for Jamila Souffrant to shift her approach to money. In 2013, she was commuting from New Jersey to Brooklyn for work, a journey that typically takes up to two hours. Her commute was hell the day she had her financial epiphany.
“I was pregnant and traffic was really bad that day,” she said. “It was like three, four hours to get home one way, and everything was going wrong. I just remember being in the car, breaking down crying and saying to myself, ‘I can't do this.’ Then I had this kind of awakening that I had to figure something out.”
From there, Jamila went to work on prioritizing her goals to become financially independent. In 2017, she launched her blog Journey to Launch, followed by her podcast, as a way to document her personal journey.
This week we caught up with Jamila and talked about where she is in her journey to financial independence and how you can begin your own.
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We're all on a journey, whether we know it or not. Oftentimes it depends on where you find out [financial] information or when you have this realization, but it's never too late. I don't care whether you're in your 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s — there is a way for you to start and be in a better position to give yourself more power.
The first step is getting the emotional side of it down. We tend to focus on the numbers because you can actually see your progress with the numbers, like paying off debt, saving or investing. I think really the hardest part is the mental and emotional part of the journey. The first step is just believing that you can do it.
The way I like to talk about financial independence is to break it down into stages because I think it feels like a very hefty goal. The ultimate idea is that you don't have to ever work again for money and live off your investments. There are stages that you go through to reach ultimate financial independence that can make it more achievable. Every stage you get to unlocks a new level of freedom.
The first stage is the explorer stage where you're figuring it out. Maybe you can't pay all your bills. The first step is getting to a place where you can at least pay your bills and your living expenses and not have to put things on credit cards to survive.
The second stage is getting consumer debt free, where you're working on getting out of consumer debt and targeting your high-interest-rate debt, which may take a while. All these stages can take a while, depending on your starting point and your income and expenses.
The third stage is the wealth building stage and asset accumulation stage. Once you're out of consumer debt, now you have an opportunity to save and invest more of your income for whatever goals you have. And again, that can take a while depending on your goals.
Then the fourth stage, which is the stage I'm currently in, is the work flexibility stage. You’re not at the point of never having to work again, but because you've got your finances in order, you have options now. Maybe you can quit a job, like I did, and try something new or change careers. Or take a break and have kids if you want or travel the world. It’s all about having more options. You do have to earn money at some point again, but you can do that from a place where it feels like more power.
The final stage is complete financial independence, where you never have to work again because you’re earning enough in passive income or your investments. That's the ultimate goal, but breaking it down like this shows people that there are stages to it. Completing each stage is an accomplishment, it feels amazing and you can start to move up.
I'm at stage four where I have work flexibility to the point where if we never invested in our retirement accounts again, we would have enough at our standard retirement age where we wouldn't have to worry about money. But in the meantime we have a lifestyle we want to keep up, including our kids.
While I don't necessarily have to work, I'm not at a place where I can say I never have to work again. I’ve reached flexibility where if I actually wanted to take a break and not work for a couple of years, I could do that. But that's all because of the groundwork that led up to that.
Financial independence [isn’t just about] reaching a goal and never working again, or having enough money saved and invested. That might not be realistic, but you can get to a point where you have options and flexibility to enjoy your work and not have to worry about money.
Everyone makes mistakes. I still make mistakes, honestly. So I would say I definitely didn't start out strong. I didn't really understand the power of investing or retirement accounts.
For example, when I first started working full-time in my twenties, I knew I had the option to invest in my 401(k), but I thought to myself: ‘Wait, where does this money go? And I can’t see it until I'm 65? I was like, no, I want everything now.’
I didn't start aggressively saving and investing until my early 30s and I was doing the bare minimum in my 401(k). I would say not starting earlier is always something that I know most people including myself, wish was different.
So many of us are going through the same emotions and feelings around money. A lot of it is because we're just not talking about it with each other, and because everything we want to do in this world is not always the way life goes. Achieving financial independence does involve having some level of financial stability and using money is a tool. Money impacts everyone and everything when you have it, and when you don't have it.
The more we normalize talking about [money], the better it will be. More people will feel comfortable talking to a friend or family member if they have questions, or seek out personal finance podcasts or blogs that can inspire you to make changes in your own financial life.
Talking about money more unlocks possibilities — some of these which you might not have thought possible. For example, I didn't know about index investing and I'm just starting to learn about cryptocurrencies. A lot of personal finance happens through talking to people, being exposed to it and learning about it. All of that can also make things less scary, so it’s important to do the first step and tell yourself it’s possible to accomplish.
Having a community and inspiration is important. You know, if you try to embark on [financial independence] by yourself, it can be very lonely and isolating, so having people who can cheer you on [is key].
My financial goal right now is to lean into spending more money on the things that I enjoy. I feel like I'm at that place where we're saving and investing, so finding a more balanced approach to financial freedom and still focusing on the quality of life now. So I prefer a more balanced approach, meaning I want to take vacations, I want to put my kids in activities and not worry about every single penny. It's about being able to enjoy the now, and your money in a way that you're not feeling guilty about spending.
There's some people who feel bad spending or enjoying money, but there's a way to do that responsibly and not sabotage your goals. For me right now, it's continuing to strive toward financial independence and also not waiting to enjoy life. I want to enjoy my freedom now and the money now.
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko; photo courtesy of Jamila Souffrant
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