How to Live Free (Or Pretty Damn Close to It)

Every so often I just sit around the house and listen to music, usually from my favorite band the Beatles. This morning I was listening to Tomorrow Never Knows, John Lennon’s psychedelic ode to meditation and letting go. It got me thinking about freedom and how we can live free (not to be confused with living for free).

In order to live free, we need to make choices that release us from the binds of conspicuous consumption and support the priorities in our lives.

Living free is about having choices, which coincidentally is what we have when we minimize our consumption and maximize our finances. Sometimes our choices are limited, or we make poor choices, and that often takes us away from freedom. But if we are privileged enough to have a liberal number of choices, and we are smart and disciplined enough to make good decisions, living free becomes remarkably easy.

So here’s my take on how you can live free, or pretty dammed close to it if you just try.

1. Alter Your Mindset

In Tomorrow Never Knows, the Beatles sing, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream”.  When you think about all the stressful things you are facing everyday it can overwhelm you. Always wanting more, the bigger and not necessarily better, is never going to leave you feeling like you have enough. When I look at those who obsess over material things, I don’t see them sitting back, relaxing, and “floating downstream”, do you?

Embrace your choices and situation. Live like everything means something significant to you. The mind has powers to be able to adjust to almost anything. That’s why some people, even though they have relatively nothing compared to you and I, feel like they are blessed.

2. Downsize

We have all heard the advice that we should downsize when possible, particularly in retirement. Downsizing your day-to-day lifestyle will save you money as well as your mental well-being. The concept of keeping up with the “Joneses”, or showing off to the world with monetary successes like bigger cars and fancy clothes does not make you a contented person. Think about the rich and famous we hear about all the time who have what seems to be an enviable lifestyle yet they wind up miserable and dependent on things like drugs or alcohol. They often wind up in much worse places in the end than some regular Joe or Jane from your neck of the woods. It happens all the time.

Connecting to what’s real when you make your choices, many of them having little or nothing to do with your wants, will help you to live free in the truest sense of the word. Downsizing for me is about spending but even more than that, it’s downsizing my anxiety and worry.  When you recognize your needs and wants are choices, there’ll be a lot more “floating” going on in your life.

3. Live Within a Budget

It really doesn’t matter what your status is in life, we all have a budget. You can plan a budget with only needs in mind. Heck, you can even decide to try living the extreme budget and cut out almost every luxury you can think of and even if you then decide later on that it’s just impossible to deal with it, you still have made your own choices. And in the worst case scenario you have improved your money picture (saving some money) while you tried to actually float! I’m totally in favor of trying just that even if your commitment is for a predetermined limited time.

But even if you don’t want to cut out all your luxuries (and really, how many of us do?), the more important part is spending your priorities. First, of course, this means spending on your needs, but then which wants are priorities for you? Maybe travel, maybe a house, maybe family activities, maybe the security of having extra money in the bank. It could be almost anything, but it means planning to spend your money on what really means the most to you.

4. Enjoy What’s Free

We’re often so obsessed with the wants and entertainment we can buy that we overlook what’s free. Taking a hike and enjoying the beauty of nature. Spending time with the people we care about. Borrowing books and movies from the library. Or even enjoying the books and games and hobbies we’ve already bought but have put away and forgotten about. All of these and more can be enjoyed for no cost at all.

5. Define the Real Cost of Living

I have come to the conclusion that the cost of living today isn’t fixed or increasing necessarily. The choices I have made are the cost of living, which I decided in almost every way. I choose where I live, what I eat, and where I go and how I travel. I could do all of those things differently.  I choose and if I make good choices I feel better, and money becomes less of an issue.  There are always things I will need and I may not have a liberal number of choices, but there is still a choice.

Not everyone in this world has the power to choose and to create their own freedom. However, I am offering you these suggestions from my own experiences. If you try them, you just might feel better about some things. And as the Beatles sang, “tomorrow never knows”.

How have you changed your views on money matters and your mindset? Has it been successful in your life? Does money and only money drive you? Do you ever think about a simple life and simple ways that can be created by your choices?


  1. Jack

    Great advice! I’ve been indoctrinated from my early years to push and strive and fight to get ahead, with little attention to deciding what I want. It’s easy to get distracted by the bright lights / big city dreams when the reality is most people don’t actually want that, and even if they did, wouldn’t realize what they lost to achieve it until it was too late.

    The sooner you can learn how to focus on what you want – and even more importantly – to be able to *know* what you want, the sooner you can be happy.

  2. We’re making a choice to downsize. And I look forward to having fewer responsibilities and less housecleaning. At some point in the past I would have thought bigger is better. Not now. Less house means more experiences.

  3. I really like the alternate your mindset idea. I’m incredibly convinced that happiness is a choice. People let environment and external factors influence internal factors that they can easily control. Our bodies are controlled by our minds and our mind’s well being is the most important thing in reaching happiness and living free!

  4. Rubber soul is the album that’s been playing in my life a lot lately. Lennon had a lot of great insights.
    These are all great, and number four is probably my favourite. It seems like we try to save for these big, fun things all the time, but I truly derive the most enjoyment from things that don’t cost a cent. Great reminder.

  5. We are new to the idea of financial independence and early retirement. We have been slowly making changes and spending our money where it matters. It took me awhile to figure this thing out too. I always thought that since I was making enough for the family and we were spending a little bit less than what we were making we were doing great. I also thought that I had to work for someone else until my retirement age. Why? I don’t know.
    As you said if we try to enjoy what we already have and make good choices living free becomes easier. We automatically think that we need to spend money to feel happy or to enjoy from things and experiences . Like Finance Solver said above, I think it is all about the mindset. I lived in countries where people had less but seemed a lot happier than people over here in U.S. Too bad, it took me so long to figure it out. I think I started to mumble. Great write up.

    1. I think that understanding financial independence and living free definitely comes with growth and maturity. So it’s not surprising that it didn’t occur to you at a younger age. That’s the way it developed for me as well. There are scientific studies about the relationship between wealth and happiness and they all seem to conclude that they’re not linked the way we assume. Thank you so much for your comments.

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