Freedom is just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

Some of the people I know who were making buckets of money a couple of years ago are going through some hard times.  And, some of my closest friends have become the victim of layoffs.  In this economy, so many people are crying the blues.  So, I thought I would pass along some uncommon wisdom from a lady who wasn’t known for her financial prowess.  But, she truly did have nothing left to lose and she didn’t care if the whole world knew it.

Feeling Good was Good Enough for Me

Janis Joplin 1943 - 1970

Image by Ian Burt

Looking back at some of the toughest times in my life, I can honestly say that I was happy.  When I was 21 and very broke, I could survive a whole day on a hamburger and find beauty in the sunset, while I was surfing on an empty stomach.  I didn’t need any material goods to make me happy.  I was happy just to lay in the sun and have a roof over my head.

Obviously, my life got a little more complicated after I got married, had kids and bought a house.  But, I felt the same simple pleasure when I was laid off for six months in 2002.  I would sit on a bench at the beach eating a bean burrito and think about how lucky I was to be sitting in the sunshine.

The main difference between these two periods in my life is that I had money saved up the second time around.  So, I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to pay my bills or find my next meal.

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

This week, I was looking at motor homes on Craigslist.  I’m not ready to buy yet, so I was just dream shopping.  Anyway, I came across a beautiful Class A motor home that was for sale in a bankruptcy auction, along with a Mercedes 560 SL.  I thought it was a cruel twist of fate to lose everything in a bankruptcy auction.  But, that’s the risk people take when buying expensive items on credit.  Income can disappear quickly, while payments last for years.

It doesn’t really matter how much money people make or how many toys they buy.  If they continuously spend more than they earn, sooner or later, they will be headed for bankruptcy.  On the other hand, if they can afford some toys and experiences without going into debt, then why shouldn’t they enjoy them?  Life is short and happiness can be fleeting.

You Know you Got it, If it Makes you Feel Good

For me, happiness doesn’t come in a box or from a store.  It doesn’t come with leather seats, Hi-Def or a swimming pool.  It comes from the freedom to do as I choose and the ability to live without worry.  The most important things in my life aren’t things all.  They are the people, places and experiences that brighten my life in countless ways.

Looking ahead, my fondest dream is to return to the simple happiness I felt as a young man.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to give up all of my possessions and live an idle life.  It means I’m going to pay off debt and save money, so I can enjoy my days without worry.  And, I am going to cultivate income streams that can’t be taken away by an angry boss or a fickle economy.  At least, that’s my dream for now.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that saving a little bit of money right now could help avoid a whole lot of worry later on.  And, spending a little bit of time planning for the future could provide a life of peace and happiness.

“Don’t compromise yourself. It’s all you’ve got.”

Janis Joplin – American Blues Singer

Recommended Reading

Financial Samurai – A Little Inspiration Means so Much
Online Investing AI – Are Gadgets Better than Financial Freedom?
Live Richly – Advice to my 18 Year Old Self

This post was featured on the Carnival of Personal Finance over at Magical Penny. This week, I made the Editor’s Choice for my post.  Check it out.

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22 comments to Freedom is just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

  • Hi Bret,

    I have been thinking about this quite a bit recently. To some extent, I think it depends on the person. I am like you. I love freedom. I would rather be broke and free than rich and imprisoned. It seems that you might agree…besides, a bean burrito only costs $2 or $3. It’s not that much!

    But other people are not like that. They feel that security is paramount. So they go for the “secure” job. And all the debt that comes with it.

    People with dead end jobs are imprisoned, but they don’t notice it. I wonder if their desire for freedom will be stirred when they realize they are chained to that desk.

    By the way, I have been looking at motor homes on Craigslist too! It’s amazing how cheap they are.

    George recently posted..Four Tips To Stay Productive When You Work At HomeMy Profile

    • George,

      I’m pretty lucky to have my secure job and dreams of financial independence. As soon as my house is paid off, it opens up a lot of possibilities. I just need to turn up the effort on my side-gigs to speed up the clock. But, I’m also trying to enjoy some of my free time. It’s a balancing act, for sure.

      Gas is almost $4 per gallon, so I’m not surprised the prices of motorhomes are dropping. That’s one of the reasons I am holding off. It would double the cost of gas for my desert trips. Right now, I’m sleeping in the shell on my F-150. I’m about two years from having a nice little used Class C.


  • Security means more as you age. You can be happy with no material goods at age 25 because there is no inner voice saying that you should have accumulated material goods or done something important by this point in your life. There is such a voice when you are 55 and for good reason. If you have accumulated no material goods or have done nothing of significance by age 55, you are headed into rough waters and running out of time.

    For me, happiness comes from having a story of my life progress that makes sense. I could be happy at 25 with no goods but I needed to have ambitions or I wouldn’t have felt right about myself. At 55, I would need to feel that I had pursued the dream I had at 25 where it led me. I would need to feel that I had been putting forward a serious effort. Otherwise I could not feel good about myself even in the warmth of the sunshine.

    It’s probably easier to be happy at 25 than at 55. But complete happiness is easier to achieve at 55 because at 25 you cannot be entirely sure that you will follow through on your dreams while at 55 you have a track record that proves it one way or the other. An age-55 happiness is a more confident happiness than an age-25 happiness.

    Rob Bennett recently posted..VII 27 — Not One Study Supports the Claim That the Market Is EfficientMy Profile

    • Rob,

      Contrary to the picture I painted in my post, I worked pretty hard when I was 21. I was working for my brother’s landscaping company, but I didn’t make very much. It was the consequence of some poor decisions I made in my youth. But, I picked it up soon after and worked myself out of a hole.

      I guess the reason for this post was that I went overboard with work in my late 20s and early 30s, to the point where my life was out of balance. The 2002 layoff really put my life back into perspective.

  • This is such an eloquent post, Bret.

    I am blessed right now to be employed in an job that pays me *extremely* well. Still, sometimes I wish my life was so much simpler — without the hassles.

    Dare I say this, but sometimes I wish I was laid off, so I might experience those joys of a simple life.

    I know. Be careful what you wish for. In reality, my industry is in so much trouble, I may actually get my “wish” sooner rather than later.

    All the best,

    Len Penzo dot Com

    • Len,

      These are scary times for government employees and contractors. Everything is under a microscope right now and it’s only going to get worse. The fact that you have made it through so many cuts so far is a positive sign.

      When I got laid off after the tech bubble burst, I had worked for 20 years straight and had never been out of work. It was a nice change of pace and an eye-opening experience. The novelty wears off after months of looking for a job. But, it made me reconsider how my goals and identity were tied to my job.


  • I love the Janis Joplin tie-in and totally relate to the message. I also yearn for a simpler life and hope we all get to realize that dream.

    • Thanks Kay Lynn. Things rarely get simpler for me, unless I make it so on purpose. I look forward to seeing you at the Blogger Meetup.

  • Thought-provoking post.

    Really, for me it’s about saving so that I have the freedom of choice. I don’t want to get older and find that I don’t have enough money to survive. It’s my driving motivator, and along with that comes the idea of having the freedom to make decisions that are about happiness as opposed to need. For example – working when older because I desperately need to pay bills seems horrible. But choosing to work when older because of intellectual fulfillment – or sitting on a beach watching sunset instead – or volunteering my time to help those in need – all seem good because of freedom of choice.
    Squirrelers recently posted..Millionaire Goal Consider Time Value of MoneyMy Profile

    • Wise Squirrel,

      I’m about 20 years away from retirement and it gets a little more important every day. Luckily, I have been saving since I was young, so I should be in pretty good shape. The way things are going with the government, pensions, banks and social security, anyone who isn’t paying attention and getting prepared is taking a risky path.

      As for the freedom part, that dream gets stronger in me every day. I’m hoping I don’t have to wait 20 years to survive without a paycheck.

  • Jess Hall

    Very inspiring post! I also find pleasure and freedom of life in the experiences/relationships that I’ve been able to cultivate throughout the years. I also agree with you regarding the peace of mind that savings brings to our lives….it’s definitely the most important (and most over looked) part of our financial lives. I have recently had the chance to invest in a couple high interest money market accounts, after a few years of taking a % of my paycheck and saving….cant wait to invest it in my own place! Hope your article/story inspires others to save and plan for stable years to come 🙂

    • Jess,

      Having my own place is a big part of the freedom I enjoy. And, having a house where I love to live is the icing on the cake. I know home ownership isn’t for everyone. But, for me, it’s the only way to live.

  • Can’t pass up an article with a picture of Janis Joplin!! Now that was a great band! You reminded me that my all time favorite activity is FREE. Sitting on the beach! Nice article.
    Barb Friedberg recently posted..GET RICH THE CHARLIE SHEEN WAY!My Profile

    • Barb,

      It looks like I drew in a lot of Boomers with the Janis theme. Even my Mom sent me an email, saying it brought back memories. Her music is just so powerful that I hoped it would stir up some emotions. I had a lot of fun writing this post.

  • Hi Bret, thanks for the link! This is a really unique post. Janis definitely let it all hang out, and unfortunately she ran out of luck.

    Speaking of luck, I feel fortunate that I’m not scraping for cash all the time like I was in my twenties. I do know what you mean about taking pleasure in the simple things that are often free. I’ve done very well with some of my investments, and I’m also working on those income streams you mentioned. I don’t want to be worrying about money in my old age and having to make impossible choices, like what to have today, medicine or food?
    Jennifer Barry recently posted..Egypt- Bernanke- and the Rising Cost of FoodMy Profile

    • Jennifer,

      Amen, on not wanting to worry in my old age. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of people I know and it keeps me motivated to save for the future.

      One issue in the back of my mind is that I don’t want to become the Old Computer Dude. It’s tough to find IT jobs in your 60s. That’s why I want to diversify my income now.

  • Hi Bret,

    Psychologists have found we all have set points of happiness, and they’re actually very hard to move. Optimistic people can bounceback from even terrible things like losing the use of limbs, whereas downbeat folk like me can shrug off a lottery win pretty quicky.

    It’s probably one reason why wealth makes so little difference to measurable happiness after the baseline needs are met.


    • Monevator,

      I guess I’m lucky to have always had a sunny disposition. I also think where I live helps a lot. It’s hard to be depressed when the sun is always shinning.

  • You always have the beach and the sun… two things we’re sorely missing here right now with the wind howling outside my window! Can’t believe it’s almost April and we’re still dealing with subzero temperatures. 🙂
    Invest It Wisely recently posted..The Credit Card Misinformation Sampler- 2 Busted Myths and 3 Mistakes You Should Never MakeMy Profile

    • It’s been a crazy year for weather. It was a rainy year for us, but at least we didn’t get the huge showstorms you guys got. Hopefully, you guys will thaw out soon and enjoy a nice summer.

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