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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

The Journey to Financial Freedom, Told by People Who Made the Trip

This week marks the official launch of a new book project that I’m excited and also a bit humbled to be part of.

My Money Journey (Harriman House), edited by HumbleDollar founder and former Wall Street Journal personal finance columnist Jonathan Clements, brings together the personal stories of thirty people—me included—who have found a path to financial freedom.

I’ve read a fair number of books over the years on personal finance and investing. In my view, what makes this book different is the personal element of it. You won’t find any boring charts about diversification, technical analysis, the time value of money, and other arcane topics.

What you will find are stories told by everyday people about their journeys to financial independence. We learn best through stories, and this book is rich with them. Stories of overcoming financial setbacks and mistakes; of setting goals and sticking with them through the ups and downs of the markets; of being intentional in how we think about and spend our money; of bringing a spirit of fun and adventure to the mundane business of saving and investing.

As the stories in this book illustrate, there is no one path to financial freedom, but there are some basic, time-honored principles that need to be followed. Those principles include living beneath our means, taking the long view, putting our faith in the markets, diversifying our portfolio, minimizing fees and costs, and hitting for singles, not home runs.

The stories in the book put to rest the myth that it’s impossible for a person of limited means to ever amass enough money to attain financial independence, so why bother? The people profiled in My Money Journey are not CEOs or venture capitalists earning seven-figure salaries.

They are people like you and me: a high school teacher, an Army lawyer, a Ukrainian minister, a former software engineer, a PR guy (me!). They learned what they needed to learn and applied it over long careers, in the faith that their diligence would pay off.

The idea that my own journey would be included in a book like this is a bit surreal to me, given where I started. In college, I majored in English and studiously avoided any course that had to do with financial subjects. I was fortunate, however, to have parents who taught me and my siblings the importance of saving, living simply, and avoiding the trap of debt and high interest rates.

From that foundation of financial literacy, I entered the corporate world, where I finally had some spare money to play with. By reading books and articles, including Jonathan’s columns in the Wall Street Journal, I learned about how mutual funds work and the importance of investing in low-cost index funds that track the broader market.

I learned about dollar-cost-averaging, which was huge in my journey. In addition to my 401(k), I opened a taxable account and began making small, automatic monthly investments from my paycheck. As my salary grew, I increased my monthly contributions, while also putting money away into a state 529 plan for my kids’ future college expenses.

Year by year, I saw my retirement portfolio grow along the market. It was fun watching it grow, like the seed of a tree that takes thirty years to get to maturity.

Then came the setbacks. In the Great Recession, my portfolio was devastated by the combination of a divorce along with the market meltdown of 2008-2009.

Still, I persisted—saving, investing. Buoyed by a surging market over the next decade, I was able to make up a good bit of the ground I lost, to the point where I was able to step away from the corporate world in late 2021 to pursue a second career as an author and consultant.

I don’t consider myself wealthy. I don’t own a big house. I have no expensive cars, no boats or yachts. I live simply, splitting my time between a townhouse and my small mountain house in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania.

But my goal has never been about building wealth. It was about putting aside enough that I could spend my days as I wish. I’m blessed to be able to do that now, but it took a long time and lots of diligence to get there.

That’s my story, which I tell in My Money Journey. But it’s just one story. The other 29 stories in the book are even more powerful than mine.

The point is that if we can do it, so can you.

Check out Jonathan’s article in HumbleDollar about the new book and the many comments he’s been getting from readers. I also encourage you to subscribe to HumbleDollar. The site is free and chock-full of valuable insights about money and investing.

Bon voyage in your own journey to financial freedom. Enjoy the journey!

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