Mumbai: Freedom, in essence, is the ability to live on your own terms and conditions. There are many factors that can make this happen, but financial independence figures right on top. Being financially independent gives you the wherewithal to see your plans through.

Imagine taking a break from work, but having to worry about the next paycheck instead of enjoying your downtime. Not planning and building an emergency corpus to fund your expenses for a few months means you are free to quit your job only in letter, but not in spirit. Having an emergency corpus in place would have meant you being truly free to enjoy your break.

Being financially free is important not only because you are financially equipped to meet your needs, but also because it has a positive impact on other aspects of your life such as relationships and health.

“Being financially free allows you time to invest in your health and relationships and also keeps stress levels in check. It also ensures that you are taken seriously in your relationships," said Mrin Agarwal, a financial educator, founder director of Finsafe India Pvt. Ltd and co-founder of Womantra. 

“For example, I have a client who is financially dependent on her husband and as a result other aspects of her freedom are compromised. She doesn’t have her private space as she is accountable to her husband. This also means she can’t take important household decisions and that has created a lot of angst in her," she added. 

It’s important, therefore, to understand that financial freedom impacts not just your financial health, but also dictates other aspects of your life.

But what’s it like to be financially independent? Does one have to be uber rich or win a lottery to be financial independent? Actually no; all you have to do is to ensure that you have the capability to earn and that your needs are well within your income because if the needs outstretch the income, you will never be financially free, never mind the lottery.

The key to be financially free is to be able to manage your needs in the present and in the future with the income that you have. “Financial independence is to have sufficient cash flows that support the current lifestyle of an individual and allows the person to invest for the future," said Kalpesh Ashar, founder, Full Circle Financial Planners and Advisors. “At any stage of life, it all adds up to awareness, and acceptance of your financial situation and taking suitable action," he added.

The good news is that financial freedom is achievable and according to Sachin S. Parekh, founder, Save N Protect Financial Planner, financial freedom is achieved when one’s investment income or passive income is more than the active income or income from work.

“This way you are no longer dependent on your job, but this doesn’t happen overnight. One needs to work at it and the first step towards this is to save right from the time you get your first paycheck," he added.

For this to happen you need to ensure that your savings are always more than your expenses. “In fact, by enforcing this rule your lifestyle will be more realistic to your income. A lot of people live inflated lifestyles that ends in a rude shock after retirement," added Parekh.

The next step is to convert your savings into investments. “Other than investing your money, make sure you have enough insurance to protect your health, life and assets," added Ashar. 

And it doesn’t end with managing your money alone, there are other aspects that you can work on like keeping yourself up to date to stay relevant at your work place or acquiring new skills. Being financially free is important for everyone, but this journey begins when you draw up financial goals, take stock of your financial health and then take appropriate measures to bridge the gap. 

But enough from the financial experts, let’s turn our focus on individuals. On this Independence Day, Mint spoke to a cross-section of people spanning different age groups to understand why financial independence is important and how it impacts various aspects of their lives.

We hope you gain from their perspectives and spend some time taking stock of your financial life and readying yourself to embark on the journey towards financial freedom.

Happy Independence Day!

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‘Not to run money matters past my parents’

College student with an internship: Prithika Kharwar, 20, is pursuing BBA from NMIMS University. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
College student with an internship: Prithika Kharwar, 20, is pursuing BBA from NMIMS University. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

At 20 years of age, Prithika Kharwar is at a cusp where her initiation to adulthood has begun but is not yet complete. She is now in the last year of her degree course and along with her studies has so far undertaken two internships to enhance her understanding and application of what she learns in college. 

Her interest lies in gaining knowledge in all things finance and that is going to be her likely major subject as well. While her first internship at the Taj Group was unpaid, she did earn a stipend for her second internship at Aditya Birla Retail Ltd. 

Having tasted what financial independence feels, Prithika wants more of it.  

What does financial freedom mean to you? 

For me, financial freedom is about being able to afford anything I like without running it past my parents first. Although they have taken care of all my needs, I feel I should be able to buy, say, a 5,000 dress, without asking. When I got my first paycheck, although the amount wasn’t a lot, it made me feel really good to know that it was something that I had earned and could spend. I don’t get pocket money, so for all my needs, I must ask my parents, which becomes awkward sometimes.  

Why is financial freedom important? 

It is important because I would not like to depend on anyone for what I need and want in life. I have decided that even after marriage I would prefer to keep my earnings separate from my husband’s so that there is a sense of achievement and independence. Right now I feel a bit constrained and that will change once I start earning for myself.  

How does financial freedom influence various aspects of your life: health, relationships and wealth?

Thankfully I have a good relationship with my parents and while financial freedom will help me be more independent, I don’t think I am ready yet to go all the way. I would still like to continue sharing some of the monetary aspects with my parents.  

This is taken care of by my parents at the moment, but I guess having a healthy life is important and financial freedom can help. Wealth builds confidence to achieve more. Lisa Pallavi Barbora

‘Knowing how much I spend rather than how much I earn’

Young and salaried: Puneet Arora, 25, programme manager at a start-up. Photo: ABhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Young and salaried: Puneet Arora, 25, programme manager at a start-up. Photo: ABhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

When Puneet Arora completed his electrical engineering course from IIT Bombay in 2015 and started working, like many others his age, he started wondering what to do with the money that he had with him. Elders in the family suggested investing in fixed deposits, but lack of liquidity and low returns turned out to be deal-breakers. 

At that point, he started studying about investments, and eventually started investing on his own. Puneet, who works with a start-up on battery solutions for battery-powered vehicles, invests in stocks and mutual funds on his own. 

What does financial freedom mean to you? 

Financial freedom for me is the ability to take important decisions in life without being stressed about their financial implications. Like most other things in life, having financial freedom or not is not a binary, it’s a scale. Mukesh Ambani has more financial freedom than me, and I have more financial freedom than the rickshaw driver who drove me to work today. In the kind of society we live in, financial freedom is as important as physical freedom. And the thought of having very little of it and living in poverty makes me cringe.

Why is financial freedom important?

Freedom gives you the ability to live your life the way you want, and it makes your soul happy. Financial freedom is no different. Having enough financial freedom helps me be independent. It means that I was not born to just pay bills. I have the freedom to choose what I want to spend on because I have some money left after spending on all the basic needs of life. My heart and mind are free from the what-ifs of life because I know that I have sufficient money for emergencies.

How does financial freedom influence various aspects of your life: health, relationships and wealth?

Financial freedom not only influences, but is the deciding factor for various aspects of my life. It helps me remain stress-free so that I can give sufficient time to my health and relationships. It enables me to do things that make me and my loved ones happy.

While I do not think that being rich is important to be happy, being poor definitely makes you sad. Wealth is an instrument of financial freedom. I don’t want wealth just for the sake of it, but because I want to spend it. The correct metric of financial freedom is not how much one earns, it’s how much one spends. Shaikh Zoaib Saleem

‘To not depend on salary, loan or credit card’

Newly married couple: Abhinav Sharma (30) is an IT analyst and Ranjeeta Adhikari (26) is a school teacher. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint
Newly married couple: Abhinav Sharma (30) is an IT analyst and Ranjeeta Adhikari (26) is a school teacher. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint

Abhinav Sharma and Ranjeeta Adhikari married last year after dating for four years. They met through Facebook after Sharma’s sister played cupid. While Abhinav loves playing the guitar, Ranjeeta is passionate about cooking, and together they’ve discovered unconditional love for their dog, Momo. 

What does financial freedom mean to you? 

Ranjeeta: The meaning of financial freedom has varied from one phase to the other. Now I have reached a point where financial freedom to me means to be able to give back to all the people who have nurtured me and made me who I am. I have a long way to go to live up to this definition of financial freedom.

Abhinav: Financial freedom for me is when one does not depend on salary, loans or credit cards to get by. It means one has overcome the paycheck-to-paycheck mode of sustenance.

Why is financial freedom important?

Ranjeeta: Financial freedom is important because it helps me believe that no matter what, I can sustain myself and not be dependent on anyone. My father has always taught me the value of money and I have seen him struggle all his life, which has encouraged me to work for myself. 

Abhinav: Financial freedom is important because if one loses a job or in times of any crisis, there is a very steady financial back-up available which one has created with judicious investments.

How does financial freedom influence various aspects of your life: health, relationships and wealth?

Ranjeeta: So far, I have not given a thought to healthcare because before marriage all the expenses were taken care of by my father’s office and after marriage my husband covers it. However, we have realised that healthcare is very important and one should save some money for emergencies. Hence, we have started working towards this. We keep some amount aside to cover any untoward emergencies.

I feel money has nothing to do with relationships. However, I love gifting and going out for dinners so I should have enough to be able to spend money on anyone, without thinking about the budget.

To have enough money to own a restaurant and buy a plot of land is what I dream of.

Abhinav: I don't have financial freedom yet. I solely depend on my salary and my wife’s salary to go about our expenses and loans.

Financial freedom has no relationship with my health yet because we have not faced a major illness. However, when the day comes to spend hefty amounts on healthcare, I hope to have saved enough or invested in insurance policies.

Currently, each month there are fair chances of me having to borrow money from friends and families to pay my credit card bills. This is not very nurturing for relationships. Between my wife and me, there are no issues of any kind as I share every single financial mistake or achievement with her.

The only wealth I own is the gold I wear. Beyond that we are living a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.

However, starting next month, we plan to start saving one-third of our income, which will be used to explore SIP options. Disha Sanghvi

‘To be financially free is to have investment income equal to or more than your expenditure’

Young couple with a child: Gautham Kalro (33) is a private equity banker and Kamana Kalro (32) is a designer.
Young couple with a child: Gautham Kalro (33) is a private equity banker and Kamana Kalro (32) is a designer.

Gautham and Kamana Kalro first met when they were in college and immediately struck a friendship. Later, they went on to tie the knot. That was eight years ago. Travelling and spending quality time with their families are things both like to do. Their two-year-old son Avyaan has brought them closer together and brightens up their lives like nobody else. 

What does financial freedom mean to you? 

In the literal sense, one would be financially free when his or her income from investments alone would be equal to or larger than their entire expenditure. In a broader sense, financial freedom could be defined in different ways for people at different stages of their lives.

We would consider ourselves to be “financially free" if our work keeps us occupied plus our investments beat yearly inflation and provide well for our needs.

Why is financial freedom important?

The thought of being financially free started to kick in when we had our son, Avyaan. We learnt a lot after we became parents. As young parents, we feel it’s important for us to be able to provide for our family without having to worry about our basic needs as individuals, cost of education or providing our child with a conducive environment to pursue his dreams and lead a healthy lifestyle. 

We believe in living in the present and in being financially free while working.

We believe in taking steps towards fulfilling and securing our needs and then cautiously working towards achieving our wants. This helps us balance our present while setting the stage for the future.

How does financial freedom influence various aspects of your life: health, relationships and wealth?

In our opinion, being financially free may or may not influence certain aspects of one’s life like health and relationship. We feel that they are the outcome of the person or the individual that you are and it has nothing to do with money. Having good health and successful relationships are not directly related to being financially free. 

However, we need to plan and save to be able to provide for hiccups that we may face in our lives. We believe that we should be able to rub shoulders with people from various walks of life and that is more of a personality thing than a financial thing. Disha Sanghvi

‘Financial freedom enables freedom of expression, gives confidence’

Working couple: Premkumar Srinivasan (36) and Gayatri Gunjal (32) are interior architects. Photo: SaiSen/Mint
Working couple: Premkumar Srinivasan (36) and Gayatri Gunjal (32) are interior architects. Photo: SaiSen/Mint

One of the many things that Premkumar Srinivasan and Gayatri Gunjal have in common is their profession—both are interior architects. Premkumar works in Jayabharatham Lifespaces International Pvt. Ltd, a furniture company run by his family, and Gayatri runs a studio called the YellowSub Studio that specialises in interior architecture and industrial design. 

While Premkumar is focussed on taking his company to the next level, Gayatri eases off the work pressure by escaping to the hills.  

What does financial freedom mean to you? 

For the couple, financial independence means the freedom and availability of resources to achieve one’s dreams. 

Gayatri: It means you are confident in the knowledge that you can look after yourself and you don’t have to depend on another person for your needs. 

Premkumar: Being financially free is an important step towards freedom of expression. Financial freedom gives you the confidence to speak your mind or try out things the way you want to. You can’t be creative or express yourself freely if you are financially dependent.   

Why is financial independence important? 

Gayatri: Financial independence helps retain individuality. It gives me a sense of identity and purpose because I am able to pursue my dreams. I can’t think of being dependent on someone for my needs. I feel disempowered that way. Maintaining individuality is very important and that’s one of the reasons why I chose to have my own studio. I wanted something of my own. This entrepreneurial dream of mine is what made me quit my salaried job. We (Gayatri and Premkumar) collaborate on projects, but I always wanted to start my own business.  

Premkumar: Being financially independent is the first step to being independent in the true spirit of the word. It’s not about having enough wealth. It’s about being able to pursue my goals and take risks. It’s about having the resources to do things my way. I want to create a niche for myself.  

How does financial freedom influence various aspects of your life: health, wealth and relationships? 

The couple takes great comfort in the fact that they are financially capable of looking after themselves. “This profession takes a toll on your health, and I don’t have the time or the energy to take care of my health the way one is supposed to. But I keep fit and we have health insurance for any medical expenses," said Premkumar. For Gayatri, the one- shot panacea to medical woes is a break in the hills. “But that’s possible only if I can afford to take the break. So being financially independent is important. I love to trek, run marathons and I gym," she added. 

For Gayatri, being financially independent is the first step to be on an equal footing in any relationship, and for Premkumar, financial independence is a comforting factor. “I am able to take risks with my career and try out new things because I have a financially independent wife. I don’t have to worry about our household because the burden is shared and I know that she can fend for herself. Just knowing this is very liberating and you can imagine the positive impact it has," he added. 

For the couple, being financially free also means that they don’t have to worry about the future. “I am fully invested in my company right now, but if I get it right then it will give me huge returns," said Premkumar.

For Gayatri, financial freedom means one is able to provision for the future. “I saved from the very first paycheque and that’s how I saved to do my Masters and get a loan. I now invest in mutual funds, I may not be very systematic but I know one has to save for the future," she added. Deepti Bhaskaran

‘To be together with your loved ones, and be able to pamper them by providing the best’

Married couple in their 40s with school going children: Tarun Anand (44) is an educationlist and Harneet Anand (39) is an interior designer. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Married couple in their 40s with school going children: Tarun Anand (44) is an educationlist and Harneet Anand (39) is an interior designer. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Harneet and Tarun Anand have moved several homes in their 16 years of marriage. Having worked, studied and lived abroad, they finally came back to India in 2009. 

At that time, Tarun decided to give shape to his dream of creating an educational institute, and set to work towards that. He finally gave up his successful career in finance, at the helm in Thomson Reuters as managing director, South Asia, and with his father founded Universal Business School, which teaches business management to BBA and MBA students. Five years later, the institution is teaching 550 students. 

Harneet not only holds fort at home with their two children, but also actively participates in various aspects from administrative inputs to consulting on matters of building construction at the school. 

What does financial freedom mean to you? 

Harneet: For me, financial freedom is the ability to afford every aspect of life without the stress of thinking “should I?" or “can I?"—questions which my inbred values often bring to the fore. It is having the means to not only afford good healthcare, education, vacations, but also being able to share it with family and friends without much thought.  

Tarun: Financial freedom to me is about having the financial strength to create new jobs and provide sustainable livelihoods to multiple families. It means having the financial muscle to leverage limited means and create a snowball effect in the businesses we invest in.  

Why is financial independence important? 

Harneet: In today’s life where most of us feel like hamsters on a treadmill, one must consciously switch off to make time for children, your partner and yourself.

We intuitively put ourselves last on the list and yet feel guilty about thinking of it at all. I feel that with financial freedom, the guilt diminishes and spending quality time with others becomes a priority and not something I try to squeeze in along with the rest of the routine.  

Tarun: It gives a new meaning to life when you know so many families are dependent on you.

It is a huge responsibility and that gives a strong purpose to create new businesses, to support new developments and strive to conquer new frontiers by creating value.  

How does financial freedom influence your health, wealth and relationships? 

Harneet: To me, it would undeniably mean more time for life “together" rather than individually supporting each other. The ability to provide the best healthcare for our loved ones, having an overall sense of well-being and happiness is also important.  

Tarun: It ensures you have the means to pamper your loved ones and allow them without any barriers to reach their potential. One of my greatest joys was to get my wife the best possible education at Parsons in New York where she was able to discover her unique talent. 

From a health perspective, financial freedom can actually be dangerous as one tends to wine and dine, which certainly can add to the calories. Lisa Pallavi Barbora

‘Being self-sufficient and not being a burden is important’

Retired couple with children and grandchildren: Dhunjishaw Pajniger (71) is retired from formal service and Zenobia Pajniger (67) is a bowen therapy expert. Photo: Ravindra Joshi/Mint
Retired couple with children and grandchildren: Dhunjishaw Pajniger (71) is retired from formal service and Zenobia Pajniger (67) is a bowen therapy expert. Photo: Ravindra Joshi/Mint

Zenobia, 67, and Dhunjishaw Pajniger, 71, are a retired couple living in Pune. While both have retired from formal service, Zenobia is a bowen therapy expert and runs a clinic in her housing society. The couple likes travelling, and have three children and six grandchildren. 

What does financial freedom mean to you?

Zenobia: I can happily spend without a grudge. I hesitate to spend beyond a point on myself, but I am very liberal when it comes to spending on my grandchildren, say, on toys, clothes, parties and so on. I do spend on myself like eating out and travelling but I avoid lavish spends.

Dhunjishaw: To me, financial freedom means that I can use my money whenever and wherever I want. I never think before spending; if I like something, I buy it. I also eat out with my immediate family once or twice a week. We are members of the Corinthians Club in Pune so we entertain our extended family whenever they come to Pune. 

Why is financial freedom important?

Zenobia: It is important because I don’t have to worry about the next day. I can spend wherever I want to spend, without having to depend on my children. My children also have their own families, lives and responsibilities and we don’t want to be a burden on them. It also enables me to do things I love. I do not charge most of my bowen therapy clients because they are poor and I like helping them. 

Dhunjishaw: Financial freedom is important because we don’t want to be dependent on anyone. To be self-sufficient is very important to us. We have brought up our children also to be self-sufficient and not borrow money. 

How does financial freedom influence various aspects of your life: health, relationships and wealth?

Zenobia: Financial freedom gives me the opportunity to not just be independent and not depend on my children but it also enables me to help others in their times of need. I take care of my health; that is very important. I practice yoga regularly and I take homeopathy treatment when necessary. I do not like to go to hospitals.  

Dhunjishaw: We spend, but we never spend excessively, so it allows us to save and reinvest the surplus. Although my children are independent, I am there to help them if they need it. Kayezad E. Adajania

‘Having resources to meet emergencies as well as to indulge yourself’

Married with no children: Farrokh Jijina, who is in his 50s, has retired early and is now pursuing interests. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Married with no children: Farrokh Jijina, who is in his 50s, has retired early and is now pursuing interests. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Farrokh Jijina, who is in his 50s now, quit the rat race when he left his job as the director of internal audit at Deloitte three-and-a-half years ago, to take life easy. But he hasn’t put his feet up just yet and pursues activities he enjoys. He is a sitting trustee on three Zoroastrian community-related trusts that own and manage housing societies meant for middle-income members of the community, run schools for girls, as well as provide aid to poor people from the community. He writes on community issues in a magazine called Parsiana. And on weekends, he conducts heritage walks for children in south Mumbai.

What does financial freedom mean to you?

To be able to not worry about the future, to be secure in the knowledge that whatever you need in the future will be met out of your own finances and you won’t have to go anywhere asking for money. Financial freedom is also about having the freedom to pack your bags and take holidays, like this year I have two international holidays planned; one is done with, and the other is coming up.

Of course, when we are earning, we can buy things with our eyes closed. With limited income, one has to be watchful, but financial freedom ensures we can still do it. We can adjust a little bit. 

Why is financial freedom important?

I always had visions of having to go to charities (to seek support) given the sort of stories I heard when I was growing up. Financial freedom is important because it gives you the security of having financial resources should something untoward happen. That I won’t have to go to my friends, relatives or charitable organisations asking for support. One has to stand up on one’s own feet—that’s what I was taught growing up.  

How does financial freedom influence various aspects of your life: health, relationships and wealth?

Financial freedom means that we don’t have to be dependent on our children, relatives and family for support in our old age. We could have dependents, but it helps if they are financially independent as well. 

Financial freedom doesn’t mean that you ignore what you have—existing wealth also needs to grow, by small increments. Do not be over-ambitious. Since I was a saver, I can do things now that I like to do—I can travel, and indulge myself occasionally, though not as much as I could when I was earning a regular income. But I can still spend. Financial freedom allows me that. Kayezad E. Adajania

‘Living alone on my own terms gives a sense of freedom’

Very senior citizen: Gita Krishnankutty (83) is a translator in the literary field. Photo: SaiSen/Mint
Very senior citizen: Gita Krishnankutty (83) is a translator in the literary field. Photo: SaiSen/Mint

Gita Krishnankutty is 83 years old and translates Malayalam fiction novels to English. In what could inspire many in mid-age, Gita did her Masters in English literature when she was in her 40s and went on to do a PhD. She chose to pursue her education because her children had grown up and she wanted to use her time more productively. Later, she learnt French and eventually took up translating. Translation grew on her as she felt she was rendering someone’s work and expanding its audience. 

What does financial freedom mean to you? 

You are financially independent when you are able to live within your means. Translation doesn’t pay much. About 10% of the list price comes as royalty fee, of which only 5% comes to the translator. But my late husband saved wisely and the interest income is sufficient for me. My children also contribute out of love and that certainly adds to my sense of comfort.

Why is financial freedom important?

Being financially independent makes you confident and that reflects in other decisions of your life. It’s always nice to be in charge and to know that you can manage on your own.

Being financially independent also means you are free to do things your way; most of us have our own dreams and pursuits which tend to get compromised when we depend on someone else. Personally, I would hate to be doled out money to because it would hamper my freedom and make me less self-reliant.

How does financial freedom influence various aspects of your life: health, relationships and wealth? 

When you have the resources, you are able to take care of yourself and this becomes very important in old age. I had a fall some years ago and that was the first time I realised what being dependent on someone physically could mean and that scared me. 

Most people of my generation prefer to stay alone and according to our own rules. This sense of freedom is important to enjoy all other relationships, but often when parents are dependent on children and have to live with them, they tend to adjust a lot. And this can make one unhappy. In fact, most people tend to switch off completely from the mainstream. They don’t like to keep themselves updated with the latest gadgets or, say, social media, further compounding the misery.

It’s important to keep an eye on the future as well. So I don’t over spend just because I have the money, but because I have it, I feel comfortable about the future. Deepti Bhaskaran

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