A friend’s driver got a Maruti Dzire as a gift along with his son’s bride. With plenty of ancestral land at his disposal, he does not need the job to pay his bills. But his ambition was to get an “office" job as a driver so he could set out each day in a uniform and have some status amongst the loafers in the community who were similarly land-endowed. The guy is financially free and yet he clocks in an eight to 10 hour day burning rubber as he vrooms through the city.

Illustration/Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

How serious are we about getting financial freedom or the independence from somebody controlling our lives because there are bills to pay? The dream of giving it all up and moving to a stress-free life far away from the screaming mess that is urban India today crosses our mind more than once. It does mine. But then I think of the people I know who’ve tried it and the thought vaporizes. Giving it all up and moving into the quiet is a romantic thought that hides a mountain of problems. Apart from the practical issues around educating kids (who do they play with?), others such as medical facilities and what to do with all the time (we discount the social aspect of our humanness) are issues that raise their hands soon enough.

Quick question: what does your job mean to you? (a) It pays the bills. (b) It defines who I am. (c) A mix of the two. For me it is option c. Not doing what I do would reduce the I, in who I am. It is a nice derivative that bills too get paid along the way. So what is this “financial freedom" that we dream about? Not all of us are entrepreneurs who can set up a business and get “freedom" from a salaried life. So let me put out how I see financial freedom and what it means. This is for those of us who enjoy what we do as salaried workers, and yet have a nagging feeling of not having better control, or freedom from worry around money.

I don’t think financial freedom means that we want to de-link our lives from a salary—would be great if we came upon a windfall that made us secure, but I don’t think it bothers us too much that we use our labour to pay our bills. Our kick is not so much in earning money than in professional satisfaction of work well done, of making a difference to either the place of work that we are engaged with at the moment or some larger goal. The money is important but perhaps not the only factor in the why-we-work question. I think financial freedom means hands-free driving, a fill-it-shut-it-forget-it approach. What we want is a safe, efficient way to manage our money without the process taking over our lives. We want an efficient cash-flow mechanism that does not make bill payment for the ever-increasing list of things we buy on a regular basis (mobile, broadband, 3G stick, credit card bills, utilities and so on) take up time each month. We need a financial safety net for the times when unforeseen events, like an accident or untimely death, come knocking. We want our money saved to work for us over the long term. And once we’ve sorted out our expectations and zeroed in on the path we want to take to grow our money (real estate, stocks, funds) we want a process that makes execution of the buying, selling, switching safe, low-cost and efficient.

Execution has been the big issue in such a hand-free approach, but the good news is that the back-end is now done and ready for use. Technology has come to our rescue and a combination of online and mobile banking using facilities such as ECS, NEFT, RTGS is working to make our lives free from the chore of execution. Of course, this assumes that you’ve done the background work and have figured out what you want to do. Invest some time in that, put the grid in place and the tools are now there for a truly hands-free money drive. Leaving enough time free for doing what you really want to do.

Also Read |Monika Halan’s earlier columns

Monika Halan works in the area of financial literacy and financial intermediation policy and is a certified financial planner. She is editor, Mint Money, and Yale World Fellow 2011. She can be reached at expenseaccount@livemint.com

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