Retirement means different things to different people.

You might think of it as a standing tee time at Echo Lake Country Club, while your neighbor would like to hop on a six-month cruise around the world. Many millennials and younger professionals aren’t thinking about retirement in that traditional sense at all, as they face the burdens of student loan debt and an uncertain future without corporate pensions or government entitlements.

I prefer to think of it all as reaching financial independence. This means that working is optional because not working is affordable. And, if you are working, it’s because you love what you do – not because you can’t pay your bills. This reinvented definition of retirement creates a flexible benchmark for the young and the “seasoned” alike.

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So, how do you achieve financial independence? I start my clients off with a few simple questions:

  • What does a “perfect retirement” look like to you?
  • How old would you like to be?
  • What kind of lifestyle are you living today – and are you comfortable enough to continue living this same way forever?
  • How much have you already saved, and what are you saving each month?
  • Do you have any passion projects or interests you’d consider pursuing on the side?

It difficult to reach any goal without having a plan to get there. So, the first step is to define what retirement looks like for you. Then, these aspirations coupled with the numbers will help us determine how much you need to save. I use financial planning software to analyze your unique data and try out various assumptions. But you could also use any number of retirement calculators online for a basic understanding of what retirement – in the traditional sense – could look like. I like this one from Bankrate and this one from Vanguard.

Oftentimes, you will find that you need to save more money to get there. Cutting expenses is typically where most people turn because it’s easier than working more hours or asking for a raise from your employer. Cooking one more meal a week or cutting down on non-essential shopping like clothing can be a quick way to free up additional cash each month. However, cost cutting can only stretch so far before things become uncomfortable, and that is not the point.

Asking for a raise might not be easy, but by increasing your income, you can also increase your savings rate. People often fear sitting down with their bosses to discuss compensation, but if approached professionally, the worst that can happen is you’re told “no.” 

On the flip-side, ask and ye shall (sometimes) receive.

If you can’t cut expenses and you’re limited in ways to increase your income at your current employer, then finding new ways to make extra income might be the answer. This is where a side hustle comes in. It can seem daunting to take on another job while working your regular job, but not if it’s done right. 

Think about your passion. What do you enjoy doing outside of work (besides binge-watching Netflix)? Is there an aspect of your job that you love more than the rest of it? What do you have a talent for? What don’t you consider “work” but other people would? What advice do your friends come to you for? 

Draw up a plan to figure out how you can monetize it, outlining what you will need to start this small business or freelance venture. Even in the world of, say, custom cookie making, branding and customer experience is key, so think about leveraging social media to reach customers with a low overhead cost.

It’s true that it could take a while to turn a hobby into a true money-making side hustle. We’re busy people, after all. But if you start with a small commitment – even just several hours a week – results will materialize. Then, once you begin making money, you can save it toward your goal. 

The bottom line is that if you want to become financially independent at any age, you will need to have enough money to support the life you want, without the need to make money. There is no one way to get there, but the tools above will help you envision, and move toward a finish line. If you have the patience and passion to work your side hustle, you’ll be able to get there faster than by just cost-cutting and salary increases. Maybe you’ll find yourself never actually working again because you’re doing something that you love. And that’s better than doing nothing, anyway. 

This communication is strictly intended for individuals residing in the states of AZ, CA, CT, FL, GA, MD, NJ, NY, PA. No offers may be made or accepted from any resident outside these states due to various state regulations and registration requirements regarding investment products and services. Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Fixed Insurance products and services offered through CES Insurance Agency.