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How to achieve financial freedom, according to 11 couples and individuals under 40 who've done it

·10 min read
dollar bills money
Yulia Reznikov/Getty Images
  • For many people, financial freedom means being able to retire early and work only by choice.

  • Several people who have achieved it told us the steps they took and investments they made.

  • We compiled a list of our stories with expert advice for becoming financially free.

Financial freedom means different things to different people, but it's typically defined as having the financial resources to live the life you want to live without worrying about money.

For many, it means retiring early and not working unless you want to work.

Insider spoke to individuals and couples who have saved enough money to be able to quit or scale back on their day jobs and design the lives they truly want to live. Insider verified all their claims about income and property ownership with documentation they provided.

We've compiled their stories below.

Property investor Todd Baldwin left his 9-to-5 to pursue real estate full-time and now earns over $1 million a year. He's on track to hit a net worth of $20 million before age 35 and has 'enough money that I could retire tomorrow and never have to work again a day in my life.' 

Todd Baldwin
Seattle-based real estate investor Todd Baldwin.Courtesy of Todd Baldwin

In 2021, Todd Baldwin earned more than $1.5 million from property sales, a wholesale deal, and rental income.

He believes that real estate is the most tried-and-true way to build wealth, but he also invests in the stock market.

If you want to achieve financial freedom and retire early, put in the hours, he advised. For the majority of his 20s, "I just hustled," he said. "I didn't party. I didn't go on vacation. I didn't even really see my friends. But by the time I was 25, I had a net worth of $1.2 million. … Now I'm 29, I've left my 9-to-5, and I have enough money that I could retire tomorrow and never have to work again a day in my life. Take a small chunk of years and blitz. That's the way I did it."

Brennan Schlagbaum paid off six-figures in debt, partly thanks to a finance coaching business he started on the side. Now he earns up to $28,000 a month from the business, enough to quit his CPA job and be a stay-at-home dad, and plans to be a millionaire by 31.  

Brennan and Erin Schlagbaum
Cincinnati-based couple Brennan and Erin Schlagbaum.Courtesy of Brennan and Erin Schlagbaum

Brennan Schlagbaum's finance coaching company Budgetdog, which started as an Instagram account that gave advice from a dog's perspective, brought in enough side income to help him and his wife Erin pay off a $233,700 mortgage and $38,000 worth of student debt in just five years.

Eventually, his Budgetdog earnings surpassed what he was making as a full-time accountant — he makes up to $28,000 a month, according to income statements he provided Insider — and he quit his CPA job in August 2021 to focus on his company. Now that he's his own boss, he can set his own schedule and stay at home with his and Erin's four-month old daughter.

Their net worth as of January 2021, which includes their cash, real estate equity, and investments, is about $780,000. They're on track to hit $1 million by the end of 2022, when they'll both be 31.

Ali and Josh Lupo 'house hacked' to buy their first property on social worker salaries. They're on track to fully retire by 40.

The FI Couple 3
The FI Couple 3

Upstate New York-based couple Ali and Josh Lupo.Courtesy of Ali and Josh Lupo

In late 2021, Ali Lupo was able to scale down from working as a full-time school social worker to working two days a week. Doing social work at an elementary school was "rewarding but challenging," she said. "I did not anticipate leaving full-time work so soon but this past year with Covid was the most physically and emotionally taxing year of my career."

She and her husband Josh, who are paying down six-figures in debt and planning to retire before 40, ran the numbers and realized that they would still be able to hit their lofty money goals if she went part-time. "It became a decision of my physical and mental health versus a paycheck," said Ali, who found a part-time social worker job with full benefits and uses the other days of the week to work on building their brand, The FI Couple. "For us, everything we do is with the intention of bettering our lives."

Josh has been self-employed since 2018 and does career counseling for workers with disabilities and diversity-and-inclusion training for companies. He's also starting to scale back and works about 30 hours a week.

They've been able to design the lives they want to live by focusing on both saving and earning. "A great team doesn't just play offense or just play defense," Josh said. "They play both, and they often know when to prioritize one over the other."

Real estate investors Michael and Olivia Zuber own over 100 units and earn over $100,000 a month in rental income. Their real estate portfolio, which they built over 20 years, allowed them to retire in their 40s. 

A couple wearing sunglasses takes a selfie in front of the Golden Gate Bridge
Michael and Olivia Zuber retired in their 40s, thanks to smart real estate investing.Courtesy of Michael and Olivia Zuber

After losing thousands of dollars day-trading, Michael and Olivia Zuber turned to real estate investing. It started as a way for them to get back on track financially and rebuild their nest egg, but turned into a path to financial freedom.

The Bay Area-based couple bought their first property in Fresno, California in 2002. For years, they worked full-time and lived on half of their income in order to save more and buy more real estate. By 2015, they were earning enough in rental income that Olivia could quit her 9-to-5. Michael followed suit in 2018 and left his software job.

Two decades after buying their first rental property, the Zubers own over 100 units and earn over $100,000 a month in rental income. The key to real estate investing is focusing on time in the market, said Michael: "A lot of people want to time the market, but it's time in the market. That's how you get wealthy. The longer you hold an asset, the wealthier you will become."

Real estate investor and wholesaler Ludomir Wanot achieved financial freedom at age 28, thanks to a modest lifestyle and rental income from his real estate portfolio.

ludomir wanot
Seattle-based real estate investor and co-founder of Evergreen Housing Network Ludomir Wanot.Courtesy of Ludomir Wanot

Seattle-based real estate investor and wholesaler Ludomir Wanot has learned that, "you don't need to create a lot of wealth for yourself to be financially free." The first step he took towards hitting financial freedom was understanding exactly how much money he needed to sustain his lifestyle.

"I wrote down everything that I spent on a monthly basis — rent, healthcare, insurance, transportation, food, clothing, and entertainment — and realized that I only needed about $3,000 to cover my essential living expenses," he said.

Once he had that number in mind, he set the goal of earning $3,000 a month in passive income. At that point, when his passive income could cover his living expenses completely, he'd consider himself financially free.

"When I picked up my third property, I finally surpassed the $3,000 mark," said Wanot, who now owns 13 units and continues to spend about $3,000 a month on his living expenses. "As long as you can live within your means, and you understand your basic necessities, then it's very possible to create financial freedom."

27-year-old super saver Avery Heilbron says he saves more than 80% of his income and has hit financial freedom, thanks to extra income from his real estate portfolio and YouTube channel. 

avery helibron
Avery Heilbron, 27, lives in Durham, North Carolina.Courtesy of Avery Heilbron

In addition to his salary from his data analyst job and the rental income that he brings in, Durham-based Avery Heilbron earns money from social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok and his personal coaching business. In 2021, he grossed $115,000 from his various side hustles.

His side money helps him keep 80% or more of his income every month, he said. He believes that finding ways to cut back on major expenses — like housing and transportation — is much more effective than obsessing over how much you spend on the little things, like coffee.

In general, he's more focused on earning, though. "Money will make more money," said Heilbron, who set an income goal of earning $50,000 per month by the time he's 30. "If you can find ways to earn more, whether that's switching your job or getting a promotion or doing a side hustle, it's going to make things a lot simpler."

33-year-old Dana Bull is financially independent thanks to her 22-unit real estate portfolio, which she scaled up in 5 years.

dana bull
dana bull

Massachusetts-based real estate investor and consultant Dana Bull.Courtesy of Dana Bull

When Dana Bull decided to get serious about real estate investing in 2014, she started by setting a specific, annual revenue goal.

Then, she worked backwards and calculated how many units she'd need based off of current rental rates in her market (Salem, Massachusetts), which was $1,500 at the time, she said. Her math indicated that she would need to own 21 units in order to hit her six-figure goal.

Over the next five years, between 2014 and 2019, Bull acquired 22 units across seven multi-family properties and exceeded her revenue goal.

Scaling up her portfolio in such a short time frame required "a lot of hustle and making sacrifices," said Bull. But now, at 33 years old, Bull is financially independent thanks to her real estate investments. "I was heads down, either working, hanging out with friends, sleeping, or eating. I didn't waste any time."

Grant Sabatier grew his net worth from $2.26 to over $1 million in five years, thanks to a combination of diligent saving, increasing his income, and investing in index funds and individual companies.

grant sabatier
Grant Sabatier achieved financial freedom by age 30.Courtesy of Grant Sabatier

In his early 20s, Grant Sabatier set the goal of saving $1 million and retiring early.

It was an ambitious, and borderline unrealistic, goal. At the time, he didn't have any money coming in — he had been laid off from his first job out of college — and had virtually nothing in savings. He was living at home with his parents while applying for jobs.

Five years later, in 2015, Sabatier hit his goal and retired at 30 with $1.25 million.

At the core of Sabatier's investment strategy was index-fund investing. He also bought individual stocks, including Amazon, Apple, and Facebook.

"The key is to use a total stock market index fund as the foundation of your portfolio and build from it based on the level of risk/reward you are willing to take," he said.

33-year-old Sean Allen used real estate investing to pay off $81,000 in debt and then achieve financial independence. He built his portfolio of properties with just $8,000 upfront.

sean allen
Real estate investor Sean Allen owns properties in North Carolina and California.Courtesy of Sean Allen

When Sean Allen decided he wanted to invest in real estate, he had about $8,000 in savings. It wasn't enough to buy a place on his own, so he went in on his first property with a friend.

Combined, he and his friend had about $16,000 in cash. They worked backwards and figured they could afford something around $60,000. That purchase price would allow them to put 20% down ($12,000) and have $4,000 left over to go towards closing costs.

They found a property in Greensboro, North Carolina that they could afford: a 2-bed, 2-bath short sale property they got for $53,000.

After finding tenants, they started profiting about $220 a month. It all went into an account earmarked for future real estate investments. Today, Allen owns six properties, is debt-free, and financially independent thanks to his real estate portfolio.

Business partners Brit Baker and Laurie-Anne King launched a company that helps women tackle their finances. Now, they're both earning more as entrepreneurs than they were in corporate America working as consultants.

dow janes co-founders
dow janes co-founders

Laurie-Anne King (L) and Brit Baker (R), co-founders of Dow Janes.Courtesy of Elaine Drabik

In January 2020, ex-consultants Britt Baker and Laurie-Anne King launched a financial literacy company, Dow Janes, designed to help women tackle their finances. Besides helping thousands of women turn their finances around, the company has changed both Baker and King's financial standings and added flexibility to their lives.

They frequently work four days a week. "We're both earning more as entrepreneurs than we did in our corporate careers," King told Insider. "Entrepreneurship has really accelerated our own path to financial freedom, which I would say we have achieved."

As they've learned first-hand, focusing on bringing in more money — whether through launching a business or starting a side hustle — is what can help you build serious wealth and achieve your financial goals quicker.

"Earning money is one of the secret skills of people who are achieving financial freedom fast," said King. "And it's not actually talked about very often as a skill in the world of personal finance."

Many gurus in the world of personal finance tend to focus on the importance of saving your money, she pointed out. That's an important habit to develop, of course, but rather than thinking, "spend less so you can save more," King and Baker challenge you to think: "Earn more so you can invest more."

Read the original article on Business Insider