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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Don't be a slave to your finances, take control

Personal finance blogger Zach Holz says working towards financial independence is the only route to freedom

Illustration by Getty Images
Illustration by Getty Images

Did you know you're a slave? Don't believe me? Go and Google "debt slave", you will find over 25 million hits. If you prefer YouTube, do the same search and you will find a torrent of titles telling you how you are in service to your financial masters. Apparently, you have no choice in the matter. If you follow that line of thinking, you are doomed, trapped in an economic system whose only goal is to crush you into unthinking servitude so you can never achieve your dreams.

There's certainly every reason to believe this. The cost of higher education and housing is rising precipitously: the United States is the worst aggressor here, with college costs ballooning 129 per cent over the last 30 years, even after accounting for inflation, according to a 2017 study from US higher education firm College Board.

While rents appear to be coming down in many neighborhoods in the UAE, elsewhere the opposite can apply. In the US, for example, the price of housing is rising twice the speed of inflation, according to a June poll from Reuters. It's no surprise then that household debt has shot through the stratosphere, now over $13 trillion in the US alone, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Center for Microeconomic Data revealed in February.

And don't even get me started on wages. In most of the developed world, wages have stagnated, according to the OECD, even as unemployment has dropped. The gig economy seems to be replacing steady work that includes benefits with apps that make you an independent contractor with no health care or retirement factored in.

What's left but despair and slavery to your salary? It's apparently normal to spend far more than you earn, so why do anything else? It's also normal to buy the most expensive house the bank will give you a mortgage for, so why wouldn't you? And apparently nobody retires any more, so why change the behaviour?

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Read more:

'Happiest Teacher' blogs about saving money in Dubai

10 blogs to help you achieve financial independence

How to achieve financial independence

Finance guru Andrew Hallam’s new guide for expats wanting to become wealthy

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I'm here to let you in on a big secret. That narrative, where the world is conspiring against you, and you're powerless against it, is a lie. And even worse, it's a lie most people want to hear.

People want to hear that they are the victim of insurmountable forces beyond their control because that means they don't have to change their behaviours. Change is hard and it might make you give up things you think you need or want. But this lie creates a feeling of despondency, which in turn, reinforces the powerlessness in a vicious cycle which is incredibly difficult to escape without help.

Fortunately, that help exists. The Financial Independence (FI) movement quite literally saves us from despondency in life. Those that have joined can offer real life examples of how they've eliminated debt on average salaries and started to save money. Average men and women can reveal how they raised their incomes significantly through hard work and education, often with side hustles that can blossom into dream careers. And they can illustrate how by learning simple principles of investing, they accrued the benefits of compound interest - making them rich over time.

I know all of this, because I am among them. I'm just your average teacher, who loves his side hustles of being a musician, photographer and personal finance blogger. I used to have a large amount of student debt and a significantly negative net worth. I've taken on jobs I've hated and made stupid financial mistakes. But I was lucky, I stumbled on a career of international teaching that makes me excited to get out of bed every morning and pays well enough that I can travel, eat out regularly and save a large chunk of my salary for my future.

I dove head first into the wisdom of the FI crowd, something that helped me take full control of my future. I am nobody's slave, and if I get into a bad situation at work, I know I have the resources to live comfortably for quite some time without a job. I can also be very honest with my bosses, because I’m not scared of the future and will not starve without a monthly pay cheque.

I have learned from great teachers: beacons of resourcefulness, frugality, and hustle who did not want to play by the rules of society. They reached their financial goals, and so can you. There are people in the FI community from all walks of life: those that make just above the poverty line, those who make a million dollars a year and everything in between.

No matter what your circumstances, the chances are that someone in the FI community was in your shoes and found a way to overcome their own psychology and life circumstances. Many of them have eased themselves out of mountains of debt in creative ways that they are happy to teach you for free. Most of them are not trying to sell you anything, because they don't need your money and they respect the value of it.

If someone tells you that saving is impossible in today's economy, realise that they are trying to sell you something: the idea that you are powerless; that you can't change your life to be financially independent; that you shouldn't even try, because it's pointless. Don't believe them, the chains they want you to put on were never real to begin with.

Zach Holz writes about personal finance in the UAE for his blog The Happiest Teacher