You deserve financial freedom.

Now here’s a secret. Even though financial freedom makes a fantastic goal, for most of you, the goals along the way will be much more important.

For me, I experienced the best feeling in the world long before I achieved financial freedom. I can still remember exactly how good it felt when I realized I was finally living far below my means. Escaping the stress and uncertainty of a pay-check to pay-check life literally changed my physical and mental health. Many people think of living within their means as the first step. If so, that first step is the one that felt the best–and had the biggest impact on my day-to-day life.

Honestly, the next best feeling (from a financial accomplishment) was when I bought a house. At least for me, home ownership is even more than it’s cracked up to be. I mean–and this is the truth–I look forward to coming home and cleaning the house. It’s different now that I own it. Maybe it’s because I had to rent for so long, but when I finally owned my home, it was a huge deal.

I do think, however, that this feeling of pride and independence from home ownership only really works if you definitely intend to stay in your home forever. Otherwise, rising and falling home prices may just become “one more thing.” So this is not advice to jump into home ownership. It’s a little like getting married–waiting is often not such a bad thing.

(And no, the marriage example isn’t crazy. We fall in love with homes in a way that, most of us anyway, don’t fall in love with our stocks and bonds.)

The other truth about me is that I love my careers and I don’t want to retire. I know plenty of accountants and financial advisors over the age of 70 who just don’t want to quit. Helping other people with the sorts of questions and problems that they truly can’t solve on their own is incredibly rewarding. And as far as being a pastor? It’s an honor. And I don’t expect to ever truly retire from that calling.

So for me, achieving financial freedom didn’t feel like anything. In fact, I didn’t even think about the fact that I had gotten there. I sort of noticed it as I was doing my own financial planning. I don’t want to retire now anyway, and frankly, I can’t imagine I would want to retire even if I didn’t absolutely love my careers.

Because, you know, Life happens. People change, relationships change, dreams change. By the age of 40 almost everything I thought I knew about myself–my ambitions, my group identities, my religion, my politics–all of it had changed. It will probably continue to change in the future.

So here’s what I think a lot of you can take away from my experience. For a lot of you, you are still struggling with that first step, living well within your means. You know, that first step is the one that matters.

Keep things simple, stay the course, and take one step at a time. Celebrate each step you take. Spend smart, take control, and live rich.

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