I had this thought recently about how I have not seen many people talking about financial independence for social workers.
We aren’t talking to each other about it, either.
I wonder why that is.
Maybe it’s because we don’t resonate with the movement or we don’t see ourselves represented.
Or maybe when we hear financial independence, it seems like a fairytale dream that we could never achieve.
When I found about about financial independence, I felt like I had discovered a whole new world.
A world where I could be secure with my finances. A world where maybe, just maybe, I could retire early.
Historically, this movement has been dominated by men who were engineers, but there has been an increase in its diversity over the past few years.
What is financial independence?
Nerd Wallet describes financial independence as, “having enough passive income to pay all of your living expenses. Most people who seek out this lifestyle don’t want to rely on being employed or dependent on others.”
Financial independence can be described as a financial “milestone”. This milestone would be reaching a certain net worth and/or passive income amount.
For some, achieving financial independence means they can quit working and spend their time doing the things they want to do.
Others might love their job, but want to work less or just want the security of knowing they would be okay financially if they were to get laid off.
Are financial independence and financial freedom the same thing?
Some people use the terms financial independence and financial freedom interchangeably.
I have before, but there is a slight difference.
Financial freedom can be described as a mindset.
I really liked the definition of financial freedom from the blog Marriage, Kids & Money, they wrote, “You can start to think about financial freedom as the time when money no longer drives your decisions. It’s no longer feeling constant stress and anxiety hanging over you because of or around money. It’s not about net worth, it’s about having confidence in your finances and feeling free”.
Social workers deserve to feel financially free and be financially independent
Social workers are the unsung heroes of society.
We are the ones who are supporting a mother after the loss of a child or up late trying to find a safe placement for a kiddo in foster care, or the ones who are connecting patients with community resources when they come into the emergency department.
(We also sometimes work in systems that perpetuate systematic oppression… but that’s a conversation for another day.)
We are trained to lead with empathy and support our client’s right to self-determination to help them be safe and reach their goals.
We are taught to leave our biases at the door, pour our hearts into our work and not expect a big paycheck in return.
Money is a taboo topic in our society and especially in social work spaces. There is this culture where since we aren’t in it for the money, then don’t talk about the money.
And we all know how big of a factor money plays in the lives of our clients. And we need to acknowledge that this is the case in our lives, too.
Social workers deserve to have a life where we don’t have to be stressed about our finances. We deserve to have a fulfilling life after our social work profession. We deserve to be financially secure and have the time/money/mental capacity to have meaningful lives when we are not at work. We deserve to retire early.
SO, let’s start talking about money.
Why we should talk about financial independence more in social work spaces
I believe conversations about financial independence encourage one to think about their life goals and values. It’s personally helped me put those things in perspective and begin making a plan to prioritize my needs.
Since setting the goal of achieving financial independence, I have made significant progress in trying to understand more about my money, explore creative ways to bring in additional income, learned how to invest, and found a money management system that fits my (and my husband’s) lifestyle.
To me, financial independence is not only about the destination, but it’s also about what you learn about yourself and your money along the way.
Social workers need spaces and conversations where they focus on themselves. Where they focus on their own well-being and specifically their own financial well-being.
Your financial well-being is absolutely a factor in your overall well-being.
And I know we should go to therapy, but there is also a benefit in talking with your peers about your money struggles, goals, and overall financial journey.
I have personally learned a lot regarding wage equity, high-yield savings accounts, investing methods, and more by having conversations with my peers about money.
See related post: How My Coworkers and I Advocated for 20% Raises (Sample Letter Included)
Let’s talk to each other about our budgets or investing. If we use our company’s retirement plan and what we may be invested in.
Let’s talk about our student loans, y’all. I know many of us have a lot of them.
Let’s normalize the burden and talk with each other about how we are handling the stress of them while trying to handle the stress of our jobs.
Let’s share with each other how we are managing them. Or how we aren’t.
We are always doing things for others. Let’s give this to ourselves.
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How to begin working towards financial independence
Now, I know what you may be thinking.
How can I work towards having enough passive income when I don’t know about money or investing or I don’t get paid an unliveable wage?
If you are having difficulty affording your basic living expenses, then that needs to be your first priority and that is absolutely understandable. Please reach out to community/government assistance programs, family, and friends. I hope you know you are worthy to ask for a raise at work and/or find a job that helps you meet your basic needs.
If you don’t know much about personal finance and have the capacity (and desire) to start working towards financial independence (or even if you just want to learn more about money) I would recommend exploring these concepts and resources:
- Think about your values and how your money can be a vehicle to build the life you want
- Start practicing reviewing your income and expenses often
- Take an honest look at your debts (including those student loans) and make a plan for paying them off (check out these payoff methods: Debt Avalanche vs. Debt Snowball: What’s the Difference?)
- Are you on track for Public Service Loan Forgiveness or are there other student loan relief programs offered by your state?
- Automate your savings to begin building an emergency fund, or what those at Healthy Rich call a comfort fund, “a pool of money that sets you free from worrying about money, not an amount driven by your current expenses or income. It’s a reminder that the most money fluctuations can do is make you uncomfortable — they can’t break you”.
- Check out this book: Finance for the People: Getting a Grip on Your Finances by Paco De Leon. If you’re wanting a one-stop-shop for exploring your beliefs around money with actionable steps to manage all your money (credit, bank accounts, student loans, investments, you name it). De Leon also doesn’t shy away from recognizing the societal and systematic issues that affect many of us, while using fun finance doodles along the way
Final thoughts on financial independence for social workers
Minimally, I just want all my fellow social workers to have the time and energy to learn about finances and feel a sense of peace when thinking about their money.
I want us to be investing and building wealth.
I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below with your thoughts!