What’s the price of freedom to you? To most, we assume it’s dedicating our lives to a means-to-an-end job in order to incrementally save money until we can — finally — backload our golden years with our passions. Flipping that narrative on its head is Falls Church native and creator of the personal finance, investment and entrepreneurship community Millennial Money, Grant Sabatier. His new book “Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You’ll Ever Need” and speaking tour passing through his alma mater George Mason High School (‘03) intends to show people how to take control of money, and more importantly, win their freedom on their terms.
Sabatier never cut his teeth on the trading floor of Wall Street or went to the Wharton School of business, so what makes him a reliable source on finance? It’s because he defied the orthodoxy of financial gurus and achieved what most people dream of in a fraction of the time. He was 24 years old, recently canned from a job and had nary three bucks to his name. In that moment (while fighting cravings for a Chipotle burrito) Sabatier set two seemingly unrealistic goals: to save $1 million and retire as early as possible. The first step on that journey was reflecting on all the knowledge he had learned about money in his life.
“I looked out into the world and saw everyone was so stressed about money — family, friends and just society in general,” Sabatier said. “I made a list of all the things we’ve all been taught about money, but the lessons were either so old school or just wrong, the main one being ‘Time is money.’ To me, money is infinite, but you can never get back your time.”
With the clarity of what he prioritized in-hand, Sabatier set out to use money to free up his time rather than give up the latter for the former.
He learned to run mobile ad campaigns through Google, got a job out in Chicago and soon enough was making $300,000 sales to clients. Sabatier eventually took the experience he attained to start his own digital marketing firm, his first of many businesses. All along he was ingesting every book he could find on finance (which he claimed to be over 300) and sorting through all the “scammy” wealth and investment seminars that he feels most Americans get suckered into.
Sabatier identified two main antagonists while embarking on his path. One was the conventional wisdom of the finance industry. To him, its advice to save five to 10 percent of your annual income is a signature lie that convinces people slow and steady is the only way to build up a retirement fund. The other, he believes, is our consumerist, and often glamour-heavy, culture that treats shopping as a leisure activity and pushes the idea that financial freedom is having $5 million just lying around.
So Sabatier chose to cut against those trends. He opted to live frugally by saving nearly 80 percent of his annual income while spending less than $20,000 year, most of which went into new investments. He even took it further than most by driving an $800 Nissan Maxima and renting a less-than-stellar apartment in a safe(ish) neighborhood that his girlfriend chose to steer clear from.
The trials helped Sabatier develop seven phases of financial freedom that he thinks can give people a framework to orient their lives by, just like it did for him in the five year period where he went from $2.26 in his bank account to $1.25 million — figure out where you are and where you want to go (clarity), earn enough money to cover your expenses (self-sufficiency), escape living paycheck to paycheck (breathing room), accrue six months of living expenses and paid off bad debt (stability) and then accrue two years of living expenses saved (flexibility), make enough money from investments so work becomes optional (financial independence) and when you have more money than you’ll ever need (abundant wealth). Amid all these phases are investment strategies, advice on side hustles and, yes, learning to be frugal without sacrificing what expenditures are most precious to a person.
It was when Sabatier started penning his step-by-step guide to acting out these stages in his blog that he came to understand the literal information on how to make money was secondary to the greater meaning the money possessed.
“One of the first reader emails I got said, ‘You helped me save $13,000 in a year and saved my marriage. Thank you for everything and keep doing what you’re doing,’” Sabatier added. “It gave me a such a joy helping people like that. I didn’t have a mission or a purpose, and all of sudden my purpose in life just showed up. Since 2016, I’ve dedicated my life to traveling the world, teaching people how to save and invest money and just commit to this process.”
There was one final obstacle that Sabatier had to overcome: himself. The 34-year-old stresses that all money spent symbolizes a tradeoff in time, so spend it on what makes you happy — whether that’s artisanal coffee or takeout food. But Sabatier had become so addicted to making money he forgot that the things that made him happiest were free. He admits that he lost his late 20s and a few friends because he failed to realize the freedom he craved so badly was already within his grasp. Still, that obsession gave Sabatier the ability and stature to communicate with people about how to remove their scarcity mindset with money. So he does feel the tradeoff, however costly and exhausting, worked itself out.
Removing that obsessive, and often, anxious lens is the main lesson he looks to bring to Mason on Friday. To Sabatier, teaching the tactics about saving and making money is simple — it just requires follow-through on the adherents’ end. But showing students that fretting over grades and SATs inculcates stress as their life’s default mode is the hard part. Similar to how investments compound over time in a positive fashion, stress starting from an early age does so negatively. And controlling that stress is a key in helping people find out what makes them happy. Once adulthood rolls around, money is one of those stressors that gets in the way of self-discovery.
“Most people don’t know what makes them happy, so money gives them the time and space to figure that out,” Sabatier said. “You can always go back to that crappy job, but in 10 years it might be too late to do some of the things you’ve always wanted. A lot of people are richer than they realize, it’s just hard to see when you feel stuck by the constraints of a lifestyle you feel you’re supposed to live or job you think you have to have.”
Sabatier’s book tour stop will be at Capitol City Brewing Company (1100 New York Ave NW, Washington, D.C.) tomorrow from 7 – 10 p.m. His visit to Mason is to be announced.