As a financial planner of eight years, I have had thousands of conversations with my clients about their money. Today, as one who specialises in working with two main segments; professionals and business owners, I meet people from a wide range of industries—from tech, to law, to finance (both traditional and de-fi), to family business owners at various stages of their empire-building. This rich myriad of individuals has provided me with a profound insight into the various ways people think and manage their money.

While giving professional advice on a range of topics from insurance to wealth and investment planning, I also get to observe the fascinating interplay firsthand on how different people have different proclivities in their habits and approach on money management.

I’ve absorbed the learnings into one large mental tapestry, and have of late turned some of these thoughts inward to reflect on ideas associated with what money means to me, what it means to be wealthy, and what the Holy Grail of one’s financial and life journey should be. After all, money, in its essence, is a powerful force that intertwines with our lives, shaping our choices, dreams, and ultimately, our future. But it's the way we perceive and interact with money that truly determines its impact on our lives.

Growing up, I thought a lot about money. My family wasn’t poor, so I never had some rag-to-riches inspirational story. But we were far from wealthy as well, and we had times where I could sense that times weren’t so good. My parents are traditional so we didn’t talk too much about these things back then, but the awareness that things weren’t rosy came to light at various moments.

There was the time that for my 21st birthday, my mum showed me a set of papers over lunch. It was for an investment plan she’d made on my behalf, as a gift for my future.

Seemed like such an adulting thing to do. I signed for the papers and she helped me put them away in a cabinet at home. I didn’t think too much about it and put it away in my head as well. About a year later, though, my mum came back to me and sheepishly told me she needed to liquidate. I didn’t ask much further and said I understood.

Then there was the time that I got a spot for an exchange programme to Norway, but my family’s financial circumstances led to me pulling out. I said I understood. When I found out later on that finances were thin because my mum was the sole breadwinner supporting the family, I really did understand.

Money is the underlying currency of everything. It wasn't just the material possessions it could buy; rather, it was the potential it held to provide security and open doors to opportunities.

As I embarked on my journey as a financial planner, I realised that my personality traits, circumstances and background played a significant role in shaping my relationship with money—an awareness I bring to understanding my clients better today as well.

In hindsight, those formative years also created a sense of wanting more. It wasn’t a desperate hunger, nor greed, but I would describe it as an innate curiosity to see how people lived, behaved when there was an abundance of money, or when there was a lack. It then gave rise to a calling for me to make a difference as a financial planner. The ideas around personal finance, financial planning and money intrigued me. And I found myself resolved to work hard to never be of lack of it. Still, I always knew that money is means to an end.

So what is the end? What is the Holy Grail of financial planning and self actualisation?

If I were to define it from a financial planner’s lens—be it wealthy or not, it's the delicate equilibrium between living a fulfilling present and securing a prosperous future. It's the art of juggling dreams, goals and practicality with finesse, like a seasoned tightrope walker crossing the chasm of financial uncertainty.

To achieve this balance, we must first understand that the holy grail is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It's a bespoke quest, tailored to the unique circumstances, aspirations and challenges of each individual. It requires deep introspection, an honest assessment of priorities, and a willingness to make informed decisions. That is why I love what I do—embarking on journeys with my clients to guide and grow with them.

The Holy Grail demands a solid foundation built on financial literacy. It's about understanding the language of money, deciphering the intricacies of fisical responsibility, and demystifying the enigma of compound interest. Or at least, proceeding with action to take advantage of said enigma. Without action, the path to financial success remains just that—a path. Traveling the path to the Grail sometimes warrants a good companion—like a trusted financial planner!

The Holy Grail is also not just about numbers and spreadsheets. It's about aligning our financial choices with our values and passions. It's about pursuing a career or starting a business that brings fulfillment, investing in experiences that create cherished memories, and giving back to causes that resonate with our souls. It's the recognition that true wealth extends beyond material possessions and embraces the richness of a purposeful life.

The quest for the Holy Grail necessitates perseverance and self-control. It demands that we resist the pull of rapid gratification, exercise patience in the face of market turbulence, and maintain our long-term goals. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and the only ones who can endure the difficulties and stick to their financial strategy will find the magnificent prize at the conclusion of the journey.

Throughout the journey, one can expect to encounter various trials and tribulations, testing our character and resolve. Only those of unwavering faith and concerted action will be deemed worthy to behold the Holy Grail. There is much to be learned then, in the quest itself for a fulfilling present and the security of a prosperous future.

The financial landscape is ever-changing, with new technologies, economic shifts, and unforeseen circumstances. Getting to the Holy Grail requires us to remain agile, to adapt our strategies as needed, and to seize opportunities that arise along the way. Flexibility is the key that unlocks the door to continued financial growth and resilience.

So, my fellow treasure seekers, as we’re all on our paths to hunt for this Holy Grail, the road beckons us with promises of a life well-lived, of dreams realised and of a secure future. The true value lies in the quest not just in the destination but in the journey itself. It's in the knowledge gained, the lessons learned, and the growth that accompanies our pursuit of financial mastery.

May we have the courage to stay the course, arming ourselves with knowledge, discipline, adaptability and a steadfast determination to strike that perfect balance. But don’t forget to pause and appreciate the moments along the way!

You don’t have to be a unicorn to enjoy financial freedom before you turn 62

Over dinner on my 30-[redacted] birthday, my partner and I were waxing poetic about our life goals. They range from small (getting an "adult" couch and a second dog) to large (buying a home outside of Brooklyn for said dogs to roam free). But the fantasy wore off by the time we got our entrees. Neither of us are anywhere near financial independence and have more questions than answers on how to build wealth outside the typical 9 to 5 gig.

Reality pairs well with Prosecco and aging, FWIW, so like many millennials and Gen Z seem to be doing, I decided to explore my own potential exit strategy. With some sage advice from a savvy financial podcaster, tons of research, and help from Personal Capital’s free tools, I've learned a thing or two on the topic, so you don’t need to wonder if you’ll need to work until you're in your 60s or 70s. Spoiler alert: you don’t. Let’s dive in.

What is a personal exit strategy?

Thanks to social media, insight into that billionaire lifestyle has been more visible than ever. And the concept of unicorns, private companies valued over $1 billion, has also moved the idea of the exit strategy into the zeitgeist.

It’s something that we can all start striving (and planning) for, even if it looks different for every person. For some, it means the ability to stop working entirely. Others might keep working, pursuing passion projects or taking on side hustles full-time. At the heart of this idea is the modern concept that work is optional and early retirement is feasible. By achieving financial independence, we are the ultimate architects of our time—and how we want to spend it.

How do you determine your first move?

Personal Capital's free net worth calculator is a simple way to see where you stand financially. It can give you a quick estimate of your net worth based on your assets—of which I have none—and liabilities—of which I have many. Then, you can get smart about investing your money in a way that makes sense for you.

I don't know the exact right way to invest for me, but I know one thing for certain: throwing every expendable dollar you have into a 401k is not the move. You can't touch it without penalty before 59 ½ years of age with very few exceptions—and remember, I'm 30-[redacted].

To start, I tapped Kyle Ryan at Personal Capital for guidance. Having a personal exit strategy means thinking about what your road to "retirement" looks like and one school of thought on this is known as the FIRE movement (Financial Independence Retire Early). Those practicing FIRE are saving with the goal of leaving their 9-5 long before they reach 65 (some of them are retiring as early as 30 years old).

According to Ryan, the concept of FIRE boils down to five things:

To be fair, FIRE may not be for me, but if it were… I have both a ROTH and traditional IRA, as well as money invested in stocks. That's something, right?

What are some resources?

Turns out spending three hours on social media every night isn't completely useless, Mom. In addition to Personal Capital's tools and advisors, creators are posting about FIRE, frugality, and investment options regularly.

Andy Hill tackles early retirement strategies on his show Marriage Kids and Moneywhich frequently features young millionaires, financially independent couples, and debt-free parents to help his audience think more critically about their own financial success and exit strategies.

With more than 350 episodes, the podcast is a byproduct of Hill achieving Coast FIRE—saving enough for retirement so you can pursue part-time work or passion projects instead. "At the beginning of our marriage, my wife and I were spending nearly all our money. We'd save and invest some, but we really didn't have a purpose or goal behind it," he says. Eventually, that goal became clear: "I wanted time to take care of my health, pursue my interests, and be the present parent and husband I've always wanted to be."

Hill and his wife began by eliminating $50,000 of student debt in about a year. They did this by committing to living off half their household income (about $180,000 at the time). By 40, they had saved $500,000 for retirement—which will keep growing with compound interest—and by 45, paid off their $500,000 mortgage.

"Now that we don't have to worry about paying any debts, and we've essentially built our own pensions with Coast FIRE, my wife and I have the ability to work part-time," says the family finance coach referring to the esthetician. "We're now living full-time, instead of working full-time.”

The strategies are simple: reduce living expenses, contribute to retirement funds, eliminate debt, seek out advice. It’s practicing them that can take some getting used to. Alas, in addition to social media, blogs, and podcasts, fiduciary financial advisors can offer guidance on what it would take to set your personal exit strategy in motion.

Where should you invest your money right now?

Don't look at me for which stocks to buy. The market changes as quickly as trending hashtags do. Consider low-cost index mutual funds or index exchange traded funds (ETF)real estate investment trusts (REITs), and aforementioned IRAs. You can also opt for completely untraditional options like investing in the creator economy AKA a side business), or art and fine jewelry that may appreciate in value.

My last words of parting wisdom are these: Sit down and think (always over drinks and dinner when possible) and start contemplating your own exit strategy. There's a lot of life out there. Yes, even beyond social media.

Personal Capital compensated Author for providing the content contained in this article. This content is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. Author recommends Personal Capital’s Free financial tools and is not an investment client.

Originally published on Esquire US