Ahhh, adulthood! Regular paychecks, eating meals that don’t come in a styrofoam cup, and the ability to, as Tom from “Parks and Recreation” would say, “Treat Yo’ Self.” As the Millennial cohort becomes securely established in adulthood — complete with taxes, mortgages, and association fees — we have more and more opportunities to make financial decisions.

Of course, there’s a fine line between financial freedom and reckless spending, and that line can impact our happiness. In fact a poll by the American Psychological Association says 72% of adults are stressed by money. So, how do we achieve financial freedom? The first step is understanding what it is.

Financial freedom is ambiguous — it means something different depending on our context and goals. Simply do a quick survey among friends and family of different generations, and you’ll notice the gap.. To some, financial freedom is owning a house, and to others, it’s being able to travel when you want or to retire before a certain age.

But regardless of our definition, financial freedom is tied to happiness. And if that’s the case, why do finances bring us all such stress and make us feel locked? While most people turn to numbers to find the solution, the answers actually lie in our psychology. That is, our financial success depends on whether or not we feel empowered in making financial choices.Here are 9 steps to achieving financial freedom through empowered thinking:

Understand Your Financial History to Change Your Financial Future

Empowered financial decision-making requires confidence and control. You know, like how we feel when we listen to the Lemonade album by Beyonce.

Whether we’re Beyoncé-esque in our finances is highly variable and largely dependent on our history. For many of us, no one really taught us how to budget. Some of us saw our parents struggle with money and some of us saw our parents’ careless spending. Whatever our history, it shaped our own ideas about money and financial responsibility. Some of us were thrown out to the wolves at a young age and had to work to support ourselves, while others were protected by their parents’ success and hard work and didn’t have to think much about money until they got their own job.

Of course, neither of these paths allowed us to feel more empowered about money, because in a society that is constantly pushing us, very few people take the time to slow down and plan their financial future. Few of us know what a mutual fund is. The financial industry has made it complicated to understand, so even the common investor lacks comprehension of financial terms.

Understanding where we’re starting with respect to financial literacy can give us a baseline for where we need to go to achieve financial freedom.

Make Financial goals for the current year, 5 years out, and 10 years out

Having goals for the current year is obvious but why 5 and 10 years out? Well 5 years if often a timeline where major life changes financially happens in your life think about the ages from 18–23? From starting college and eating ramen noodles to having your first job and figuring out what a 401K is, now take 10 years into consideration as well, little less impactful as life can change but big goals like owning a house or accumulating a certain amount of money take time and it important to give yourself that time.

Use Resources to Deconstruct Financial Terms

Use resources like orca.financial (Blog breaking down financial terms)

Seek a Financial Planner

See a financial planner that will help educate you (spend time looking for one you trust, and who is a fiduciary)

Adopt Financial Transparency with Your Significant Other and Yourself

Openly talk finance with your significant other, your parents, and yourself

Practice the 50–30–20 Rule

Slay your finances by understanding where all your money is coming and going (see below for 50–30–20 Rule)

Start Investing

Start Investing! (Creating another source of income for your future)

If You Don’t Know, Ask

Ask questions, trust me if you don’t know it 60% of America does not know it

Determine What Financial Freedom Looks Like for You

Finally, determine what Financial Freedom is to you, and make a plan of attack to achieve it

Of course, it’s hard to feel empowered without a level of transparency. Too often we are scared to check our bank accounts, or we check our bank accounts too often. either is appropriate and both make us feel out of control. Too many couples are reluctant to talk about their finances, which causes stress and finally the financial industry itself lacks openness and transparency, which scares people to invest. It is key to not live in fear of your debt, of taxes, and of spending money. The best way to achieve this transparency is by writing it all down and making a budget such as the 50–30–20 budgets.

The suggestion is to always have at least 2–3 months worth of living expenses in your savings account. This includes rent, food, gas and any other basic living expenses. How do we decide what to spend, save, and invest? Apply the “50–30–20 Rule” to every paycheck you receive: 50%: Spending 30%: Savings 20%: Investment. Once you achieve the 2–3 months worth of savings, you can increase your spending or your investments making it more of a 60–40 or 50–50. Knowing where your money is coming from and where it is going will shock most people, I mean all those late night Uber and Lyft add up and once you have this transparency of your own finances it will allow you to take control of where you want to spend your money!

Another suggestion is to have “Wine Finance Sundays” with your partner. Open up a bottle of wine go through goals that you want to have with each other, joke around about the possibilities of owning a jet and finally make a budget together and plan what makes you two happy together. At first this may be tough, but that is what the wine is for!

Finally, look for transparency from your financial professional, make sure he or she is being open with you when it comes to fee’s that you are being charged, understand how your company matches your 401K and speak with your CPA if you are taking the right deductions and how you can plan for next years taxes not just the current year. This openness of your finances will allow you to tackle any debt you have, and make you feel secure to achieve the things that make you happy.

So as the saying goes financial freedom is truly in the eye of the beholder. Wait wasn’t that beauty, well seems like finance and beauty have something in common. So here is to your first steps in the right direction to achieve financial freedom and finding what makes you happy!

Originally published at medium.com