We often think that there’s some thing that we can obtain that will solve all of our problems. People say things like:
“If I can just get my finances in order, I won’t be so stressed out”
“I can’t wait to get out of here, I’ll like my new job so much more”
“Once I find my soulmate, I’ll feel complete.”
The truth is, there is nothing in the world that can bring you that everlasting satisfaction. You can travel the world, reach your highest goal, and make a seven figure income, but these are just things that we look to to fill the void within us. What we’re really looking for must come from within.
I say this not because I don’t want you to become wealthy and make lots of money. I don’t want you to get comfortable and settle into your current situation. I say it because I want you to realize that getting your finances in order is just a step in your journey through life. Just a step. It’s not the end-all be-all. If you’re stressed about your finances today, then when you get it all sorted out you’ll be stressed out about something else. That’s growth.
Actually, knowing that getting your financial foundation in order is just a step in our life journey gives us a mental framework that makes it much easier to do.
So that’s what we’re here to do. I want you to build a solid financial foundation so you don’t have to worry so much about money. I want you to master the money game the world makes us play so that you can go do what you came here to do.
When you sign up, you’ll receive information on topics such as investing, budgeting, debt management, insurance, and more, including all the things I’ve learned – and screwed up on – over the past five years.
My goal is to take financial concepts and make them simple so that you have the information you need to make proper decisions. There’s a whole industry out there whose livelihood relies on making financial concepts seem so complex and too difficult for us to learn that we don’t even want to try. They want to us to place our trust in them, give them our money, and pay a hefty fee for the privilege.
You don’t need a money manager. You can be your own money manager. Sure, you should have someone you can talk to about your finances, but you should know what to do with your money, and why you’re doing it.
Back in 2015, A year after I had started working, I wondered if I was destined to be a pawn working at a desk from 9-5 enriching my “Corporate Masters.” I had heard stories of people who dedicated their entire lives to a company only to get let go because of downsizing, they didn’t fit in with the hip new culture, or their boss just didn’t like them. It didn’t sit well with me that you could be loyal to a company your entire life and then just get dropped for reasons out of your control. Even worse, not many people were happy. It seemed like we were just living day-to-day, happy to have a job that paid enough keep us housed, pay the bills, and provide just enough mental stimulation that we wouldn’t go nuts. The sense I got from the older people who had worked hard at the company for many, many years was one of justified regret. They were incredibly talented in what they did and the company respected them for it, but it seemed like there was a lot more in life they wanted to do, and they would have done, if only this or that.
The biggest “this or that” keeping people from living the life they wanted was financial insecurity – they would not be able to keep up their lifestyle for more than a few months without the income and benefits that their job provided.
Couple this with all the things I had heard from well-intentioned people about what post-college life would be like and you have the necessary ingredients for a quarter-life crisis, and a burning desire to learn as much as I could about money so I could use it to escape the rat race. When a friend introduced me to the concept of Financial Independence, I got hooked.
That’s right, it became my drug.
I started reading everything I could about personal finance. I read blogs, books, articles, forums – whatever I could find. I read them multiple times late into the night. Listened to podcasts many times over. I checked my accounts daily. Built models to track my progress. Looked for ways to optimize to get there faster. I studied the stock market, what money really was, how it really worked.
My desire to achieve Financial Independence was so strong that it took over my life. I thought, once I am Financially Independent, I could leave my job forever and do what I really wanted to do. That was my dream.
You could say that my heart was on FIRE.
The FIRE Community, in a nutshell
Now you might be wondering what this whole FIRE thing is about. Investopedia has a pretty darn good definition:
Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) is a movement dedicated to a program of extreme savings and investment that allows proponents to retire far earlier than traditional budgets and retirement plans would allow. By dedicating up to 70% of income to savings, followers of the FIRE movement may eventually be able to quit their jobs and live solely off small withdrawals from their portfolios.
How do you save 70% of your income, you ask? Well, Investopedia answers that as well:
Of course, FIRE isn’t a sure-fire plan, and extremely high rates of saving at the expense of current quality of life and lifestyle should be considered.
Basically, you live on rice, beans and ramen, live with your parents or get seven roommates to save money on rent, max out all retirement accounts to lower the amount of taxes you pay, get rid of your car and bike to work, and teach yourself to feel extreme pain when spending any money.
Within the FIRE community, the primary goal is “living the dream.” The “dream” is a life without having to go to work. The logic being, if you don’t have to go to work, you have free time to do whatever you want to do. It’s a way of sticking it to the man.
It’s all pretty simple, actually. In fact, there’s some shockingly simple math you can do to calculate how long it will take you to achieve your dream based on your savings rate.
I wanted to live the “dream” so badly that the Savings Rate became my god. Everything decision I made in my life was made with the benefit of the Savings Rate in mind. And boy, I made some really stupid decisions.
In my first year of worship, I pinched pennies and put my personal development on hold by moving back in with my parents to achieve an after-tax savings rate of 65% (71% pre-tax).
In my second year, in addition to the above, I left a manager who was eager to promote me to start work at a location that didn’t require car commuting. I raised my savings rate to 75% (81% pre-tax).
At my new job, I traded health, sanity, and relationships for three compensation increases that brought my savings rate up to 84% for the third year (88% Pre-tax).
From there, my savings rate would only have gone up.
So what happened? If you do the shockingly simple math, a savings rate of 84% would have gotten me to financial independence in just over four years! It would have been the easiest thing to coast along, pass the time, collect checks, and watch my investments grow.
But a number of things happened that lead me to realize that there was a pretty big flaw in my plan, and it made me question my dream and tear down the infrastructure that I had built to take me there.
I fainted. I was about to go on a backpacking trip with a group of friends. We had arrived at the starting point of the hike, waiting for the other car to get there. We were standing around, just chatting, when all of a sudden the colors started popping. Everything was getting brighter. And brighter. Eventually all I could see was white. I thought I’d just stand in place until I could see again, but the next thing I knew I was on the floor, my ears were ringing (you know, the ringing you get after attending a concert), and my friends were standing over me, asking if I was ok. They helped me up and walked me over to have a seat in the car. They told me I had just collapsed and slammed my head on the ground.
This wasn’t a freak occurrence. I know why it happened. Elevation increase. It was hot. I was trying to save my rations for the hike in, so I neglected to maintain proper food and water intake. A little bread and water was all I needed to get back on track. Saving so much that the present is neglected?
I fainted again. This time, at work. It was at the end of a long Friday. I was working to finish a project as quickly as I could. I worked through lunch. When I went to get lunch, there was only some rice. I got it and kept working. After work, there was an in-office happy hour. I wasn’t done, but wanted to show face. I went, had a beer, then kept at it. You would think that I would have learned my lesson after fainting the first time, but I’m pretty hard-headed.
I was standing, talking to a friend who was about to head out when my vision started to go again, this time to black. I tried finding a seat but ran into a table. I sat on it. When my sight returned, I took the opportunity to go to the bathroom before heading home. I stood up from the toilet. Went to wash my hands. The cold water felt like felt. Dizzy. I headed to the door. I reached for the handle, pulled on nothing, and went down. The ringing started again. A coworker heard the thud and came to help me up and walk me to the kitchen. When I was walking home that night, I ended up walking in a big circle around the city, coming back to the square I had already passed an hour before. I sat there and prayed.
After the second time, I knew something had to change. I was neglecting to take care of myself and working myself to death. What was it costing me to save 84% of my income?
My idols collapsed. I was following several prominent figures in the FIRE community pretty closely. I’d read most their blog posts, listen to their podcast episodes, and bought their books. In a way, they were the deities of the FIRE religion. Over time, one by one, they started hitting their number and taking the leap into early retirement. I was so excited for them, expecting to hear all the wonderful things that were soon to happen so that I may be even more motivated to continue my journey.
But that’s not what happened. They got bored. They struggled to get out of bed in the morning. They got divorced. They weren’t happy. It wasn’t what they thought it was going to be. They even went back to work.
What? Back to work? That’s the very thing that this whole thing is supposed to be about! Not having to go to work! But they say, this time it’s different because they are choosing to go to work. It didn’t make any sense to me. I wondered, what is it that I really want to do? If I retired early, would I end up just like them?
I saw myself becoming evil. The company I was working at wasn’t a good fit. It just wasn’t working out. I was at fault as well, of course, because there were a lot of issues and situations that I should have dealt with, but at that time, I didn’t know the right way to handle them. There were some major cultural issues that I kept bringing to management’s attention and wanted to help solve, but most of the things I did backfired, and I got upset when the management wouldn’t acknowledge what I was saying.
There are going to be times in your life where you will have to decide between doing the right thing and the wrong, but potentially lucrative, thing. While you may find solace in the fact that everyone around you is doing wrong, you will feel that thing in your soul telling you it’s not right. Everybody feels it. Some have learned to ignore it.
Personally, I couldn’t help it. The environment had a big effect on me, and I started to become a product of the environment. One day I looked in the mirror and saw that I had started doing the very things that I was pointing out as toxic, without even realizing it. What’s wrong with me? What’s causing me to be this way?
I got impatient. I was a pretty stubborn, naive person back then, (still am), and with all these environmental factors,questions, and doubts going through my head, I decided that I had to do something major now or fall into an inescapable abyss (yea… that’s what it felt like).
So I would “retire” for a year. I’d take my emergency fund and run. I’d have all the free time in the world, for one year. I could do whatever I wanted to do each and every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of my life, for up to a year. I’d be free from the fog of work, and would be able to see myself for what I really was.
Or so I thought. Again.
I’m now ten months into “retirement” and I’ve come to realize four very important things.
- I’m not interested in retirement. It’s pretty boring, man. They say that you are more likely to die if you retire than if you keep working, and I can see why. Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, and the devil wants to kill you.
The reason I wanted to retire was not a good reason. I thought that I hated work, partly because everyone around me hated work, and wanted to run away from it. It was the cool, edgy thing to do. Without work, there’s not much point in living.
- I do not know what I want. The things I want, I obtain, then don’t want. And the things I don’t want, I discard, then I want. Funny how that works. That song about the bees and the parking lot hits it on the head.
- I can’t figure out what’s wrong with me. I’ve tried all kinds of things with a deep sincerity of wanting to change myself. I’ve tried journaling, blogging, vlogging, going to church, going to a different church, reading the scriptures, meditating, reading self-help books, taking courses, attending workshops, seminars, traveling, eating good food, eating whatever I want, hedonism. Even after everything I’ve tried, I’m still the same person at my core. I’ve been trying to change my life while missing the fact that I have no power to do so.
- Financial Independence isn’t the ultimate solution. Four years of mercilessly cutting expenses to stick to a strict budget got me a sizable nest egg for my age, but it didn’t solve all of my problems. I thought it would. It barely solved any. You’ve heard that money is one of the top causes of divorce, but that’s a bunch of baloney.
Nobody’s last words: “I wish I had made just a little bit more money in my life.”
And there’s the impetus for what we’re doing here. An all-too-common thing that I hear people say is that they are stressed about money and think that getting plenty will make their lives amazing. They won’t have to worry about it any more, they won’t have the constant financial stress bearing down on them.
Think on this. Being stressed about money believing that plenty of money will solve your life problems is like being stressed about the nail that’s not all the way into the wood believing life will be amazing when you have plenty of hammers.
No, you just need one hammer.
Same thing with money, you just need one.
Again, I’m not here trying to give you the idea that you shouldn’t do anything about your money situation if it stresses you out. You should. But don’t make it your god. Money is just a tool, and it will do what you tell it to do. For most people, money tells them what to do. They are subject to it. I want you to walk around with the knowledge and power to control your money. Money was made for us, not to control us.
So learn about how money works, build a strong financial foundation, and move on to the next challenge.
More proof that early retirement is not a good goal
My story is just one of many similar. Here are other people within the FIRE movement who have realized the same thing:
If you’re unhappy when you’re working and you blame your job for all your problems, you may struggle after FI if you’re still unhappy.
What do you do when your biggest scapegoat disappears?
Your job doesn’t have feelings so you can blame it for all your issues and it won’t care. But when your job is gone and you start blaming your wife, your friends, or your kids instead, it’s not going to go down as well.
You’ll hopefully realize that those external things aren’t the reason you’re unhappy but, as I mentioned before, it’s very hard to do…especially when it’s you that’s the problem.
I didn’t realise this at the time, but for me now, the end goal of FI isn’t necessarily early retirement…but a sense of freedom. I can quit whenever I want which makes work a lot less stressful. Hell, I enjoy my work a lot more now just knowing that.
I became more agitated at work and, instead of feeling more empowered by higher savings, felt like I relied on it more than ever because I was so attached to the savings goal.
I started thinking that once I hit my number, there probably won’t be any meaning to life. These aren’t answers that show I’ll be empowered by financial independence. These are answers that show I’m burnt out, anxious, and dealing with moderate depression.
In the year leading up to my “retirement”, I put together a list of projects a mile long. Things I really wanted to do. Things I had the skills to do (or needed to improve, but only on the edges of my capacity). Things I wanted to learn from scratch. Routine things like regular exercise that I wanted to improve.
A year later, I’ve completed none of it. I’m not really sure what happens to most of my days. The first few months were great, I spent my time reading and drinking coffee, telling myself it was the “decompression period.” Somewhere in there I have fallen in to a sort of depression: some combination of the lack of structure, the loose timelines on everything and the reduced pressure is going to take some serious learning to get over. My health feels worse than ever (though there was a period near the beginning where it was clearly best ever), but this is probably just my poor mental state.
I have talked in the past about the money mind meld. Basically, the realization that I was financially independent came to me suddenly, and hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in no way prepared for the rapid switch in world view, and it took me months, if not years to wrap my head around what post FI life looked like emotionally. Although those striving toward financial independence believe that feelings associated with reaching their goal will most likely be joy and ecstasy, for many of us the reality has been quite different. This does not mean that financial freedom is an unworthy goal. You wouldn’t be here reading if that was the case. There is a relationship between reaching financial independence and mental health, however, that is not always positive.
So the former Mrs. MM and I (mostly under her guidance!) worked through the do-it-yourself paperwork and paid a $265 fee to the county court for the divorce. I bought the lowest-cost house in the neighborhood, just a 2.5 minute bike ride down the hill from the family house, and I’ve already fixed it up and started hosting Airbnb rentals to help make it carry its own weight. I left the Nissan Leaf behind and chose not to buy a car of my own because I already have bikes.
We share plenty of time with our son and he is doing amazingly well – because we are choosing to make this new life about growth rather than conflict.
And most notably from the perspective of early retirement and financial independence, having enough money in advance has made this part of the split much less painful. Both of us can remain retired and continue to live in mortgage-free houses with investments easily covering our living expenses, while sharing child raising expenses. Although I chose to buy a house, nobody had to compromise on quality of life or sell the expensive family house.
We are creatures who need meaning and purpose. You’ve just lost yours. I’m talking partially about the part work played in your identity, but I’m talking even more about the fact that you’ve been working for years to achieve a financial goal and now it’s done. Over. Kaput.
The reality is, there is a lot of downside to retiring early nobody talks about. Take it from me, someone who left their corporate job for good in 2012 at the age of 34. I agonized with the decision before I left, and experienced some downside surprised after I negotiated my severance.