My journey to Financial Independence(FI) all began with Dave Ramsey. (He certainly seems to be a segue for many people into the personal finance realm). It’s funny because I can’t even recall how I stumbled upon his show.
I wasn’t looking for financial advice at the time. It may have just been dumb luck, or perhaps there was a higher power of some sort unknowingly giving me a nudge in the right direction. Whatever the reason, I’ve since fully embraced the concept of FI and haven’t looked back.
I have found one of the hardest things on this journey to be the will to keep my eye on the prize and stay committed to the process, to the system I’ve created.
Other than a few tweaks here and there, once you build a system it just runs. Sure there is fun and excitement in starting down a new path, but just like anything new, the “new factor” fades quickly and that excitement you once felt seems to be somewhere far in the distant past.
It’s like when you are making great progress on a diet and begin to plateau, or one day getting into your new car only to realize that new car smell is gone.
In the beginning of my journey, FI was all I wanted to talk about. I was excited. I wanted to share it with my family and friends and anyone that would listen. It was like I had found the holy grail of money and wanted everyone I knew to be able to have a piece and change their life. I would send friends links to some of my favorite FI blogs, and even sent a few copies of Dave Ramsey’s books to a couple of friends and family members.
One of my friends actually read the book I sent and went on to read others and really changed her financial picture. I was elated. Someone else got it, and I was able to help! Sadly, however, she was really the only one.
As the last few years have gone by I have stuck by my plan, and whenever the opportunity arises I may cautiously utter the words “financial independence” to others, but I’m usually just met with confusion and dis-interest. Talking with a friend a couple of months ago, I brought up “early retirement,” and his response was “we’ve only been working for a little over 10 years or so.”
I have begun to realize that the FI community, while it is growing quickly, is still so very small. And, FI is at best still foreign to most people. This concept of accumulating enough money to passively cover your living expenses so that you can have complete control over your life isn’t even something that the vast majority think is possible.
Retirement is only thought of as the “golden years” or the point where you fill your days playing golf and planning cruises to Alaska to see whales(not that there is anything wrong with seeing whales in Alaska!). My point stands. Many see retirement as an end to something instead of a pivot or shift to something else.
Financial Independence isn’t an end. It’s a beginning. It’s a beginning to something enjoyable. It’s the beginning of complete control and freedom. That could be some other type of work that you enjoy but perhaps doesn’t pay well or even at all, or it could be indeed going to see those whales in Alaska! Whatever that might be, at least it’s your choice!
With that said, when you are on the path to FI it can feel very lonely at times. Especially once you get to the point where your system is on autopilot, and not much is changing from day to day. You are likely auto contributing to your investment accounts and just opening your personal capital app or spreadsheet every so often to watch your net worth go up or down depending on the market. Maybe you have your spouse or significant other, but it’s very unlikely you’ll be comparing FI strategies at your next dinner party with friends or family.
You’ll likely watch others endlessly spend money on new cars, clothes, and eating out while you steadfastly try to stick to your budget. You may feel weird. You may feel like an outcast. You may wonder if you are depriving yourself of things that others have.
This is where the FI community comes in. There is a seemingly endless stream of great FI blogs and forums out there. Once you land on one, it will lead you to the next, and before you know it you’ll find you actually have a small family of awesome people that share your common interest. My experience has been that nearly every single one of these people are interested in helping others and they are never critical. It’s just a bunch of likeminded people sharing ideas, and politely accepting the viewpoints of others without judgement. It’s a truly unique group. And, to me it’s vital to keeping myself on point. Reading about the successes and failures of those who have already achieved FI, or even those on the same path as myself but possibly trying a different method really brings a level of comfort and validates what I’m doing.
I have to constantly remind myself that I’m on my own journey. Sure my vehicles are starting to age and we don’t eat out every weekend but this is only by choice. It’s not that FI doesn’t come without sacrifice but thinking of things as sacrifices will only leave you feeling empty or longing for something. FI is more about being disciplined and doing more of what you value and less of what you don’t value.
Something I’ve had to learn is that it’s okay if others don’t understand what I’m doing. Not everyone is going to want to share in my newfound financial philosophy. At the end of the day Financial Independence may not be on someone’s list of goals. Maybe they are happy with how they do things. Maybe they love their career or job so much that they intend to keep working until they die. Maybe they enjoy keeping up with the Joneses and having the latest cars and fashion and keeping up with all the latest trends. That doesn’t make them wrong. They just value different things. Sure some of it may sound superficial, but personal finance is, well, personal. It’s unique to each and every one of us. My journey is mine alone.
If you’ve read this far, and you are on your own journey to FI, take a minute to reflect on where you are in the process. Be proud of yourself. Committing to anything these days with all of the constant distractions around us is difficult in itself. If you find yourself getting lonely on your journey, join other likeminded people. Read their blogs, comment and join in on the discussion. Keep learning, growing, and pushing forward! That’s what I’ll be doing!