Work was tough last week – long hours, lots of pressure and an unsatisfactory discussion with my boss about the future of my role. It reaffirmed for me one of the key reasons that I’m pursuing financial indepence (FILLS) – to be free from the golden handcuffs of work (or at least this job) and have choices around how I spend my time. To live a life of purpose, meaning and joy without the burden and daily grind of paid work. To have the mental space to be present with my family at night, instead of responding to emails. The chance to pursue my dreams and ambitions rather than those of my corporate masters.
Regardless of whether you love, hate or are ambivalent about work, removing your reliance on a paycheck is both liberating and prudent.
This morning my wife commented that I rarely do things in moderation. I guess she probably has a point, and on reflection I can see many examples where not only have I been overly-enthusiastic (maybe sometimes obsessive) about a hobby, cause or new area of interest but also how I yo-yo between extremes. For example, in my pursuit of Financial Indepence I know that at times I’ve been overly frugal but occasionally I’ll randomly go and spend a ton of money. I can go cold turkey with my Coke Zero (habit/addiction) but then revert to drinking way too much. This see-sawing behaviour often negates my positive intentions.
Perhaps the old saying “everything in moderation” has some merit. Those that read my last post about the concept of FILLS know that I’ve been thinking a lot about balance, sustainability and our place in the world.
Over the last 12 months I’ve been obsessed with the concept of financial independence (FI). Essentially FI allows you to design a life you want without taking money into consideration. For me, embedded in the goal of FI are concepts of freedom, self-reliance, optimism and the sense of endless future possibilities. At its essence, the path to FI is relatively simple – spend less, save more, and optimize the difference. I’ve realized though, it isn’t all about money.
Last night my wife and I watched a fantastic documentary called “The Biggest Little Farm“. The film chronicles the 8 year journey of John and Molly Chester from small LA city apartment to 200 acres of biodiverse farm. They have a dream of coexisting with nature and “traditional” farming, where over time they transform a barren landscape into a lush paradise. The cinematography is beautiful and their story is hopeful, often emotional, and inspiring.
I don’t suddenly want to become a farmer, but The Biggest Little Farm got me thinking about what constitutes sustainability, purpose and a good life.
It’s estimated that ~78% of workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Scary, but not surprising. People from all walks of life are scraping by and struggling through life – regardless of gender, education or income levels.
49% of all employees say they find it difficult to meet household expense on time each month
Only 31% would be able to meet their basic expenses if they were out of work for an extended period of time
59% consistently carry balances on their credit cards, with 37% finding it difficult to make their minimum payments each month
35% of Millennials and 30% of Gen X employees are using their credit cards to pay for monthly necessities which they could otherwise not afford
Most worryingly of all is that 45% of people surveyed have less than $1,000 saved for unexpected expense. Unfortunately this situation is worse for women, with 51% not having this relatively small amount of money put aside vs. 38% of men.
The situation is dire and getting worse. It’s time to do something about it, because living paycheck-to-paycheck is a disaster not only for your immediate finances but also your general wellbeing, happiness and future living standards.
I’m a regular listener of the Choose FI podcast and a question they ask their guests each week is “What is your biggest financial mistake?”. This got me reflecting on my own life and, guess what – I’ve made quite a few!
I didn’t think we were “bad with money’, because we have always had a pretty good grip on the small stuff like managing day to day budgeting, avoiding credit card debt and saving regularly.
However we have made some pretty stupid decisions regarding the bigger material expenses. Needless to say these have been more impactful and damaging to our finances than, say, buying lunch at work each day.
I’ve read and listened to an enormous amount of material on personal finance and the FIRE movement over the past 12 months. As a result, I now have new role models, frames of reference, case studies and solid advice highlighting a better, more sustainable way forward.
Of cours,e it is easy in hindsight to say I would have done things differently. Instead of beating myself up about all the things we did “wrong”, I’m instead celebrating that I’m now more informed. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t make some of the same decisions. Hopefully sharing my big errors helps you avoid similar mistakes.
To my surprise, the applicability of lessons outlined in Essentialism extended far beyond the work context and time management strategies. At its core, this is a book about focusing on what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so you can concentrate on the things that really matter. For me, the book reaffirmed my belief that a simple life can be fulfilling, productive and meaningful.