Within the first year of working full-time after graduating college, I decided that I didn’t want to do this for the next 40+ years of my life. I set the goal of retiring in my 50’s, which is not extremely early, but would still allow me to cut off about 10 years and (hopefully) still be able to enjoy a lot of travel in my retirement.
It’s now been about 18 years since I graduated college and my interest in financial independence and early retirement hasn’t changed, although some of the details have. Here are 5 specific lessons that I’ve learned through my journey so far.
1. Work Can Be Enjoyable
Initially, I set the goal of retiring early because I hated my job. In fact, throughout my 20’s, I bounced around a few different jobs, never finding anything that gave me very much satisfaction in my work.
In my late 20’s, I started a side hustle that wound up growing and becoming a full-time income. When I was 30, I was fortunate to be able to walk away from my full-time job and pursue self-employment. The past 11+ years, I’ve been blessed to be able to have much more enjoyment and satisfaction from my work.
Although I still hope to have the freedom to retire early if I choose, I no longer feel like I can’t possibly continue working until I’m 65. Having a job or career that you enjoy makes a huge difference in your overall mindset and level of satisfaction with your life.
2. Financial Independence Means Different Things to Different People
Although I have been pursuing early retirement for nearly 20 years, I’ve only been aware of the financial independence community for about 2 years. There are millions of people all around the world who are working towards a similar goal, and I wish I would have come across the community earlier.
However, not everyone in the same community has the same approach or even the exact same goal. Some people turn to extreme frugality to save as much as possible and reduce their living expenses to the point that they’ll be able to survive without working anymore (known as LeanFIRE). Others want to be able to travel or spend more money in retirement and they’re pursuing a higher net worth that will support that lifestyle (known as FatFIRE).
The decision of LeanFIRE vs FatFIRE is one that no one can make for you. Only you know what is right for you and what lifestyle you’re really after. You don’t need to pursue someone else’s definition or idea of financial independence.
3. Full Retirement is Not My Goal
Although I started out this journey with the goal of retiring early, that’s not exactly my goal at this point. I hope to be in a financial position to have the freedom to retire if I want to, but I doubt I will want to stop working completely.
Since I’ve been self-employed for the past 11 years, I’ve found many things that I really enjoy doing. If I were financially independent right now, I would probably scale back my hours a little, but I would definitely keep working. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t work at all.
Most people in the financial independence community intend to keep working in some capacity after retirement. Maybe it’s a side hustle that they do to make a little something extra, or maybe they choose a job based on something they really enjoy rather than choosing a job for a paycheck.
Having the flexibility to choose what you want to do and how much time you want to spend doing it is the goal for most people pursuing FI, and that’s how I feel as well.
4. Family Buy-In is Important
When I set the goal of retiring early, I was single and in my early 20’s. A few years later I got married, and now my wife and I have two kids.
If you’re pursuing financial independence and you have a family, it’s important to have some support from the people in your family. My wife shares similar goals and has the same money mindset that I have, so we’re very fortunate to be on the same page.
If you have a spouse or significant other who is not on the same page as you, it’s important to communicate and see if you can reach some common ground. It’s very hard to pursue financial independence while your spouse has different ideas.
5. Extreme Frugality is Not the Only Way
When the goal is to save as much money as possible for retirement, one of the first things you might think about is how you can spend less money so you have more to save.
Extreme frugality is the approach that many people take when pursuing financial freedom, but it’s not the only option. I’ve always been pretty good with my money and always spent less than I made. But it wasn’t until I became self-employed and increased my income that I started to make any real progress toward my goal.
While saving money is great and it’s important to manage your money wisely, I believe that increasing your income gives you much more potential to reach your goals faster. You can only save money in so many different ways. Eventually, you’ll run out of ways to cut back. But you can always make more money.
The first 18 years of my journey have taught me a lot, and hopefully the lessons I’ve learned will help me to reach my goal of having complete freedom over my work in my 50’s.
Photo by Harli Marten, Unsplash license