Solving for the best way to reach financial independence can be a frustrating exercise.
Inevitably, it involves making some hard decisions about your current lifestyle and spending habits. And while the good life is certainly there for the taking, it sure feels like it’s far, far away.
As anyone who has ever run the spreadsheet will tell you, it’s a real downer to work out the numbers – and realize you’ve got another couple of decades to go before you can finally hang up the gloves.
One way to solve the conundrum is to recalibrate your expectations downwards.
Cut the budget a little closer to the bone. Redesign your post-retirement lifestyle.
After all, there’s no need to stick around that high cost of living area anymore. Leaving your job behind means you can finally take advantage of all those off-peak holidays and discounts.
And for those brave souls thinking of private schools, a combination of a good enough state school with sufficient time investment by the parents (realistically only possible if you aren’t working full-time) could actually leave your children well ahead.
However, the problem with that approach is that it only goes so far.
As my flight instructor would tell me back in the day: “altitude is your best friend”. There’s nothing like having a bit more room – and time – for manoeuvre.
In other words, you don’t want to tie the record for flying the lowest.
Personal finance isn’t any different. Retiring on a skinny budget and aggressive withdrawal assumptions is a lot like flying 50 feet above the ground. Even a little turbulence gets you into real trouble.
But what if you were to come at it a different way and raise the bar instead?
Reaching For The Stars
Imagine for a moment that you wiped the slate clean, multiplied your FI number by ten – and made it a non-negotiable target.
Then ask yourself – just what would it take to make it happen?
The power of this approach is that by definition, incremental improvements won’t cut it anymore. Instead, you’re forced to focus on step changes in your lifestyle – and answer some tough questions along the way.
Forget about brown-bagging your lunch for the office – are you working for the right company?
Do you get the recognition and pay you deserve? Or are you simply treading water, while others get the promotions and raises you’ve always wanted?
Are you in the right industry? Do you feel the proverbial wind at your back, with career growth and opportunities galore?
Or is your company simply delaying the inevitable secular decline, with the CFO circling every single department like a hawk, looking to cut costs at every corner? You don’t want to be working in the equivalent of a typewriter industry back in the 1980s.
Taking the argument even further, is corporate employment the right place for you to start with? Or have you been dreaming of starting your own business, notwithstanding all the ups and downs of entrepreneurship?
And do you even have the right skill set to succeed? Or are you running on fumes, with no plan to refill the tank by going back to school or taking up professional training?
All In The Family
Let’s take it up another level.
Look around you – is your environment conducive to your success? Or does it weigh you down like a pair of cement boots?
That old overused expression says you are the average of five people you spend the most time with. Do you know why it’s so overused? Because it’s true.
You will never quit smoking if your best friends look like Marlboro Man. The same goes for financial freedom.
Not everything that looks exciting is good for you…
Good luck trying to get there if you are surrounded by people with a diametrically opposite set of habits you are trying to cultivate.
Ask yourself: is your significant other willing to do what it takes to support your dreams and aspirations? After all, one of the leading causes of divorce is disagreements about money.
It’s not easy to ponder these questions. Having honest, tough conversations with people closest to you is even harder. But if you don’t do it, your journey is doomed before you even begin.
Playing To Win
If you are young, you are in the best possible position to design your life.
You are at the very beginning of your career path. You haven’t yet settled down. And despite what you may think now, your circle of friends will continue to evolve over time.
The canvas is blank.
You can go back to school. Change jobs and countries. And only you get to choose who to spend your valuable time with.
Even if you are older, being far away from financial independence can actually be quite liberating.
You’ve still got a few decades of plugging away – so why not switch careers or finally start that business? What have you got to lose?
Perversely, the real challenge may arise when you are well on track. Because all of a sudden, you are no longer playing to win.
Instead, you are playing not to lose. You stop being open minded. Unwilling to change. Unwilling to take a chance.
Make no mistake: there’s no need to change the strategy that has worked for you over the years.
But it is equally important not to become so entrenched in your ways that you are no longer willing to do the things that made you successful in the first place.
Look around you for the moment and consider the most successful people you know.
Are they smarter? More energetic? Better looking? Unlikely.
However, the one trait successful people do have in common is the ability to challenge the status quo.
Going back to the original premise of the post, you certainly don’t need 10x your FI “number” to retire. But setting your goal at that level is an incredibly effective way to do a wholesale re-evaluation of your life – and identify areas where a change is overdue.
I won’t lie – it’s not a comfortable exercise. Then again, everything you’ve ever wanted in life lies just outside your comfort zone.