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FIRE is Freedom: Personal Independence Through Financial Independence

FIRE is Freedom

I’ve had an epiphany of sorts: FIRE is Freedom.

Rather than a flash of inspiration, or a sudden strike of brilliance, this has been more like a light bulb dimmer switch slowly being pushed up, gradually providing more and more illumination.

I’ve come to realize that my drive reach financial independence and retire early isn’t really about financial independence at all.  It’s really about personal independence; FIRE is Freedom.

PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE THROUGH FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE

I don’t like being told what to do.  Never have.  I can’t imagine that anybody actually likes it, but it really does bother me, no matter how innocent or helpful someone is trying to be.

For example, let’s say that you and I are driving through a crowed parking lot looking for an open spot when suddenly you see, and helpfully point out, a car that begins to back out of their slot.  So naturally you say “hey that car is pulling out; park right there.”

Yeah … that bugs me. I know that it shouldn’t but it just does and my knee-jerk reaction is to keep driving until I find another spot that nobody told me to park in.

That might be a bit of an extreme example, but it illustrates the point well.  Even when someone is just trying to be helpful, whenever I’m told what to do, my walls go up. I withdraw a little bit. I might even be the tiniest bit resentful … for a little while anyway.

Stupid?  Yes.

Irrational? Yes.

I know that reacting like that is dumb, especially when I know the person is just trying to help. Yet, even in that very moment when I can feel myself getting agitated and I tell myself to relax, that it’s no big deal, I still can’t help it – it just bothers me when someone tells me what to do.

Why?  Because I’m not in control.

            “I like being told what to do– nobody ever

Don’t Tell Me  What To Do

Now that you know this unflattering little tidbit about me, maybe you can imagine the joy I experience every Monday through Friday as I go to work.  Not because I get to or because I’m following my passion. No, I’m going to work because I have to.

Because I still need that paycheck and that means I’m not in control. Grrrrr!

Trading My Time for Money

As far as work goes, I’m really very fortunate. I work for a large, well-known company.  They’re stable and pay well.  I work in an exciting industry.  The benefits I get are fantastic.  The work life balance is so good that it’s really kind of ridiculous.  I like the team I’m on and the people I get to work with.

In short, I have nothing to complain about, yet, I find myself complaining about work far more than I should.

Until recently, I really didn’t understand why.  I knew I had a good thing going.  I’ve always been a happy person (still am), but I assumed that maybe I was just getting grumpier as I got older.  That’s probably very true, but I’m also realizing that I just really resent being told what to do.

Which is kind of a problem when you go to work for someone else.  I mean, that’s sort of what work is all about – in exchange for that paycheck, and great benefits, and work-life balance, my employer gets to tell me what to do.  I know this and I accept it.  But I’m also coming to resent it more and more.

FIRE is Freedom

For the past couple of years I’ve been scratching and clawing my way towards a goal of becoming financially independent.  My hope was that financial independence would buy my freedom and that, in turn, would be a good thing.

And it will – but not for the reasons I’ve thought.

My recent epiphany-of-sorts has helped me come to realize that one of the things that truly makes me happy is the freedom to use my time as I wish.  Financial independence has been my goal, when in reality, it should have been my strategy to reach a different goal: personal independence; i.e. freedom!  Freedom to:

  • Lie on the sofa all day eating Doritos and watching reruns of American Pickers.
  • Get up at 6:00am to go fishing on a Wednesday.
  • Stay up late writing blog posts and not worry about getting up early the next morning.
  • Do whatever I want to do with my time, however unproductive or idiotic someone else may view my use of time to be.

But I’m still about 10 years away from accumulating enough assets to become financially independent and reaching personal independence.  That’s 10 more years of going to work for someone else, trading my time for money, being told what to do, not being able to call all the shots.  And that’s frustrating.

A Means to an End

My job, however great it might be, is currently just a means to an end and as long as that’s the case, then I’m always going to have this conundrum. 

Don’t misunderstand, my problem isn’t that I’m “working” – I don’t mind working at all.  I grew up in a blue collar home where I learned how to work hard and how to appreciate the value of hard work.

No, the problem is that I’m working for someone else – someone else controls my day so I’m not truly free, and that personal freedom is what I’m looking for.

I think that’s why the concept of F-You money sounded so satisfying when I first heard about it.  Having the freedom to say “What’s that? You need me to work on my vacation?  Guess what?  F-You!

It’s all about personal freedom – it always has been, I’m just now beginning to understand that better.

My plan to obtain that personal freedom has been to reach that point where my investments generate enough cash to cover all of my expense.  Once you reach that point then you’ve bought the freedom to call your own shots.

To make that happen I need to save up 25 times my annual expenses, that amount of money will generate enough cash each year to cover my expenses and at that point, work will be optional.

PERSONAL FREEDOM

It’s going to take me about 10 more years to reach that point.  But what if I could somehow earn enough money, outside of my full time job, to cover my expenses?  If I could call all my owns shots while still working, wouldn’t that provide the personal freedom I’m after?

Let’s pretend for a minute that this humble blog suddenly began to produce enough money each month to cover my living expenses.  If that were the case I’d quit my current full time job in a heartbeat, even though I wouldn’t be financially independent, and even though quitting my full time job would seriously extend the amount of time it would take me to reach financial independence.

Why would I quit and seriously delay financial independence?!?

Because my real goal would have been met!

The Best Thing Money Can Buy

Money buys freedom, and I’ll be free when my investments generate enough income to cover my basic expenses.  That’s what being financially independent means to me.  But if this blog suddenly met my financial needs, then what would be the point of sticking it out in a full time job that weighs down my happiness?  I could quit my job, do whatever I wanted to do, and still make ends meet financially.

Sure, I’d need to keep “working” – but this blog isn’t really work for me.  It’s fun.  It’s a hobby.  This blog is just me typing my thoughts and opinions on my computer during my lunch break.  I get to write about whatever I want.  I get to post as infrequently as I want. I get to call all my own shots.  I can do it from Seattle, or I can do it from Peru – I’m not anchored down by it.

If I could do that full time and have my expenses covered…..well, that’s exactly what I’m striving for!  This whole financial independence journey is all about happiness.  Money is just the tool I’ve been using to buy my freedom, which will bring me happiness.

Personal Freedom is Greater than Financial Freedom

Now that I’m shifting my goal from financial freedom to personal freedom, the question I need to answer it this: do I make a serious effort to turn this blog into a revenue-generating business rather than a hobby that I hope to make a couple of bucks from?

That would spending a lot more time on this site that I currently do. I’d need to spend time and money investing in myself (writing classes, affiliate marketing classes, etc.).  Would being forced to spend significantly more time on this site take the fun out of it? I don’t know, there’s a lot to consider, but right now I’m leaning toward jumping in with both feet.

The quest for FIRE really boils down to personal freedom and the ability to tell everyone: Don't tell me what to do! Fire is Freedom.

Chime in!

This was very much a stream of consciousness post – so thanks for slogging through it. Do you think there’s a difference between financial independence and personal independence?  Is one more important to you than the other? Whatever you think about this, please let me know in the comments – that is if you don’t mind – I’d never tell anyone else what to do! 😉

By Ty Roberts

Ty Roberts is the founder of Camp FIRE Finance, and a husband and father of four living in the Seattle area. He's a fan of the 4% rule, 80s movies and music, dad jokes and cast iron cooking.

24 replies on “FIRE is Freedom: Personal Independence Through Financial Independence”

I absolutely think there’s a connection. All things considered I have a pretty sweet job too. But I still have to get up in the dark and go do things I don’t care about. Because I spend 8+ hours a day doing those things, i don’t have time to do what I want. That’s my problem. Maybe it’s selfish. But I want to do what I want to do! (Imagine a foot stamp in there somewhere.)

Yes! I arrived at the same conclusion about 5 years ago. We had about 25x our annual expense, but most of that is not easily accessible. We have investments in our retirement accounts and a big portion is locked up in our real estate investments. I could retire early, but I didn’t want to deplete our accounts until a bit later. The answer was working part time on my blog. It generate some income to help pay the bills. We could cover the rest with dividend income and a small withdrawal from our retirement accounts.
That’s why I think you can retire early without reaching FI. Working part time on something you like really helps.
I really hate it when people tell me what to do too… Good luck!

I’d say they are connected. Financial independence serves the purpose of removing the money anxiety from your life. But money is only one of life’s many potential anxieties.

A key takeaway for me is not to focus so much on ridding that money anxiety that you neglect those other life anxieties….

I love your stream of consciousness, Ty! I can so relate too. Like you, I have issues with being told what to do. Schedules feel smothering and, to this day, if my mom suggests I do something, I seriously contemplate doing the opposite (and sometimes do). You’re right – it’s an issue of feeling in control. And maybe a bit of rebelliousness.

I can totally relate to your burning desire for personal independence asap (yes I think there is a difference!)! We have maybe 8 years or so before FI and it can’t come fast enough for me. I get so frustrated thinking about that timeline – I know it’s not that long, but it seems like forever. Personal independence is so much more important to me too, so I’ve been trying to figure out ways to get the personal independence prior to the FI. I think we could design a lifestyle that would be conducive to personal freedom before FI – so a plan is in the works and we’re in the process of diversifying our income streams to help speed things along. Thanks for this post – LOVED it! 🙂

Hey Amanda – thanks! I really need to diversity my plan as well. The emergeny plan is in place (in case of death orjob loss). There is a solid foundation built – all that’s left to do is add to the pile, optimize, look for new income streams, etc. etc.

Yeah, absolutely a connection. Mr. PIE will get PI by being FI. Kinda…..

We are FI right now but are looking to put that bit more into the PIE just coz we are conservative and would like a larger safety net. ACA, kids to college, for example.

My frustration lies in the inability to give enough time to kids, spouse and extended family. All infinitely more important than a crappy commute and office politics. Luckily I work with a good team for the most part but a few bad apples in functions we have to partner with make it a drudge for all.

I just keep trying to go back to what works for me. What is my purpose, what is my vision. As someone who is horrible at setting goals (they’re either too immediate/easy because I like to get life “perfect” or HUGE lofty monsters), it’s really important for me to hold onto my vision and my happiness. Being competitive by nature, it’s really easy for me to latch onto someone else’s path or journey.

Great post, Ty!

If you’ve already reached “personal independence,” what does “financial independence” matter? Moreover, if you’re financially independent but not really “free,” then the financial side of things doesn’t seem to be doing you much real good. So are they the same? Not necessarily. And personal independence seems much more important. But having the financial side of things all sorted out hardly seems to be a bad thing!

Great message here, and a very inspirational stream of consciousness… Let’s hope your mind meets many others and influences them all.

I’m so with you dude! I am tired of being powerless. By powerless I mean: Limited PTO and sick days, zero flexibility in the workplace, not being allowed to work from home, being expendable and just another number, never feeling appreciated, a glass ceiling on wages and never getting ahead financially, etc. I’m like so totally over it. I feel like I get more respect as a blogger, LOL.

The example about the parking spot…stupid and irrational absolutely and that is exactly my reaction when “told” what to do also! I can empathize with your position. Job is okay but I crave the freedom of FI. My obstacles are living in High cost area…I could move but it’s tough when all your family and friends are here.

lol – I hoped someone would understand my parking woes! I’m kind of the opposite of you re: my job. It’s a great job, and it pays well, but I had to move away from a low cost of living area to take this job in Seattle, which is a higher than average cost of living area. Our move took us about a thousand miles away from “home” so I’m not around family and old friends, kids are away from cousins, etc. We could move back, but my earning potential would drop by 30%.

I am so stubborn I like to be in control of my time and everything (not everyone) else. At times I’ve been relieved to be told what to do, because being in control takes SO MUCH ENERGY. However, I don’t know if you can apply that to your job – I wasn’t able to apply it to mine because it was so stupid.

I don’t mind being told what my job/goal/expectation is…that’s very nice actually. What I don’t like is for someone to tell me how to accomplish the task I’ve been given – sounds like we’re same-sames. How’s retirement going? Love your ‘do one thing per day’ goal. I think I might try to use some variation of that in my own life!

My situation is also like yours. I have a great gig with really good benefits and hours. But it is still the hours. I still have to be there in certain hours and there is no way getting out of it. I am 100% with you. All I want is to be able to do what I would like to do and when I would like to do it. It is also not so much about working less hours either. It is about doing what want/like and not worry about the money anymore. That is why we see plenty of early retirees continue to spend time on things like blogging and other businesses they always wanted to be part of. Good luck on your journey and I hope you get there quicker than you wish.

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