Unlearn What You Think You Know
Spoiler alert: society has already defined the path to a successful life for you. Nothing for you to do except follow the instructions and don’t deviate.
In case you missed it, here’s the plan:
- Get good grades in high school
- Graduate from college with a useful degree
- Land a good job
- Get married
- Buy a home
- Have 2 kids
- Climb the corporate ladder for 40 years
- Retire at 65
- Live happily ever after
It’s not a terrible strategy. It even works! Countless people have followed, and are following, this plan and they’re leading perfectly happy, content lives. Although the major milestones in this plan are predetermined, at least you get to fill in the details. For example, you get to choose which college you go to, which cars you want to lease, where you’ll live, etc. But the general plan is in place and anyone that deviates from the norm is, well, abnormal.
So just stick to the plan and you’ll be fine. All it will cost you is your freedom.
Too harsh? Maybe, but as long as you’re dependent upon that paycheck to survive each month, how can you truly be free? You’ve traded your time for money; your time no longer belongs to you.
You are not free.
The overwhelming majority of us are nothing more than wage slaves, trading our time for money. Secretly terrified that one day we’ll get cut off and the money will dry up.
But guess what? There is another path you can follow. It’s a lesser-known path that also leads to happiness. Only, your happiness comes from financial independence rather than the ‘security’ of a regular paycheck. And best of all? You won’t have to trade the best years of your life for a measly paycheck.
All it requires is a different way of looking at things. You can reach financial independence far sooner (in about 10 years) than is possible by following society’s well-traveld path (which takes 40+ years).
You can retire sooner than you think, you just need to start thinking differently.
Retire Sooner Than You Think
Financial independence means your expenses can be covered by income that is generated from your assets and investments. Which means if your 9 to 5 paycheck were to go away, you’d be just fine. Financial independence means you get to do whatever you want with your time. If that includes punching a clock, then knock yourself out. You don’t have to retire if you don’t want to.
Not everyone should pursue early retirement, but everyone absolutely should pursue financial independence.
Most of us pursuing financial independence and early retirement get cockeyed looks whenever someone learns that we bus to work instead of owning a car, or that you sold your 3,000 sq. foot home to live in an Airstream trailer, or that you bike everywhere instead of driving, or that you save 70% of your income rather than spending it.
Don’t Be Normal
Those things aren’t normal. And because you’re living that way, you must be abnormal. People assume you’re depriving yourself; living a destitute life. People look at you funny because they just don’t get it. Hell, most of us didn’t get it at one point in our lives either, but somewhere along the way, something clicked for us. We had our financial epiphany. And once you get it, a light goes off, your entire perspective changes and suddenly you become the one passing out cockeyed looks at everyone that’s blindly following society’s predetermined path as if it were the only option available.
I’ll turn 40 later this year. Although I got a late start to this financial independence game and am not where I want to be, I’m doing what I can to make up for lost time because I absolutely do NOT want to continue on as a wage slave for the next 25+ years, so that I can then retire and hopefully enjoy a few good years in the twilight of my life.
No thanks. Time out! Something feels very wrong with this narrative.
Unfortunately, this past week my feelings were confirmed.
A short six weeks ago we were throwing a retirement party for my father-in-law. He’d followed society’s plan for success to the letter and now it was time for him to helg up the ol’ calculator (he was a corporate controller). He’d just put the finishing touches on a 50 year career and it was finally time for him to ride off into the sunset.
But life had other ideas.
Three days ago my wife called me at work. She was crying; barely able to speak. Through the sobbing I was able to piece a few words together and figure out what she was telling me. Her Dad has cancer.
Stage 4. Pancreatic. Terminal. Maybe six months to live.
Our hearts are broken.
Six short weeks ago we were celebrating his retirement. Now he’s got six months to live.
Life isn’t fair. This man had followed society’s plan to a T:
- Do well in high school? Check!
- Graduate from a top-ranked college? Check!
- Get married? Check!
- Buy a house? Check!
- Have kids? Check! Check! Check! Check! Check!
- Climb the corporate ladder for FIFTY years? Check!
- Retire? Check!
- Live happily ever after? ……
Everything was going exactly as planned. The American Dream in action! Only, the American Dream doesn’t come with a guarantee.
Screw that! 40+ years punching a clock in exchange for maybe 15 years of retirement during a stage in life where my health will probably be in decline? That’s a gamble I’m not willing to take. After this past week I’m more resolved than ever because life is not meant to be spent in an office building.
Enjoy The Journey
The one major change I’ll be making to my own strategy is to consciously make more of an effort to enjoy each and every day, because that’s all that really matters anyway.
How you spend your days is how you spend your life.
This new addition to my plan will also rank at the top. At the very top. And I’ve already started to do just that. Today I’d asked my kids to rake the fallen leaves into a pile while I mowed our lawn. Being the young boys that they are, they decided that playing in the leaves was a lot more fun than raking them up.
Normally I might have been short with the kids for not doing what I’d asked. But today I was just fine with them being little boys. In fact, I joined in the fun and helped them pile the leaves up higher than they could on their own. The lawn is only 80% mowed and there are leaves everywhere, but who cares? That stuff just doesn’t matter all that much. So hopefully I’ve created a memory with my boys that they’ll keep with them for a long time: dad liked to play in the leaves with us.
Time Is The Ultimate Status Symbol
I wish I had the luxury of time because I’d spend as much of it with my family as I could. But I’m not financially independent yet. Like most of you, I still need that paycheck. My time is not my own. But I’m doing everything I can do reclaim my time as soon as possible and as a result, I’m going to reclaim it decades earlier than I otherwise would have. Here’s my strategy for reaching financial independence in 10 years or less (#1 is new; this used to be a four step plan).
- Find joy in each day
- Spend less money than I make
- Invest the difference
- Eliminate, then avoid debt
- Stay away from lifestyle inflation
That’s it. This isn’t rocket science. It’s not even science – it’s first grade math!
Just save as much of your paycheck as possible; aim for 50%. Then, as your salary increases and as you eliminate other expenses, increase your savings rate. I know what you’re thinking, but a 50% savings rate is absolutely possible. You just need to unlearn what you think you already know. For example:
- You don’t need to finance or lease brand new cars
- Home ownership is not essential to the American Dram
- A high-paying, white collar job isn’t required
- You don’t need to pay for your kid’s college education
- Vacations don’t need to be in exotic, far off places
- Expensive clothing isn’t necessary
None of that crap brings lasting happiness. In fact, everything you own is going to become garbage anyway.
Find Lasting Happiness
Lasting happiness comes from freedom. True freedom is yours when your investments generate enough income to cover your expenses because when that happens, you’re no longer a wage slave, dependent on a job for survival. Just save most of what you make, invest what you save and then avoid debt and lifestyle inflation.
You can do it. You can retire sooner than you think, you just need to start thinking differently.
Oh, and in conclusion, cancer f***king sucks!
Is society’s plan a good plan? Does your own mortality have any impact on yow you’re currently living your life and how you plan for your future? Whatever you think, let me hear about in the comments.