Before we begin… Today I’m thrilled to be featured (again!) on CaitFlanders.com, this time as a part of Cait’s Coffee Date series. Check it out here! (The last feature was a guest post, inspired by Thoreau’s Walden, on how moving to the mountains didn’t ultimately make me happier. Choosing to be happy did.) Cait’s blog has long been one of my favorites, and I always suspected that we were kindred spirits, a suspicion confirmed by finally meeting in person at FinCon. But even before that, I knew that Cait was not just a wonderful and honest writer, but also an incredibly generous spirit. She tweeted out my first really honest post with a touching endorsement, in a gesture that probably meant little to her, but was a huge boost for this baby blog at the time. What followed has been an ongoing stream of support that continues to mean a ton to me — the world is a better place because generous people like Cait are willing to share the spotlight. Thanks for being a great friend, Cait! Here’s to lots more time together in the near future! xoxo
Almost a year ago, we realized that we’d reached financial independence.
The realization was almost an afterthought, more whimper than bang. We were so unsure of whether we’d actually reached it that our post about it posed the notion as a question, not a statement. “Are we really FI?”
But the answer was clearly yes, at least in the bare bones sense of the word. Like if we never work again, we wouldn’t starve, but we also wouldn’t ever live large. We noted it, “Huh, cool,” and went about our lives.
And since then, a lot has happened.
We’ve had our most demanding and draining work year ever.
I’ve flown more miles than I ever have in a comparable period, almost all for work.
We’ve saved a bunch of money.
We’ve let work stress us out (often) and frustrate us (sometimes).
I’ve written approximately 85 blog posts, totaling ~136,000 words, and written ~3500 responses to comments.
We’ve hiked 600 miles.
We’ve had some fun times and some stupid fights.
We’ve changed our early retirement plan a few more times.
We’ve met awesome people in real life whom we’d never have met if not for this blog and the PF community.
We’ve seen our local friends far too little.
We’ve gotten even more excited to retire next year, especially after realizing that we’re ahead of schedule.
We’ve neglected maintenance at our home and our rental.
We’ve collapsed into nearly every weekend from exhaustion.
We’ve spent zero time doing this:
Our FI Life
Our goal was never financial independence as its own thing. We were always focused on early retirement. But if you’d asked me a few years ago what life would be like if we ever became financially independent, I would have at least said, “I’ll finally get to catch up on sleep!”
And yet, here we are, almost a year into our FI life, and just as behind on sleep as ever. Just as neglectful of chores, just as easily tempted by convenience food when the alternative is taking the time to cook from scratch. It’s nothing like what I’m guessing many people imagine FI to be like.
Our FI life is still life. Work is still work. Chores are still chores.
Some things are better. It’s easier to laugh off office politics than it was before, though it’s hard to say if that’s because we reached FI or because we know retirement is only a yearish away. We can’t remember the last time we felt anything akin to money stress, which is an incredible privilege. And we feel grateful a lot more of the time.
But becoming financially independent hasn’t changed who we are. It hasn’t changed how we see the world. And it certainly hasn’t (yet) changed how we spend our time. If we’d set FI as the measure of success in our lives, it would be a total bust.
This year has taught us: Financial independence is a good goal, but a bad goalpost.
FI: A Good Goal
I’m a huge believer that setting and pursuing goals is a positive thing in life. Pursuing goals forces us to be more deliberate and mindful about our choices, it forces us to confront our self-defeating habits, and it often teaches us unexpected lessons about life and about ourselves. We’ve long said that, even if we never retire early, the journey of pursuing it will still have been worthwhile. In that sense, setting the goal of reaching financial independence is absolutely a good thing.
And on the financial side, it’s a total no-brainer. Money stress is a leading cause of general anxiety, divorce and even suicide, so pursuing a goal that will in large part free us from that stress is more of a gift than many of us stop to think about. (Seriously, stop and think about it. We’re all so lucky to be in a position to even see FI as a real possibility.)
FI: A Bad Goalpost
It’s one thing to set a goal of reaching FI, but quite another to make FI the thing. That spot that, when you reach it, you will have succeeded. That, when you reach it, your life will be complete.
Because FI all by itself will never provide that. Unless you come into that money all at one time, it’s ultimately just one more dollar that pushes you over the line, and one dollar doesn’t make you a different person leading a different life. Even if you do come into enough money to make you financially independent in one fell swoop, it won’t change who you are.
If we measure our success in life by whether we achieve financial independence, we’re choosing too shallow a measure.
Even if we assume that everyone else who reaches FI is better at it than we are, we still feel confident in saying: FI doesn’t make you healthier, happier, nicer or more generous all by itself. And just as importantly, you don’t need to be FI to be healthier, happier, nicer or more generous — those are all qualities you can pursue no matter what shape your finances are in.
Early Retirement: Also Not a Cure-All
We make no secret about how impatient and excited we are to get to early retirement sometime next year. Having more time to ourselves feels infinitely more significant than having a few more dollars saved ever could. (Like for real, can we finally catch up on sleep then?)
But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that none of these milestones are good goalposts. Just as achieving financial independence didn’t solve everything in our lives, neither will early retirement. It’s going to be a big moment, worthy of celebration, but it also won’t be a cure-all.
Work will go away (or at least mostly away), and that’s huge. That will eliminate our predominant source of stress as well as our biggest sleep-deprivation driver. It will free up our time to take care of chores and spend more time outside. But early retirement all by itself won’t do those chores for us. It won’t climb the mountains for us. We will still have to do those things ourselves, and in truth we could do them now if we prioritized them. The lack of early retirement isn’t what’s holding us back, so it’s silly to think the presence of it will fix everything.
The Right Goalposts for Us
When we’re out hiking, we often get onto the subject of whether we are adults or not. We don’t feel much different than we did in our early 20s, and we don’t have kids, which we think would make us feel more “grown up.” But financially, we completely have our act together, and we know what we’re doing. My verdict: we’re adults for sure, just the goofy kind. Mr. ONL’s view: we’re overgrown kids with assets. Becoming financially independent didn’t change how either of us answers this question, and we doubt that retiring early will either. (If anything, it’s going to make us feel more like kids because we won’t even have to go to work anymore.)
Feeling “grown up” isn’t the end state we’re after, but we know that we feel like we’re doing it right when we’re taking care of our health, sleeping enough, spending time with friends and family, and making a positive contribution in the world. Those are the things that align to our purpose, and that don’t depend on any particular financial state to be achievable. Those are the goalposts we’ll keep aiming for.
Everyone gets to define their own goalposts, based on what feels right for them. Looking beyond the goal itself to the marker that lets you know, “I’m doing it right.”
Share Your Thoughts!
What are your goalposts in life, beyond the financial stuff? Any other FI folks hit the milestone and have an experience similar to ours, that it didn’t change much? Or find the opposite to be true, that reaching financial independence made a big positive difference in your life? As always, we’d love to keep the conversation going, so hit us up in the comments!