Early FI: How Bad Do You Really Want It?

Reaching-your-goals-1

I first discovered the concept of early financial independence in late 2011. I vividly remember coming home from work late one night, totally burned out as usual, and having no desire to do anything else other than to plop myself onto the bed. I closed my eyes momentarily, overwhelmed with exhaustion, and muttered to myself, “LIFE SUCKS!

On the surface, you could argue that I had a lot going for me:

  • New job
  • Relocated to Orange County
  • Employed at a premiere company
  • Still young and only in my mid 20’s

But I was completely unsatisfied with my life! Regardless of those things that I had going for me (or what people told me I had), I lived in a much different, harsher reality. Instead, I couldn’t get over the fact that the following was occurring on a daily basis:

  • Doing the same shit everyday
  • Days and weeks and months blurring together because I spent 40+ hours/week doing the same shit
  • Wasting away the prime years of my life chasing after money
  • Becoming stagnant and not learning anything new and exciting

Yes, I did have weekends to enjoy (for the most part), but I’ve never been the type of person who could rationalize living a life where you only get to own 2/7 days of each week. For those who can make that type of “work-life” balance work, that’s totally awesome and kudos to you! I commend you for that, but that type of compromise is something my mind, body, and soul will NEVER accept.

I was at a loss and didn’t know what to do… When I FINALLY discovered the concept of early FI… it was a defining moment in my life. The light bulb switched on full blast for the very first time, and I knew, without question, that this was something I needed to achieve in life.

In late 2011, I made the commitment to pursue early FI. I went “all in” with absolute conviction. In my mind, I had to get to early FI, because a life without it was not one worth living.

Early FI became my light at the end of a drab, monotonous tunnel. I was determined to get there as soon as possible, by whatever means necessary…

After 3 years on the journey, I feel confident that I will be able to declare early FI sometime in 2015! Here are some of the techniques I’ve used that have helped me out the most:

Visualization

The declaration to START was cemented in February 2012, and my first major accomplishment. Prior to that, I was more or less just floating around, without clear direction. After that declaration, I was laser focused and had the singular vision of financial freedom on my mind. I became obsessed with it on a daily basis… and still am today.

Achieving early FI isn’t easy! Like any dream worth pursuing, you are going to have to tackle it one step at a time. However, you can do yourself a huge favor and set yourself up for future success if you take the time out to visualize your goals. You can literally “will” yourself to success if your mental focus is strong enough. It’s kind of like learning how to unleash “the force”… The mind is insanely powerful, so don’t ever sell yourself short or underestimate the power your thoughts have! As is repeatedly suggested in Napoleon Hill’s legendary Think and Grow Rich, you must learn to visualize… and know very clearly where it is that you are trying to go if you are to accomplish your goals.

For myself, whenever things get rough, I always think back to the Starting Point. Why am I doing this, again? What is my end game?

If you have CLARITY, the journey becomes that much easier. These days, I rarely (if ever) find myself swaying too far away from center, because I know implicitly what it is that I want; my thoughts and actions all serve to accomplish the same thing.

Pretty potent, when you have harmony between the two!

Optimization

I don’t like to use the term “sacrifice” because I don’t feel like the things that I’m doing in my life are causing me to have to make a compromise. Instead, I’m simply choosing to align my life with actions that resonate with my own belief system. But it also doesn’t hurt that these decisions are also helping me shortcut the journey to early FI by several years, if not decades.

One way that I’ve been able to optimize my life is to question everything mainstream society tells you to accept as a universal truth.

Here is my own list:

Mainstream:You’re doing well if you are saving 10% of your income each month.

My Take: I don’t want to retire at 65, or 70+! I want to reach early financial independence much sooner than that. Perhaps, as early as 30/31. After accounting for my necessary expenses, I see no reason why I can’t and shouldn’t be saving 70% to 80% of my net income each month. So, that’s what I do.

 

Mainstream: “You must own and live in your primary residence.

My Take: Only if owning makes more sense than renting! Most people splurge on their homes, CHOOSING to take out enormous loans that result is even larger property tax bills. These same people CHOOSE to pay more to live in the nicest locations with the most amenities. A roof over your head is usually a person’s largest monthly expense. How do you reduce that? Live with multiple roommates and split the bill! Live in a cheaper building, slightly farther away from work. Live in your parents’ basement. Rent out a room in your uncle’s garage converted (unpermitted) guesthouse… Build a tiny house! Who cares what society says?!? Even if you are “sacrificing” in the near-term, take solace in your actions: “Live a few years like others won’t so that someday soon you can live out the rest of your life like others can’t.

 

Mainstream: “As you build up equity in your home, trade up and upgrade to a nicer home…

My Take: It’s sad how many people actually go through with this… You don’t create wealth by splurging on yourself! Nor should it even be necessary. That equity could be used to fund other income generating assets… And how come no one ever decides to cash out their home equity and DOWNGRADE to a cheaper, more cozy home, instead?

 

Mainstream: “You must invest in a 401k and Roth IRA.

My Take: No, you don’t. I invest in a 401k and Roth IRA, but those traditional retirement accounts were designed for a reason… to keep you chained to your employer for as long as possible. It’s not a bad idea to contribute up to the company match, but if you want to achieve early FI, you are going to have to invest in more than just those traditional accounts! Since early FI requires a sustainable income stream sooner rather than later, a lot of folks take up dividend growth investing (DGI), and/or real estate investing (REI). If you buy right, you can still find investments that not only pay you TOMORROW, but also TODAY!

 

Mainstream: “You will spend more as you earn more.

My Take: That won’t ever happen if you are laser focused and fully committed to achieving early FI! I probably spend less now than I did in 2012. For certain, I spend much less now than I did when I was an intern in 2008 earning less than $60,000/year. Again, it goes back to visualization and knowing what you really want out of life. I know when enough is enough, so I don’t have to worry about this problem. As I earn more, the only thing I’m spending more on is my investment portfolio. Use money to make more money. That’s how you really shortcut the path to early FI!

 

Mainstream: “You need to aim to replace your current income, if not more, for your retirement years.

My Take: Again, it’s your life, so there’s no reason why you have to accept mainstream thinking as being the only right, definitive answer. I can’t answer this with full certainty yet (since I haven’t reached early FI), but I highly doubt that I will need to replace my full W-2 income to be able to survive post-FI. In fact, my initial plans are to leave the expensive Bay Area entirely, and live a few years overseas where the cost of living is dramatically less. There are many, many options out there! Your employer wants you to stay rooted in one location, so that kind of thinking becomes prevalent in our minds. But without the handcuffs, the world becomes your oyster. Go wherever you’d like. For me, I’m going someplace warm and cheap!

 

Mainstream: “You need to go to school, get married, have kids, and then focus on wealth building…

My Take: Then I’m obviously deviating from this path greatly! That’s the route most people take, but you can ask around, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find out that isn’t always the optimal solution. Life happens, so roll with it… You should not feel embarrassed or out of place for starting the journey to wealth building prior to all those things. If anything, becoming financially independent before getting married and having kids will probably lead to less stress! And for what it’s worth, I feel like formal education has become extremely unaffordable, and a 4-year degree is vastly, vastly overrated… College trains you to become a wage drone, not how to become financially independent!

 

So, keep an open mind, always! If you go against the grain, you might just find some neat solutions to help you achieve your dreams faster than you ever thought possible.

Documentation

I’m a firm believer in documenting your early FI progress. It’s impossible to know how high you’ve climbed if you don’t know where you started from. For instance, I just finished documenting my November 2014 Net Worth, and looking back, I can see that my net worth has increased by about $200,000 this year. But that type of progress is hard to notice or feel on a day-to-day basis! You would have had me fooled, otherwise…

If anything, documentation will add fuel to the fire and motivate you further on your journey to early FI. Almost everyone who looks back is always in awe with how far they’ve progressed since first starting out. Also by time-capsuling your every move, you’ll be able to look back in the future and know what you did right/wrong. With each investment move I make, I also make it a habit to outline my thought process at the time; this helps me learn from my mistakes and avoid falling into the same traps in the future.

So if you haven’t given documentation a try, get to it!

Networking

These days I’m attending real estate meet ups in Cupertino and San Jose. I love to network with other investors, and have even gotten to know some readers on this blog! 🙂 It’s awesome, and what better way is there to find motivation than to network with other like-minded individuals who are trying to accomplish the same things?

And you never know who you will end up meeting, so get out there! In fact, I recently partnered up on a real estate deal with a reader of this blog. Just one year ago, I didn’t even know this guy existed…

Another great idea would be to start your own blog, if you haven’t done so already. The early FI community is AWESOME and the most supportive network that I know of! Many thanks to the all the readers of the blog and felllow bloggers for all the inspiration!

Conclusion

Anyone can achieve early financial independence! There are no secret paths, or expensive seminars that you have to attend to acquire the requisite knowledge. In theory, it’s all incredibly simple: Make money, save a HUGE chunk of it, invest and re-invest it. Lather, rinse, and repeat!

The real question is, “How badly do you want it?” If you are dead serious about making early FI a reality, then you will do absolutely everything possible to make sure that it happens.

I’m not quite there yet, but I’ve been on the journey to early FI for 3 years now. 2015 will mark Year 4, and hopefully the final year until I get there. Through the years, I’ve learned many things, and the following have helped me out tremendously: Visualization, Optimization, Documentation, and Networking.

2015 is fast approaching and I’ve never been more excited! When I first discovered early FI in late 2011, I was incredibly motivated and hungry… but I lacked direction. By utilizing the 4 pillars (VODN), I was able to bring focus to my vision.

4 pillars = 4 years to early FI (2012-2015)?

Maybe that’s just a coincidence, but if things do indeed work out that way, I’ll gladly take it. 🙂

Fight On!

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21 Comment authors
NeilkbMr. Captain CashrickNo Nonsense Landlord Recent comment authors
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Income Surfer
Guest

You’re getting it done Fighter. I remember saying those very same things….about life sucking, and there must be more…..several years ago. I had my “ahha moment” and I appreciate you sharing yours. It feels good to be working TOWARD something…..doesn’t it?! Great job buddy
-Bryan

Spencer
Guest
Spencer

Awesome man. Truly an inspiration, even for your readers overseas.

James
Guest

That was pretty darned inspiring. It shows that there’s a way to retire early and truly focus on what you want in life even if you get a late start (like I did).

DividendsForDummies
Guest

“Yes, I did have weekends to enjoy (for the most part), but I’ve never been the type of person who could rationalize living a life where you only get to own 2/7 days of each week. ”

Wow, that describes me 100%. I cant tell if I’m lazy or just don’t want to waste my whole life working. 30-40 years of 9-5 Monday to Friday, no thanks.

Mrs. Frugalwoods
Guest

Nice! Mr. Frugalwoods and I feel pretty much exactly the same way. Once we decided to work towards FI, it became our laser-focus goal. Everything in our lives is now optimized in service of this goal. Like you said, there’s no magical formula, you just have to earn money and then save and invest that money. It’s really more about mindset than fiscal aptitude, in my opinion. Way to go on being soooo close!! Exciting stuff.

My Dividend Pipeline
Guest

Great post! On a scale of 1-10 I would say FI ranks about a 12. On the other hand, my wife has FI ranked somewhere way behind grooming the dogs. We definitely a few things to iron out. 🙂 The good news is she is very frugal so I still plan on unplugging from the Rat Race sometime during the next four years.

Keep up the great work!

MDP

kb
Guest
kb

Good post man. Always good to remember your own goals.

I’ve always been curious about your living situation and this Mainstream: “You must own and live in your primary residence.” make me wonder even more. Do you mind sharing your living situation? If you have posted it before on the blog, I do apologize.

Thanks!

Andrew
Guest

Awesome job…I remember when I first reading your blog and goal to be FI and you’ve totally crushed that goal. I love the FI community because the mainstream media still thinks early retirement…heck they think regular retirement is impossible. I’d be interested to see an overview of your journey to share it with others as I was talking to a friend about FI recently.

PBJ
Guest
PBJ

Great post FI! Love the tenacity and game plan that you’re setting.

I’d love to hear more about the Cupertino and San Jose meet ups. I’m looking to take the plunge on my first RE investment next year.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Good article – one point I’d add:

I’ve been working toward FI for years now as well, but my perspective has changed somewhat. People focus a lot on their saving rate, net worth, etc. But, what’s rarely discussed is the risk-factors that can come into play over time that can affect FI.

For this reason, I don’t view FI as a yes/no option anymore, there’s a lot of factors involved. First off, as you’ve said, lifestyle is a huge factor. Having an income of $50k and spending $49k is far different than having an income of $50k and spending $20k. Both scenarios are FI, but one is considerably more stressful than the other. Even just moving from one part of the city to another can change the balance.

Also, when evaluating FI, questions about the quality of income must be answered. How volatile is the income source? Does it deplete principal? Are there any tax shelters in place for your income? Even frequency of payments can affect things. This especially is something I’ve been evaluating in my own portfolio.

Finally, to your point of owning your own place, that too can be a factor, but in a different way than you’ve mentioned. One thing that favors owners is that you have a more fixed cost of housing. Another factor is that, eventually, you can be done paying for it. Whereas, if you rent, your largest expense can change rapidly from year to year.

Anyway, with these factors, it’ll be interesting to see how various strategies will play out in the long-term for early retirees.

Accumulating Assets
Guest

Great article FIF! Really impressed with your burning desire to reject the main stream dogmas and live life on your own terms. Awesome stuff and insperational!

AA

Zee @ Work To Not Work
Guest

I think that for me when I started saving +60% of my income all of the other things naturally fell into place. If I wanted lifestyle inflation in any of those areas then I would have done them at any point already. I think the biggest item is your living costs, since that’s usually everyones biggest expense if you can get those lowered then you will be in good shape.

Scotty
Guest
Scotty

Something I’m trying recently is to equate anything I want to purchase with hours required in the office later rather than FI. My current plan/spreadsheet has me done with working life in 2024 (9/22/24 to be exact). That date will obviously change depending on many life circumstances (wife, parents, health, where we want to live at that time/where future grandkids will be, kids about to decide on college path, job is unpredictable, etc.), but having a line in the sand helps my mind.

I’ve calculated how much of today’s dollars will impact my 2024 self. Basically it is something like this: In 2024, I need $x/year (total guess as it is 10 years out but line in the sand). Then, $x/year divided by yearly working hours (h) = $x/h is the amount I need to make per hour. Now backward calculate how much $x/h is in today’s dollars based on inflation and that is …drumroll…the amount (theoretically) that I need to save now to save an hour of my life in 2024. So that comes down to the cost of eating out, or a shirt, or whatever. So when I’m in the store and debating whether to buy that new widget, I ask myself whether I’m willing to go into the office on a Sunday for that many hours in order to have the widget. If the answer is yes because it is something I really want, I buy. If not, I plan on enjoy the extra hours of my life.

Fun thought process for me and thought I’d share.

Mrs. WW
Guest

Yep, I remember that day when it dawned on me that all those mainstream ideas were not set in stone. It’s a good day. Now it’s hard to live in this world because now those ideas, once thought of as “the way it is”, seem so…wrong.

I try hard not to get frustrated with the friend who upgrades to yet a bigger house or the one who knows I love personal finances and brags to me that they just were able to bump up to saving 10% (at 45 years old.)

I think that’s why there are so many secret millionaires next door out there. We can’t be honest because we don’t speak the same language as the average person. Whenever I try (not that I’m not a millionaire yet) I get blank stares and a lot of, “but I need to do it this way because…” and then they continue talking through while they turn off their brain. : /

mark
Guest
mark

Fi Fighter,

Kudos to you in your journey to early retirement. I think your plan is all good and well in theory, my concerns come from tomorrow. After you fold up shop and leave the corporate drudgery next year, your monthly cash intake will be $3,000 more or less correct? That’s only a meager $36,000 a year BEFORE taxes. Remember, you are a US Citizen so make sure you understand that you are required to pay United States federal income tax no matter where you relocate to. Not many people know that our country is the only one that mandates that you pay federal taxes even if you never step foot on US soil during any given tax year. Your not getting that albatross of your neck unless you renounce your citizenship.

More over, I would imagine you are correct that you can stretch your dollar further abroad especially as our currency remains high (for now). Here is the problem I see, you can support yourself off of $3,000 a month but what about a wife and eventually children. Or a husband and children (I do not know your preferences). The bottom line is it is your responsibility to care for the well being of these add ons and raising your children in an environment where they are given outstanding education is not only the best thing you can do for your children but your obligation and duty. I have plenty to retire on for myself, but I fight on for my wife and future children so they can be afforded the luxuries I was not given and I implore you to take that into consideration for yourself. Create a cushion so that your spouse can stay at home with the youngin’s if they so choose.

I know how badly you want to retire in 2015 but do not take your job for granted. The waves of our country’s economic tides move swiftly and forcefully and when we have the next down turn things might get ugly and having an income to cushion might be what saves you.

Stay strong and keep fighting the good fighter brother!

Rat Race Quitter
Guest

Start your own blog you say…..?

I’ve been on the wealth path since 2005 and since that time have been paying off my student debt and buying a house with my modest earnings. Only in the past couple years have I begun to build my passive income portfolio.

Here is to hoping I can break out of my wage-slave-cage in as little time as you have.

No Nonsense Landlord
Guest

Saving and living below your means is key. Do the 401K though. It saves taxes and grows tax deferred.

rick
Guest
rick

Adaptation. What if you do decide to get married, have kids, etc.

Mr. Captain Cash
Guest

FI Fighter,

This is one of the best posts I have seen about early financial independence. Really like the quote you provided “Live a few years like others won’t so that someday soon you can live out the rest of your life like others can’t.” I am on year one of my four year financial independence plan with hopes of being financially independent before my 29th birthday.

Mr. Captain Cash

Neil
Guest

Wow, long time reader, first time commenter… I am super impressed with your progress! I really enjoyed your myth busting. Another myth I hear is that if you love your job you don’t ever need to retire. Obviously this is silly but I hear it all the time. I see this journey as ending in greater and greater degrees of financial flexibility. Working or not working; retire or not; the choice is yours when you make the proper preparations.

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