If the target goal is early financial independence (key word early), what’s more important, a lethal offense or a tenacious defense? Having been on the journey for about two years now, I feel pretty confident in being able to answer this very important question. Today, my answer without question is that a lethal offense is absolutely the most important element needed to reaching early FI (before 35).
Offense vs. Defense
In the game of football, they often say, “offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” And there is some truth to that. Obviously, even if you are able to make a six figure income but spend like there’s no tomorrow, you won’t get very far in the quest to financial independence. However, just like with football, in more instances than not, a strong offense will overcompensate for a porous defense. Teams with explosive offenses (e.g. New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos) will always be in a game even if the defense gets shredded up like swiss cheese. It may end up being a shootout, but the facts remains that they will still be in a reasonable position to win. On the other hand, a stout defense can’t save a team if its offense keeps putting up zeros on the board. Similar to early FI, you can cut out all the lattes and extraneous spending as you’d like, but if your income is weak, your savings won’t allow you to rapidly buy up assets, which are the lifeblood of financial freedom.
You Need Assets!
If you want to be financially free, you need to acquire lots of assets. Period. Otherwise, you won’t have a passive or semi-passive income stream to feed you. What are assets? Things that put money in your pocket: stocks, bonds, rental property, etc. The wealthy have these things in spades! So if you want to get to early FI sooner, you’d better start accumulating them now.
Unfortunately, assets cost money. Lots of money. I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom, because even with a modest income, you can still definitely achieve financial freedom in life. But to reach early FI before 35 probably isn’t a realistic expectation, as this requires you to build up assets at an accelerated pace. From my own experience, the snowball effect (compounding) that everyone talks about starts making a noticeable difference when you are generating $1000/month or more in passive income to help accentuate your regular income.
Obtaining $1000/month in passive income is not so simple. With dividend investing, we are talking about needing a portfolio valued at $300,000, generating 4% annual yield. For rental property, you would need $80,000 in equity, producing 15% cash-on-cash returns. Clearly, it takes a long time to save up this amount of money, even with a good salary…
But when you get to this level, you’ll start to feel the difference. At $1000/month passive income, most frugal people will be able to cover most (or all) of their monthly expenses. At this point, you can basically bank your entire monthly paycheck and put all your earned income into investments! As simple as this all sounds, this is really when investing becomes FUN. When you reach this stage, you’ll notice the speed of you asset accumulation really start to take on a life of its own. I’m just now getting to this point, and I’m really hoping to accelerate my wealth building next year. I gotta tell you, it feels AWESOME to be able to put aside $5000-$6000 each month for investing! I was able to purchase 3 rental properties this year, and I have every intention to buy 3 more next year. Realistically, it’s now taking me about 4-5 months to save enough for the next downpayment. When I first started, it took about 3-4 years to save up for Rental Property #1! There’s some first hand perspective for you on the power of compounding.
Do I still watch my spending? Of course, but I don’t over-analyze it. It’s no longer necessary to do so. Spending an additional $100/month or $200/month isn’t going to make any real difference in my gameplan. The offense simply overpowers now, which is a great thing. Initially, a strong defense is needed to get the ball rolling. Once the kinetic energy gets going, just sit back and enjoy the ride!
What Can You Do?
What can you do if you don’t earn a high income but still desire to reach early FI? Here are some ideas:
- Start investing yesterday. The sooner you start acquiring assets, the sooner your money can start to work for you. This will make a difference in the long run. Even if you aren’t able to get to early FI by 35, you might still arrive at 40 or 50, which is still waaaaay earlier than most folks!
- Get a side gig to supplement your regular wages. A part-time job, such as blogging can help give your income a small shot in the arm.
- Form partnerships with other people. Find a mentor who’s willing to help show you the ropes. If you are willing to pay your dues (do the grunt work no one else wants to do), you may be able to partner up on deals that normally wouldn’t be accessible to you. A lot of newbie investors do this and this helps them catapult to the next stage of wealth building. Wholesaling and flipping are good avenues for raising capital. Of course, easier said than done.
- Use other people’s money. This is popular in real estate investing. A lot of people master the art of a deal. So much, that it’s to the point where they earn infinite returns on every single deal. Infinite returns? How is that even possible? Well, it’s possible if you have no skin in the game! This takes a bit more skill to do, but maybe you have the talent for it. Creative financing and refinancing are clever ways of pulling cash out and re-investing it elsewhere.
If you desire financial freedom at an early age, you most definitely need a potent offense to come out on top. I would say that it is overwhelmingly important to focus on the income/asset building/cash flow side of the equation. A tenacious defense is really only needed to get the initial progress moving forward. However, I would argue that most folks who are on the journey to early FI have already mastered the basic art of saving money.
When you’ve cut back basically all that you can, any more effort spent trying to reduce spending is a waste of time. It won’t propel you any further! So don’t bother cutting up credit cards, or cutting out coupons. Rather, find a way to increase your earned income, or find clever ways to get in on deals that will help generate passive income.
A good stepping stone is to shoot for that first $1000/month passive income target. Once you achieve that, the offense starts to become formidable. With a lethal offense, just like in football, it doesn’t matter if your defense regularly gives up points. Your offense will be able to put up touchdowns at will, so the defense just needs to hang in there and put up occasional stops. Ultimately, it’s your offense that will help take you to the promise land!
What’s your take on the whole offense vs. defense argument? Do you plan to keep on investing after your passive income stream surpasses your monthly expenses? What strategies are you using to rapidly build up your asset base (cash flow)?