Financial Independence: A Points/Miles Enthusiast’s Perspective

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Financial Independence

Financial Independence: A Points/Miles Enthusiast’s Perspective

A few years ago, I achieved financial independence.  Soon after, I quit my job.  Why?  I wanted more time – for everything.  My family and I also planned to relocate.  I had just turned 38.

But what is financial independence?  Why should anyone care?  And why on Earth am I writing about financial independence on a site primarily focused on travel, points, and miles?

What is Financial Independence?

Financial independence is the status of having enough income to pay one’s living expenses for the rest of one’s life without having to be employed or dependent on others, according to Wikipedia.  Unfortunately, there’s no Merriam-Webster definition.  Of course, there are many different interpretations on the specifics of financial independence, or FI, but this general definition is broadly consistent across the community.

What About FIRE?

More recently, Financial Independence Retire Early, or FIRE, has become a prevalent term for this “movement.”  Many websites cover the topic and create great content.  Some individuals have formal education in finance and advanced degrees.  And many of these individuals’ expertise outweigh mine.  But you don’t need to be a financial whiz kid to achieve financial independence.  I’m living proof.

From my perspective, I focus more on the financial independence term than the FIRE acronym.  Financial independence enables someone to retire early, but it can also drive an individual to accomplish so much else.  Many FI individuals do not retire.  Indeed, I may go back to work in the future because I want to, rather than out of financial need.  Some reach financial independence to pursue another passion, which often is working in a different field.  Others may reach financial independence to travel, volunteer, or spend more time with their family (all true for me).  But I understand the FIRE acronym is snappy, gets the general point across, and provides a great entree to the movement.  So that’s just a heads-up on why I will refer more to FI than FIRE in this and future articles.

Financial Independence

Why You Should Care about Financial Independence

As I’ve mentioned, people strive for financial independence for a variety of reasons.  However, some of you probably aren’t necessarily looking to set an overarching life goal of becoming FI.  For me, financial independence involves an interest in taking more active control of my choices, time, and goals while I’m here.  I think all of us aspire to at least one of those aspects.  And the principles I followed to achieve FI can contribute to them.  Let’s shift to those principles now.

My Guiding Principles For Reaching FI

I reached financial independence by following three major guiding principles.  I’m no expert, but there is clearly some overlap between what I do and what professionals espouse.  Conversely, I may briefly address other nuances of FI where others have more expertise and refer you to that content.  In future articles, I plan to share resources I’ve used and continue to follow.

These are my three guiding principles to reaching FI:

  • Sensible Spending
  • Active Saving
  • Sound Investing

How and why did I pick these three principles?  Fortunately, I was raised and educated to respect plans and activities that fall under these broad categories.  I followed these principles well before I knew of the FI term.  Why did I order the principles this way?  Quite simply, because one principle builds on the other.  By spending sensibly, I’m able to actively save more, further allowing me to soundly invest.  While savings and investment totals rightly play a large part, the principle of sensible spending habits, including reducing expenses, substantially drives one to reaching financial independence.  We will get into that and all of the guiding principles more in future articles.

Financial Independence

The Travel, Points, and Miles Community

I’ve long been interested in the overlapping themes of the financial independence and points/miles communities.  In some ways, they seem opposite.  Why would someone going after a first class seat to an opulent Maldives holiday ever want to live frugally while tending to their vegetables and spices in the backyard?  Those are two exaggerated examples, but there’s no denying the differences.  Similarities are also there, though.

Financial independence is broadly attainable, and points/miles fans can leverage their skills in achieving and enriching it.  I’m confident about this for two reasons.  First, I reached FI and continue to build upon it.  Second, many similarities exist between the two communities.  Here are just a few examples.

Curiosity

Members of each community refuse to accept the broad social norms on the given topic.  FI individuals may have asked themselves:  Why should I spend my time doing something I don’t enjoy?  Points/miles individuals may have thought:  Why do I need to spend thousands of dollars for a flight to London?  Instead, each community is curious enough to look at the challenge from a different angle and simply challenge themselves to find another solution.  As many late night infomercials have said, “There’s got to be a better way!”

Skillset

Similarly, members of each community have identified and honed skills to achieve their goals.  We each show unfailing determination to achieve the goal, however obscure the path may be.  We have enthusiasm for the seemingly esoteric goals of our respective communities.  Also, we thrive on sharing our experiences with one another so that we can all mutually learn and benefit.

Assets

Members of our communities actively tend to their respective assets, ensuring that they are efficiently used only after careful analysis.  Sure, I’m fine with my $15-$20 monthly cell phone plan – I don’t need more than 1GB of data!  Some miles/points fans might think, “I would never ‘pay’ 25,000 miles for a round trip domestic ticket – I should be able to save at least a few thousand more miles!”

Conclusion

This is the first of what I hope to be many articles on financial independence, points/miles, and the intersections between the two.  Along the way, I plan to share parts of my journey in both of these communities that will hopefully benefit a few readers (at least).  Also, I look forward to learning from you all as we talk more about these topics.  It should be fun!

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence. An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their travel goals, Disney-related and otherwise.

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10 COMMENTS

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10 COMMENTS

  1. I understand that everyone has a different number based on lifestyle but anytime people talk about this with out numbers I lose confidence. You can tell a ton of people oh just save just save but there are so many things to burden many people’s abilities to start saving in this manner. As someone else mentioned a lot of people save money being frugal but don’t give a shit about their health. Also antithetical to miles and points people’s is FIREs people strategy to spend almost nothing and if you didn’t know about points basically live a broke life since your saving money as fast as you can. The majority of people can’t do this.

    Also if your 38 and you’ve already retired only 1 of 2 things can be possible.

    You were afforded a good education and able to get a high paying job to save capital, which many people don’t have the luxury of (privilege)

    Or you knew someone that allowed you to position yourself into a high paying job (also privilege)

    Actually, or your wife makes a shit ton of money.

    If this blog is your reason for creating the capital save that makes it all the less likely. You can tell 5 million people to start a blog but how many will turn it to a profitable venture.

    Cause in reality with a kid and a wife your not retiring by 38 unless your making a cool 70k a year or you inherited money. I make 35k a year. No kids, no debt and I live so frugally and even still I’m gonna need 400k just to spin off roughly what I make now.

    Unless you can say a rough number that you have saved and a percentage return on that money it’s hard to encapsulate the lifestyle your living by just saying I’ve retired.

    I’ve always learned from my dad to expect 8% return on your portfolio if you make strong choices. I know by now he has over 1m so that’s 80k a year. He didn’t retire til 49 as a high paid account (120k a year) so I’m really curious how you can speak on any of this with out mentioning numbers cause otherwise your selling a dream to people with out having them consider all the variables.

    Those FI people are either living really broke cause their saving everything or they make a lot of money cause they came from privilege and then all your doing is deciding to live slightly below your comfortable lifestyle for a few years.

  2. An unknown & catastrophic expense that eventually craters many plans of independence is healthcare. Looking even more so in today’s covid environment and the lifelong conditions “surviving” can leave behind, even on 40+ yo patients.

    Adding Insurance of all kinds (for when not practical to self-insure) to a list of tenets might be prudent.

  3. I am retired, but not that really that early. Due to business setbacks I had pretty much a zero net worth in 1999. In August of 2018 I retired at 63 1/2. I have in excess of a million in liquid assets (plus small home and vehicles). Once I got going I was very good at sensible spending and saving. I may not rate as well in the investing (too conservative), but I know even if I make nothing on my money I am still going to be fine. I started social security at 65 (before full retirement), but when I did the math it just seemed right for me. I am finding I could live on social security and net worth continues to grow even in retirement. I actually have to kind of force myself to spend more freely after saving for so long. I set a budget to last until I’m, but usually have half left.

    I also have a lot of miles and points. This was going to my big year for international travel, but sh*t happens. I am fine with credit card bonuses. I feel if you’ve really built the disciplines (and the mindset) to reach FI you won’t spend unreasonably even if you do have new credit cards. I have 15 cards (actually down from 26 in the last year). I meet the bonus spends more by paying and prepaying bills , and charging the essentials (groceries., etc.), rather than spending where I would not have otherwise. Aby AF cards have benefits that more than pay for it.

  4. I find the miles/points community at odds with a retired/frugal mindset. Most of the points and miles deals, especially on credit cards, actually result in additional and suboptimal spending to achieve some kind of “badge of status”, rather than actually saving money. For example, almost no one in the miles/points community has any idea of the concept of opportunity cost, as they consider every point/mile earned as “free money”. Case in point: every breathless article that starts off “My family traveled the world for FREE after cashing in a million miles/points that I had accumulated for years.” No, you traveled the world on a nice discount after you gave up at least 2% cash on every dollar you spent to get those points.

    If you earned the points on someone else’s dime, like your employer, you really weren’t trying to save money anyway, just trying to maximize goodies paid for by them. I played that game hard for years, and am still enjoying point balances accumulated years ago.

    Since retiring in my 30s, I have done much, much better on travel deals by focusing on the hard financial costs vs subjective touchy-feelys like status and boarding a plane 30 seconds before everybody else.

  5. I appreciate your article. I am sort of retired and have very little income. What I do have is the ability to work on mostly unpaid projects like coaching middle school in writing, mentoring college students, and getting a 1930s Jo Mora cartoon series that was originally pitched to William Randoph Hearst’s newspapers in a monthly paper for printing for the first time in June 2020. Many, if not most, would say, “I don’t want to live like you.” I study the weekly grocery store ads! I clip coupons and wait for sales. I grow my own vegetables and herbs/spices! I do not risk continued, real harm from office overwork and bullies/gaslighters! I would not go back. Also, I no longer am at the whims of being denied vacation time. Since leaving work, I have twice visited Hong Kong, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas. I have also visited Dublin, Ireland, Costa Rica, and Rome in seasons/times that I choose without asking permission to use my accrued vacation time which was over the allowed limit due to regularly being denied time off! It has been a bumpy four years. I do my best.

  6. Look forward to reading more Benjy. I’ll be interested to hear what sort of investment returns assumptions you’ve made, especially given the current environment. And how you budget for splurging (I assume Disney!).

    • John s,

      The answer is different for everyone, which makes the answer challenging (and fun) to figure out. I’ll be sharing resources I used in future articles. In the meantime, check out this great article from Mr. Money Mustache about getting started.

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