Financial Independence Myths: What’s Misunderstood Most
Financial independence (FI), and what many have touted as the FIRE “movement”, has seemingly received more attention with every passing year, month, and day. At least, it appears like that to me. Like all topics, great resources are out there. Indeed, that’s how I got into FI. But with more content come more perspectives (good) but also erroneous generalities, inaccuracies, or misconceptions (not so good). Sooner or later, every person who’s reached FI (let’s call them FIers today) has been faced with others’ presumptions about the topic. Today, I’m sharing some FI misunderstandings that I’ve experienced first-hand. Here are some of the bigger financial independence myths that I’ve been faced with in everyday life.
This Wasn’t The Plan
When I first interact with someone and they ask about my work, it’s intriguing to see how he or she responds when I say “I don’t work full-time.” For every “awesome” I get, there are more “oh, really?”-type comments coupled with perhaps awkward silence. Currently, I save the conversation by saying “I write” – it’s amazing how saying that puts people at ease, or they just totally check out. The same with saying “I’m retired.” For the few that are genuinely interested, FI may come up in the conversation, and I’ll talk a bit about the topic.
The vast majority of the time, based on the responses and questions I get, it’s obvious that the given individual thinks that I had some sort of setback, surprise, or tragedy in my life. Granted, I accept that social norms state that a guy working in his late 30’s/early 40’s is in his prime years of employment. Hence, I totally get the mindbend that occurs before my eyes often. Hell, years ago, I would have been the same guy perhaps questioning the decision. With this lifestyle, I’ve achieved peace with people not understanding or thinking I made a serious error. Indeed, a DGAF mantra has made things easier on this one.
FIers Don’t Work
I have tried to speak to this myth from the beginning with my FI articles. As I stated in my first article, many FIers decide to continue working, whether it be in their current full-time gig (or another one they want to do more), part-time work (like writing for Miles to Memories), or an occupation that doesn’t pay monetarily (raising children, volunteering, etc). Indeed, this is why I don’t emphasize the “FIRE” acronym, because so many FIers do not retire.
The cliche of “it’s not work if you love what you do” certainly applies. I used to roll my eyes at that sentiment, perhaps because I hadn’t come to terms yet that there was other stuff I’d rather be doing. But as an FIer, I have a refreshed feeling on all of the jobs I take on. They are all fun for me, and that’s all that matters. In addition to writing, I enjoy the more active role I get to play in raising my little girls. The impulse, seasonal gigs I have taken on have been complete joy. Also, knowing I’m only in a seasonal job for a temporary amount of time makes the work even more fun. And I also know that in a later season of life, I may be interested in going back into full-time work, but only if or when I want to.
FIers Don’t Have Nice Things
I’ve seen more clickbaitish stuff recently talking about young professionals saving 80% or so of their paycheck, working insanely long hours, and what strikes me as not enjoying being young in order to reach FI as soon as possible. Similarly, the perception that FIers don’t splurge or are extreme minimalists seems to permeate a lot of what’s out there. Indeed, while that may be true for some, it’s not for all FIers. We can have nice things while living the FI lifestyle. And many of those aren’t tactile “things” at all – splurges can be experiences. For instance, I’m an FIer who loves to take his kids to Disney World. On the face of it, those two ideas seem diametrically opposite; digging below the surface, I make it happen while doing it for as close to free as possible.
Beyond points and miles redemptions, we do periodically splurge. The key is that we take the time to completely enjoy those nice things, and that decreases the need to fill our lives with a lot of those items. Also, FI enables us the ultimate splurge of our most precious asset – time. You can find ways to make more money, but you can never make more time.
Financial Independence Myths – I’ve Become a Jack-Of-All-Trades
Many FIers have taken the time to become more well-rounded individuals in their spare time. Of course, that means something different to everyone. For me, building a large deck with my father-in-law was a huge learning experience with a healthy side of humility. But one of my best qualities is knowing my own limitations, as I jokingly remind my wife. I know when to pick up a wrench, but I also know when to pick up the phone and hire someone if I can’t figure it out in the near-term. But I grow when I try new things, including learning new home improvement projects or gardening. My wife, who is definitely more mechanically-inclined than me, helpfully provides the tactful push I need at times, too. I don’t ever see myself putting a new roof on the house, though.
FIers Don’t Harbor Doubt
One of the commonalities I see in the FI community is the self-confidence each FIer has in their goals, principles, and plans. There seems to be a perception that FIers have it all figured out. In reality, though, doubt creeps in periodically. I bet I’m not alone here. Doubt can be a challenge in everyday life when one is living within mainstream social norms; taking on an alternative goal outside of that scope seems to feed that doubt even more.
From my view, a healthy amount of doubt is a good thing. I know that I’ve built up contingencies to deal with surprises, and I’ve taken steps to hedge against unnecessary risks. A bit of periodic doubt encourages me to perform maintenance on those contingencies. The doubt challenges me to learn more and adapt if/as necessary.
I further reconcile this doubt by knowing that my principles continue to guide me. As I’ve periodically analyzed my time here, I know that my biggest successes occurred when I took calculated risks. Someone I deeply trust once said to me that fear or worry can be defined as not having a plan. Therefore, if one plans appropriately and continues to do so, the risks aren’t so risky, and there’s nothing to fear.
Financial Independence Myths – Conclusion
While not an all-inclusive list of the FI myths I’ve faced, these are the primary ones that come to my mind. All FIers experience their own sets of myths, and no FIer has the exact same journey or experience. From my perspective, that’s what makes each person’s path so fulfilling and interesting, whether one is just starting the journey to FI or already reached it. If you follow your principles, it doesn’t necessarily matter if others understand, regarding FI, travel, or otherwise.