I’ve been giving a lot of thoughts lately to the “why of FI”, or financial independence. The FIRE movement seems to get a lot of press because of the “RE” – or Retire Early – part of the acronym. After all, we’ve all seen the stories of people retiring at 30, 35, or their early 40’s (and the anger/vitriol of the commentors at said people).
The RE makes for more clicks – more eyeballs on the story. More social sharing, both positive (wow, look what this person did!) and negative (Ugh, look at this rich person!). More advertising revenue, and more opportunities to make money.
Most of the people within the so-called FIRE movement don’t want to retire early. They want to reach financial independence, and make retirement elective.
They want to be financially independent so they have choices.
What does this have to do with YOLO – or You Only Live Once?
The YOLO Argument
Many people who scoff at those pursuing financial independence take a YOLO attitude towards their money.
Since you only live once, they argue, you should enjoy your money today. Go on that trip, get that new kitchen, buy the new car, get that expensive outfit. Tomorrow is promised to none of us, so live for today!
I would argue the opposite.
I would say to FI because you only live once.
None of us knows how much time we have on this earth. We could live healthfully to a ripe old three digit age. Or we could die in a car crash heading home from work today.
And none of us know what our path will be like in the future. We’re healthy now – will we be healthy until we’re ninety? Or will cancer strike us down? Will we get dementia, needing 24/7 care in a locked ward at a nursing home for a decade or more? Or pass of a heart attack in our sleep?
Financial independence, financial freedom, is particularly important for women. We’re the ones that typically want to take time off, or take a step back, while our children are young. And we’re also the ones that typically become caregivers to our parents when age, or become ill.
Our husbands are likely to age, become ill, and pass away before we do. We may want – or need – time off work to care for them.
Living paycheck to paycheck means you have no choices. Spending like there’s no tomorrow locks you in. You have to work. You have to work in a job that pays the same as the one you have now.
Taking time off, or a step back, is impossible. Or it puts you in a tremendous amount of debt. Your lifestyle suffers, you’re forced to downsize your home, you live off benefits.
You only have one life to live. And what are the things that are really important in life?
What Really Matters
We can get so caught up in our day to day lives that we lose sight of what really matters.
We chase that promotion, working long hours and traveling away from our families, forgetting that we will never get that time with our kids back.
The shiny new car is tons of fun, but we forget that in a few short years we’ll be tired of it and want another new one. Many hours spent at the grind, away from the things and people we enjoy about life, were needed to get this shiny car.
Our expensive outfit looks great, and we get a ton of compliments on it. But it will eventually sit in the back of the closet, and be donated to Goodwill. It will become a distant memory, and all that will remain is the fact that we traded hours of our life for these clothes.
I’ve written before about what the old, ill, and dying regret – and how to avoid those regrets in your own life. They don’t regret not buying the clothes, shoes, expensive homes, new kitchens, and so on.
They regret working too hard. Not spending enough time with their kids, or making friends. They regret worrying too much about the future, and not spending enough time in the present. They wish they had taken more trips, saved more for retirement (instead of their younger self blowing money on things long-gone), and buried the hatchet with friends and family.
Financial Freedom Is About Freedom
Financial freedom, financial independence – or even being partway to FI – can bring you the freedom and flexibility you need to live in a way you won’t have any regrets.
It can allow you to go for that dream job, knowing that if you fail, you’ll be financially OK. Or start that business you’ve always dreamed of.
It lets you take a step back from work when needed to care for children, parents, or just focus on finding happiness in your life outside of work.
Financial independence can enable you to leave a position that doesn’t align with your life goals, and lets you find (or create) one that does without fear of failure. You know that you can go without income for a while, or you can find a less stressful, lower paying job that gives you back your life.
Maybe you do retire early, so you can spend years of good health doing the things you’ve always wanted to do – before that good health is torn away. Health is something many of us take for granted, or assume because we live a “healthy lifestyle” we’ll always be healthy. Sadly, that’s not always the case. And none of us know when we’ll be next in the lottery of ill health.
So if you’re pursing FI, ignore the people who try to tell you that you need to “spend more on yourself”, and the pressure to buy stuff because YOLO. That stuff doesn’t matter. Most of the stuff you see on Instagram will be in the landfill shortly.
Financial freedom isn’t about retiring early. It’s about enabling you to live your best life, and giving you the flexibility and power to create the life you want to live. Living well below your means gives you choices. It ensures you’re not locked into a life path you despise just to pay the bills.
The things that are really important in life – money can’t buy those. But financial independence gives you the freedom to spend the time you need on the things that are important.
Financial freedom is about freedom.
You only live once.
Make your life one you won’t regret.
Personal Note: I took May off from this site due to a lot of things happening in “real life”. This month has been life-altering in ways I’m not ready to talk about yet, but will soon. Thanks for sticking around with me – and even when I’m not writing here, you can always find me hanging out on Twitter and Instagram.