A Letter To A Friend

It was good to catch up with you last week. It’s been too long.

I’m writing to you because I have to admit that since we talked I have thought a lot about what you said. And I mean a lot!

I was sorry to hear that your work situation is changing. There’s not much worse than having something changed for you rather than it being under your control. It’s little comfort when that happens to think “at least I still have a job.” Uncertainty is a foul thing too. Who knows, your new position could work out really well, but it’s so easy to imagine the worst.

I heard a lot of frustration from you on other fronts too. They were easy for me to recognize because I have either felt them all in the past or I’m currently feeling them now. It’s the madness that our lives become when we are trying to be fantastic parents, fantastic employees and fantastic spouses. Something usually has to give. There’s the annoyance of commuting,  rushing around for kid’s drop off and pick up times, kids activities, running the house, trying to find time for yourself, finding time for your husband. It can spiral into a crazy mix of madness. One day blends in to the next as we feel like we are constantly fighting fires.

When you finally get a moment with your family you want it to be perfect. I listened to you describe how a family activity became a sad disaster because of some less than perfect behavior from your little ones. It’s often the pictures in our heads of how things are supposed to be that are our worst enemies.

You’re also dealing with a new house and some huge renovations. That’s a big deal for anyone, never mind with the added stress of job uncertainty. A growing family needs a growing house – yet I detected undertones of uncertainty when you talked about it. The house is just what you wanted in the town you wanted to live in – but it’s becoming a bigger project than you had imagined.

You know you want something to change, for something to be different that gives you more time and less madness. You spoke about how you’d like to work less hours – in a job that you were more passionate about. You spoke about the cost of working, whether it’s commuting, daycare or spending on convenience food. You also very honestly told me that you know that you are currently working for your house. You also voiced the realization that “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Why should we have to work until 60 years old only then to have the time we want?”

I wanted to tell you that I understand all this. I know that you are sad and frustrated and I’ve been there – I’m still there sometimes – too. I also think I have done you a disservice in the past. I remember that once I shared with you one of my mantras: “if you can’t change what’s in front of you, change your attitude to it” It’s worked for me in tough times, and I think it’s worked for you. The reason I think I have done you a disservice is that I didn’t realize until recently that this mantra should come with a caveat – a limitation to its power. We need to recognize when we actually can change what’s in front of us. The flip side to this powerful mantra should be “don’t settle.” There are things that are very much within our power to change. We don’t have to settle for what the rest of society deems the ‘normal’ way to live our lives. We don’t have to settle for a life we are dissatisfied with.

The last thing I want to do is sound like some kind of evangelist, but you really don’t have to settle. You can make changes to get what you want.  I listened a lot when we met, but I didn’t tell you what my personal plans are, or why I understood so well where your frustrations were coming from. I’m going to do that now, and also describe how I think some of our planning could help you out too.

My husband and I have been working hard to gain ‘Financial Independence.’ There are many definitions for this: having enough money not to have to work, retiring early, having the resources to be able to choose a lower paying job that is more in line with your passions. Whatever labels you want to give it there is one thing it always means – and that is freedom. For us it means quitting work and moving to the mountains. Yup, we’re outta here, and in less than two years too!

You’re probably thinking right now that we won the lottery, or that we came into an inheritance. We didn’t. I will admit that we have been very well paid in our jobs for a number of years now – and that is no small factor in what we are planning, but it’s not the full story. We came from a similar place to you. We recognized the desire to make changes to our lives and do things a little differently.

We also realized that we were not alone. You simply have to go online to find many compelling stories from people all over the world who are following the same path to Financial Independence. Some you will find are pretty hard core thrifty folks like Mr. Money Moustache. He’ll have you selling your cars and riding your bike instead, along with some excellent practical investment advice. Some folks are doing this with two or more kids like Justin at Root of Good; Mr. and Mrs. SSC at Slowly Sipping Coffee, and Mr. 1500 at 1500 Days. Steve at Think Save Retire espouses confidence and belief in laying out your own road map, and some like Jim Collins at JLCollinsNH have been pursuing Financial Independence for years.

What all of these slightly different stories have in common is the recognition of the need to make changes, deciding what you really want out of life and deciding what you are prepared to do to make it happen. It really doesn’t matter if you have firm goals at the moment. Simply the aspiration to make changes and pursue a different path is enough. The goals can come later as you realize that your opportunities for freedom are expanding.

There’s a lot of fantastic information out there on the internet about the practical steps you need to take to get started. I’d recommend reading “The Simple Path to Wealth” by Jim Collins for lots of great information, but here in short hand are the three things my husband and I have done to get the most out of our money and to start to gain our freedom.

Track spending

I’ll admit that we haven’t always known what we spent our money on. I’ve realized how important that is as a first step in getting finances under control – and it’s really very easy. You may have already come across apps like Mint or Personal Capital that make tracking spending completely painless. I’ve set up budgets for things like groceries and vacations so I can understand what our monthly expenses are. We now know what we spend each year, and are starting to be able to predict what our expenses will look like once we quit work.

Spend less than you earn

Ok, this is the hardest part. I won’t sugar coat it. We have taken a long hard look at our spending habits and made some pretty drastic changes. We’ve attacked the biggest areas of our spending like food and restaurants; we’ve cut smaller ones like cable TV and cell phone bills. We’ve changed our thinking on shopping and day to day costs.

The good news is that the hardest part is actually making it happen – putting a bit more effort into meal planning, and setting up an antenna for the TV. The best part is that we don’t really feel the difference. We don’t feel deprived. We’re not eating rice and beans (although there is a very good recipe for rice and beans that I must try!), and we are now much more mindful about out spending.

Save and Invest

This is the important culmination of parts one and two. You take what you’re not spending and invest it. Simple. Done. Your money is now working for you as you get on with your life. It’s busily growing your freedom for you while you get on with the grocery shopping. It’s not scary either – it’s ridiculously easy to set up an online account with Vanguard and send your money there. Check out the Simple Path to Wealth to learn just how easy this is.

I truly hope this has been useful for you. It’s a lot of information, when really what I wanted to do was let you know that I understand where you’re coming from and I think I might even understand where you want to be. I hope if nothing else you will recognize that you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. It’s OK to want something different – even if you can’t quite put a name to it yet. Please don’t feel that you have to settle for how most people expect you to live your life. It really is up to you to follow your desires – and you’re not alone in doing that.

I hope we can chat again soon.

Take care,

Mrs. PIE


  1. Such great advice. It’s hard to watch people struggle. I also have to constantly remind myself that not everyone wants to live the same way I do. If it’s a choice, I’m okay with it…kind of. 😉 But more people definitely need to have these kinds of chats with you!

    1. It is hard to see friends struggle, especially when there is something they can do about it. It takes a while to figure that out though. This is a real friend with real struggles. I’m in two minds about actually sending the letter or simply having a chat where I lay some of this out

    1. yes, real friend and real conversation. I’d love to send the letter but think maybe a chat would be better. It was difficult to hear her explain her struggles and not know how to respond without scaring her off. So I listened. Then wrote this to put my thoughts in order.

      1. I see – when you’re doing this incognito, it can be tough to hold back sometimes. Most days, I hear something that makes me want to don my PoF cap and spread some knowledge, but it’s not the right time or place, and I don’t want to have to explain my self-proclaimed expertise.


  2. It really all boils down to those last three steps: track your money, spend less than you earn, invest the rest. When you think about it, that’s really what all of us are talking about. Hope your “friend” can get something from the letter.

    1. It does, and it’s so so simple. I will hopefully get the chance to chat again with her soon and communicate some of this (I didn’t send it!). I very much don’t want to overwhelm her, but I can’t see her struggle without saying something

  3. I think we have the same friends, sadly… When I’ve had similar conversations in the past I typically get push back as to why it’s okay for us to do that, but it won’t work for them because — enter any excuse here.

    The advice is spot on though, track your spending, then cut out things according to your priorities, and then invest your savings.
    Thanks for including us with such a great group of bloggers!

    1. You’re welcome 🙂
      yes, I imagine some push back. It’s easier to make excuses than take action, and excuses are a first line of defense. Hopefully more thinking comes after that, followed by a slow realization….
      Now I’ve written this I think it will be easier to actually have this conversation. I hope!

  4. Great advice, Mrs. Pie.

    I think for us, making changes gradually has helped. Over the past year, we have cut significant expenses, but we did it step-by-step. We looked for small opportunities to save here and there. Over time, this has added up. We’ve also taken a much more active role in managing our own investments. Not only are we saving money by not paying an advisor and not paying for high-cost funds, we’ve also been finding higher return options that weren’t available in our prior model.

    Our next big move is starting a new business. It’s in the works. I’ve been consulting and working on a few side businesses over the past year, but this would be a bigger jump back into working full-time. The good news is that it’s on my terms.

    I actually credit starting my website and engaging with others in the PF community for giving me the confidence, drive, and desire to go down this path.

    Again, great letter!

    1. we’ve done it pretty gradually too. The big easy things first and the smaller and more complex things later. Anyone wanting to cut expenses is bound to be overwhelmed trying to do it all at once. Small bite size chunks are the way to go.
      That’s very exciting news about your own business – congrats!
      blogging and the FIRE community in general is a big driver and motivator for us too. I happen to think our community’s little corner of the internet is pretty cool, and I wish more people were aware of it

  5. I like the approach and the letter definitely comes up what the person needs to hear, but whether they will want to hear it is a question. I would tread carefully as not everyone wants to improve themselves. Some just want an ear to bend and will make no improvements. They sometimes get defensive if you give advice. I’ve stopped giving it unless asked for that reason

    1. Hi Full Time Finance, thanks for stopping by.
      I’m really bad for giving unwanted advice, I do it way too much! I did hold back here because it’s such a personal thing. I mean, who am I to tell someone how to manage their money? Even so, it’s good to listen and let folks know they are not alone. If I can point out that there could be options she hasn’t considered, I’d be happy

  6. The advice is pretty basic, but the letter is eloquent and humble. I still struggle sometimes with keeping everything in perspective and remembering that we have the power to change our attitudes about less-than-ideal circumstances. I do hope you share this with your friend . . . you could change a life for the better.

    1. Hi Harmony, thank you for the kind words.
      I hope to be able to chat with my friend again and bring at least some of this up. All without blowing my cover or offending anyone! Oh boy! 😊

  7. Extremely good post Mrs Pie. If you have a conversation with your friend, and say it half as well as you did here, and your friend takes it on board, you will have helped them immensely.

    I am also constantly in 2 minds about wanting to help friends/family, but also not going too far, or even just not saying anything at all. I want them to do well – but at the same time, they have to want it for themselves.


    1. Hi Tristan, thanks so much 🙂
      It’s true, we have a lot of great information (and motivation) we could share, but the risk of offending is very high.
      I think for a very good friend or a close family member it could be easier – but maybe the stakes are just even higher there.
      Once we pull the plug, we can ‘lead by example’ and answer all the questions about how we got there – but until then it’s a fine juggling act.

  8. Very nicely done! I have friends/colleagues/acquaintances like that too and sometimes wonder how specific I should be when providing advice. As tempting as it is to refer them to our blog, we’re still blogging anonymously and wouldn’t like to blow our cover. I should refer them to your letter instead! Maybe we should have an “exchange program” to refer our financially clueless friends to each others’ blogs to keep our cover? But what if they find me through some else’s blogroll or comments section? Hmmm, have to think about that more!

    1. Hi ERN,
      You had me laughing there, I’ve had ALL the same thoughts! I mean, I can’t even pass on blog recommendations without the risk of being ‘spotted’!
      The couple of times I’ve mentioned to friends that we handle our own finances (nothing about FIRE, just investing) I have been met with eyes glazing over (and smart, smart people too!). I can only imagine what talking about more specific advise would do!

  9. Very well done. It is so worth putting the effort in to help someone with these kinds of discussions, especially when they’ve given you a little opening. You have the ability to make a huge impact and that’s wonderful. Unfortunately, the people we’re close with who will be working until their 80 don’t want to hear or learn anything. I’ve come to realize they thrive on drama.

    1. Thanks Mrs. G! It certainly helped me get my thoughts in order, and that will be useful for many conversations. As you said, it’s just knowing when to open your mouth and when you shouldn’t bother!

  10. I’d be tempted to post that on my facebook wall for my friends to read. That would also mean I’d have to delete that comment to not blow up my cover haha.
    I like the letter concept, you laid out the process very simply and eventually, the only thing that is required, is for someone to want to believe. No smarts needed, only a mind open enough to consider that this is possible and most people could technically be FI, and if not as early retirees, at least at the time of retirement.

    1. Ha ha! Talk about blowing my cover, maybe I’ll leave the Facebook post for when we finally quit and bolt for the mountains!
      I found it a good way to get my thoughts in order, and hopefully that will come in handy if I need to really talk with anyone about this

  11. I want to show this to my friends who are spending everything of what they earn while being in debt. I hope that they prove me wrong that their lifestyle is sustainable over the long-term but I want to show this post in case that it turns out to be not sustainable.. I usually hate telling people what to do with their money though but it’s exactly what I would tell them if the conversation ever came up.

    1. It’s hard to see friends making bad decisions like that, and just as hard to find the right thing to say. This particular friend is pretty smart and not the type of person to spend way beyond her means. She does need to realize that she doesn’t have to follow the herd and work at a job she doesn’t like until 65!

  12. This is beautifully written. It’s so hard to hear friends complain and see them suffer and feel hopeless. They don’t believe that they have any choice in the matter–they do, but yes, it is a hard choice to make at first and it isn’t the one that most people are making.
    Your warm heart and compassion come through loud and clear in your words, and your friend is lucky to have your support.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. It’s true that it probably doesn’t feel like there is a choice because it’s such a hard choice to make. there are so many moving parts and so many details in changing a lifestyle that most of the time it’s easier to just stick with the status quo. I’m going to be chatting with her again soon. I just hope I can find a way to communicate at least a small part of this

  13. Fab post. I hope you do manage to get across some of these points to her in the future! Probably bit by bit – people need time to absorb and not be overwhelmed. We all feel stuck at times.

    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by!
      You’re right, few people would appreciate having all that dropped on them all at once. I know from experience that it takes a while for the possibilities to sink in!

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