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.
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.