The following is a guest post from Moose of .
There are hundreds of thousands of posts about financial independence and early retirement online. Amongst the how-tos, formulas, in-depth explanations of Roth IRA ladders, and philosophical content out there, one critical aspect of this journey is rarely mentioned: courage.
The Phases of FIRE
Courage is essential in all phases to be financially independent and retire early (FIRE). You need courage to embrace this atypical lifestyle, you need courage to sustain it, and you need courage to finally unplug from a typical working life.
Embracing Financial Independence
Why did you first pursue FI?
I guess that you felt something was amiss. The culture of over-the-top consumerism and "retire at 65" mindset did not leave you fulfilled. You knew something had to change and you sought out various resources, like MSoLife.com, to help you break out of the mold that the vast swathe of society neatly pours itself into.
My first tentative steps toward FIRE emerged out of fear. Fear of running out of money and being unable to provide for my family. I was motivated to seek a solution to my fears, but it took courage for me to turn to the principals of FIRE. I had to have faith that I could curb the horrendous financial habits I established over the course of more than a decade. When I first calculated my , I was horrified by the amount of money I had thrown out of the window on silly frivolities. However, on the flipside, the Money Multiple also shows you the power of compounding interest on any dollar you invest NOW. Forget the past; it is gone. Forge forward with the knowledge of what a dollar invested today is worth to you in your retirement.
The Courage to Start
Courage is mandatory when starting down the path to FI. You need courage to acknowledge that your previous habits and mentality are not sufficient to earn you the life you envision living. Turning the glaring harsh spotlight on yourself and accepting your flaws is hugely courageous and, frankly, painful. Self-reflection does not come easy, and many people avoid it for this reason. Staying in the same rut is comfortable, familiar, and requires no effort.
The commitment to change is the embodiment of courage. Not competing with the Jones' and rejecting the strong pull to have the latest shiny cars, flat screens, and luxe vacations (all financed by debt, of course) requires a commitment to higher values.
Sustaining Your FIRE Progress
Like any significant feat, it takes more than motivation to become financially independent. We overemphasize the importance of motivation and underemphasize the far less sexy side of discipline and consistency.
Just like a famous athlete didn't "come out of nowhere," your ascendency to financial independence involves years of dedication and practice. It may appear to your coworkers, friends, and family that you "suddenly" retired, but we both know the truth of the matter: it took years of .
How do I maintain my progress toward FIRE? I'll share a few tips that keep that fire in my belly stoked:
- Track your finances with Personal Capital, Mint, or a spreadsheet and review your progress at least monthly if not weekly
- Visit Rockstar Finance for daily inspiration and ideas to boost your growth toward financial independence
- Visualize what your life is like as a retired/financially independent person; how do you spend your day, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
- Visualize the alternative: years or decades of additional drudgery and the inability to live life to the fullest, whatever that means for you
Courage keeps you on the straight and narrow path to financial independence. You WILL experience setbacks and unexpected emergencies on your road to FIRE. It's inevitable. But courage and resilience empower you to shake yourself off and keep at it.
Unplugging From Working Life
So, what happens once you've reached your FIRE number or the amount of money you need to retire? This number is typically between 25 and 33 times your annual expenses. Do you immediately run to your boss and say you quit?
I've noticed a trend in personal finance lately called the "one more year" phenomenon. Several personal finance bloggers recently hit their FIRE numbers and decided to continue working for another year or more. Why?
One reason is that they want to make EXTRA sure that they have the resources they need well into their old age. It's understandable. It takes courage and a giant leap of faith to believe the math that led you to the point of financial independence. Hundreds of what-ifs run through your mind. What if I did the math wrong? Will I run out of money? What if we have significant health issues?
The other common reason retiring can be difficult for people is habit. They're habituated to working that 9-5 gig and being around the same people from Monday to Friday. You may not love working, but there's comfort in continuing to do so. Not having something to retire to is an issue that typically builds to this reticence to finally retire. You need to figure out what you're going to do with your newly-acquired free time or retiring early will be difficult to follow-through with and challenging to sustain.
My Limited Experience with Unplugging
When I write about personal finance, I always stick with topics I know well from first-hand experience. While I haven't retired (yet), I am I'll take up to a year off to test how I respond to not having a full-time job. Will I go stir-crazy and run back to employment? So far, I think I'll take to retirement like a duck to water. Here's why; I:
- value my family/personal relationships and spending more time with friends and family
- keep busy with a rigorous gym schedule and working on my site
- continue to learn about various topics like digital marketing and data science; I'm stimulated
Regardless of whether or not you decide to test early retirement with a mini-retirement, it's normal to have apprehension around such an impactful life decision. You need courage to let go of the familiar and head off into the exciting unknown.
This post isn't meant as a self-congratulatory and back-patting ode to our egos. No, it's meant to highlight the fact that courage is a prerequisite to FIRE.
You will face adversity; courage is possible only in the presence of difficulty. You need bucketfuls of courage to pull off this magnificent goal, and I've highlighted where that courage is needed most. Go forth with the knowledge that FIRE is attainable. You've got this!