From time to time, I’ve been asked “How can you do it? How can you afford to pay the mortgage and eat and live a good life with no job?” I’ve tried to explain our path to these inquisitors, and give some advice as to how they can do the same. But before I ever get too far along, I see them dismissing the concept. I can tell that they aren’t going to seriously consider any of my suggestions, that they don’t think there’s any way to transition from their current circumstances to financial independence. In other words, I see them give up before they start. Before they even think about starting. That’s crazy.
Financial independence is far more achievable than most believe. And simply taking steps along the road to financial independence will lead, at a minimum, to greater financial empowerment. For anybody. Everybody. So, in an effort to avoid the shutdown shrug of verbal discussions, I thought I’d organize my thoughts into a series of blog posts that folks can consider in a more contemplative fashion. Here’s the first:
Step 1, Drink the Kool-Aid
This is an easy step to describe but perhaps the most difficult to enact. It is also the most important step. The foundation.
So here it is: If you want to work towards financial independence, the first and primary thing to do is: Drink the Kool-Aid.* You have to learn about financial independence and you have to decide you want it.
The reason this is hard? Because it requires shedding an entire mountain of cultural baggage that we all carry with us. The reason it is important? Because that mountain is fucking heavy. Listen, we live in a culture permeated by two prevailing ideologies which must be dealt with before progress can be made. The first, and most obvious, is our obsession with materialistic symbols of success. The second, less apparent but just as insidious, is our Puritan-based work ethic.
The first concern – our hunger for expensive stuff – is clearly an obstacle to a lifestyle based on the conservation of money. We are surrounded by chef’s kitchens, sleek cars, private colleges, international vacations, designer handbags, trendy restaurants, well appointed wardrobes, elite neighborhoods. That shit is bad ass! We see it, we want it. Why shouldn’t we?
The second hurdle – our unique brand of American/Puritan work ethic – presents a challenge not in its objective (financially independent folks can be as productive as anyone!) but in the distorted way we carry it in our subconscious. These days, many of us find self-worth not only in what we accomplish professionally, but in how many hours we labor each day. We feel that the stress of Having Too Much To Do is a hallmark of being a Very Important Person. We scoff at those who leave at 5 and we find martyrdom in our own sacrifice. We fully expect to work until the earliest to arrive of 65 or death.
Drinking the Kool-Aid of financial independence means eschewing the faster, sleeker, fancier trappings of success. It means learning to value hard work for the skills, meaning and money it can contribute to your life, and not deifying servitude. It means placing a higher value on economic freedom than on fulfilling any mainstream notion of success.
And that is why Step 1 is the hardest part of becoming financially independent. Drinking the Kool-Aid requires adopting a new value system. Which is a tough task. To discard our cultural programming for an emerging ideal requires significant effort. You have to learn new ideas and habits; surround yourself with new cultural touchpoints. Of course that is even harder to do when those touchpoints are intangible concepts like personal empowerment. What does that even look like? Well, right here it looks like a 39-year-old woman typing a blog article in her jammies on a Tuesday morning. Over at Mr. Money Mustache, it looks like Pete – a former software engineer who retired at age 30 and has since become a standard-bearer in the financial independence movement. At Early Retirement Extreme, it looks like Jacob – a Ph.D. scientist who lives on $7000 per year in the Bay Area. And on reddit, it looks like hundreds of different people all striving towards a new relationship with their money.
The evidence of success in financial independence is personal. There isn’t a signet ring or bumper sticker. I don’t know Pete or Jacob or the reddit commenters, but I am willing to bet that very few of them wear Prada or drive Teslas. You won’t notice them on the street or see them at the country club. Many of them have happily exited the corporate grind, so they aren’t likely to be your colleagues. I would very much doubt that any of them are currently bragging in a bar about a 48-hour marathon deal negotiation. In other words, learning from their example won’t come as easily as soaking up the standard party line. You will have to intentionally seek them out, study their example, and keep an open mind long enough to let their brand of Kool-Aid soak in.
Suggested Ways to Drink the Kool-Aid:
Part A. Set aside skepticism for a bit. Let go of your own monetary fears, insecurities and assumptions just long enough to do a little extra reading. Commit to spending one continuous hour exploring this new concept. Then, get a cup of coffee and:
Part B. Go to Mr. Money Mustache’s blog. Start with the posts linked to here and here and here and here and here and here. Read all of those and then check out a few more. He’s written hundreds of posts and nearly all are catchy and inspiring. There’s a reason why his blog has turned into an empire and he has become an unofficial spokesman for the movement.
Part C. Go to Early Retirement Extreme. Read this and this and this. His brand of financial independence is, well, extreme. It isn’t my style and it wouldn’t work for most people. But he has an interesting and intellectual perspective on the lifestyle, and is inspiring in his extremeness. If he can live on $7,000/year in the Bay Area, then this shit really is possible!
Part D. Check out a few of the other blogs linked to in the Early Retirement Extreme blogroll. He’s done an excellent job of organizing our little subculture for newbies. Then go to reddit and see what other folks are talking about in this area.
You’ll know you’ve completed Step 1: Drinking the Kool-Aid when you find yourself thinking, “Well, maybe this could work after all ….” Hopefully by then I’ll have Step 2 ready for you to think about!
“Drinking the Kool-Aid” is a horrible figure speech that stems from Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre. I hate to use it (being related to a tragedy & an over-used cliche as well), but it’s just so darn descriptive. So ethics and literary standards be damned!