financial independence person jumping

Summary: Financial Independence, Retire Early (F.I.R.E/FIRE revolution), and how this was the life philosophy I never knew I had, all along.

Happy 2020, everyone!! I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by. I haven’t posted in over 2 months!? A number of things happened, such as my tablet pen breaking ;_; and of course, starting this temp medical job with full-time hours. It felt nice having some sort of structure in my day again, though also weird to go from completely free to a 40 hour work week again. I find myself just wanting to relax and not do anything after my mental energy has been spent at work. I now understand how people can get sucked into the 9-5 grind!! 

I was recently re-invigorated though, by meeting some incredible people and having an epiphany of sorts. I realized that all my values fit entirely with the F.I.R.E. (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement, which I had known about but never really stopped to consider seriously for myself, for some reason. I think I had been too focused on so many other things, particularly during this past year of unemployment, how to make enough money to survive from my passions.

The FIRE movement is about saving aggressively and investing wisely, so that we can get to a point where the yearly interests on our investments can cover all our living expenses, so we never HAVE to work another day again in our lives simply for money. We can if we want to, but we will no longer HAVE to. This is called reaching Financial Independence (FI).

For some, this magical number is $1 million; for others, as little as $500k for a family of 3. The specific number that is considered “safe” for you is calculated by multiplying 25 by your yearly expenditures, since it assumes that a safe withdrawal rate of your profits is about 4%. (The success rate isn’t 100%, so you can always adjust your number or build safeguards.)

financial independence calculator
An example of a FIRE calculator; you input your portfolio amount/nest egg, yearly expenses, and it shows you all possible outcomes over a designated time period (in this case $1 million, $40k, and 30 years)

A friend gave me this book, “Quit Like a Millionaire” by Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung, who retired at age 31 after saving up $1 million over 9 years (since their annual expenses were $40k), without any trust funds, illegal gimmicks, or help from anyone else!! I devoured the book in one day and feel that it really opened my eyes! I had always thought investing required luck, but they developed a mathematical formula and safeguards that are reproducible by anyone!!

Some choose to enjoy FI and continue working, and others Retire Early, in their 30s or even 20s. Retirement doesn’t mean not doing anything except relaxing and hobbies anymore though; it means working on only the projects we are most passionate about, volunteering our time and skills without worrying about the business side of things.

It simply means escaping from the 9-5 grind, the rat race, the typical script we’ve been given that we should spend the majority of our adult lives working so we can survive, or enjoy a certain lifestyle (which may not even make us truly happy). The majority of people have to work at jobs they are not passionate about and say they would quit in a heartbeat if they could, such as if they won the lottery.

FIRE allows you to create that lottery outcome, though over the course of several years, even in times of economic recession. If you set yourself up so that you don’t need to sell your assets during these troughs, then you will recover and gain even more. Kristy and Bryce started investing right before the 2008 crash, and they talk about their experiences in their book. Despite peaks and troughs, the stock market has always gone up as a whole, so by betting on the entire market rather than individual companies (through Index Funds), your money WILL grow over time, enough for you to withdraw some of the profits to live on. As many gurus have said, “Stop working for your money. Make your money work for you!”

index fund example financial independence
An index fund, the S&P 500, over the past decades, has had ups and downs, but has overall grown (like how casinos always make money overall)

The average American saves only a heart-breaking 8% of their income, and many live paycheck-to-paycheck, which is why so many people need to work until age 65, or even beyond. Social Security may not be around for much longer, and fewer employers are offering pensions or even job security. The FIRE gurus, such as Mr. Money Mustache, JL Collins, and Vicki Robin, aggressively saved much higher percentages of their income through little tweaks that didn’t lead to much happiness lost.

I had been unwittingly saving about 50% of my income during my 4 years of residency training. Sure I was busy, but I went out to eat and to events whenever I could, though I always loved finding deals through Groupon. I was living a happy, adventure-filled life and still ended up saving so much. My 1 year off of travel really was accomplished on roughly $1000-1500/month. I did not feel deprived.

Then again, I am someone who is easily pleased with enjoying nature and good food, and I don’t drink alcohol. If you are someone who enjoys luxury items and you could not drop below a certain level of spending, FIRE may be harder for you to achieve than others. But it just means you have to save up to a larger number, and you will probably still able to retire before age 65, by employing the same principles.

FIRE is all about getting our TIME and FREEDOM back into our lives, and not being a slave to money or a particular job until the traditional retirement age of 65 (which was arbitrarily picked back in the day anyway, when people were dying much earlier and many did not even get to enjoy a retired life). Even if you love your job, are weekends and 3-4 weeks of vacation really enough for you to do all the things you really want to do in this short lifetime?

True wealth factors in both money and time. What’s the point of living in a beautiful home with fancy things if you’re rarely in it, awake, to enjoy it? So many people are trapped by mortgages, car payments, and feel that they cannot afford to stop working. But what if you avoided debt in the first place? Invest first, and then buy what you want with the profits.

This movement is also about having control over how we spend our brief, precious time on this planet. My relationships have always mattered the most to me, and I realized it was because I rarely saw my parents growing up (they were both doctors in residency training), that I absolutely do not want that for my child(ren)!

I had planned to work from home or part time anyway, but how incredible would it be if BOTH my spouse and I could be there for our kid(s) and not miss important events!!?

Actual decent parental leave that other countries have (1 year for each parent) is a fantastic start, but then if both parents must return to 40 hour work weeks, that leaves very little time to enjoy being with family, and we all know children grow up so quickly.

The U.S. tragically doesn’t grant any parental leave (women can take up to 12 weeks of “disability”/unpaid leave after a baby is born, and men don’t get any. Some employers offer leave, but the federal government does not).

financial independence parental leave

I also feel that FIRE would be an absolutely amazing safety net allowing me to pursue my art, writing, and teaching/coaching aspirations without getting tripped up in the marketing/business/sales part of it (which, this past year has taught me, feels icky to me. It’s not that it feels wrong or sleazy, but I just had zero interest in learning those techniques, so no matter how hard I tried, barely anything would stick, and I would keep on procrastinating.)

It also would make me incredibly proud if I were able to create this for myself, without having to worry about or rely on others, such as the reactions of my audience, getting a certain number of clients or followers, etc. It would grant me this sense of freedom and invincibility that I can be true to myself and help whomever I can, even if just a small number of people, and if in worst case scenario no one finds what I offer valuable (highly unlikely), that is okay, I will not be starving on the streets.

This past year, I was so stressed out about how was I going to make enough money outside of medicine to survive, and fearful that an emergency would bankrupt me, that I don’t think I was in my optimal condition to create. I was in survival mode of a different sort from residency, but it still impeded my health and creativity. There is a certain comfort to having a steady paycheck again with this medical job. But if I can set it up so that I can pay myself, as my own boss, then that is the ultimate freedom.

Now I feel more free to take chances again, because I know that I can hopefully circumvent needing to learn business, and can focus more on creating and letting it lead naturally to wherever it goes. Of course it would be great to still generate income after retirement, but it would be so freeing to know that I won’t necessarily have to.

Who knows, maybe I will continue to want to work in student health clinics teaching reproductive and sexual health for a few months each year (“Partial FIRE”), which I can start living today if I wanted to.

I also look forward to being fully free to travel the world without pressure to figure out how to fund myself. Also, oftentimes due to the lower costs of living in other countries, it’s cheaper to be a globetrotter than staying put in the U.S. This is called taking advantage of “Geographic Arbitrage,” a perk of the FIRE lifestyle of ultimate freedom and flexibility. You never again have to deal with crowds if you don’t want to, since you can travel or run errands or do activities at ANY time; you get to make your own schedule. As Mr. Money Mustache puts it, “A Peak Life is Lived Off Peak.”

“Quit Like a Millionaire” also talked about several couples who have raised children on the road–there’s a thriving global “World-Schooling” community, and the kids love it! Learning about history by actually visiting the countries involved is a lot more engaging and enriching than reading a textbook! Also, our well-connected digital world nowadays gives them a community, so moving around a lot no longer affects their mental health the way it did before, something that I had feared. But now I see that it’s entirely possible to have a family, and be nomadic!

FIRE is so much more than a safety net; it is a pair of safety WINGS, because reaching Financial Independence lifts you up and opens infinitely more possibilities for how you spend your time and energy!!



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Who am I?
Hi! I'm Dr. Toni, a carTOONIst. I empower, educate and advocate for women and minorities through my art and coaching, while traveling nomadically. I help others also follow our hearts and live true to themselves, no matter what others say!
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