Achieving financial independence and freeing yourself from the need to hold down a job is a pretty big goal. For a lot of us it may well be the most ambitious goal we have yet pursued. The stakes are high, the path is challenging, and the rewards are, well, pretty much as rewarding as it is possible for a reward to be.
Ummm….yes? You say. That is hardly newsworthy. We don’t need to stop the presses do we?
Here is the thing though: it recently dawned on me that financial independence and early retirement (FIRE) is more than a goal.
Allow me to make my case.
Once Upon A Time
The year was 2016. I stumbled upon the ideas of financial independence and early retirement. I read blog posts and camped out at /r/financialindependence.
Frantic back-of-the-envelope math ensued. I convinced myself that achieving financial independence wasn’t a fantasy; it was something that we could have if we were willing to put in the work. I convinced Mr. BITA to get on board. We made a plan, and soon we were off to the races.
All through this process I kept thinking of this as a plan that we were executing to, in order to achieve a stated goal – to be in a position to retire when we turned 42.
Was I excited? Hell yes!
Did I check my Mint and Personal Capital accounts an unhealthy amount? You betcha!
Did I have altogether too much fun with all my spreadsheets? Probably.
Did I catch myself fantasizing about the life that I would lead once I got to be bayalis years old? Pretty damn often.
But was there more to it than these things? Yes. Oh yes.
Our lives started to change in fundamental ways. We had our first surprisingly frugal weekend and were shocked to discover how much fun it was. We went from a three car household to a two car household.
Our relationship with our money changed. No longer did we cluelessly bumble along stashing cash away in a Bank Of America savings account, only marginally aware of how much we were making or saving. Now we treat our money with the respect it deserves, and we make it work at least as hard as we do. We got more proficient at saving and upped our savings goals. We discovered backdoors and mega backdoors and waltzed through them all.
I started to participate in my local Buy Nothing group, giving and receiving free items with gratitude and joy.
But was there more to it than that? Yes. Oh yes.
I had a new purpose and that changed my life. I found that I was watching much less mindless T.V. Why? I was much more excited about spending my time learning about personal finance, or reading blogs on the subject of FIRE, or writing for my own blog. I no longer spent time trawling Amazon and buying things for no particularly good reason.
The really cool thing was that these significant changes felt effortless to me. I wasn’t trying to improve my life or curb my spending – these things came about as a side effect of the new purpose that I had found in my life.
But was there more to it than that? Yes. Oh yes.
Having purpose gave me a new found energy, an energy born of feeling happy, of feeling in charge of my life and how it would shape up. I started to try to improve my life in other smaller ways. I started a happiness spreadsheet to track how happy I was. I am learning how to meditate. I started making time to walk every day. I started to journal regularly.
On the foundation laid down by my pursuit of FIRE, I have started to build my life. I am no longer a passive entity. Life doesn’t just happen to me.
And then it dawned on me:
This wasn’t just a plan that we were executing. This wasn’t just a goal that we would one day achieve.
What we are pulling off here is bigger than that.
What we are doing here is lifestyle design.
A Hack vs. A Design
I have heard of the pursuit and achievement of FIRE being referred to as the biggest life hack that there is.
I am a software developer.
In software we talk about hacking up a quick fix versus designing a piece of software.
A hack is what you do when you are strapped for time. A hack is something you throw together when your customer is raging because the system is down and he needs a fix now. It is what you cobble together as a proof of concept. A hack is a quick and dirty fix. It will do the job. It will stop the bleeding. It will put out the fire. It will help you get your foot in the door of a new customer or enter a new market post haste. It gives you something to dazzle investors with so that they will open their wallets and allow you to actually engineer a product that will last.
A piece of software that has been designed with a clear goal in mind is an altogether different beast. A hack is today’s headlines. A well designed piece of software is an epic novel that stands the test of time.
When we have the time, the know-how and the resources to design a piece of software, extremely good things result. We build something that not only achieves the stated goal, but does so in a way that is elegant. We build robustness into the design. We consider contingencies. We lay the foundation for more features to be added in the future. We make the product easy to use, to maintain and to extend. A well designed piece of software is a thing of beauty. It is also a rare beast.
This was my revelation: what we are doing here is designing our lives.
So far I have been prone to thinking: isn’t it crazy that more people aren’t trying to save aggressively and achieve financial independence? Now I think: isn’t it crazy that most of us just take life as it comes?
We have but one precious, all too brief moment under the sun. How can we let it slip through our fingers like so much sand? How can we afford to not design our lives with care?
The money in the bank is but one small part of it. We are imagining what we want our lives to look like, and we are building our lives to spec.
This, then, is not a story about a family who will achieve financial independence. This is a story about a family who are designing for themselves a life of purpose, of beauty and of joy.
FIRE is my rock. And upon this rock I will build my life.