Caution: Side-Effects Ahead

When one first starts down the road to achieving financial independence, the goal seems simple enough.

To go from this:

side effects of financial independence


to this:

side effects of financial independence

as fast as humanly possible. The prescription is simple: earn as much as one possibly can, spend as frugally as one possibly can, and invest the difference wisely.

As I made my way towards my goal, and my Stash grew larger, I grew to realize that the pursuit of financial independence wasn’t quite as straightforward as described. The prescription certainly works as advertised, but the side-effects are legion. In today’s post we are going to explore the side-effects of chasing after financial independence.


Your Environmental Footprint Shrinks

When you become serious about being financially independent, you tend to reign in your rampant spending. No longer does your paycheck work to enrich Jeff Bezos. Not only does this result in a fatter wallet, it also means that all that stuff that you failed to acquire will fail to find its way to a landfill. You are transformed into a better steward of our beautiful planet, and your grandchildren are grateful.

Not only do I no longer click Ship-It! multiple times a week, I was inspired to join my local Nextdoor and Buy Nothing groups. I’ve given away stuff that I no longer use to my neighbours, and in return I have acquired (at no cost to me) a bunk bed, a small piano, multiple pairs of shoes for Toddler BITA – including rain boots, action figure toys and a doll. I’m reducing and reusing and my halo grows blindingly brighter every day.

You can’t aspire to retire early if you’re going to give the majority of your paycheck to Big Oil. So folks on FIRE also tend to use their cars less and bike more. The cars they do own tend not to be gas guzzlers. In our case we went from being a three car household to a two car household. And then we started to car pool. Three days of the week Mr. BITA, Toddler BITA and I commute in a single car – and that car is electric. Our second car will last longer because we’re putting fewer miles on it, and all the while we are toodling along sanctimoniously in our emission free little Spark.

The other area that you try and optimize is the grocery budget. For us this meant that we became a lot more sensitive to wasted food. We do our best to consume leftovers (truth be told the vast majority of our leftovers make their way to Mr. BITA’s stomach and not to mine), and are careful not to buy more than we will actually use. Less wasted food is brilliant for the environment. Did you know that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported that, in 2007, the emissions required to produce all the food that went to waste in the world amounted to at least 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, more than most countries emitted? This estimate included all the emissions required to produce the uneaten food, including emissions from soil, livestock and the energy required to run a farm. My halo, already radiant from my reduced consumerism and car use, is glowing nearly as bright as the sun.


You Step Off The Hedonic Treadmill

Before we started saving for freedom we ate out about twice a week, and I don’t mean at a McDonald’s. Obviously, when we weighed our restaurant budget against our desire to exit the rat race, the restaurants didn’t stand a chance.

Once our visits to restaurants become a rarity, I realized something. We had firmly been on the hedonic treadmill of eating out. I had stopped being excited about going to a restaurant. I could partake of a meal that cost $150 for two and a week later be barely able to recall what I had eaten! I realized then that I didn’t want that for us, and I really didn’t want that for Toddler BITA. Now, even if we decided that early retirement was no longer a goal, we wouldn’t get back on the treadmill.

When you scale back spending due to your determination to achieve financial independence chances are that you will find that you were on the hedonic treadmill in one or more areas of your life, and you will decide to step off. Getting off the treadmill allows you to live a life where you feel wonder and gratitude for things that you now perceive as being special treats, instead of being jaded, craving more and better and yet never being quite satisfied when you do get your hands on the more and better.


You Get Healthier

As you watch your stash grow, and dream of the day when you will quit your corporate job, you can’t help but think that it would be awfully nice if you could live a long, healthy life so that you could enjoy the benefits of all those years of careful stashing. There is also the worry that out of control healthcare costs could put a serious damper on your retirement budget. The result? You start to take your health more seriously.

In our case, for the first time ever I have an exercise routine that I am sticking to. I am motivated to make it a priority in a way that I never was before. Mr. BITA has taken up intermittent fasting to boost his health.

You also tend to eat out less and cook more. As I mentioned before, you will probably cycle more. In an attempt to save money on the weekends you might find yourself turning to free activities like hiking. The end result of all this financial optimization is a much healthier body.


You Become More Skilled

As you learn to value your money for the freedom that it will afford you, you become less keen on spending it on things you can do for yourself. The financial independence forums and blogs are filled with folks who do their own home repairs and who maintain their own cars and bikes. At the very least you learn to cook even if before you could barely be trusted to boil water.

Between the two of us Mr. BITA and I had about thirty six thumbs and a sum total of zero house maintenance skills. Yet when our tub recently stopped draining, we didn’t simply call a plumber as we have umpteen times in our past. This time, Mr. BITA spent time on youtube and then fixed the issue himself. Our victories thus far have been modest, but I think it is fair to say that the overall thumb count in the BITA household is now down to about ten or less.


You See Potential and Possibility Again

When I was only about yea high, I dreamed big dreams. I was convinced that I could do things that would change the world. Somewhere along the way my dreams got smaller and smaller, until they were modest, no, microscopic in their scope. I had a family, a house, a dog, a job and a metaphorical picket fence. My life seemed doomed to be ordinary. There were no more what-ifs, no more surprises. The course of my life seemed charted out all the way to my grave. It would be a good life, but a life less worthy of a story would be hard to imagine.

And then, along came FIRE.

And now, with the promise of freedom that FIRE drags in its wake, possibilities abound. Old dreams come to life again. Once more, it feels as if I could be anything, do anything. Adventures beckon. I feel that I have been rescued from drudgery, and been given a second chance at a life that can be truly meaningful.

This, I think, is my favourite side-effect of financial independence. To quote Dr. Seuss:

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”

With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there
in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.


Read the Fine Print

Photo credit: Debora Cartagena


The red pill of financial independence really should come with a warning label:

Surgeon General’s Warning: Swallowing this pill has numerous side-effects including but not limited to improved health, increased skill, an attitude of gratitude and appreciation and a new zest for life. Oh and it will also make you rich as fuck.


15 thoughts on “Caution: Side-Effects Ahead”

  1. I’ve actually been looking at ways to make more money lately, and I’ve found that I’ve been inadvertently learning a lot about the freelance world. This has definitely led to me becoming more skilled, or at least having the confidence to do things I may not have before.

    1. I know the feeling. I am _so_ much more accomplished than I was a year ago (I mean, I wasn’t that skilled to start with, so it was a low bar to clear, but still).

  2. Looks like you need to treat FIRE with caution. You risk to improve yourself and have a positive impact on the world.
    All I wanted was to be FREE.

    And I am happy with the side effects. Biking is fun, DIY basic stuff is possible, food can be eaten the day after…

    1. I know right? Here I was dreaming about beaches and drinks with little useless umbrellas in them, and instead I am becoming a better person and a better steward for this planet. So uncalled for!

  3. One of my favorite side effects is the improved health.
    I had been trying to eat better and exercise for years, but just couldn’t seem to make the change. Once I started changing my spending habits it came naturally. Less money spent eating out, meant I cooked better at home. Less money spent on unnecessary entertainment meant more time spent on free outdoor time.

    1. I hear you. I’ve never been able to exercise with any regularity before. The fact that I do so now astounds me. FIRE for the win.

  4. Always enjoy the humor in your posts.

    One thing we need to get better about is wasting food. Some weeks we plan on meals that we don’t end up making, as we take an easier way out (simpler meal or carry-out) after a tough work day. All the more reason to exit the 9-to-5 world.

  5. “Rich as fuck” – yes please!

    Also, if you’re an Acorns user they’ve released a new feature where they tell you your carbon footprint based on your spend. Apparently mine is about a third of the average – booyah

  6. It is SUPER awkward to be heading for the FIRE only to keep tripping over all the stuff we have to buy to put our house together. I want to keep it low key and minimal, which mostly we are, but it turns out there’s only so much minimal you can go before your GC reminds you that houses need walls and insulation if it’s not going to just be a big empty shell. Drat. Once this is done, we’re back on the wagon!

    1. Of all the possible reasons to find your FIRE date moving, this is a good one. A new house! That is exciting stuff (also a major headache, I get that, but exciting all the same).

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