This is the first part of the Financial Independence Series:
Financial independence is a concept that often sparks a variety of interpretations. Some associate it with the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement, others with retirement, and some even equate it to having a million dollars in the bank. However, this diversity in definitions highlights the fundamental truth that financial independence is a deeply personal concept, uniquely defined by each individual. In this post, I’ll share my journey in understanding what financial independence means to me, but ultimately, the path to defining it lies within each person’s reflections and priorities.
Initially, my perception of financial independence aligned with the conventional notion of retiring at the age of 62, relying on social security and retirement accounts. However, as I delved deeper into the world of work, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to spend the next four decades on this treadmill. There had to be an alternative.
Seeking answers, I immersed myself in forums and blogs, eager to learn from the experiences of others. I wanted to learn how to become financially independent. It was during this exploration that I stumbled upon the FIRE movement—an acronym for Financial Independence Retire Early. The core idea was to save aggressively and invest those savings to enable early retirement. Stories of individuals retiring by the age of 30, a prospect that sounded undeniably appealing. Conversations with friends revolved around how we could emulate these bloggers, vowing to save, invest, and retire by 30 ourselves. However, as 30 came and went, neither of us had reached our goal. At the moment, it felt like a personal failure, but in retrospect, it became clear that priorities evolve over time.
What may not have been significant at one point can become a cherished goal later on. For me, this change involved a newfound desire for travel and a love for trying new food. Many bloggers had low budgets for food as they cooked at home, but I enjoyed eating out a bit. People change, and so do their goals. The key takeaway is that financial independence varies for each person, shaped by their unique values and aspirations. Some might grind intensely for a few years and then ease into retirement by working on enjoyable but low-paying gigs. There is no answer to when or what age should you be financially independent. The strategies adopted depend on what one is willing to prioritize in their lives.
While the “Retire Early” aspect of FIRE is catchy, I’ve come to believe it’s not as vital as it might initially seem. Retirement doesn’t necessarily entail lounging on a beach or playing golf. It could mean leaving a monotonous job to pursue a hobby you’re passionate about, even if it doesn’t bring in significant income.
As I entered my 30s, I learned that it’s perfectly okay not to be financially independent yet. Personal growth, the discovery of new interests, and the pursuit of happiness can sometimes lead to spending more than initially planned. However, I’m still on track to achieve financial independence in my 40s while enjoying the journey. Finding the right balance has taken time for me and my family, and it will undoubtedly require time for you as well. In the end, identifying what truly makes us happy serves as our guiding star in determining what’s important in life and whether it’s worth the extra effort to attain it.