One of the responses I received from “How Much Do You Need to Retire?” was that chasing financial independence is about making sacrifices. The logic behind this comment was that anything you save today is a “sacrifice” because you are not spending that money. I have a different view. Chasing financial independence is not about sacrifice, it’s about prioritization, intentionality and focus.
Savings/Consumption Rate in the US
Trading Economics states that the household saving rate in the United States was 3.6% in August 2017. According to the calculator from NetWorthify, if starting with $0 and saving 3.6% of income with a 5% rate of return, a person would have to work for 72.6 years before they can retire.
At this rate, if you started working at 21, you can retire when you are 93.6 years old. Clearly, most people are spending most of what they earn and not actively chasing FI. I’m glad they do not have to make any “sacrifices” while working for their whole life. I’d argue that not saving and working more than an average lifespan represents a huge sacrifice.
Don’t You Give Something Up When You Save?
Yes. Saving is passing on something you can consume now for more options later. Yet, I don’t think it’s a sacrifice at all. I know that every dollar saved gets me closer to FI or another goal. I look at the freedom and lower stress that comes with achieving financial independence as the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t need to be on the Forbes list of Billionaires – I just want enough money that I can do whatever I want with my time without needing to make money. I know I will be happy once I get to FI. But guess what? I’m Already Happy Today!
Thankfully, I have everything I really need today (food, water and shelter). I’m also lucky that I can buy almost everything I want as well. Now obviously, I don’t buy everything I want. I only spend when something is a higher priority for me than applying that same amount to my financial goals.
An example from a few years ago is when the Mets were in the World Series. I’m a big fan and watched almost every game during the season. I’d never been to a World Series game before and knew that an opportunity for this particular experience is rare (we are talking about the Mets being in the World Series after all).
After much deliberation, I sprung for a last minute ticket to the game for $350. While Mrs. WPF also wanted to go, she passed, preferring to use that money for something that was a higher priority for her. If I had to pick, I’d easily choose going to one World Series game over saving that $350 for FI or going to 20 regular season games in the future that collectively would cost more. While I was at that World Series game, I did not purchase anything additional. No $8 hot dog. No $16 beers. No $60 hoodie. For me, those things were not a priority and I was thrilled to be eating a sandwich brought from home and cheering my team on in an incredible environment. I would have preferred a different result to the game though…
The best time to spend on a luxury item is when you are so excited about it that you want to give somebody a high five after making the purchase. That’s the way I felt about going to the World Series and is usually how I feel when I book a fun vacation. Thankfully, I also feel just as excited when I increase my 401(k) contribution, contribute to an IRA or my brokerage account knowing that I’m getting that much closer to my goals.
I encourage you to make sure your spending and your priorities are aligned.
I’ve previously talked about the importance of having clearly defined goals. If you don’t have them, how can you possibly make decisions that maximize your long term happiness? Imagine a simple decision like going out to lunch every work day for $13. If you were not deliberate with your decision making process you may say:
“I like hot food, it’s only $13, I’ll go out every day.”
The same decision made with intention would be something like:
“I can make my lunch for $3 or go out for lunch for $13. If I go out every work day, it would cost me an extra $2,500 a year that I could instead use to accomplish my #1 goal. I think I’ll…
1- Save the money for my goal
2- Go out every day because I love burgers
3- Go out only once in awhile to socialize with colleagues
While my savings rate is well above the National Average, there are many people out there who take savings to an extreme. I’m not one of them. Winning Personal Finance is not a contest about who can save more. It’s about making your spending and savings decisions with intention. If you are doing that, you can be winning whether you save 75% of your income, 2% or anything in between.
I encourage you to think about the opportunity cost of each spending decision and make them based on your priorities.
This category is my favorite because with some focus, you may be able to improve your finances without even giving something up. There are actions we can make to optimize our financial life so nothing slips through the cracks. An example of this would be to get the best price you can on a purchase. You may decide that buying a new car passes your prioritization and intentionality tests. However, paying full MSRP for it instead of diligently shopping around for the best deal represents a lack of focus. My series on winning moves have been and will continue to be about streamlining your financial life to focus on making more or spending less.
You can find them below:
Winning Move #1 – Earn More Interest
Winning Move #2 – Save on Insurance
Spending 15 minutes per month focusing on your finances and plugging any leaks that may exist can make a big difference toward accomplishing your goals – without having to give anything up!
Chasing Financial Independence is Not About Sacrifice
It is a string of decisions made to maximize long term happiness. It’s choosing to pass on something that is wanted less today for something you want more tomorrow. I’m not making any real sacrifices by chasing FI: I’m lowering stress in my life; increasing the options I have in the future, and still have everything that I really want today. Sure a bigger house, fancy car and a few $16 beers would be nice. But I’ll pass on those things because I highly doubt they’ll make me as happy as achieving the freedom of financial independence ASAP.
I focus on maximizing my income, cutting my spending, increasing my savings and investing as efficiently as possible so I can have what I want as quickly as possible. It’s not a sacrifice, it’s #WinningPersonalFinance!
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