The responsible way to handle money is to get a paycheck, pay the bills, and spend the rest. As long as I do it in that order I am being financially responsible. USA Today reported on October 9, 2016 that Nearly 7 in 10 Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. So I’m pretty sure that’s how most of us think about money.
That was how I thought before I learned that money is a tool and I was using it all wrong. Yes, it’s a huge part of our lives but should it be our life? We trade a large amount of our energy for it. If I work 40 hours a week for 35 years, I trade 72,800 hours of my life in order to acquire money. If I’m going to trade that much of my life for money I should probably know how to utilize it efficiently.
On April 10, 2015 I stumbled on the site Go Curry Cracker and the concept of financial independence. I fell in love immediately. Jeremy and Winnie, the proprietors of the Go Curry Cracker blog, became financially independent in their 30’s. They didn’t win the lottery or inherit a huge sum of money from a rich deceased uncle. It’s hard to believe but they were just normal people who saved and invested their money.
What is financial independence?
Before we go any further I think it’s important to define what financial independence is. Financial independence is the ability to live off the money that your money earns without any additional work on your part. It’s as simple as that. And you don’t have to spend 72,800 hours of your life to get there!
Do what you want
What drew me to Jeremy and Winnie’s lifestyle was the fact that they were not only living financially independent but that financial independence enabled them to live locationally independent.
I can’t be certain but I think the first post of their’s I read was when they were slow traveling through Guatemala. My passion for travel and Latin America had me intrigued right away. Having studied Spanish in college and having studied abroad in Chile I was fascinated by their lifestyle. What would it be like to travel through Latin America without worrying about the vacation ever ending? I had to know. And why was I just learning about this now?! How could I make this happen for myself?
After I marathoned all their blog posts about doing what they wanted, when they wanted to do it, I decided I was going to pursue this thing called financial independence. No doubt I was going to have to learn some long overdue financial lessons first. I couldn’t pay the bills and spend the rest anymore.
I started running my retirement numbers. My student loan, mortgage, car loan, and credit card debt were going to make this path a serious challenge. I had a negative net worth and I had no idea how to invest money even if I could get out of debt and start stashing it away.
Investing is complex right?
Here enters Jim Collins who is known by many in the financial independence community simply as “The Godfather.” On his blog I found something that gave me the action plan I needed to start down my own path to financial independence so I could live like Jeremy and Winnie.
The Stock Series. I’ve never had an interest in the stock market. To me, investing in the stock market was like playing the lottery and even though I didn’t have the best financial habits, I knew better than to gamble with what I did have. I learned that investing in the stock market can be like playing the lottery but it doesn’t have to be.
Once I got to the end of the series…I read it again. Could investing be this simple? It taught me that if investing is complex then it’s probably not an investment that’s in my best interest (pun!).
Make your money work for you
Remember at the beginning I said that money is a tool and that you have to make it work for you. The stock series taught me how to use money to achieve the locationally independent lifestyle I want. It also taught me that I could still lose mounds of money in the stock market if I wanted to play the game of stock picking and timing the market. Of course that is not The Godfather’s prescribed method of using the stock market to build wealth though.
In a nutshell the style of investing that he advocates is based on index funds like Vanguard’s VTSAX. Put as much of your income as you can in there (50% or more if you are really committed) and once you can live off 4% of your portfolio you are financially independent.
It’s a bit more complex but honestly not much. Jim lays it out nicely in his stock series which you should read and then read again. Even if you’re not interested in financial independence it’s worth reading. The stock market plays a huge role in your life whether you invest in it or not. So why not understand it, at least at a high level? All the information is there for the taking.
Could there really be a simple path to wealth?
And then The Godfather did something even more amazing for me. He wrote a book called The Simple Path to Wealth (not an affiliate link). I immediately bought his book and read it furiously — trying to extract every bit of information that I could. After I read it — I read it again. This book is now my financial bible and I’m definitely an evangelist for financial independence and how simple it really is. Ask my friends and co-workers, they will tell you how annoying I am.
I think it’s important to note that simple is not the same as easy. Walking from Los Angeles to New York is simple because all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other until you get there. But, it is not easy. The simple path to wealth is simple but may not be easy.
What have I learned?
I am now on the simple path to wealth. Since I’ve started on the path, I’ve sold my house, paid off my car loan, stopped carrying balances on my credit cards, and I’m two months from paying off my student loan. I have a ways to go before I reach my goal but you can be assured that I don’t plan on spending 72,800 hours of my life attaining money so that I can finally do the things I want in retirement.
The important thing I learned about financial independence is it’s not about money. I repeat, it is not about the money.
It’s about personal freedom. The freedom to do what I want when I want to do it. If I want to spend 3 months in Texas visiting my family, I can. If I want to take a last minute ski trip to Ontario, I can. If I want to dedicate myself to becoming a helicopter pilot, I can. If I don’t want to work on a particular project at work, I don’t have to. If I don’t want to work, I don’t have to. You get the picture.
Jim Collins calls it F-you money. Check out his post on Why you need F-you money and his spoof on The Gambler, F-you Money: John Goodman v. jlcollinsnh (not work or kid friendly) about the same topic.
As I go down this path I continue to find out what’s really important to me. It’s teaching me about myself all the time — contributing to my self-awareness. I feel like I’m a better person for it and the longer I’m on this path the more options in life become aware of. It’s like I’m hearing my mom tell me “You can be anything you want to be” just like when I was a child.