Financial independence is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. But what does it truly mean? And is there only one definition, or are there many FIRE styles?
You might have a definition that immediately comes to mind. But someone else’s could be totally different.
In this post, we’ll explore how there can be multiple forms of financial independence, the benefits of achieving it, and how to get started. I’ll also share some thoughts from my own journey to FI.
What does financial independence mean?
Alright, let’s talk definitions. The reality is, financial independence means different things to different people.
A young adult may feel financially independent once they start working, move out of home, and start paying all their own bills. And we wouldn’t argue otherwise - that’s our first true form of independence in the financial sense.
Another form of financial independence could be between a couple. Let’s say both partners work, each pays their share of the bills, and has complete control of their own personal spending. Each spouse could consider themselves to be financially independent of one another.
Or how about the more famous example of Prince Harry and Meghan wanting to claim their own financial independence from the Royal Family? Are they secretly part of the FIRE movement? Perhaps - but more likely, they’ve decided to generate their own income and therefore won’t be needing any assistance from their wealthy relatives.
But here’s a popular definition of financial independence (probably the Holy Grail and what most of us are chasing around here):
Having enough wealth in investments so that you no longer need to work. Your assets produce enough passive income to pay your bills on an ongoing basis.
For many in our community, this is the most powerful and meaningful state of financial independence.
The benefits of financial independence
Using our ‘Holy Grail’ definition, financial independence can mean being able to:
- Do whatever you want, spending as much time on anything that feels worthwhile (family, hobbies, volunteering, learning, starting a business, and so on).
- Create your own lifestyle and schedule. No more giving up 40-50 hours per week to pay the bills; if you work full-time, it’s because you choose to.
- Make your health a priority. Having freedom gives you more space to exercise, make nutritious food, spend time in nature, switch off from technology, and learn more about yourself.
- Choose any future work based on your interests and how much you might enjoy it, rather than how much it pays.
We could go on, but you get the idea! Now, let me share how I became attracted to the idea of financial independence.
Dave Gow’s own journey towards FI
One year after starting my first full-time job in a factory, I looked around at work and saw the despondent faces of guys in their 50s and 60s. Plodding along every week just to pay the bills, only to do it all over again the following week.
This really disturbed me. From then, I made an internal commitment that working 40+ more years in a factory (or any kind of mandatory work) and having little freedom would be a totally unacceptable outcome.
So to me, more than anything else, financial independence meant freedom. Being able to spend my time doing whatever I wanted, without needing to give away most of my waking life to a job.
After managing to reach financial independence at age 28, my definition of (and my passion for) FI hasn’t changed. Having said that, I do appreciate the role of meaningful work more than I used to.
Confession: for some reason, I actually imagined doing nothing but relaxing after retiring early. But in reality, it’s not as enjoyable as it first sounds to a disgruntled and tired shift-worker.
In reality, you’ll have a lot of productive energy even if you don’t need to work for a living. And you’ll want to put that energy to good use.
But one great aspect of FI is being able to try different things and explore what kind of things you might enjoy more than your current job. That’s much easier to do without the pressure of needing a certain amount of income to stay afloat.
So, how do you get to financial independence?
Achieving financial independence is quite simple. You save and invest for a number of years until your investments are able to pay for your living expenses.
The real question is: how do you make this happen as soon as possible? Well, we can grow our investments by increasing our income and saving more money.
Another way to speed things up is by cutting our expenses. Not only does this give us more money to invest, but it also means we need less in investments to be financially independent.
Of course, the real magic happens when we do a combination of things: increase our income and reduce expenses, saving and investing as much as possible. We can also get rid of debts (like car loans or a mortgage), which removes (often) large ongoing costs from our life.
It seems slow at first, but over time your passive income will cover more and more of your living costs. First maybe a phone bill, then a week’s rent, then a holiday. As you invest more and reduce your expenses, the gap between your investment income and your spending closes.
We get that thinking about a goal that seems so far away isn’t very motivating. But remember: every single time you invest, you get one step closer to financial independence. And that results in greater control over your life with each month and year that passes.
Countless people in our community have expressed the joy they feel even within 12 months of starting their journey. They feel more in control of their lives than ever before, and they can see their future freedom expanding. These psychological benefits can’t really be measured, but they’re very real.
Committing to and achieving financial independence at a young age has been the single greatest decision of my life.
If anyone is on the fence about whether FI is worth the effort, don’t be. The one thing we hear repeatedly from members of our community is they wish they’d started sooner and known about this stuff earlier.
For many, financial independence can mean having another 50-70 years to learn, explore, create, achieve, and appreciate all sorts of things that are important to them.
We hope this article has shed some light on what financial independence means and why it matters. We wish you all the best on your own financial journey!
I'm Dave Gow, and I'm not just an enthusiast but a seasoned expert when it comes to financial independence (FI). My journey towards FI began one year after starting my first full-time job in a factory. Witnessing the despondency of colleagues in their 50s and 60s, working week after week just to pay the bills, fueled my commitment to achieving financial independence. I successfully reached FI at the age of 28, demonstrating my firsthand expertise in the subject matter.
Financial independence is a term often used today, but its meaning can vary among individuals. It might signify independence for a young adult when they start working, move out of their home, and manage their own expenses. Alternatively, it could involve a couple where both partners work, pay their bills independently, and have control over personal spending.
One popular definition, often considered the Holy Grail, is having enough wealth in investments to eliminate the need to work. In this scenario, assets generate sufficient passive income to cover ongoing expenses. Achieving financial independence offers numerous benefits, such as the ability to do what you want, create your own lifestyle, prioritize health, and choose future work based on interests rather than financial necessity.
My personal journey highlights that financial independence, beyond the allure of early retirement, means freedom. It's about spending time on activities that matter without being bound by a job. It also involves exploring new interests and meaningful work without the pressure of financial constraints.
To attain financial independence, the key is saving and investing for a number of years until your investments can sustain your living expenses. Accelerating this process involves increasing income, saving more, and cutting expenses. By combining these strategies and eliminating debts, individuals can expedite their journey to financial independence.
While the goal may seem distant at first, every step in investing brings you closer to financial freedom. Many in the community have attested to the psychological benefits gained within just a year of starting their journey, experiencing increased control over their lives.
In conclusion, committing to and achieving financial independence can be life-changing. My personal experience and the success stories in our community emphasize the importance of starting this journey early. Financial independence opens doors to decades of learning, exploring, creating, achieving, and appreciating the things that matter most. I share these insights to shed light on what financial independence truly means and to inspire others on their own financial journey.