If you’ve just discovered the financial independence/early retirement movement and you’re thinking about joining it, I’d like to offer you the single most important piece of advice I know.
It’s not just a numbers game.
Yes, FI/ER is a cool idea. After almost thirteen years of of early retirement I can tell you from personal experience that attaining financial freedom and getting out of the workforce is one of the top three life-changing moments I’ve had (behind getting married and having a daughter.)
And you can do it. FI/ER within your grasp. However, you need to understand that there’s a very, very serious side to the decision. It ain’t all kittens and orgasms.
I recently read a 2013 Gallup poll that said:
Just 30 percent of employees are engaged and inspired at work, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, which surveyed more than 150,000 full- and part-time workers during 2012. That’s up from 28 percent in 2010. The rest … not so much. A little more than half of workers (52 percent) have a perpetual case of the Mondays—they’re present, but not particularly excited about their job.
So, yeah, half or more of the workforce would like to escape employment. Give the open office environment, the six-figure student debt, the nickel-and-diming, the uncompensated hours, the multi-year unpaid internships…who wouldn’t like to shuck all that bullshit and get their freedom back, right?
I give out a lot of advice on this blog, and I joke around about it, but what’s constantly in the back of my mind is: if I tell someone to do this, that, and the other thing, and that’s the guaranteed path to FI/ER, I could inadvertently cause irreparable harm.
Imagine a scenario where a guy who’s twenty-three discovers FI/ER and immediately jumps down the rabbit hole. But in his initial excitement he discovers that he and his girlfriend are incompatible when it comes to the spending/saving balance, and during an ensuing fight over money they break up.
And then after a few months of FI/ER pursuit he finds himself to be terribly lonely, and realizes his now ex-girlfriend was the center of his world, but she’s since moved on. So he goes out and gets drunk and crashes his car into a telephone pole on the way home.
Ok, that’s a worst-case scenario; grim hyperbole to illustrate a point…which is that committing to FI/ER is an enormous lifestyle change; one you may well be factoring into all your decisions. Who you hang out it, what you do, where you live, etc.
Are you comfortable with that tradeoff?
In short: if you focus on FI/ER to the exclusion of all else it’s possible to wreck things that are crucial to your mental and even physical well-being. So please please please do some heavy thinking about that before you even start working on the numbers.
Because–and again, I stress this–it’s not just a numbers game. You’ll literally be casting off your old life for the sake of entering a new one. It’s not a decision to undertake lightly.
And that’s my best advice.