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Financial independence – adrift in the vastness

We don’t talk about it often but the reason I’m investing is because I want to be financially independent (FI). I’m a quarter of the way through which is a difficult place to be.

It feels like I’m rowing solo across the Atlantic. The planning is done, the course is set and all I gotta do is row.

Behind me are hundreds of miles of flat, grey ocean. There’s nothing on the horizon. In front of me, are thousands of miles of flat, grey ocean. There’s nothing on the horizon.

It’s hard to tell I’m moving at all.

An ancient mariner would pass the time by juggling mortal danger and hallucinations. A modern mariner has the same options as well as their GPS tracker and calls from home.

All four are needed to keep the rowboat on an even keel.

Keeping the good ship FI on course

Hallucinations

I keep fantasising that I’ve made it. These episodes may or may not be voluntary but they are definitely an attempt by present me to establish a psychic bridge to future me.

My cycle into work on a Monday morning. Full of grief for the weekend life I’ve left behind. How would this ride feel if it were my last day before FI?

How would it feel if, instead of the daily commute, this was my daily exercise jaunt? If in an hour I’ll turn the bike around and head home for breakfast and smiles? To know that feeling is something I’m willing to take some pain for.

The wave of bliss that washes over you on the eve of holiday. A whole week of being me again. Remembering the joy and zest and curiosity that spring from having hours to yourself. Life for life’s sake.

The serendipity of play reclaiming your living space from the ‘to do’ list. Like nature recolonising an ugly city. How sweet is that place?

Whatever it is I’m going through now, it’s worth it because it brings me closer to there.

Calls from home

I need a self-help group. A crowd to cheer me on. Someone waving the flag for my team.

Going for FI is a lonely pursuit. There aren’t many of us out there. I only know two people in my real life who understand what I’m trying to do: Mrs Accumulator and The Investor.

Others can’t wrap their heads around it. Or wonder what I’ll do with the time. Or imagine it’s a huge risk because, well, what if I have a heart attack in a few years?

What if I don’t?

What if I live to age 84 as per the average life expectancy for males who are already 20 years older than me?

So my self-help group has widened to people I’ve never met but who speak wisely about FI:

Among others.

That’s not to mention the Monevator readers who chime in with their progress reports.

They all help me visualise how my FI life will feel. Their happiness (mostly) confirms that this journey really is about the destination. Their full lives dispel any worries about filling the time.

If anyone really believes the hours will be empty, just have a chat with the retirees in your life.

They’re so hectic, you’d think they were trying to win the American Presidency – hurtling around the place on a frenzied roadshow – packing in friends, holidays, grandchildren, hobbies, life.

Y’know, life.

GPS tracker

One of the things that makes FI socially tough is that there are no outward signs of success. If anything it looks like you’re going backwards.

Especially when much-loved possessions look like the love might be killing them.

If you makeover your house, your friends will coo over your freshly gilded splendour.

Voila! Instant validation.

But inviting the neighbours to take a look at your net worth spreadsheet is no way to impress the Jones’s.

So you need to create your own journey planner that joins the dots from first step to FU.

When a task is huge, scary and covered in razor-sharp spikes then chopping it into manageable taskettes is the only way to go.

For me, that means micro-goals, mid-level goals and BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious goals).

Micro-goals mean taking things a step at a time. Focusing all my energies (negative and positive) on the very next task rather than the vast gulf I’ve yet to cover.

This way the internal monologue switches from: “This is impossible” to “If I can just get to the end of today, it’ll be OK.” Or, “If I can just make it to the end of the week, it’ll be OK.”

It’s a cheap trick but it buys off the brain with the promise of imminent reward. The reward might be real, such as switching off from Python-esque work pressures (both crushing and surreal) because you really can’t have given it any more today. Or the reward might be pretend…

I do the same thing when exercising with kettle bells.

Let’s say I want to do 100 clean and push-presses but I know that’s going to be agony. I tell you what, brain, if I do 50 then we’ll call it quits. Honour served.

  • Get to 50. OK, maybe another 25. I can do that.
  • Get to 75. OK, no way I’m stopping now, I can make it to 100.
  • Get to 100. OK, now I’m having a mini heart attack. I’ll stop now.

Every time. This is the opposite of procrastination. Instead of pacifying a panicking brain with distraction, you quell the rebellion by making yourself believe it will all be over soon.

Mid-level goals are my navigable markers. For me, it’s a four-monthly review of net worth and savings to date. Each checkpoint is far enough apart so that I’m rewarded with significant signs of progress, while being close enough together to keep me on track.

The BHAG is a scary goal that keeps things interesting. In my world that amounts to an annual savings rate of 70% measured at the end of March. I made it this year. Fell short last year. Made it the year before that.

Plug your savings rate and a few other key numbers into Networthify’s calculator and you can see how far you are from FI.

Savings Rate = (annual savings / (expenses + annual savings)) x 100.

With a 70% savings rate, 4% expected investment return and 3% anticipated withdrawal rate, I’m done in eight years. With a 4% withdrawal rate I’m done in five and a half.

If I can push the savings rate up to 75% then I can be done in six years with a 3% withdrawal rate. (I consider a 3% withdrawal rate to be much safer than 4%.)

Saving 75% is a big stretch from here, but not impossible.

Mortal danger

I’m not theatrical enough to believe I face much peril in my life but my limbic system acts like there’s sharks everywhere.

Drama is a great way to speed up time, as I discover whenever I hurtle towards a big deadline like it’s the event horizon of a black hole.

But we should draw more comfort than we do from our daily woes. Because, regardless of the adversity we face, we almost always come out the other side.

It’s worth cataloguing all the challenges we didn’t think we could handle but did. We may have been floored for a while, we may have been knocked back, but we got up and kept going.

We’re tougher than we think. We can do it. And that’s the truth.

Take it steady,

The Accumulator

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{ 76 comments… add one }
  • 51 @algernond May 26, 2016, 12:16 pm

    I’ve also had suspicions for a long time that TA & TI are the same person, but that he/she may not actually know. Along the lines of Billy Milligan (who had 24 distinct personalities).

  • 52 The Investor May 26, 2016, 1:48 pm

    For those who are arguing that We are a split personality, I’d point out that this comment by TA…

    The Investor and I have near come to blows over the ‘your house is an asset debate’.

    …is not a figure of speech.

    Then again, I seem to remember a scene that tackled the mechanics of a one-man boxing match in Fight Club. 😉

    We’re not the same person. If we were, what a force! Alas.

    We’re quite complementary though, except for our historical tendency to veer close to almighty rows! 😉

  • 53 SurreyBoy May 26, 2016, 3:49 pm

    This is a great thread – its encouraging to see so many others on the journey.

    I got interested in FI because i hated my job and concluded id hate any job so just needed to get out of the whole damn work thing. What ive since learned was i needed to change my way of living, so the remaining years in work are not pure misery. I have started this, and things are beginning to improve.

    I still want FI but its less of a Holy Grail and more of a thing i confidently look forward to in around 6 years. We are all different, but id go crackers if i checked the spreadsheet every month to track exact progress. I tell myself that if i stay in a similar type of job and dont do anything crazy, i should get FI by around 50.

    Keep up the great work at Monevator. It really is encouraging to see others out in world working at the FI goal. I love the idea of a small boat on the ocean – it doesnt feel as lonely when you read this thread.

  • 54 The Accumulator May 26, 2016, 6:36 pm

    @ Firestarter – you’ve got it all wrong. TI is a figment of my imagination. My poor, fevered imagination.

    And over the halfway line is a great way to revisualise my journey. I’ve used that a couple of times already today.

    @ TEA – I’ll be in touch.

    @ Mroptimistic – you’ve definitely won the prize for most ironic pseudonym.

    @ L – 🙂

    @ SurreyBoy – great to hear from you. Much of what you say chimes with me, aside from the spreadsheet bit. I love my spreadsheet. Can’t imagine any other place where I’d admit that.

    In all seriousness, I’m working on my mind too. Slow going though. I’m working with a very thick material, resistant to change.

  • 55 Mroptimistic May 26, 2016, 8:54 pm

    Gracias, but hang on. Grey seas, flat horizon Mr Pot? As you struggle across the interminable ocean do you not worry that your concept of an end point, a final destination, may not be a true analogy? As you struggle to your nirvana, the landing point constantly recedes to always remain just beyond the horizon. Perhaps you seek peace of mind rather than a quantum of investment grasshopper.

    Jusy sayin’

  • 56 The Accumulator May 26, 2016, 9:03 pm

    Pleased to meet you Mr Kettle 😉 Sure, I don’t think there’s ‘an answer’. Finish one journey and another begins.

  • 57 NZFlyboy May 27, 2016, 4:08 am

    “Behind me are hundreds of miles of flat, grey ocean. There’s nothing on the horizon. In front of me, are thousands of miles of flat, grey ocean”

    Couldn’t have put my feelings about this in better language. As I thought about it, suddenly my thoughts of being an adult student doing an undergraduate and then a master’s degree, back to back, while holding down a demanding job came to the fore. They too were like sailing a lonely sea, yet one day the shore was reached.

    However, there was a feeling of relief, tinged withe melancholy, after those goals were achieved – wonder if FI will be the same.

  • 58 PC May 27, 2016, 9:59 am

    @NZflyboy I had a similar experience at the end of juggling a part time Masters at Birkbeck with a demanding job involving a bit of travel.

    When it stopped I really missed it .. since then I’ve done lots of less formal learning..

    It’s important to me to enjoy the journey ..

  • 59 BShnady May 27, 2016, 11:35 am

    “However, there was a feeling of relief, tinged withe melancholy, after those goals were achieved – wonder if FI will be the same.”

    I very much doubt it! Why would anyone not wish to be financially independent and free to spend their time as they pleased? If for some reason you didn’t like the feel of it you could always give it all away and start again 🙂

    I’ve been living off investments a long time and from a young age too. I’m probably (!) unusual in that while doing my A levels I had no specific career choice or career goals in mind other than to make enough money as quickly as possible, *while doing something I enjoyed*, such that I’d not have to work again if I chose not to. I enjoyed the work I did, saw some fascinating stuff along the way, and would have done some of it for nothing, but I certainly didn’t enjoy it more than being able to now do as I please.

    “Doing as I please” sounds self-indulgent and perhaps selfish, which I don’t have a problem with as it can be. Heck, it’s my life. But, one of the things I find myself doing quite a bit is helping out various people, mainly family, in ways I couldn’t have done when grafting long hours for money. That’s been one of the unexpectedly satisfying aspects of having time to live a different way.

    Another is having time to actually think. Removed from the hamster wheel you gain time to consider and ponder matters in a deeper manner that you may not have been able to since adulthood’s workload first befell you. I’m of the opinion contemporary life, with its many distractions such as the technology-based information spigots we’re often glued to, leaves many people with little time to think about anything in any depth.

    The rapid march of automation is very interesting and I understand the appeal of a citizen’s wage as a possible response. Or perhaps, as in the past, new roles will simply develop ensuring nearly full employment and such thoughts will appear ridiculous. But, if a new era really does beckon (fatal words, normally, I know), and a citizen’s wage ever does arise, I might view today’s early-FI movement as being pathfinders in the vanguard of this trend, one already enabling a swathe of people to bump themselves up Maslow’s pyramid. Maybe in a couple of decades we’ll be watching “Benefits Britain: Self-Actualized Living on the Citizen’s Wage” and marveling at the interesting lives some people are carving out for themselves.

  • 60 Sharpespur May 27, 2016, 7:29 pm

    I agree the blogging community around investing / FI is important. It provides me with both knowledge and a sense of encouragement. I got my credit cards and loans (the collateral damage of a misspent 20’s) paid off 3 years ago and then decided to start some sort of savings / investment with the money that was going into debt repayment. Three years into that I’ve started toying with the idea of FI, having read about it here and also over at The Escape Artist. I guess I just imagined my investments would go towards my retirement but have come to build up an idea about what FI is, what it means for me (I think its slightly different for each of us), and what it would be possible to do. I have not set a dedicated route out to it yet, mainly because of a touch of burying my head in the sand; my rough calculations show either I’m FI at or around normal retirement age or I need some serious lifestyle changes, which is fine as far as I’m concerned but I have a wife and daughter who would be affected by those changes.

    I have good days and bad days but overall I do love what I do for a living. One thing is clear though – I have to do it. No choice. I don’t think I’d ever really consciously thought of it like that, although clearly deep down I must have always known this was the case. Now, however, I have has those thoughts and, like Pandora’s box, its too late. It’s irreversible and I can never go back to a state of blissful ignorance about my own lack of freedom.

    One day I want to go to work in the morning knowing I could have stayed in bed if I wanted to, I want to eat my lunch at my desk knowing that if I wanted to I could swap the pressure for a much less paid job where I have more free time.

    I think the wife and I need a serious chat….. 🙂

  • 61 The Accumulator May 27, 2016, 9:07 pm

    @ Bnshady – It sounds great. I can’t wait to join you. I think automation will cause a great deal of disruption and even if society is able to adjust, it will take years, probably decades, and be hugely painful for great swathes of society.

    @ Sharpespur – It sounds like you’ve come a long way already and your determination will set you fair. There is a certain freedom in loving what you do.

  • 62 Mroptimistic May 27, 2016, 9:26 pm

    Perhaps ponder on the saying that the rich eat well but sleep poorly?

  • 63 Tedious Pseudonym May 27, 2016, 9:46 pm

    Cobblers, I’m rich and I sleep through anything.

  • 64 Mroptimistic May 27, 2016, 11:38 pm

    No you don’t. Tell us about your children. No children? Tell me your regets.

  • 65 Whereis May 28, 2016, 8:49 am

    Speaking of which, does anyone know what’s happened to RIT? A disciplined post every weekend or two, but nothing now for about 2 months…

  • 66 Tedious Pseudonym May 28, 2016, 9:10 am

    2 children, fairly good at sleeping, and I regret selling various cars I should have hung on to, but hey ho, just like those winning shares I suppose 🙂

  • 67 The Investor May 28, 2016, 9:12 am

    @TP @MrOptimistic — Let’s not derail a good thread with a tit-for-tat about unverifiable life details please. 🙂

  • 68 The Rhino May 28, 2016, 9:15 am

    Well last we heard he was lifting off into space on a rocket so stands to reason we haven’t heard from him since

  • 69 Planting Acorns May 28, 2016, 11:21 am

    “With a 70% savings rate, 4% expected investment return and 3% anticipated withdrawal rate, I’m done in eight years. With a 4% withdrawal rate I’m done in five and a half.”

    Should this be the other way around ? I read in the Guardian last week (perhaps through a weekly roundup link that just 2.5pc was a ‘safe’ withdrawal rate for the UK, as higher figures come from the US.

    I wouldn’t rather work than not, I’m exceptionally happy to have a three day weekend, but I’m glad I put a positive spin on it when I’m there, it helps.

  • 70 Mroptimistic May 28, 2016, 12:26 pm

    🙂

  • 71 Minikins May 28, 2016, 1:35 pm

    Hilarious post, thanks.

    I am sure you have other goals in life, perhaps learn to dance like the dancers on Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ video or develop your poker playing skills and tour the world’s top casinos putting them to thrilling action. I have a massive list of these types of goals and that is the only reason I would like FI, so that I could fit in and do all the stuff I would love to, perhaps at the expense of a 9-5 job. Losing the 9-5 is not the goal, though. Doing the other stuff is.

    Achieving a particular figure/rate etc is useful but can be too heavily focused on, the numbers shouldn’t really be the goal, but the means to your life goals. Life is for living not number crunching! Happy goal planning! 🙂

  • 72 The Accumulator May 28, 2016, 2:44 pm

    @ Planting – the order is correct, here’s how it works out:

    Say Mrs Accumulator and I anticipate living on £20K per year.

    Divide that by your withdrawal rate to find the hoard of assets you’ll need to amass to support your chosen level of income.

    20,000 / 0.04 = £500,000

    20,000 / 0.03 = £666,666

    £500K is easier to accumulate than £666K so the higher the withdrawal rate you’re comfortable with, the sooner you’ll hit FI. Notwithstanding a cavalcade of caveats. (Note, you’ll need to scale these figures by inflation as you go).

    As you rightly point out the famous 4% withdrawal rate is based on US investment history. It was also based on a 50:50 equity:bond portfolio, no taxes, no investment costs and a retirement length of no longer than 30 years.

    In short, it’s no guarantee of success.

    2.5% comes with a whole load of caveats too. It’s worth your while reading the Morningstar research that Guardian story came from.

    I’m comfortable with a 3% withdrawal rate as a target because:

    I’ll probably continue to earn some money once I hit FI – it won’t all come from my portfolio.

    The State Pension will take a huge weight off the portfolio once we reach that threshold.

    We’ll use a dynamic withdrawal strategy which gives you more wiggle room than a static withdrawal rate. (One day I’ll write about this on Monevator but in short it provides rules for spending less when your portfolio is down and more when it’s up).

    A reverse mortgage can be brought into play.

    My portfolio is more globally diversified than the assumed US / UK portfolios commonly quoted.

    Choosing to annuitise at some stage can also change the game as well as any income you’re pulling in from other sources.

    Finally, and this is somewhat unpalatable, if one or both of us doesn’t last as long as hoped then, well, at least the minimum safe withdrawal rate jacks up.

    Lordy, that last sentence was difficult to write, but hopefully I’ve given you a good sense of the many factors in play.

    Actual performance and the sequence of returns are hugely important too.

  • 73 Planting Acorns May 28, 2016, 5:02 pm

    Ah !! Thanks !! I knew I must be wrong because there were 68 comments with no one mentioning it so great to what I missed and how you came about the figures.

    I know these are illustrative examples but 666k would be quite the endeavour for ten years saving…importance of starting early I guess…

  • 74 Newtona2 May 29, 2016, 9:14 am

    Nice post, TA.

    I find myself now 14 months into my own FI, like Ermine having taken The Man’s shilling for early retirement at 52. In my case I had been planning for FI in principle for about 20 years by paying down the mortgage and saving a decent proportion of our take home pay, and bumping up pension contributions, then really going for it in the last 5 years or so, saving about 50% of our income, as well as all of both my own and my wife’s redundancy payments.

    I have the advantage of us both having final salary pensions, mine not due to start for another 18 months, and also we don’t plan on leaving a stack of money so our plan involves planned draw down of our savings. Our heirs can make do with what’s left plus the value of our home, assuming we still have it come the day.

    I agree with theFIREstarter, you really should include your 6 years paying off the mortgage as part of your journey to FI as this is a key step to getting there, so I think you are 9 years into your 16 year journey.

    FI really is all you hope it will be, as confirmed by many commenters above – and it certainly need not mean stopping doing anything to make a contribution or even work, but it does mean you have the FU money to only do what you want to do.

    A great tip I saw to work out how much you need, other than using the 3% or 4% rule was to estimate your life expectancy, multiply it by the actual amount you want to spend each year, minus any pension income, and then put that into long term savings accounts, then with any other cash you have go aggressive with Investment Trusts and similar investments to boost the nice to have spend, and leave your legacy. So if for example you retire at 50 and expect to live to 80, at £20k you need £600k minus 13 years of OAP, at say £15k per year for the two of you (£195k) – so £405k. So if you can get to your £500k you have £95k to invest, which over 30 years should more than double, giving you another 10 years of money, or extra spending power in your earlier years.

    (I actually pretty the drawdown 3 or 4% method, but the above is another way to look at things).

    Tony

    Best of luck

  • 75 Mroptimistic May 29, 2016, 12:54 pm

    There was an interesting article on this site about your true attitude towards risk, and do you really know what it is. Yes I have constructed spreadsheets to see how it pans out based on one if us getting to 95.

    In the past I have sat out maybe 4? Market disruptions, mainly through inertia I might add, but if deep into drawdown will I be comfortable then sitting it out? Not so sure.

  • 76 Whereis May 30, 2016, 9:19 am

    Re horizon. Whenever I get too infatuated with FIRE I wake myself up:

    The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. – Nabokov

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