I hit my number. I hit my number. Sweet Holy Jesus, I hit my number! [Falls to the floor and sobs with joy].
Okay, these aren’t quite the scenes at Accumulator HQ – because I’m an emotional pygmy.
But I have hit my number… and I don’t really know how to feel.
I actually hit my FI (Financial Independence) number during the stock market surge in January.
That looked like the end of that dream. I was minded of Alf Ramsey’s words to the England team before extra-time in the 1966 World Cup Final:
You’ve won it once. Now go and win it again.
But the Central Banks came out blazing – better than a Geoff Hurst hat-trick any day – and eight months later “I’m over the moon, Brian” about my Independence Day 2.
2020 has cast an air of unreality over everything so for sanity’s sake I’ve stopped obsessing over my target figure.
That’s meant prioritising cash savings since February. There should now be enough in my vault to see out the next half-decade or so.
It’s meant to survive crashes of historic magnitude.
(No, that doesn’t mean it’s safe.)
I did it my way
I’m no poster child for the FIRE1 movement – I’m 48. But maybe my story can offer hope to other late starters:
- I didn’t set out for the FI Promised Land until age 41.
- I’ve never earned a six-figure salary.
- I’m not a tech bro or finance pro.
- I’ve peaked at mid-five figures in a declining industry.
- My personal finances were a mess that I didn’t begin to clear up until age 35.
Financial independence can be achieved surprisingly quickly – faster than the 10 years I reckoned on.
Just chillax and enjoy life? You must be joking. That’s not me at all. I need negative energy to feed upon.
But there’s no need to grasp around for any old anxiety. I’ve had mine lined up for ages.
An earlier version of me crashed and burned when I got all the time and freedom I could mishandle. I was like a small child who loved Haribo and then, when given control of their meal plan, ate Haribo morning, noon, and night.
Inevitably there was a reckoning and it still affects me years later.
So this time… no sudden moves. I’ve watched too many others in the FIRE community quit their jobs, move to an exotic new location, and apply for gender reassignment all at once.
That much rapid change is a shock to the system. It’d be too shocking for my system.
I need to take things slowly and acclimatise. It’s not very devil-may-care, but I’m a cautious soul by nature.
Hard-charging for financial independence meant a massive lifestyle shift. But it also threw into relief the many things I’m damned if I know how to change.
I’m wired up a particular way. For better or worse I come with complementary baggage that I can’t just pop down and leave. Wherever I go, I’ll still be bringing ‘him’ along.
I may be FI but I’m still the same sack of problems. I haven’t reached the end of the rainbow.
So I’m carrying on as normal for now. Or at least as normal as it gets in the midst of a global pandemic – which has frankly made me reluctant to even talk about FI these past months.
One thing is for sure, a recession is much less scary for following the FI path.
All those stories back in March about FIRE being over? They were garbage at the time, anyway, but more importantly everybody who was on the FIRE journey was (and is) in a better place for it – whatever the future holds and no matter how far down the track you are.
I’ve seen the look of fear on colleagues’ faces as demand slumped. Then the relief when a client crackled back into life – like radio comms from a rescue team in a post-apocalyptic movie.
But I’ve been sleeping well. KPIs don’t disturb my dreams. I’m not weighed down by that fat-suit of dread that I wore during the Global Financial Crisis. My work stress has fallen away, now that I have the option to walk.
Something else changed, too
During our December FIRE debate, The Investor (and I hate admitting this to him) got to me more than I realised. His crudely repetitious argument for working beyond FI lodged itself in my brain, even though I clearly crushed him intellectually…
I’d always imagined that making FI would be swiftly followed by pulling the trigger.
I set the number so that could be the case.
But I haven’t gone for a super-resilient, sustainable withdrawal rate (SWR) of 3% or less. And I’m on the lean side of FIRE. A little more room for manoeuvre wouldn’t go amiss.
Carrying on working in some capacity seems a lot more sensible than fretting about bond yields. It suits my ‘no sudden moves’ self-management plan.
What I really wanted was an end to work as marred by the riptides of restructurings, obsolescence, misfortune, performance assessments, and all the BS of office politics (you remember offices?)
I’m not worried about any of that now I don’t have to fight for survival in the corporate jungle.
Being able to walk away makes walking away much less urgent.
So now I have enough to live on, how am I actually going to live?
That’s what I’ll focus on for the next few months. It’s a liberating feeling.
And I am happy. Did I mention I was happy?
Take it steady,
- Financial Independence Retire Early [↩]