Imagine becoming financially independent (FI) in your 30’s or 40’s. Imagine having enough money to live off the interest and dividends for the rest of your life, applying your time to your own interests and passions.
A growing community of bloggers is converting this fantasy into their reality. Dozens of people are blogging about their journeys to FI and millionaire status.
These bloggers became FI with only middle class incomes. They did it without help from rich uncles, inheritances, or CEO jobs. All they needed was a freethinking attitude about money.
Let me introduce you to three of these bloggers:
Mr. Tako Escapes is by an anonymous writer who attained FI in 2015 at age 38. “Tako” is Japanese for octopus, an animal known for its abilities to escape confinement. Mr. Tako writes to his two young boys, teaching them how he saved half his income and escaped the rat race with $2 million in the bank. Spoiler alert: he did it with long-term investing and frugality.
Early Retirement Extreme is by Jacob Fisker (retirement age: 30), and is one of the earliest blogs in the genre. Jacob is as extreme as his blog’s name advertises. His degree of ultra-minimalist frugality will have you saving about 50-80% of your income and becoming FI in about 5 years, as he did. If you can stand to give up many conveniences and status symbols and live on only a few thousand dollars per year, as he does, then you too will soon have 117 years of living expenses in the bank.
Mr. Money Mustache by Peter Adeney is the most successful and sophisticated of the FI blogs and forum communities. MMM skewers our “complainypants” habits that waste money and environmental resources, such as fake work trucks, 68 degree air conditioning, and long commutes. He optimistically demonstrates a more physically fit, skills-driven lifestyle that leads to wealth.
How They Do It: The Math and the Tactics
When your investments equal 25 times your annual expenses, you can generally live off the interest for life by withdrawing 4% per year.
In a post called “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement,” MMM applies the networthify.com early retirement calculator to show how your number of years to retirement depends entirely on your savings rate (savings/earnings).
|Percentage of Income Saved||Years to Retire|
The next questions are how to invest your savings and how to save that much of your income.
Mr. Adeney (Mr. Money Mustache) invests in the stock market, a rental property, and dabbles in personal lending sites. Mr. Fisker (Early Retirement Extreme) did not invest anything for the first 3 years of his 5 year journey to FI, and then bought a handful of stocks. Mr. Tako invests in the stock market, especially dividend stocks. All three bloggers are generally buy-and-hold investors, a time-proven strategy.
In other words, their investing strategies are utterly conventional. Their wealth comes from frugality.
All 3 bloggers describe frugal behaviors that save them thousands of dollars per year, but are outside the norms of American culture. All are adamant that you’ll never save enough money without committing to a frugal lifestyle.
Mr. Adeney and Mr. Fisker each ride a bike on all but the longest errands. Mr. Tako doesn’t drink and prevents restaurant bills by cooking his own delicious meals.
These and dozens of other frugal behaviors allow them to live middle-class lifestyles for tens of thousands of dollars less than most people.
They also focus on developing their skills. Mr. Tako refurbished the batteries in his rechargeable drill and replaced his own toilet. Mr. Adeney practically built his own house. Mr. Fisker also fixes everything he owns, rather than replace it.
Needless to say, these 30-something retirees generally do without new cars, big houses, restaurants, cable, and other financial burdens that most people shackle themselves to.
Mentality of a Financial Freethinker
These bloggers have unusual, yet fulfilling, ideas about happiness, having enough, risk, waste, and deserving.
To reduce their spending, each blogger developed the skill of tuning out the advertisements and assumptions around us. You don’t need a big truck to be a real man, and you don’t need diamonds or fashion labels to be a classy woman. Big houses with manicured lawns are liabilities, not assets, and fast food drive-throughs represent the triple-destruction of one’s money, health, and environment.
The FI bloggers don’t care if other people are impressed. They proudly shop at thrift stores, live in average houses, and ride their bikes instead of cars. They’ve migrated away from friends who are impressed by conspicuous consumption, and towards friends who accomplish things and have adventures. They think the standard financial advice, which is to save at least 5% of your income, should be more like 50%.
Of course, people object to the FI bloggers. Harassing email and critical comments come from those offended by the bloggers’ frugal lifestyles or, occasionally, math itself.
For some critics, life would not be worthwhile without cable, steak, leased SUVs, and the other “needs” that keep them financially dependent. Others are certain that financial success can’t be possible because that would contradict their political ideology.
To live as they wanted, the FI bloggers had to reject the assumptions of American popular culture, ignore the advertisements and media that immerse us all, defy social norms, think independently, choose a different path, and face criticism for it.
In other words, the FI bloggers took a path to escape the rat race that is eerily similar to the path many of us took to escape religion. For that, I say we can call them fellow freethinkers.