Until not that long ago, I had a good idea of what retirement looked like. It was a simple and traditional idea of retirement which was well accepted by society at large. I’d advance my career and work until my fifties while raising a family. Once I retired I’d finally have time to do more of the things that interest and intrigue me.
I was doing a fine job of going down that path. I moved up from an entry-level programming job to a position as an IT Director managing a multi-million dollar budget at a Fortune 500 company by the time I was 37. I was well respected at work, I was making good money, and I enjoyed evenings and weekends with my wife and young son when I wasn’t travelling.
I was spending 50-70 hours every week in a job that at times drove me crazy but which was, most days, tolerable and at times was even fun. I dreaded Mondays and I loved Friday afternoons. One day it hit me, as it does many approaching midlife, I was trading my life for a paycheck and I didn’t know why. I didn’t love what I was doing and I wasn’t spending as much time with my family as I wanted to. I couldn’t imagine another twenty years of the same thing but I didn’t know of another way.
My wife and I had been living well within our means for years and we’d saved quite a bit of money by spending less than we made and diligently investing the rest. Nonetheless, I knew it would be years before I actually left the rat race. I was making good money and leaving wouldn’t be a smart financial move. Continuing on in my job that paid quite well was going to leave me with much more money than leaving and, besides, what would I do if I left? Even if I left my job, I’d have to go find another one and I was already working for one of the best employers in my industry.
The sense that I was missing something was incentive to start looking around and thinking a bit more about what I wanted. I stumbled upon a community of people dedicated to reaching financial independence. These were people that wanted to take money out of the driver’s seat. They wanted to have enough money to enjoy their desired lifestyle so that they wouldn’t need to make all of their decisions based on what would make them the most money. For these people, wealth was more than just the acquisition of as much money as possible. It was acquiring the freedom that comes from not needing to acquire more money.
I discovered it takes far less money than I thought to be financially independent for life – provided I didn’t fall into the trap of allowing my spending to increase on lockstep with my income as most Americans do. I found that by making a few simple changes and by forgoing the house that was bigger than I needed and the car that was fancier than I needed, I had already become financially independent. I had more money in my nest egg than my family needed to survive, effectively forever. I discovered that, quite to my surprise, I had crossed the finish line of my financial independence race without even realizing it. I was still running the race for the simple reason that when I started, I didn’t stop to figure out where my finish line would be.
My perspective on the rest of my life change significantly when I realized that money didn’t have to be the driving force behind much of what I did. It was an amazingly liberating feeling to realize that I could work if I could choose to work or choose not to work without regard for the money. I could be a stay at home dad, I could work part-time in a job I found rewarding, or I could stay in my current job. Things that used to bother me at work suddenly didn’t matter.
I realized that my idea of working until retirement then retiring late in life wasn’t my only option. I had created a false choice between two extremes without realizing that there was a better way. Having achieved financial independence, I could work as long and as often as I desired but I wouldn’t be doing it for the money. I could seek out activities that I enjoy and find worthwhile. Some of those activities might come in the form of a job which paid money while others might not.
Money is important and, when I talk to many people, I see a startling lack of understanding or thought about it. I see stress, broken relationships, shattered families, and worse all caused by money, or the lack thereof. And so, I started this blog. Along my path I discovered some incredible people that helped me redefine where I’m going and what I’m doing. I’m immeasurably grateful that they’re out there, sharing their thoughts and experiences. I hope that I can “pay if forward” and make a difference for someone else. At the same time, I love to learn and I love to share what I’ve learned with others. I hope that together, we can learn to better hack our personal finances to achieve what’s really important.
Today, I don’t know exactly what my financially independent life will look like. Rather than find that scary, I’m thrilled! Suddenly it feels like I have options and opportunities that didn’t exist before. The funny thing is, the only thing that really changed was my perspective. I finally sat back and thought about what’s really important to me. I thought about what I wanted from life. I thought about how I wanted to spend my most valuable commodity, my time. And after doing that I went out and found ways to make it happen. What I really needed wasn’t some fundamental THING that I was lacking. What I needed was a little perspective to help me down the right path.