Pursuing financial independence does not have to be an all-out sprint to the finish line. However, any mainstream coverage of financial independence would have you think differently. Too often, those pursuing FI are portrayed as sacrificing everything today for the possibility of a better life tomorrow. But, like most things in life, the reality of what happens falls somewhere in the middle.
Lately, I’ve been inspired by fellow bloggers such as Tread Lightly Retire Early, The Fioneers, The $76k Project, and Mr. Burrito Bowl (best name ever). They have all taken steps to slow down even if that means sacrificing paying down debt faster or a higher savings rate.
They are focusing on living life now, not waiting for some early retirement date to get going. Like most of them, I don’t intend to retire any time soon. However, life can change in the blink of an eye, so it’s essential to enjoy life now before it passes us by.
Slowing Our Pursuit of Financial Independence
Reading stories from these fine bloggers, I realized — hey, we’re doing that, too!
We have made similar choices to slow down and enjoy life instead of sprinting to financial independence.
We’ve realized that becoming financially independent will not suddenly make us happy. If I ended up quitting my job, that means more time with myself (and that’s scary).
My family’s goal is to live life with this intentionality and purpose while taking steps in the right direction towards financial independence. If you asked me what our financial independence number is, I wouldn’t tell you. The goal is much less important than the journey.
So how are we slowing our pursuit of financial independence? Please read below for a few areas where we have made intentional decisions to slow our goal of financial independence.
1) We Moved to a Single Income
After our second child was born last March, we decided to move to a single-income family. For six years, my wife, a middle school English teacher, wasn’t exactly bringing in a massive salary. She never made more than $40,000 a year. However, with our oldest heading into kindergarten, we still took a hit financially with her decision to stay home.
With a dual income, we’d be able to throw another $1,000-1,500 at our financial independence goals. With that being said, you really can’t put a price on the additional time we’ll be able to spend with our young children. While she will be the one spending most of that extra time, there are benefits for me since I won’t have to use as many PTO days to take care of sick children or run to appointments. Instead, I can take a half-day off to go to the pool or a Friday so we can start a long weekend early.
We have decided to prioritize family and time spent together over our pursuit of FI. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a high bar set for our financial goals, just not at the expense of important things.
2) We Give Away 10% of Our Take Home Pay
Giving has always been important to our family. There are so many less fortunate than we are, and it’s a privilege to be able to give back to people or organizations that truly need help.
Don’t get me wrong; sometimes, my mind wonders how much faster we’d be able to hit our financial goals if we didn’t give away 10% of our income from a mathematical standpoint. But, with that being said, I’m not sure if that would even be true as it seems like the universe or God or karma (whatever you believe) always seems to find a way to reward the generous.
We had kind of a surreal moment last year when we made a sizable donation to our church in a giving campaign only to get almost the same amount in back maternity leave pay that we were told we weren’t going to get. I’m not saying they were related, but it seems like the more generous we are, the luckier we obtain in other aspects of life.
3) We Go On Vacation
Early in our debt pay-down journey, we put vacations on hold because that’s what we needed to do. However, as we’ve paid down debt and increased income, it has allowed more space to spend selectively on vacations. Like with many other things, we try to do this with intentionality. Many of our trips have been long weekends, and if we have taken flights, we leverage credit card points.
For example, our family of four went to Los Angeles in May and paid less than $40 for our flights in fees as we cashed in a bunch of Chase Safire Rewards points. The entire trip cost us less than $2,000 even though we visited Disneyland and Universal Studios.
Nothing can replace the memories we’ve created on these trips with our young children. It doesn’t make sense to put these experiences to later in life when our kids are only this age once. They’ll be teenagers soon, and we’ll have to drag them on family vacations instead of having them willing and excited to go.
4) We Do Not Budget
Let’s get something straight out of the gate: if you live paycheck to paycheck or drown in high-interest debt, you need a budget. Everyone should start their financial journey by tracking expenses. However, for anyone who has already established an emergency fund and has some flex in their monthly expenses, you may be able to go with a different approach.
Our budgeting approach is known as the anti-budget (credit Paula Pant at Afford Anything). The anti-budget involves automating your finances to pay yourself first (save, invest, and give), then pay your bills, then spend anything left on whatever you want. We didn’t have much in the “spend anything left on whatever you want” category when we first started, so we used a tighter budgeting approach. However, as we paid down debt, increased savings, and increased income, we moved to a more laid-back budgeting approach.
If we lived by a strict budget, we would certainly save more than we currently do. That’s not something we want to stress over at this point, though.
The last thing I want is to look back on this time and realize that we held back on living life to the fullest because we wanted to increase our savings rate by a few percentage points. We like being spontaneous and don’t want a budget dictating our weekend plans.
5) I Manage a Baseball Team
One of my passion projects is managing (and occasionally playing on) a men’s summer baseball team. Short of any professional baseball, it’s one of the most competitive leagues in the midwest. Most of the players have played college ball, and several former professional players mixed in.
I include this in slowing our pursuit of financial independence because it’s a huge time suck. During the off-season, hours are lost to league meetings, recruiting new players, finding fields, fundraising, and more. During the season, we spend many weekends in the area playing games. This time could easily be spent on an income-generating side hustle that would accelerate our pursuit of financial independence.
With that being said, nothing can replace the memories I’m making with my five-year-old baseball-loving son. Today my team played a doubleheader about 90 miles south of home. I got to spend an hour and a half in the car both ways. At the game, we played catch before the game started, I threw a few pitches to him in between games, and during the games, he hit in the batting cage and played with one of the neighborhood dogs who comes to visit the field when he hears the sound of bats. Incredibly, I get to share these experiences with him.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race in Pursuit of Financial Independence
The key to our success has been simplicity and increasing our income throughout our financial journey. If we can control the significant expenses in our life such as housing, transportation, and food, then why stress about the little stuff?
Too many people spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they may not even like. In my opinion, many in the financial independence community are better at knowing what makes them happy while not giving in to peer pressure from others.
That’s not the point of this journey, though. What’s important is that we are moving in the right direction, hitting our savings goals, and living life in the present for the time being. Mrs. FP could continue to work, or we could stop giving and taking vacations, or we could spend our time on income-generating side hustles. However, if you can’t enjoy the journey along the way, then what’s the point of sprinting to the finish line?
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.
Chris Roane says
I know we’ve had friendly debates in regards to mortgages, but I think we are on the same page here.
I didn’t really get super passionate about FI until last year. I transitioned from being ultra passionate about getting rid of our consumer debt, to growing our net worth. I feel like we are behind and need to make up ground.
But I also don’t want to sacrifice the present for the future. And in retrospect, I think my focus has been too much on the future. It came out with how much time I spent on my blog, and having a hard time enjoying the present, and spending money has been really tough for me. This also led to some communication issues between Andrea and I that hurt our relationship.
I do think part of it for me is that we’ve paid off debt for so long, that spending money triggers my anxiety. I’m seeking outside help (medical, counseling, books, etc.) to try to get to the bottom of this.
Recently, we’ve decided to sacrifice a few percentage points to do the following:
– Giving Andrea $400/mo for health and beauty related products and services. She has been focusing on her health, and I want to support her.
– Paying $250/mo to have a cleaner come up and help with some deep cleaning. This will free up some time and stress.
– Saving more money for vacations.
– We decided to pay to go to a marriage seminar this year (sept) that will help us communicate better. It is going to be expensive (like $5k) for the whole trip. This isn’t a recurring expense, but it is a lot of money.
Outside of the marriage seminar, this changes our savings rate from about 60% to about 57%. I’m guess this will probably go down a few more percentage points as we add additional margin to our budget.
The more I think about it, this is still a huge savings rate, and we are blessed to get to this number because of our high incomes (and having two incomes). Any savings rate that approaches 50% is huge, and should put us in great shape in the future.
I don’t want to be in a spot 10-15 years later where we’ve reached FI, but are burned out. I don’t want to get to that spot and realize that we’ve sacrificed our relationship with our kids and each other for FI. There is no amount of money that is worth that cost, and I want to make our spending match these priorities.
Love this comment. I can especially relate to the “we’ve payed off debt so long, that spending money triggers my anxiety” part.
I constantly have to remind myself that we are in position to where if we exceed our monthly expenses and need to pull a little out of savings, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, that’s exactly why we’ve worked so hard to get to this point, to be able to take that last minute weekend road trip or other intentional experience.
Also, one of the reasons why I haven’t even tried to monetize my blog is because I don’t want the pressure of delivering every week. I’m usually pretty on schedule with posting but every once in a while I take a week or two off, especially during the summer and around holidays. In the end, this blog is more of a hobby and creative outlet, but I am also setting it up to be able to pivot it into a brand/business if I ever need to down the line.
I always appreciate your insights. Hope all is well with you. And yes, a 50%+ saving rate is incredible and you shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself for letting it slide a few points.
Andy Hill says
Such a fan of this post! You and I are in a very similar spot my friend.
I came across this quote the other day and it made a big impact on me based on where we are after paying off our mortgage …
“The secret to living the life of your dreams is to start living the life of your dreams today, in every little way you possibly can.” – Mike Dooley
Thanks, Andy! Such a great quote. Every day I try to remind myself that my kids will only be young for a small period of time and living in the now is so important. Still much room for improvement though!
Great post! I was nodding along the entire read! We share this perspective and approach to money/intentional living to a T – and I also think you are bang on when you say “many in the financial independence community are simply better at knowing what makes them happy while having an ability not to give into peer pressure from others.”
I think that’s a really key foundational trait that often gets undervalued. We tend to be a group of people that, on average, spend more time simply thinking and evaluating where our money is going. Applying our own individual matrix to asses the ROI per dollar spent, rather than society’s matrix. And while on the surface that seems to be an underwhelming component of financial success, I truly believe that it’s actually an overwhelmingly substantial cornerstone, if not starting point, to financial security.
Wonderful thoughts, and I applaud you and your wife for prioritizing this time with with your kids. In all the literature about the top regrets of people on their deathbeds, never once have I seen “I wish I had spent less time with my kids!” amongst them! Sounds like you guys are striking the perfect balance of living life now, while simultaneously achieving a great plan for an exciting future!
We are doing our very best to live with intentionality. You are so right about the biggest regrets of the dying and almost all say they’d rather spend more time with family.
Living with intentionality and purpose is key. Making a decent income of course helps as well. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.
I really enjoyed this. We’ve certainly pushed hard towards FI, but I think we’ve find a nice balance now where we are moving toward it faster than before, but still do things we want to do. Our life is intentional, but isn’t deprivation. I appreciate how you outlined your approach to the same end.
As educators, we really do embrace the FI part, but the early retirement part is optional. Our work has purpose, and we’ll do it as long as we feel like we’re adding to it. We also want to make sure we’re able to walk away if we feel disillusioned or bitter, because that doesn’t do anyone any good. We never want to be THOSE educators.
You’re exactly right – it’s important to just keep moving in the right direction. You’ll get there!
That is so true. And as I’m sure you know, things can change in a school in an instant with a new superintendent or school board, so like most other jobs it’s all about having options. To your point, being intentional is the key and it’s great to hear your family is trying to achieve that as well.
Abigail @ipickuppennies.net says
I’m not pursuing FI, but I am trying to find a little better balance in my budget now that things have gotten better financially. I want to save for retirement, obviously, and I’m a bit behind on that. So it needs to be a priority. But I also want to enjoy this phase of my life — finally single and loving it — and leave some room in the budget to go out and have fun. Retirement will always be at the forefront of my mind, but I need to live a little in the now too.
It’s definitely all about balance. You’re right that catching up on retirement is important though so is living for the present. Hanging around in this community I’m sure you’ll find the right mix. Thanks for commenting!
Tread Lightly, Retire Early says
Love the baseball hobby! My kiddo gets to start t-ball in the spring and I am so stinking excited.
Can’t wait to hear how it goes! If he has his mom’s athletic genes he should be good to go. My little man played t-ball last year and is doing coach pitch this year. So much fun!
Melody Fanslau says
I’ve been thinking about the anti-budget approach lately. When I started my journey, budgeting was key to reeling in the spending. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without my YNAB.
But now that I have a good sense of my expenses, I’m thinking about easing up a bit on the budgeting. I sometimes find myself stressing out about going over budget in one category and the anti-budget approach may alleviate some of that stress.
It’s a great approach as long as you have some cushion. It’s not for everyone, but this approach allows us to focus on the big expenses and loosen the reigns on the little things that don’t matter that much in the end. Thanks for commenting!
We definitely slowed down our pursuit of FI once we rounded the curve to the final lap. I’m not counting down the days anymore, instead I’m more focused on enjoying down time and exploring new hobbies.
The pursuit of FI can be a really slow process. Stressing about it all the time is not the best way to go. It’s important to enjoy the journey as well. Thanks for commenting!
Refugee from Academia says
I agree that family comes first. Kudos to you and your wife for prioritizing your life together while also making progress on the FI front. I got started too late to be any kind of FIRE, but I am now digging myself out of a debt hole while looking at retirement in less than 10 years.
Thanks for the kind words. It’s never too late to get started on your personal finance journey. Even if retiring early isn’t an option, making it to normal retirement debt free and money in savings will provide for a great post-work life. Wishing you the best of luck on your journey!