Starting on the path to financial independence (FI) was hard. I had to come face to face with the consequences of my past decisions, including six figures of student loan debt. At the beginning, it was all overwhelming. When I first read about FI, I panic closed the browser and dismissed it as something that only debt free or wealthy or obsessively frugal people could achieve. I was stuck in the ‘must be nice’ mindset and I couldn’t open my mind enough to set aside my excuses.
Despite my best efforts to ignore it, the seed had been planted and it grew in the back of my mind over several months. When I revisited the concept of financial independence, I was still overwhelmed but ready to sit down and make sense of it all. I listened to hours of podcasts, read blogs from start to finish, and tested every early retirement calculator I could find.
After a few days, I started to understand the concept. After a few weeks, I started to understand the process. After a few months, I started to understand the math. By the end of 2016, I estimated that I would be debt free in 2023 and financially independent in 2047 (age 59). I had already cut 6 years off of my working life just from making minor changes, when I barely understood what I was doing.
In August 2017, I added a Find Freedom page to this blog, where I wrote an introductory note about finding financial independence and my progress so far.
I stumbled across the Financial Independence / Retire Early (FIRE) world in 2016, entirely by accident.
I had been making minimum payments on $130,400 of student loan debt and gaining no traction.
Searching for articles about debt repayment and spending reduction, I discovered the infamous pair of Mr. Money Mustache articles The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement and News Flash: Your Debt Is An Emergency!!. Wakeup call is an understatement..
A year later, my spending is down, my principal payments are up, and my debt free date has shortened from 2026 to 2020.
As a complete – but welcome! – side effect, I’ve also projected that I can slash my working career in HALF from 40 years to 18 and quit my 9-5 by 2035 at age 47..
I’m still learning, and I fully expect my plans to change over the next two decades, but even if I fall short of this goal.. I’m still doing better than most of the population! Let’s figure this all out together!
Just three short months after this note, I’ve projected that I can be debt free by 2019 instead of 2020 and financially independent by 2031 (age 43) instead of 2035 (age 47). At this point I’ve cut my retirement age from 65 to 43 – that’s 22 more YEARS of financial freedom, just by being slightly more intentional with my money.
I fully expect my timeline to change over the years, and so should you. I feel fortunate that I wasted less than 6 months by keeping my blinders on. My one takeaway from my financial independence journey so far is that the worst thing you can do is let intimidation paralyze you. Even buying yourself one year of freedom is an amazing feat! You don’t have to retire with a million dollars by age 30 to benefit from financial independence. You’re also probably not going to reach FI at exactly the time you currently estimate – you may increase your income over time, or decrease your expenses, or earn more in investments. You may decide to leave your job earlier than full financial independence and lower your spending for a few years to bridge the gap.
For now, you don’t have to understand the concept or the process or the math. JUST START. Do one thing to improve your financial situation. Aim to spend slightly less this week than usual. Cancel one monthly subscription. Increase your retirement contributions by 1%. Trade one meal out per month to a meal you make at home. You don’t need to understand the big picture, and you don’t need to make drastic changes to reap the benefits. Sometimes you have to see this process start to work in your own life before you can crank up the intensity. You never know where it will take you, but for now just start.