Financial Independence Is Boring

white hallway

I am a few years away from financial independence. When that moment comes, it will arrive not with a bang but a whimper. One spring, or summer, or winter day, I will log into my accounts and see that I have hit my “number.” Then I will close my laptop, have another sip of coffee, and stare out the window awhile until my kids get up.

Financial independence, in and of itself, is boring, and not really the holy grail most believe it to be. Why do so many people (including me) strive so hard for so long to achieve it?

What is financial independence?

Most define financial independence as having enough money to cover expenses, without needing to work and earn a paycheck. For most, this money comes from saving a finite amount in retirement accounts: a nest egg. To determine the necessary nest egg to fully retire, one first needs to know annual expenses blah blah blah…

Numbers are boring

Nest egg value. Annual savings. Annual expenses. Withdrawal rate. Years until death. Asset allocation. Projected investment growth. Taxes. Insurance premiums. Expected college costs.

Death by a thousand numbers.

No offense to those who love the spreadsheet, but these types of numbers make me sleepy. The study of complex math can be interesting—heck, I was a math minor in college—but in the world of personal finance, numbers are counting and accounting tools. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Elementary school stuff.

Numbers exist in our minds, and on paper, and online. They are not real (I know what you are thinking, math nerds) in the sense that they have no physical embodiment. You can’t feel their warmth on the first day of spring, or sing them to sleep at night.

What those numbers can do, on the other hand, is very much real, and allows for some of the most important things in life. To know, understand, and manipulate numbers to your own ends is critical if you hope to reach financial independence and early retirement some day.

sunset with seagull california
Shelter Cove, California

Financial independence is numbers

I’m not an idiot: I eyeball my retirement savings accounts on a regular basis. Especially as their value increases, it can be satisfying to calculate how much longer until I hit my retirement “number.”

The answer to whether or not I am financially independent is binary: yes or no. It boils down to my nest egg number (a hard-boiled nest egg?). And—as we know—numbers are boring.

Rather than “Am I financially independent?” I’m more interested in the following questions:

  • Why do I want to be financially independent?
  • What will I gain by not working?
  • What will I do with my time?

and the answers:

  • So I can stop working.
  • Time.
  • Whatever I want.

The flowchart of happiness

My thoughts on financial independence are perhaps best represented in this “flowchart of happiness”:

retirement flowchart

Importantly, my happiness flowchart only flows in one direction. Say I want to try a new experience: build a greenhouse and learn how to grow vegetables inside during the winter, for example. This is no simple task, and takes time. With an adequate amount of retirement savings (numbers), I can stop working and create that time.

Numbers beget Time, and Time begets Experiences. I didn’t say it was rocket science.

Can I have worthwhile experiences without being retired or financially independent? Sure, I already have. But that pesky old work schedule tends to get in the way of truly epic projects, long-term travel, etc. Financial independence can make every day a flowchart of happiness.

Life is NOT boring

You know the old saying: It’s not the size of your nest egg, it’s how you use it.

Your idea of financial independence might be lounging in your shorts all day, drinking margaritas, and smelling the shrimp that’s beginning to boil. Mine could be working part-time one week out of every month, and writing snarky blog posts in my spare time. People get excited about financial independence because of the opportunities it affords.  It is a means to an end.

Financial independence should be boring. It is numbers and calculations. It is not life. How you get there is boring, but what you do with it is certainly not. So check your numbers, but remember their place in the flowchart of happiness.

8 Replies to “Financial Independence Is Boring”

  1. I agree that a lot of the FIRE community has made FI to be some kind of holy grail, which it isn’t.

    1. Approaching an ideal life and maximum life happiness (+/- meaning) should be the goal for many. The only exception might be someone who truly despises their job, in which case FIRE would immediately improve happiness. Of course, one could argue they shouldn’t have continued to work that job if it made them so miserable, and found a job which increased their happiness instead.

      Thanks for stopping by, Jim!
      Dr. C

  2. Financial Independence means I work a day or two a week on side gigs I built based on my interests and talents. This week the fish were biting so my wife and I took the bass boat to the lake three days in a row. Then played tennis twice today and tomorrow am driving to a side gig meeting a hundred miles from here and spending the night. Wife will come with and play tennis with friends there while I work. We’ll drive to Colorado in a few days via Nebraska (so we can see the total eclipse) then hike some 14’ers. Then I’ll come back for two days of Skype interviews to hire a new CEO for the charity foundation I chair. The only thing I might change would be to maybe retire even earlier since I worked well past FI. You are right, the FI process is boring, but the lifestyle is amazing!

    1. It sounds like FI fits you just fine, Steve! I, too, see myself “working” in some capacity during an early retirement from my full-time job (which I actually like). The likely scenario at this point will be part-time work in medicine, perhaps as little as 25% time if I can swing it.

      Your current situation sounds stupendous. Sign me up for tennis and an eclipse in the same week! Enjoy!

      Dr. C

  3. I’m struggling with this myself, right now, as I get closer to financial independence. What do I do with my time? What value will I bring to myself and society? What do I want to strive for?

    I think its going to be a big cause of stress for me in the 35 months I have left to FI>

    Good topic.

    1. These are good problems to have, but that doesn’t make them any less painful.

      I recent read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson, and I like that he frames happiness as a process—something that is with us as we solve problems—rather than a goal to be attained. Happiness may not even be the most important goal. Meaning, or (as you say) the value you bring to society, is arguably more important for a satisfying life.

      Congrats on being close to FI, and thanks for taking the time to read!
      Dr. C

    2. Interesting that you say you will have to deal with these topics once you reach FI, because really don’t we all have to deal with these issues regardless of whether we are working or not? It’s just that when you are working full time, you are too distracted to think too much about it.

      1. Agreed. I regularly have to remind myself of the POINT of FI, which is not the money, but all the all the other positive life aspects and lack of negative life aspects that it can afford. I’m certainly trying to consider the correct way to think about FI, far before I am actually FI.

        Thanks for reading!
        Dr. C

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