OG2: In pursuing a path to FI you work toward retiring early, having a high savings rate, reducing spending, eating at home most days, reducing lifestyle inflation, pulling multiple levers on tax advantaged accounts, and creating multiple streams of income. These and many more, are all things you can expect to delve into during your FI journey. What I’ve found interesting are the items that I wasn’t expecting or didn’t see coming as a result of my pursuit to FI. Without further ado, drumroll please…. Here are my Top 5 Surprises in pursuing FI.
More like the reduction of garbage. Logically this is obvious when you consider a reduction in buying things overall and also not creating a lot of food waste. Nonetheless, this wasn’t an outcome I saw coming. It showed up when I starting noticing that on garbage day, what used to be a pair of overflowing wheeled garbage cans had turned into only one partially filled can. Also, our recycling bins were not crammed any longer due to the elimination of daily Amazon boxes and their associated packaging for the actual product purchased.
#2 Taking Pride in Frugal Wins
I grew up with a very frugal father and all I could think of was ‘cheap’. Now on the FI road, I’m finding a lot of pride in some small frugal wins along the way. Some are intentional, some just happen. A while back I wrote about my favorite FI win, Foamy Soap. It brings a smile to my face (and hands) every day.
An accidental win started 25 years ago when my then fiance and I lived in South Florida. On our way to racking up $20,000 in credit card debt, we spent on Saturday morning under an I-95 bridge in Lakeworth at a flea market. I can’t remember why, but we bought a $3 Black and Decker hand mixer. Maybe we were going to make cake. Well, that kitchen tool is still with us and working strong. It wasn’t intended to be FI, especially given our spending just out of college. I find myself wanting to brag to friends, family and co-workers about these things. Unfortunately, based on the non-verbal cues, my enthusiasm is met more with the unspoken ‘good for your buddy… weirdo’. Nonetheless, I press on!
#3 Free Food is everywhere
Nothing has changed in the availability of free food. What changed is my awareness of how much free food it out there. When you’re goal is not to spend, the free food gods seem to toss it from the sky. I’m not talking about the kind of stuff I did when I was a starving college student, like hoarding ketchup packets or getting all of my plasticware from Wendy’s (because it is the best out there). I’m talking about taking note of the free food that is seemingly everywhere.
At least once a week at work, someone brings in leftovers from a party or an intentional treat for the team. There are holidays, special events, retirements, engineering club meetings, leftovers from someone else’s meetings….
Google ‘Free Food on your birthday’ and you’ll be overwhelmed with the hundreds, yes hundreds, of places to get free food on your birthday. Tag on to that, search ‘places with free food’ and you’ll get another list of hundreds of places where you can score free food. A lot of times it will be grouped by month, holiday, special occasions, etc. Many chain restaurants, mini-marts or coffee joints will give you free food or drinks just for signing up for their points/tracking programs.
Frequently restaurants have happy hours with free food. Of course they’re banking on you buying drinks to more than cover the food they are putting out. This one in particular was a favorite of mine early into my career and marriage. A couple of the restaurants in and around where my wife and I worked offered this type of set up after 5pm on certain days of the week. A bunch of colleagues were in the boat of being young and just starting out our careers. We simply made the mental trade off on spending money on booze out with friends and eating for free.
This can, however, be unfortunate if you’re in the half of the US population that needs to lose weight. I fall into this category. Being a new thrifty or frugal person, I find myself always looking for ways to not spend money. All of the above instances of free food make it awfully difficult to eat healthy because you’re faced with spending money on food versus eating for free. It’s a good problem to have and I’m not complaining given that so many face the opposite lot in life.
I don’t mean boredom from a lack of general things to do. Boredom from the lack of “new” FI things to research, implement or be immersed. As I sit here 8 months since discovering FI, everything is in motion. It’s a machine. I don’t have much to do. The levers are levering and I pretty much sit back and monitor the money flowing. On my phone, I used to mindlessly open Facebook or IG looking for updates or new content. Now I find myself opening credit card, bank, retirement and investment account apps just to see the numbers…. even though I know in my head where things are at. I really need to find a viable and enjoyable side hustle to occupy my energies.
#5 Not Caring about my Net Worth
Early on, I signed up for Personal Capital, plugged in all my accounts and marveled at the Net Worth number. I had ever concerned myself with Net Worth previous to FI, as I sorta thought that was something for truly wealthy types. I mean the type of folks who show up in some official proceedings and their accounting firm can only ‘estimate’ their net worth because it’s ridonkulous. As I’ve maneuvered the financial bits, I enjoyed seeing that number tick up item by item. Then #4 settled in and I considered why Net Worth matters.
8 months later, I’ve deleted the account and app.
I’ve settled on “Liquid Worth” (Savings, Stock investments, HSA, pension, etc) as being what really matters. The houses and cars don’t calculate into contributions toward reaching my FI number. For example, Zillow says that my 2 houses are worth nearly half my Net Worth, with them being 70% paid off. Well, when I retire and sell those home, the money from both gets plowed into our last home in Charleston, SC. Thus, I can’t take the value of my home and go pay groceries. I won’t be trading in my car’s side mirror for a round of golf. My FI number is based on what I will be drawing down at a 3% annual rate. It’s like inheriting the Hope Diamond, but the trust stipulates it has to remain in the museum. Sure you’re rich, but good luck getting some fries with that.
Agree? Disagree? Are there other items that have surprised you on this journey? We’d love to entertain your thoughts.