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Our financial independence philosophy is important. You should know if the writer is on the same page as you when reading. First I should explain why we are pursuing FIRE personally since it often helps to understand the context. We are pursuing financial independence to have the financial security to give our life as many options as possible in as many situations as possible.
Slow FI: the coward’s path to financial independence
In practice, this means we have the knowledge and ability to take more time off, participate in the lives of our family, change jobs, decline work, voluntarily reduce hours at work, start a new hobby, jump on a limited-time opportunity, and other things in life. As our lives evolve, being financially free affords us luxuries like having one parent stay home when our child was born, take vacations without guilt, and dream big.
Saving came naturally
While I’ve been a natural saver and interested in finance my entire life I didn’t discover the FIRE community until only a few years ago after a coworker sent me some links to Mr. Money Mustache related to credit card rewards if I recall. After reading that article, I started clicking around and reading his other articles eventually finding the (now infamous) “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement”. Like many others before me, this simple math that I subconsciously knew blew my mind.
For reasons I can’t explain fully, I always had a substantially higher savings amount needed to retire burned into my brain that I probably got visiting the Fidelity website checking on my 401k sometime in the past. Seeing the concrete math behind how the savings I’d need to be financially independent is probably much lower than I thought it made me want to read more and more.
Does it need to be so extreme?
Here is where I hit my first roadblock on the path to financial independence. So many of the more popular sites like MMM were on the extreme end of the spectrums as far as I was concerned. They discussed maximizing income through constant renegotiation at work, job-hopping, and various side hustles. They discussed extreme expense reductions such as selling their cars to start biking everywhere, keeping their thermostat off or set higher than what I see as reasonable living in Florida, eating rice and beans and ramen, never dining out, and many others.
While this might be the fast lane to financial independence it did not seem like the kind of life I wanted to live either before or after “retiring”. I will concede that my sample was biased since the most popular blogs achieved popularity by being controversial, so the slice of the FI community I stumbled across first was more extreme by its very nature. Further research led me eventually to a path I could more identify with personally. It may not be the flashy, Fast-Pass path to financial independence that makes the news, but it is mathematically just as likely to be successful while maintaining my sanity.
We were already on the path without realizing it
We have both worked hard at our education and subsequent careers, moving up on the job and pay scale where possible within reason. Our careers grew and salaries increased throughout the years but didn’t pursue side hustles or real estate hacking or aggressive job movement.
We have always been very purposeful with our spending, preferring to save much of our income. We didn’t survive on ramen in a 400 sq ft house but we drove 10+ year old cars, bought used items, and rarely dined out among other things to save for a house and retirement in the best way we knew how.
In that sense, the FIRE movement appealed to us in principle but the examples we kept finding did not appeal to how we wanted to live our life. Our financial independence philosophy just didn’t vibe with the ones we commonly saw as examples.
Being a Valuist
We consider ourselves “valuists” (something I’ll explain more fully in another post) so we don’t leave a life of deprivation in our quest for financial independence. A valuist isn’t the same as someone who is cheap, frugal, or miserly necessarily (though there is overlap in those groups I bet). A valuist life is about being intentional with your money so that your hard-earned money funds the things in your life that you value the most or provide the most value in the long run.
I’ve been a valuist my entire life without realizing there was a term for the mentality. Even as a kid I saved my money when my friends did not and as a young professional in my first job I continued to live like a poor college student.
Spending my money (or seeing my bank account dip below some arbitrary figure) always caused me some level of stress and anxiety that I managed by saving and only splurging on specific categories of things I valued. Will we buy used goods or generic items at the grocery store most of the time but pay a premium to sail on the Disney Cruise line when more budget-friendly alternatives exist? Yes, gladly.
A hybrid approach to financial independence
We eventually settled on a hybrid approach somewhere between the extremes on both income and expense management that allowed us to start living the life we want to have now without breaking the bank. We extend out the projected FI date and be intentional with our spending so we can slowly transition into our ideal life along the way. Our financial independence philosophy was evolving.
The traditional two-phase approach to retirement (all work, hard stop, all retirement) was not the goal, and waiting just a little bit longer to reach FI seems manageable for the trade-offs. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we stumbled upon a concept known as “Slow FI” made popular by The Fioneers.
You’ll know the one when you see it
Slow-FI perfectly fit how we want to live life and our financial independence philosophy. We planned on dreaming big and being intentional with our money so that we could achieve financial independence by retirement age at the latest while allowing us to make the journey worth living.
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