Reaching financial independence — the ability to live off your assets and never earn another dollar in a traditional job again — is the ultimate personal finance goal. After all, who wouldn't love to live without worrying about having to work for money? When you're financially independent, you can do whatever you want, as long as it fits in your budget.
Traditionally, people believe they have to work until 67 before they retire. However, you don't have to wait until a certain age to quit working. Once you reach financial independence, working is optional. You can retire whenever you wish.
Some people take this concept and run with it. If you practice extreme frugality, you can achieve financial independence well before age 67. In fact, if you earn enough and are extremely frugal, you may become financially independent as early as your 30s or 40s. According to some semi-complex math detailed by Mr. Money Mustache, somebody with a 50-percent savings rate could reach financial independence in 17 years. If you bump that savings rate up to 75 percent, you could reach financial independence in just seven years.
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While the idea of retiring early thanks to financial independence does sound sweet, I'm not willing to go the extreme frugality route to make it happen. Here's why:
Not Everyone Lives Until Financial Independence
Despite the good odds that you'll live into your 30s or 40s at the bare minimum, not everyone makes it. Freak accidents, rare health conditions, and natural disasters can result in an early demise. For that reason alone, I don't believe you should practice extreme frugality in your 20s and 30s just to retire young.
Wouldn't it be awful to save 50 to 80 percent of your income so you can retire early, only to never achieve your goal? You'd likely have missed out on many opportunities along the way — opportunities that you were putting off until you were finally financially free.
Extreme Frugality for Life Sounds Unappealing
To actually reach financial independence in such a short time period, you'll have to continue living on the same amount of money that you were living on before you achieved it. Unfortunately, that means that if you were practicing extreme frugality before retirement, you'll have to practice it for the rest of your life. Otherwise, you'll risk running out of money.
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While I'm very conscious of my spending decisions, I'm not willing to jump into the extreme frugality camp simply to reach financial independence a decade or two earlier.
I'd rather experience life, build in some buffer room, and have some money to spend on luxuries in my golden years.
If I wanted to save 75 percent of my current income, that would mean cutting out all luxuries, including vacations, cable TV, dining out, and owning a car. I'd even end up living with a roommate or two in a crowded apartment. That isn't how I want to live my life.
What I Do Instead of Practicing Extreme Frugality
Instead of living a life of extreme frugality to reach financial independence super early, I've made a few different decisions. First, I worked hard to build a business that I enjoy and that pays decently. Don't get me wrong: Not having to work for money is amazing. But if I do have to work for money, my current career is exactly what I'd want.
Second, I do live frugally — just not extremely frugally. I try not to get caught up in consumerism, although it does happen from time to time. And when I do make a purchase — especially a major one — I shop around for the best deals and do plenty of research. I work hard to avoid waste. I already put away a respectable percentage of my income compared to the average American.
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Finally, when I'm ready to kick my savings into high gear, our family will focus on earning more money so that we can increase our savings rate without cutting out things that we enjoy. As long as you don't increase your expenses when you increase your income, you're essentially increasing your savings rate. As such, reaching financial independence may not be as far away as you think if you can simply grow your income.
Independence is the ultimate personal finance goal, and it's definitely worth working toward. Just make sure that you're living and enjoying your life along the way.