Welcome to the Digital Sisterhood of Financial Independence!
Financial independence isn’t a gender-specific pursuit, but women do seem to have a different approach to that goal.
Do you remember the first time you heard the words “financial independence”? I was 25 years old, and I just gave birth to my son. I came across the concept as I searched for ways to make money without working full-time. It was life-changing for me.
Financial independence (or at least, one definition of it) is the idea that income from your investments can sustain your current lifestyle indefinitely. Is that even possible? I wasn’t entirely convinced until I read “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement” by Mr. Money Mustache.
I quickly got on board with “extremely early retirement” ideas, which led to a dramatic increase in my income and a proportionally higher savings rate, even as my husband attended school. But over the year or two that followed, I became disenchanted with the “bro” culture that seemed to pervade internet forums about financial independence.
I hated the assumption that everybody wasted tons of money, and I wanted to join new conversations. That’s when I discovered the many female voices in the movement.
Their conversations focused more on the journey to reach financial independence, and less on the endpoint. They focused on overcoming the challenges related to the goal. They didn’t deny the math behind financial independence, but they added color and nuance to the numbers. I asked a few of my favorite voices in the movement to share insights about women and financial independence.
Moms Torn Between Career and Family
Liz, the the writer behind the site Chief Mom Officer, is passionate about helping working moms reach financial independence. She’s the sole breadwinner for her family of five, but her family isn’t struggling to get by. Liz is in her early 30s and working to reach financial independence by her early 40s. She has interviewed over a dozen breadwinning moms for her blog series.
“What I’ve seen most breadwinning moms pursuing financial independence struggle with is balancing their financial and career success against their desire to be a ‘good mom,’ even those moms with stay-at-home spouses,” Liz wrote in an email. “For many of them, though, this desire is a big part of what fuels their dream of financial independence. They’re sacrificing in the short term to gain more freedom in the long run.”
I love the way that Liz and the other women she highlights on her blog make huge career inroads, even with kids in tow.
But this crew also accepts that others may not choose the same timeline to reach financial independence that they did.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Amanda Page is a professor and a writer. She’s also one of the most powerful voices in the financial independence movement. Her writing convinced me that the journey to reach financial independence requires a strong internal narrative.
Financial independence – or FI – isn’t just about the numbers. It’s about the story we tell ourselves about those numbers.Click To Tweet
“My internal narrative about FI is the same story that makes me want FI,” Amanda said via email. “I grew up in a town where jobs were scarce, and there was fear about keeping any job you had. You could lose your job for any number of reasons, including speaking up when you saw a manager do something wrong – very wrong.”
As a result, she explained, “It seemed to me that the only security was in working for yourself or being financially independent. I think that was always why I had an interest in FI. But because of the narrative we’re sold about creative careers, I never thought it was possible. I mean, I know plenty of freelancers, but I know very few people who make a living off of their art alone. I always thought that if I want the time to pursue my creative interests, I would have to find a way to pay my bills without working, so my ‘work’ would be my writing. During the 14 months that I paid off the student loan debt, my perspective shifted, because before that, I never felt that I would be capable of saving enough to be FI.”
Storytelling about financial independence isn’t a uniquely feminine trait, of course. But still, I hear echoes of my own story in those of other women. They include pain and heartbreak and sacrifice, but they also include redemption and hope and forgiveness.
Women pursuing financial independence tend to be strong and gritty. But I’ve found that married women pursuing that goal aren’t necessarily independent in the “I do what I want” sense. Instead they have a healthy “interdependence” with their spouses. That’s not to say that all these couples follow the “one bed, one bank account” rule.
Leigh of the blog Leigh’s Financial Journey and her husband personify this the most for me. Both halves of the union came into the marriage with significant assets. As such, they created a legally binding post-nup to explain how their assets would be titled and divided and how they would contribute to joint expenses.
This wasn’t an easy process. “It took us about three and a half months after our wedding before our post-nuptial agreement was signed and executed,” Leigh wrote on her blog. “It wasn’t a time full of arguing – it was a time full of discussions and then trying to convey our ideas to the lawyer drafting the agreement. Some of those discussions were emotional, though those ones especially were important to have. Talking about money doesn’t stop there either – we continue to talk about it and those discussions form the base of our married money plans.”
These women’s stories have influenced my journey. In every phase of life, I see different women with different skills pursuing one goal – financial freedom. I love this sort of digital sisterhood that allows me to encourage – and be encouraged by – other women through our writing. Reaching financial independence is a journey, and our fellow travellers make that journey worthwhile.