Do you equate financial independence with financial freedom? I’ve heard the terms used interchangeably but they don’t mean the same thing to me. I reached FI nearly a decade ago, but I’m still not sure I’m financially free.
What is the definition of financial independence? To become financially independent you must earn enough passive income to pay for living expenses without the need for employment. In other words, you don’t need to work in a traditional 9-to-5 job because your investments, rental properties and royalties cover your annual costs.
Sounds pretty amazing, right? Once you reach financial independence you can kick your job to the curb if you’d like. You can say “so long” to commutes, cubicles and annoying coworkers. Sure you are free from the confines of traditional employment, but are you really financially free?
Financial Independence Won’t Eliminate Your Worries
Financial independence won’t eliminate your financial worries. You can build up your savings, successfully live off the 4% rule and still worry that one day you won’t be able to pay your bills.
Wait, wait, wait. Doesn’t financial independence mean we can happily quit our jobs if we want to? Sure, but just because we can cover our bills right now doesn’t mean we will always be able to.
What if our annual expenses unexpectedly rise over time? FIRE supporters will tell you it’s “No big deal. You can always get a job if you need to.” But what if you can’t. What if poor health is the reason you need more money? What if you can’t walk dogs, pet sit, pick up groceries or drive people around to make a living in the gig economy?
Oh I know you work out, eat healthy and have a perfect family health history. So let’s forget about that for a minute. What if the stock market tanks for a ridiculously long time? What if your skills are too outdated to find a decent job at a time when everyone else is also looking for one?
Financial independence is an incredible accomplishment, but my fear based desire for savings has always screamed for more.
What if we had the ability to stop worrying about money completely? Is that a reasonable goal? Is it even achievable?
What does it mean to be financially free? It means your money worries disappear. They vanish entirely.
In my mind financial freedom would alleviate all financial worries. We would save so much money that we no longer think twice about paying our bills.
Imagine a world where you don’t need to think about unexpected expenses. Rather than fretting about money you simply hand over your credit card. Of course you can pay the bill before it’s due. In fact, you can whip out your wallet to pay for every major expense without batting an eyelash.
Oh your kid needs braces? No problem. Car in need of repair? Fine. Furnace busted? No worry at all. All three happen simultaneously? Still feeling as cool as a cucumber.
I want to live in a world where I don’t ever have to worry about money. How much money would I need to feel that way?
Living Off Our Savings
How long could you live off of your savings? I’m not talking about the interest and dividends your money generates, but the money itself. You know that big lump sum sitting in your bank account.
How long would it take to deplete all of your money down to the very last penny? In an ideal scenario we would never need to burn through money that way. Thank you interest, dividends and other passive income sources, but what if we did?
I couldn’t get this question out of my head so I ran a little calculation to figure out how long we could live off of the money we’ve already saved.
According to my handy-dandy spreadsheets it would take my husband and I nearly twenty five years to drain the funds in all of our accounts. This includes accounting for the penalty we would pay for withdrawing funds early.
That’s a mind blowing figure. We now have enough money to cover over twenty-five years worth of expenses! That’s flipping crazy. I never imagined I would be worth this much in my early forties, yet here we are.
Life After Financial Independence
Do you want to know what happens after you reach financial independence? My husband and I hit FI in our early 30s and nothing changed in our lives. Not a single thing. In fairness we didn’t know about the term when we hit that magic number, but if we did I still don’t think it would have changed anything.
Financial independence didn’t alleviate all of our financial concerns. Sure you can pay your bills without a job, but you can’t stop thinking and worrying money all together.
The goal of FI is not to fill a bank account to the brim. It’s to live a better life with or without money.
I know that at heart, but I still want to see our numbers climb despite that understanding. As a kid I saved to buy things. Now I save money just to know it’s there if I need it.
Removing Money Worries
Deep down we’d all like to move financial concerns into the background of our minds. How amazing would it be to move through our days without thinking about financial transactions at all?
I’m not talking about buying whatever you want whenever you want. Consumerism is most definitely not the goal of FI, but I would love to ride over the bumps of life without feeling phased or disrupted from a financial perspective. To do that I need a lot of money.
Living With Fear
I’ve written a ton about overcoming my financial fears, stress and anxieties and when I read blogs about twenty year olds quitting their day jobs I feel unbelievably envious.
In my mid-twenties I encountered a medical crisis that propelled me to save more than ever. Watching my mom’s recent medical nightmare furthered that belief.
Without those fears I may have ventured out into the big, wide world in search of adventure. Instead I took the safe course through life. I worked until our liquid net worth reached $1 million in investable assets. Then I quit my job to stay-at-home with my children. I only did so because I knew my husband would keep working.
A Big Safety Net
Why does any of this matter? Because some people are willing to throw caution to the wind. They can leap out into the unknown without any fear. Other people, (like myself), won’t step forward until they are sure the ground is secure beneath their feet.
Unfortunately, I require a larger safety net than most people. I could have quit my day job when I became a multi-millionaire, but I chose stability over freedom.
Did I make a mistake? Should I have hit the road in search of adventure? Possibly, but it’s not in my personality to act that way.
Do I feel bad about that? Not for one second. In my early twenties I focused on my financial goals. Now in my early-forties my attention is pulled in so many different directions.
My parents are aging, my children are growing and I have so many passions and interests outside of the 9-to-5.
If I could live my life all over again would I place such an emphasis on my early career? You bet I would. Plowing that energy into a high paying job paid off enormously.
At forty years old I am on the cusp of never having to worry about money again. Outside of major health concerns and long term care I no longer think twice about paying for unexpected bills. Rather than feeling anxious about money I feel on top of the world from a financial perspective.
FI didn’t eliminate my worries. Only a ridiculous amount of money could stop those fears. For most of us freedom comes long after we cross the threshold of financial independence.
There is freedom in FI, but complete freedom won’t occur on the day you hit your magic number. Some of us will continue to save. The rest will hit the open road anyway. The choice boils down to your personality and your willingness to accept risk.
My husband and I weren’t willing to walk away without a huge safety net. We couldn’t leave work until we felt financially free.
What about you? Do you need a high level of financial security or will you have the confidence to quit your job before you feel financially free? Is your definition of freedom the same as mine? What does financially free mean to you?