3 min read
A couple days ago I shared the Savings Rate Grid, which shows how long it takes to save a certain amount based on your annual savings rate:
The grid assumes you start with $0 and earn 5% annual returns on investments.
Notice how even with a high savings rate, it will likely take years (if not decades) to reach your financial goal.
It’s easy to view these years leading up to your financial goal as a “waiting period” in which you’re just counting down the days until you’re free from your pointless day job.
It’s easy to fall into a monotonous schedule of working during the day, watching Netflix in the evening, and relaxing over the weekend before Monday rolls around again.
It’s easy to spend your free time daydreaming about how nice life will be once you have the means to ditch the 9-5 grind.
But I think there’s a better way to spend these years. Instead of viewing them as a waiting period, view them as an opportunity to develop self-awareness.
Use these years to become acutely aware of what you like and dislike. And I don’t mean surface-level stuff like “I hate my day job and I love traveling.” I mean really strive to get to know yourself.
Do you prefer living in a house or an apartment?
Do you like spending time cleaning? Doing yard work? Working on home improvements?
Do you enjoy working out at a public gym? Or do you prefer to exercise alone?
What books do you find yourself gravitating towards? What subjects pique your interest?
Do you prefer urban or rural life?
What type of podcasts are you drawn towards?
What type of work environment do you like? Even if you dislike your job as a whole, are there parts of it that you actually enjoy?
Do you prefer forests or beaches? What type of environments do you like?
Do you enjoy cooking? Painting? Writing? Drawing? Playing music?
It almost sounds silly, but most of us don’t actually know ourselves deeply. We’re not hyper-aware of what puts us in good and bad moods.
To combat this, I personally keep a folder full of notes in my phone to track what makes me happy, stressed, motivated, sad, etc. Here are a few examples of notes I have made over the past few months:
“Yoga feels like a chore after work, not that fun anymore”
“I keep looking up data visualizations in my free time. I should pursue that more”
“Love the feeling of finishing a good blog article. Doesn’t even matter if it gets page views, the writing itself is a joy”
“HATE pointless meetings at work”
“Love financial podcasts on morning commutes”
“Writing at coffee shops on Saturday mornings puts me in a great mood”
“Can’t stand cleaning the apartment. Would rather spend that time doing pretty much anything else”
“Always happy after a long hike”
The more notes I keep, the more I begin to see exactly what I like and dislike. And I have found three major benefits of developing this self-awareness:
1. Increased self-awareness helps me align my spending with things that bring me joy. I’m okay with spending money on a keyboard piano, a temporary Hulu subscription for the NBA playoffs, a music festival ticket, and Chipotle burritos because all those things bring me joy. I spend far less on categories like housing and clothing because I prefer to live in a small place and I like having simple clothing choices.
2. Self-awareness has helped me develop a new income stream. Once I realized that blogging brought me so much joy, I started writing more and more. Over time, this interest has actually turned into a new income stream.
If I never became aware of how happy blogging made me, I may have quit early on because I wasn’t getting many page views. But once I stopped writing for views and started writing for enjoyment, ironically the views increased to a point where I could earn money from blogging.
3. When I finally do have the financial means to quit my day job, I already have a good idea of how I would like to spend my time. I think the mistake many people make is waiting until they’re financially free to pursue their interests. Personally, by pursuing my interests on the way to my financial goal, I’m figuring out exactly how I like to spend my free time before I have the extra free time that comes from not having a job.
In closing, here’s a 280-character summary of this post:
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
His favorite investment platform is M1 Finance, a site that allows him to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free, has no trading or maintenance fees, and even allows him to set up automated target-allocated investments.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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Full Disclosure: Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be advice, research or an invitation to buy or sell any securities, please see my Terms & Conditions page for a full disclaimer.