As humans, we are notoriously awful at predicting the future. We attempt to guess what our life will be like 5, 10, 20 years down the road, but we might as well be throwing
darts at a target blindfolded.
In particular, our pitiful ability to predict the future is on full display when we attempt to guess how long it will take to become financially independent.
When we make the decision to pursue financial independence we look at the current state of our finances and attempt to project this financial situation into the future. We look at our current income, expenses, side hustles, investments, job skills, experience, knowledge, state of the market, and we use all these factors to make an educated guess at when we will have enough money to consider ourselves financially independent. And this guess will likely be wrong.
Assumptions, Assumptions, Assumptions
The problem with predicting the future in any setting is that we have to make several assumptions for our prediction to hold. We have to assume that the future will resemble the past. We must assume that the growth rate of something in the future will be similar to the growth rate in the past.
But these assumptions don’t hold when it comes to predicting financial independence. The very day we decide to set F.I. as a goal, something incredible and subtle happens. We subconsciously notify our brain that this goal is important to us, and our brain responds by discretely looking for ways to optimize our behavior to reach this goal.
We begin to search for resources that will help us reach F.I. sooner. We read personal finance blogs, listen to early retirement podcasts, learn how to travel hack, minimize our grocery bills, discover new side hustle opportunities, find savings accounts with high interest rates, learn about index fund investing, learn how to cut our phone bill, and a myriad of other activities.
What we fail to realize at the outset of our quest is just how much knowledge we’ll acquire along the way. We realize that there are far more resources out there offering free advice to us than we had imagined and we learn more financial habits, tricks, and techniques than we could have predicted.
For me personally, I have only been on the path to financial independence for a little over a year. But already I have found several ways to optimize my journey, some of which include:
- Once I learned about index fund investing I closed my TD Ameritrade account and transferred my money to Vanguard, thus ending my short lived journey in fee-burdened individual stock picking.
- Once I learned about Ally Bank’s 1% interest savings account I transferred my money out of my old savings account, which was earning .01%.
- When I discovered The Minimalists, I became aware of the joy of owning less. I sold several of my old shoes and other knick knacks laying around the house, and greatly reduced my spending on consumer goods in general.
- As I read more personal finance blogs I discovered the power of side hustles and decided to start my own. I began offering tutoring services, which most recently netted me over $1,000 last month.
When I made the decision to pursue F.I. over a year ago I could not have predicted all of the life tweaks I would make in the year to come. But slowly over time I picked up a great idea here, some new knowledge there, a way to invest smarter here, a way to earn more there, and each little tweak has helped improve my financial situation and pushed me closer to F.I. at a rate much quicker than I would have predicted.
The Power of a Long Term Goal
Achieving financial independence is a massive goal. For most of us, it is a goal that will take several years to reach. Because of the long-term nature of this goal, we are aware that we won’t wake up one week from now and be financially independent. We know that it will take thousands of tiny steps to march towards this goal. But this is the exact reason behind why F.I. is so achievable and why we will reach it sooner than we think.
When we know ahead of time that a goal will take years to achieve, it forces us to focus on the process, as opposed to the outcome. This is good news for us.
We learn to not only love the small victories, but we actually begin to crave the small victories. The baby wins. The incremental progress. The weekly savings. The monthly spending. We stop fantasizing about this behemoth of a goal called financial independence and we put our head down and learn to do what matters each day to inch closer to this goal. We focus on intentional living.
Effectively, we reduce the enormity of financial independence into itty-bitty pieces. By doing so, we allow ourselves to make small changes each day, week, and month to optimize our lifestyle to reach this goal sooner.
We no longer look for the massive, unlikely wins. We begin to look for the tiny, practical wins.
How can I reduce my phone bill, my cable bill, my grocery bill? How can I negotiate a higher salary? What skills do I have that could be used for a side hustle? How can I invest without paying high fees?
Once we become entrenched in the process of pursuing F.I. we push our brain to discover new resources. We learn new ways of thinking. We pick up far more skills and acquire far more knowledge than we could have predicted when we started. We earn a little more here, save a little more there.
Don’t Hesitate, Get Going
There is a quote by William Hutchison Murray I have hanging above my desk that perfectly encapsulates what happens when one decides to pursue a goal:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”
When we decide to pursue F.I. we can’t possibly predict all the micro behavioral changes we’ll make along the way. We can’t possible know how financially savvy we’ll become. But when we make the decision to chase this goal, there will be unforeseen resources that will help us achieve it faster than we thought possible.
This doesn’t guarantee that the journey will be easy. There will be setbacks, we will make mistakes, and we will make dumb moves along the way.
The key is to keep moving.
Once we get going we begin to build momentum. We pick up speed. Our efforts compound. Our incremental wins turn into moderate victories. We earn more, save more, invest smarter, and learn how to live a life of meaning. We pick up unforeseen skills and knowledge along the way, which help propel us closer to our goals. This is why we will reach financial independence sooner than we think.
I strongly suggest using free financial tools like Personal Capital to track your net worth, spending habits, and cash flow to help keep an eye on your money. The more you track your finances, the better you get at growing your wealth!
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