Once a month, I get the pleasure of going in to a class of high school seniors to introduce the concept of financial independence. This often leads to talks of house hacking, frugality, and personal finance.In the most recent lesson, Scott Trench, financial independence extraordinaire and author of Set for Life, joined me. As we were talking about meaningful ways to decrease spending through house hacking, biking to work, and limiting eating out, one student had a point of contention.
He raised his hand and asked, “This all seems great. However, I don’t want to sacrifice some of my best years [i.e. college] just to save a few bucks.”
Our response: “You don’t have to! In college, you will likely be living with roommates, and your commute is likely not far, so biking or walking should be easy. The toughest problem is the amount you spend on food and alcohol.”
The kid has a point. However, if you were to ask Scott or me about our college experiences, I don’t think we would say there was a lack of fun, going out, or “boozing.”
What we do say, though, is that if you are in pursuit of financial independence, you will ALWAYS be different. My advice to the person just getting started is to get comfortable being different and going against the grain of society. Remember what Dave Ramsey says: “Live like no one now, so you can live like no one later.”
The first step towards financial independence through real estate investing is finding ways to earn more and spend less so that you can save up for that first house hack. You will see many of your friends spending close to half of their income on rent, buying (or leasing) new cars every few years, and frequently going out to fancy restaurants.
Related: 10 Financial Tasks to Tackle Before 30 (So You Can Afford to Start Your Actual Bucket List!)
After all, they have been living on a college student’s salary for four years, so they deserve it. Right?! Wrong!
You, on the other hand, have looked at it from a different perspective. You are used to living like a college student, so you continue to do so. You live a couple of miles from downtown and share an apartment with roommates just like you did in your college days. You avoid the lifestyle creep. You know it’s much harder to scale back your lifestyle than it is to scale up.
Your friends and colleagues will have an idea as to how much you make and will be confused as to why you are choosing to live like someone who earns half of what you do. You’ll try to describe the concept of financial independence. Some will not be able to grasp the idea. Others will understand but not believe it, and few will actually understand and be convinced.
In the first part of your journey, be prepared to continue to live on a college salary, while earning a big boy/girl salary. It will feel weird. It will feel different. Embrace it!
If you are starting to feel left out, I recommend finding a group of people in your area similar to you. I would highly recommend searching your area for local ChooseFI groups and BiggerPockets meet ups.
Now you’re a couple of years into your journey. You’ve been saving for a few years and have purchased two or three properties in the past two or three years. This in and of itself is going to be very different. Most of your peers will still be trying to save for their first “forever home.” You, however, already have a few properties that you are renting out, and the snowball is accumulating an exponential amount of snow.
You are saving 70%-80% of your income, your net worth climbs into the hundreds of thousands, and liquid cash may be approaching high tens or low hundreds of thousands of dollars. You are now able to dole out $50K to $100K for an investment without having a material impact in your lifestyle.
Just a couple of years ago, that $100 expense seemed like a big hit. Now a $100 expense feels more like a $10 expense.
This is where you need to be careful, though, because guess what? It is still a $100 expense. This is not a time to be frivolous; you still need to practice frugality. You can lighten up a little bit from your first couple of years, but keep your eye on the prize!
This is where I feel I am on the journey. As an example, here are a few things that I spend money on that I used to refrain from:
These add a lot of value to my life, so I’m happy to let off the gas a little bit and spend money on them. If you go all-out the whole time, you will burn out. Remember, spend on things of value, and enjoy the journey.
Congratulations! You have reached financial independence. Now, don’t get me wrong—I am not 100 percent of the way there yet.
So, who am I to talk about life post-financial independence?
Someone who is close and who knows a lot of people who are there.
Once you have reached financial independence, you are no longer tied down to your salaried job. You don’t have to quit, but you have the option to. After achieving financial independence, you can confidently walk into your boss’s office and ask for a raise, extended time off, to work remotely, or anything else that will make your day-to-day life more enjoyable.
Related: How to Finally Break Out of Financial Mediocrity Using the Virtuous Cycle
If they say yes to your request, great! If they say no, you have the power to quit and do it anyway. This is what the community likes to call FU money.
If you do decide to quit, now you can pursue a passion, whether that’s travel, spending time with family, volunteering, or growing your own business. The world is your oyster.
Does this sound normal to you?
As you embark on your journey towards financial independence, realize that you are signing up for a life that is against societal norms. The first few years will feel like a sacrifice, but know that the remaining years will be well worth it.
In handling the first few years, my advice would be to confidently embrace it. People are going to question and joke around with you about your craziness. Be confident and know that your strategy will work and that these same people who were questioning you will one day be envying you.
One of my favorite quotes is one that I heard recently on the BiggerPockets Podcast episode 304 with Nick Santonastasso. The inspirational 22-year old man with no legs, one arm,and one semi-working finger on that arm said, “You laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at you because you’re all the same.”
Don’t be afraid to be different!
Have you felt alienated from your peers because of your enthusiasm for FI?