This post will be slightly different to the usual I create and write, as I will be looking at the potentially negative aspects of financial independence (FI) and the signs to show that you have gone too far. Most of it will focus on Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE), which is reaching FI much earlier in life than your traditional retirement date.
Likely if you’ve been an avid reader of this blog you will know that I am a keen practitioner and proponent of FIRE. However, only a fool disregards and refuses to accept flaws and issues can exist.
As an active member in multiple FI/FIRE forums, I have noticed a number of worrying issues that have been caused by the person following (what they think is) an FIRE lifestyle. In this article we will identify and evaluate these obstacles and the steps you can take to prevent yourself falling into those traps. Many of these will be extreme examples but the principles affect many on this path.
For those who are unaware FI is the achievement of reaching a position where your investments generate you/your family enough of an income that you no longer need to work. For a complete explanation and a ‘how to’ guide, read this post.
In this blog post we will cover:
- Overcutting of spending
- Guilt of spending
- Negative Relationships with Partners/Friends/Family
- Lack of time away from workplace
- No focus on personal development
- Constant review and focus on budget and savings rate
- Lost social life
Overcutting of Spending
To reach FI you need to have a savings rate percentage and therefore it makes sense that in order to decrease the time required to reach FI you need to increase your savings rate. To enable you to increase your savings rate you need to:
Of the two, it is generally easier to spend less and although this is usually seen as a positive too much can spell disaster. I have long been an advocate of cutting spending in areas you do not value but many can get caught up in trying to maximise their savings rate in any way possible. This leads to the following:
- Stopping or “pausing” hobbies – which they tell themselves they can no longer afford.
- No holidays
- No days out – Forget the trip to a theme park and invest the money instead
- No pubs/clubs or nightlife you enjoy
- No new toys or gadgets
- Boring and cheap food and certainly no restaurants
- Lack of subscriptions services for when you are bored
The problem with cutting out all (or some) of the above costs is that they will likely be bringing value to your life. Without fun and exciting things to take up your free time, expect to be lonely, bored and resentful.
Usually the rationale behind this approach is that it will remove years from your working life and therefore you can retire early. This may well be true; but what is the point in losing years of your life when you are fit and young to regain them later in life when this may no longer be the case?
Along with missing out on great adventures and excitement when you are young, expect that by removing hobbies and experiences from your life to become more reclusive, withdrawn, anxious…. and this won’t magically change the day you decide to retire early.
Personally, I believe that this is the biggest issue many following the FI lifestyle fall into and is something many struggle with during at least one point in their FIRE journey.
FIRE is about optimisation and NOT deprivation – this must not be forgotten.
- When you initially create your budget assign an importance score to all of your discretionary (not required to survive) spending. This score should represent exactly how much value it brings to your life. How much you spend on the line item should not affect your importance score.
- Cut spending from what has a low score but high spend as this does not bring you value
- Look for ways to reduce costs but retain the same service (change energy supplier, cheaper supermarket etc.)
The below image is an example of how I would cut costs from a fictitious budget. This was part of my post: How to go From Broke to Financial Independence: 12 Steps that Anyone Can Follow
Guilt of Spending
Guilt of spending is the phenomenon of when person feels disappointed, low or miserable about spending money on something they enjoy and which brings them value.
Often this will dovetail completely with, and, is the cause of overcutting of spending. This often occurs within the initial few years of being on the FIRE pathway once the follower has leant about:
- Stock market returns
- Compound interest
Those following FIRE who suffer with a guilt of spending generally associate any spending outside what is strictly necessary to be adding X amount of time to their FI date.
“If I never go out for a meal with my friends or wife I can retire 4 months earlier”
“If I take that dream month long holiday to Australia then I will have to work for an extra 6 months”
Take a few seconds to read the above two quotes again…. Does this sound like a healthy and enjoyable life? Does this sound like a life that you would want to live – to delay everything and enjoy nothing now?
All of the concerns regarding overcutting of spending apply here but also:
Experiences, events and new toys lose their enjoyment
This is because:
- During the experience you will be constantly comparing it to its cost
- Your expectations will be sky high and may be unreasonable
- You get frustrated and annoyed if any additional expenses pop up (maybe you need to get a taxi or a beer is £5 instead of 60p at the supermarket).
- You’re unable to relax and enjoy yourself
- Be honest with yourself and write down what you used to enjoy which you now miss
- Speak to your partner/family about their interests which you “cannot afford”
- Start by giving yourself a very small budget to spend on your hobbies and enjoyments – Make it very small so that you do not feel guilty about spending it.
- Each month increase the budget you spend on yourself until you reach a healthy balance of savings rate and life enjoyment.
- If you achieve a raise/promotion at work, give yourself a small percentage of this (20%) to spend on experiences and events with people you love.
- Look to spend on experiences instead of material goods.
- Reframe FI to be a lifetime event not an A -> B challenge.
Negative Relationships with Partners/Friends/Family
IF your FI lifestyle is not compatible with those around you then it is reasonable to expect that these relationships could deteriorate due to this. It is perfectly understandable that those around you who love and care for you will want to involve you in experiences and it can become frustrating to continually invite somebody who always says no.
Relationships are generally built upon what you do together and the fun you have. If you decide to cut these out to speed up your path to FIRE then it may be at the detriment of these relationships.
If you share finances with a partner but your spending habits greatly differ then this could easily become a point of friction and annoyance, which you will likely both begin to argue about.
It is of paramount importance that you maintain great relationships with those that you care about. To ruin these just to save and invest slightly more in the near future is short sighted and arrogant. You cannot expect others just to wait for you whilst you give nothing back.
- Organise low cost activities with friends and family:
- Invite friends for dinner instead of saying no to eating out
- Games nights
- BBQs etc.
- Plan at least one holiday each year with your significant other. You can find great deals without skimping
- Plan at least one holiday/trip with your friends
- Explain to your partner what you are trying to achieve and how it would be beneficial to you both.
- Look for a compromise that you can both work towards:
- You will spend more on activities and experiences with her/him
- She/he will look to spend less on what does not bring her value
Lack of Time Away From the Workplace
Work becoming a person’s number one priority in life (whether knowingly or not) is a phenomenon that affects people from all backgrounds and walks of life. For those pursuing a FI lifestyle this could be because of:
- Overtime means more money
- A show of commitment to your employer may lead to a promotion… and then more money.
The idea of FI is to remove yourself from needing to work – the idea of achieving this by working more often and for longer hours is therefore counter intuitive.
Your career you choose (or end up in) should ideally not dictate your entire life as it will have negative impacts on both your physical and mental health. Career ‘creep’ can often sneak up unawares on a person and before you know it your 40 hour week becomes 50, 60 and finally 70 hours.
It is possible for somebody following a FI path to become addicted to working as many hours as possible as it will allow them to increase their savings rate which will therefore knock years off their FI date.
“If I work an extra 20 hours a week I can retire 5 years earlier”
The downsides of regularly working too many hours can be:
- Stress and anxiety
- Lack of sleep
- Higher risk of stroke / heart problems
- Less free time for family and friends
- Miss children growing up
- Deterioration of relationships
- No/minimal holidays and time
- Risk of burnout
Ironically alongside the above it can reduce productivity and motivation whilst lowering the quality of work being produced.
- Commit to a maximum numbers of weekly hours that you will not (or rarely) exceed
- Plan at least one day during the weekend that you commit to spending with your partner or family
- Look for and learn learn new skills that could lead to a higher rate of pay
- Work towards a second source of income which is relatively passive (buy to let, course creation etc.). See 10 passive income ideas for nomads.
No Focus on Personal Development
“Personal development is the ongoing act of assessing your life goals and values and building your skills and qualities to reach your potential” – indeed.com
A lack of personal development can often be correlated strongly to working too many hours. This is especially the case when a person works long hours in a role which does little to stimulate or engage the brain.
It may be that you top up your 40 hours of work on a production line with another 30 hours completing the same task and unfortunately this will likely leave you wanting to just “watch Netflix and unwind” when you get home because “you deserve it”. If this is the case then it will be incredibly difficult to find both the time and the desire to work on your personal development and become the best version of yourself.
If you are working a job that you dislike but does not allow you to evolve and expand your knowledge then it is unlikely that your misery will end anytime in the near future. Personal development is likely the primary method required to enable you to progress to a more enjoyable and higher paid career.
It may be that you have always wanted and dreamed of owning and running your own business but have never had the confidence to seriously attempt this. Without personal development the day where you finally start will never come. Part of my reason for starting this blog is it will force me to learn new skills, gain confidence and cultivate an audience/network.
When your preference become “work more hours” instead of “personal development” you are encouraged to continue trading time for money. This is a limiting factor that will force you to sacrifice more and more of your life for limited returns.
Personal development will give you confidence. Confidence will give you the ability to complete mini experiments. Mini experiments will give you data and knowledge with which you can use for future business ideas, roles and jobs. These will ultimately end up with the discovery of something that suits and satisfies your desires.
- Speak to your employer about potential courses that they may fund. A more efficient/effective worker is more valuable to them and therefore they may bear the upfront costs.
- Cut overtime hours in half and instead use this time to focus on learning new skills that will allow you to progress into a more valuable role.
- Complete a personal review of your areas of strengths and weaknesses – whether you choose to focus on minimising issues or maximising strengths is your choice.
- Identify skills that may have an immediate return – example https://www.choosefi.com/salesforce-lucrative-career-no-degree-required/
- Read “self-development” books – Currently I am reading “The Millionaire Fastlane” by M. J. DeMarco
- Watch self-development videos/free course on YouTube
- Take paid courses on sites like Udemy.com if you feel they will improve a target area
- Step outside your comfort zone as often as possible – one of my favourite quotes is:
“everything you want in life is outside of your comfort zone. If it wasn’t, you would already have it” – Alan Donegan, Rebel Business School
Reading books, taking courses and watching videos all have merits but unless you take action on what you learn, you cannot expect to see great results… So suck it up and complete the exercises.
Constant reviews and focus on budget and savings rate
Budgets are necessary. Savings rate is critical. Regularly reviewing these are essential to ensure that they reflect your goals, your needs and your wants throughout life.
What is less important (and will become a hindrance) is constantly reviewing, amending and adjusting your plan.
If you constantly sweat over and painstakingly review your budget, your savings rate and any other FIRE benchmark then expect this to take over your life. There are people who have become so absorbed by this that they cannot go a day without checking their spending and their investment performance.
Even worse that this is when the person tries to drag somebody else (usually their partner) into these daily discussions. It will end with the other person having a lack of interest, being annoyed and trying to avoid you.
It is likely that it will take you hours of valuable time to make tiny or often no improvements. This time would be much better spent enjoying yourself with people around you or personal development.
- Set and stick to a regular review period – personally I update my budget every month (≈20 minutes) but many do it quarterly (3 months).
- Refrain from making tiny adjustments to your plan – do it on your regular and planned review if required
- Avoid constant discussions with partner/family/friends, as it is unlikely they will be interested. However if they ask for advice or help then, by all means, assist as much as you can.
Lost Social Life
Your social life will likely revolve around what you do and experience with your partner/friends and family. A life without socialising will be empty and without fun. Those who follow a FI lifestyle have been guilty of decimating their social life just to increase their “all important” savings rate percentage.
This point is almost a culmination of all the above issues so there will be no concern/solution here apart from determining which of the above problems you are guilty of. Solve those and likely, you will regain an enjoyable and active social life.
A social life will be negatively impacted when you:
- Choose to be alone instead of join your friends at an “expensive” bar
- Convince your girlfriend not to go on holiday abroad because “Wales in October is cheap”
- Pay more attention your investments that your family
By putting together this post and from collating multiple opinions and regrets it seems like there are two real potential downsides to financial independence:
Being able to afford to but choosing not to spend money on what will bring you value and enjoyment… Followed by regret at a later age
Annoying and irritating those around you by picking faults in their behaviours or constant talk of savings rate, your budget and other FI metrics.
Luckily both of the above are resolvable but unless you recognise and admit these are concerns you will be unlikely to change your behaviours – although this is sounding worryingly like level one of alcoholics anonymous.
Personally I believe the most important takeaways from this post are:
- Financial independence is a lifelong journey and therefore the path to FI should be enjoyable. If this involves increasing your budget and decreasing your savings rate then so be it.
- Feeling guilty about spending on what you enjoy is not healthy and therefore you should take steps to move away from this
- Giving yourself a budget to spend on what you enjoy is important and should be implemented.
- Not everyone around you is interested in FI and that is okay. The more you try to force them the more likely you will drive them away.
- Personal development can be just as (and sometimes much more) important than your budget and savings rate.
The last point that I would like to make is that many of these points are written from the assumption that you are in a position of financial health. If you have high interest debt then these must be repaid before you begin to look at increasing your budget or removing guilt.
Which of these points apply to you? Is there something else that you feel has not been covered? Please comment below 🙂