When I started interacting more frequently with people that had already reached FI or were closer to reaching it than I was, I loved asking “what would you have done differently on your FI journey?”. Likely why I love The Fioneers Slow FI series which includes post such as Avoid the “Death March” to Financial Independence with Mr. 1500.
Now that I’ve officially semi-retired, it’s the perfect time for me to turn the tables around and share my own answers to this question with you .
There is no one path to FI
Before we get into it, let me add that I hope this post serves to inspire you rather than add to the anxiety of following this path the right way. There is definitely no one path to financial independence. It will vary according to your needs, circumstances and desires. Sharing these answers is all done in the hope that they serve to inspire your own journey to make it the best for you.
Most importantly, it’s okay to make mistakes. If you are on this path, I assume you are likely not taking drastic “get rich quick” measures where your mistakes could cost you your entire life savings. You’ll still get to where you want to go, it might just take longer or be a little less comfortable than ideal but hopefully you learn and adapt your journey along the way just like I did.
On that note, here are some of the things I would have done differently on my FI journey.
Track our spending sooner and with more consistency
I would have started tracking our spending sooner and with more consistency early on my Fi journey. When I discovered FIRE in 2012, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what our spending was. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that I actually started using a tracking tool (Mint) and reviewing our spending every month thanks to my yearly spending tracker.
Before that, I was putting a lot of focus on my financial plans, trying to build up a clear timeline to FI based on what I thought our average costs were. When I began this simple ritual and then kept up with it over several months, I started seeing patterns and being better able to associate my behaviors with increases or decreases in spending. I also realized that I had omitted to account for some spending when I only estimated my average costs.
The clarity of seeing the actual costs from month to month was incredibly valuable in building up an abundance mindset and a more realistic roadmap. It’s helped me feel more confident about our future plans because I can base my projections on patterns I’ve seen in the past. I’m not sure I would have been willing to take a sabbatical without having this data to support my decision.
I would have started experimenting with self-directed investing sooner
Early on my FI journey, I began investing in mutual funds. It felt simple to build up the habit of sending a bit of money from every paycheque to the mutual fund provided by my bank. It was a simple first step for me that felt less intimidating than self-directed investing.
It’s great that I got started with investing at a young age but knowing what I know now, I would have skipped this and jumped right into self-directed investing with low cost ETFs. Once I did get started with this, I realized that the level of learning was pretty much similar if not even less of a burden than trying to figure out what my bank’s mutual funds offered in terms of return and costs.
Besides, at that time, I was sending about 50$ every paycheque to these funds. It’s not like this delay cost me thousands of dollars but I would have learned faster if I got started with investing this way earlier. It also was not a significant amount to feel intimidated by trying out self-directed investing.
Once I made the leap to purchasing ETFs through a self-directed online brokerage, I was now sending about 500$ per paycheck and that felt quite nerve wracking. Thankfully with a bit of reading and learning I quickly felt comfortable with the switch.
I would have worried less about what people thought
One strange thing about discovering FIRE is that suddenly you feel somewhat obsessed about how you could be saving more and getting to that goal faster. Money seeps into so many areas of your life that perhaps, like me early on my FI journey, you kind of feel like you start heading on a different path than your friends and family.
When friends invite you on shopping trips or to higher cost restaurants, you hesitate and question if it would fit in your budget to meet your high savings goal. You might get into awkward conversations, trying to explain this strange plan you have to save enough by your mid-thirties to not have to work ever again.
Your friends might respond in negative ways if they feel that you are judging their own choices in how they spend their money. You might yourself respond defensively to any questions your often well-intended families have on these plans that are so different to the paths they took to provide financial security for themselves and their families.
So if I would be starting my FI journey all over again, I would have worried less about what people thought of these plans. Focusing on common grounds and activities I enjoy with these various friends and family members would have brought me so much less stress than questioning if I was being judged on my choices all the time or if I was becoming too different to connect with these people.
Having friends and family with diverse experiences and objectives is such a beautiful gift. Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same? Plus, if these people love you and are a part of your life, clearly you do have some things in common and activities you enjoy doing with them. Only cults want you to exclude your family and friends from your life so they could benefit from being your only social support (I mean, unless your friends and family are truly toxic or detrimental to your wellbeing of course).
If your friends invite you to do something that’s out of your budget, offer to meet up later on for some other low cost or free activity. It’s not all or nothing, you can find many ways to socially engage while respecting your budget. If the money conversations are awkward, stick to basics, because I do think practicing these discussions is important to increase everyone’s comfort around the subject, and then move on to something lighter and fun. Enjoy the various people that are part of your life for many different reasons! Life is not all about money after all.
I would have participated in FI community activities sooner
While we are on the subject of relationships, another thing I would have done differently on my FI journey would have been to participate in FI community activities sooner.
This might sound funny after reading the last paragraph but the way I see it is that you can have various friends fulfilling various needs of connections in your life. So it doesn’t mean I would have ditched all my usual non FI-community-related friends but participating in the occasional online or in person FI-meetup would have been way worth it early in my journey.
Back before I started Modest Millionaires, I was participating in online forums mostly to connect with others on the path. That was nice but there is nothing like conversational types of meetups. It was about a year after launching the blog that I began interacting on Twitter with the personal finance community, then joining online meetups or masterminds to eventually going to in-person meetups.
That’s when I started making true friends in this community which has provided way more concrete changes in my path than any other one thing I did along the journey. Surrounding myself with this inspiration, was a catalyst for me to make big changes to my own path for it to be more enjoyable. It also served to boost my confidence in this plan by seeing how others had achieved it and were making it work.
While I am pretty happy with how the last 9 years from discovering FIRE led me to becoming semi-retired and on the way to FI by sometime in my 40s, it’s completely normal to look back and see some things I could have done differently on my FI journey. I hope that in sharing these with you it serves to inspire you to evaluate and adjust your approach for a more comfortable journey to your financial independence.
Read on below for a quick review of the book The Money Master by Sandy Yong of which I will be giving away 2 copies to some lucky readers who sign-up before the 18th of November 2021.
Otherwise I’d love to know what you would have done differently on your FI journey if you are further along the way! Please share in the comments below.
The Money Master Review
When Sandy Yong reached out offering to give two copies of her award winning book for me to give away to my readers I was quite excited to give it a read! Obviously getting free stuff is great but that’s not the only reason I was excited.
The draw has already taken place, thank you to everyone who entered!
Firstly, Sandy is a young Canadian millennial who had some similarities to myself when learning about money. Secondly, for every book purchased, Sandy donates 2$ to assist The Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) with mental health research.
This is a cause near and dear to my heart. I have family members that suffer from severe mental illnesses and have myself dealt with anxiety and depression.
What I love about the book:
Acknowledging the emotional aspect of money
I love that Sandy jumps right into covering the emotional aspects around money, including how society tends to view it as a taboo subject.
When coaching clients, I aim to provide a safe and non-judgmental space. Most if not all of my clients remark on this at one time or another through the 4 months they work with me. They’ll say something along the lines of “I always felt so intimidated when talking about this and you’ve made me feel comfortable to do so without feeling ashamed or judged.” .
I’ve come to believe that this stems from people in the financial industry & society often skipping over the fact that money is a very emotional subject. Learning about your financial options when feeling judged and/or misunderstood is more difficult than in a supportive & understanding environment.
Another charming aspect of the book is that The Money Master is short, simple yet pretty complete. It covers many subjects from real estate to self-directed investing and entrepreneurship.
My readers likely know that I’m big on simplicity. I find that the financial industry benefits from adding complexity and confusion to their language. Meanwhile, this intimidates people and scares them from taking the first steps to take control of their finances.
Finally, I absolutely love that The Money Master is formatted in a way that easily guides the reader to actionable steps. It outlines what you can do right now to start becoming what Sandy calls your own Money Master.
All in all this is a great book for anyone early on in their journey who wants a simple yet global view of many subjects with actionable tips.
The only part I felt that I did not enjoy as much was one chapter on a millionaire mindset vs a poor mindset, simply because I think there is so much more that goes into poverty than just a mindset.
That being said, I think that The Money Mindset’s simple format may have limited the ability to add nuances around this.