So, Erin, now that you’ve created a blog about it, what exactly is this financial independence thing you’re working towards in life? Good question, convenient rhetorical device! (Side note: asking a question so you can answer it yourself is called hypophora so boom, you just learned something today!)
There are varying definitions of financial independence floating around out there, although most of them are some variant of “having enough money to ensure you never have to work again,” also known as 25 times your annual spending. JL Collins has a great post on the importance of “F-you money,” which is essentially having enough money to be free to walk away from a job/to be able to do what you want when you want instead of being beholden to your boss and your monthly paycheck. I would probably never actually be bold enough to do this (also I suppose burning bridges isn’t the way to go), but my god, the idea of being able to tell my workplace to fuck off and walk out the next time I get some random piece of busy work is a dream. If the idea of flipping your workplace the middle finger as you walk out doesn’t do it for you, here’s a piece about freedom that struck a nerve for me. Yes, I opened a fuck off fund savings account at a different bank from the one that holds all my other accounts the day I read that article. Regardless of the reason or definition that resonates with you, FI at its core is freedom.
Why do I want FI?
I’ve been out of college for almost three years (sob) and since that time I’ve had an internship that turned into a summer job after I graduated and two Big Girl jobs. I know millennials are incapable of holding down jobs for a decent amount of time because we can’t put in the effort or something (#kidsthesedays amirite?), but I’ve jumped around so much because so far it seems the excitement and scariness of a new job lasts about 3-6 months then all of a sudden I more or less reach a point where I’ve learned everything I need to know and things just get boring. I know, this doesn’t really happen at Real Jobs that interest you, but it happened about 5 months into my first Big Girl job, and I spent the next 7 months halfheartedly and then much less so looking for new jobs since it was becoming increasingly clear the company was a liar about prioritizing internal promotions/moves, and if I had to sit there one more day being a good receptionist and politely answering the phone for yet another damn junk IT call, I was going to lose it.
My current job went about the same way-it was exciting until I’d learned just about everything there was to know and then I hit a wall, especially because there were days and weeks where I really didn’t have much to do. I’m actually in a weird position right now because my boss retired a few months ago, and because our department is in the process of a reorganization, they’re not going to start looking for a replacement until they rewrite the job description. Seeing as how I’m supposedly admin assistant for this person, my job doesn’t really exist at the moment and so I’ve kind of become assistant for…everyone who has work to do. Literally I’m doing the busy work that no one else is doing, and my temporary boss straight-up admitted that last week. Sure, some of these things are good for my resume (not that I want anyone to see them on my resume and hire me to do those exact same things) but I’m not a fun person to be around at work lately. Most of the work keeps me bored out of my mind and/or isn’t something I have any interest in (and/or actively hate. Staring at Excel all day so I can reconcile budgets that aren’t even in my department is not my thing). I try to remember that I have a decent job at a good institution, but every time my temporary boss or HR “asks” me if I can do some project or other (“asks” because what am I supposed to say to them? No?), that fantasy above about walking out because I’ve got fuck you money plays vividly in my head. It doesn’t help that I’m about 90% sure I’m not going to get paid any extra for all of these things, even the ones above my pay grade.
I was an idiot and looked for admin jobs out of college because I already had the skills for those and wasn’t sure I was qualified for anything more exciting, but I want to go back and smack Past Me in the face for going down that route because it’s led to two and a half years of utter boredom and unfulfillment. It’s hard to feel like I’m doing any good with my life by coding invoices and submitting them to the accounting department for payment, scheduling meetings, and filing papers. I did actually love my internship/summer job (although, yes, there were inevitable boring days there), but they couldn’t afford to pay me for more than the summer so I had to find something else. Now that I’m a few years out of college, I feel like I’m trapped in this field and can’t find something else to do, even if I knew what I wanted to do.
And that’s the kicker: I have absolutely no clue what I want to do in life. I’m interested in about a thousand things (the arts, the environment, education, international relations, women’s issues, etc etc) and am decent at many things, and because of this it’s hard to say I’m particularly interested in one thing or am especially good at these few things. I’ve got many interests and hobbies and I want the space, time, and freedom to explore them and not spend most of my productive hours every day working for someone else. I don’t know what I want to do in life, but I sure as hell know that being an admin assistant is not it.
So, what does FI look like for me?
The short, uncomplicated answer is I don’t know. Based on my own definition, I’m going to be FI sooner than I’ll be at the point where I never HAVE to work for a paycheck again (I also don’t see myself retiring early hopefully sometime in my 30s and never getting paid to do work again). For me FI is going to be when I feel like I can afford to break my dependence on the steady paycheck that comes from doing work I don’t care about. I’ll be able to say no to things I don’t want to do and can take the leap into the great unknown to find what I do want to spend my time doing. I don’t know when that’ll be though-I’m aggressive when it comes to stock allocations but conservative with my own money. My emergency stash isn’t at 6 months’ worth of cash right now (I know, I know. That’s in the money #goals at the moment) and I don’t think I would feel comfortable going off on my own at that point, as tempting as it is. I about drained my paltry savings in the two months of unemployment I had between my summer/first Big Girl jobs and I’m certainly never looking to repeat that!
I could…take another crappy job I don’t care about in pursuit of a salary boost and thus speed up my time to FI, but I somehow suspect that isn’t happening anytime soon. For one, I spent 7 months at my previous job searching for a new one and getting rejection after rejection (or not hearing anything at all). It’s been about a year since then but I’m still burnt out! Besides, other than the fact that my job is boring as hell, I’ve got great benefits and also only work a 35-hour workweek. It’s nice to be home around 5 without having to skip my lunch break to achieve that! I’m also at a good organization and I’m hoping as a result of the restructuring of the department I can grab some responsibilities that aren’t solely administrative and make my work life better. What can I say, I live a naïve life.
Obviously all of the above is pretty wishy-washy and I know that I need to question myself more and pin down more exactly what I want. Some of that is that FI and ER seem so far out of reach that it’s almost discouraging. In a way, why bother figuring it all out if it’s going to take 20+ years to get there? I also have never been good at making goals, but it’s time to change that so I have something to actually work towards, which’ll help combat the discouragement. I do have a net worth stretch goal for this year that I’ll talk more about later, since I’m not divulging that much information yet. But I do know some things: ideally in the future I’ll be married and maybe have a kid (but I’ll have a golden retriever and also maybe a cat first). FI/ER might look different then based on having two income streams and depending on what my partner wants out of life. But I want a life that allows for lots of traveling and slow travel at that. In college I used to think maybe it was possible for me to get a job that paid me to travel (hahaha silly me), but you know what? I’m going to set up my life so that my money in the form of passive income/dividends is paying me to travel. My cover photo is one I took on a salt flat tour in Bolivia the year I studied abroad in Chile, and it’s a reminder that I want a lot of travel in my life. I want a life that gives me lots of time for reading and learning. I’m constantly losing the war against library return dates and putting books on hold multiple times in the hopes that maybe by the third time I get it I’ll have time to actually read it. I’d also love to spend lots of time volunteering, which is something I don’t do much of at the moment. I’ve also thought that teaching is something I might want to do in life, and the fact that I’ve thought this on and off for years is probably a sign. There are probably a thousand other things I’d love to do that I haven’t even thought about yet, but those are some for a start. I’m mostly focused on day-to-day life as it is at the moment because that’s when I make untold numbers of decisions that affect my financial future, but here’s the big picture of what I’m working towards.
Whew, that was incredibly long-winded (hey, guess who’s already admitted she’s not a writer!) so if you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me for so long!