As a longtime devotee of personal finance and someone rapidly approaching FI, I decided to answer MMM’s call to the 7 habits and get more engaged by starting a blog, and I thought it was time to explain the title! I hope this will be a great outlet to fill some under-served areas of the FI blogosphere as well as share some of my own stories and thoughts while walking the path. My hope is the conversation here on this blog and in the greater community will energize you and help you along your own path to successful FI.
First Things First
Earlier this year, I spent about a month brainstorming names. I used thesauri, rhyme lists, and a full blog literature review. I tried for over a week to come up with complete page titles. With no luck, those attempts eventually devolved into ‘storming single words. Some for their relevance, others for their personal importance, and quite a few just cause they sounded cool (“lemniscate” anyone?). After a month of effort, I had built a compendium of such length such as to challenge a small research paper. Despite this, I still felt no closer to finding my magic brand. With my wedding looming, life started to get busy, and I decided to put the project down for an undetermined length of time. Three months later, married but still not FIRE’d, I found myself sitting at work frustrated and needing a break. I pulled out my phone, navigated to wordpress.com and just started setting up this blog.
When it was time to select a site name, I had the brainstorm list available but never even considered checking it. I had some themes I knew I wanted to focus on and, when it came time to choose a blog title for the account, “Easy Does It” just popped out naturally and effortlessly. It was as if the simple act of generating that list, then letting it go, had allowed me to internalize all the ideas and make me a subconscious expert of words and titles. With my mind in such a state, all I need to do was get out of the way and let it work.
The process of generating this brand is pretty cool, because it represents a moment of “flow”. In this case, my flow came as a result of: spending a lot of time practicing to develop your “automatic success mechanism”, then getting out of the way to let the mechanism work. I’ve found flow of this level difficult to achieve yet incredibly gratifying. It can allow you to achieve way above your normal capacity with almost no conscious effort. It’s a “clutch” play, like a batter reacting to a 100 mph fastball and hitting a game-winning home run. In those moments, the act is “instinctive”, it’s “second nature” (and that’s how I got the blog’s subtitle!).
So there you have it. That’s the “how”, but what about the “why”?
As I mentioned above, I had several themes I wanted to focus on in this blog. These ideas are important to me and crucial for successful FIRE. Finally, all of these points require long-term, sustainable, balanced efforts to accomplish, or in other words, a little bit of an “Easy Does It” attitude.
1. Building savings to FIRE takes a long time.
It takes a long time to save for retirement. Even ERE – extreme early retirement – takes at least a couple of years of saving. Early retirement is not a hobby one can master by getting really enthusiastic about diving in with very short, very high intensity spurts of effort. A lot of people try to achieve personal goals like running a half marathon, lifting a certain amount of weight, beating a video game, etc. with this “short-duration, high-intensity” work style, but it doesn’t work for FI.
2. Building to FIRE requires building a lifestyle.
In addition to saving money, successful FIRE preparation demands a life (a whole life!) of stoicism. The proper lifestyle will enable saving large chunks of money quickly, but more importantly, it will give allow you to live happily while approaching money as a tool. It will allow you find the things in life which actually make you happy (none of which are money) and help ease you into a life of FIRE. Which brings me to…
3. Transitioning to FIRE is not inherently easy
Pulling the trigger to retire (at any age) is a huge life transition. It’s a hard demarcation, a line in the sand which marks a “point of no return” (temporary for some, hopefully permanent and successful for most). Because of the stark change, a huge amount of uncertainty will exist. Uncertainty breeds fear and angst, and the result is a lot of people deferring retirement for “one more year” even though the math shows they are more than ready.
People try to minimize the uncertainty by seeking mentors and guides. They seek them on early retirement sites, blogs, and forums. This can help, but the reality remains that actually pulling the trigger is a huge psychological hurdle.
4. Maintaining the lifestyle to sustain FIRE requires an amazing level and length of stability.
If your investments are heavily allocated to equity (and they should be), your net worth and potential for capital gains will fluctuate substantially. These savings must sustain you for an incredibly long duration of time (up to 80 years if you’re an optimist on life expectancy). Because of these factors, the FI lifestyle and how you spend demands stability.
Just like how spurts of savings will not normally lead to FI, taking cheat days on your expenses and blowing large amounts of money (if only one time) can very seriously diminish your position in early retirement.
As an example, if you plan for expenses around $2k per month, you will need to budget $24k per year and $600k net worth for your 4% SWR -safe withdrawal rate. However, if, just once every 10 years, you have a large expense of $10k (say for a car), your 10 year average expense requirement just went up to $25k per year and $625k net worth.
5. Retirement is about ease
Passive income is meant to be… passive. Retirement is about freedom and taking control of your time. You aren’t retiring from your day job just to become a full-time money manager. Retirement needs to be easy enough to allow you those personal freedoms.
Stoicism tells you that doing difficult things will make you happy. Stoicism also tells you the harder the goals are, the greater the resultant gratification. However, these goals still need to be realistically feasible. The tasks need to he broken down into manageable, if not “easy”, bite-size portions.
A healthy retirement will incorporate all of these measures into a balanced, sustainable life of challenge, accomplishment, and yes, ease.
6. I want to be lazy
One of the most accomplished early retiree/real-estate experts I know describes himself as a lazy slug. He has successfully built a life to retire and travel the world in his 30’s, yet he thinks himself incredibly lazy. How can this be?
He doesn’t love work for the sake of work. He “works smarter, not harder” and even then, only when it counts, only when the work is important.
I know many people at work who revel in a hard day’s work. The love turning their brains off and putting in a shift at the ol’ salt mine until they utterly exhaust themselves. These people don’t have a plan, they don’t care about the overarching goal, they are just happy to be busy.
Do I value hard work for the sake of hard work? Forget that, I want to be lazy!
So there you have it. While everyone will walk their own path, hopefully a balanced, sustainable, “Easy Does It” approach will make you more successful on your own journey. And of course, this is only the start to the conversation!