What do I wish I knew about financial progress before we started making progress?
That was THE question in a recent post from Penny of She Picks Up Pennies and it couldn’t have been more appropriately timed.
1. I wish I knew the impact that personal finance would have on my identity.
How many life-altering choices have I made over the last three years because of a desire for personal finance improvement?
- I left a part-time job that I loved in favor of full-time employment.
- I started a side hustle to make extra money.
- I started a business because of my side hustle, which led to full-time entrepreneurship.
Three. Three life-altering choices done in the name of personal finance (and to some degree fulfillment).
What I wonder is this…
How has my identity changed as a result of these choices? Am I more content now because we achieved some measure of success? Am I happy with the identity I’ve forged as a result of these choices?
For the most part, I’d say I’m happy, but one part of my identity is taking over.
Since I’ve been networking a ton this year, “business owner” is the part of my identity that’s received the most attention. I think it could quickly become the only thing I focus on if I don’t pay attention.
Why am I spending so much time on the biz? Because of FIRE.
Why am I pursuing FIRE? Because I want to hike and volunteer in a national park.
Why am I not volunteering in a national park? Because I’m spending so much time on the biz.
I think this struggle with growth and contentment is a real-life incarnation of the Mexican fisherman/American businessman parable.
Starting a business was a fantastic idea because of all the ways it’s tapped into our potential and made us grow. But there are things I aspire to do that aren’t present in my life today.
2. I wish I knew how hard it would be to not think about personal finance.
Reprogramming our thoughts and behaviors transformed us — we’re no longer the spendy people who struggled with debt. We’re doing OK since we became mortgage free/debt free.
However, I spend a ton of time thinking about saving money, making money, and pursuing financial independence/early retirement. Optimize. Automate. Eliminate. Delegate. Rebalance. Hustle!
Here’s what I want to be doing. I want to relive that awesome trip we took to the southwest in which we visited nine national parks over a two-week span, but this time, I want to visit nine national parks over a two-year span. I want to be a part-time national park volunteer.
Thinking about taking time off to hike and volunteer seems crazy because we’ll get behind on our goals, right? So I think about how to accelerate this journey by searching Twitter for recent posts to see if we missed some step along the way.
But there aren’t any more nuggets of wisdom. Our approach to investing is long term. Index funds. ETFs. Going for dividends for passive income. We put money in our retirement accounts and our taxable accounts on a regular basis and compounding interest does the rest. Slow, boring, but effective. I really don’t think our personal finances need much more attention.
3. I wish I knew how difficult it would be to measure financial progress.
Many personal finance bloggers espouse the virtues of net worth tracking, which was an easy, effective way to measure financial progress when we were paying off our debt.
Being debt free, it’s harder to measure financial progress because it seems that no matter how much we could potentially save and invest, there is always the potential for failure.
FIREcalc runs through all these cycles to calculate the potential for failure of financial independence/early retirement.
Speculative podcasts and blog posts are maddening. I see little value in reading posts that beat to death every “what if” scenario.
Bottom line is that no one knows what the future will hold, so I don’t know how to measure progress. We could work another four years or so and put away “25x our expenses” and then what? The future is still uncertain, so it might not be enough. Or it could be more than we’d ever need and we just wasted a whole lot of time.
4. I wish I knew how difficult it would be to make decisions about money.
Getting out of debt? Paying off our mortgage? Setting aside an emergency fund with one year’s worth of expenses? Easy decisions.
How to generate passive income in a way that doesn’t make us nervous as heck? Difficult decision.
When should Garrett quit his cushy W2 and take the leap into entrepreneurship? Difficult decision.
Once Garrett leaves his job, do we focus on our own projects or do we continue taking on client work? Difficult decision.
5. I wish I knew how tough it would be to swim against the tide.
Downsizing to a “tiny” house, increasing our income to more than $100,000, and getting out of debt made us poster children for some kind of personal finance counterculture movement. We shop at thrift stores for dress clothes and we’re partial to free conference t-shirts and jeans most of the time. The horror!
Why do people care so much about us making the decisions we make in our lives? At no point did I issue an edict decreeing that everyone live in a “tiny” house, but with the responses the last three years, you’d think I did just that all while growing a second head and a third arm.
We downsized to our small house to save money and time. That’s it. Mission accomplished.
So, I grew thicker skin. I got over the side-eye. I cared less about swimming against the tide. However, there are times when I think life would be a whole lot easier if we just let the current carry us.
6. I wish I knew how hard it would be to stay grateful.
I don’t want to sound like a complain-y pants. My problems are good problems, right? Well, most of them.
It’s hard to stay grateful while pushing for the next goal…and then the next…and then the next…
After we paid off our mortgage, we let the feeling sink in for about five seconds before we went full throttle on student loans.
Once we paid off the remaining debt, we took a month off from any financial decision-making before we started a bunch of new side hustles in an effort to generate additional income.
Staying grateful is a challenge. Being mindful about the need to be grateful is equally challenging and I think it’s because success is addicting. Once we see that a certain action leads to the desired result, we put that action on repeat until we’re successful.
7. I wish I knew the value of building or engaging with a community of like-minded people.
I’ve mentioned this before, and I mention it again. If it wasn’t for personal finance bloggers and podcasters, we couldn’t be where we are today.