(a love story)
A year after I first learned about the FI/RE concept, I read an article on Slow FI on the website “The Fioneers”. The terminology was created a few years back by the pioneers of the website (Meet The Fioneers – The Fioneers). Since then, it has grown into a mainstream FI concept.
A lot of FIRE’d people have shared experience they made throughout their journey and one of the most common regrets was not enjoying the journey to FI as much as it should have been. And not having a well-thought-out plan on how to spend their time during early retirement. Many went back to work after they FIRE`d. Now there is a growing wave of people who are pursuing financial independence, but they aren’t sprinting toward the finish line. They are focused on designing lives that they love along the way to FI.
So, while I’m still early on my FI path, I thought why not try to avoid this regret. I could retire within the next five years if I want to, but then what? Do I already know what I would do with all the extra time I do gain with early retirement? Maybe I should do a test-run to see if I’d like it before going into early retirement? And what about all the great moments I’m missing out in those five years? Will I regret pushing myself to FIRE while missing out on all the good times during my thirties?
So, as my FOMO kicked-in (we are Millennials, it is one of our personality traits, right?) I came across the Slow FI concept by The Fioneers. Especially one of my favorite articles – Slow FI: The real YOLO (Slow FI: You Only Live Once (YOLO) – The Fioneers)
But before we go into the details, let´s briefly define the concept of Slow FI.
“Slow FI is a mindset or approach to financial independence that focuses on using the financial freedom you gain along the way to FI to design your ideal life. If you are pursuing financial freedom for the purposes of living a better life that is more aligned with your values (and you’ll eventually retire someday), you are pursuing Slow FI.
Slow FI can take many forms. These decisions are not made to optimize the financial situation. They are made to optimize the quality of life. So many people have made decisions to improve their quality of life by:
- Finding a job they enjoy more (even if it pays less)
- Working fewer hours
- Becoming a freelancer
- Starting their own business
- Working part-time
- Negotiating full-time remote work
- Taking a sabbatical
- Becoming semi-retired
Slow FI means you are finding a better balance between your financial goals and your quality of life.” (The Ultimate Guide to the FIRE Movement – The Fioneers)
There is a great quote from “The office” which sums it up perfectly: “Right now, this is just a job. If I advance any higher in this company, then this would be my career. And, well, if this were my career, I’d have to throw myself in front of a train.”
This year I’m reaching my Coast FI number. Meaning, I don’t have to invest one more cent, just let my current investments grow and still have a comfortable retirement at age 65 to 70. This does not include my work-related pension payments, which are growing at the same time I keep working. I will come back later to how the Slow FI approach in combination with staying at work can actually be a fast-track to European FI (European FI vs. US FI – The pro and cons). Since I reached Coast FI and my personal level of FU money, I decided it is time to ease up a bit on the pedal and take a slow trip to FI.
Steps I took on my way to Slow FI
So how do I approach Slow FI? I tried to think about my life in retirement, and I did not have a clear idea how to spend most of my time. Travelling across the globe in a van? Starting my own blog? Writing a novel? Riding my bicycle over each mountain pass in the alps? All of this still involves some sort of work-related tasks. I would probably keep working during my early retirement. Why? Because when I do nothing for too long…first I get bored, and then depressed. We don´t grow when we are comfortable.
How do I figure out what I would do if money was not an issue? There is a great anecdote in one of my favorite FIRE books “Playing with FIRE”, to figure out what matters to you. Think about your perfect day and the ten things you like the most about this day (and realize how most of those things are not expensive or can´t be bought with money at all).
My ten things are:
- Sitting on the balcony in the sun reading a good book
- Listening to music
- Cooking food or drinking coffee a nice coffeeshop
- Riding my bicycle through the mountains
- Talking to my colleagues at work
- Being surrounded by people I love
- Walking with my dog(s)
- Writing on my blog/novel
- Taking pictures while traveling or strolling through the city
- Watching a good series on Netflix
See how almost none of these things involve (a huge amount) of money? If those are the things I value most and would probably spend my time on during retirement, what is stopping me from building a life around those now? If money is not a scarcity, what is? Time! So the real reason I’m pursuing early retirement is not to gain enough money to never work again, but to gain the freedom of time which comes with never having to work again. Is it possible to gain this freedom already now? It is.
Here are steps I took to jumpstart my Slow FI journey
- Moving to an area with lower cost of living and tax-rate (optimize expenses and FI date)
- Changing work location to reduce commuting (optimize time)
- Getting rid of car insurance, tax, repairs, and fuel costs (optimize expenses)
- Staying in a job I enjoy working on a lower salary (optimize quality of life)
- Reducing workload and working time (optimize time)
- Keeping the option to resign from work at any time, while being financially backed-up for at least 5 to 10 years (optimize financial freedom)
- Looking for opportunities to transition into a fully remote job (optimize time)
- Taking a close review of my purchases to remove those which do not align with my ten things (optimize expenses)
- Keeping a daily budget of my expenses and reviewing monthly for optimization (optimize expenses)
- Starting to spend more time on blogging, investing and other passive income streams (optimize income)
I will go into detail on how all those changes impacted my FI journey in my annual update (coming soon “The pursuit of Financial Freedom – The COVID aftermath”). However, it may surprise you that all those changes had no major effect on my FI date. My retirement date may be postponed by a few years (from five to eight years) due to lower salary, but I guess everyone would agree that eight enjoyable years living in alignment with my ten things are way more valuable than five miserable years of counting pennies, right? This is where the YOLO comes is. You only live once, so why waste years on strict budgets and having a miserable time, just to realize at the end it was not worth it, and you missed out on all this time you will never get back?
So now that I joined the Slow FI train – I can say that my millennial FOMO and YOLO are working hand in hand like Yin and Yang to create a better life for me. This year has been one of the most exciting of my life. My gross salary is cut in half, while my real income/wage almost stayed the same. My free time increase significantly compared to past years and most of my days are in alignment with my ten things. Some days feel like holiday or semi-retirement. In the background my investments are compounding. I keep working, paying taxes, and putting in pension payments. At the same time work feels more like a hobby to me. Just knowing I have the option to quit work at any time is giving me enough freedom to enjoy it. I have way more time to spend on traveling and blogging throughout the year.
Maybe this whole journey was never about early retirement? Maybe on the way to FI/RE, not the destination of early retirement, but the route to FI is the real goal? Maybe I’m already living in what younger me used to look forward to? Thank you The Fioneers and Slow FI. I love it!