5 Truths I Learned by Living Financially Free for One Year

by | BiggerPockets.com

Well, BiggerPocketers, it has been almost exactly one year since I purchased the property that made me financially independent and one year since I appeared on the BiggerPockets Podcast. At that time I was working full-time for the military, unsure how I would wield my newfound possibilities. Now, well, I’m still working full-time, but I was able to transition into a lower paying job predominantly working from home and doing something I absolutely love. So we’re a year into this, and here’s what I’ve learned so far.

5 Truths I Learned by Living Financially Free for One Year

1. Financial freedom won’t solve all your financial problems.

I still didn’t feel entirely “free” after reaching financial freedom. Part of that was because I was almost halfway into a 20-year military career that would secure health insurance and a pension for life. Was that something I was willing to walk away from? Was I ready to leave an organization I’d put so much time into already? It took a while to think about.

Another reason I didn’t feel safe was because of the changing political climate. Could my financial calculations survive the acceptance/failings of the heath care bill? What else did I not think about?

Related: Life Hacking in Pursuit of Financial Freedom: How I Add $1,500+/Mo to My Income

And ultimately, a big reason I started this process was because of my financial blueprint. I wanted to feel secure that no matter what happened, I’d be able to get through it. Achieving financial freedom alleviated a lot of that pressure, but it didn’t fully cut me free from those worries.


2. Financial freedom gives you options.

Was I able to FIRE (financially independent, retiring early)? No. Not mentally anyway. Could I have? Yes. I’m an extensive planner and know the average expenses for every month the past four years of my life. But I didn’t want to retire early. Financial freedom allowed me the opportunity to stop and consider the prospect, feel entirely comfortable to take at least an extended vacation between jobs if needed, and not feel pressured into a job I didn’t want to do. I took my time, found a few jobs I was excited to do, and eventually was hired into a remote position that allows me to take my dog for walks at lunchtime and pursue my passion, which is working in academia. But guess what? I haven’t walked away from my military pension, either!

If you are FIRE-minded, I truly believe it means your creative reach is above-average. I knew staying at home full-time was never an option; I’d end up volunteering my time somewhere, working part-time at least, or finding a better career fit. Having that freedom behind me allowed me to relax, look at situations more objectively, and find a better lifestyle fit. Life doesn’t always have to be “either/or.” Sometimes there’s a “both/and” option in there. And sometimes you’re only brave enough to look for it if you know you can walk away entirely.

3. If you want to get things done, you still need to prioritize.

I can’t tell you how many sunny days I’ve looked out the window from my office/cubicle thinking, “If I were home right now, I’d be outside going for a run” Or something similar. It’s so easy to say. “I don’t have time to do _____!” and I’ve said that plenty of times. But you know what I think? We have time to do most anything we want to do; we just don’t make it a priority.

It’s amazing what I started accomplishing by telling myself I wasn’t making _____ a priority. It inspired action. So, if I didn’t make time for it during my everyday schedule before, what changed? I cut out a 20-minute commute one way, but what did I fill it with? If it was work to schedule in beforehand, it will be work to schedule in even when you aren’t doing much. There are barriers that may not exist anymore, like waking up too early for your body’s natural clock, feeling overwhelmed or emotionally drained, etc. Still, though it may be easier to schedule those things in and find time, you need to make the effort.

4. You’ll want to set yourself a schedule.

Well, most of your friends still work weekdays, so you’ll still mostly socialize in the evenings and weekends. The great thing about financial independence and making a schedule that suits you well is that you’re more present during social interactions. Nothing is a huge deal anymore. You may not be retired yet, but that doesn’t mean you won’t start adopting parts of the retirement mindset.

Related: Are Your Children Stopping You From Achieving Financial Freedom?

Remember when I was talking about priorities? Well, the first few weeks feel like a stay-at-home vacation where you get to those things you’ve been putting off for so long. Most of “those things” will be one-time projects and not habits you were hoping to create. Have an idea of what habits you want to start and work hard to begin! Go run those errands midday to avoid the crowd. Put your running shoes in a new place to remind yourself that you want to make a habit of running. Make a checklist of YouTube lessons you want to burn through.


5. Financial independence won’t automatically make you happy.

So many people feel like ending the rat race is what will make them happy. It’s easy once you reach financial independence (and perhaps before or after you retire) to have a really low tolerance for pointless meetings or situations. I’m not a counselor or anything, and this will probably be preachy, but don’t let the thrill of the chase rob you of the present. Goals are great things to have, and life happens everywhere. For some, health issues arise because of stress (from work, schedule constraints, whatever). At the same time, once you reach your retirement goal and quit your job, you may find that stress and whatever else that was driving you out of the rat race aren’t fully gone, hence the need to find happiness anywhere. Be prepared for a better quality of life, but have the coping skills to mitigate it if it never comes.

I’m only a year in, and I haven’t retired off my income, but there are very real and tangible benefits to reaching financial independence. I’ve negotiated myself into an ideal working situation because I wasn’t afraid to try. We’ll see how life shakes out over the coming years, and I hope to have great things to tell you. For now, stay tuned for more posts regarding how I acquired the rest of my properties. Happy investing!

We’re republishing this article to help out our newer readers.

If you’re in pursuit of financial freedom, does any of the above surprise you? If you’ve reached this point already, anything you’d add to this list?

Leave your comments below!

About Author

Sarah P.

A longtime writer and consumer of all things related to the FIRE (financial independence retire early) movement, Sarah went from working 50+ hours a week to less than 20 thanks to her real estate investment portfolio and side passion projects. Investing since 2015, she reached financial independence in 2016 and was able to retire in 2017. Articles about her journey and information about her current projects have been published in LinkedIn, BiggerPockets, Kiplinger, and many other financial news sources. Prior to the FIRE movement, Sarah worked as a Program and Acquisitions Manager on various projects and started a successful, world-renowned non-profit organization. Today, she uses these skills as a real estate consultant to help others reach their FIRE-related goals on a regular basis.


    • Sarah P.

      You know what? It’s tempting not to, but if I’ve learned anything in the process it’s this:

      I can’t buy back my time. If I’m miserable living the military life, I’m not going to stay for the pension. I know I can be just fine without it and/or work for it other ways. I would much rather work a secure remote position for half the annual salary than wish half of my adult life away.

      Ultimately I’m ready to walk away from it if I ever need to. I just know it won’t be easy!

      • Janette Nason

        I think you are exactly right Sarah! Time is the most valuable thing we have! You can get it back and you are a very resourceful person…. you’ll make it all happen!
        I personally would never stay trapped in any job if i didn’t look forward to it each day.

      • jeremy obenchain on

        That’s awesome. I’ve just recently have done this exact thing. I left the postal service after 15 years to pursue a more flexible Life style with my young kids. Plus I to was misarable. I have rental income and have started my own small business doing handyman things for a realtor who manages 50 properties. I also work on my own flips to save on he cost. It’s been 1 month now and I’m loving it . Plus….I can still draw a pension from the postal service once I reach retirement age. I agree…. Time to me is the most important thing in life. The rest we can manipulate.

  1. Frankie Woods

    Sarah, how were you able to maintain your retirement/health care benefits while working from home? I’m assuming you entered the traditional guard or reserves? I’m considering transitioning out of the military myself, but the thought of waiting another 20 years for the benefits weighs considerably. Thanks in advance!

  2. Eric Petersen

    I love it. Keep up the good work and thank you for the insight. This is one more example of keeping things in perspective and how the goal is a nice thing to accomplish but really it won’t bring us happiness, it will just enable us to seek out our happiness on our terms.

    • Sarah P.

      Yes, well put! My time in between was awesome and I suspect my comfortability living off my investments will eventually get there. One thing I should have written about is that I only have a year of tracking expenses and investment income. I suspect I’ll be much more comfortable retiring early once I’ve seen a satisfactory amount of years and circumstances showing that I can indeed retire. If this past year is a good indicator, then I’ll be completely set. Fingers crossed.

  3. Janette Nason

    Sarah, your story rings true! While I believe I’m much older than you, my husband and I became financially independent over the last 3 or 4 years. It’s a great feeling knowing you don’t have to work in the traditional sense but this does not bring all happiness. I need to stay very busy with sports, other real estate projects and considering some volunteer work which would enrich my life and others.

    • Sarah P.

      Congratulations! Yes, someone today asked me who I admired the most. I stopped to think about it and couldn’t come up with a single individual but rather groups of people. I admire those who find happiness anywhere and everywhere.

  4. Nirmal Khanderia

    Great article, Sarah. Everyone is aiming at financial freedom and you have given a balanced view of what happens after financial freedom- what to expect and what NOT to expect.
    Thanks a lot for sharing. Will follow your posts on how you got there.

    • Sarah P.

      Ah yes. This is just my account- I suspect many will have something different to contribute and I’m excited to read about it! The MadFientist just came out with his one year post retirement article. You should give that a read!

  5. wendy wray

    Hi Sarah! Thank you for sharing your story! I’m also in the military and I’m working on the goal of becoming financially independent through real estate. I can relate to this idea of having freedom but not really being free 🙂 As a matter of fact, your interview on bp inspired me to take some real action and move back to the unit and location I was stationed at for many years and take advantage of the fact that I knew this area very well. Much like you knowing the area around Eglin very well 🙂 So, thanks again for sharing, I wish you the best of luck and I look forward to hearing about all of your future success!!

  6. Sarah thanks for sharing! I read this eagerly as I’m in a similar situation (I’m AD AF). What episode was your interview? Also, if it’s OK with you, would it be Ok to communicate via email? I’m finding it difficult to relate to my peers where I’m at career wise and I’d like to ask you a couple questions.

  7. Nicole A.

    Wonderful article! Your point about remembering to enjoy the present is extremely important! Lots of people don’t realize that one must be able to enjoy the present time as well as look forward to the future. Being financially free definitely doesn’t mean there won’t be troubles to deal with in life. Money doesn’t make one immune to difficulties.

    A few years ago, I had to tweak my own mindset to be sure to enjoy the present. I found that I was hyper-focused on goals and my future financial standing. Days would go by. Weeks would go by. But I wasn’t thankful for what all I already had (and have) around me and in my life. You must look up once and while from your work. Enjoy life every day! Again, great article and writing. Thank you!

  8. Nancy E.

    Hello Sarah,
    Keep us updated on your journey. I think many Bigger Pockets members are all looking for the same freedom. Those who reach the end of the road, should pass the knowledge down to those who are still trying to reach their goals. Good luck and best wishes from us!

    From Nancy Emineth
    Managing Member
    Emco Pro LLC

  9. John Murray

    Two of the best days of my life, the day I ETS from the Army and the other when I quit my W-2 job. I enjoy my financial freedom, I do what I want and when I want. I’m so lucky most days I rarely know what day of the week it is. I do know when the 1st of month is, I collect rent.

  10. Ryan VanBuskirk

    Well written! I left the Air Force after 15 years (medically, but not necessarily heart broken about it), and having time back with my kids is the most valuable thing I’ve obtained in the last two years. With one senior in high school and two middle schoolers, it’s more important for me to be present in the home and not just a face on Face Time! I’m new in my real estate endeavor and look forward to reaching financial independence with real estate. Thank you for the article!

Leave A Reply

Pair a profile with your post!

Create a Free Account


Log In Here