If You’re Pursuing Financial Independence, You’ll Feel Different Than Everyone—And That’s OK

by | BiggerPockets.com

Once a month, I get the pleasure of going in to a class of high school seniors to introduce the concept of financial independence. This often leads to talks of house hacking, frugality, and personal finance.

In the most recent lesson, Scott Trench, financial independence extraordinaire and author of Set for Life, joined me. As we were talking about meaningful ways to decrease spending through house hacking, biking to work, and limiting eating out, one student had a point of contention.

He raised his hand and asked, “This all seems great. However, I don’t want to sacrifice some of my best years [i.e. college] just to save a few bucks.”

Our response: “You don’t have to! In college, you will likely be living with roommates, and your commute is likely not far, so biking or walking should be easy. The toughest problem is the amount you spend on food and alcohol.”

The kid has a point. However, if you were to ask Scott or me about our college experiences, I don’t think we would say there was a lack of fun, going out, or “boozing.”

What we do say, though, is that if you are in pursuit of financial independence, you will ALWAYS be different. My advice to the person just getting started is to get comfortable being different and going against the grain of society. Remember what Dave Ramsey says: “Live like no one now, so you can live like no one later.”

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Starting the Journey

The first step towards financial independence through real estate investing is finding ways to earn more and spend less so that you can save up for that first house hack. You will see many of your friends spending close to half of their income on rent, buying (or leasing) new cars every few years, and frequently going out to fancy restaurants.

Related: 10 Financial Tasks to Tackle Before 30 (So You Can Afford to Start Your Actual Bucket List!)

After all, they have been living on a college student’s salary for four years, so they deserve it. Right?! Wrong!

You, on the other hand, have looked at it from a different perspective. You are used to living like a college student, so you continue to do so. You live a couple of miles from downtown and share an apartment with roommates just like you did in your college days. You avoid the lifestyle creep. You know it’s much harder to scale back your lifestyle than it is to scale up.

Your friends and colleagues will have an idea as to how much you make and will be confused as to why you are choosing to live like someone who earns half of what you do. You’ll try to describe the concept of financial independence. Some will not be able to grasp the idea. Others will understand but not believe it, and few will actually understand and be convinced.

In the first part of your journey, be prepared to continue to live on a college salary, while earning a big boy/girl salary. It will feel weird. It will feel different. Embrace it!

If you are starting to feel left out, I recommend finding a group of people in your area similar to you. I would highly recommend searching your area for local ChooseFI groups and BiggerPockets meet ups.

Mid-Journey

Now you’re a couple of years into your journey. You’ve been saving for a few years and have purchased two or three properties in the past two or three years. This in and of itself is going to be very different. Most of your peers will still be trying to save for their first “forever home.” You, however, already have a few properties that you are renting out, and the snowball is accumulating an exponential amount of snow.

You are saving 70%-80% of your income, your net worth climbs into the hundreds of thousands, and liquid cash may be approaching high tens or low hundreds of thousands of dollars. You are now able to dole out $50K to $100K for an investment without having a material impact in your lifestyle.

Just a couple of years ago, that $100 expense seemed like a big hit. Now a $100 expense feels more like a $10 expense.

This is where you need to be careful, though, because guess what? It is still a $100 expense. This is not a time to be frivolous; you still need to practice frugality. You can lighten up a little bit from your first couple of years, but keep your eye on the prize!

This is where I feel I am on the journey. As an example, here are a few things that I spend money on that I used to refrain from:

  1. Going out to eat and drinking socially slightly more
  2. Experiences: for example, learning how to snowboard
  3. Rock climbing gym membership

These add a lot of value to my life, so I’m happy to let off the gas a little bit and spend money on them. If you go all-out the whole time, you will burn out. Remember, spend on things of value, and enjoy the journey.

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Post-FI

Congratulations! You have reached financial independence. Now, don’t get me wrong—I am not 100 percent of the way there yet.

So, who am I to talk about life post-financial independence?

Someone who is close and who knows a lot of people who are there.

Once you have reached financial independence, you are no longer tied down to your salaried job. You don’t have to quit, but you have the option to. After achieving financial independence, you can confidently walk into your boss’s office and ask for a raise, extended time off, to work remotely, or anything else that will make your day-to-day life more enjoyable.

Related: How to Finally Break Out of Financial Mediocrity Using the Virtuous Cycle

If they say yes to your request, great! If they say no, you have the power to quit and do it anyway. This is what the community likes to call FU money.

If you do decide to quit, now you can pursue a passion, whether that’s travel, spending time with family, volunteering, or growing your own business. The world is your oyster.

Does this sound normal to you?

Conclusion

As you embark on your journey towards financial independence, realize that you are signing up for a life that is against societal norms. The first few years will feel like a sacrifice, but know that the remaining years will be well worth it.

In handling the first few years, my advice would be to confidently embrace it. People are going to question and joke around with you about your craziness. Be confident and know that your strategy will work and that these same people who were questioning you will one day be envying you.

One of my favorite quotes is one that I heard recently on the BiggerPockets Podcast episode 304 with Nick Santonastasso. The inspirational 22-year old man with no legs, one arm,and  one semi-working finger on that arm said, “You laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at you because you’re all the same.”

Don’t be afraid to be different!

Have you felt alienated from your peers because of your enthusiasm for FI?

Leave a comment below!

About Author

Craig Curelop

Craig Curelop, aka thefiguy is an aggressive pursuer of financial independence. Starting with a net worth of negative $30K in 2016, he has aggressively saved and invested to become financially independent in 2019. From sleeping on the couch and renting out his car, he was able to invest in two house hacks in Denver and a BRRRR in Jacksonville. He plans to continue to investing in both Denver and Jacksonville for the years to come. Craig's story has caught the attention of several media outlets, including the Denver Post, BBC, and many other real estate/personal finance podcasts. He hopes to inspire the masses to grab hold of their finances and achieve financial independence. Follow his story on Instagram @thefiguy!

11 Comments

  1. Avegail Tizon

    Great article! That’s amazing how you’re planting the seed of financial independence into the minds of high school students. Mentoring the youth is what I’d like to spend my time on when I reach FIRE. I wish there were classes for elementary and high school kids that would teach them how to have a healthy relationship with money, with themselves, and with others but in the meantime it’s our duty to help them out.

  2. Jared Wonders

    This is a tremendous inspiring article and well done Craig on instilling this in young minds! I truly think the concept of FI would have inspired me to keep more track of my spending during my first part of my journey in college, however, always important to not dwell on the past and push forward. Keep up the good work!

  3. Mike Brown

    I really needed to hear this right now. I’m almost finished paying off $140k in student loan debt which has been a insane amount of sacrifice over the last 6 years (77 days to go!). It has brought me from “I don’t anything about money” all the way to “I completely understand how to budget, remain frugal, and I want to become financially independent”. A lot of friends and family think I’m crazy for living like a college student but I keep telling them that becoming debt free and becoming finically independent is more important that “living it up”. Sometimes I feel like the only person who understands this thought process. Your article came at time when I’ve recently been hearing people tell me I’m crazy. It is encouraging to know I’m on the right track even though I feel like I’m the only one sometimes. Thanks!

    • Sara S.

      Way to go!! What a huge accomplishment!! 6 years is so long to keep focused. So much life happens during that time. 3 years ago, I had $173k debt, $125k of which was student loans, and I can’t hardly wait to pay it off! Just another year-ish to go until my rentals have enough equity in there where I can liquidate them and wipe out all the debt. I can’t even imagine what it will feel like to have no debt because I’ve been sending every penny to debt still. My snowball is almost $2k/mo so I could relax and “live it up” quite a lot but I’m trying to keep my eye on the prize. People do think I’m crazy. I don’t care. Keep at it, you’re on the right track!

  4. Sara S.

    So true! You really will feel like the odd one pursuing FI or when you tell people what you’re doing they scoff, call you risky/crazy, or get mad at you. One thing that I have been learning throughout this journey is actually limiting talking about my pursuit of FI, the things I’ve been accomplishing with my money (like closing my 2nd rental, paying off my 3 year old car 5 years early, thinking about vacationing in Lake Tahoe over the holidays). It is really cool seeing how much you can accomplish with a good plan and change of mindset though. Bigger Pockets has been an amazing resource for me. In 2015 my net worth was -$165,000, now I have 2 rental properties, paid off $80k of debt, and put another $40k into 401k. Next month I will finally have a positive net worth and I am pushing for $150k in 401k by age 32 and paying my house off before the ARM term is up in 6 years. Since I’m rounding the end of my debt journey, my debt snowball is almost $2k/mo, I’m feeling so much relief, abundance, and gratitude around money. I want to share my happiness, my progress and my story because it just feels so amazing but people do NOT like it at all even if my tone is “you can do this too! let me show you”

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