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You didn’t procreate mindfully
On a trip a few years ago to Louisville, Kentucky we happened upon a guilty pleasure we hadn’t entertained in years — a White Castle restaurant. So we quickly veered off the road, entered the forlorn eatery and ordered an embarrassing amount of belly bombs.
And while we waited for our greasy little square burgers to be prepared, we started conversing with the cashier, a lovely young lady. And the more we talked, the more I got depressed. It turns out our lovely cashier had two kids, no husband, and no credential beyond a high school diploma. She wasn’t 20 yet and she managed to saddle herself with a financial handicap (unwed motherhood) that in all likelihood will doom her to a life of want and struggle.
Achieving financial independence is hard enough without kids. If you want to achieve financial independence at a relatively early age, and do so with some mini-yous in tow, you better do some serious thinking and planning.
Raising kids properly is a very time-consuming and wallet-draining proposition. This doesn’t mean procreating and financial independence are mutually exclusive. It just means you can’t procreate willy-nilly. If you start having kids before you have savings, worthwhile skills, social capital, and income redundancy, you will be working — at the very least — until your full Social Security retirement age.
Read: How to raise frugal kids as you save for early retirement and Growing up with FIRE: These adults on the path to early retirement share lessons from their frugal parents
You have destructive vices
There’s a difference between watching a lot of television and smoking a lot of crystal meth. The former is bad in a spiritual sense. Do you really want to look back on your life and realize that you spent the bulk of your free time sitting in front of a glowing rectangle, doing nothing? The latter, however, is really bad in a financial sense. It’s hard to be a financial dynamo when you fry your brain and lose your ability to function.
Every man and woman must have a vice. So choose your vice carefully. Choose a vice that’s financially benign (i.e., blogging, knitting, playing Scrabble, etc.). Don’t choose a vice that will bleed your bank account, jeopardize your health and erode your dependability as a worker (i.e., smoking cigarettes, betting on the horses, spending hours ensconced in a bar stool, snorting cocaine, etc.).
Read: This couple went from saving almost nothing to 70% of their income — here’s how they changed their mindset
You have no interest in mastering your job
Up until my mid-30s, my career was floundering. And the biggest reason for this was my attitude. I had a very elevated opinion of myself, and I thought I was too good for picking up dead animals, shoveling asphalt and cutting grass. (Not a good opinion to have when you work for a highway department and your job is to pick up dead animals, shovel asphalt and cut grass).
Now don’t ask me why, but it suddenly hit me that it may behoove me to show some pride. I may not ever find success, I reasoned, but at least I would be worthy of it. So I dedicated myself to becoming the best damn dead-animal picker-upper, asphalt shoveler, and grass cutter around.
And then a funny thing happened. People noticed. I started getting compliments from taxpayers and upper management alike. And then opportunity followed. I told a supervisor I had database skills and he gave me a shot at improving his operation. And I improved his operation. Soon other supervisors sought my help. And then the commissioner put me on his staff.
In a few short years, I went from picking up dead animals to being the IT guy of the highway department. And all because I decided to do an unglamorous job exceedingly well.
There is no such thing as a menial job. There is such a thing, however, as a menial attitude. If you think you’re above certain tasks and jobs, and you half-ass every “lowly” assignment your employer gives you, it’s highly unlikely your employer will pick you for the more plum and remunerative tasks and assignments he or she has to offer. Competency begets promotions and raises. Half-assedness begets wage stagnation or worse.
You don’t have a burning desire to create
Since Groovy Ranch went operational nine months ago, I’ve made a table, constructed a crude gym, painted Old Glory on our garage and fabricated a tray to complement our coffee table. All told, these four projects cost me around $300 in materials. [Mrs. Groovy here: You forgot to mention the row of wall hooks with the wood stained to match the table.]
In the scheme of things, my four creations are hardly profound. Any well-manicured ape can connect pipe to wood and slap paint on the side of a building. But these mundane creations make me happy. They also give me a sense that I matter, that I’m not just some schnook who has completely surrendered the physical manifestation of his world to others. I too have a say in what my world looks like. I’m a creator, goddamit!
Now contrast the make-things-way of bringing meaning to one’s life with the buy-things-way. Not only is creation therapy more impressive than retail therapy — in a world awash in easy credit and online shopping, it doesn’t take much effort to buy something — but it’s also a hell of a lot cheaper. Wowing people with Old Glory cost me less than 50 bucks. Wowing people the retail way (e.g., a fabulous trip, a remodeled kitchen, a pair of tickets to the Super Bowl, etc.) would have cost considerably more.
You’re afraid to look poor
There are two kinds of people when it comes to having a realistic shot of achieving financial independence. Those who can look rich and still maintain a high savings rate, and those who can’t look rich if they hope to maintain a high savings rate. Mrs. Groovy and I definitely fell into the latter category. We made decent money for North Carolina, but nowhere near the amount necessary to fill our lives with upper-middle-class trappings and max out our 401(k)s. It was one or the other. Show the world “we arrived” and work until 70, or let the world think we were struggling and retire at 55.
We decided to “look poor” (Walmart clothes and a 2004 dinged-up Camry were great camouflage) and save roughly 60% of our gross household income.
“Looking poor” is the superpower that makes financial independence possible for those with middle-class incomes. If you can’t stomach the thought of looking like some working-class schlub, and you are saddled with a middle-class income, you will never be financially independent.
(Just in case you may not be familiar with the Groovy story, Mrs. Groovy and I didn’t start saving for retirement until the ripe old age of 45. But thanks to a 60% savings rate, and a kind stock market, we were able to achieve financial independence in 10 years.)
Read: Want to retire rich? Have a small wedding and invest the rest
You don’t have supportive family and friends
Moving from Long Island to North Carolina proved to be the smartest financial move of our lives. Had Mrs. Groovy and I remained on Long Island, there’s no way we’d be financially independent today. But I doubt very much that we would have pulled the trigger on geoarbitrage if our families were against it. It’s not that Mrs. Groovy and I are wusses. It’s just that we have terrific families and it would have been hard to disappoint them. Thankfully, however, our families couldn’t have been more supportive.
Achieving financial independence is very hard. You need discipline, good health, a steady income, a friendly stock market, and — above all — family and friends who want you to succeed. If your family and friends think financial independence is stupid, and they subtly and not so subtly sabotage your efforts, you will never achieve financial independence.
Read: 12 good investing lessons to teach kids — and yourself
You care more about some team than your net worth
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a dear friend about 20 years ago. The opening of a new NFL season was nigh and my friend couldn’t have been more jacked. He really thought his team, the New York Jets, was on the cusp of something big. When he asked for my opinion of the Jets’ prospects, I told him that I didn’t give a flying f*ck about the Jets. I was more concerned with him and me having “a great year.” The Jets, as well as any sports franchise on the planet, meant nothing to me.
My friend was stunned. His life was just as dreary as mine if not more so, and, yet, despite the physical, social, and financial woes that dogged his existence, he found my lack of concern for the New York Jets bewildering. In his mind, few things were more important than rooting for a bunch of strangers running around in costumes on television.
There’s nothing wrong with professional sports, of course. It’s fun going to or watching an occasional game. It’s even fun rooting for “your team.” But if you think sports are critical to life on earth, and you invest more time, emotion and money in them than you do your own finances, you will never be financially independent.
You consume too much mainstream news
Mainstream news today isn’t designed to make you a more thoughtful citizen. It’s designed to make you think the “system’s rigged,” opportunity is dead and your only hope is to give the guys and gals running Washington more control over your life. In other words, our country’s most high-powered journalists want you to be a well-mannered slave. Just kiss the rings of our glorious politicians and all will be well — you’ll have all the bread and circuses your benighted soul will ever need.
Life, however, isn’t a spectator sport — especially if you want to do something great like achieve financial independence and retire early. If you believe the crap peddled by mainstream news — that you have little agency over your circumstances and that financial success is only for the “privileged” few — you won’t come close to ever sniffing financial independence.
You have never been taught the art of being satisfied with enough
Mrs. Groovy and I recently bought a new-to-us car, a 2016 CR-V. Was it the best car Mrs. Groovy and I could afford? No. Mrs. Groovy and I could have easily bought the 2019 version of any of the most popular sedans or SUVs. But our 2016 CR-V with 32,000 miles was a huge improvement over our old car, a 2004 Camry with 192,000 miles. As far as fulfilling our transportation needs, the 2016 CR-V was more than enough.
There’s a big difference between what is enough — the minimum required to get the job done — and what you can afford. Does anyone really need a McMansion? Or a brand-new Cadillac Escalade? Or a Harvard education? Aren’t a humble cottage, a used but decent car and an education at a nondescript state college perfectly adequate?
If you’re constantly choosing afford over enough and you’re always flirting with the carrying capacity of your paycheck, you will never save and you will never know financial independence.
Read: Want to retire early? Tanja Hester went from freewheeling spender to financial independence, and says it’s simpler than you think
You’d rather wallow in victimhood than learn from the financially successful
Prior to my 40th birthday, I was the king of lamentations. “My financial life would be so much better,” I would torture myself. “If only…”
• “I hadn’t been a sociology major in college.”
• “I hadn’t landed a job with such a dysfunctional municipality.”
• “I hadn’t been born on Long Island, one of the highest cost-of-living areas in the country.”
• “I wasn’t being screwed over by the politicians in Washington and Albany.”
• “I didn’t have such lousy connections.”
And here’s the rub. I had co-workers at my dysfunctional municipality who didn’t have college degrees, who faced the same financial headwinds that I faced, and who were thriving financially nonetheless.
I had friends and family members who couldn’t come close to outscoring me on the SAT but had no problem out-earning me and out-saving me.
And then there were the libraries and bookstores all around me. Each one of them had scores of personal finance books written by financially successful people. And all that financial wisdom was there for the taking — for free, or for less than the cost of a case of beer.
Here’s the bottom line. Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started studying what financially successful people did and didn’t do, nothing could stop my financial renaissance. All I did was take note of their strategies and attitudes and apply those strategies and attitudes to my circumstances. Easy peasy. The next thing I knew I had a shockingly large portfolio and the chutzpah to start a personal finance blog.
The victim mentality is the bane of financial independence. If you don’t believe you’re the primary impediment to your financial success, and you look at the wealthy and successful not as teachers, but as crooks, you will forever be a financial basket case.
Mr. Groovy and his wife started saving for retirement at 45 and achieved financial independence in just 10 years. He blogs on his website, Freedom Is Groovy, where this first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @FreedomIsGroovy.