On my journey towards financial independence (FI) I’ve soaked a lot of great content – books, blogs, podcasts and the like. They’ve helped me along the path. The best of them have become dear friends, or sharp tools to my armoury, or new ingredients for my melting pot of ambition. And the more I have read and absorbed, the more commonality I have noticed in the authors and creators of this content.
I’ve concluded that FI-seekers are a rare breed that share some striking similarities in the way they value life and approach a challenge. Here, I’m going to deconstruct that DNA, the make-up of your typical FI-seeker, as best I can. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you agree with these common traits, or not? And do they reflect your own life values?
Time not money
I believe the classic FI persona upholds one core principle over all others – life is NOT about money. It is about time.
Perversely, while eagerly sniffing out ways to cut our spending and accrue wealth, FI-seekers are actually not that interested in money at all. Far from it. The focus on our finances is a necessity we must go through in order to achieve our true desire, which is to have more time, and more importantly, more quality time – the time to do what we want, to devote to things other than work and chores and simply ‘getting by’ in life.
The vast majority of FI-ers / early retirees / call-it-what-you-will, discover one single truth about sensible investing and that is to adopt a passive, diverse approach to portfolio management.
Passive, diverse investing is where you establish a strategic long-term mix of investments – eg, 60% global stocks, 40% corporate bonds and gilts – invest your money across indexes, such as the FTSE100, and then stick to this portfolio mix as the financial markets ebb and flow, knowing it is likely to give you decent, reliable long-term returns. You’re simply tracking the markets. The flip side to this is active investing, where you research individual industries and companies and trade stocks frequently in an attempt to beat the market.
Active investing is dying on its arse. Over the last 10 years, 83% of actively managed investment funds in the US have failed to beat their target benchmarks. Nearly half of them have folded within that 10-year period. With the advent of technology and low-cost index-tracking investment tools, things are getting even worse for the active investors.
Active investors are greedy. Passive investors are smart. FI-ers tend to learn this quite quickly and keep a large proportion of their investments in a passive style.
We want control, we want choice, we want freedom. As I said, it’s high-quality time that gives you that freedom and money is simply an enabler. But we stand for more than just that. We believe in equality for all, creative expression, clean air and long walks, learning, loving and free-living. We think a lot. You could say we’re a little bit hippy!
But that’s not to say we’re wild or flagrantly spontaneous. As a companion to this desire for ‘liberty’, FI-seekers also have a strong river of analysis and science coursing through their veins. We’re measured, considered open-book libertarians, not afraid to ask questions or push the boundaries, but often do so after much research and within our quiet realms of self-knowing.
I have found that many FI-seekers have very specific moral standards. They may not jump up and down and scream about it, demanding others live by these same measures – quite the contrary, in fact; FI-seekers are generally more concerned with how they and their immediate circle behave – but they believe vehemently in respect. It is morally important to FI-seekers that they show respect to others and trust others to display the same level of respect in return.
On a macro level, we hope and dream that the world can one day embrace greater levels of moral decency and do away with the greed, hate and anger that’s chewing it up.
While those lofty global aspirations are held dear in our heart, they are not as dear to us as our immediate family and network of close friends. Because we appreciate the importance of high-quality time, we want to spend that time with those closest to us, the ones we love the most. We cherish and protect our family at all costs. We create an environment of warmth, sharing and support.
FI-seekers don’t tow the line. We don’t simply take what we’re given in life, say thanks and move on. We want more. And to look for more, to swim against the tide, you need bravery. We never say never, we experiment and try new things, we ask searching questions, we call time on bluff talk, we don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and we will take (considered) risks as we strive for a new, better way of being.
The most important trait of all.
A few years ago, when I first became intrigued by the concept of early retirement, I found a very emotional attachment to some writers in the field. They inspired me. The book Your Money Or Your Life blew me away. I was hooked and excited about potentially making a significant life change, stepping off the traditional conveyor belt of work and taxes. At the start of that journey I was desperately looking for allies – a champion, a success story, a teacher. I was looking for more and more clues as to how I could unlock my own little life conundrum. I would latch on to any glimmer or comfort that I was doing the right thing. And I ended up feeling a real sense of fandom towards certain academics and bloggers.
But over time, this has waned. I’ve come to realise that, while I think we share many similar characteristics, the biggest and most important commonality among FI-seekers is, strangely enough, the fact we are all different. It’s our individuality and our spirit and determination for being unique that truly defines us. We have the verve to take the plunge and stick to our guns.
At the end of the day, we don’t need to follow others, or have heroes. We’re writing our own story, each and every one of us. Every day.