When we begin our big adventure towards financial independence, it’s extremely exciting.
We can see the dollars building up. We can see our future options expanding.
The later stage of the journey is also filled with anticipation and excitement, as we count down the days to freedom.
But what about the middle?
We’ve got our money figured out. We’re saving and investing regularly. Now it’s more or less a waiting game. Repeating that process until our investments are big enough to sustain us forever.
Hardly thrilling, is it? So today I’ll share my advice for how to get through the boring middle part of your FI journey. I’ll tell you how I dealt with it and what I would do differently.
The main problem with the ‘boring middle’ is there’s not a whole lot to do. We’re already doing all the right things. We just wish it would go faster. Hurry up already, I want to retire!
Sometimes we wonder if early retirement will ever come.
Can you really wait another 5-10 years to reach this state of freedom? After all, it feels SOOOO LONG!
I remember these feelings all too well! As I see it, there are four clear options available which can help us at this point.
Solution #1: Frame it differently
While it’s normal to get impatient when we have a burning desire to reach our financial goals, consider the following…
How incredible is it that Financial Independence is even possible?
We can actually save and invest enough so that we get to the point where we control 100% of our time. We are then completely free to not work if we choose. All in just a decade or two.
That opportunity itself is pretty incredible. Something we have to be grateful for. This simply wasn’t possible for the middle class 100 years ago. Incomes were much lower in real terms. Access to low cost, diversified investments was virtually non-existent.
I’ve met many readers in real life who tell me they’re annoyed it took them so long to find the Financial Independence community. We all have that feeling at some point.
My response is always the same. We can’t go back. Imagine you never found out about FI at all. What if you kept working another 10, 20, 30 years and and never knew?
That would be a real tragedy! There’s always a more helpful way to frame things to alleviate our stress.
Being pleased about the path we’re on is just as important as the actions we’re taking. We know we’re doing the right things. So, we can choose to spend our energies on making the most of our current life, while slowly working towards our ideal life.
Appreciating the time we do have with family and friends. Finding small ways to enjoy our work (even I managed this one!). Making the most of our days off, taking care of our health, and celebrating all the tiny wins along the way:
– each investment we make
– every incremental saving we find
– seeing our dividends come in
– when our portfolio hits a big number
Solution #2: Actively work on speeding it up
Most people focus on this one. And come on, it’s hard not to! There’s definitely no shortage of ways to bring that freedom date closer. We can do the following…
— Find ways to earn more. First, we should make sure we’re being paid well for our job, by comparing salaries and roles on sites like Indeed. You might want to take on more responsibilities in your current role and prove to your employer that higher pay is deserved.
You could start a second-job in your spare time or a side hustle using whatever marketable skills you have. And of course, you can go the old fashioned route like I did, and simply work more hours by doing overtime.
— Find ways to cut expenses. In my view, probably the most fun of all the options. When you can cut things from your life which offer little to no value, it frees you to focus more of your energy and money on what matters.
Like leaks in a boat, increments matter. Finding a bunch of small savings adds up and is immensely satisfying. You’ll also want to carve out a special day (or weekend) each year to enjoy Optimisation Day: The Annual Gift to Your Future Self, where you nail down the best deals on all your current expenses.
— Sell stuff you don’t need. Okay, so this one isn’t a huge cash-producer. But reducing our ownership of ‘stuff’ has multiple benefits. It decreases clutter, mentally and physically. It gives you less things to clean, maintain and replace. And it does create extra funds to feed your hungry investment account.
Solution #3: Make your plans come to life
Start mapping out your retired life. Some of us have a solid plan in mind for when we reach the point of no longer having to work. Others, like myself and our recent guest Orangestreet, decide to simply figure it out later and leave everything completely open.
For some reason, this is how I thought life would look after leaving work…
And it actually did for a little while! But that doesn’t last. You need some productive and meaningful things to do.
So, mapping out your options is a wise move. Create a list of stuff you’d like to do. Write down any skills you’d like to learn. Topics you want to learn more about. Maybe you can even bring some of these things into your life right now.
Sometimes we put these off until later because they seem harder and take longer in our head than in reality.
Now, of course some things will probably have to wait until you’re retired. That 6-month trip around Australia. Having lunch with your family everyday. Hard to do with a full-time work schedule.
But exploring possible part-time retirement gigs and leisurely projects? That one’s easy. You might even be able to try one or two or these ideas and love it, which could change your plans altogether.
Start working on this stuff now if you can. You’ll be able to transition into your FI life much easier having thought about it beforehand.
Solution #4: Say “screw it”, and semi-retire instead!
A less obvious way to get through the boring middle part of your FI journey is to retire earlier instead!
I think semi-retirement (or semi-FI if you want to call it that), is a hugely under-appreciated option. Now I’ll admit there’s something magical about the thought and feeling of never having to work again. But in reality, you can get most of the benefits in less time with semi-retirement.
Let’s put a fictitious line in the sand. I think you can class yourself as semi-FI if you reach 50% of your goal. So if you need $1 million of investments to fully retire, $500k is enough to semi-retire. You can make up the rest from part-time work, and even saving a little will get you to 100% FI over time.
Yes, you can semi-retire on much less. Technically, Mrs SMA and I need zero investments since we can live on part-time income alone. But I think having investments cover half your expenses (or having your house paid off) is a solid and respectable benchmark.
I cover the topic of semi-retirement in more detail in the following post: Semi-Retirement: Your Shortcut to Freedom?
Switching to part-time work and having a shorter journey would be just as satisfying for many people. If you can’t imagine slogging it out for enough years and want to taste freedom sooner, then try it.
Worst case, if you don’t like it you can always ramp up work and savings until you are completely financially independent.
Clearly, there is plenty we can do to sail through the boring middle part of our FI journey. We can…
- Use gratitude and perspective to focus on enjoying our current situation more.
- Actively work on speeding up the process, by earning more and optimising expenses.
- Begin planning our FI lifestyle, and maybe even bring some of these things forward.
- Semi-retire instead, living on a combination of investments and part-time income.
Personally, I got a bit obsessive and focused mostly on #2 – speeding it up. Looking back, I don’t regret it. But I should have more deeply considered the other solutions too!
The middle part of the journey is something most of us find difficult. Whichever of these options you choose, remember to be eternally glad for learning about FI in the first place, and living in a country and time where this is possible.
Because ultimately, knowing you’re on the way to financial independence is an incredible place to be!