It’s not a complicated endeavor, just will take some time & determination. And a little second guessing of conventional wisdom.
To become financially independent (at any age), you simply need to have enough cash flow from your investments to cover your annual spending. For sizing your target FI assets, a quick rule of thumb is 25x your annual spending*. This guideline is also known as the “4% rule” (4% = 1/25).
If you follow conventional financial advice, you’ll still save this amount of money. It’ll just take 40-50 years of plodding along at 5-10% of income.
Those that seek and find early FI have figured out that if they can save substantially more (40, 50, maybe even 75% of income), then they can drastically shorten the time until assets reach 25x spending.
To quickly create an investment portfolio of 25x spending, you have only the following 3 levers to play with. Again, it’s not complicated – just abnormal.
1) Lower Expenses
Lowering expenses is a key to any early FI plan. The amazing thing is finding out that spending is not tied to happiness. Were you less happy in college, or just after, than you are now? You likely spent substantially less than you do now, because lifestyle inflates very easily.
With this revelation, you can regain control of your financial world. It’s a total mind-shift, no deprivation involved. First stop inflating your lifestyle. Then cut out waste simply because it’s inefficient. Stop borrowing, then pay back your creditors. With momentum, you’ll be able to find creative ways to increase happiness while decreasing expenses. You’ll quickly find yourself with substantial positive cash flow each month.
My personal goal has been to lower my expenses to 50% of my take-home pay, then hold it there as I’ve gotten raises & bonuses.
Each dollar of expenses reduced has double benefits:
- You’ll save more each year to put towards your target asset goal.
We saved $15,000 in 2014 vs 2013. That money is now tucked away in our stock/bond accounts, and compounding each year.
- You reduce your target asset goal (at magnified rate of 25x!)
By lowering our expenses by $15,000 in 2014, we lowered our target assets by 25 x $15,000 = $375,000!
2) Increase Income
I’ve looked to grow income as quickly as possible. Why not?!…I’m going to spend a certain amount of time at work each month, might as well be good at my job and get paid more.
Most personal finance blogs these days seem to focus on the cutting expense side of things. Or just #2 below. Don’t forget #1…being good at your job can have you reaping rewards quickly.
- Get paid more in your current job.
Be a better employee, learn new skills, help your boss, increase revenue for your company, become close with clients, move to another company.
- Create a “side hustle.”
Honestly, this has not been my specialty, but there are tons of great blogs/ideas out there. I think side hustles are best used when you are stuck and have exhausted ideas for #1 above, or are looking for a soft way to become a full-time entrepreneur.
3) Optimize Investment Returns
Now you have started keeping your income – therefore turning it into assets. Be thoughtful about how to let it work for you.
I’m a hypocrite…I have way too much in real estate. But this is like a form of bonus/deferred salary with tax benefits. Still, I will be working to roll this into other investments.
- Don’t leave drag from recurring expenses
Watch out for fees: advisors, funds, taxes, etc.
- Keep a cash/bond reserve
Be ready for rainy days, market pullbacks and other buying opportunities. Investing all of your money all of the time does not leave you the room to weather & even take advantage of these situations.
- Educate yourself
The info is out there…learn personal finance for yourself. Blogs are fine, but check out some real books from the library. There is a wealth of info out there (terrible pun – but I can’t bring myself to delete it).
Limit your expenses, grow your income, and invest your assets efficiently. Much faster than average (depending on how aggressively you can do #1, 2, and 3), you will reach financial independence.
So that’s it…no specific age requirements, you don’t have to downsize, you certainly don’t have to create a blog, you don’t have to wait for social security.
Continue reading in this section for more in-depth looks into each of these categories.
* Derived from the Trinity Studies, the conclusion has been hotly debated since it was published. It’s worth understanding in more detail, but it’s a pretty good starting point.