FI: The Dream of Financial Independence
One of the reasons I started this site was so that I could write about my own quest for financial independence. I think it’ll be fun to look back on when I get there, or sigh over if I don’t. About a year ago I discovered and got hooked on the ERE blog. Jacob pushed it farther than I intend to, but the idea rang true. At the time I was also reading Walden by Thoreau. I truly believe that Walden is one of the highest points we’ve reached in either writing or philosophy.
Let me give a quick synopsis of Walden, and then give you some quotes that never seem to lose their edge. Thoreau was the original american early retiree, he was college educated and worked as a teacher in a time when that was rare. He got sick of the working life, asked Ralph W. Emerson if he could build a small house on his land, and then proceeded to be even more bad ass than Jacob or MMM by building his own house from scratch using second hand materials and planting a small garden from which he ate most of his meals. He provided detailed accounting on all of his costs showing that his home and farming cost less than the average mans cost of rent per year, and how he quickly became cashflow neutral in the first year. He also made a point to prove that if you only have to support yourself, that a man could do “his necessary farm work as it were with his left hand at odd hours in the summer.” These mundane affairs were just the staging point from which he launched some of the most intriguing philosophical inquiries mankind has ever conjured up, such as:
Most behave as if they believed that their prospects for life would be ruined if they should do it. It would be easier for them to hobble to town with a broken leg than with a broken pantaloon. Often if an accident happens to a gentleman’s legs, they can be mended; but if a similar accident happens to the legs of his pantaloons, there is no help for it; for he considers, not what is truly respectable, but what is respected.
It’s hilarious if you take the time to think it through, think of one of your friends, we all know a few, I can think of plenty of my own, how HORRIFIED they would be, how ashamed and miserable, if they had to go out in public in raggedy clothes with a beat up car. It would actually be harder for them, more painful, to do this than to go in public with a broken leg. After all a broken leg can be explained, it can be respectable, but poor clothing, an economy car? Is there any excuse in the eyes of our peers?
If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like. Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d’appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time.
Let it whistle till it is hoarse for it’s pains, let your alarm ring until it runs out of power, let the working masses badger you about status and the importance of things until they have finally given up and left you alone so that you can live your life in peace, in a manner of your own choosing, respectability be damned. I love the imagery of wedging your feet down beneath the mud and slime of ideas and tradition that have accumulated around you, before you were born, until you can see the how deep the level of shams and pretenses are that threaten to overwhelm you without you ever being aware of them.
As I was leaving the Irishman’s roof after the rain, bending my steps again to the pond, my haste to catch pickerel, wading in retired meadows, in sloughs and bog-holes, in forlorn and savage places, appeared for an instant trivial to me who had been sent to school and college; but as I ran down the hill toward the reddening west, with the rainbow over my shoulder, and some faint tinkling sounds borne to my ear through the cleansed air, from I know not what quarter, my Good Genius seemed to say- Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day- farther and wider- and rest thee by many brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving. Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played. Grow wild according to thy nature, like these sedges and brakes, which will never become English bay. Let the thunder rumble; what if it threaten ruin to farmers’ crops? that is not its errand to thee. Take shelter under the cloud, while they flee to carts and sheds. Let not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport. Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs.
Emphasis mine, though the whole passage is fantastic. It speaks to me in a way that not much else does.
Jacob, in more recent times wrote about blog comments in a parallel universe:
Forum post: “I just read an article about a guy that has 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms in his house. Apparently he makes $40,000 a year, but then he has to go to a big office and spend 8 or 9 hours a day filling out forms and going to meetings all week long. He does that all year around. Apparently, he’s been doing it for 20 years or so. I admit it sounds a bit crazy, but it also seems intriguing.”
I’m not sure I could do it. It’s like .. I mean, it’s 8 hours a day! How long do you have to do this for?
I think he said twenty years. So when he’s done can he go back to his family?
Any normal person wouldn’t do this!
Seriously, why have children if you’re just gonna leave them with strangers all day.
How does he have time for crafts? What about friends? What does his neighbors say to this?
Yeah, that guy is crazy. Apparently filled up his house with old clothes, furniture, stuff he never uses. It’s some kind of disorder.
I don’t know. From the article he looks like he’s a pretty smart guy. I just know I couldn’t live like that.
It says he spent 15 years in school.
15 years?! Is he a doctor?
So what is it that he does all day? I have started my own print shop. Three years ago. I sell enough posters and books to pay the baker and the farmer already. I’m not quite sure I understand what that guy is getting out of it. I understand he must have tons of money since it’s impossible to spend that much, but he doesn’t have any business to speak off.
No, he just sits in an office filing out receipts and billing and stuff.
You don’t need to go to school for 15 years to learn that unless you’re stupid or something. Maybe he’s a slow learner, but still, 15 years?!
My daughter is 13 and I taught her to fill out our tax returns. It certainly didn’t take 15 years to teach her that. More like 15 hours.
Well, the main problem I think is that he does not have any kind of shop at home, so he has to go to that office to be able to feed himself.
Yup, he lost his assets. He has no investments. The only land he controls is what is under his house. And nothing grows in his garden. At least nothing edible.
Okay, that’s pretty sad.
Haha! What a loser.
LOL I suppose the next thing he’ll do is to take up another job so he can work 80 hours a week. What does his wife say to him about never being home?
I bet 50/50 he’s gonna get divorced.
I heard somewhere that he rents the house.
What is rent????
Three bath rooms? I guess that’s fun if you like cleaning toilets.
The MMM blog now carries the torch of these ideas, and I have become one of the many who hope to spread the message farther and wider. It is good work, and why shouldn’t we all be free? How can anyone think that spending the majority of your life tethered to one desk or another, one task or another, is reasonable, or even sane? It’s not. We’re all crazy, if you lived in a nut house and everyone around you was crackers and that was how the entire world operated you would not be in circumstances much different than we find ourselves in now.
Much of our species has lived in want and deprivation for millennia, many still do. But let’s reiterate: “Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs.” I firmly believe that anyone can obtain more than they need, at least in the western world, if you can do that you can live freely at least a quarter of your year, and hopefully spin that in to the rest of your years, living with more than you need yet without the burden of losing the majority of your time to work.
How many more days of work will I need to complete to pay off the purchase I am about to make? Which do I want more, the freedom or the thing? How much longer do I want to delay the first day that I wake up without an alarm clock, take a leisurely shower, and prepare myself a breakfast at my own pace while deciding how to live my life?