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slow living picnic

It’s an understatement to say that there’s a lot of uncertainty right now. It’s impossible to know how long this health and economic crisis will last. We have no idea what our world will look like at the end of it.

Both the health and economic impacts will be wide-reaching. If we don’t take social distancing seriously, many more people will get sick and die. Because we are taking social distancing seriously, the economic ramifications are vast. 

Many people are facing unemployment. It would be naive to think that my job would be immune if this goes on for much longer.

I feel fortunate that I already knew about financial independence and had an income that would support a high savings rate. My current level of financial freedom helps me feel physically secure during this time.

At the same time, emotions are running high. Everyone is experiencing a spike in stress and anxiety. Many are worried about themselves or family members getting sick. Most are worried about losing jobs. Some people are seeing their retirement accounts decrease in value. This might require people to extend their retirement (or early retirement) timelines.

If I was still pushing full force ahead toward early retirement, I can only imagine the amount of stress I would be experiencing right now.

In 2018, I was working in a toxic job with a long commute. I was constantly stressed. I was making significant sacrifices (of my mental health and quality of life) to have a high income. I’d still be making these sacrifices, and I would be seeing my ultimate goal, early retirement, moving further and further away.

I imagine that there are many people who are currently in this situation and wondering how to manage it.

Two things right now are helping me feel financially secure and mentally strong during this time.

  • The financial stability that pursuing financial independence has provided
  • The mindset where I’m focusing on building a life that I love now, that Slow FI has provided.

I reached out to many people in the FI community. I wanted to learn about how their pursuit of FI (and Slow FI in particular) is helping them manage through this crisis.

Financial Independence Provides Stability in a Time of Crisis

Pursuing financial independence provides us peace of mind during a crisis.

Lower Costs of Living

Many people who pursue FI have figured out small and large ways to lower their costs of living.

Two main ways that people do this are by paying off debt and by focusing on values-based spending. 

For example, many people focus on paying off high-interest debt like student loans and credit card debt. Then, if they don’t add new debt (where possible), monthly expenses will be lower. 

There are even a few people (including Laura from Rich and Resilient Living and Ms. Mod from Modest Millionaires) who are very happy to be mortgage-free. Laura bought her house using cash and Ms. Mod paid off her mortgage a few years ago. Having low bare-bones expenses helps to give them peace of mind in this crisis.

The second way that people lower their costs of living is through values-based spending. I define this as choosing to spend money on things that you value and choosing not to spend money on things that you don’t. Values-based spending can extend to any aspect of our lives. 

Here is how we choose to implement values-based spending into our own lives. We choose to live in a high cost of living area which means that our costs are higher in areas related to housing. But, we are able to cut costs on things that we don’t value, such as:

  • Transportation – we are a 1-car household, bought a used car with cash, and walk or use public transportation when possible.
  • Food – we eat mostly home-cooked meals, buy food in bulk, and get our produce at a discount with ugly veggie delivery.
  • Gadgets/stuff – We are judicious about the stuff that we bring into our house. We borrow things when we can and only buy things when we know they will bring us a lot of value. 

When you focus on values-based spending, not spending money doesn’t feel like deprivation. It simply feels like we are living in alignment with our values. 

Josh Overmyer recently shared how much values-based spending has affected his life. After the last recession, he stopped buying so many gadgets and gizmos, new technology, DVDs, and clothes. This, along with a focus on increasing his income, helped him ratchet up his savings rate from around 10% to 40%. 

The most important thing that I hear from Laura, Josh, and Ms. Mod is that lower costs help to provide us with peace of mind. 

High Savings Rate

If you are pursuing financial independence, the most important metric to track is your savings rate. This equation takes into account both your income and spending. It also can tell you how long it will take you to reach financial independence. 

Having a high savings rate can help us do many things:

  • Create a cash buffer
  • Build an emergency fund
  • Invest in the stock market or other investment opportunities like rental properties. 

Maria, who writes at Handful of Thoughts, shared that having a large emergency fund allows her to feel prepared if she or her husband lose their jobs. 

Michelle, from Frugality and Freedom, recently finished a work contract. Michelle is semi-retired, and she already had a cash buffer to cover her costs for at least the next 6 months. Her original plan was to travel around Canada and the US for the next 6 months. While she can no longer do this, she plans to focus on passion projects and building up freelance work. There’s no rush to find a new full-time job. 

For Ms. Mod, having a high savings rate provides a lot of flexibility. With two young kids and not knowing how long schools will be closed, they have options. Both Ms. and Mr. Mod decided to work part-time (3 days/week), so that there’s only 1 day each week where they need to try to do childcare and work at the same time. 

The financial stability that comes along with the pursuit of FI can provide us with peace of mind, flexibility, and options during this time. 

Adopting a Slow FI Mindset Can Help us Thrive in a Crisis

Focusing on the finances of FI helps us to better prepare ourselves and feel more secure during a crisis. While this alone can help provide us with peace of mind, it doesn’t guarantee that we will be able to thrive mentally and emotionally during this time. 

The mindset you adopt along the path to financial independence can help or hinder you.

Adopting a Slow FI mindset can help us thrive.

Slow FI is when someone uses the incremental freedom they gain along the journey to financial independence to live happier and healthier lives, do better work, and build strong relationships. 

Slow FI is not a particular number or strategy. It’s a mindset. It’s choosing to live intentionally and using your financial freedom to build a life you love along the way to FI.

Goals are No Longer Primarily Financial

When someone has a Slow FI mindset their goals are focused more on their quality of life. While financial sustainability and freedom are still important goals, they are not at the forefront.

A Better Balance of Immediate and Long-Term Opportunities

Having a wider variety of goals helps us to balance immediate and long-term opportunities.

For example, Chrissy (who writes at Eat Sleep Breathe FI) shared that they’ve loved having her husband working from home full-time. They have so much more time together as a family. They’ve realized that this shift gives them most of the lifestyle that they want after FI. Instead of only focusing on long-term financial goals, they now know how they can build a better quality of life. 

family fun time

Hayley, who is a member of our Slow FI Enthusiasts, shared that her hours have been cut recently.  She’s a surgical nurse, and the healthcare system is doing fewer elective surgeries right now. These circumstances have allowed her to realize how much she enjoys working part-time. She loves having more time to do other non-work activities. 

For Michelle from Frugality and Freedom, not pushing toward early retirement allows her to focus on her short-term goal of building up enjoyable sources of income. Instead of having the stress to generate income immediately, she’s taking time to build up her freelance work. She wants to make sure she’s exploring projects she’s interested in and “following the joy.”

Slow FI helps me focus on immediate opportunities also. During this time, I’ve been focusing on continuing to build up my blog and my coaching business. Both of these are a lot of fun and will help me to build toward my ideal lifestyle in the medium-term. 

For Peter (from Professor FIRE) working part-time doing things that he enjoys has taken the pressure off to achieve FIRE. For him, the focus is no longer about the destination. He says that is critical right now since the destination would feel so much further away. 

Heightened Focus on our Day-to-Day Experiences

For those who are focused on a Slow FI, there is much more of a focus on enjoying each day of our lives. We aren’t looking toward some distant future where we will have everything we want.  We are looking at each day and seeking to experience joy and satisfaction in the small things.

This is something that I’ve been focusing on daily since my experience with severe anxiety two years ago. I also recommend focusing on creating daily experiences of happiness to cope in times of disaster.

Angela (who writes at Tread Lightly Retire Early) shares that even before the pandemic, she had started to focus on experiencing joy in each day. She knew that her long-term financial goals were far away. So, she was already focused on slowing down and living a happier day-to-day life. The pandemic has provided an opportunity to double down on this approach, especially because we don’t know exactly what the future will hold. 

Maria (Handful of thoughts) shares that the Slow FI mindset helps her to not rush through life. It’s okay to slow down and enjoy the ride. 

This mindset has also helped others realize that it’s okay to slow down and take care of themselves.  Jacob (who writes at I Heart Budgets) says, “I’ve realized that I don’t need to be crushing it all the time.”

Ms. Mod (Modest Millionaires) said that the Slow FI mindset helped her prioritize time to take care of herself. It has helped her to let go of strict expectations and to be kind to herself.

From a handful of people, I’ve also heard that slowing down to enjoy life more has enabled people to cultivate hobbies and interests outside of work. While some people are bored and binging on Netflix, people interested in Slow FI are pursuing their hobbies and creative projects. 

Slow FI Causes a Shift in Perspective About Work

For me, work used to be a big, bad, scary thing. I didn’t like it, and it made me miserable.

Now that I work part-time, I am no longer burned out. I’ve started to focus on my own passion projects as well. Because of this, my perspective on work has completely shifted. 

I now see work as everything productive I do that adds value to the world whether paid or unpaid. Money can be a byproduct of work, but it doesn’t have to be the focus. 

Because of this, I no longer feel like I need to escape work. My goal now is to be able to do meaningful work on my own terms and with the flexibility that I desire. 

I’ve also learned that there are many ways to generate income beyond a regular full-time job. I used to believe that financial freedom was all or nothing. Now I see that there are more options than retiring early or working a full-time job.

These options include:

  • Part-time or seasonal work
  • Freelance or consulting
  • Starting your own business
  • Working in the gig economy
  • Investing in real estate  

My goal is to build up a variety of streams of income that I can scale up or down depending on my needs at the time. I’d love to use this strategy to transition to semi-retirement at some point. 

Lauren and Steven (Trip of a Lifestyle) created a variety of income streams so that they could have a workload that was flexible and fluid. This flexibility helps them dial their work up or down when they want to.  The unexpected benefit of many income streams is that losing one has less of an impact. They haven’t been doing much of their wedding photography lately, but it’s only one income stream. The impact is minimal.

Laura, a freelancer (Every Day By the Lake), also has a variety of income sources from different clients and products. This helps her feel more financially secure. During good times, this also provides her with the freedom and flexibility she desires. 

Slow FI Pushes us Toward a More Holistic View of Wealth

When we think of wealth, we immediately think of financial capital or material capital (our stuff). Wealth is actually much broader. Any resource that has value is wealth. 

People with a Slow FI mindset tend to have a more holistic view of wealth. They don’t get laser-focused on financial and material wealth.

Laura (from Rich and Resilient Living) talks about a variety of kinds of wealth. A few other kinds of capital that are relevant now are:

  • Living capital
  • Social Capital
  • Intellectual/experiential capital

Living Capital

These are the natural resources that we have at our disposal that can provide us with food, water, or even shade.

vegetable garden lettuce

A number of people (Laura, Angela, Ms. Mod, etc.) have fruit trees or gardens where they grow edible fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Growing our own food can help us through times of crisis. It will provide us with healthy food when we don’t want to go to the grocery store or if the supply chain becomes strained.

I don’t currently have the capacity to grow my own fruits or vegetables. But, I do have access to an ugly produce delivery service. It allows me to go longer periods without needing to go to the grocery store. 

Social Capital

Social capital is when you have a strong social network, where trust, cooperation, and reciprocity are vital. 

Laura (Rich and Resilient Living) shared that she’s been using her local “Time Bank.” Time banks are such an awesome community-building resource.

Here’s how it works. Any member can go onto the time bank website and see what the community needs are. If you have the capacity to do something, then you get a “time credit.” If you have credits, you can post to the time bank when you need help with something. This reciprocity allows people to become less dependent on financial or materials wealth.

Angela (Tread Lightly Retire Early) has talked extensively about the value of building strong relationships with her neighbors. Not only are they still able to have fun together (social distancing, of course), they are able to support each other when someone needs something. 

It’s been neat to think about ways that we can support others in our social network during this time. For example, we’ve been getting items for friends when we order our ugly produce. This helps them go to the grocery store less often. When they go to the grocery store, they end up picking up a few things for us.  Because of this, we haven’t needed to go to the grocery store since before this crisis started. 

Intellectual/Experiential Capital

The final type of wealth I will talk about here is intellectual/experiential wealth. This type of wealth is the skills and knowledge that we’ve gained over time. This kind of capital can not only help us save money, but it can also help us to put less of a burden on the supply chain.

Financial Independence Provides Stability; A Slow FI Mindset Helps us Thrive

There is no doubt that the pursuit of financial independence provides stability to weather tough times. But, financial stability alone is not enough to thrive in a time of crisis. 

Adopting a Slow FI mindset can help us to come out on the other side even better than before. 

It helps us to balance immediate and longer-term happiness. When our goal is no longer to retire early, we can focus on living great lives now and finding flexible work we enjoy. It also pushes us to build other types of wealth – whether that be in the physical world, relationships, or skills and experiences. 

Is the Slow FI mindset helping you manage this crisis?

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