Before I learned about (and actually understood) financial independence, my core philosophy in life was what I considered YOLO (i.e. you only live once).
I wanted to live my best life now. We definitely saved some money (since you are supposed to), but I wanted to be focused on today.
I thought this meant buying convenience, taking expensive vacations, and going to fancy restaurants.
I worked 50 hour weeks and commuted 45 minutes each way to work, so didn’t I deserve to enjoy the spoils of my labor?
When I was first introduced to financial independence, I originally understood it as deprivation.
It seemed to me that extreme frugality dominated the narrative. I read and heard stories of people who:
- Biked everywhere
- Lived in an RV or tiny house
- Never went out to eat
- Kept their house at an uncomfortable temperature in the summer or winter
- Subsisted off beans and rice
- Moved to a low cost of living area, even though they loved their previous location.
People would do all of this while trying to increase their income to as high as possible, and for some, they did this no matter what the cost to their health or happiness.
Some of these people were in stressful jobs that they didn’t enjoy. Others spent many of their waking hours outside of work side hustling to make even more money.
They were making, what was in my mind, extreme sacrifices now to be able to have complete freedom later.
This is why I originally thought Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to live a life of extremes.
I was already miserable in my job. I couldn’t imagine continuing to work at that pace for another year. Doing it for another 10 years while also trying to decrease our expenses seemed impossible.
This misery led me to appreciate the best parts of FIRE and ultimately to come to a new understanding of the journey to financial independence. It has also informed the core philosophy of our blog (i.e. the journey should be as remarkable as the destination).
Over the past several months, I’ve even introduced the new term Slow FI into the FI lexicon, and it’s time to officially define it.
Embracing the Best Things that FIRE has to Offer
Even though FIRE did not resonate with me completely, there were a number of things that appealed to me.
1. Embracing Big Dreams
After I began to read more books and blogs about people pursuing financial independence, it struck me that people were living their lives in ways that I didn’t think was possible for me.
There were people choosing to be nomadic travelers, live on homesteads, or go live in other countries to help their kids become bilingual. Others were choosing to focus on creative passion projects or volunteer in their communities.
People were focusing on improving their health and well-being and not getting caught up in the culture of busyness all around us.
This was very appealing to me. I wasn’t happy within the traditional script of working a 40-50 hour/week job that I expected to work for 30-40 years.
When I was younger I had big dreams, but I felt like they weren’t possible to achieve.
2. Being More Intentional
One thing that struck me is that the vast majority of people pursuing financial independence were focusing on intentionality. Yes, some people took the frugality to an extreme, but that didn’t mean I needed to do the same.
I also realized that I was buying lots of stuff, and it wasn’t making me any happier.
This understanding of intentionality pushed me to become more mindful and reflective about what actually made me happy.
I didn’t want to take this intentionality to an extreme, but I did decide to be more intentional about how I spent my time and money.
3. Anti-Consumerism and Environmental Consciousness
I’ve always been socially minded. I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations and been conscious of the environmental impact of many of my decisions.
Another thing I loved about FIRE was that people were connecting this intentional anti-consumerism with environmentalism. I hadn’t thought about it this way before. I’ve always recycled, tried to turn lights off when I didn’t use them, walk or take public transportation when possible, etc.
On the flip side, I’d never really thought about the environmental impact of having so much stuff. Realizing this connection between our wallets and the environment is a strong motivation for me.
Balancing the Positive Aspects of FIRE with YOLO
There were many positive things that could come with a decision to pursue FIRE, but I still felt that some aspects of it were at odds with my desire to live my best life now (YOLO).
I’ve personally dealt with both mental and physical health issues. I know how quickly our lives can change. Our physical health is not guaranteed, and we could irreparably damage our mental health if we don’t attend to it.
Because we only have one life to live, I truly believe that we should search for happiness and meaning every day of our lives. I’m not willing to put that off until a day I can retire early.
The tradeoff isn’t worth it.
I wasn’t willing to continue in a high-paying, stressful job. I didn’t want to spend my precious free time hustling to make more money. Being more intentional with my money was important, but I didn’t want to go to an extreme that would impact my health and happiness.
Rethinking My Understanding of YOLO
I started to realize that I had a fundamental misunderstanding of YOLO.
I thought YOLO was about consumption. YOLO meant that I could buy and consume the things that I wanted when I wanted to.
When I realized that buying things to make my crazy life feel more bearable wasn’t actually making me happy, I decided I needed to rethink my understanding of YOLO. I sure hoped that this wasn’t the best that life had to offer.
My friend Kara Perez over at Bravely Go recently wrote a post about this fundamental misunderstanding of YOLO. Thinking that YOLO means putting all responsibility to the side just increases our financial insecurity and gives us fewer options in the future. YOLO as consumption makes it harder to live our best lives in the future.
With this new understanding of YOLO, I decided that I needed to take some time to reflect on what my best life would actually look like.
Unlike early retirement enthusiasts, I didn’t want to only focus on what my ideal life would look like in the future once I reached the magical day where I could stop working.
I also wanted to figure out what I could do now along the journey to focus on my happiness, health, and well-being.
Putting My New Understanding of YOLO into Action
Around this time, I was just getting more involved in the management of our finances. I was experiencing a health issue, and I wanted to understand how much time I could take off work if needed.
After doing the calculations, I realized that we could cover our expenses on Corey’s salary alone, and we had a pretty big pot of F-You Money. This meant that I had a runway where I could take time off, take my time finding a job I’d actually like, and even work fewer hours.
This was a great lesson for me on the impact that financial stability could have immediately.
During my time off, we were also able to cut our expenses significantly with little effort. Because we were less stressed and miserable as a result of being less busy, we found that we didn’t need to buy as much convenience or buy things to make our lives feel happier.
When we ended the year with a 60% savings rate, even with my lost income, it was a sign that we could immediately make some big life changes to make our lives better, happier, and healthier.
It took some time and reflection to figure out what changes to make.
Many people in the FIRE community like to ask, “What do you want to do once you retire?” or “What are you retiring to?” A friend of mine who blogs over at Modest Millionaires, instead, prefers to ask, “What would you do if you knew you could never retire?”
I focused on the latter question. If I could never retire, how would I structure my life differently now? If I needed to do the same thing forever, what could I do now to live the life I wanted?
This reflection helped me to move forward. I found a part-time job at a nonprofit, cut my commute time in half, and started focusing my free time on passion projects (like this blog) and my health and well-being.
Given the financial stability that I currently have, I feel like I’m living a pretty awesome life! I realized yesterday that I’m off work for the next 11 days, and I only need to take two PTO days to do it!
Slow FI is the Real YOLO
You may have seen a new term show up in the FI lexicon recently. I introduced the concept of Slow FI when I began the Slow FI interview series earlier this year.
Before we go any further, let’s define Slow FI.
Slow FI: When someone utilizes the incremental financial freedom they gain along the journey to financial independence to live happier and healthier lives, do better work, and build strong relationships.
People pursuing Slow FI could retire early or could retire at the traditional retirement age. The ultimate goal is full financial independence, but the focus is on making the journey as remarkable as the destination.
Like slow food and slow travel, Slow FI focuses on the process, connection to the world and people around us, and our experiences along the journey. Slow FI enables us to live our best lives along the way.
This is why I think Slow FI is the real YOLO.
Slow FI does not ascribe to a two-phase journey, where you work hard now for early retirement of eternal bliss later. With this approach, financial independence is a many stage journey where we make small shifts along the way to live better lives.
Slow FI Enables Unique Lifestyle Designs Long Before Reaching Full Financial Independence
There are so many early adopters (or should we say Fioneers?) of the Slow FI mindset.
These Fioneers are taking hold of the financial freedom that they already have to build lives they want to be living today.
Slow FI is not a one size fits all approach. We all value different things and will choose to focus our time and money in different ways.
There are many people who have decided to trade money for more time along the journey to FI. We have people like Angela from Tread Lightly Retire Early, David from Burrito Bowl Diaries, Mrs. Gov Worker from Government Worker FI, and of course me.
We’ve all decided that the tradeoff of less money for more time was worth it along our journey. And we all use our time in different ways, focusing on passion projects, health, and/or family.
Choosing Work You’ll Enjoy More Even if it Pays Less
Contrary to popular belief income isn’t everything. Once you get to a point where you are able to cover your expenses and save some money, there is little reason to continue working in a job you hate.
Like Chris from Money Stir or Gwen from Fiery Millennials, you can find a job that’s a better fit for your personality, background, and skills. You could also look for a role that provides you with the balance that you might be looking for.
You could also choose to step out of the corporate world entirely. My friend Zach who writes at Four Pillar Freedom recently quit his job to focus on his own online business. While his online income doesn’t fully cover his expenses yet, he is optimistic that it will continue to grow with more time.
My favorite example of someone who is semi-retired is Michelle from Frugality and Freedom. Because Michelle is already Coast FI (i.e. she has enough money saved that she could retire comfortably at a traditional age if she doesn’t touch her investments), she works for a portion of the year to cover her full year’s expenses and travels the rest of the time!
Taking Time Away from Work for a Period of Time
Even if you don’t want to make a long-term shift in your career, there are still options for you. If you are tired or burned out, you could decide to take a few months out of the workforce between jobs, like I did last year.
You could also decide to save up some money to quit your job and travel the world for a year like Wendy from Wanderlust Wendy or take several months to travel around South America like M from Radical FIRE.
Spending Some Money on Things that Will Make Your Life Better
When pursuing financial independence, it can get easy to get trapped into what I call ultra-frugality syndrome. We can get so addicted to saving money and expanding our options that we don’t want to spend it, even if it would make our lives better to do so. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to just keep accumulating more options.
My friend David from City Frugal recently wrote a post about how he’s recently decided to use his hard-earned financial freedom to do things that he loves, even if they cost money. He recently decided to take a woodworking class. Because he enjoyed it so much, he decided to take another one. As a music lover, he also intentionally decided to spend more money on going to concerts to see his favorite bands.
We’ve also written about buying a new $800 wide-angle lens for our DSLR camera. That was very expensive, but the cost was worth it for the enjoyment that we’ll get from using it.
Embrace Slow FI Your Way Because YOLO
We each have a finite amount of time on this earth. We don’t know how long that is. We could live well into our 90s, or we could be diagnosed with cancer next week.
Living with this reality means that we need to balance planning for the future and making shifts along the way to improve our lives.
Your Slow FI journey will look different than mine or Gwen’s or David’s or Michelle’s. It should! This is your one precious life. Live it to the fullest along the way!