At a time where so many Americans see “retirement” as a pipedream, it’s hard for most to even imagine a scenario where “early retirement” is a remote possibility.
But why shouldn’t it be in consideration today? With enough planning and intention, why shouldn’t you be able to make the idea of early retirement a realistic consideration?
Let’s hash it out…as I write this I’m 37. I landed with a great company starting out in my early 20’s and had the opportunity to make what most would consider a great living by the time I was in my mid-20’s.
I’ve heard it all when it comes to investment recommendations, so let me start by offering a quick piece of advice from personal experience…guard yourself carefully when listening to other people when it comes to YOUR money.
As you start making money, a lot of people will be quick to offer you “advice” about what you should do with it. Most of the people who offer that kind of guidance have an ulterior motive, not to mention that most of them don’t follow their own advice, so guard yourself accordingly.
The most costly mistake we make with money is making decisions from a position of ignorance. Know going into it, that the answer to establishing financial security and prosperity has little to do with a specific investment or strategy. It’s about operating with an intentional mindset, and a few basic principles that you base your decision making on.
Ok with that said, here’s the framework I’d recommend if you’re trying to accelerate your progress.
Start with the end in mind– Think long and hard about what you really want out of life. No matter how old you are, this will change and evolve over time, but clarifying your vision around what you really want is the single most important thing you can start with because it sets the stage for everything else you do. If you were to think into the future what would a “dream come true” outcome look like? What would be required to support that result? Crystalize that picture as clearly as you possibly can.
Establish, and regularly revisit your priorities– Who and what is most important to you? Who are the people you want to invest your time and energy into? What are the things you want to spend your time doing? How do you want to contribute to the world? Clarifying your priorities is important, because life will inevitably throw you curve-balls along the way, so being clear about what’s most important to you will help you maintain focus when you get knocked off track.
The most important investment you can make is the investment in your human capital –While most financial professionals will try to convince you where you should invest your money to get ahead, remember there’s no silver bullet, and no short cuts when it comes to achieving financial security. The most important place you can invest your resources – money, time, effort, energy, and focus are in yourself. Invest in your education, and in the things that fire you up and get you excited. Spend your time exploring what your unique abilities are. The things you’re uniquely great at and love doing; things you probably take for granted cause they come most natural to you. If you spend your time and attention on these things, it will open up all kinds of opportunities for you as you move ahead in life.
The second piece of human capital is relationships – Seek to surround yourself with the right people. Those who are doing, or have done what you aspire to do, and support you with positive energy while challenging you to be the best version of yourself.
Operate from a position of service to others – We build relationship equity by helping those around us to get more of what they want. In turn, you’ll get a lot more of what you want.
Get your foundation in place –save enough money in your bank account to cover your expenses for 6–12 months, whatever makes you most comfortable.
Cash flow over accumulation –financial freedom isn’t delivered by an arbitrary # on paper – counter to most conventional wisdom. It’s provided by knowing you have income coming in every month to allow you to do what you want to do, without financial restriction. When considering where to put your money, make sure you have a good understanding of what the investment is designed to do, and how that aligns with what you’re trying to accomplish.
Two key inputs to cash flow – income and expenses. If you want to get financially free, you need to get to a position where your income exceeds your expenses, even if you aren’t working to earn the income. Knowing this, there are two ways to accelerate progress – increase income and decrease expenses. Believe me, I know how basic and elementary this sounds, but most people don’t take the time to really think through the simple mechanics that are influencing their progress (or lack thereof).
Value-based spending plan –budgeting sucks. I personally don’t do it. But I do my own version of it by focusing on what I call “value-based spending”. Going back to a couple of our earlier principles, what is most important to you? What brings you the most happiness and fulfillment? Focus as much of your resources here, and cut out the things that aren’t serving you. You’ll accomplish the same thing as a restrictive budget would provide, but with a much greater sense of satisfaction, at least from my experience.
Pay yourself first –most of us are taught that when your income comes in, to pay all your bills, debts, etc. and then hopefully you have a couple of dollars left at the end of the day to save. Reverse that. Automate your savings by paying yourself first. At least 15 – 18% of your take-home income if you can. If that feels like too much for where you are today, dial it back to 8–10% and increase it as you improve your cash flow. It creates an interesting psychological shift when you make a point of paying yourself first. Somehow you adjust your behavior and figure out how to take care of everything else, even if that first percentage is removed from the spending plan. Out of sight, out of mind.
Create your “Freedom Account” –Carve out 3% in a second account that’s specifically designed to spend guilt free on whatever you want. Getting to a position of financial security sucks if you can’t enjoy the ride on the way. Intentionally set aside a portion of your income into an account that’s specifically designated to doing whatever you want…travel, shop, entertainment, etc.
Keep more of what’s yours –This also requires you to shift your focus away from what conventional financial wisdom preaches. Most advice focuses you on saving 10% and then investing that 10% in the stock market – do it long enough and you’ll have a nest egg at the end that, fingers-crossed, will let you retire…that’s hope and pray strategy, that I personally think sets more people up for failure than success. Intentionally pay yourself and save as we’ve already mentioned, but don’t lose sight of the other 80–90% of your income in the process. Most of us have thousands of dollars slipping through our fingers unnecessarily, every month. 30–40% of your money goes to taxes, and another 30–40% goes to financing debt and lifestyle. That’s a ton of money that can be recaptured and put to work by simply auditing your monthly expenses. Bad or inefficient loans, overpaying on taxes, paying twice for overlapping insurance coverage…just a few of the most expensive mistakes most of us make. (**Side note – Find a good, proactive tax-professional who helps you strategically minimize your taxes. Most tax preparers are just there to try to help you prevent an audit which means you’re unnecessarily overpaying the government. A good tax pro will teach you legal ways to use the IRS code to your benefit and put more money back in your pocket.)
Look for assets that cash flow – If the objective is to reach a position of financial freedom, you have to ultimately replace the income you earn from doing your job. There are two ways to do this – investment income and entrepreneurial income. Investment income comes from assets that create cash flow. There are lots of available options to consider, just make sure you do your due diligence and understand where you’re putting your money. Again, focus on areas that you know and understand, and look for investment opportunities that align. This is the most effective way I know of to truly mitigate risk and stack the odds more firmly in your favor.
Consider entrepreneurial endeavors –the second source of income to pursue is entrepreneurial income. If you’ve explored the things you’re passionate about and are best at, you’ve likely uncovered some areas that you can turn into a business for yourself. Even if it’s nothing more than a small, part-time side-hustle to start. Creating multiple streams of income is critical if you’re going to get truly financially free, and the single best way I know of is to create a business income of your own. Not only does this help you from an income standpoint, but the government rewards business owners. The most effective way to cut down your tax bill is to have a business of your own…this isn’t the reason you start a business, but it’s certainly a signficant additional benefit you receive for the effort.
Fire the idea of retirement –The traditional idea of retirement is another one of those conventional ideologies that I’ve unsubscribed to. From a financial standpoint, there’s a lot that I think is broken with that model, but I won’t spend time there for our purposes. More importantly, I think the better objective is to be on a constant pursuit of things that deliver fulfillment and offer opportunities for ongoing growth, development, and contribution. Too many people pursue “retirement”, as a separation from their professional career, only to cross the finish line and lose their identity because they aren’t sure what to do with themselves and all their newfound free time. The idea of successful “retirement” to me is really about lifestyle, and the freedom to do what you want, when you want, with the people you love. So why not pursue the lifestyle rather than an arbitrary endpoint? Set your life and activities up with that as your primary directive and I think you’ll find greater happiness and fulfillment.
All of these things are simple…but not necessarily easy. Continue to focus on nurturing and feeding a healthy mindset and focus, and the other pieces tend to fall into place over time. And be sure to enjoy the ride along the way.
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