Millennials, What the F is FI?
Explaining something that can change your life.
You may have heard of FIRE or financial independence if you have friends that are super into personal finance (or really, really hate their jobs) but chances are you never actually looked into what it really meant.
You may also have heard that you are supposed to work a 9 to 5 until you’re are 70, limp off to Florida, and then count the days “the big one” carries you home.
Well here’s the first of two meanings of FI — Fuck it.
There is no way that this informed millennial generation is playing by the rules invented 100 years ago. To be fair, this was progress in the early 1900s when labor laws and social welfare were a dream at best and a political tool at worst, but let's not dwell.
The key point to understand is that money is a game. And the game can be won by those smart enough to play.
Here’s a surefire way to tell if you are in the game or not:
A) You have almost zero savings, never have tried investing, finance everything, and are banking on an Uncle Sam funded welfare retirement
B) You have an emergency fund, savings goals with a matching large chunk of cash in a savings account, mutual fund investments, and hardly any other debt (with the exception of student loans and a reasonable home mortgage)
Take a guess at which one is “playing”.
Winning is simple too.
When you win, you get to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
Or phrased differently, you never have to work for someone else, punch a clock, sit in rush hour traffic, attend meetings you hate, put up with a shitty boss, worry if you can pay off your next credit card payment, or essentially do anything you can’t stand ever again.
Not bad, huh.
This is also called, and our second use of FI, as financial independence.
Financial independence (FI) occurs when the monthly income from your investments surpasses your monthly expenses.
Stated differently, it’s when the interest, dividends, and LT capital gains from stocks, bonds, or businesses you’ve invested in exceeds how much you pay for rent, food, and other basic living expenses every month. So:
If the stock market returns its long term average of 7%
If you can accumulate $350,000 into “investments” (preferably a low-cost market index fund)
And you can survive off of $2,000 per month (give or take)
You have officially reached FI.
Now we could get very technical here and poke a bunch of holes in this watered-down explanation (stock market returns could be lower/higher, medical expenses later in life may require you to build up some extra cushion, your expenses may increase, you get it) but that is not the point of this article.
The lesson in all of this is that you are much closer to never having to worry about working another day in your life (unless you love your job).
FI is achievable, but it does require that you save and invest.
Open a new savings account and transfer money over to it every month (as much as possible without starving yourself) to cover any financial goals that will occur within the next 5–7 years.
I recommend using Froogal — www.froogal.us — for this (because I had a hand in building it exactly for this purpose).
I recommend you open a Fidelity individual brokerage account — https://www.fidelity.com/ — for this and then read a few articles on what low-cost mutual funds are.
Then, find the lowest cost S&P or market index fund and start putting any money that doesn’t go towards your immediate savings & living expenses into it.
Doesn’t have to be a massive amount at first, but you need to get started.
There are a thousand books out there that are way better than anything I could write that will help you — just google FI, Financial Independence, or hit the Reddit FI, FIRE,
Personal Finance discussion boards.
A few personal favorites are I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Your Money or Your Life, and ChooseFI.