Financial independence means having enough financial resources to meet your living expenses without having to continue work for an income - and that's the entire object of the game for your financial life. Thanks to the power of compound interest, it's surprisingly easy to achieve, especially if you start early.
Remember the first time you played the game Monopoly? It can get a little confusing at first, there are (literally!) lots of moving parts. There are properties to consider, there is rent to pay, and utilities and railroads you may want to purchase. Your fortunes can change with the roll of the dice.You can even end up in jail! Experienced players have a big edge over newbies. If you’re a newbie, though, it makes a big difference if you’re taught the object of the game right off the bat, versus having to figure it out through painful experiences as the game unfolds.
Well, your real financial life is about a thousand times more complicated than Monopoly. But, this is no game. The rewards and consequences of right and wrong moves have a direct and often immediate effect on your life. If you’re providing for other people, the stakes are higher still.
You might have been taught the object of the game when you started out playing Monopoly. But the outrageous truth about 21st Century financial life is that almost nobody is taught the object of the game - not in school, not in early financial life when it would do the most good - not ever! Most people go through their entire financial life with an incomplete understanding, a seriously flawed understanding, or - worst of all - NO real understanding at all of what the object of the game is. Well, let’s make sure that won’t be you. It’s simple enough to understand, and after you read this post, you’ll have it locked in for good.
When it comes to your financial life, what’s the goal? Not this month’s or this year’s goal, but the ultimate, long term goal? What does financial success actually mean, and what does it look like? How do I measure my progress along the way? We hear the word “rich” all the time, is that the goal?
Once you have a solid understanding of your ultimate financial objective, everything else becomes much easier to understand. You’ll have a much more immediate, intuitive sense of how to handle the events, challenges, and opportunities in your financial life. You’ll become much more financially sure-footed.
So what is it? What’s the object of the game in your personal financial life?
Two words: FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE
In I Am Net Worthy, we use a simple bathtub model to illustrate what financial independence means.
The water coming in through the faucet represents your income. The water going out through the drain represents your spending - or, you can think of it as the kind of lifestyle that spending represents. What’s most important is the water level in the bathtub. The financial term for the water level is net worth, but don’t worry about terminology for now. Your job is to increase the water level in your financial bathtub.
How do you do that? The bathtub analogy makes it obvious: by consistently spending less than you earn. And if you do that faithfully for long enough - month after month, year after year - eventually the water reaches the imaginary dotted line labeled “enough.” That’s financial independence!
Financial independence means that you’ve accumulated the resources needed to pay for all your living expenses for the rest of your life, without being dependent on a job, any other people, or any private or public institutions.
Let that sink in. Financial independence means you’re free. You can still work, but only if you want to. You can pursue whatever your highest level priorities in life are, and not have to worry about paying the bills. Anything you’ve ever dreamed of doing, but couldn’t because your job took too much available time, is now on the table for consideration.
Knowing what the object of the game is, is huge. Because now you know what it isn’t. So many people are focused on the wrong goal, and because of that, they’ll never achieve financial independence. Here are three very common misconceptions about the object of the game; if any of these are you, time to make an immediate shift in your thinking!
You can spend your entire financial life totally focused on generating the highest possible income. But if you spend it as fast as it comes in, decades later you'll have nothing to show for it. Even worse, you'll have no choice but to keep on working, long after "less successful" people have achieved financial independence. When you reward yourself for career success with corresponding upgrades in how you live, it’s called “lifestyle creep,” and it’s a very common trap to fall into.
NOTE: This was actually a pretty good strategy for big parts of the 20th Century. That’s why you may hear well-meaning folks from previous generations continue to swear by it. In the 21st Century, though, a high income is only important to the extent that it helps you fill your bathtub faster. Stated differently, it’s not how much you make anymore - it’s how much you keep.
The thinking here is simple: if I look rich, I must be rich, and everybody will know it. Obviously, it's a big lie, and the bathtub model shines a spotlight on just how flawed this thinking is. A life of luxury only means there’s a lot going down your drain, which only serves to lower your water level. So why does this counterproductive thinking persist? Easy - popular culture constantly glamorizes this fictitious version of "being rich," and advertisers happily foot the bill (they like it when you’re pretty fuzzy on needs vs. wants). Don't buy it! The truth is, every step towards a life of luxury is a step away from financial independence, not towards it.
Imagine someone who pays every bill on time, has a great credit score, and always makes sure they can afford everything they buy. That sounds like pretty solid thinking, right? Well, it is, but it’s not enough, not by a long shot. The problem is, it's a completely reactive approach. Your bathtub is never going to send you as bill, with a note saying "hey, time to fill me up!" But that's the most important financial obligation you have every month - not the least! So by all means, stay current with your bills and be savvy about your credit score, but don't confuse those tactics with the ultimate goal.
If you’re not financially independent, you’re financially dependent. You depend on something or someone to pay for your living expenses. Dependent on a job. Dependent on family members or others in the community. Dependent on various forms of public and private assistance. The cold hard truth is that most people are financially dependent, and there’s certainly no shame in that. They’ve never been taught the object of the game. But if you know better, you can do better. Now that you know about it, wouldn’t it be better to be financially independent - completely financially free - if you could?
You can. The whole mission of I Am Net Worthy is to show you how, and it’s much easier than most people think. The earlier you start, the easier it is. And now that you finally and firmly understand the object of the personal finance game, you’re on your way!
How fast you achieve financial independence depends on how much you save each month, and for how long.
Answer the questions below using the corresponding sliders to get a glimpse of what your financial future might look like, depending on where you're at and what time-line you desire. This can be somewhat sobering for a lot of people, but also liberating. You now know right where you stand, and knowing where you are is the first step towards getting where you want to go! Like we said before, the earlier you start, the easier it is.
So get started!
If you save and invest $500 a month for 40 years, you’ll end up with a one-million-dollar fortune.
Compound interest is the single most powerful financial force, and it’s the most important to understand.
What you do—or don’t do—in your 20s and 30s has a tremendously disproportionate effect in determining how financially well off you’ll be in the long run.
Compound interest works for you when you save and invest—and it works against you when you borrow. Borrowing money is the financial, mathematical, and moral opposite of saving and investing it.
The single most important measure of your overall financial condition is called “net worth.”
You should calculate your net worth regularly in order to track your progress and compare it to your goals.
The single most important goal in your financial life—the “object of the game”—is to accumulate enough net worth to achieve financial independence.
You can look rich, or you can become rich—but not both.