I am a personal finance case study. Turn to the back of the new edition of Your Money or Your Life (page 292 of YMOYL I think) and you can find a short description of my life as an FI-er (shorthand for financially independent,) someone who followed the 9-Step program that Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin popularized in workshops, seminars, and books. Even if I hadn’t written my own book on personal finance, Dream. Invest. Live., a bit of my life would be lived in public. My public life doesn’t result in much fan mail. So far, total sales for my book are less than one week’s traffic to this blog. I decided to blog about the roller-coaster nature of life as an individual investor because too much of what is out there is academic and abstract. I never expected to be writing about such depths as my current situation. Many folks are nice enough to express sympathy and discrete enough to avoid the tough questions. It took a stranger to ask the question that I’ve asked myself frequently and that others may have on their minds. It is a key question that should be answered.
On May 26, 2012, at 8:40 PM, (name withheld by request) wrote:
Your name is mentioned in the YMOYL book. Just out of curiosity, I
googled your name and landed on your blog
I can see that you are selling your house and looking for job. Would
you say that YMOYL didn’t work for you and that you didn’t really
achieve financial independence? Would you like to share your thoughts
so we all can learn from your “mistakes”?
Here’s the first part of my response.
Excellent question. So many dance around that issue instead of asking me directly.
The 9-steps worked for me – for a while; and even now I definitely benefit from the exercise and philosophy. Because I worked through those steps I am very aware of my values, my goals, and what I have to offer. It helps to realize that my current situation is one of not making enough money. For some it is a case of spending too much regardless of their income, and a feeling that they have no control. I’m glad that I can look at my situation and identify that my expenses are reasonable and that my income is the issue; and that my skills (consulting, engineering, writing, art, speaking) can all provide that income with a bit of luck. Come on luck, or perseverance, or whatever.
One of the cautions about any financial plan is that there are no guarantees. Achieving financial independence through Joe and Vicki’s 9-Step program is no different. At some level, reaching that goal is merely reducing the probability that there will be a financial upset based on a long list of assumptions. How long are you going to live? Will there be a major illness in the family? One friend pointed out that my portfolio of companies is fine, but that the portfolio of those stocks are drastically undervalued right when I needed them. Another friend pointed out that it took one of the greatest financial upsets of modern times to put me into my position. In our current economy, some worry that currencies may collapse or that hyper-inflation may kick in. Throughout modern history economies have had major upsets like those. The folks that do best are those that are aware of their situation, not merely those with the biggest piles of cash. (I might have to re-read Joe’s story about Russian bonds.)
I don’t know how my situation or this economic upset will turn out. The program helps me see a path through and clear, but like I said, even at this point there are no guarantees in either direction.
Thanks for the inspiration to think some of this through. I’d like to go on in greater depth and in a more public manner. Do you mind if I use your question as the basis for a blog post? I can leave your name out of it if you’d prefer anonymity.
Oh yeah, and as for my mistakes – Yeah, I’ve thought about them a lot, a lot. Hindsight is 20/20. Replaying my life, the biggest influences were not financial choices but life choices: relationships, career choices, etc. The best advice I’d give myself would be to skip the “shoulds”. My approach to money wasn’t as much an issue, didn’t lead to as great a loss, as trying to live according to someone else’s rules. If I’d done that, and gained the awareness of my relationship with money, I probably would have retired earlier, be debt free, and have established a better backup plan. But hindsight is 20/20 and even that is not a guarantee. If it helps, if I won the lottery, I’d probably invest the same way I always have, live in a small house, keep busy, do good work, have fun, travel and basically be who I was and am.
Stay tuned. It has been one amazing ride. And thanks again for your question. (I hope you are doing well. Check in with New Road Map Foundation newroadmap.org, where I’m the Secretary, or the Simple Living Forums simplelivingforum.net for more connections.)
Here’s what’s come to mind since then.
The 9-Steps described in Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL) reinforced my frugal nature, where frugality is redefined as respecting the world around us. People, time, and the physical bits of this planet are precious. Money only exists as an abstraction that we invented, and that represents life energy. Wasting money is wasting life. Winning a million dollars and then burning it would be disrespecting a lot of other people’s life energy. Oddly enough, that effectively happens in the financial markets daily.
The way I spend my money reflects my frugality, my respect for the world. The 9-Steps did a very good job of providing a vocabulary and structure to how I prefer to live. I am very aware of the alignment between my values and how I spend my money.
The amount of money that I make is the current issue. The 9-Steps confirm and help me focus on that. Until about two years ago I was making almost enough. Then too many of my stocks were hit by aberrant misfortune. There’s good reason to believe they will recover. Sooner is much better than later. Since then I’ve been scrambling to energize my backup plan (aka my consulting, writing, art, etc.) and trying to find a good job (see My Jobs Report Month 9). In the meantime, none of those efforts are working quickly enough so I prudently must sell my house (Home For Sale Alas.)
Going through what I’ve been going through without the 9-Step program would be unhealthily tough. It’s been bad enough even with that support. There’s an aspect to financial independence that can sound like a dodge, but it is real. Financial independence is not just early retirement or a massive pile of money (though I wouldn’t turn it down). Financial independence also has an emotional component. I know people who have hundreds of thousands more than me, who are making over a hundred thousand a year, who have anxiety levels far above mine. I feel sorry for them and encourage them to step through the 9-Steps, at least for the emotional benefits.
I definitely look forward to re-attaining the logistical aspects of financial independence. (Stay tuned for that.) My financial disparity constrains my life and can be depressing. (Pity my friends who have to put up with my down days.) But I can at least celebrate the knowledge that my self worth is not determined by my net worth. I like me. I like the world. Getting paid so I can pay my bills is merely getting one abstraction to deal with another abstraction, which would merely be an academic exercise if it wasn’t for the cost of food, housing, clothes, health care, etc. Sigh. Hey look. Someone just emailed me a link to a librarian’s job. You see, something good, or even great, will turn up; and then I’ll be able to claim both aspects of financial independence. I’m worth it.
Maybe I’ve really got two out of the three.
- What I spend? In comfortable control.
- What I make? Not enough – yet, but been there and can get there again.
- What and how I’ll save? I wrote a book about that, and still believe in it.