I was reading The Squirreler’s post about important ‘truths’ she had to unlearn about money, work and financial independence (FI), which led me to reflect on my own relationship with money. I started thinking about the things I’ve had to unlearn, and I started constructing a kind-of list, but it didn’t sit quite right with me. There are things I’ve had to ‘unlearn’ so to speak, or a mindset I’ve overcome, yet if I was completely honest with myself, I am STILL overcoming them.
That’s right, despite how far I’ve come as a person, there is still a bias in the brain that reverts me to my former self – say if I’ve feeling negative or I simply get side tracked in the busyness of life or for all sorts of reasons. Stuff we probably all know in som way but don’t always do them. Hence the title. Hey, if I need refresher every now and then, I thought, why not write these here as a small set of reminders?
But first, a bit of back story…
Snippets of a precocious FIer?
I noticed a theme among my ‘unlearning’ reminders – that I was a cautious saver earlier in life and this has had a strong hold on me. Unlike many FIers gracing us with their back stories, I was always a saver. I grew up in a working class northern town, not from a well-off family but not deprived either. My parents openly worried about money (they had their own business but clearly it didn’t fit with their cautious disposition) and they worked hard. I shared one bedroom with my siblings, and we didn’t have as many things as our friends did, but then again, I also had friends at school who didn’t have a home phone, used coin electric meters, had free school meals, never went on school trips etc. Most weren’t particularly well off where I grew up.
When I was about 18 years old still doing my A-levels, I told my mum self-satisfyingly that, if I could sustain myself on £2.56 a week, I’d be set for life! That was the interest I was getting on my savings at the time (from part-time work). Of course, it was all hypothetical. My mum scoffed at the thought; my heart sank.
I dreamed of a video camera – a massive machine that cost a grand back then (a bit like Wayne from Wayne’s World staring longingly at the guitar in the shop window: “Oh yes, it will be mine”), knowing that I *could* buy it if I wanted to, and that feeling I held onto and cherished. It was a bit of a secret life I led. By 17, I’d purchased shares when BT first privatised in between working 26 hours a week part-time and writing poetry. So, early in life, there were signs of a strong will to become self-sustaining financially. I had seen how much it worried my parents, clearly, and decided I wanted a different life for myself.
I nearly always had some kind of part-time work from young until I got my first full-time job at the grand old age of 27. One moment I was I was on £5k a year university bursary (full-time study) + £3k a year part-time work (18 hours a week), which up until then was my highest ever income! I was skint compared with working friends and was frustrated that I wasn’t saving, but put £50 a month away in a regular saver as I was fearful of having no pension. The next moment I was on £28k a year and a final salary pension! After being offered my position and not quite believing it, I rang back to ask if they were lowering my pay -which in hindsight, speaks volumes.
So, fast forward to now, here are five truths I’ve had to unlearn and am still sometimes unlearning. At first I was thinking that perhaps you may relate to a few of these, but now seeing how these fit with my earlier life, maybe your ‘reminders’ will be different…
1. Don’t get the jitters when the markets fall and don’t sell at a low.
This one’s easy to say, but when the time comes (which it almost inevitably will), you will experience such a mental discomfort of seeing your investments fall, you’ll worry it may fall to almost zero and you’ll want out. Don’t. Hold. You’re in it for the long haul. (Yes, I’m talking to myself.) Also, learn your risk level; be honest with yourself. Don’t go chasing the risky stuff if you can’t sleep at night. If you are checking your account more than once a day, it’s not worth it, you’ll almost certainly end up selling at a low from jittery fingers.
2. Don’t be overly frugal over the important things
We’re only here once, ‘here’ being in this point or stage of life. Every little bit does add up towards your savings rate and it’s great to feel you’ve mastered control of it! But don’t scrimp when it compromises (long-term) health, relationships, your own personal development or other things you value. In other words, invest in the things that need investing in. If you meet a friend you don’t see often, offer them that drink. If you learn better through books than podcasts, buy that book. (I definitely haven’t always been this way, but I learned this was my own ‘control’ issue.)
We got my dad a ride in a Rolls Royce for one of his birthdays a while back and he just kept asking us how much it cost while we sat in luxury sipping our champagne, which deep down, irritated the hell out of me. I mention it not because I hold a grudge, but as a reminder – Don’t become that. 😉
3. Be kind to yourself for making a silly mistake, whether it’s FI related or something else.
The truth is that we want to achieve FI and this takes discipline. Even if we generally enjoy the challenge, we can become quite hard on ourselves. I was annoyed with myself last weekend for losing our any bus dayriders and having to fork out another tenner in tickets, then I was annoyed with myself again for finding the dayriders a few days later in the very pockets I’d rooted through.
Buddha calls this the ‘second arrow’ – you feel the pain of the ‘bad’ thing happening, then the pain of the mental discomfort of your own response. I’m aware of this.
But man, Life is hard enough already. Right? Don’t sweat the small stuff… And hindsight is a wonderful life lesson…. Sometimes you may even need the lesson twice. 😉
4. Know your body enough to know when it’s telling you to rest (or be more active).
Sounds like common sense, yet this flies in the face of self-help books aimed to help you increase productivity – Squeeze that 1% more, then another 1%, wake up 2 hours earlier so you can do X, Y, Z, just do 20 minutes a day etc. -it’s getting started that’s the hard bit. I wrote in one of my early blog posts how I like to be a maximiser. I imagine FIers generally are. But there comes a point sometimes, you’re feeling tired out, not energised next day, suffering various minor complaints, or unwell often, feeling out of sorts mentally, or finding that ‘poison of choice’ is getting a liiitttle too tasty… The message is loud and clear (delete as appropriate): Rest / time out / exercise.
5. When it comes to earning or spending, it’s not about what you ‘deserve’
Whether it’s ‘I don’t deserve my pay’, ‘I deserve higher pay’ or ‘I deserve to have that flash new car/gadget’ etc., just know that by using this word, you’re creating a benchmark for yourself that’s based on your own perceptions (not reality) to justify your actions or the way the world is or should be. I’m not saying don’t use that word, but rather, use is consciously.
Ask yourself: Do you really mean that? Do you want to rephrase it? Inherent self-worth is or should not be about money. And when you ‘switch up’ on more than on a special occasion, you are creating a new spending norm. “Because I’m worth it” was a successful slogan for a reason! It taps into the inner consumerist in almost all of us. Even in a die-hard saver.
What about you? What are your money- or FI-related ‘truths’ you’ve had to unlearn? What reminders do you tell yourself to keep yourself on your path to ‘FI enlightenment’?