The First (Partial) Year of Financial Independence

Financial independence – year one.

It’s been seven months and 17 days since I declared financial independence, cut ties with my employer, since I ended my 11.5-year career at Amazon, since I turned in my badge and drove off with a manic grin on my face, whoop-whooping and laughing the entire way home. (Hey, I’ve never claimed to be mature.)

As 2021 enters its final day, and seeing as Quebec has banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations with its new curfew, this seems like a good opportunity to look back and examine what life has been like during this first almost-year (let’s round it up) of financial independence. Overall, it’s been pretty amazing! Definitely five stars, would try again, highly recommended. I can understand why the elites constantly scare the middle class by telling them that they’d need millions to retire, or that early retirement is so terrible for a worker’s soul: if more people realized how fun this lifestyle is, the economy would permanently change.

Here are some major takeaways I’ve got so far:
Life without a car. Earlier, I wrote about my car-free (and care-free!) lifestyle. I sold my little ol’ 2013 Kia Rio in June, a month after leaving the rat race. The amount I got for it was pretty small, but it was costing me about $350 a month (parking space, insurance, and gas), so simply getting rid of it improved my budget tremendously. At first, it was a bit of a shock, like cutting off a limb.

Fortunately, since I lived in places with fast and functioning public transit (Toronto, and then Quebec City), I’ve never encountered any difficulties. There have been just three times I needed a vehicle, and my Kia wouldn’t have been much help in either of those: moving all my stuff to Quebec, moving a lot of Ikea furniture, and taking the big leather chair from the local furniture store. The first two got accomplished with a quick Uhaul rental, while the third got taken care of with a fairly small delivery fee. In either case, that ended up costing me far less than the $350 a month I paid just to own a car. (Car insurance is quite pricey in Canada.)

Low-key leisure. I like to think of myself as an existential hedonist. I don’t need diamonds, McMansions, or sports cars. I just enjoy getting the most out of every possible sensation, and there are so many of them. The simple sensation of your partner’s touch. The sound of almost every song ever recorded. (Thanks, Internet!) The smell of a freshly cooked meal. The taste of chocolate and wine. The breathtaking sights of a beautiful city. (Yet another reason I moved to Quebec City and not, say, Omaha.) And, of course, catching up on all the books, movies, and TV shows out there. (Did you know that Apple made TV shows? Neither did I!)

A beautiful memory, for the price of a trinket. (Image by Марина Вельможко from Pixabay

Money is time, and financial independence is a way to free up a lot more time than you can possibly imagine. With my particular type of lean-FIRE (definitely no sports cars in my budget), I have more time to enjoy life than just about anyone else out there. If an average 9-to-5 worker gets just two days off per week, and I get seven, I view this as having 250% more resources than that poor baseline person. On top of that, a lot of people spend their weekends just trying to recover from the stress of their day job: there’s relatively little joy or self-improvement taking place. Those days off are spent on mere recovery, not on enjoying life. (Then again, perhaps I’m just projecting from my Amazon years.)

Social life. This one is a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, financial independence means infinite free time. On the other hand, we’re still in the pandemic, which means making new friends or joining new community organizations (like an intensive daily French-language class) can be quite difficult. The final step in my lean-FIRE plan was moving to a brand new city, where the rent was cheap and the surroundings were exotic. I’ve made a couple of friends (and even briefly found a cool partner), and my online friends are always keeping me engaged and entertained, but I’m aware that I could do much more in that part of my life. Hopefully, 2022 will be better than 2021 and 2020 in terms of lockdowns, death, and misery, and all of this will end.

One interesting side effect related to social life is that as you get infinitely more time, to explore and pursue whatever your heart desires (for me, right now, that means books, science articles, and TV shows), none of your 9-to-5 friends will be able to catch up with what you’re doing. I have this sneaking suspicion that my twice-weekly posts (“this show is amazing!” or “this Department of Defense report is brilliant!”) are more annoying than they are entertaining or enlightening. Even if you deliberately try not to brag about your financial independence, it’s still possible to do so unintentionally…

Missing my work. That’s something that every early-retirement opponent loves to say: “but you’ll miss your sense of purpose, your coworkers, and the social interactions!” Yeah, no. Our society conditions us to be tireless little worker bees from the very beginning, and deliberately leaving that behind when you’re in your prime is the strangest act of rebellion there is. For the first month or so, I used to have actual nightmares where I was suddenly back at work, with weeks-old pile of projects, with the dream-logic realization that I brought shame and dishonour upon my company. That was not fun. It took a giant vacation to get me out of that rut and to flood my brain with good experiences and memories instead.

Do I miss anything about work? All the free food and coffee was great, but most of it was too unhealthy or, in the case of the coffee, acidic. The fun interactions at work were easily counterbalanced by terrible bosses or ridiculous requests. A while back, I used to work on a few teams that, for a year or so, were perfectly pleasant to be on, and then entropy took care of that, the way it always does. Some may love what they do, and good for them. My plan has always involved leaving the rat race, using my financial independence as an improbable ticket to freedom. I can’t even begin to describe how great it is to not have to set an alarm – to sleep as much (or as little) as your body wants…

Travel. I’m a low-key traveler: not a mountain-climbing globe-trotting explorer, but I like getting away from it all every now and then. Before I early-retired, I used to get four weeks of vacation per year. (11.5-year tenure, remember?) Booking all that vacation time was always a complicated and mildly humiliating process, though. And even then, everything had to be planned far in advance.

Where will your wanderlust take you?.. (Image by Darkmoon_Art from Pixabay

Financial independence means the freedom to leave. One of the first things I did after quitting my day job was booking a 7-city, 37-day trip across Canada and the US to see all my friends and family again. Then there was the 5-day scouting trip to Quebec City in August to see if this city was any good. (It was, it was!) I took the train each way, which meant a day-long trip in each direction – another luxury I wouldn’t have had if my days off were limited. I’ve just found out that a couple of my relatives might go to Costa Rica in April, so I might very well join them. Ditto for a hypothetical family reunion in Greece in August. (See this earlier post for cheap travel advice.)

I never would’ve been able to do all that if I were still tied to my job. That right there is an indisputably strong argument for leaving the rat race – or at least pursuing your financial independence.

And, finally, investing. The last trading day of the year is still in progress, so these numbers might change a tiny bit, but overall in 2021, my taxable trading account has gone up by 48%. My Roth IRA account has gone up by 342%. (Not a typo.) I was obviously a bit more aggressive in one of those accounts than the other – you gotta love those tax-free gains! Without having all this time at my disposal, I wouldn’t have been able to track the markets, or learn about the finer points of investing, or jump in and out of trades. I almost certainly wouldn’t have taken the time to learn about covered calls, my newest hobby and obsession.

Most people should stick with plain old index funds – I used to be a financial analyst and an investigator, and I can identify trends and dive in more efficiently than most. (Or so I like to think, having beaten the market by a huge margin two years in a row.) Even if you’re not an investing enthusiast, though, I hope this shows that you can become a whole lot better at any hobby you’ve got: playing the guitar, running marathons, doing stand-up comedy, etc. The more time you invest, the better you’ll get, and financial independence gives you all the time in the world.

I have no clue what 2022 will bring. (Just now, I’ve read about florona – an unholy union of the flu and covid spotted in Israel. How weird is that?) The universe is chaotic and unpredictable, and any plans you make will look funny in retrospect. But even so, I know that this coming year, with its 12 full months of leisure and zero stressful work, will likely be the best year of my life. Here is to that future.

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