I’ve had lots of conversations about money over the last couple of years. In all honesty, most of them are probably the 'crane your neck at a car wreck' variety. Meaning that most people aren’t necessarily that interested in implementing a certain habit within their own life, they just want to understand why a person would put themselves through such a rigid life of torment. Something interesting usually happens during that conversation, though. At first, we’ll generally be discussing budgets, savings rates, investing, etc. You know, the stuff people really don’t enjoy talking about. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to shift to happiness. Because, spoiler alert, I don’t really enjoy talking about budgets and 401ks, either. Sure, they are necessary parts of the process, but I’ll be the first to admit that an hour long talk about tax codes is for the birds. What I DO really enjoy talking about is happiness, goal setting, transformation, and freedom. These are the bits of gold at the end of the rainbow (and along the way). And today, a day before I turn 35, I put a little bit of that gold in my pocket.
My journey to FI (Financial Independence) started with a desire to simply know more about finances. I didn’t know about investing. I didn’t have any retirement savings. I had recently purchased a house without really knowing what I was doing. That was my initial push. I thought, “If I’m going to be making grown up decisions (like buying real estate), I should probably do a little research about the process.” It didn’t take long for me to find a whole wealth of resources to devour, which I did with much delight. Then a friend recommended I check out Mr. Money Mustache (or MMM). And that’s when transformation entered the picture. That’s when I learned about the correlation between finance and happiness. His blog reads like a psychology textbook about money. To be sure, there are lots of nuts and bolts posts about how to shop for insurance or which is the best credit card for travel hacking. But I found that most of his work centered around happiness. Like, actual happiness. And there’s the breakthrough! Happiness doesn’t come from things. It comes from hard work, accomplishment, community, freedom, and self-actualization. You can’t buy these things with money, but the accumulation of money allows you to pursue them without the nagging (and sometimes soul-crushing) responsibilities of everyday life. Clark Howard puts it this way — “When you see people living their best life on Facebook or Instagram, what are they flaunting? It’s generally not a new TV or pair of shoes. It’s usually an experience they’re having: A trip they’re on or a great time spent with friends.”
Back to that gold I put in my pocket today…
One of the biggest changes to my life since adapting the FI lifestyle is my health. My PE teacher in college put it to our class in the form of a slogan that’s always stuck with me: “Your health is your wealth.” It sounded goofy to me as a 19 year old, but it makes so much sense now. Coincidentally (or maybe not), many choices I’ve made regarding FI have led to a healthier version of myself. Cases in point: Selling my car in lieu of a more physical form of transportation (a bicycle) OR eliminating expensive and anti-nutritious meal options like fast food and soda OR insourcing common manual labor like landscaping and trying to become more handy around the house. All of these more healthy choices (and many others) have been a direct result of working through my finances.
The mantra of CHALLENGE EVERYTHING emerged quickly. Look through your finances, item by item. Come to terms with the choices you’re making. Eliminate or substitute the fluff or overly expensive. Via repetition in my financial life, I’ve adopted the challenge everything mantra in my day-to-day life. Everything is a challenge now. Can I make my business more efficient and profitable? Can I clean the downstairs while the coffee is brewing? Can I run 5 miles instead of 1.5? Another lesson gleaned from MMM, is that life is made up of challenges, both small and large, and a large source of true happiness is facing those challenges head on and conquering them. And so, today, my last day as a 34-year-old, I wanted to make sure I challenged myself. I’ll never be 34 again. Why not make the most of this last day?
So I decided to go for a run. Not such a big deal. It’s part of my weekly routine these days. But then, while I was about a mile away from my house, the clouds started to turn gray. I felt a drop or two of rain. More drops came at a quicker pace and soon I was running in a full-on down pour. Challenge accepted. A weird thing happens when you accept life’s challenges as an opportunity instead of a road block: You become empowered. You can conquer anything. I was literally smiling ear-to-ear as I ran through those wet streets. I actually started running faster. Not to get home, but because I was motivated. I splashed through puddles and waved at traffic streaming by. I felt like a real-life Nike commercial. And then it happened. I was standing on the sidewalk, waiting to cross the street to get to my house, when a car came flying by, sending the most beautiful wave of cascading water over me. It felt like slow motion. It was the perfect moment. I laughed hard, crossed the street, and ran the few more feet back to my house. A triumphant victory, indeed.