When it comes to financial independence, people often talk about numbers.
- “Will a six-figure salary make me financially free?”
- “How much do I exactly need for a comfortable retirement?”
- “Is 10 Million dollars enough to retire at 45?”
It’s great to have goals for your savings, income, retirement fund, and so forth. But it’s unhelpful when we forget why we’re working towards financial independence in the first place.
I used to have goals like, “I’d like to earn a million bucks in a year!” But as I started to study Stoicism and Mindfulness, I learned to practice non-attachment to outcomes. I gave up on those types of goals.
Let me tell you why.
Financial independence doesn’t need to be Instagrammable
Too many blogs/vlogs that promote financial independence focus too much on having exotic beach trips or buying the latest luxury item.
It’s fine to indulge now and then. But it’s a serious risk when you get addicted to consumerism. That leads to a never-ending cycle of earning more and spending more.
I watched the latest Nicholas Cage movie recently, where he plays himself. A highly-paid actor who spends all his money. So he takes an odd job to pay off his ballooning debt.
Cage earns millions and spends even more millions. Similarly, there are plenty of people who earn six figures and still feel they’re broke. A survey found that 38% of millennials earning $100,000 or more a year thought they were middle class.1
In fact, so many of them feel this way that they have a label now: “Henry.” Which is short for, “high earner, not rich yet.”
Henrys usually work in dense, cosmopolitan areas. And they live an expensive lifestyle:
- Owning a home while renting an apartment in another city;
- Traveling internationally very often
- Subscribing to expensive monthly gym memberships, and so forth.
Whether you’re Nicholas Cage, a Henry, or someone who earns the average wage — if your lifestyle exceeds your income, it doesn’t matter how much money you make. You’ll always live paycheck to paycheck. And it’s hard to save money that way.
It’s also difficult to live modestly when you’re accustomed to a very luxurious lifestyle. I saw this random thread on Quora.2 And I don’t know how much he really earns. But I like his honesty:
“I say this knowing the majority of the USA somehow gets by on half of six figures. But as someone who makes well into six figures, it’s hard to imagine life without at least six figures.”
So even when you’re earning more, avoid spending more. It’s very tempting because more money gives you a sense of freedom. But as you and I both know, when you spend your money, you also spend your freedom.
More money doesn’t always mean financial independence
When you have a lot of money but also spend all that money, are you financially free? We all know the answer to that.
More money is not the answer! What’s worse; when we earn more, we often have more problems. If you own a large company, you’ll have bigger company issues. Or, you might be under more pressure to perform if you’re a freelancer with more clients.
I used to chase money because I wanted too many things. I’d wake at 6 am each day and feel like a grumpy old man. And then I’d work until late at night.
I was in a bad mood all the time and I snapped at the people I cared about. I barely saw my friends. It’s a lot of sacrifices to chase after money. And it sucks most of your time and energy that you could barely enjoy life.
One thing I learned about building wealth is that it’s all about adopting a long-term strategy. That’s more sustainable. It allows you to enjoy today, and ensure you have a secure tomorrow.
When you adopt a long-term mindset to building wealth, you don’t have to be in a hurry. You can say no to “opportunities” that pay well but don’t give you the life you want.
Lifestyle is more important than income
No one wants to drown in debt or keep chasing after money forever. And I think that’s why most people want to earn more and achieve financial independence: To have peace of mind.
The funny thing is that everybody knows it’s beneficial to live below your means. The way our society works just makes it almost impossible. But that’s what makes it appealing to me.
Just because the majority lives from paycheck to paycheck inspires me to avoid that fate. To save more and spend less.
Life can still be great that way. In fact, it’s even better. You can always find ways to enjoy life without spending all your money.
When you live in a way that makes you happy and satisfied — will you still need more money when you have enough?