Begin with the End in Mind

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.
— Albert Einstein

Any good plan requires a goal. Today we’re going to begin a series on setting a goal for your finances. If you’re reading this, chances are your eventual goal is, stated simply, becoming financially independent. That is, after all, what this site is all about. It’s only natural — everyone wants financial freedom, right? Well I have one question for you:

Why?

It’s a simple enough question. Yet few people ever ask it, perhaps because they believe the answer is so obvious. Surely we all know the reasons to seek out financial independence, don’t we?

Or do we? I wonder.

The Number

When reading or talking about financial independence, the discussion always seems to end up revolving around the number. This is the magic, mystical sum of dollars that will make all of your dreams come true and solve all of your problems. Some call it “fuck you money,” because it’s the sum it would take for them to march into the boss’s office and say exactly that. Endless sites, books, and online calculators are devoted to determining the number (or “your number,” as it’s often called), and how to advance your net worth from its current, woefully inadequate state to match it.

But honestly, when you sit at your desk pretending to work and daydream about what your life could be like if only your bank account matched the number, chances are you’re not envisioning staring lovingly at your bank statements, or swimming in your piles of money like Scrooge McDuck (if you are, that’s cool — whatever floats your boat). No, you’re more likely thinking of what you’ll be able to do once you’ve got all that money, or perhaps what you won’t have to do anymore.

This is important, because no one-size-fits-all book or calculator is going to be able to get inside your head and see what you see when you envision your future as it could be. Accordingly, there’s a good chance that their ideas of what the number should be for you will be way off.

So however silly the question may seem, I want you to take it seriously, and think it over for a minute before you continue. What are your reasons for seeking financial independence? Close your eyes and visualize what your life will look like after reaching your financial goals. What do you see?

No, really. Seriously. Actually do it.

Done? Ok.

Your Real Goal

What did you imagine when you visualized reaching your financial goals? Because this is what your real goal should be, not the number. Your goal is to transform your life into what you have imagined for yourself. This is what will keep you motivated and strong when you run into the inevitable setbacks along the way.

The good news is, if you delve a little deeper into your goal’s particulars, you may find that the number required to get there is far smaller than you might have come to believe. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and amassing massive reserves of cash may not be the only path from where you are to where you want to be. More on that to come.

By the way, from my experience from talking to many people about this subject, the answers are highly varied and deeply personal. There are, however, a few common themes. We’ll go over some of these over the next few posts.

13 Comments

  1. Sean Owen

    Yes, you’re not imagining things – it really is a new post on Renewable Wealth. Thanks to all of you, including Mr. Money Mustache, who encouraged me to get back to writing again.

    I have a pretty decent excuse for my long absence – I got engaged! I’m also in the process of moving across the country. So, I’m planning a wedding and honeymoon, selling one house, buying another, and arranging a cross-country move, all at once. I’ve been a busy dude!

    Ok, actually, that’s a lame excuse, along with pretty much all other excuses short of “I was in a coma.” That’s why I wrote this post while surrounded by boxes and in between a visit from my realtor and more wedding planning.

    By hook or crook, I’m going to be posting regularly again, in spite of it all. (Except, perhaps, during the actual honeymoon. I reckon that’s one more acceptable excuse).

    Thanks for dropping by again!

  2. Cecile

    Congrats on getting engaged ! It’s a pleasure to see you back, and to read you again : your posts are great.

    I actually did the closing your eyes thing, but it was easy because I already thought a lot about what I would do if I were financially independent. So far I have never worked out “the number”, but I have come up with many master plans to take over the world !

    • Sean Owen

      Thanks Cecile! Glad you dropped by again.

      Don’t get me wrong, by the way – figuring out “the number” is a good idea, it’s just that many advisors go about it all wrong. It should be tailored to your actual goals for your life.

      Just to give one example, 66% of your highest year’s income while working is an oft-quoted guideline to shoot for in terms of passive income. But what if you have lived in an extremely expensive part of the country throughout your career in order to have a higher paying job, but dream of retiring in a much cheaper, rural area in a “flyover” state? “The number” may well be far, far lower than conventional wisdom may suggest, and you may be able to jump ship far sooner.

  3. Joy

    Sean,

    Congratulations!
    All wonderful things going on in your life. :)

    Me, I’ll be married 28 years this Friday.
    The 3 kids are grown.
    I have 7 grandchildren.
    My husband and, I are hoping to retire in 5 years.

    I enjoy your take on on FI.
    Keep up the good work!

    I found your blog on MMM several
    months ago.

    • Sean Owen

      Well happy anniversary, Joy! You sound like you have a wonderful family. There’s no greater wealth than that.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Welcome back, Sean! Good to have your stuff to read again.

    I’m enjoying my own travel/summer blog break just now. but new post ideas are stirring….

  5. Welcome back! I have a friend whose a physical therapist, and she told me the number one reason for guys in their later 20′s or 30′s coming in with back pain was due to wedding planning.

    Take it easy, can keep stretching…and writing!

  6. Jacob

    So glad you’re back! I’ve checked weekly (at least) since your last post and was dumbfounded and excited when I loaded your site tonight!

    • Sean Owen

      Thanks so much Jacob!

  7. David C

    Sean,

    I really wish your articles had dates on them. Please add dates.

    Thanks

    • Sean Owen

      Hey David, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      I left the dates off for various reasons, the biggest one being I find most blogs designs to be far too “busy” with unnecessary metadata, and wanted a minimalist design, so I tried to pare down to the essentials. I also try to write stuff that isn’t tied to any particular point in time.

      Out of curiosity, why are the dates important to you?

      Thanks again for coming by!

      • David C

        Hi Sean,

        I guess this is my personal preference vs your personal preference and I accept that. For me, without a date attached to an article I (perhaps illogically) give it less authority. I can’t place it in time, I feel uncomfortable accepting the hypothesis. Perhaps you attempt to write timeless posts, but maybe in 2, 5, or 10 years time it will not be the case (and perhaps it will be)…but I like to be the judge of that and for that I need dates.

        To me dates are really important. Even on a more simple level of being able to conveniently track which of your articles are new to me, which ones I have read etc.

        Thanks for listening.

        • Sean Owen

          Interesting. Let me ask you a related question:

          Since you mentally give undated articles less authority, do you do the same for older articles? If so, how old does the article have to be before you start giving it less credence?

          I ask because this is another reason why I left the dates off – I absolutely do this. If I have 4 or 5 articles on a subject that I might read (say from a search), I tend to skip over the older ones, even if the subject matter isn’t really date related.

          (As an aside, you can see the dates for the articles in the feed. They’re also broken down by year in the archives.)

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