Being on the path to FI makes you reassess your life somewhat. It’s all about priorities: you let your happiness take priority over other things and plan to do what makes you happy. Part of that is letting go of certain things that once made you spend money or you thought you wanted.
Perhaps some of these are actually just me growing up as opposed to FI-specific. But, they’re food for thought for me at least.
1. What other people have
Most people want to enjoy their money. They feel that, because they work hard, they deserve to live in comfort and treat themselves with nice things. That might well make them happy. So keep doing what makes you happy, people.
You can treat yourself whilst saving for financial independence. The problem arises when people’s idea of comfort, or what they need to be happy, inflates with their income (lifestyle inflation). I fell headfirst into this trap when I got my first proper paying job. I saw all the things my colleagues had, how they dressed, what brands they wore, what bag they brought to work, and I wanted to fit in.
Over the years, I realised that this didn’t make me happy. What I thought made me happy – earning lots of money to spend on nice clothing and evenings out and expensive bags and shoes – was not working. I bought and did these things with the conviction that they would add to my overall happiness. I convinced myself that other people were happier with their lives. If only I had what they had I would be too. Once I had X, I would be happy (or happier).
This, of course, isn’t true. I see you nodding – but it was news to me.
A few years ago I slowly realised that if I saved more money and spent less, I could have more freedom. I could be happier putting time and energy into a job I enjoyed rather than having to maintain a level of salary to fund my happiness ‘hits‘.
My first real challenge was our wedding – seeing other people’s’ fancy weddings and avoiding getting sucked into the spending machine was hard. But we did it, we had a pretty cheap wedding and I loved it.
2. What other people look like
On the outside, I am a relatively confident person and I am happy to give that impression. Beneath this lies a crippling anxiety linked to how I appear to others. Part of this is my appearance. While I’m blessed with a relatively plain appearance (Mr YFG will attest to this) I hate most of my body. Age, long working hours and stress take their toll and I find it difficult to get the image of the 21-year old me out of my head. I don’t look like that now and never will. That’s difficult to come to terms with.
What doesn’t help is the constant reaffirmation of societal norms through my colleagues’ restrictive diets and obsession with calories and gym habits.
I have had to work over the years to accept I am what I am and there ain’t much I can do about my face. Being kind to my body will do it a damn sight more good than trying to desperately poke and prod and improve my body and face. Other people have their own insecurities and other people are at different points in their life. I may have a feature they envy just as I envy one of theirs.
Instead of lamenting about my weight, I have tried to make subtle changes to improve my health. Plenty of water, better food and more exercise. Being nicer to my hair and not heating the sh*t out of it or dying it. Trying to wear less makeup and instead nourish my skin. In short, caring less about conforming and more about what is better for me.
3. Looking the part
I’m not your average corporate lawyer. Not in an “I’m great” way, more like I get mistaken for someone who reads your fortunes or a primary school art teacher instead. I just don’t have that “seriousness” about me – I can put on a face for clients and when I need to, but I find it difficult.
I thought I could fix the gap between my natural personality and my impression of what I “should be like” with money. If I bought the right clothing and got my hair done and went to a dermatologist then I’d be a professional woman, right? I felt so much pressure to do what my colleagues do. I convinced myself that the only way to be a highly functioning professional woman is to wear pencil skirts and razor-sharp heels (Ms Zi You speaks with fierce clarity on this nonsense).
Let’s be honest, it is absolute torture to dress like that. My feet were sore and blistered, my stomach bloated and creased from being cut in half by tight clothing, and I was sweaty from the non-breathable suits. Not to mention tights in summer (special circle of hell reserved for these). I spend 14-16 hours in my office clothes per day. I had to just give up.
Now if I could get away with pyjamas I would, but I can’t. I eBayed all my extraordinarily expensive and uncomfortable “smart” clothes and instead bought breathable fabrics, dispensed with the tights unless it was winter and I flat-out refuse to wear heels. I wear colours and nice prints and not grey and black. If I can, I buy second-hand clothes to keep my environmental impact down and so I can get well-made stuff on the cheap.
Turns out nobody gives a sh*t. Nobody notices my clothes are second-hand. I even get compliments on my clothes and my hair, despite having done nothing but blow-dry it. You can be an experienced professional without being trussed up like a Christmas turkey, who knew…
4. My assumptions about other people’s thoughts
Most people care about what other people think of them – or at least I assume so. How often have you done something or said something and then been wracked by guilt for what you think that person might be thinking about you?
Other people’s opinions of me and how I appear to others is important to me. I don’t want to piss people off or make anyone unhappy. I want to (selfishly) appear to be a genuine, honest person and want my intentions to be interpreted correctly. Linked with my need to please and to give gifts, I have overcompensated for imagined wrongs and paid the price in wasted time worrying or being torn with guilt.
Over the years I’ve learned that other people don’t think the same. I may be worrying about something I said to them last week and they can’t even remember the conversation. But how would I know that? I don’t know what they’re thinking, and I have to stop trying. I will never will, even if I ask them (lawyers are good at bending the truth…) So why bother tying myself in knots?
Like this blog, I have had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone will agree with my way of thinking about life. They will not all share my views on FI, on children or on retirement. They may not agree with or like the path I’ve chosen with Mr YFG or like the fact we blog about it! That’s ok. I don’t have to please everyone. It’s impossible to do so. Writing on a blog is a way to open yourself up to criticism. I used to worry about whether people would like the blog or think my posts were boring. I’ve just had to remember that I write because I genuinely want to.
5. Unsatisfying friendships
I have a good few very close friends, some of them I see more often and some only once in a blue moon. They all take a big piece of my heart and I love them to bits. Most of them I know better and love as much as my family. Some of them I’ve known since I was a child, and some have their own children now (or pets!) who I like to spoil with presents at birthdays and Christmas. I hold them dear and would do anything for them.
I also have a wider circle of friends who I see now and again at social occasions and possibly meet up for a random meal or coffee every six months. They are at varying degrees of closeness and they all have different lives and stories. I meet a lot of people through my Instagram influencing (yest, I’m one of those people) and I like to meet up with them as a way of supporting my community (read: Fan club). These people are from all walks of life. I enjoy their company and get back as much as I put into the relationship.
I used to have a bottom run of the friendship ladder: the time-takers. Whilst they may be lovely people, I get nothing but stress out of any relationship we have. They will only contact me when they need something or want attention and they expect me to be available. They don’t bother to visit when invited to my house. But expect me to join group chats about their birthday dinner. They text, I respond and then hear back a month later. I used to feel like I had to try and keep up the relationship to save face, but I have had to come to the realisation that I just don’t give care.
6. Needing to give gifts
One of my vices is to be over-generous with gifts. Not because people need them, but because of my unflinching urge to repay people for their kindness to me. I cannot stand the idea of being in someone’s debt – figuratively and literally. This costs me dearly – figuratively and literally. I spend thousands of pounds a year on gifts (flowers, birthday, Christmas, wedding, just because). On the path to FI I have had seriously cut this down and get comfortable with just accepting gifts without responding in kind. I have had to ask “is this person genuinely expecting something in return?” – chances are if they aren’t a horrible person then they won’t. So I have to take my finger away from the Bloom & Wild app button.
Birthdays and Christmas remain as giving excuses but I have had to impose strict per person limits on this to save me from myself. Thankfully Mr YFG doesn’t ever want gifts, so we don’t buy each other gifts.
Instead, I am trying to give my time and attention, whatever I have spare. A text or a phone call often goes a long way rather than a bunch of flowers.
7. Making partner in a law firm
The assumption when you start work is that you want to rise to the very top and, being a woman, of course, you want to do this to prove a point. In the legal world, this is becoming a partner at a top law firm.
I was regularly told that not becoming a partner one day would be a waste of my education, of my talent. Those external pressures put a lot of stress on me.
I gave this up a couple of years before I got on the path to FI. Not me, thanks. As I’ve written about before, after wearing myself down and seeing my senior colleagues over the last few years I don’t want their life. It ain’t the life for me. My aim is to have earned more than enough money before I even get close.
How about you?
For those on the FI journey, what have you stopped caring about?
For those who aren’t on the FI-path, what things would you like to stop caring about?