Mrs YFG: why financial independence is not retirement

Mrs YFG here. Mr YFG allows me to post now and again (how kind of him).

Mrs Frugalwoods was featured in the Guardian recently. Being an avid fan, I read her article (nothing new to me as a dedicated follower). I don’t know what possessed me to then scroll down to read the comments, but I did. And promptly got offended on her behalf and closed the article. Most of the comments were of the vicious jealousy type – well it’s alright for her, she had the income to begin with. Nobody else is fortunate enough to do this (completely missing the point that reaching FI is about your saving-expenses rate, your actual income is mostly irrelevant). Many of the commentators sniped that she wrote a book and still earned a little money- that’s not retirement, that’s mis-selling. They missed the title of the book and the point : financial independence is not retirement.

Retirement, to me, is a complete step away from the workforce – not working in any paid capacity. This is not what I want from my life, and yet it is the general consensus in society that you stop it all at 65 and get to enjoy your life then. Working (exchanging my skills and time), whether paid or not, makes me happy and helps others at the same time – I love to help other people. Retirement for me would quickly lead to depression – not because it’s awful, but because of the way my mind works. I need to be needed. I think Mr YFG is wired very differently. He can easily occupy himself with fleets of fancy for days (or even weeks) – and doesn’t tend to mind if people don’t agree or seem interested in what he’s doing or the same things as him – all that matters is if he’s interested in it. I think we both like to do things that help other people. However, its clear that ‘retirement’ and FI are very different for both of us. When it comes down to it, FI is a very personal journey specific to your beliefs.

FI, getting to a point where I have enough saved to live off passive income for the rest of my life, is a state of mind. Reaching FI does not mean I go “fuck this shit” and quit my job and never look back. It means that I can, for the first time, make choices based on what I want, not constrained by the need to maintain a certain level of income. If I choose to work, I have flexibility to choose a job which fulfils what I’m looking for. Whether this is a job in the legal sector is irrelevant. Where I don’t choose to work, I can volunteer my time for others (which is the most important thing for me).

In an ideal world, I would work part-time whilst providing a much needed babysitting, pet sitting, baking, mothering and counselling service for my friends and family. I would be a part-time fairy godmother. The part-time work would enable me to maintain my link to some emergency funds (if it all goes tits-up) and I could reduce the cost burden on others by helping them out with my time for free. For Mr YFG, I think FI means him doing less stuff that annoys and frustrates him (which includes working for other people or doing what other people say) and him doing more stuff that he likes (learning about things, and sharing what he learns with others). Whilst I couldn’t bear the thought of never working again, I think Mr YFG could live without working. In that sense, I doubt I’ll ever fit “society’s” definition of retirement. But that’s fine, because its my personal journey.

Some of the comments on Mrs Frugalwoods article seemed to reek of jealousy. Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, writes aptly on envy: “Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You mostly envy those who have what you desire.” I have no doubt that many of the commentators would like to live a life like the Frugalwoods, but for whatever reason can’t or assume they can’t. Many comments under the article quickly jump to: “well that’s good for them, but not what I want – so this is all rubbish”. I think that’s a shame, because we can learn a lot from other people and the stories of their journeys – regardless of whether we want that journey for ourselves.

Separating the two concepts of FI and retirement can be difficult. I think in part because the mainstream media doesn’t have a concept of FI – you either work or you don’t. But understanding that the two are both very different and very personal is the key to understanding what you actually want in life.

Comments

  1. completely missing the point that reaching FI is about your saving-expenses rate, your actual income is mostly irrelevant

    I’d argue your income is hugely relevant. You tend to hit a ‘floor’ when you drive down expenses where you’ve trimmed back to a point where going further would start to affect quality of life – so from that point your saving is completely dictated by how much you earn (barring assets appearing from other sources)

    Its no accident that a large percentage of FI bloggers have stellar incomes. Not all for sure, but quite a lot.

    1. Hi Rhino, I think at the margin, income is relevant. But I think what’s more important in going from a 0% savings rate to 5%. Or 5% to 10% is the underlying principles that underpin one’s spending. Earning more won’t automatically mean you save more (as I wrote about in the ‘Trap of the firm’). The start for most people needs to be on changing their mindset towards money.

      Now of course you are quite right that earning more money can be a big help in jacking up a savings rate from 40% to 50%. But that’s not the position of the nay-sayers in the Guardian comments. These aren’t the people gunning for FI, but they should be aiming for a sustainable retirement. And earning more ain’t gonna help them towards FI or retirement if it all slips through their fingers.

      That for me is the most difficult thing in reaching FI – changing behaviours, habits. Its tough to earn more money (but not impossible). But changing lifelong habits – that’s truly hard.

  2. Yes you’re right. Saving first, income second.

    The requirement for a high income is pretty well known, it even has its own term – ‘the inconvenient truth about FI’ which has been the title of numerous posts across the FI blogosphere over the years.

    On the frugal woods issue SHMD had a useful discussion on it just recently. They are bringing in a huge income by the sound of it and their expenses indicate they are non to frugal. All talk and no trousers IMHO.

    1. Yes Rhino, I agree, I read the SHMD piece as well as a few other similar discussions. I tend to agree, I’m not a much of a fan of the Frugalwoods but Mrs YFG is. But I think is OK. For example, Mr Money Mustache really spoke to me and left a big impression. But less so for Mrs YFG. The opposite is true for the Frugalwoods. I think there are lots of angles and takes to everything – which is part of the reason I started this blog!

      1. Just found you guys through a link on monevator, still working through the content. I like what I read so far, good work keep it up.

        Same here, I am not won over by the Frugalwoods guys as much as MMM. Hadn’t really thought why until now but it is probably the harder, clearer edge to MMM’s dialogue that appeals to me. Frugalwoods is a bit more, I don’t know cheesy or just too wholesome. In both cases I have total respect for what they stand for and how they go about it. There may be a Male – Female divide with MMM and Frugalwoods but you need different approaches to get to different people and sometimes to help you see new or parallel paths.

        1. Thanks Simon. I think you’re right: as they say “different strokes for different folks”. I like MMM’s writing because its quite matter of fact, whereas I less enjoy Ms. Frugalwood’s whimsy (but still very good) writing. Mrs YFG thinks the same, and that’s why she prefers the Frugalwoods to MMM.

  3. For sure, like a box of licqourice, it takes all-sorts.

    MMM has a skill in being able to tell people what to do without sounding like a twat. Very fine line between being inspirational and patronising. I think that’s his USP. You can tell it’s not easy as when someone tried to copy him (TEA) it doesn’t work.

    Now he’s effectively ditched the blogging though. Some people say he just effectively monetised a website as it makes him 400k a year, but you have to remember that he’d retired before he even started the blog.

    It does sound like he has a good time.

  4. Hello and thank you for your article.
    I have a bit of an issue with Mrs Frugalwoods and her piece for the Guardian, which in my opinion portrays the FIRE community in a negative view, hence the largely hostile comments. I think that we should be a bit more honest with ourselves and accept that FIRE is a rich people sport. Most bloggers and commentators are University graduates in STEM subjects, as it is my case as well, and have used what comes down to common sense to avoid overspending and excessive consumerism (which was the norm in my grandparents times). That gives you a lot of savings to start dreaming about quitting a job. This privilege is not accessible to much people. I have friends and family members who are bright people but chose social sciences or humanities studies in college. They are quite frugal in order to survive given their low paying, insecure jobs. I cannot pretend to be morally superior to them because I do cook at home and do my own cleaning instead of asking for delivery food or paying for a cleaning lady. And no matter what, there are some expenses that have to be covered (shelter, food and basic bills) . So while it is OK to deplore waste and indebtedness in people of our own levels of income, it is not a pattern to be exported to others. Things are much more nuanced and complex in real life.

    1. For the record, I don’t think we should ‘bag’ on Mrs Frugalwoods too much. The mainstream media just doesn’t understand FIRE yet. We’ve seen lots of people in the community, including MMM and that infamous ch4 programme completely miss the point. They edit these things in a way to sell copy / get views and often that is to the detriment of the author.

  5. High income can be a factor but the main thing is living within your means.

    For example, kudos to Ms Ziyou who is able to save 80% of her salary whilst living in London and not succumbing to lifestyle inflation. However, in order for me to achieve an 80% savings rate, I’d have to figure out how to live on around £6k a year!

    I think the Frugalwoods can inspire people who are in a similar situation, ie high earning, looking to escape the rat race, looking to do something different. And yes, ‘whimsy’ is a nice way to describe their writing.

    MMM’s writing inspired me to look at my own situation. Even though he too was a high earner before he retired, I found a lot about what he wrote which I could apply to my own situation.

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