Want to know my numbers?
This is the innocent little question I recently asked my subscribers.
After all, I’ve run Money Flamingo (which is, at least in part, a financial independence/personal finance blog) for almost five years now without revealing our net worth or FIRE number.
Instead, we use multiples of our expected future expenses for our progress updates. This way, we measure the number of years of freedom we’ve accumulated. And, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about – freedom, not dollars.
I don’t want the dollar figures to take away from the underlying concepts and mental models I discuss on the blog.
However, in recent months, the voices “demanding” I share our numbers have been getting louder.
I’ve given this whole “show me the money” topic a lot of thought lately and started seriously considering whether I should reveal our numbers. I wanted to find out if there was a good reason to do so and if it would add anything to the conversation. To do this, I first wanted to understand why some readers are so interested in our net worth and which FIRE number we aim for.
So I asked. And then my inbox exploded. I’ve never received so many responses to any email or piece of content since starting Money Flamingo in 2018.
The responses were so diverse and interesting that I’ve decided they deserve their own article.
Below I’ve summarised the most common arguments from both sides – the “Yes – Show Me the Money” Camp and the “Keep Your Numbers to Yourself” Crew. Plus, I share my takeaways, what FI and European kitchens have in common, and whether this little exercise has changed my mind.
I think after reading the article, you’ll agree that how we respond to this question – “Do you want to know my numbers?” tells a lot about ourselves and how we approach FI and life in general.
In the Left Corner: The “YES – Show Me the Money!” Camp
Here are the most common arguments from those of you who would like me to reveal our numbers:
You want a blueprint to copy.
Many of you mentioned that it gives you confidence if you have someone in a similar situation (age/location/family setup) who you can “copy” and use as a blueprint or role model to follow.
You want to use our numbers to “sound-check” your numbers and assumptions.
You want someone you can compare yourself with.
You don’t necessarily want a blueprint to copy, but a family in a similar situation you can compare yourself with. You want to use our numbers as a reference point to measure yourself against, assess how you are tracking and make adjustments as needed.
You have little confidence in your own numbers, feel too scared to make changes in your life (like working less, saving less, or spending more) and feel having someone to compare yourself to would help.
You have a scarcity mindset and want a reality check.
You feel that you might be catastrophising when it comes to your FI assumptions and that you might be too conservative. You have a scarcity mindset and are scared of not having “enough” or running out of money.
You would like to know our numbers as a “reality check” (obviously hoping our FI target is lower than yours) to help you realise you don’t need so much to start downshifting.
Dollar figures make things more real and relatable.
You find it hard to visualise annual expense multiples. Some of you simply find it easier to relate to dollar figures than percentages and expense multiples. One person even said they find progress updates without dollar amounts boring (even when they come with a cute little flamingo hiking up a mountain – scandalous!).
You are nosy. 🙂
Some of you said you simply want to satisfy your voyeuristic nature and have a stickybeak. I love the honesty!
One reader even said he tried to figure out our pre-tax income based on the childcare rebate percentage I mentioned in one of my articles. He got it wrong, but still… His comment: “I couldn’t help but look it up. Human nature.” This was actually eye-opening for me!
In The Right Corner: The “Keep Your Numbers to Yourself” Crew
Here are the arguments from those of you who don’t want to know our FI numbers and net worth:
Concepts and principles are more powerful without numbers attached to them.
You feel that numbers would dilute and distract from the actual message of the blog. You like that the lack of hard numbers forces you to think conceptually about the ideas shared.
For you, the value lies in figuring out what you want from your own journey vs viewing our numbers as a yardstick.
You like seeing percentages and expense multiples instead of monetary amounts, mainly because it stops the focus on dollar values. You agree that freedom is best measured in time instead of money in the bank.
You don’t want to compare yourself with others.
Many of you see no benefit in comparing your situation to that of others. You feel that sharing numbers automatically leads to comparison and self-judgement, which we all love to do, but that rarely does us any good.
One reader summarised this sentiment perfectly: “Isn’t there enough comparison? We just need to use the principles and strive for our best life!”
Some of you even said that this money-focused side and the competitive nature (who has more wealth, who is more frugal) of the FIRE community turns you off.
Our numbers are irrelevant to your journey.
Many of you commented that our numbers are not relevant to your situation as we are all in different places along the journey, live in different places and have different family dynamics.
We also all value different things, so our FI numbers will reflect that.
You Don’t Want to Know My Numbers – You Want to Know YOUR Numbers
If there is one major takeaway from this exercise, it is this: For those who want to know our numbers, it’s not really about us (as in the Money Flamingo family). It’s about you. You want to see our numbers because you believe they will tell you something about YOUR numbers.
Whether you are looking for validation, a point of comparison, or motivation to change course – you want to use our numbers to determine if your own plan is adequate and whether you are on the right track.
I had a feeling that this might be the case, but the sheer number of emails from readers who said something along these lines was a little overwhelming.
I get it – we live in uncertain times, inflation is scary, and we all like to know if we are doing things right. But judging whether or not we are based on someone else’s numbers is not how you achieve happiness and success on the path to FI.
I even think seeing other people’s numbers might keep you from doing the actual work required to ensure you are on the right track.
In many parts of Europe, rental apartments come without kitchens. Instead, each new tenant brings their own kitchen. This is great for long-term tenants who can custom-design a kitchen that looks good and suits their requirements and space.
The problem is that when you move, you are stuck with that kitchen. A kitchen that looks great in one apartment and fits the space perfectly looks awkward in another. That’s why platforms like FB Marketplace are littered with used kitchens that some people try to snap up for a bargain price.
To make them fit your new space, you can try and take pieces out, rearrange things, push and squeeze, all in an attempt to make things work somehow (trust me, I’ve been there…. many times). But it’s usually just obvious when a kitchen wasn’t designed for the space it currently “lives” in.
Financial Independence is just like European kitchens. If you don’t custom-design your FI plan to suit your goals and requirements and copy someone else’s instead, you’ll be stuck with a plan that doesn’t fit your life. It was designed for someone else’s. You can try to push and squeeze and make it work somehow, but it’s far from ideal.
How to Gain Confidence in Your FI Plan and Achieve Your Goals
I’ve always held the strong belief that confidence on the path to FI doesn’t come from comparing ourselves with or copying others.
I have to say that reading the arguments of the “Show Me the Money” Camp reinforced this belief.
Instead, it is the result of knowing your values, picking a lifestyle that suits you, being clear about your goals, and understanding the relevant math, strategies and fundamental concepts.
A big part of why I run this blog is to help people figure these things out for themselves. This is also the idea behind Find Your FI and the underlying step-by-step roadmap. Everyone’s situation and goals are different. Consequently, everyone’s ideal path and numbers also look different.
The best FI plan is custom-designed to support your unique values and life goals. There is no way around this.
So, Will I Share Our Numbers?
As you’ve probably guessed by now, my view that sharing actual numbers takes away from the concepts and mental models I write about has remained the same.
It was actually very good to see that about 70% of those who responded to my email were members of the “Keep Your Numbers to Yourself” Crew and only about 30% in the “Show Me the Money” Camp.
I was open to sharing our FIRE number and net worth – if there was a good reason. And after reading all of the responses, I really don’t think there is one.
Don’t get me wrong – I totally understand why seeing someone else’s dollar figures (especially if they are in a similar situation) might be appealing. But I think I am doing a disservice to those who lack confidence in their FI plans by sharing our numbers.
Having said that, I occasionally share numbers around our spending – like in our annual expense reports or in the articles on the cost of raising kids. I do this mainly because I remember how hard it was to find relevant cost of living data when we first moved to Sydney (which we needed to determine how much to ask for during our salary negotiations). Our current expenses here in Sydney have nothing to do with our expected expenses once we retire, so these reports serve a different, more practical purpose, and I hope people find them helpful.
I want to help you design a balanced, enjoyable path to FI and live a great life along the way. That’s why I write about alternative FI strategies, happiness, mindset and lifestyle design concepts. And I agree with the “Keep Your Numbers to Yourself” Crew – these ideas are more powerful without numbers attached.
Or – as one reader put it – “The principles are where the gold is!”. 🙂