Today I invite you to do a little thought experiment with me. It reveals what most people get wrong on the path to FI. It will also tell you a lot about your own journey to Financial Independence.
I call this thought experiment “The Road Trip”. I used it as an exercise in a workshop I hosted earlier this year. The participants said that it really got them to re-think the way they approach Financial Independence, so I hope you get something out of it as well.
Let’s Take a Road Trip!
I actually think a road trip is a perfect analogy for the journey to FI.
Today we’ll travel from Sydney (your current location) to Brisbane (your destination).
So imagine you are in Sydney, and for one reason or another, you’ve decided to go to Brisbane.
What’s the first thing you do to prepare for the trip?
If you are like most people, you’ll take your phone or laptop, open Google Maps and get the directions for the trip from Sydney to Brisbane.
The result will look something like this:
Using the recommended route, the trip will take just under 10 hours. You’ll travel along the Pacific Highway, the main transport route connecting Sydney and Brisbane. It will be an efficient and easy drive – maybe a bit boring and uneventful, but you’ll get to Brisbane safely and pretty quickly as well.
What else do we need for the trip?
A vehicle! For most people, the logical choice would be a car. And of course, we also need some fuel for our car.
The Elements of the Standard Path to FI
And just like that, we’ve uncovered four core ingredients of the path to FI:
- The destination (for most people, this would be full Financial Independence)
- Fuel (our income – so we can invest and get to FI)
- A vehicle (our investments – there is a reason it’s called an investment vehicle!)
- The road to get us to our destination (in this case, the highway)
What’s Your Focus?
Most people who learn about Financial Independence and decide it is for them will create a plan that takes into account these four ingredients.
However, two of them hardly ever get questioned and are usually accepted as set in stone: the destination (Brisbane, aka Financial Independence) and the road to get there (in this case, the highway).
Once a new FI enthusiast has set up their plan, they usually give most of their attention to the other two ingredients: fuel (income) and their chosen vehicle(s) (investments).
This is the reason 80% of the discussions in the FIRE community boil down to two questions – “Where and how can I get more fuel?” and “How do I make my car faster (or find a faster vehicle)?”. Just look at the major Financial Independence forums, FB groups on the topic, and most FI-focused blogs and podcasts, and you’ll find that this is true.
And this is what almost everyone gets wrong. Let me explain.
The Optimisation Trap
The truth is that once we have a basic financial plan in place and know the answers to the most common investment-related questions, there really is very little else to do as far as our finances are concerned.
At this point, many people on the standard path to FI enter a phase often referred to as “the boring middle”. And frequently, this boredom, paired with impatience, leads to rigorous optimisation efforts with the aim of speeding things along. Because getting to FI quicker is always better, right?
The problem is that we tend to try and optimise our FI journeys by focusing exclusively on the two elements discussed above – making more fuel and improving returns:
And while optimising these two elements of your journey might get you to your FI number quicker, they might not get you the result you were hoping for.
How Do You Define Success On the Journey to FI?
This is an essential question to ask yourself. What does a successful journey to FI look like to you? What makes a road trip great?
If success means simply getting to your destination (hitting your FI number), then focusing on the income and investing sides of FI will undoubtedly get you there.
But what if, to you, FI success means getting to the finish line
…. without burning or boring out along the way
… without regrets (about missing out on quality time with your family or meaningful life experiences)
… knowing that you lived your best life along the way?
Well, then, focusing on the financial side of FI alone won’t cut it. If to you, FI is about more than simply getting to your magic number, these two elements really only account for about 20% of the things you need to focus on:
And this doesn’t mean
What Makes a Road Trip Great?
Let’s return to our little road trip from Sydney to Brisbane for a second. When you go on a road trip, the real fun lies in the journey, not the destination.
When you take a road trip, you wouldn’t usually take the highway – not without giving it some serious thought anyway. Instead, you would consider what you want to do and see along the way. You’d likely pick a nicer, more scenic route. You’d take your time. You’d take lots of breaks. You’d maybe even make a few detours. You’d simply make the most of the experience. You’d make a plan that is in line with what you value.
Unfortunately, almost everyone treats their journey to FI like an urgent business trip from A to B and not like an enjoyable road trip. We mindlessly race to the destination without asking the right questions. And that’s what can lead to regret later down the road.
How are you approaching your own journey to FI?
Elements of Your Ideal Path to FI
If you want to solve the FI equation for enjoyment and success (that is about more than just numbers), you need to consider different “ingredients”. You also need to question some of the basic assumptions we make about Financial Independence.
This is what a holistic pie chart of all the different financial and non-financial elements of a successful journey to FI looks like:
How quickly do you want to get to the finish line? Which road do you want to take? What are the things you want to do and see along the way? Is Brisbane (aka full FI) even the ideal destination for your road trip? Why are you even going on this trip in the first place?
Answering these kinds of questions is just as important (if not more important) as the income and investment pieces of the FI puzzle.
Note that everyone has different preferences, goals and values, so there is no right or wrong way to approach things. I am not saying that you should go fast or slow; I am not advocating any specific strategy for your road trip. I am advocating intentionality because that’s really the key to FI success.
Have you answered these questions for yourself? Does your journey to FI look more like an urgent business trip from A to B or like an enjoyable road trip?
If you want to explore the concepts discussed in this article in your detail and learn how to apply them to your own FI journey, you might be interested in Find Your FI. Find Your FI is a 9-module online course designed to help you find your ideal path to Financial Independence. The course follows a “lifestyle first” approach and covers the financial and non-financial elements of a successful journey to FI. Click here or on the image below to find out more.