I often hear, be it online or at cons, some variation of the following:
“Man, I’d love to work in the gaming industry, but the pay sucks and/or the industry is unstable. How would I support myself? Therefore, I will be stuck doing something else for the rest of my life.” Then, everyone listening nods sagely, empathizing with the plight of having a job that is not one’s dream job because of the money.
But what if I told you that there is a way to take money out of the equation? What if I showed you a way to become so rich that you would not have to worry about “the money” when looking for a job; instead, you could simply ask, “Is this something I would enjoy doing?” and quit the very day the answer became “no.” In short, what if I could show you how to retire (very, very) early? In as little as 10 years from now? I know I sound like a huckster, but there’s nothing to buy – just keep reading.
What I’m talking about is a concept called “financial independence,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like – having enough money that money isn’t an issue. The FI movement has been around since the mid-nineties when a book titled “Your Money or Your Life” came out (check your library), and has recently seen a resurgence with the rise of blogging and all the free information sharing on the internet. The basic concept is this:
- Spend a lot less than you earn
- Invest the difference
- Retire in 10-15 years, live off the interest of #2, and do whatever you want
I’m sure that a lot of you just got stuck on that last step there. How could someone retire before they’re 65, short of winning the lottery? I will answer your question with one of my own: how much money do you need to retire? Think about it. Do you have an actual dollar figure? Because retirement is a dollar amount, not an age. If you don’t know your number, I would point to that as the reason you’re still on your treadmill. You can’t achieve a goal that you don’t have. Without a goal, you will indeed work until you’re at least 65, because that’s the norm, and no one has showed you to question it. Until now.
So, what’s your number?
If you’re going to retire early and work in the gaming industry for fun, you need a solid dollar amount that you’re reaching for. This dollar amount is your “critical mass” of financial independence, when you no longer are concerned about “the money,” and will be free to work in the gaming industry for the rest of your life, if you want to. That dollar amount is probably smaller than you think. As a matter of fact, let’s do a little experiment. If I were to ask you, right now, to guess what your Financial Independence amount is, what would you say? You probably have a number somewhere in the millions. That just seems right. While everyone’s number is different, it very rarely reaches into the millions for an early retiree. Really. Let’s do a rough calculation of yours.
- Draw a vertical line. At the top, put some ridiculous number. Say, $5 million. At the bottom, $0.
- Now, add up all the money you spent last year. Estimating is ok for the purposes of this exercise, but if you do need to estimate, you need to get a handle on your household finances. Like, right now.
- Multiply that dollar amount by 25, and draw an arrow next to the line at that point. This is your Financial Independence (or Retirement) number. Congratulations! You now officially have a goal. High five yourself. (There is logic behind the 25 multiplier that I will let you go find for yourself.)
“But wait!” you say, “I don’t want to high five myself because my number IS in the millions! Now I’m depressed!” Just hang on. That’s your number right now. It can (and should) change. There is hope. By the way, was it as big as you thought it was going to be? Probably not.
- We’re not done yet – don’t give up! Add up ALL your money in the bank. Everything in your retirement funds. Your brokerage account. And all the equity you have in your house. Draw another arrow next to the line at that number. This is the sum of your current assets, which represents your progress thus far towards Financial Independence.
Your goal is to get those two arrows together. There are two ways to do this.
- Make more money, but don’t spend it. Get a raise or get a new job or take a second job, but the key here is to not increase your spending in step with your new salary. Just keep on spending the way you have been. This method moves the bottom (net worth) arrow towards the top arrow – you’re making more money, but you’re adding it to your net worth instead of spending it. This method is difficult because you don’t always have a lot of control over your salary, and even when you can make more money, this method only moves one of the arrows.
- Spend less money. This is the most powerful tool in your arsenal, for a couple of reasons. First, your level of spending is something you have direct control over. Second, and more importantly, SPENDING LESS PUSHES BOTH OF THE ARROWS TOWARDS EACH OTHER. Therefore, it is twice as powerful as simply earning more. I cannot emphasize this enough. When you spend less money, the upper arrow drops (because it is simply your yearly spending x 25) and the lower arrow rises (because instead of spending money, you’re adding it to your net worth). This is why early retirees have a number lower than $1 million. They have optimized their spending, and built up a resistance to all the consumer forces enticing them to spend more money (Kickstarter, anyone?).
How do I spend less money?
Beautiful. You’re on board. You’re having trouble seeing the way forward, but you’re willing to try. That’s the first step. This article was intended to get you here, and no further because there are already volumes and volumes written on the subject of spending less. There’s no need for me to reprint all of them, but I will point you in the right direction.
First, a word of inspiration as you start your journey: it is not easy, but few things worth doing are. It is rewarding and freeing, which are more important than easy. Keep your eyes on the goal (working at something you want to do), and you’ll get there. See you on the other side. (You might even make it there first!)
Some places to start: