Guest Post: Fear of Financial Independence

Today is a guest post from by buddy Eric over at I loved Eric’s story at first read. By the age of 30, he had created a mini real estate empire and became financially independent. He also knows how to live. These lines from his About page put a huge smile on my face:

I sometimes will work for two weeks straight, wake up early, and work tirelessly. Other times I take trips for no reason other than to have a new experience. That’s the great part about independence, we are free to do what we want.

This is good too:

I’m free to travel anywhere I want to travel or live anywhere I choose to live. In 2015 we decided to go on a trip across the country. We literally left the following day. That trip was my first time going to Texas, and my wife and I fell in love with it, so we decided to stay. Three weeks after getting back to Massachusetts, I was already back in the car headed to Texas.

Eric is one guy who’s doing it right. Instead of being dragged around by life, he’s making the most of it.

In today’s post, Eric writes about the fear of financial independence.


Fear of Financial Independence

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I’m writing this because Mr. 1500’s recent post really got me thinking about judgement, financial independence, and people’s mentality.

A few months ago one of my good friends told me about a conversation of which I was the subject.

An acquaintance asked him what I do for work. This acquaintance swore that I must be a CIA agent because I “live a life like 007”.

From his perspective I never work, I travel the world and the U.S., and every time I come up in a conversation I’m off doing something else cool.

My life isn’t actually that interesting. It’s just coincidence that I come up in conversation 4 or 5 times a year and I happen to be doing something cool. I probably get mentioned specifically because I’m doing something cool, hence the coincidence.

But the funniest part of it all – my good friend couldn’t really answer the question. He doesn’t really know how or where my money comes from – he just knows that it’s somehow related to rental real estate. To him, it’s like magic that money appears in my account every month.

This got me thinking more about financial independence

It’s strange to me that my best friend couldn’t explain exactly how I make my money. You see, I’ve literally told him exactly how I do it. I’ve even encouraged him to quit what he is doing and just follow my path.

Even after telling them exactly what I do and how I do it, people still don’t get it.

Becoming financially independent is not something magical – it’s really some basic math to figure out exactly how much you need in passive income in order to cover your monthly expenses. There are a lot of ways to get there, but the formula is essentially the same: cut expenses, save/invest, build up cash flow, and retire.

So, why is this still a mystery to just about everybody I know? How can something so obvious to us be a complete mystery to most people?

It’s like teaching my daughter how to add one and one together. It can be so frustrating because it just seems so simple. How many other ways can I explain it for her to understand? Of course I’m patient with her because she is a toddler, but it’s harder to stay patient with adults that don’t understand something I consider basic.

Financial independence is so easy, we get frustrated and judgmental toward people who don’t understand it. At the same time, we get looked at as weird or strange because we have a different view of things.

It reminds me of the number zero. A few years ago I learned that the concept of zero was invented in 5th century AD and didn’t make its way to Europe until the late 12th century. Then some genius actually outlawed it’s use because they didn’t trust where it came from.

Just for one second think about all those Roman colosseums, miles long aqueducts, temples, cathedrals, pyramids etc. The Romans built a 56-mile aqueduct that dropped only a few inches each mile, just enough to keep the water flowing. It’s crazy to think they could do this without even some math that we consider so basic now.

They still found a way to achieve these great things, but it was a probably way harder than it needed to be.

I think FIRE is a lot like the number zero.

Once people developed the concept of retirement, they took the hardest and longest way to get there. Just like ancient engineers who built great buildings, people found a way to reach retirement, but it was definitely the hardest and longest way to achieve it. Sure it wasn’t easy, but they got it done.

But the FIRE community is changing that concept. With some basic concepts and math, people are showing that it’s actually not hard to retire decades earlier than everyone else. It’s not without its detractors though.

Many of the early adopters of zero had to do math in secret because it was banned. Today, many people who challenge the system are ridiculed (just like Mr. 1500 was after the piece on Yahoo). Many choose to hide their financial independence when in public because they see what others have to deal with. Who wants to be told they will get divorced soon and have STDs simply because they are financially smart?

I hide it most of the time because it’s easier, not because I fear anything. It’s really hard for me to explain to my barber that I don’t work, so I just tell them that I work in real estate.

It just means I have to answer a bunch of questions about the state of the economy, real estate, how I’m finding real estate deals, etc. But that’s better than the uncomfortable conversation about FI and the judgements that follow.

It’s so basic that people fear it

I believe that the concept of financial independence is so basic that everyone should understand it, but even really basic things to us now were crazy theories when they were first created. Eventually they may become mainstream, but for now it’s not standard.

It doesn’t help that the concept is really so simple that people don’t trust it. If someone came up to you and said they would give you a simple process guaranteed to make one million dollars, would you believe them? Of course not.

So when I tell people that I achieved financial independence in 5 years, they just don’t believe me, think I got really lucky, or I’m cheating somehow. I have literally met dozens of people (thanks FinCon!) who also have done it in 5, 10, or 15 years and retired in their 30’s or 40’s. But, I’m still the crazy one when I say it’s not a hard concept.

I want to get frustrated at my friends when they don’t want to pursue financial independence. I want to grab them and shake some sense into them, but I know that doesn’t work – I gave up trying to convince them all of my point of view a long time ago.

Instead, I secretly hope they will have an epiphany one day like I did, and when they do I’ll be there to help them. For now, I am just supportive and feel happy for them when they derive happiness from their new gadgets, cars, and widgets.

After all, the number zero was banned at one point of time; I can’t expect everyone to immediately adopt great concepts.

Thanks Eric for the post today. I for one, am not afraid of financial independence, the number 0, or even clowns. I only fear Mrs. 1500’s wrath when I leave the toilet seat up.

Stop by Eric’s fine piece of internet real estate and say “Hi!” sometime soon.

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39 Responses to Guest Post: Fear of Financial Independence

  1. That’s exactly how I feel as well, a little helpless but there is only so much we can do! Great comparison to the concept of zero, although hopefully folks don’t wait around 7 centuries for widespread adoption! Thanks for the post, Eric, I look forward to checking out your blog!
    The Green Swan recently posted…Time to Sell Investments and Hoard Cash?My Profile

  2. I think it comes down to that people don’t want to be told they have a problem, kind of like an alcoholic. I don’t mean early retirement, because that I think is a choice. What I do mean is the act of establishing multiples of their pay and becoming stable. It’s easier to continue on spending and believe others had something hand to them or are taking massive risks then to see that you could do something similar fairly easy. I think the common perception of frugality is like those reality tv shows where they dumpster dive and eat other people’s restaurant left overs. Sure that’s one segment of frugal people, but there are much easier ways that are more subtle. There are far more subtle ways to get there.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…Technological Progress, your Career, and Karl MarxMy Profile

  3. Mr. RIP says:

    I’m on the same boat, even though I’m not FIREd yet. Frustration is even greater in my case because I feel I’m not able to transmit my vision. It would probably be easier if I’d already be doing more of what I love with my time.
    Mr. RIP recently posted…10 Questions and a Pizza Place with… myself!My Profile

  4. Hey Eric! It was great meeting you at FinCon and your story has definitely been inspiring to me while on my own FIRE journey. I get strange looks from people too when I tell them my goals so I rarely share them with anyone, especially at work. I think the concept of working till your 60s until you retire is so ingrained with some people that they see no other alternative. Even if you’re living it by example, somehow they still believe you and don’t think they can achieve it for themselves. Changing another person’s mindset is no easy task and usually the change has to come from within.
    OB @ Out of State Investor recently posted…Invest Where People Move: A Free Population Research ToolMy Profile

    • Eric Bowlin says:

      It was great meeting you as well!

      I agree 100%, that’s why I don’t even try to convince my friends anymore.

      What I find myself doing now is meeting new people and making new friends with a more similar mindset as myself. I guess it’s one of the fringe benefits of having the blog – I got to meet people like Carl, you, and others.

  5. Eric Bowlin says:

    I’m really honored you published what I wrote as a guest post.

    I’m humored you picked my military picture to toss up there. That’s from the winter of 2010/2011 in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan…my ol’ stomping grounds. It’s one of my favorite pics.
    Eric Bowlin recently posted…Automate Your Business – 18 Ridiculously Awesome Ways to Go on AutopilotMy Profile

  6. I’m totally checking out your site, Eric! I’m on track to retire by 35, but if I can expedite that with some new tips, I’m totally in. 🙂

    I think a lot of people fear the FIRE path because it seems so out of the ordinary. People are afraid to rock the boat and actually live outside of their comfort zones. It’s normal to have a giant house, gas-guzzling car, and credit card debt in our society, and anything beyond that is viewed with curiosity and/or suspicion.

    But I agree that we pretty much have to practice our frugality in the shadows, like a secret society of math nerds! We only see daylight in online forums and blogs. 🙂

    It’s way easier to pretend you’re just like everyone else, because a lot of people get in your face about the whole idea of FIRE, which is ludicrous. They act like you’re scamming them or your way of life is somehow detrimental to theirs. It’s sad.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…Tacos: The Breakfast of Frugal ChampionsMy Profile

  7. It hardly seems radical to us because it’s so simple. But talk to any of my co-workers about it and I might as well be speaking ancient Italian. I’m not scared for financial independence, but some of my family and friends are for me. Just like when I went to Ecuador for the Chautauqua. People told me I was getting ripped off, I was going to be kidnapped and sold into the global sex trade…. All sorts of horrible things. All I did was get on a plane and have a good time. I have a feeling FI will be similar.

  8. Eric, Great post and blog. I believe FI is mandatory and RE is optional, You have done both. I agree with the concept of stealth wealth because most of the people you meet out in the world are not going to understand FIRE, much less agree with how you have done it. I had similar experience when people asked me why I turned down a top management job that pays a lot of money but comes with lot of stress as well. I just smile and say I enjoy helping others and companies with strategic advice. If I had said, I didn’t need the money or I am FI, it would’ve led to lot of unnecessary judgments.
    Ten Factorial Rocks recently posted…Book Review: It Is Only MoneyMy Profile

  9. Tucker says:

    I struggle with telling people. We are really just starting our journey but one of the things we know 100% is that we can be mortgage-free if we save 50K by the end of 2017. This goal is realistic and achievable for us but it means definitely culling some of the waste in our lives (because obvz we have other savings to meet as well). What I have found is that once you tell people you have a goal and need to do things differently, it can go one of two ways: either they are super supportive and understand, or they try and sabotage you at every turn. It’s kind of like dieting when you have the one friend who is trying to convince you that it is “just one piece of cake” when they’ve already said “it’s just one” three times this week.

    With saving, we find we have to say no to things we’ve been on board for in the past: eating out, weekend trips, etc. So if you tell people it is because you have a goal, they start to chip away at it. I don’t know if it is because they are working for 30 years or have to pay their mortgage for another 20 years but if you tell them you can’t do things because of your not-so-common goal of FIRE, or to be mortgage free, it’s almost like they take it personally that you aren’t doing things the “normal” way (ie: the way do things) so they try and tell you all the reasons it won’t work.

    Like the comments on the internet, I think it’s a self-preservation issue. No one wants to actually think that they’ve missed the boat and watching people 10 years younger than them retiring and living the life of their dreams. So the knee-jerk reaction is to sabotage, insult, or “school” the person about how the way they doing things is wrong.

    Like most people, I just end up blogging anonymously and being very picky about who I discuss our goals with. I also don’t want to have to continuously answer questions and dodge passive-aggressive comments, especially from family and friends. Sadly, this means they won’t even be able to consider that there is a different way of doing things.
    Tucker recently posted…What to check when buying a used carMy Profile

    • Eric Bowlin says:

      Your comment made me think of a time I went to a bar with one of my friends and we met up with a group of his friends which I didn’t know.

      One guy was offered a drink and he just said no thank you. Someone asked if he had to work early or had something important to do. He simply said that he gave up drinking.

      A lot of people were like “What? What’s wrong with you? Why would you do that?” A lot of his friends had no idea he gave it up.

      I had never met the guy before, but I just said “Wow, that’s awesome man!”

      Everyone is on their own journey. If someone is doing something positive in their life, like trying to achieve FI or giving up something that’s bad for them, why should we judge?

      Unfortunately, many people seem to internalize these things. Not everyone, but a lot of people think that when you do something good it highlights something bad about them.
      Eric Bowlin recently posted…Automate Your Business – 18 Ridiculously Awesome Ways to Go on AutopilotMy Profile

  10. Loved this post Eric! (and thanks for bringing it to us Mr. 1500!) Count me in as an early adopter of zero!

    While I find it frustrating my friends and family don’t “get it” yet, I think the best way to help them (for now) is just to keep living a good life. Setting a good example if you will.

    When they do finally come around, there will be a mountain of different blogs to point them at. We can’t really change other people after all. We can only change ourselves.

  11. Great stuff! I was impressed by Eric’s story as well – one of many people I met at FinCon who ‘get it’.

    He definitely worked hard for it and at a young age has a ton of expertise in real estate – if he wants to earn more, he can use those skills, or he can sit back and enjoy the cashflow he has already built up. Truly passive. Very impressive!
    Brian – Rental Mindset recently posted…There Are Two Types of Real Estate Investors …My Profile

  12. Stockbeard says:

    Awesome post.
    I think we’ve all been on the other side of the fence at some point. Not so long ago, it was “clear” to me that people who were financially independent fell under one of these categories:
    – inherited the money
    – are the CEO of facebook
    – gamed the system

    Talking with banks and financial advisors made it clearer to me that the only way to be FI was to rig the system. Why else would these people constantly talk about “tax optimization” ?

    With that kind of mindset, when someone tells you the one million dollar secret, it’s easy to dismiss it with “it’s not for me, I want to stay honest”.

    There’s also a huge herd mentality that I used to have: “if it was doable, everybody would be doing it. None of my friends are doing that, so clearly it’s not doable”.

    Now that I’m on the other side (although not FI yet), I force-remind myself of that mentality I used to have, to try and understand why my friends are not “seeing it”.

    One good friend listened to my whole explanation. He ended up dismissing the whole concept though, because 1) he loves his work (we’ve all heard this one) and would rather spend 8 hours a day doing his work than 1 hour a week doing financial “stuff”, and 2) he’s not financially literate enough to understand if my plan is sane or completely crazy. Specifically, he’s worried that I’m part of a huge ponzi scheme and that I’m not realizing it, and he doesn’t want a part in that.
    Stockbeard recently posted…Can you retire on 1.5 million?My Profile

  13. First they ignore you.
    “Trust fund baby. This guy is an outlier.”

    Then they laugh at you.
    “Good luck going broke buddy! Hope you like the taste of Alpo when you’re 70.”

    Then they fight you.
    “Hold on. These numbers can’t be right. Let me make some calculations here.”

    Then you win.
    “Well, shit. Maybe I should be doing this too.”
    Biglaw Investor recently posted…Should Lawyers Choose A Roth 401(k) or Traditional 401(k)?My Profile

  14. This is what I love about the PF community. They are kicking the doors open and screaming people to walk thru them. We need to stop accepting the status quo and realize that we really can reach our goals much earlier than any of ever imagined. Thanks for the awesome post. Can’t wait to check out some of your other stuff!!!
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…Online BankingMy Profile

  15. Team CF says:

    This is very recognizable, albeit we are not FI just yet, the feelings and frustrations also exist with myself. It’s hard to accept that other don’t see the benefits and/or possibilities.
    Very good post Eric.
    Team CF recently posted…September 2016 Cheesy IndexMy Profile

  16. Wow, incredibly relatable post!

    I am playfully teased by friends all the time about not wanting to spend money on anything. They joke that “Oh, Vigilante’s gonna retire at 40!” as though it’s an impossibility. (And as though I set a date – I haven’t, but I’ll probably be FI before that age whether I retire or not!) I just kind of smile and play along. Anyone I care about has been explained the basic concepts of financial independence by yours truly, so it’s really up to them to accept or reject the idea now.

    I foresee, though, that in about a decade, most of them will be wondering what I do for a living. And I will be wondering how they can put up with being stuck in a cubicle for most daylight hours for 5 out of 7 days or more, panicking every time some newscaster or politician says “Social Security.” But hey, the new iPhone is really shiny, so it’s probably worth it.
    The Vigilante recently posted…Marriage Is Your Biggest Investment: Protect It!My Profile

  17. MoneyAhoy says:

    Very interesting read – I’m a math nerd at heart, so I really loved the relation of FI to the number 0. FI really is a misunderstood concept by “the masses.” For many of my friends, I find I mention it to them once or twice and then don’t bring it up further. For those that are interested in walking the same path, they’ll come to you when they are ready. I’ve found that trying to cramming the FI concepts down people’s throats never ends well :-).
    MoneyAhoy recently posted…How to Start a WordPress Blog for BeginnersMy Profile

  18. Mrs PoP says:

    We haven’t told many people about our plans, but the ones we have told have generally been curious and supportive. One friend who we recently tried to treat when we went out for dinner insisted on separate checks, saying, “I support the plan – and your future adventures! I’ll pay for my own dinner!” It was a nice sentiment, but we had to assure her part of our plan was making sure we still had plenty of money to spend treating friends and family to the occasional dinner out. =)
    Mrs PoP recently posted…How Much Does Burning Man Cost?My Profile

  19. Mrs. BITA says:

    I’m a recent convert (with all the fervor and enthusiasm one might expect of a new convert) to FIRE. You know what seems crazy to me? The me of three-ish months ago. How is it even possible that it never even occurred to me that FIRE was a possibility? I, like everyone else I know, just assumed that I would work till I was old. I dutifully maxed out my 401k and hoped for the best. Now that I’ve crossed over, that just seems crazy to me. I honestly can’t understand how it never, ever occurred to me to question the basic assumption that if you were not born with a silver spoon in your mouth and never won the lottery, you would work till ‘retirement age’.

    We keep our FIRE-iness on the down low, but frankly, I find that hard. I want to shout it from the rooftops. I want to evangelize. I want to convert. I’m not an idiot though, so I just shut up and gorge myself on FIRE blogs and forums.
    Mrs. BITA recently posted…How much does it cost to have a baby?My Profile

  20. Matty says:

    I’ve always wondered if we’ll always be in the minority. Mainly because I do think you need to be slightly more creative and experimental to pursue financial independence

  21. This is such a cool post, and super relatable too. I think everyone who has ever tried something different to what everybody else is doing (whether its FIRE or anything else) has experienced that push back from people who seem to react negatively simply because they don’t understand.

    Even more baffling are the “friends” that seem to delight in negativity because you are chasing different goals to them. Even explaining it to them seems to be a waste of time. You can lead a horse to water…

    • Eric Bowlin says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it.

      We can only speculate why other people are negative toward something you are doing if it’s a positive thing. I think it just makes people think about their own insecurities.

      …and when people are insecure about something, they tend to defend it or lash out.

  22. The Dreamers says:

    My internal family gets it, but I am not sure the external will understand why we want financial independence. Most just do not want to talk about finances but hopefully the taboo is starting to lift from society. Does anyone else feel like they can’t bring money up to family? The Dreamers
    The Dreamers recently posted…Catching Honey Bees For FreeMy Profile

    • Eric Bowlin says:

      Money is a taboo subject in most families. Growing up, nobody ever talked about it to me. I had to figure it out on my own.

      It’s hard to break that taboo. If you start talking about it, people think you are bragging, self-centered, or just weird. It is getting better in the last few years though.
      Eric Bowlin recently posted…Pay Off Your Mortgage or Invest?My Profile

  23. Marie says:

    This is why new students understand graduate student assistants better than professors who have done it so long they no longer remember the learning process is not the same for everyone and neither is the playing field. It’s at best condescending to read that it’s so simple, when those who were successful at it do not acknowledge that good luck in job, health, relationships or being in the right place at the right time may have played at least a small role.

    It’s frustrating to hear how “easy” it is to save money when you and your spouse have been downsized four times in six years between you, not including the employer-required pay cuts or the times the meager pay raise wasn’t enough to cover the hike in insurance co-pays. It’s hard to stay motivated to cut expenses to offset “essential” medical stuff your doctor insists you have but your insurance doesn’t fully cover. It’s difficult to find time to travel when I have to save my 12 PTO days to cover what would otherwise be unpaid days when one of my kids is too sick to attend school and gives it to another kid a few days later so I have to miss the whole week. It’s hard to find time for a side hustle on top of your day job when your child is falling behind at school and the teacher blames you for not spending enough time on their guided reading books, reviewing spelling words or checking math homework at home. Am I “afraid” of financial independence or just swimming against a current you didn’t have to?

    I believe it’s both still possible and absolutely worth the struggle even it if it takes us 20 to 25 years instead of 5 or 10 but try to remain understanding that many others faced with the same obstacles aren’t so resilient to keep trying after repeated failures. I think some of the people who don’t believe FIRE is possible is because they are old enough to have seen so many times when life didn’t go according to plan that they stop making plans.

    I love learning from the FIRE community and appreciate the way a good post sticks in your brain long after you read it as this one did for me.

  24. Kyle says:

    I’d be interested in your process. Right now I’m on about a 9 year path to financial independence, started about 3 years ago. I’m checking out your blog.

    I too have banged my head against many brick walls trying to explain the basic principles to retire early and always seems they don’t understand or they think it’s too hard or they think what they’re doing is financially smarter in the long run regardless of what the actual math involved says. As far as early retirement, I think my dad and one close friend actually listen to me. But I have become a bit of a personal finance guru source of information to friends and family. I may yet be able to get through to more some day.

    • Eric Bowlin says:

      I found my way to FI through real estate. I know Mr. 1500 also generated most of his wealth through it as well, though we had differing strategies.

      FI seems like a foreign concept because it’s different than what people have been taught since birth.

      Start working at 20, work 45 years, retire at 65. The concepts are like teaching people how to do addition in a different way.

  25. You make a good point about most people ignoring the possibility of retiring early. I think it’s because in the present, its easier not to put the leg work in. In the long term, it’s totally worth it, but people don’t tend to think of their ‘future self’

  26. Kurt says:

    I’ll take independence over gadgets anytime. Not only are the gadgets costly, they soak up lots of time, often to no worthwhile (imo) end. Limiting gadgets is just another part of freedom!
    Kurt recently posted…Diamonds and Dogs #28My Profile

  27. It is so interesting to read about people who doubt FI, when they are face to face with someone who has actually done it. We don’t talk much about our plans because we still have a ways to go in paying off debt and investing. However, the small amount of people who do know seem to think we’ll never be successful at our goal. But it makes sense. The majority are sheep, following the herd . . . any wandering off the path is strange and dangerous territory. Thanks for the post Eric and Mr. 1500!
    Harmony@CreatingMyKaleidoscope recently posted…Monday Medley: A Quick UpdateMy Profile

    • Eric Bowlin says:

      When I got started in real estate, everyone said “if it was easy, everyone would do it.”

      I’m not saying it’s easy, but the attitude is really defeatist.

      I think you’ll be successful as long as you have solid goals and stick to your plan.

  28. Eric,

    What a great post!! Many of us bloggers can REALLY identify with this topic. My parents don’t know what I’m doing in real estate. No one at work knows. It’s like a secret life. Me and my wife love talking money and strategies with people, but it always makes others VERY uncomfortable!!

    I wish I even knew FIRE was a possibility 10 years ago. But no regrets, I’ve had a blast along the way. Everyone has their own journey. Some bumpier than others!

  29. Love this post, Eric! (And, Mr. 1500’s crack about the toilet seat…)

    In addition to the fear of financial independence, a lot of people feel like they don’t deserve it. Thus, they reject it and leave it outside of their realm of possibility.

    That’s why it’s so important that blogs like yours, 1500days, etc. are helping to educate others with real FIRE possibilities. It’s really not as elusive as people think. I believe everyone deserves to feel what it’s like to have financial freedom!

    Sometimes the grass truly is GREENER on the other side.
    Michael @ Financially Alert recently posted…How to Find The Perfect Term Life Insurance PolicyMy Profile

  30. One thing is to believe, the other is to action on it. FIRE takes a lot of dedication and perseverance. Some people can’t believe I save half my income but on the other hand, I can’t believe they spend 30,000$ on a car !!
    Xyz from Our Financial Path. recently posted…Open Book – Married Life and New InvestmentsMy Profile

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