One of the reasons I started blogging about my road to financial independence was to address and discuss the mental health and psychology aspects of the process. What motivates people to seek financial independence? Lots of the personal finance community are interested in their own motivations, and in attempting to understand them and motivate others on a long and often dull investment road they turn to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s pretty basic; a broad explanation of the intrinsic motivations of people. Why we do what we do, and an approach to build on through life. Like all popularly assimilated psychological frameworks it’s over-simplistic – life just isn’t that easy, but it helps people to think about themselves, so we’ll roll with it. A LOT of FIRE bloggers have takes on Maslow’s product, most of them making various versions to try to frame an FI approach or timescale (1, 2, 3, 4, 5):
There are all useful graphical representations of the route to FI. The steps up the pyramid to the pinnacle that we hope to achieve. But I think they’re all taking a distorted field of vision. They’re conflating motivation with a path. People get into investing and FI for lots of different reasons, to look at why I want to go back to the source material:
The classic pyramid argues that your motivations are governed by completion of the lower steps. You need to have food, shelter, water, safety and security before you can think about settling down for an intimate relationship. You can’t fulfill your life dream potential without a home to come sleep in etc (note – can you see where some issues lie here?). Where does your motivation for financial independence, FIRE or whatever form of personal finance interest you have come from?
My reading of the personal finance community is that there is a wide variety of intrinsic reasons, but a lot of people fall into two camps. Those who are seeking FIRE in response to their basic needs (the bottom two rungs of Maslow), and those seeking the pinnacle of self-actualization. The former camp seem to be people who seek FIRE to ensure they never have to worry about their safety, security, bills, food or housing again. FIRE is the ultimate safety net, that means a perceived failure – poverty, unemployment or homelessness, can never occur. I think this is often learned from debt, or fear of debt. Debt is terrible for your mental health – ergo no debt ever means perfect mental health? As MedFI lays out, FIRE is no mental health panacea (7). If you are aiming for FIRE in the hope of not being anxious about debt, then you may well end up being anxious about something else when you get to be debt-free. Being anxious you’re not saving enough? Being anxious that even though you’ve saved to live without work, have you saved enough and will it last?
Then there are those seeking self-actualization. The pinnacle of this period ties in nicely to FIRE rhetoric, creating an environment where you are free to seek any pursuits which might help you achieve your full potential and receive feelings of accomplishment. I’ve spoken about the concept of using FIRE as a target when running from work, but what are you running to? Work often forms a core part of a person’s identity, and much as we don’t like the idea of being a ‘wage-slave’, your role can be part of that definition. Maybe following the financial independence community is a part of that identity, but it isn’t an end in itself. There are recurring themes in the personal finance media around this; people who have achieved financial independence and then think ‘…now what?’
For those seeking financial independence to get out of a crappy job and into a fulfilling early retirement, that future needs a plan too. You will need an identity, an idea of the person you want to be, else you will end up bored and suffering (8, 9). You have to have a purpose, and this can take A LOT of thought… the Mad Fientist wrote a long post about his process, and so did MMM (4). For some, like Young FI Guy, it might mean returning to work on your terms as part of your identity. It might mean spending more time travelling like M&S at Fire and Wide, with friends, family and all the things that matter to you (10).
Where is your fulfillment? You may be at the top of the financial pile, but you’re still not at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, and you might have just taken a knock back because you’re not receiving the FIRE-target feelings of accomplishment. There needs to be a final step.
So to be a typical shrink, I ask you, why are you doing this?
Checking the assets and liabilities:
These are taken, as always, from my Beast Budget spreadsheet. I saved around 46% (42% not including pension) of my salary, continuing last months good run. New invested money has gone into my old friend Vanguard’s ex-UK dev world fund. This can’t and won’t continue.
If you fancy a free share, sign up to Freetrade with this link (I also get one).
- Groceries – Budget £200, spent £281.22, last month £200.77 – Back to spending too much, must rein this in
- Entertainment – Budget £100, spent £219.15, last month £99.95 – Going out to eat too much again
- Transport – Budget £250, spent £445.35, last month £177.91 – Car parts, insurance, serious mileage this month
- Holiday – £150, spent £0, last month £0
- Personal – £100/ £236.81/ £143.68
- Loans/ Credit – £50/ £340/ £60
- Misc – £50/ £535.24/ £52.50 – Furniture and birthday gifts
- Fees – £300 /£630.26/ £33.27 – Amazon, GMC and various others taking their pound of flesh
In the garden:
It’s all gone bonkers with this humidity and warmth. Harvesting plenty of peas, lettuces, radishes, rocket, sweet peas and various other bits. Planted out tomatoes and beans. Generally looking lush.
Happy July everyone!