I am often asked this question when interacting with friends and colleagues. Perhaps it is because I am looking so old or they are just searching for a topic of light conversation.
While on the surface this seems like a simple question it often throws me into a loop of self-examination. This can be a little awkward at a social gathering. It is high-time to figure out a canned response that can be blurted out in the heat of the moment.
This question is really rooted in the question of, “What is work?”. I believe that work has two primary motivations. Let’s call these Productivity and Creativity. Both of these are important but for completely different reasons. You can not miss out on either and still have a meaningful life. Losing one would be like choosing between your arms or your legs. I hope to keep both!
Productivity is the path to success. One motivation for work is building the life that we wish to have. Most careers start out with pay levels that require us to work full time to pay for our lifestyle. But over the years the typical American will end up making enough money that paying the bills can be done without working full time. Combined with a systematic practice of savings most people can get to a point where success is no longer dependent on hours worked each week.
If success is no longer dependent on work, then that opens a new range of possibilities. Most Americans are living much longer lives than 100 years ago and achieving much more economic success. This makes it possible for many people to stop needing a paycheck as early as age 50.
How much do I need? To maintain a consistent lifestyle after the paychecks stop you need roughly 20 times your annual budget. When your net worth hits this level you can stop getting paid and continue to live at the same level for the next 40 years.
How can I accumulate the required net worth? Follow the simple rule: save 10% and invest in the S&P index and house. After 40 years you are certain to have enough. Whenever you start using this simple rule will start the clock and determine when the bucket is filled. Because of Social Security you can about shave 10 years off the plan. The government will supply about half of what you need after you hit retirement age.
Understand that the amount of net worth accumulates exponentially. So thinking about the amount in dollars in the account can reduce your motivation. Instead do the math to turn dollars into time using the compounding formula. Calculate your net worth and then calculate how far you have remaining on the journey toward retirement funding.
Creativity is the path to fulfillment. When money is not the primary goal of work, there is a new freedom. What is the thing that I have dreamed about doing for my entire life? What would bring joy and happiness? It is almost certain to be related to creativity or relationships, or perhaps both.
My relational needs are completely fulfilled through the deep connections with my family and close friends. But many others have a social need to connect with others in a work environment. Particularly if you are a flaming extrovert work is fulfilling mostly largely because it provides opportunity to interact with others. This is not the case for me.
I have a very intense need to create. Engineering, Writing, and Teaching are all an expression of this fundamental need to create. Each of these roles provides opportunity for self-expression. I have done these things since I was a child and cannot envision a life that did not allow them. It is who I am: Inventor, Writer, Teacher.
What would I do if money were no object? This is a very pertinent question now. A lifetime of diligence has created a situation where the job is not required for success. So it begs the question. What will I do with my life? What new goals am I now free to pursue? If money is not the object what is?
Saving for retirement is a practice that I started over 40 years ago. It was my dream to be able to focus all of my attention on creative interests and not have to work for others in order to produce income. While working out the details of this for my life over the last four decades, I believe that I have uncovered some truths that could greatly benefit others.
There are a simple set of principles and practices that will lead you on a path toward financial freedom. While these concepts are simple, it does not mean that they are easy. Applying these ideas requires a great deal of internal fortitude and discipline. I have watch so many of my friends and family choose a path of poverty that removes any possibility of financial freedom. This gives me motivation to promote the practices that can lead anyone toward freedom.
No one gets rich over night. But everyone can reach a level where they can stop working and live at the same standard of living without a job. This is the goal of Simple Investing - not to become wealthy, but to become free.