When I first started meeting with people for Brunch & Budgets, I used to ask them what retirement meant to them. The answers I got were so unexpected that I eventually stopped asking the question. Most people said “it doesn’t mean much to me,” or wrote something vague they had read about online.
The real kicker for me, though, was when I started seeing clients write things like, “I just plan to figure out what I love doing and do that forever.” That’s when I turned the question around on myself. What did retirement even mean to ME, someone who had spent over half a decade running retirement scenarios and talking to clients in their 40s and 50s about “retiring early”? America is obsessed with retirement planning, but does it even make sense for how we think of our work and careers today?
The days of working for a company for 40 years and getting your gold watch. Pensions are disappearing, even from public sector careers. Job security is an oxymoron.
The concept of accumulating a pile of money and crossing your fingers that it will last after you hit age 65 doesn’t make all that much sense anymore.
Maybe, instead of retirement, we need to think about building towards financial independence and what that could look like.
So what is financial independence? First, let’s start with what it’s not.
Financial independence is not your Rich Dad Poor Dad / 4-Hour Workweek / passive income strategy.
It’s not about flipping something or finding shortcuts or doing the least work possible or sitting on the beach watching your bank account grow.
It’s not about finding your “passion.”
It doesn’t even mean not having a job or working for someone else.
Financial independence is about creating financial systems that allow you to lead a life with purpose, help others, and pay the bills.
How do you do that?
You can start by asking yourself these three questions:
1. What can I see myself doing for the rest of my life?
This question is the crux of the whole equation. Again, it doesn’t have to be your passion or something you love doing recreationally that you feel like you could monetize.
Think about what you can do that will leave you feeling fulfilled at the end of the day and why it’s so fulfilling.
Is it super fun and awesome to get to do it every day? Do you feel productive? Do you feel like you’re contributing to something greater than yourself? Do you love who you get to work with?
2. What skills and talents do I have that can add value to other people’s lives?
This question goes hand in hand with the first question. Often, part of feeling fulfilled is knowing you’ve made someone else’s life easier, better, calmer, more comfortable, more exciting.
What do you have to offer to others? How can you serve people best? It doesn’t have to seem glamorous or even sound fun, frankly. You don’t have to found a start up or invent a new thing to add value to people’s lives.
For instance, I do financial planning. 18-year-old me would think I was crazy and boring at the same time. There are over 1 million financial advisors out there.
But for my community, I’m filling a need. As long as that need continues to exist, I will be there.
What can you do that will make your friends, family, and loved ones live better lives? Start there.
3. What other sources of cash flow can I create or build upon for my future self?
Here’s where it gets fun. Last month, I wrote about diversifying your income streams. Relying on one source or one type of income is risky, whether it’s from one employer, one or two big clients, or one product.
Are there other income streams you can create to start saving for your future self?
One that is often overlooked as a source of income is starting a long term investment account. Once you’ve built up an emergency fund (3-6 months of Minimum Viable Income), consider putting your regular savings amount into an investment account.
Consider this month for your future self 10-15 years from now. A lot can change in a decade. Maybe you want to move, start a family, change careers completely, buy a home. Building up this investment account will give you the cash flow you need to make these big moves without having to worry about how you’re going to continue your current lifestyle.
Retirement accounts like IRAs, SEPs, and 401ks are quite restrictive and still fall under the notion of accumulating a pile of money, but they can be a great tool for minimizing taxes if you’re making over 6 figures. Just remember that you can’t touch the money you put into a retirement account until you’re 59.5 without hefty penalties.
Start planning your path to financial independence now.
Today, it’s about doing what you value and what adds value for other people.
Today, it’s about distilling what you really care about down to it’s purest form and building your life around that.
When you choose this life, the need for distractions and constant consuming seem to matter less and less and planning for this future becomes all the more clear.
When you choose this life, there’s nothing to retire from.
Pamela Capalad is a Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of Brunch & Budget, a financial planning service that makes talking about your money less scary and more delicious. She loves helping entrepreneurs and freelancers streamline their financial lives so they can focus on growing their businesses.