There’s nothing inherently special about a new decade, or even a new year. January 1 is simply an arbitrary point on the continuum of time. But it can serve as a useful marker for tracking progress, and so this first day of 2020, a new blog is born.
Perhaps the world doesn’t need yet another blog. But I suppose that as individuals, we each believe that our unique points of view might resonate with someone. We all collect wisdom along the way and it is human to want to try to share it in the service of others.
2019 was the year I was introduced to the concepts of Minimalism and Financial Independence (FI). Early in the year I stumbled upon The Minimalists podcast, hosted by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. This concept really resonated with me, not because it reflects my life as it is, but because it reflects the type of life I desire to live. In 2019 I also discovered the Enneagram personality test which asserts that we all fit, more or less, into one of nine distinct personality types. I’ve always enjoyed taking these types of tests and I always approach them with a healthy dose of skepticism but found that Enneagram Type 5, described as The Investigator, really resonated with me. Upon reading various Type 5 descriptions, one passage really stood out: “Independence and autonomy are extremely important to Fives, who would prefer to scale down or do without rather than having to increase dependency on others. This may lead them to adopt a frugal and minimalist lifestyle.”
This was an “aha” moment for me because it explains why, despite living what many outside observers would describe as a life of comfort and success, I feel persistently uneasy and unfulfilled. The 24 years since I graduated college can be described as a sustained period of lifestyle inflation. As my income and family grew, so did my standard of living. Following, but never seriously questioning, the standard script, I allowed my lifestyle to grow to what can be characterized as obscene levels of spending. A thorough analysis of our 2019 spending confirmed what I had suspected but was afraid to calculate. In 2019 my family of three spent $154,775. That’s USD, not Chinese Yuan. Contrast that with the objectively successful Mr. Money Moustache who still professes to live on $25-27K per year. Let me be clear: this is not a humble brag. I find this admission to be profoundly embarrassing. But despite the unflattering admissions, it is my intent for this blog be transparent so that others in similar situations might learn from what is an all-too-common journey.
Self-awareness, however late to arrive, is nonetheless a gift. Before I read the groundbreaking book Your Money or Your Life, it was never really articulated to me that I was trading my very “life force” for all of these material goods. And that by spending far more than I was saving, I was condemning myself to indefinitely work nights and weekends in high-paying but high-stress jobs for asshole bosses. Granted, I may not be wise but I’m also not ignorant. Of COURSE, I knew what I was trading for this lifestyle. I know that time is our most valuable nonrenewable resource. I just never really questioned it or considered the way out.
But now I get it. I get me. I get the trade-offs I’ve made – that I am still making – to live this way. The way out has been eloquently and articulately described in the many excellent books, blogs, documentaries and podcasts that I’ve consumed the past few months. In addition to watching the documentary Playing with FIRE and reading the Mr. Money Moustache blog, I’ve devoured the books Work Optional, Your Money or Your Life, ChooseFI, Meet the Frugalwoods, The Simple Path to Wealth, and I Will Teach You to Be Rich. They collectively describe the possibility of living with less: Less debt, less wasted space, less clutter, less stress, less fear, less reliance on a high paying job, lower monthly bills and a smaller carbon footprint. But also describe a life of more: More savings, more security, more freedom, more time, more confidence, more options, more travel, and more alignment with the ethical ideals which I want to model for my daughter.
I’m ready to change but this life of overhead and infrastructure, of contracts and agreements, and of complicated emotions is heavy with its own inertia. This life which took decades to build will take time to un-build. I’m determined to make dramatic progress towards this better, saner way of living in 2020 and will try in this blog to consistently and transparently track my progress. Let’s begin.