How to Declare Your Financial Independence
Tips from a man who did, plus apps and sites that can help you
(Next Avenue is republishing this 2014 blog post, timed to July 4th.)
As the 4 of July nears, what better time to talk about a few ways that could help people in their 50s or 60s declare their financial independence within the next few years?
You may have noticed that the goal of “financial independence” and its close cousin “financial freedom” seem to be replacing the traditional goal of “retirement.”
“Freedom and freedom money really resonate a lot more than ‘retirement’ when we do focus groups,” said Chris Brown, a partner at the Hearts & Wallets financial services market research firm.
Freedom, Not Retirement
The financial advisory industry is onto this, too. Merrill Lynch, for example, has announced a holistic approach for clients, known as Clear. “It’s not just about investing. It’s about your life priorities and connecting your life to your finances to help enable those things,” David Tyrie, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told me.
Some smaller financial advisory firms say they’ve been doing this kind of client counseling for years. “We believe it’s the right way to manage money,” said Dave Richmond, a founding partner at Richmond Brothers in Jackson, Mich.
Living the Financial Independence Life
A guy who knows a lot about financial independence — and just began living it — is financial writer and editor Jonathan Chevreau. I relayed his advice last year when Chevreau was the editor of Canada’s MoneySense magazine (the northern version of our Money) and had just published the U.S. edition of Findependence Day, a “fictional finance” novel.
But on May 20, 2014, a month after his 61 birthday, Chevreau left his magazine job and declared his own financial independence.
Although he's now blogging twice a week for MoneySense (“contracting back 40 percent of what I was paid as a salaried employee"), Chevreau is otherwise taking the summer off to watch the World Cup, travel to Turkey and read books on semi-retirement. After that, he intends to work when he wants and only as much as he wants, writing fiction and nonfiction and taking on speaking engagements.
“It’s experimental,” Chevreau said. “I’m learning as I go.”
In truth, he noted, his financial independence timing “wasn’t particularly mine.” But it was pretty close. “I would’ve preferred to go another year,” he said.
Chevreau's 5 Financial Independence Rules
Now that he’s living the goal he novelized, I asked Chevreau whether he’d amend any of the five rules his book laid out on achieving financial independence:
1. Pay off your home in full.
2. Find multiple sources of income for retirement.
3. Develop “guerilla frugality” habits.
4. Save 20 percent of your gross income.
5. Invest with a “Lazy ETF” portfolio — selecting, say, three Exchange Traded Funds (a U.S. stock fund, an international stock fund and a U.S. bond fund) and holding onto them, rebalancing as needed.
Chevreau said he is not only sticking by them, he’s been living them, with a strong debt aversion and an allergy to excessive spending. He just sold his old Volvo and bought — for cash — a two-year old Camry Hybrid. “Its gas mileage is three times better than the Volvo’s,” said Chevreau.
Now that he’s not employed full-time, Chevreau said he’s an even bigger fan of the Easy ETF portfolio.
“When I was working full-time, I was constantly checking financial websites and listening to stock-oriented podcasts from The Motley Fool or Jim Cramer,” he noted. “Now, I’d prefer to have the Easy ETF portfolio in this phase of my life and not have the anxiety of individual stocks going up and down.”
2 Electronic Tools to Declare Financial Independence
If you’d like free electronic help to achieve financial independence, I have two suggestions:
Freedom$. This is a nifty iPhone app from the Hearts & Wallets folks. (You can find it in the iTunes store or at GoFreedommoney.com.)
Freedom$ lets you see how you’re doing compared to others your age. More important, it quickly shows you how much sooner you’ll achieve “financial freedom” by adopting any, or all, of the 10 financial behaviors of the most successful people in the annual survey of households the firm has conducted (20,000 have been surveyed over four years).
You start by just entering your age, your total assets and your total consumer debt (other than your mortgage). Then, Freedom$ calculates your Assets to Income Ratio. The goal: to become what Freedom$ calls a “10-timer,” where your assets equal 10 times your income.
Next, you get a Freedom Score: an estimate of how many years until you’ll achieve financial freedom. This number that will shrink if you take on the “good” behaviors and get extra points for doing so. For example, Freedom$ says, try to “save in a burst” by turbocharging the amount you’re putting away, something that could be easier once you’re no longer paying for your kids’ college education.
“Burst saving is three times more common among 10-Timers — 64 percent of them did it — making it one of the most important differences between 10-Timers and others,” said Brown.
The whole process should take about 30 minutes, longer if you want to give yourself electronic reminders to take actions that’ll help you find financial freedom sooner.
FlexScore is an excellent, free site to help you with day-to-day money management. I wrote about it last fall.
Like Freedom$, FlexScore also calculates a score for you and shows you how to raise the number. Since I first talked about FlexScore, the company has now also created FlexScore Pro, a version financial advisers can use with their clients.
Have a safe and happy 4 and here’s hoping you achieve financial independence when you want.