Let’s not sugarcoat this. The pandemic pushed me back onto Facebook. Said another way, I logged onto Facebook on purpose. Repeatedly. In an effort to not totally regret my pandemic-induced poor decision making, I also started hanging out in more personal finance groups.
I don’t regret that particular decision. In fact, there’s plenty of knowledge sharing and conversation happening. And I keep seeing people ask questions like “What is the FI move in this situation?” or “Would this be FI?” On some level, it feels like the personal finance version of the WWJD bracelet.
The answers, of course, are mostly predictable. The FI move is always to save and invest as much as you can. Don’t fritter away money. Definitely don’t buy a new car. Maybe consider buying your kitchen supplies at a restaurant wholesaler instead of Target.
After letting all of the personal finance dogma wash over my eyeballs for the past few months, I started to question different aspects of our own journey. Then, I really started to ruminate on where we are now. And I realized that the thing I thought wasn’t very FI is actually the closest we’ve ever come to financial independence.
A First Taste of FI
For years, we’ve been plodding our way to financial independence with absolutely zero intention of retiring early. When we first started this journey, I couldn’t even imagine the sheer delight of what it would feel like to earn six figures combined as a couple. As months and years passed, we worked our way across the salary schedule and started to earn more money.
But it was s l o w.
And the speed was always underscored when I would read posts about people paying down more debt in a year than we earned. It felt like we would never make any real gains.
But then we did.
In fact, just recently, I realized that I have six figures in my Roth IRA alone. Somewhere between the slow trod and now, we picked up the pace. Or our money did. Realizing that I had all but set myself up to be a future millionaire felt like our first true taste of financial independence.
And then we threw it away. Or so I thought.
That Isn’t Very FI…
At the start of the school year, we were confronted with a really difficult decision. All teachers and parents were. Dual-teacher households were in a particularly tough spot because no two districts are handing this the same.
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After working through every scenario and crunching ever number we could, we decided that my husband would take a leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The details are complicated and the story isn’t mine to tell, but the short version is that this ended up being the decision that we needed to make in order to do what was safest for our immediate family and our aging parents. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)
It also meant that we were going to give up a lot of the headway that we made on the path to financial independence. Fortunately, this leave is not entirely unpaid. That means that we can tread water financially without dipping into savings.
But treading water…that isn’t very FI, is it?
FI in the Making
Don’t worry. This isn’t going to turn into something saccharine. There is no overlooking the fact that this decision was made in the middle of a pandemic. We didn’t want to make this call. There are no fireworks or revelry. It’s not that kind of independence.
But it is space. It is breathing room. Being able to live on one salary without having to dip into savings is no small thing. In fact, just a few short years ago on my maternity leave, we couldn’t do that.
Knowing how much we’ve both grown our income is empowering. The fact that we also have the savings to float us if we didn’t have that kind of income is nothing short of incredible.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not delusional. There isn’t a calculator in the world that would call us financially independent. We simply aren’t there. But just because we had to stop to tread water doesn’t mean it’s over. We aren’t back at square one. We haven’t even turned back around.
All it means is that we’ve run a stronger race already than we realized. And when the time is right, we will be moving forward again.
Pausing doesn’t undo progress toward FI. Finding our footing in a world we never imagined isn’t the opposite of financial independence. It’s the very makings of it.
So Tell Me…Have you ever felt like slowing down or stopping was the same as quitting?