Three years ago, I was in a mental rut. I was four years out of college, had a recruiting job in the tech industry, and was grappling with a quarter-life crisis. I felt like there had to be more to life than this work-centric, distinctly American churn, where I was squeezing my leisure time into weekends and PTO.
In my early 20s, I thought the question was, "What do I want to do in life?" But my curiosity went beyond a career choice. I was frustrated with the model of modern work and I was starting to challenge the idea of the 40-hour work week in any occupation.
I realized that the question I really wanted to answer was, "What if I could break the tie between 'work' and the pressure to earn money?'" I realized I was talking about financial independence, and having enough money invested that I never have to work for money again.
I started researching online and Googled every beginner's question on personal finance. From Reddit's r/financialindependence community to J.L. Collins' book "The Simple Path to Wealth," I gathered a variety of information to help me shape my own money journey.
The goal wasn't to become a financial expert. It was to learn just enough to make an informed decision, take action, and create my exit plan from the 40-hour work week.
I have saved 60% of my income over the past three years. I invest the majority of those savings in the stock market through my tax-advantaged accounts like my 401(k) and HSA, as well as my personal brokerage.
I'm now 29, and my money habits will allow me to be financially independent and retire at 35. While I will very likely still work, that work will no longer bear the burden of paying my bills. Instead, I'll use my skills and knowledge to contribute in a way that feels organic, and is at my own pace.
I'm not sure yet what that will look like, but I think it is safe to say that I won't be sticking with a 9-to-5 schedule. With the freedom of time, I'll be able to design a work life that suits my agenda and mental health, not an employer's productivity needs.
Here are three things I've done that have helped me in my journey to financial independence and early retirement.
Since 2018, I've increased my income by 84% by maximizing earnings in my day job through annual merit increases, promotions, and changing companies when new opportunities arise.
The most important thing to remember is that there is no right way to increase your earnings. It's all about your preference and skill set. It's important to be honest about your strengths so you can invest your energy where you'll have the highest return.
For example, my recruiting career is pretty mentally demanding. I like to keep my evenings and weekends free so I can rest and recharge, rather than devoting my energy to growing an additional income stream.
Video by Tala Hadavi
I think I have a strong professional acumen and awareness of corporate politics. Along with my study of the recognition and reward culture at my company and my portfolio of work, I know that I'm able to increase my income faster than I could through a side hustle.
My best advice is to know your strengths. That will be the key to figuring out your earning potential.
I changed employers at the beginning of my financial independence journey and have been with my current employer for almost three years. However, my tenure is not a reflection of "company loyalty." It's a reflection of how my employer treats me.
"No company loyalty" doesn't mean changing jobs every year. It means holding your employer accountable for retaining you. Keep the bar high. Monitor how they're compensating you — whether it's in dollars or experience — and ensure it aligns with your life priorities.
My employer has invested in me, but when they have fallen short of my expectations, I am vocal with my managers about my compensation and career goals.
A negotiation shouldn't be an uncomfortable conversation that only happens once a year. Focus on doing great work year round and on building a relationship with the person on the other side of the table. This will give you the most leverage and a consistent line of communication.
An ideal dynamic is one where both of you can be comfortable and candid about money.
Video by Mariam Abdallah
My best advice is to approach negotiations like a collaboration. You and your manager have a mutual interest. When you are paid competitively, you can continue to do valuable work at your current company versus a competitor, for example.
Unsure about whether to stay at your job or quit? Remember that in any interpersonal relationship, you have to make decisions based on the reality of the relationship now, not how good things were in the past. While it's easy to stay with something familiar and comfortable, a healthy relationship is one where both parties continue to grow and benefit.
My day job has been a powerful engine in accelerating my progress toward financial independence. I'll always be grateful for that. It'll be a bittersweet day when I sell the very car that got me to my destination. But I'll remind myself: I drive the car. The car doesn't drive me.
I don't like enforcing spending limits in specific categories because it feels restrictive and is difficult for me to maintain. Instead, I aim to save at least 50% of my income on an annual basis. How I spend the other 50% is more fluid.
I created my own expenses spreadsheet in 2018 and have tracked all my purchases since. Even if I'm not budgeting with one of the more traditional methods, it's important for me to have an accurate understanding of my overall spending.
My savings rate is a major component of my FIRE timeline. I like using a calculator by Engaging Data to see projections after I input my income, investments, and spending.
It can be difficult to imagine the long-term outcomes of your daily habits. I like this website because it crunches the numbers and visualizes it for you. Possibility is a powerful motivator. It was enlightening seeing how many working years I could eliminate by earning more and spending less in my younger years.
Another good way to increase your savings rate is to reverse engineer how you think about managing money. Just like there's no such thing as darkness — it is merely the absence of light — similarly, savings are the absence of spending.
Video by Courtney Stith
Instead of actively thinking about saving, be intentional about your spending habits. If you can get a handle on your lifestyle costs, your savings will naturally stack up.
When setting money goals, I ask three questions:
- Is it realistic?
- Is it sustainable?
- Does it revolve around a fulfilled life versus a restricted one?
The last point is the most important one. Money is a tool for creating a life you love. When we contribute to our 401(k)s or talk about retirement planning, we're actually creating a framework for our future selves to be happy and OK.
Money doesn't have to be a daunting, clinical topic. It is as much an art as it is a science. My progress toward financial independence can be measured in dollars, but my ultimate goals of autonomy, choice, and peace are unquantifiable.
Connie is the writer behind @conpoint, a personal Instagram account turned online diary of her journey to financial independence. She writes about all things work and money, including negotiation tips, career strategy, and the intersection of mental health and modern work life.
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