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My FI Journey: The beginning

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

This is where it all begins. During 2019 browsing the internet late at night while everyone else in the house was sleeping I stumble upon the concept of F.I.R.E.. It stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. What is this and how on earth did not I learn about it earlier?! It caught my attention right away.

The Internet is full of get rich quick schemes and people selling the dream of never having to work again and passive or residual income paying for a luxurious lifestyle for the rest of your life. Funnily enough all you have to do is buy an expensive valueless product or service which will make you poorer, and the seller richer. Often at cost of getting all your family, friends and network involved and expose them to lose their precious hard earned money too. So you can lose not only your money but also your face and reputation among your peers and social circle. The only one getting richer is the scammer. Granted some business models work like that and it works for some people however it is basically a scam and morally unethically to say the least.

There must be a way of building wealth that is legitimate and solid. Understandably there are risks to all investments and undertakings in the business world but there are also ways to manage risks and come to a reasonable strategy one can feel confident to pursue. My experience so far had been aiming for successes academically and professionally in terms of being employed. My first attempts at investing where limited to savings accounts and certificates of deposit. The first time I heard about mutual funds and head to the bank to ask for information not only was I looked at as if I just had gotten lost in the bank aisle (maybe because I was still a teenager) but I was handed in pages and pages of brochures and documents that did not enlighten me further on how they work nor did the conversation with the advisor who helped me opened the account. I always thought my parents were very savvy when it came to handling money so I would often come to them when I had questions regarding money. However when I first came to ask about the stock market, I was faced with uncertain faces and explaining it was something very close to a gamble - you bet on something on the stock market, maybe your are lucky and maybe -most likely - you lose it all. That was it, that must have been some time around 2007 or so and for decades after this moment I never really looked back at investing in the stock market. Oh my lord, imagine if I did! I probably would be FI by now, but you know, we cannot change the past so let's focus on the present. I might do the calculation later though just out of curiosity to fantasize how a life of a multimillionaire would be.

Anyways, it was not until 2019 that I started learning that there is actual knowledge and skills that can be learned to turn the stock market into a solid investment and not a gamble. My excitement was through the roof. I was still afraid and a bit skeptical, I had so much to learn. But I knew now that there was something I had to learn and somehow knew that my path had to go in that direction. So I dedicated my very limited free time over the next months to read every piece of information I could get my eyes on about financial independence, especially through the stock market. Started listening to podcasts, searching books and blogs where I could find messages that resonated with my still somehow abstract goal of achieving FI.

To put some perspective into this, it is not that I was never confronted with the concept of financial independence and was completely financially irresponsible. I had a basic understanding of compound interest from savings accounts. Although despite understanding the theoretical principal behind it, it was not really clear to me the impact it can have in one's life long term.

Until then for me the only proven way for solid investments and passive income was real estate investments in rental properties. All my efforts in savings and investing had been directed to that purpose and although it was most of the times effective, this strategy would not only take huge amounts of capital to get into an investment but it also requires a significant amount of work to maintain and manage the properties. There is also the consideration that you need significant cashflow to be able to react to any unexpected events and due to the potential large leverage involved there are also potential high risks. At some point I had a huge set back with a development project gone wrong, lost a lot of money, got me into a large amount of debt and it made me realize it was not the right way for me anymore. I needed something else. So here I am almost 2 years into initially hearing about FI. The first year my invested was majorly in knowledge, reading and learning everything I could.

Where to invest, what to buy, where to buy it, how to buy it, what is exactly a broker, why does it matter which broker one chooses, how do the fees work, what will it cost me to have these accounts, what can I expect from this long term, how much of it can I lose, can I manage the risk, is it really even worth it, so so many questions.

Just as you cannot learn to swim by reading about it, I just had to take the plunge and start investing. Learning by doing is the most efficient and best way in my opinion to really learn something, so I started experimenting with a bank and two different brokers. In summary after the second year I learned a lot and gained enough confidence to start investing more aggressively and that is what I have been doing ever since. I still think real estate is a great asset class and while I navigate changing circumstances in my life it is important to make adjustments when necessary but I am confident that the actions I have taken the last couple of years have helped me set myself for success in the future.

My wish is that I no longer think of money as the most decisive argument when choosing what to do. The world today is always wanting more from us. We get the expectation to do more, do it faster, be available and give 110% all the time. It is frown upon to be vulnerable or show weaknesses. But weaknesses is part of being human. It is important to take a break when we need one. It is important that we can spend time with our friends and family. It is important that we build meaningful relationships. Sometimes that is difficult to do when we are all stressed out from a lot of work or frustrated from a job we do not like. Or we simply do not have time because there is only 24 hours in the day, we are supposed to work 8 hours, sleep another 8 hours, commute for 1-2 hours, eat 3 meals a day, prepare said meals, exercise, socialize, network, care for your family and of course everybody should have hobbies, right? Something has to give and in the list of priorities the only one that pays the bills is work, so that is usually the ones that takes precedence among all. But mostly the others are the ones that regenerate your body with physical rest and emotional stability. When those come short is when we start struggling. We also need to take care of our wellbeing and mental health.

Many in the FIRE community bash on being en employee and depict the dream of having your own business and owner of their time. While it can be possible that it gives you a certain amount of flexibility, it is not a universal solution for everyones' happiness. I firmly believe that you can be happy with a job or as entrepreneur or as anything you want. The key is however in designing your life and choices so that your profession, job or what you "make for a living" remains at that, a means to an end, to live, and not that we end up living for work.

The goal is to use our resources, time, energy, health, connections and skills to enable us a life we are excited to live. We should never forget that. The goal is to redefine our life in function of our happiness and in our own terms. Not the other way around.



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