Halfway to Financial Independence

During 2019, we crossed the halfway to financial independence milestone. On one hand, this feels like a huge deal. On the other, it feels like financial independence is just as far away as it ever was. It also feels strange because for most of our financial journey, we did not have a finish line in view.

Until sometime between 2017 and 2018, we expected to retire at traditional ages. We wanted to have an amazing retirement and wanted to be very financially secure. But we thought all of that was several decades away. We dreamed of someday buying a lake house. Or, maybe spending our significant savings on a boat. But, increasingly, it felt like our time was squeezed. Our career jobs kept stealing time we would have preferred to spend with each other, or traveling, or doing any number of non-career things. For a decade before, we had been plugged into personal finance, reading books by authors like Suze Orman, David Bach and Jean Chatzky. We were at a 200-level for our financial knowledge. This foundation helped us build enough savings and structure our expenses so that I could attend grad school debt-free. My professional degree allowed me to double my income during the first year I worked in my new career. Now, five years later, I’ve nearly doubled my income again. A degree that for many is a bad investment, paid off for us in large part thanks to sound planning and debt avoidance.

It was around this point, we decided to pursue financial independence and early retirement in earnest. It happened over a series of weeks and months, consuming blog media and crunching numbers of our own. Eventually, I pitched the idea to Mr. Vine and he double and triple checked my numbers and agreed that it seemed reasonable. 

We made some big choices like selling our first condo that gave our finances a quick boost. Even though we’d been saving in retirement accounts for over a decade, it felt like we were making very fast progress all of a sudden. Then, as our lives continued to get leaner and our savings became more automated, our progress did not feel as fast or as dramatic.

There are certainly milestones along the way that we’ve celebrated, like paying off the last of my student loans,paying off our last-ever car loan, and crossing certain nest-egg thresholds (like this one!). It is also true that our attitudes about our career jobs have changed as our nest egg grows. Although we remain committed to our professions, we are less willing to decline important experiences for those career jobs (like spontaneously going to see Hamilton).

Here, at the midway point, is a curious feeling. Thanks to the power of compounding and momentum, the second half will happen much, much faster than the first (in terms of how many years it took to accumulate the same number of dollars). The perspective is different because we’re watching that accumulation more closely. Even though from any starting point–our respective first-ever jobs, age 18, our respective college graduations and first “real” jobs, our marriage, or even my first post-grad school job upon changing careers–that first half took many more years, it sometimes feels like it’s taking longer. There’s a saying about a watched pot never boiling. 

Now, I’ve lived enough life to know that time seems to move faster as we age and certain time periods feel shorter in retrospect. Grad school was like that. Looking back, it boggles my mind that I’ve been out almost twice as long as I was in. During those years while I was in school, sometimes it felt like it was flying by and sometimes it felt like it would never end. Here, at the halfway point, we incidentally have about the same number of months until financial independence as I spent in grad school. I often relate our financial independence journey to my grad school experience–each is a big, concerted effort taking several seasons to complete.

We hold a deep sense of accomplishment for how far we’ve come. At the same time, we feel some uncertainty about the future and when we’ll get there. But ultimately, we feel more financially secure than ever. That comes with a great sense of peace. I believe that’s the nature of halfway. We are midway between commencement and completion. Our feelings reflect this reality. 

We have more milestones to hit before we reach financial independence. I’ll continue to check in as we hit those big and small waypoints along the way. We’re still expecting to sunset our career jobs towards the end of the first quarter of 2023. That gives us about 38 months to go. Or about 170 weeks. Or approximately 1,200 days. We aren’t counting down but we are looking forward. Beyond hitting our financial milestones, we continue to set career goals and consider how we’ll spend the remaining time we have left in those careers. 

Are you saving towards financial independence? Or working towards another major goal–financial or not? Where are you in your journey? What are some of the challenges of your particular stage? How do you cope with those challenges? 

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