The dream is closer than I thought.
All it took was setting myself on FIRE. Which is way less painful than it sounds.
The FIRE movement, short for Financial Independence Retire Early, is already changing my life dramatically. I always thought one of three things had to happen to achieve my dream of moving to an island and writing full time:
- I’d need to win the lottery (even though I don’t buy tickets);
- I’d need to land a seven-figure book deal; or
- I’d need to consistently be earning thousands of dollars each month from my fiction.
As we know, all of the above are impossible to control. I can help the process by writing more books, learning more marketing techniques and implementing what I’ve learned, and improving my craft. All of those things require time, and the more time I spend earning a pay check, the less is left over for my writing.
The solution is remarkably simple, and — best of all — it’s almost completely within my control.
Spend less than I make.
I know, I know — it seems like common sense. The problem is, our entire society is geared toward making us think we need more. That more will make us feel happy, successful, fulfilled, comfortable — you name it. When, in actuality, what it usually results in is just more stuff.
I’ve always had a tendency to buy too much. There are various reasons for this, including a childhood in a small, isolated community where buying choices were severely limited; experiencing poverty as a young adult and equating the ability to buy stuff with success; and the misconception that the “best” tools resulted in the best performance. During the pandemic, this hit hard. Rather than deal with my boredom, sadness, loneliness, and sense of loss in productive, healthy ways, I shopped online. A lot. I was a local hero, singlehandedly helping my favourite places of business survive. Or so I deluded myself.
When I realized it had gotten out of control, the first thing I did was get help. Thankfully, before I got into debt or completely depleted my savings, but still — when I look at how much I spent buying things I didn’t need, I cringe. It is double what I budgeted to live on in order to write full time for a year.
What if I’d saved? What if I’d invested? Assuming I have the same amount of expendable income for the next three years, I’d have enough to move. In ten years? Even without a book deal, I’d have more than enough to focus on my writing for the rest of my life without all the pressure. And if that seven-figure (or hell, even six-figure) deal comes along, financial independence will happen a lot sooner. Not because I make a ton of money, but because it’s truly amazing how little it costs to live (and live well) when you’re only buying what you need.
Admittedly, there is some privilege involved in this. I’m already self-employed, working from home, so the amount of money I earn is usually only limited by how much of my time I want to spend teaching. Some folks already don’t buy anything they don’t need, and still struggle to make ends meet. But I’m sure there’s a lot of us who end up not using all the groceries we buy, or who have too many books on our TBR piles or shoes in our closet. By virtue of being born Canadian, I’m already living in a rich country where purchasing expensive health insurance isn’t necessary.
Having a plan — a plan I can control — has galvanized me. As an environmentalist, I’ve long been uncomfortable with my level of consumption, and now that going greener has been linked to both achieving my dreams and living a better, healthier life, it’s a no brainer.
Meet My Gurus
If anyone else is interested in this, two blogs really helped me: Frugalwoods and Mr. Money Mustache. This quote from Frugalwoods turned the lightbulb on for me: “The concept of treat yourself underlies the belief –- or insecurity -– that we’ll never realize our deeply held dreams. And if we’re never going to reach our actual aspirations, then why not buy a bunch of random stuff to make ourselves feel better in the short term?”
That was so me. Because I doubted my writing dreams were ever gonna happen, I was buying “presents” to cheer myself up, ironically ensuring it would never happen.
And the most surprising thing? Not buying stuff I don’t need has been easy. I don’t feel the slightest bit deprived. Instead, I find myself wanting to donate a lot of the stuff I do have. (I’ve already started.) I just wish I’d heard of this earlier, which is why I’m sharing it with you. Maybe it will change your life too.
Have you ever heard of the FIRE or FI movement? Is it something you’d be willing to try to make your writing dreams come true?
The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.
UPDATE: Since writing this post, I discovered that the “Mr.” of Frugalwoods is still earning a $250,000-200,000 salary, and has for some time. While this doesn’t lessen the wisdom of the advice I found on the Frugalwoods blog, obviously their financial independence has less to do with frugality and more to do with making a shit-ton of money. If they’d increased their cost of living along with their salaries, which is typical, they might still both be wage slaves, but I think we can agree they’re not at risk of foreclosure even if they did start paying for haircuts and restaurant meals. If I made that kind of money, I’d also achieve FI pretty damn quickly.