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IWSG: Writing the dream

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:

  1. I’d need to win the lottery (even though I don’t buy tickets);
  2. I’d need to land a seven-figure book deal; or
  3. 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.

Common Sense?

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.

Getting Galvanized

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. Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThose 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.

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54 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dear Miss Moncrieff
    A lady can Never have too many shoes!!!

    Reply
    • JH

      Perhaps I’m not a lady, then, because I have way too many! 🙂

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Ha ha, I refuse to believe that for a moment. You are a lady (fact). You need to buy more shoes (fact).
        P.s Just finished ‘Return to Dyatlov Pass’…Loved it.

        Reply
        • JH

          Thanks for reading RtDP, Mark. I’m so glad you liked it.

          But I won’t be buying new shoes. I barely wear 5% of the ones I have. It’s the last thing I need. Plus, when I make it to my island, I plan to go barefoot most days so I can wiggle my toes in the sand. 🙂

          Reply
          • Avatar

            Lucky old Sand (Behave) 🙂

  2. Avatar

    That’s one thing I’ve discovered as I’ve gotten older – I really don’t need more stuff. We aren’t moving, the house is only so big, and we don’t use half of what we already own. Scaling back now is a great idea. Less to pack when you move to that island to write full time!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Haha, just made me think of the KonMari and the middle of an island in the middle of the ocean. Just don’t forget something to write with.

      Reply
    • JH

      Exactly, Alex. Downsizing and decluttering can be fun and very freeing too!

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Great points here! Very inspiring…

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, my friend. <3

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    You’re definitely on the right track there J.H.
    As Alex says, as you get older you realise you don’t need so much stuff. I’m old now and desperately trying to get rid of ‘stuff’
    Only buy what you really need and ignore the rest. You can do this!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Jim. I’m sure you’re not old, but this is part of the problem–we tend to realize this stuff too late. I wish I’d heard about this so much earlier. I would have been a full-time writer years and years ago.

      But no point in regretting the past. Just have to keep moving forward!

      Reply
      • Avatar

        I’m seventy now J.H!
        Had my first Covid jab this morning!

        Reply
  5. Avatar

    We’ve been trying to weed out some of that “stuff.” I prefer buying or making things for others rather than myself anyway.

    Reply
    • JH

      I overspent on gifts for others and charitable donations as well. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    Sounds like a pretty cool movement. I haven’t heard of it before, but it resonates. We’ve always tried to live within our means, something that became more of a challenge once kids came along.
    One thing is for sure: a lot of life’s stress evaporates when you stay committed to spending less than you earn. With your laser focus, you’ll be living those island dreams in no time!

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s the thing: FIRE is about living well below your means. I was living within my means, with savings, but I was still spending too much and buying stuff I didn’t need. There’s this popular misconception that we all need to work like dogs until we’re 65, but that’s because we tend to save so little (apparently, five to ten percent of our take-home income is typical, and some of us don’t even do that). If we stopped spending so much, retiring at 30 is not only possible, but very doable. I so wish I’d heard about this earlier!

      Thanks for the kind words, Lise. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    Very good money advice. I heard this quote: most people buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t even like. That was an eye-opener. Also, Covid. My extra income stopped. I was still able to teach piano lessons online, then in the garage, and now some come to my house, but the other things I did are done. And, I’m glad they were weighing me down. With even less income, I thought about each purchase. Mostly just essentials. I did not order ridiculous amounts of things online as many have. I’m reading the stockpile of books I already have! Also, being forced to stay home because everything is shut down, has also been a good lesson.

    Reply
    • JH

      That is a great quote. I’ve heard it too. In my case, it was to make myself feel better. No one was around, so there wasn’t anyone to impress, but it gave me something to look forward to–those “presents” coming to the door. However, I have thought that I’ll be judged if I wear the same outfits to teach all the time. In reality, my students probably wouldn’t even notice, and they definitely wouldn’t care.

      And yes, the stockpile of books. I just donated about five boxes of books to charity. More to come! (Or rather, go.)

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    Good for you! When we moved over the summer, we downsized so we got rid of a chunk of stuff. There’s still more we can do, though, and we will. I’m looking forward to decluttering and organizing!

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s strangely freeing, isn’t it? Good luck, Madeline, and thanks for the kind words.

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    Check out Dave Ramsey as well. It helped me in many ways. He’s tough love but tells it like it is and gets you to really look at what you need to get by.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Sheri. I’ve had a few people recommend him. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    I drastically cut down my living expenses in order to become a full time writer. I have very little ‘stuff’ but I don’t regret the choice I made.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s so good to hear, Patsy. It’s wonderful to have confirmation that it can all work out. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    This was the approach we took to life from the start–my husband liked to say that the way to get rich is to live like you’re poor. Since I grew up pretty poor, I had lots of practice, and saving was easy for us because neither of us had expensive tastes. It really does work!

    Reply
    • JH

      Poverty can definitely impact different people in different ways. It made you feel comfortable making do with less, but it made me feel like being able to buy whatever I wanted meant I was no longer “poor,” and therefore, a “success.” I used to define being rich as being able to go to the grocery store without a calculator, never stressing over what that final total was going to be. As someone who used to live on the tips from her waitressing job at Pizza Hut, that felt like the ultimate luxury.

      Reply
  12. Avatar

    MMM’s blog has changed considerably in the years I’ve been following him. Now he’s writing to a FIRE audience that has buckets of cash. (A recent post was headlined how to make a $400,000 impulse purchase.) Living below one’s means and saving is central to any early retirement plan, MMM isn’t wrong as it can and does work for “average” people, but from what I’ve seen, most of the FIRE crowd have a lot of privilege and initial employment conditions that included very well-paying jobs in their 20s and 30s. They’re disciplined, but they’re a special niche. Often obsessed with earning and saving money from a very early age. And really, MMM cuts his own hair and to me, it seems miserly to not pay $15 to a small business in one’s local economy.

    Reply
    • JH

      The sad thing is, I did have well-paying jobs in my 20s and 30s, which is why I could just kick myself now. Regret is difficult to avoid. But I’ve appreciated how he’s helped even those on very low incomes. I’ve done the math based on multiple sites, and as long as I stay on the path, being completely FI in ten years is not only possible, but easily doable for me–assuming things don’t get any better than they already are, which would shorten the timeframe. And that also assumes not working in ten years, when I fully intend to keep writing if I’m still kicking, hopefully earning more money at it as I go (which has been the trajectory so far).

      So his blog has helped me a lot, and given me tons of great information, but I’m not saying I agree with any of them 100%. I find the fact that MMM won’t go for annual physicals ever, or to the dentist in over 25 years, pretty damn stupid. I found his ex-wife’s posts shallow and incredibly judgmental. I’ve just read a passage in the Frugalwoods book where they’d planned to park farther away from the hospital when she was in labour just to save seven bucks. I don’t want to get to that extreme, either. I think that once one has the info and guidance they need, it’s up to the person to choose their own path. (Not to mention that all of the FIRE gurus have different approaches, which can get maddening too.)

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    I hadn’t heard of this , but it’s attractive. Thanks for some resources to check out.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re welcome, Samantha! I hope they help. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Avatar

    I’ve been working on downsizing, but the opposite seems to be happening, and I’m not to blame. Well, a little. I have a hard time throwing out or selling things that I know were important to the people who left them for me. Finding people who will enjoy and appreciate the gift takes time. Well, doesn’t everything? Anyway congrats on the great plan you set out for yourself and for sticking with it.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Lee. You’re always so kind. I wish you luck on your plan too, and I know what you mean. I attempted to sell my grandma’s china once and nearly started an inter-family war.

      Reply
  15. Avatar

    Kudos! My advice (not that you asked :-D) is don’t bother looking back. Can’t change a thing. I did something similar to this a few years ago when I wanted to retire early to write. Good thing, too, because otherwise I’d still be working, or starving.
    Others have recommended Dave Ramsey, and I’ll echo that recommendation. Even if someone is put off with his heavily religious content (ignore it) and recent bad press (the foundation of his concepts are still spot on), he has an excellent FREE on-line tool called Every Dollar. It is nothing short of a miracle what happens once we start seeing how we actually spend our money in black and white. Why these concepts aren’t taught in school, starting with the first grade, I will never understand.

    Reply
    • JH

      I always welcome your advice, Lee. I value and respect your opinion. And you’re right, but it’s so hard not to beat myself up. So many foolish decisions over the years.

      I’ve avoided Dave Ramsey for exactly the reason you mentioned; I’ve heard he’s constantly spewing the religious rhetoric, which turns me off, but if you think he’s worth it, I’ll reconsider. (Or at least reconsider reconsidering.) 🙂 Truth be told, I’m getting a bit tired of the financial advice folks. At first it was sobering. Then it was fascinating/exhilarating, and now it’s just feeling preachy and judgmental. Need a break (but I’ll keep doing what I need to do.)

      And I agree. These skills should be taught. I took Consumer Behaviour in high school and Economics in college, and never learned a thing about this!

      Reply
      • Avatar

        There does come a point of information saturation/overload. Once you’ve found what works for you, just trust your gut and go with it. Every Dollar is an on-line budgeting tool that doesn’t require any of Ramsey’s books or materials, or beliefs.

        Reply
  16. Avatar

    Spending less that you make sounds simple but some months it’s a challenge! 🙂 I keep the books for my family, and it’s so hard to keep everyone in line sometimes. Great post with lots of food for thought.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m glad you found it thought-provoking, Carrie Ann. I agree; it is a challenge. But I’m in a position where I can definitely do it, barring no emergencies. Sometimes life will still happen.

      Reply
  17. Avatar

    My husband and I have been working toward FIRE for years now. With two kids and over $100K in student loan debt, it is taking a loooooonnnggg time. But, that being said, we basically live off my salary as a childcare worker while his paycheck is all being put into debt and investments. We are looking at around 7 more years, 10 if we want to live better than we live now. FIRE is awesome. We can both be fully retired before 50 or at least doing our own things (like writing). Good Luck!!!

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s amazing, Steph. Thanks for sharing your story! The student loan debt would make it a lot tougher, but you’re doing it! Good luck to you too. See you on the other side of the FIRE. 🙂

      Reply
  18. Avatar

    I’ve definitely been cutting down on things and clearing out items that I’ve collected over the years. My husband and I both grew up in poverty and reacted in opposite ways. I’m a penny pincher, BUT I really enjoy dining out and not having to overly budget for it (I have to be aware, but not plan hopelessly). That and books are my big expenditures. I have a lot of improving to do, and will have to look up FIRE.

    Reply
  19. Avatar

    Oh yes, my husband is the financially savvy one, and he managed to get our mortgage paid off in 8 years. Through the principals in your post, we’ve gotten to the point where I’m able to support my family of four even though I make half of what someone should with my job. My husband is still applying for jobs to make our lives more comfortable, but grocery trips are our primary expense, and my children don’t go hungry.

    I hope you find that stability and achieve your financial goals!

    Reply
  20. Avatar

    I think if the last year or so has taught me anything positive, it’s that “stuff” is pretty much irrelevant in the big scheme of things.
    Debbie

    Reply
  21. Avatar

    Too many books on TBR pile is a thing?
    I read somewhere that when shopping online, one should keep the items in the shopping cart for a few days. If you come back to it after a while, they will no longer be as tempting.

    Reply
  22. Avatar

    My husband and I practiced spending less for 5 years so we could buy a house. We’ve donated so much stuff during our move into our new home and will likely make more donations. We still need to keep spending less, but we have to spend a lot to get settled into our house right now. We actually budget our entertainment expenses. We have and continue to buy things we don’t need but that makes us happy while sticking to a budget. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not worry about a budget. Not sure if this is in line with your message. Kind of went on a tangent. I wish you the best with your financial plans and goals.

    Reply
  23. Avatar

    Good advice. We downsized almost 8 years ago. Unlike our other job-related moves, the company was not paying for this one. So, we got rid of a lot. I should go through our “stuff” and get rid of more. During our working years, we were thrifty but not so much that we didn’t enjoy life. Retirement has been great with that cushion we saved all those working years. We’re comfortable now. You never know when medical bills and/or nursing homes could take it all away. I’d rather splurge on island living. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, this movement definitely isn’t about not enjoying life. It’s about only spending money on the things that matter most. Which doesn’t count 99.9% of the things I was spending money on. Maybe it’ll get more difficult later, but so far, it’s been easy.

      What I love about it is it shows how early retirement (or really, financial independence) is possible. It’s drummed into us that we have to work until 65, or that 55 is “early.” I love how this proves this isn’t the case, because you’re right–once you get older, the chances there will be medical issues increases. I just wish someone had told me about this when I was in my twenties. 🙁

      Reply
  24. Avatar

    Hear, hear. I know you’re aware of the monthly expense reports I’ve been putting out to show that spending less is the way to save more. 🙂 “The less you spend, the less you need to make,” has been one of my mottos for a very long time.

    Yes, I’ve heard of the FIRE movement. It’s been around for a long time. It involves having a decent paying job day in day out, which I swapped for a freer lifestyle and less income. So, I might never become financially independent.

    By the way, Mr. Money Mustache is a millionaire as well. It’s a bit ironic that he still writes about frugal living. His blog has been immensely popular for over a decade. He made money with credit card recommendations and affiliate links at first and made some fantastic investments as well… What I like best about him is his environmental approach and encouragement to bike instead of drive.

    I do believe it is easier to make certain decisions when you are already rich. 🙂

    Well done on turning the corner of consumerism!

    Reply
    • JH

      He’s a millionaire now, but he didn’t use to be. And, living on as little as he does still proves it can be done. I really appreciate how transparent he’s been about his finances all the way along, and how he’s shown FIRE is possible for even those with lower incomes. (Case in point re: how little the credit card income meant to him: https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/06/21/i-just-gave-up-4000-per-month-to-keep-my-freedom-of-speech/)

      I consider myself pretty “free” already. Since I left the corporate world in 2012 (for the second time), I’ve made my own decisions, including what type of work and how much of it I want to do. I enjoy contract teaching and writing, which is how I currently make my living, and I don’t mind working hard for another few years to make this dream a reality. Now that I know it’s within my control, I’ve been re-energized and much more grateful. 🙂

      Reply
  25. Avatar

    I took a quick look at MMM and was put off by both the tone and content. I’m a longtime student of frugality (though my practice… needs work), but you cannot, in fact, drive for “weeks” on $10 unless you live very close to your work, have access to reliable public transit, and/or are physically able to bike (and live somewhere where biking to work is safe). I’m not a fan of blanket statements that exclude large numbers of people and imply they are failing if they can’t meet some arbitrary standard. That said, most of us can live on considerably less than we currently spend, myself included. I’d just like to see less absolutism and shaming in the frugality world.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, none of these FIRE blogs will suit everyone. I don’t agree with everything he says–for instance, one of his posts is all about telling yourself that you “suck,” which doesn’t jive with what I’ve learned about improving and preserving one’s mental health and self-confidence, but I suspect he meant it in jest.

      The low cost of driving is because he doesn’t believe anyone should drive a distance shorter than 10 km. (Could be wrong about the distance–going from memory.) He’s a huge proponent of cycling, as he’s also into fitness and is an environmentalist. He’s written posts on using a bike trailer to get groceries with a toddler, etc. I don’t have a car, so I’m already used to “driving for weeks” on $10, which is why that part doesn’t bother me.

      I hear what you’re saying about shaming, though. I think there’s shame inherent in not recognizing or adapting these practices earlier in life (I know I’ve certainly felt very ashamed and foolish), and I’ve now seen two different posts, written by two different women, glorifying the lack of any beauty routine. Sadly, the tone and words used made them come across as highly judgmental of women who choose to still wear makeup and get their hair professionally cut or (gasp!) coloured. I’ve seen a group of people shaming someone for daring to buy a new can-opener instead of sourcing a used one, and yet, on the same group, binge buying Valentine’s Day candy on sale was lauded (I thought we were supposed to be buying less?)

      Just like any movement or belief system, people are the problem. One has to take what works for and resonates with them, and disregard the rest. One woman’s guru is another woman’s buffoon. 🙂

      Reply
  26. Avatar

    Hello, JH. You’ve written a lot about living within your means, but there’s also investing. I hope you have a 401k leftover from the corporate world. If not, look into starting a ROTH-IRA now. The “normal” advice of long-term high-risk mutual funds is best.

    Reply
  27. Avatar

    It’s a lot easier for me to be frugal with the kids gone. We just don’t have a lot of expenses. I enjoyed this article.

    Reply

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