Self-Congratulation

I’m starting Robert Caro’s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. I will probably share some notes or thoughts, but I’m actually trying it as an audiobook (there’s no ebook! What was I supposed to do?) so my usual e-annotation method won’t quite work. I’ll work out how I’ll write to it.

I did not think that writing about my own finances would be as uncomfortable to me as it was. Anyway.

Earlier this year, on one of the many weeks when I broke my promise to write a blog post here, I became debt free. It was a tiny milestone on my personal (and quite boring, I admit) hike towards Financial Independence. I was never in any financial danger, but I was a student not too long ago, and though I had grants and scholarships and even graduated early I still managed to get stuck with a mound of student debt.

At first I did little about it. For most of my employed life I was more focused on investment than in debt reduction. I figured that the same dollar could give a higher ROI in stocks than it would reducing my debt. I had spreadsheets! I paid the minimum amount on my student debt each month.

Last year, though, my approach to this debt changed. I reasoned that hitting zero on my student debt was an achievable and measurable goal in startlingly little time (with some discipline), and more importantly I felt that goal would be a great launchpad to build habits I wanted to build anyway. The student loan amounts individually were small enough that I could tackle each one individually and get a dopamine rush out of zeroing them out in a reasonable amount of time. As a result of my approach, I tackled smaller debt loads first to try to build a habit and keep the game going, instead of the strict Jedi-rationalist approach of attacking larger higher-interest debts and risking those long struggles pushing me off the wagon.

Once I got into it, I found ways to marshal together a bit more money to accelerate the rate that I hit my targets. Due to the aggression that the game instilled in me, I achieved the goal significantly earlier than I projected. My daily expenses were leaned out noticeably but at no major sacrifice; I still paid for trips, including a vacation in Iceland, and I still donated at the same rate that I always have.

Now that the game’s been won, I can muster those forces towards investments with equal intensity.

For what it’s worth, I find this “Order of Operations” to be a great heuristic for how to build:

financial_orderOfOperations

There are whole communities of people, there are gurus and subreddits and podcasts on Financial Independence- I’d recommend for anyone to take a look. I think it’s an especially worthy goal because I don’t know what 2019Me wants to be when he grows up, or what 2026Me will value, but I do know that by achieving (or even just approaching) this goal of Financial Independence I improve his optionality significantly. And it can feel good to have a measurable goal, to project out futures and then to act to achieve them.

Other caveats: I have no children and few real financial obligations so far. My SO has been supportive and is even looking into adapting with me. I knew these things before, but discussing my ambitions and sharing my victories with friends has made me appreciate the social context that buoys me that much more.

 

One thought on “Self-Congratulation

  1. MATTHEW FINE says:

    hey – been reading your posts and they really resonate, especially the one on TLP. Let me know if you want to chat via email. I think we probably think similarly.

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