Back in 2007, I created my first budget spreadsheet in excel, which I was exceedingly proud of.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I was saving for, so when people asked, I said I wanted to buy a glass-fronted beach house when I was 40.
I’d seen one in the 80s film “Sleeping with the Enemy’ where Julia Roberts lives in a beautiful glass beach house and fakes her own death to escape her terrifying husband.
I wanted to be like her (with a beautiful beach house, not a psycho husband).
Fast forward to 2016 and the beach house idea was in the bin. Instead, I had 3 rental properties which were my first attempt at investing.
It was around this time that I started to dislike my job.
I wondered whether I could make enough profit from the rental payments to cover my expenses so I didn’t have to work.
Out came the spreadsheet and I calculated how many properties I needed to buy to never work again.
Financial freedom here I come!
And then the UK government changed the tax laws.
The way that tax on rental profits was calculated was changing, and it meant that property investing was no longer as profitable.
(I’m not saying this was a good or bad thing, it just meant that that particular line of investing wasn’t what I thought it would be).
SHIT. That’s my whole strategy down the pan, what the hell do I do now?
Like many people, I started frantically googling ‘how to retire early’, ‘how to retire extremely early’, no, you don’t understand, I mean ‘how to retire NOW’.
I decided index funds were the answer, these track the stock market and are popular among people who want to reach financial independence (FI). I’d keep my properties and then start investing in Vanguard funds.
I was earning good money at this point (just under six figures) and my expenses were relatively low, well for living in London anyway so, I could comfortably hit a 50% savings rate.
I just needed to keep doing what I was doing and stash my monthly excess cash into index funds.
I calculated I would need to work for another 5 years to finally be free. I could retire at 42.
Not so simple.
Maths is black and white but emotions are not.
When punching numbers into my (many) FI calculation spreadsheets, I failed to take account of the fact that I HATED MY JOB.
5 years is a very long time to do something you no longer like. Whether you will be free at the end or not.
So, I tried to speed it up.
I decided I needed to earn more, I needed a side-hustle. So, I set up a business writing information packs for Airbnb hosts.
The hosts would give me the address of the property and I would research the local area and put it into a downloadable presentation pack for them to give to their guests.
Great idea, except I was working 11 hour days at my job, coming home to work on the business, oh, and we were also moving house.
I know many people work stressful jobs, set up businesses on the side and seem to function perfectly well.
I’m just not one of them. I need sleep.
And the other problem I found was that the business I had created was INSANELY BORING. It wasn’t what I loved doing. I was just grasping at straws trying to make more money.
At the same time as making more money, I was also trying to save more.
Analysing expenses, feeling guilty whenever I bought something, depriving myself of things.
I kept trying to squeeze another couple of percentage points out of my savings rate and then furiously recalculating my FI date.
I got stuck in a cycle of nothing being enough. I needed to do more, save more, make more.
It was all consuming and it was seriously affecting my happiness and those around me. All I talked about was money. All I thought about was money.
The only thing I focused on was the time when I would be ‘free’. I thought it didn’t matter if I was a bit miserable now because when I hit my number, it would all be worth it.
It all came to a head when I realised I was probably heading for a breakdown. I had turned into a money-obsessed crazy person and was making myself (and my partner) miserable.
Things at work had also gotten really bad. The company was struggling, people were disappearing in the night (they’d been let go, not murdered), strategies kept changing, it was a horrible place to be.
I set a date in my calendar to resign. I found it really hard to walk out of a job with no plan, even though I knew it was the right thing to do.
To be honest, I felt a bit of a failure. I hadn’t managed to reach FI but here I was, jacking in my very well paid job with no idea what to do next.
Finally, I walked out the office door for the last time, and then the anxiety set in.
Even though I knew I had enough money to keep me for quite a while, not earning anything just felt too scary.
I took the first consultancy project that came my way which was a 3-month well-paid contract at a small retailer.
This was stupid as I was still burned out and hadn’t really rested. I just couldn’t fight the panic of not earning money.
In hindsight, I was being ridiculous. I had a year’s worth of cash saved, 3 rental properties, a pension and 2 Vanguard index fund accounts. (I feel embarrassed just writing that).
In the middle of the consultancy project, I attended the UK Chautauqua.
The Europe Chautauquas are organised by Katie and Alan Donegan who run the awesome Pop Up Business School which I rave about at any given opportunity.
At the time, I was trying to work out how to restructure my portfolio and retire immediately. I truly thought the answer I would find at the Chautauqua would be down to maths.
The shocker was that it ended up being nothing to do with numbers and went a whole lot deeper than that.
Instead of talks on interest rates and compounding, most of the focus was on happiness and purpose.
As Mad Fientist put it in his talk ‘’the question is not ‘how much do I need to retire?’, but ‘what am I retiring to?’
Well, that was unexpected.
Why exactly did I want to reach FI? The usual things like, learn a language, go travelling or write a book just won’t going to cut it for 50 odd years of retirement.
So, what was it that I wanted so desperately?
I realized that ultimately, I wanted a career change. I wasn’t ready to stop working, but I just didn’t want to work for someone else anymore.
The final lightbulb moment was during my 1-2-1 with JL Collins at the Chautauqua (every attendee gets a 1-2-1 with a speaker of their choice).
I was trying to show him my overcomplicated spreadsheet and was explaining that I had already quit my job and needed to find a way to retire now!
He seemed unconcerned with the numbers. “Be bold” he said, “It’s not like you’ll never earn money again”.
Clearly, my desperate panic to hit FI was coming from needing the confidence to do something different, not to reach a number on a spreadsheet.
Fast forward a year and this is where I am at.
I run my blog IWMLBproject (I Want My Life Back) and I also consult/freelance two days a week. The freelancing covers my expenses and allows me to have time for the blog, friends and family, and me-time.
The fact that I have a solid financial foundation means that at this point, I can choose whether to freelance or not while I work on creating courses for the blog.
Two days a week freelancing in an office is a very different experience to 5 days a week in a senior management position.
Who knew you could start at 9am and leave at 5:30pm! Bliss.
Once the blog makes enough money, I can stop freelancing (but hey, maybe I won’t want to).
The other great thing about having stable finances is that I can run the blog the way I want to.
I can choose not to run ads on the site or do sponsored posts. I don’t have to work 20 hours a day to try and make money quickly.
Would I be able to do this without having a healthy net worth? Maybe. I could have just jumped into the blog/business with very little money behind me and winged it.
But I’m just not a ‘winging it’ kinda gal.
Having a very decent financial cushion has made the whole thing less stressful and is giving me the time to let things happen organically, rather than forcing it in a direction that would make the most money.
FYI – if you want to quit your corporate job and start a business, I have recently set up a podcast where I interview women who have done exactly that.
I’ve come to the realisation that I’m not going to unlearn how to invest by taking a year or two off.
I’m not going to suddenly start making it rain in Louis Vuitton just because I’ve stopped focusing on hitting ‘my number’.
The principles of spending only on what I enjoy, and investing the rest are not going to go away. So, I don’t need to worry about it.
When I start earning decent money again, it will just be business as usual and I will by default eventually reach financial independence.
But that won’t be the only thing I focus on.
I’ll be focusing on making my life something I enjoy being in, rather than something to defer until I can quit the job I hate.
If you are in the same situation I was and hate your job, perhaps you want to think about whether continuing to slog it out is worth it.
Maybe taking a bit of time off to re-evaluate what you want might make your life a lot happier.
If you don’t want to quit completely, what about unpaid leave? Take that travelling trip you never went on. Or just have a few months to relax and get your stress levels back to normal.
For some people, FI is just the by-product of their ingrained frugal ways. But for others, it is a life ring, something that will save them from a work situation they hate.
If you are financially comfortable, you are already safe. There is no reason to wait for FI to make a big life change.
If you work towards making your life what you want it to be now, reaching FI should be the icing rather than the actual cake itself.
Hi, I am Laura. I set up the 'I Want My Life Back Project' after burning out in a corporate job. I quit in May 2017 and set about getting my life back. I now freelance 2 days a week, run this blog, manage my rental properties and am SO MUCH HAPPIER! All the content on this blog is to help you to get your life back too :-)