Financial Independence – What’s the point?

Financial Independence Whats the point

Financial Independence – What’s the point?

Just to be clear… I’m not retired. I don’t intend to retire. I don’t want to stop working. I want to work for things I care about, on things that interest me, until I die. Like Thoreau, “…I wish to live deliberately…I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life… and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Yet I’m identified with the FIRE movement (financial independence retire early) – that’s grown up around Your Money or Your Life, the book I coauthored in 1992 with Joe Dominguez. I’ve been called the “guru” of this movement, yet I’ve come to believe that there is a poison pill in the very name of it. Retiring early leaves people with a disturbing challenge. What will they do with the rest of their lives… if not work? Living on a beach somewhere may be enticing, but after a few months it gets old. Travel to distant lands may be enticing, but an outsider, an onlooker, might be fascinating for a few months or even a year, but it gets old. Eventually you want to DO SOMETHING. I’ve come to believe that retirement isn’t what people really want, but rather being employed in different ways, in ways that bring life meaning, joy and purpose, really the point.

I think people want to retire from jobs that have no meaning, that only produce money but cost as much or more in health and sense of purpose. They want to exit the cubicle. They want to be free of a chain of command in which they are a disposable cipher. They want to have enough money to say, “Take this job and shove it.” They want to be alive while they are alive, and that might mean travel or building relationships or learning. They want to advance, but not necessarily in their corporation. They want to advance in pursuing interests and finding meaning.

One key to this confusion of “retirement” and a happy life is in the subtitle of Your Money or Your Life: transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence. That’s two promises, not one. Transforming your relationship with money is to see what it really is, how you behave in relationship with it, and whether this behavior is buying you a life you love. It’s a wake up call. The effort to buy your way to happiness soon looks silly. The stuff you have seems like far too much. Saving money feels like beating some system, like stealing back your autonomy. Asking of your purchases whether they bring you fulfillment introduces a question that seems irrelevant to cubicle life: what is my purpose? If I didn’t have this job, what would I do with my time? Your expenses go down. Your savings up. Your debts shrink. But more than that, your sense of purpose, your moments of real happiness, your relationships, your agency over your life will multiply.

For many people this is enough to feel liberated. Maybe they work part time. Change jobs. Start a business. Buy land and build their own house. Take 6 months off. Go back to school. Start a blog. Paint. Join an organization making a real impact in the world for half the income. Teach. With no debt and a financial cushion, working for money is more of a choice, less of a hound baying at your heels.

In Your Money or Your Life we offer a ladder of financial independence.


The first rung is freeing your mind from the siren call of the consumer culture. It is questioning your assumptions about money, success, status, etc. and shedding ideas that don’t fit. It is having that freedom of “enough”, of stopping the incessant drive for more.

The second rung is getting out of debt, which gives you another degree of freedom. Many programs help with getting out of debt, the most famous being Dave Ramsey. In Your Money or Your Life, people focus more on the core steps of tracking, categorizing and evaluating spending in light of values and happiness. Debt reduction tends to be a by-product, but when people start to see their debt melt they really do focus on flattening it. It’s amazing what people can do once they put their mind to it.

The third rung is building a financial cushion, readily accessible, equal to approximately 6 months of expenses. This becomes the foundation of building a nest egg that can grow as well as yield a passive income. This cushion can help you weather a period of unemployment. You might stay home and look for work, or travel or explore a new interest, or give yourself a paternity leave. Your cushion allows you to bridge between jobs as well as cover for emergencies and illnesses. If you spend it, you build it back up.

The next rung is building your other forms of wealth: your skills, your networks, your close friendships, your service to community. I am so blessed to live in a semi-rural community with lots of good people. We watch one another’s pets, help one another out through sicknesses, dance together, entertain one another and help one another with errands or chores.  You earn your place in such a community by showing up and giving service and getting to know and care about people. One dynamic of the consumer culture is that it breaks bonds between people and then sells everyone products to fill those holes. Reweaving the web of community is independence from the money economy while being interdependence in the relational economy.

Over time, those who are steadfast build up enough savings, invested in ways to produce passive income, to not have to work for money.

None of this is about retiring, though people confuse retirement with financial independence. It’s about having choices, and being able to deepen your self-knowledge while aligning how you spend your time with what you care about most. It feels amazing to live life this way.

I have not worked for a paycheck in 50 years, though some of what I’ve felt called to do has produced an income. My frugality has bought me so many freedoms – time, space, thought, curiosity, creativity and risk.

I am not retired in that I love to work, to use my intuition, instincts and intelligence to continually know myself and the world better and to do projects that feel like my calling. I believe work is our birthright. Work is applying ourselves to tasks that have meaning and matter to others – and it’s our joy to do this. Of course many of us have utterly lost any connection to this definition of work. Work for far too many of us is a job… is a paycheck… is a sacrifice the hours of our lives to activities that may harm us body and soul.


Financial independence isn’t a condition, it’s a direction


It’s a day by day, transaction by transaction, declaration that your life is yours, that you want to use it for something you think is important and in ways that make you happy. It’s buying back your freedom by paying attention to how money comes into and goes out of your life.

  • john anonymous
    Posted at 17:20h, 04 October

    I did retire from a job that had it’s meaning, public service, painfully pulled from my “being” by a system that cared more about budget execution and “performance” measures than the agency’s stated mission. I now am quite happy, and incredibly busy doing “nothing”. I don’t need a job. I feel as if I am working. Job and Work have become synonyms for some reason. I am, as Jeff Yeager of “How to Retire the Cheapskate Way” puts it, “selfishly employed” being a general contractor for our home renovations, landscaper for our acreage, personal shopper for our household, and short order cook to my spouse (who is working at a job she loves).

  • Paula Pant
    Posted at 09:46h, 05 October

    “I have not worked for a paycheck in 50 years, though some of what I’ve felt called to do has produced an income.” — that’s a beautifully succinct description of the value of FIRE; it gives you choices and options. You can choose to engage in income-producing projects, but you’re not required to do so. And, as you said, it transforms your relationship with money. FIRE isn’t about your management of money, it’s about your relationship with money.

  • emagrecer 7 quilos em uma semana
    Posted at 13:02h, 05 October

    Eu quero te agradecer pelo conteúdo que você publica
    neste portal . Isso ajuda muito pessoas como eu que querem evoluir mais sobre este fascinante
    mundo. Parabéns;u=24874

  • Freedom 40 Plan
    Posted at 13:59h, 05 October

    Wow. Such a wonderful post and beautifully said! Thank you!

  • Nadine Phipps
    Posted at 04:27h, 06 October

    Love your work

  • The Sunday Best (10/7/2018) - Physician on FIRE
    Posted at 07:56h, 07 October

    […] “None of this is about retiring, though people confuse retirement with financial independence. It’s about having choices, and being able to deepen your self-knowledge while aligning how you spend your time with what you care about most. It feels amazing to live life this way.” – Vicki Robin. As an appropriate complement to my recent Retired Not Retired article, the Your Money or Your Life co-author gives her unique perspective on Financial Independence — What’s the Point? […]

  • Wealthy Doc
    Posted at 14:08h, 07 October

    The word retirement has become a hot-button. It means something different to everyone.
    I’m personally pushing the FI part of FIRE more since that should apply to everyone and it can be more easily defined and agreed on. FI will give you options to design a life that fits you best. Paid work may or may not be part of that future life. For me, it means I continue part-time work after FI, but that isn’t the best for everyone.

  • Vicki Robin
    Posted at 16:34h, 07 October

    Yes yes yes. It’s the RE part of the message that is both the sexy attractor and the hook for detractors. Financial Independence is a multi-faceted jewel, encompassing paid work, creative work, soul-work, social change work, community work. it allows for such a mandala of possibilities beyond financial entrapment/dependence on a job. Good for you for exposing and writing about FI.

  • Jamie Redmond
    Posted at 00:11h, 09 October

    Thanks for this post, Vicki.

    I really enjoyed your interview on the Financial Freedom podcast with Grant Sabatier. I think you spoke about some similar things there. It really resonated with me, and I was speaking with my husband just this past weekend about it, trying to explain your thoughts and how they differ from many in the FIRE sphere.

  • Vicki Robin
    Posted at 03:55h, 10 October

    Thanks. I would be interested in what you see as the difference with my thoughts and the rest of the FIRE bloggers/podcasters. I see the difference but am very curious how it seems to you.

  • Friday Reads Special Edition – Suze Orman gets burnt! – Minimalist in the City
    Posted at 01:20h, 12 October

    […] Financial Independence – What’s the Point? (Vicki Robbins)  […]

  • Nsovo Shimange
    Posted at 11:20h, 22 October

    There a few times in life when we come across something so radical that it literally transforms your life. I discovered this book two months ago and I started following the steps. One of the biggest things that have hit me is how little I need to actually spend to have a full life, I have been using money my whole life to solve problems and issues that it is not meant to.

    I am still a baby in this whole thing but am growing daily. Thank you Vicki for writing and sharing this book!

  • Alice
    Posted at 13:10h, 22 October

    Thanks for this Vicki–I reread Your Money or Your Life once a year to remind me of all these things.

  • Lisa wong
    Posted at 08:01h, 23 October

    I am trying to understand and incorporate the steps into my life but my husband is a negative force about it. I feel like I want to have my own bank account for my life and just pay him every month my share of the utility bills . It is really hard

  • Vicki Robin
    Posted at 19:03h, 23 October

    And what’s in the way of doing that? Many FIers decide to separate their bank accounts and pay into a common pot for common expenses. That marriage equals shared finances is more assumption to crack open!

  • Elijah
    Posted at 15:00h, 28 August

    I kinda feel like you’re arguing against a strawman, no one in the FIRE movement is talking about sitting around on a beach doing nothing for the rest of their lives. No one disagrees with the points made here, but at this point their redundant.

  • Vicki Robin
    Posted at 22:07h, 28 August

    I hope you are right. I’ve met a lot of people on this path who are very clear about wanting out but not as clear about what they want to get into. What activities or pursuits will give them a sense of meaning, contribution and joy over the long haul.

  • Greg Waller
    Posted at 11:49h, 11 October

    I think someone needs to share a reality of the word retirement. Because the word and itself is very subjective.

    Let me share the definition that my father gave me when I was 16 years old:

    Son! Your goal in life is to do what you want when you want with whoever you want for as long as you want. your goal is to create an asset that will pay you residually so that if you do choose to have an endeavor or profession you can do it because you love to do it and choose to do it verses having to do it. This is true freedom! Now figure out how much of an asset you will need to throw off that residual so that you have total complete time and Financial Freedom. Do something where you eventually will earn money while you sleep.

    Poor and broke people say money can’t buy happiness… When someone says that it’s like a woman that says I want to be married but I don’t believe in love. It is very hard to attract and retain something in your life that you’re mentally and spiritually against. No one ever taught them the principle of happiness and money…. So I will teach it to you! Money allows you to have time freedom and time Freedom gives you happiness. It’s hard to have happiness without time freedom and it’s hard to have time freedom without money. My son always remember there are only two problems with money: number one is having too much and number two is having too little figure out which problem in life that you’re going to have. People say money can’t buy love right? Then ask them to me the number one reason of divorce! It’s money! so ask yourself what the disconnect is so that you can learn the answer. If this conversation has created interest for you feel free to reach out to me with your comments.