Recently, I came across a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln which I had seen before, but it resonated with me anew in the context of striving for FIRE:
Discipline is choosing between what you want now vs what you want most.
– Abraham Lincoln
This mindset of discipline is applicable in everyday life, but it’s especially applicable to those of us striving for Financial Independence. It seems self-evident, but I think that staying true to this mantra is especially difficult for us because we need to be even more disciplined than our peers. This is because discipline, for us, often means not spending money when it seems like everyone else around us is.
Our neighbors, friends, and colleagues might also claim to be disciplined by not reaching for that second doughnut because what they want most is to be more fit, but for those of us pursuing FIRE, we may not even have the first doughnut (unless it was free! I’ve been known to make the most of free food). We wouldn’t have that first doughnut because even though it might only cost a dollar, that’s still one dollar that we’d rather invest towards our future, rather than consume it now. Sure, that dollar might buy a doughnut, which will be delicious, but once we’ve finished the doughnut, then not only is there no doughnut anymore, there’s also no dollar.
Don’t take this to mean that I advocate against spending any money on doughnuts or other little luxuries (enough with the doughnuts analogy, right?). That’s not it at all, and I think everyone should evaluate what’s right for them. One person’s sensible level of frugality might be another person’s idea of extreme penny-pinching. The point is that we should take a moment to evaluate our choice and be disciplined in our actions. Once carefully considered, the choice of saving towards the goal of financial independence will often win over the choice of spending, and it takes personal discipline to maintain this over the course of several years.
I’ve been pursuing FIRE for about a year now, and although I feel that I’ve gotten better at being disciplined, it’s still difficult and probably always will be. Temptation is all around us in a consumer culture. We are bombarded with offers to part with our hard earned money through ads, suggestions from friends or colleagues to go to lunch or donate to some cause. Or just go driving somewhere and there are enumerable options along the way to grab a quick bite at any number of fast food and take out spots (including doughnuts!).
Here are some examples for me from just the past few days:
- My wife and I were out trying to find a desk for her home office and we stayed out longer than expected. We started talking about grabbing some lunch somewhere. Instead, we chose to eat some snack bars we already had in the car.
- Today my department from work was meeting for lunch at a local buffet spot prior to doing some volunteer work. I was happy to do the volunteer work, but not so keen to spend $20 on a mediocre lunch. I opted to eat lunch at home and join the group a little bit late.
- A friend suggested that we meet up for dinner and drinks. I suggested instead that we hit up a local outdoor [free] concert.
It doesn’t take much effort to make the easy choice, by grabbing some fast food, or going with the flow and eating at the buffet, so it takes discipline to go against the grain a bit and challenge ourselves to find less costly alternatives.