I am really happy to be focused on FI, and I have learned a ton from the community and the podcasts. It is inspiring. That said, I really hate the sentiment that “anybody can do this.”
On one hand – it’s true. Anybody can take certain steps to move in the right direction. Anybody can say “I’ll buy Valentine’s Day presents on the day after Valentine’s Day, and save 50%.” Anybody can opt to bring lunch from home rather than eating out. Anybody can pay off high interest debt faster than low interest debt, prioritize certain ways of spending.
But not anybody can become FI. It’s just not feasible unless you already have some pretty great luck.
“What?” you say. “I heard a podcast where somebody became FI after a million dollars in debt! After being in prison! After being addicted to drugs! While making $25K a year! With children!” Yes, it’s true. But regardless, there is always good fortune.
In extenuating circumstances, the people who manage to do it always have some sort of net, a fallback that allows them to get back onto their feet. They can move in with their parents. They are college educated, meaning they have a certain, marketable skill set. They have good health.
And that simply isn’t always the case. There are people, lots and lots of them, who have circumstances that make it impossible to save. That buy Valentine’s Day candy the day after not because it’s a fun game to try to save more money, but because that’s the only way they are going to be able to afford to buy something to make their kid feel normal. Who share a car because that’s the only option. Who couldn’t imagine eating out for lunch, because it’s not possible.
It reminds me of the way that MLMs say “if you aren’t making money, you aren’t working hard enough!” It’s a bill of goods intended to make the people who have good fortune feel like they’ve done it all on their own.
That isn’t to say that it doesn’t take sacrifice, it does. But the message that “anybody can do this” has a flip side, a shaming side, that if you haven’t done it, or aren’t on the path, you’re doing it wrong. You aren’t trying hard enough. You’re making foolish decisions.
Anybody CAN’T do it. Immigrants without any language skills, or worse, documents. Women who have spent years in an abusive marriage and have just gotten a divorce. People who are physically disabled and rely on security nets. Let’s not forget people of color or marginalized groups who have to work much harder just to access the same advantages.
Can anybody save a buck here and there? Sure. Can anybody become financially independent and retire early, just with a few simple steps? Absolutely not.
I wish we could change the sentiment to “anybody can learn how to optimize their income” rather than “anybody can become financially independent.”