I’m pursuing FI. I’m also uncomfortable with many of the ideas and opinions that go along with that. To try to marry those two ideas, I built a pledge; I’m not perfect at it and like everybody, I’m a work in progress. With that in mind, I pledge to:
- Be aware of, and open to, the fact that starting on this path means that I am unbelievably lucky. 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. There are literally billions of people without clean water. For me to say “Imma cut my cable bill and then gallivant around the world starting at age 32” or whatever is absurd in its privilege.
- Be aware of, and open to, the fact that even amongst that super-duper lucky group, I’m also in the top of the top. I’m white. I’m married to a man. I speak English natively. I am educated. I’ve been able to live with my parents as an adult when I didn’t have any money. Nobody looks at me and thinks “she’s a terrorist,” instead thinking, “she’s probably going to pay me back.” Being a woman comes with some disadvantages (like that time I asked a colleague to help me get a group together for an academic conference and he said no because he was “worried about your infant daughter”), but there are varying degrees of dumb luck, and I’m still near the top.
- Be willing to fight those systems that got me all this fortune. To vote for increased foreign aid. To share articles about what it means to be a person of color or trans, even though I am none of those things. To fight for affirmative action policies. To employ people of color and women and trans people and non-Christians if I have that opportunity. To buy local items from businesses owned by people in marginalized groups even if I could save $4 by going to Walmart. To bring my children to gay weddings and talk to them about racism. To listen attentively to voices of those who know what it’s like to walk a harder road, and to shut up instead of saying “but I…”
- Use that money that I have saved from not cutting my hair for two years and give it to people who actually need it. Give a tiny bit of my massive income to people who will use it to survive. Lend money through kiva.org, because it makes a difference and is a drop in the bucket compared to what I am working so hard to contribute to my 401K. Drop a quarter into a homeless person’s cup (go ahead, tell me I’m foolish for doing that. I’m ready to fight).
- And on a personal level: fight the urge to deprive people around me of joy – sometimes material joy – so I can save my own money. Screw that. No, seriously, screw that. My kids want stupid plastic LOL surprise dolls and I hate them (not my kids, the dolls), I hate them with a fiery passion that outstrips any FIery passion I might call up. But sometimes, I buy them. And I swear under my breath and then when their stupid tiny shoes get caught up in the vacuum cleaner I swear over my breath and I say “I AM NEVER BUYING THESE AGAIN” and I mean it, I mean it, except I don’t. Because the joy that is available to a 7-year-old is simply not possible for a 40-year-old (ask me how I know this). That $10 might have become 40 billion dollars by the time I retire, but you cannot buy joy. Especially not by hoarding every penny for your future self.
- Find balance. Go to Disney World, even if I can’t hack it, even if I can’t afford it, even if I have to (gasp!) go into debt. There’s like four times in your entire life when you can feel like life is magical, and one of those times is when you are six years old and being turned into a princess by an actual princess in an actual fairy tale place and you know what? Maybe FI isn’t worth it anyway. (Okay, it’s worth it. But so are a lot of other things and there has to be a balance).
- Examine my own “frugality” for signs of…okay, obsessiveness. It’s great to save money where possible but if you lose 20 years of your life because of the cortisol that spikes over having to pay $10 for parking, well, what’s the point of that early retirement anyway?
- Be generous. Be generous be generous be generous. Ignore the “well I could save this money” when there’s a funeral and the overpriced flowers are overpriced. Send chocolate covered strawberries to a friend who had a miscarriage or grocery store gift cards to a friend who had a stroke. Sign up for every meal train you can find. Give to Go Fund Mes.
- Pay taxes. Ugh I know this is a struggle but ethically I think it’s pretty terrible to pay zero taxes and make a million dollars. I don’t know the answer to this, because I’m not going to stop my pre-tax contributions, but I do think that somehow, there has to be a balance here, too. Maybe that means giving more money elsewhere. At this point in the game, I’m only at Step 1: Understand The Problem, and I need to move toward the next steps. Maybe Step 2 is to vote for politicians who support using taxes to fund social nets. I’m very, very open to suggestions.
- Share the wealth, figuratively. Teach my friends about travel hacking. Use my credit card to help my SIL and BIL from a developing country to get free checked bags on their flights because they do not have access to bonuses like this which is crazy because they need free baggage on their flights way, way more than I do. Talk to people about money even though they think I’m weird and have no boundaries. In the FI groups, people are constantly mentioning the discount phone plans; in real life, nobody has heard of them. Until, that is, they talk to me, a person who can’t and won’t shut up about saving money.
It’s a fine line, this walk to FI. I want to be frugal, I want to be ethical. I want to save, I want to give. I want to set up my kids for college, I want to set up myself for life. I think it’s possible to do all the things, but I also think it’s easy, very easy, to slip into a cesspool of “my future is more important than your present,” combined with a side of “I’m rich because I’m smarter and better than all those icky poor people.” So that’s my main pledge: to follow the principles of FI while not losing my personal principles. It’s doable. But just like retiring early, it requires thoughtfulness and care.