Dogma – the belief that our way is the right way. Sadly, dogma fills the discourse in our culture. We feel personally insulted when someone takes a different route than we took. They must be wrong – after all, our way worked for us! It’s gotta work for everyone else, too.
Experts tell us how to get out of debt. To build wealth. What cars to buy. The computers to use. There’s no shortage of “experts” out there.
Here’s a secret: There is no one way to get out of debt, build wealth and achieve financial freedom. Period. I don’t care what anybody tells you. If they believe there’s a one-track path to success, remove yourself from that conversation and never seek their advice again. Why? It’s B.S.
And, they are probably trying to sell you something.
The phrase “do whatever works for you” rings true in nearly all facets of life, money included. Your method of debt reduction could be just as effective for you as our method is for us. If it works, work it.
I’m a big fan of the “try it and see” method. Meaning, I stumble on something interesting – like a new way to cook or work out, or dance (yeah, right!), or…well, anything. I try it and see if it works for me. If it does, great! But, I’m also not quick to let presumed “experts” run my life, either.
If they tell me “it works”, I still need to see for myself.
If an expert says that you gotta get up an hour earlier in the morning in order to be successful, then try it if you’re properly motivated. If it’s working for you, then keep doing it. If not, re-gain those 60-minutes of sleep and put your effort toward something else.
If Tim Ferriss says that 5-minute power meditations work and you’re feeling particularly spunky, then give them a try. Zen out for a few.
But, don’t keep doing it just because it works for Tim.
There is no one way…
Check out these point-blank statements that I believe wholeheartedly to be true.
There is no one way to get out of debt. Your way is just as valid as mine.
There is no one way to invest in the stock market. I prefer index fund investing. Others prefer dividend investing. Frankly, I don’t care what method you choose. They all work. The point is to do it. Just try.
There is no one way to live a sensible lifestyle. If you want that 80-inch television, who am I to tell you that it’s unnecessary (we haven’t owned a television in years, by the way)? Buy whatever you feel is necessary for you and your family.
There is no one way to manage your finances. Some married couples have combined finances (like my wife and me). Others have kept them separate. Some use Ally savings accounts. Others use money market accounts. As long as you aren’t stashing your wad of cash under your mattress, there are a ton of different ways to manage your finances effectively.
There is no one way to budget. Heck, some people don’t even use a budget. Many subscribe to the “pay yourself first” method and forget a budget entirely. Others prefer to keep their budget so they can see exactly where their money is going. If budgeting works for you, keep it up!
There is no one way to retire early. My wife and I sold both of our homes and bought an Airstream that we live in full-time. While that works for us, it sure as hell won’t work for everybody. And, that’s okay. Big homes or small, it is up to each and every one of us to decide how to retire early and what we’ll do once we reach that point of sweet no-job ecstasy.
I’m sure that you get the point by now. Ignore conventional wisdom, because financial independence and early retirement are definitely not conventional. Instead, take an honest assessment of your life to determine whether or not what you’re doing is actually working for you.
And, that’s an important enough point to break it out into a separate discussion, so here goes…
It may not be working for you
The “do whatever works for you” mantra is all well and good, but that does not necessarily mean that whatever you’re doing is actually working.
This isn’t a carte blanche endorsement of doing whatever the hell you feel like doing, all the time. After all, I felt like spending half of my first year’s salary right out of college on a Corvette Convertible. But just because I felt like it, that didn’t make it the best decision for me…or my future.
That didn’t work. But, what does? How do we figure that out?
This is the tough part.
To determine whether or not the choices you’re making work, we need to understand what we’re working toward. What’s the end goal? Are we looking to retire by 35 or by 55? Are we looking to travel around Europe for a year or live in Thailand for 10? Whatever it is, know your goal.
Then, honestly determine if your choices are helping you to achieve your goal or are hurting your chances at getting there. I cannot (and would not) decide this for you. You need to decide this for yourself.
Understanding what works is the first step to “doing what works”. And, knowing your major life goals is critical to putting these pieces into place.
Experiment. Don’t be afraid to fail. It took me years to figure out what works best for me. But once I stumbled on the path to righteousness, I hung on for dear life. But, I also learned something incredible along the way.
I learned that the more you do it, the easier it gets. The transition to living in a new way is tough at first. Just like starting a brand new diet, the first few days or weeks are tough. But the longer you’re driving forward with your new diet (or spending plan, or budget, or anything), the easier it becomes to continue following it. It’s only tough at first.
It gets easier, trust me.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.