Live without assurance

There is no security in the world of ceaseless change. Ultimately, change is what we hope will drive our portfolio. That is the contradiction. We seek security in change but hope that the system remains the same. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that change will forever fall in our favour.

Many, including me, come to discover FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) through our hatred of work. Its duration, ceaseless demands, its boredom, its cruelty, the exploitation, and humiliation. We sought escape. In the place of a career, we found new beliefs. Instead of a promotion or impressing our peers with possessions, we dreamt of hitting a networth that would deliver our freedom.

Over many years, we suffer the miserable present because we can imagine a better future. However, as the future arrives, our insecurity never decreases, so our “retirement number” is continuously revised upwards, market returns downgraded, and forecast spending upgraded. We obsess over checking our portfolio, dreaming of when our work and compounding growth delivers safety. After a few years into our miserable journey, we discover there is no meaning in “hitting your number”, it isn’t “Enough”. There is never enough. The three critical numbers, a retirement number, spending and networth are each as soft and fluid to change as each other.

Change rules this planet and the “right” change is needed to compound your stash. Is this realistic? We hope almost everything will remain the same and others will achieve change for our benefit. This might be true for a while, even lifetimes, but not forever. Eventually, the 4% rule will be overruled. Stocks, indexes, ETF, governments, welfare these are relatively new concepts, not ironclad laws of the universe. Subject to change. But it doesn’t mean you lose faith in markets, in saving, earning, and investing. Instead, one must prepare themselves that despite their efforts and playing the odds, they too are liable to suffer the same fate of the fools, the gamblers, and the lazy. To imagine that you too could once again need to live hand-to-mouth. Perhaps even homeless and in hunger. For no portfolio can inoculate poverty.

Humans underestimate our ability to adapt and create a new story. Perhaps this is the wisdom of the middle. Some call it CoastFI, where you save enough to retire if all things go well and, in the meantime, pursue a life according to you now and not entirely in the future. Everyone’s position is different, but I think Financial Independence and Early Retirement are a great goals but no longer something to live for.

In the boredom of a job without meaning, many have discovered financial concepts that were once only reserved for the wealthy. Smart and sensible ways to work the system. However, they are not invincible. To live well, which is the goal, we shouldn’t just replace one false dream of the future with another. Instead, we play the odds and to learn to live with insecurity.


This article was updated on September 26, 2021