Financial Independence: Visualize the End Game (Then Work Backwards)

by FI Fighter on February 4, 2014

in Thoughts

hawaii-32

The Seattle Seahawks just won the Super Bowl! As a diehard San Francisco 49er’s fan, I can’t say that I enjoyed seeing that very much. :( But in football (and in life), the decisive victory is never won on the day of the main event. No, for the Seattle Seahawks, they had already won the Super Bowl LAST YEAR. They won it before Sunday night, before the playoffs, before the regular season, and even before the preseason started. The real Super Bowl victory was won in training camp.

If you want to achieve something special in life, you have to know what you are aiming for. You must be able to strongly visualize it every single day. Your final destination must become an obsession. The mere thought of it should elicit a burning desire to succeed. You must want it bad… real bad… just like the Seattle Seahawks wanted to win the Super Bowl kind of bad.

Starting Point

We all have our reasons for doing something. Early financial independence first registered into my brain due to the following:

I was sick and tired of work. Work was stressful and toxic to my health. I no longer enjoyed doing the same thing, day in and day out. Corporate politics were burning me out, and I didn’t see the point of continuing to race rats for the next 30 years. I realized that material possessions and spending money for the sake of spending didn’t buy me any real happiness. I had aspirations to become a more balanced and complete person. I wanted to pursue more hobbies (guitar, martial arts, exercise, spiritual journey, volunteer work, etc.). I even wanted more sunshine! I was tired of registering low on the Vitamin D blood tests. My life was dull and monotonous… I wanted excitement, uncertainty, and even some danger. Most important of all, I wasn’t happy… but I wanted to be… I deserved to be.

The Search for Answers

I had my problems. Now I needed answers.

Financial Independence.

Everyone wants to be financially free. Who doesn’t? Why not control your own time and destiny? After all, life itself is finite, and once the clock stops, the party is over. You only get one shot at The Game of Life, so you had had better make the most of it.

But financial independence isn’t the same for everyone. Nor should it be. Some want more leisure time to relax and unwind. Others want to minimize stress. There are even those who want to work even harder… just at a different craft that maybe doesn’t pay as much.

Maybe you want to have an opportunity to raise your kids and watch them grow up SLOWLY? Or, maybe you’re just tired of doing the same darn thing every single day. Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin… they were polymaths. Perhaps, you are too?

The End Game

To help maximize your efforts to get to early FI, you must first figure out what early FI actually is. What does the end game look like for you?

Point Z: Your NEW day-to-day

Here’s what my day in Utopia looks like:

Early FI is the best thing that has ever happened to me! Life is so wonderful, I can barely express it in words. I’m able to wake up in the morning, at any time I want. Some mornings, I wake up and it’s still dark outside and raining. These are the days I usually decide to sleep in and relax some more. On most days, though, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. I eagerly rise from bed and take a morning jog around the beach. The fresh ocean air is especially soothing.

Today, I’m waking up in a new country. I’ve only been here for two months, but it’s been an amazing experience so far. I may stay for another month before visiting yet another new country. Or, if things really work out here, I could possibly stay longer. Who knows? That’s part of the excitement… finding out what happens next!

After breakfast, I meet up with my guitar instructor for an hour lesson. Afterwards, we continue to jam and he helps me improve my solo improvisations. I leave inspired and motivated to keep on practicing. He says it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be ready to play in a live gig! That would be so awesome! After guitar, I have lunch. Sometimes I chat with the other patrons, or with the waitresses. I take it slow. Real slow.

After lunch, I take a short nap before hitting the gym. I’m trying my best to maximize life, and one way to do that is to maximize your health! I do my best to workout everyday. If I’m not at the gym, then I’m at martial arts practice, or playing basketball, or tennis. After the workout, I’m tired… but it’s a good tired. I have a post-workout meal and relax on the balcony. I’ll either read a book or browse the web. See what my favorite bloggers are up to.

After that, it’s off to my language class. I’m trying to learn another language, and it wouldn’t hurt, seeing as how I’m now living in a different country! It’s fun, and I enjoy this new type of learning. It’s much better to actually be able to communicate with other people, as opposed to machines/computers. But work was so long ago. It almost feels like it was from a different lifetime. One that I don’t miss very much.

After class, I have a hot date! Tonight, we are going to a movie together, and then meeting up with friends at a party afterwards. The party ends really late, but it’s not like I have anywhere important to be the next day. I just take it slow… I think I’m getting good at that. But it’s getting late, so I should finally call it a night. Today was a good day… :)

The Details

You should only work on filling in the details after knowing for certain what it is you want to achieve. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. You need that vision… that ultimate prize to chase after. Something that will fuel you into doing everything possible to achieve that end result.

Only when you have that, you can start to go into details:

  • What is your passive income target?
  • Bills and expenses target?
  • Early FI timeframe?
  • Do you want to actively manage your investments, or do you want them on auto-pilot?

For my own situation, here’s what I set in 2012:

  • My passive income target was originally set for $1500/month when I first began this journey.
  • I originally expected my bills to be about $1200-$1500/month. I was hoping to bank extra income on months when I was under so that the portfolio could keep on growing.
  • I originally wanted to reach early FI at 37.5.
  • I wanted to mostly be hands off, but some periodic monitoring was ok. A combination of passive (stocks) and semi-passive investments (real estate).

Progress

I started with a clearly defined plan. I could vividly see what Point Z looked like. It looked wonderful… it was everything I wanted out of life. Once I had that figured out, you could say that the journey officially began in February 2012, the same time as when I launched this blog.

Now, it was just a matter of connecting the dots. You know, filling in the details.

Over the next two years, my strategies changed. I started off as a dividend growth investor in 2012, and eventually migrated fully into real estate investing. My original early FI date was 37.5, but I later cut that down to 33, until finally, I said “screw it, I’ll retire next year at 30.

The passive income target changed as well. The original $1500/month goal was reached at the conclusion of 2013. The new target is now $3000/month, but that’s also dynamic. I might eventually just settle at $4000/month, but who really knows? As far as I’m concerned, I’ve already met my target, since I still don’t plan on spending more than $1200-$1500/month when I’m retired.

But, those are just details… and they keep changing with time. Point Z, the end game, remains the one true constant. That’s what I’m fighting for!

How It Helps

Once the end game was set, I knew what had to be accomplished.

I wake up every morning determined and ready to chase after my dreams. Sure, work is still dull and monotonous, but I now see a means to an end. Ever since the journey began in 2012, I no longer sweat the small stuff. Work can’t really stress me out too badly anymore, because I know that I’m not going to be there much longer. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

With investments, my end game has allowed me the freedom, and perhaps audacity to do what I’m doing. Since I know that my end game revolves around me traveling the world tirelessly in search of adventure, I’ve accepted long ago, the fact that my investments must be able to support themselves without me nearby.

So, whether I invest in stocks, or real estate, the investments must be passive… or semi-passive at worst. And that’s why I’m perfectly ok with investing in rentals that are hundreds, and sometimes thousands of miles away from where I currently live. Once I get to the end game, it won’t matter that all my properties are in the Bay Area, or scattered throughout the U.S. As far as I’m concerned, they’ll all be equally, very far away!

Avoid Tunnel Vision

If you can see the complete picture, it also helps you avoid falling into the trap of acquiring tunnel vision. When I bought my first stock in 2012, I knew for certain it wouldn’t be my last. So, the day-to-day market gyrations didn’t bother me. Neither did the fact that I only had one investment (at the time)… All my eggs were in a single basket… OH NO!

It takes time to build a portfolio! Brick by brick, one step at a time, it must be done. You can’t expect to have everything all at once… But knowing where you are going to end up can help remove and eliminate any unjust fears you might have along the way.

I eventually got to 10 stocks, then 20. The portfolio was becoming diversified right in front of my eyes. Had I freaked out in the beginning, given in to tunnel vision, I would have sold off my holdings in early June 2012, after another massive market pull back.

…In Real Estate

With stocks, most people accept and understand the need for diversification. With real estate, not so much. Maybe because I started off as a stock investor, I still think like one?

The problem with rental properties is it takes a lot of time to acquire the next one! With stocks, you can get to twenty holdings within a year, owning just a few shares in each company. However, you’ll feel like you’re well diversified because your money is distributed. Naturally, the fear fades away…

Since most people can’t afford to buy twenty properties in a year, they over-analyze and over-react to buying just ONE! If you allow it, tunnel vision can cause that killer deal to slip away… analysis-paralysis, anyone? Remember, you must work with the end game in mind, ALWAYS.

For instance, if you know that your end goal requires you to get to $10,000/month in passive income, and you want to achieve that through real estate investing, realistically, you’ll probably need to acquire 20+ units to make it happen. If you know this beforehand, that first one sure doesn’t seem so scary anymore, does it?

Summary

Financial independence is different for everyone. We each have our own reasons for wanting it. If you can connect with your own vision, internalize it, and make it all encompassing, you will succeed. Figure out what your Super Bowl really is, and remind yourself everyday what it is you are working towards. What are you trying to build? What is that ultimate prize you MUST have? Figure this out, and the battle will have already been won. All that’s left will be the finer details to fill in…

 

What does financial independence mean to you? What is your end game? Do you wake up everyday inspired, and motivated to get there?

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Retire Before DadNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 4:53 am

FIF,
Reminds me of Michigan State this year. The coach started the season buy showing the team a video he took at the Rose Bowl. That’s where they ended their season. I’m big on travel. I took a 14 month backpacking trip to Asia and South America in my 20′s. When I reach FI, I’ll be traveling for months at a time, but staying in nicer hotels this time around. Or renting nice apartments in cool cities. Sleeping in, reading, and exercising will all be priorities too.
-RBD

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 9:18 am

RBD,

Yeah, Michigan State had quite the run this year, and beating Stanford in the Rose Bowl… what a perfect ending!

Your plans in FI sound very similar to mine, that’s awesome. I’ve also gotten accustomed to staying in nicer hotels, so no arguments there ;)

Best of luck to you on your continued journey!

Reply

MattNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 5:07 am

This is terrific! I’m planning and starting to actually wrap my head around the idea of achieving FI and what that might mean for my life. The hard part for me is to really figure out what my life might look like and then develop some actionable items to get there. I’m getting there slowly via investing but am looking for other bricks to put in my wall.
Really good stuff – thanks!

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 9:23 am

Matt,

I’ve found that the strategy part on how to get there can, and always will be changing, especially as the markets shift. So, your strategy on how to get there today might differ from the one you end up using next year. The good news is you can keep on refining this over time.

The most important part is figuring out why you want to achieve it. Without the burning desire, your progress might stall, or stop completely. And that would be a shame because I don’t think you’ll ever meet someone who has reached early FI and said, “I regret it completely. I wish I had never done it.”

All the best!

Reply

JC @ Passive-Income-PursuitNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 6:10 am

Loved this post! For me it was being laid off and realizing that I didn’t really miss work. You need to figure out the why before the how. The “why” is so much more important than the “how” and it will keep you focused and working towards your goal. There’s so many ways to solve the “how” and plenty of resources to figure them out but the “why” you have to come up with completely on your own. It’s your own, personal vision for what you want out of life.

I think I’ve been suffering from the analysis-paralysis in my rental property search but I’m not surprised since I can’t go and view the properties whenever I want. Damn work keeping me from that.

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 9:28 am

JC,

Very well said, and thanks for sharing your story. You got it completely right, you’ve got to figure out the “why” part before you start honing in on the “how” part.

Yes, the journey to early FI can be reached using many different routes. Some are more hazardous than others, but will get you there quicker. The scenic route also works, but will take more persistence and patience. Each individual will also move at a different pace. And that’s all fine and good. As long as we can get to our end goal, it will all be worth it.

However, getting there isn’t easy, regardless of what path you take. You will need fuel to reach the summit — fuel in the sense of drive, determination, unwavering belief and willpower to push you through, especially when the times get tough.

Yeah, work seems to always be getting in the way of things… ;) Don’t hesitate to send me a PM if you want to discuss more on rentals.

All the best!

Reply

FlyerMNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 7:52 am

Well said.

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 9:29 am

FlyerM,

Thanks!

Reply

Done by FortyNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 8:10 am

Great exercise in visualization. It’s important to see what you’re aiming at or, like Zig Ziglar says, you’ll miss it every time.

I haven’t specifically thought of my investments’ ability to provide passive income, but I’m on that road. Thanks, again, for your help.

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 9:30 am

Done by Forty,

That’s right, without a defined target, anything you hit will be the right thing.

Sure, welcome anytime. Making passive income sure is a fun way to make money :)

All the best!

Reply

Dave @ The New York BudgetNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Another great one! You better watch out, you are climbing my list of favorite blogs! I’m building my passive income as well, but you are absolutely right. There are a lot of people who don’t know what they are working towards so either a) they never actually quit the job they don’t like and just keep chugging along as there is always more money to be made or b) they quit and don’t know what to do with themselves.

My 9-5 job is only one small piece of my life right now (well, large in terms of time, but only one of MANY important pieces), that I can’t IMAGINE being bored, even if that goes away.

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Dave,

Thanks! I appreciate the kind words.

I agree, you have to have a plan in place, otherwise it’ll be very easy to just drift through life and never figure out what you want. Truth is, it gets even harder as you get older, so if you wait too long, it might be too late.

Glad you enjoy your job! I’m definitely far removed from that good place ;) Same here, once I reach early FI, I cannot imagine being bored. I’ll find all kinds of things to fill my time. Even if I could only play guitar all day… that would still beat working.

Cheers!

Reply

MarvinNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Where are you at now bro? I can’t say it enough that everytime you write I get the real estate investing itch. Like you point out I need to sit down make a plan, then execute!

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Marvin,

I’m in the Bay Area. Glad you got the enthusiasm. Feel free to reach out anytime, if you want to discuss more, go over strategies, etc.

All the best!

Reply

Dividend MantraNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 5:49 pm

FI Fighter,

Reverse engineering is exactly what I did when I first started my own journey. I figured I’d need somewhere around $17,500/year in dividend income, which would require a portfolio of $500k @ 3.5% yield. I ran the numbers through some CAGR calculators and realized that at my income level I could get there in about 12 years if I saved more than half my net income and received a little extra income along the way.

Great to hear the real estate path is treating you so well now. I’m taking the much more conservative approach, but to each their own. You’re putting the smack down on the journey to FI. :)

Best wishes.

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FI FighterNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 8:30 pm

DM,

Yup, I did the same thing. Once I knew what I wanted, I worked backwards to calculate passive income needed and timeframe. Your numbers are very similar to the ones I used when I first ran calculations. Originally, I was trying to hit $1500/month.

Yeah, there’s definitely many roads that lead to FI. Real estate investing is definitely much riskier, and a whole lot less passive than dividend investing. I figure if I can build a rental portfolio that produces 2x my original target, I would be in a decent place. Since I still have time to continue building my portfolio, I may end up shooting for 3x the original number, or $4500/month before I check out for good. Hopefully I’ll get there in another year or so.

All the best!

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The First Million is the HardestNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Great post. I actually don’t think about what I want the end result to look like as I probably should be. I get too wrapped up in the process & should probably take more time to visualize exactly what I’m working towards.

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Jay,

Thanks! It might be a good idea to take the time to visualize what you want. This is especially helpful on days when motivation is low. This vision is kind of ingrained into my soul now, so I it operates on auto-pilot.

Take care!

Reply

Charles@gettingarichlifeNo Gravatar February 4, 2014 at 9:49 pm

I visualize the day our monthly income streams surpass our work salaries. When you’re on the way to a new country I’ll buy you a beer on your Hawaii stopover.

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Charles,

That sounds terrific! I can only dream of the day my passive income exceeds my monthly work income.

Sounds great! Next time I’m in Oahu, I’ll have to give you a heads up.

Take care!

Reply

LeoNo Gravatar February 5, 2014 at 2:59 am

Thats was probably the most inspiring post about FIRE I’ve read in long time!
Escpecially Point Z :)

Regards from Sweden

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Leo,

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post.

All the best!

Reply

Casey WoolleyNo Gravatar February 5, 2014 at 6:52 am

Such an inspiring article! It’s so nice to have examples from people who have really made it happen. And over such a short period. Suddenly reaching early financial independence doesn’t seem so impossible like many would have you believe. Keep up the great posts.

Reply

FI FighterNo Gravatar February 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Casey,

Thanks! Early FI is a wonderful thing and something that may be more attainable than most realize.

This journey has been documented since I started investing into passive income devices in 2012. If I actually do succeed, hopefully this blog can inspire someone else to give it a shot.

All the best!

Reply

theFIREstarterNo Gravatar February 7, 2014 at 8:54 am

I get the whole polymath vibe you have! I think it’s a common trait in those chasing FI, we get bored just doing one thing all the time and can’t stand the thought of doing it over and over for the next 30-40 years.

It’s such a good point you made about how having the end goal in mind, and it actually improves your working days as well. I’m much happier at work now since starting out on the FI road, as you say it is a means to an end.

Reply

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