Your financial independence day

Colorful and vibrant fireworksWorking just to pay the bills isn’t enough. We should be reaching for something more: financial independence.

Financial independence is when your investments and other sources of income provide you with a comfortable-enough living that paid work becomes optional. As we mark the anniversary of our nation’s independence, I like to review our progress toward this goal. The good news: we’re pretty close to financial independence now, if we were willing to live frugally.

Some people who use the principles of voluntary simplicity achieve financial independence remarkably early. I’ve talked to people who “retired” in their 40s or even 30s, trading the 9-to-5 for a more relaxed lifestyle where they worked fewer hours, or worked for pay only when they wanted to. (If you want to know more about voluntary simplicity, the book “Your Money or Your Life” is a great place to start.)

But my husband and I have decided on a different path—a lifestyle that involves more spending now with the understanding we’ll work a little longer. That’s the best fit for us, because we both love what we do and we like the idea of doing it for a long time.

We’re planning a “phased” retirement, cranking back on our work commitments gradually over time. We like T. Rowe Price’s concept of a “practice retirement,” which suggests that those who have saved substantially for retirement can start putting some of that money toward travel and other spending once they hit their 60s, as long as they continue to work and put off tapping Social Security, pensions and their retirement accounts.

We’re also working on a Plan B, in case we aren’t able to work as long as we’d like. About half of retirees leave the workforce earlier than they’d planned, usually for health reasons although also because of layoffs or the need to care for a loved one. Finding ways to have a smaller “nut” in retirement—a lower level of fixed costs—can really help if you have to leave work early. That’s one of the reasons we’re paying down our mortgage, so that we won’t have that bill later. One of my readers installed solar panels for the express purpose of reducing his utility bills in retirement.

If you got a late start saving for retirement or have suffered some big financial setbacks, your financial independence day may seem impossibly distant. But you may be able to move that date into sight if you’re willing to plan, make some sacrifices and stick to your guns. Start with “Your Money or Your Life” and build from there.

How are you doing on your path to financial independence?