Bret W. Lester

The Low Risk Path to Financial Independence

Here I will outline a low risk path to financial independence. I discuss three main points. None of them are risky although they do require patience and perhaps a little luck. This post is for those who value independence over wealth (time over money). This is not to say the money will never come. It might. Remember there's no upper bound on wealth when you're self employed. But again, independence is foremost.

Be Cheap

Saying “be cheap” is a little tongue in cheek. What I really mean is be frugal, be good with money, a penny pincher, a tightwad, you get the idea. Unfortunately, and this is where I may lose some people, I’m not sure that the skill of "tightwaddedness" can be learned. I actually think it’s something you’re born with. It’s genetic. You’re either born with the cheap gene or you’re not. My dad was cheap and I’m cheap too. I’ve always been that way. If you actually wince at the thought of paying for a hotdog at a theme park, then you might have the cheap gene and are therefore perfect for the low-risk path.

These are broad strokes here. Don't read this as a license to be indiscriminately cheap. Spend-and-forget where it matters (i.e. on a birthday gift for your significant other). We're talking patterns of behavior here.

Anyway, financial independence and frugality go hand in hand because independence is all about survival. When the hard times come, and you have to assume that they will, you’ll weather them just fine because you’ve been squirreling it away for however long it takes for the next bubble to pop.

When it comes to debt, avoid it, because it destroys your optionality. It makes you financially vulnerable. However, you definitely want to own some property before making the jump (property taxes are much cheaper than rent), and, unless you've come into some kind of inheritance, you'll need to take on some debt to buy a house. If you take on a mortgage, do everything you can to pay it off as soon as possible. I don't want to get too deep into this topic (because it's a cavernous one) but I'll just say, when it comes to real estate, don't overpay. Be patient and wait for the right price. My point is that by the time you finally quit the workforce, your debt load should be zero.

Find a Partner

Many things come to mind when thinking of finding a partner. It can mean a number of things. In my case, I’m married to her. While it’s not like having a partner in the cofounder sense, the right spouse will increase your odds of survival by a lot. I won’t delve into relationship advice but if I had to pick one thing to look for in a partner, loyalty comes first to mind. Loyalty and trust. If she happens to be a hell of an earner on top of all that, it's icing on the cake.

Do the Time

Work in your field for at least a decade. This serves two purposes. First of all, you’re learning—getting the necessary experience to do it yourself one day. And second, you’re making money, paying down whatever debt you’ve accumulated and saving a good chunk—all with an eye toward your future plan of cutting loose. You’ll likely have to change jobs every few years or so, not only to build a diverse background of knowledge, but to maximize your salary.

I knew for a long time that I wanted to be independent but it took about 15 years of working in tech before the itch to cut loose became absolutely unbearable. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand going in to work anymore. It’s a terrible feeling when your heart isn’t in something but you’re obligated to spend your brief time on this earth doing it anyway due financial obligations. It’s a scenario where many find themselves eventually (something I've written about). Fortunately there are many ways out. My so-called low-risk path is one of many and I hope it has provided you with some inspiration today.


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