Financial Independence Isn't Just for Old People

5 years ago, at age 31, I became financially independent.

Financial independence (FI) means that if I wanted to retire tomorrow, I could. I’d have to make significant changes to my life to do it, but I’d have a plan, and enough resources at hand to get by.

Unfortunately, just talking about FI is uncommon at best and taboo at worst, even in an industry with higher-than-average salaries like tech.

You might be thinking that I received some sort of inheritance or unexpected windfall. The truth is that 10 years ago, my husband and I were in credit card debt and had no major assets. Now he’s retired, and I have a job I love.

The funny thing is, there’s really nothing magical about how we got here.

Here’s how you can do it too.

Step 1: Track your money.

You can’t fix something you aren’t monitoring.

To this day, my husband and I use (YNAB) to track every cent of our money, whether we’re saving it or spending it. When your financial situation is right there in black and white, it’s hard to ignore.

Step 2: Reduce your expenses.

Too many people focus on earning more, when the reality is that it’s far easier to adjust what you’re spending.

You can afford (almost) anything, but you can’t afford everything– so figure out what matters. Reducing your expenses is even better than getting a raise. Do regular audits of fixed expenses. If you have a partner, consider living on less than one income and banking the other entirely.

Step 3: Automate investments.

Set up a recurring monthly payment for a painful amount of money. Invest in low-cost ETFs like Vanguard’s and then forget about them. Resign yourself to living at your current lifestyle level (or lower), and don’t live it up when you get a raise.

And for those who want a goal post, as I did: Actually calculate the minimum amount you’d need to retire. It may be less than you think.

Money isn’t everything, but it can be. To someone who doesn’t have it, money can buy freedom.