I've been writing extensively on pursuing the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement and working towards retiring by 50 myself. It can be really tiring as my journey remains a work-in-progress with many years to go.
Sometimes, I do ask myself whether it's worth the effort to continue on this journey.
If we look at the other end of the spectrum, what does it mean if we choose to remain financially dependent?
In this article, I try to imagine what it's like if I choose to remain financially dependent like majority of the population today. There are many ways to define financial dependence so for the purpose of this article, this is how I define financial dependence:
So what would my life look like if I stay financially dependent for the rest of my life?
Here's how I think my life would look like.
My employer will decide when I can retire
Without enough cash savings to plan for retirement, I'll need to stay gainfully employed till the day I die. It's very challenging for anyone, regardless of whether you want to climb the corporate ladder or not.
If I choose to continue climbing the corporate ladder, the number of senior management positions available for me gets lesser and lesser. While I may not have many competitors for senior management positions, each competitor comes packed with their unique talent stack. It will take a lot for me to emerge as the winner.
Even if I decide to just focus on being great at what I do and stay a sole contributor or manage a small team, I will face a different set of challenges. I would hit the glass ceiling for my salary and struggle to get another salary increment to keep up with the lifestyles that my peers are enjoying with their more senior roles. Unlike senior management positions, competition is stiff for my role. My competitors are younger and willing to work longer than what my body would allow me to.
When my employer decides that I'm no longer useful to the firm, they'll let me go, one way or another. If I'm unable to find another employer to hire me, I'm technically retired from the workforce.
Unforeseen crisis could land me in massive debt
Living from paycheck to paycheck each month with little cash savings is essentially living life on the edge, financially. While I do my best to keep myself fit and healthy, I'll never be able to predict what's going to hit me at the next turn in life.
Let's take the Covid-19 situation for example. I could lose my job because of the economy downturn. Or worse, I could get infected by the virus and be hospitalised for a long period of time, incurring a substantial amount of expenses outside of what my insurance would cover.
Without a cash buffer to cover these unplanned expenses, my only way to pay for them would be through the use of my credit card. But knowing that I would only be able to make the minimum payment the following month (or even longer), the 26-28% interest per annum on my roll over credit card debt that compounds on a daily basis eventually becomes a black hole for financial death.
My lifestyle will be determined by the size of my paycheck
By choosing to chase after the high life and enjoying the YOLO moment, much of my money will typically be spent before the middle of the month with copious champagne brunches and high teas with friends of a certain status. I develop an expensive taste for premium french wine with caviar and other premium cuts of meat.
Towards the later part of every month, I have to tighten my belt and survive on hawker food and instant noodles. I exercise my creative mind to cook up all kinds of excuses to turn down invitations from friends to expensive dining places.
Because the size of my paycheck always fail to catch up with my elite peers, I'm constantly unhappy and earning more money becomes my sole purpose in life.
I will suffer from poor health due to chronic financial stress
Constantly worrying about money can be very stressful. I may even work longer hours or take on multiple jobs to earn more money.
A study from BMC Public Health has shown that there is a higher prevalence of sleep problems and sleep medication use observed among individuals who are in debt compared to the general population. Other poor physical health illnesses that individuals undergoing financial stress suffer from include migraines, heart disease and diabetes that when left untreated, these conditions can lead to life-threatening illnesses.
With a lack of funds, it'd be common to have these illnesses untreated until it becomes too late. By then, treatment will plunge me even further into debt.
I will feel like I have lost control of my life
The thing about living the high life on a limited paycheck - a life of HENRY (High Earners, Not Rich Yet), is that just because we want more money doesn't mean we will have more money. I mean, looking at my bank account balance 5 times a day isn't going to make the balance go up.
I will find myself thinking about of more ways to make money in my spare time. Like an Energizer bunny that continues beating its drum, I continue to work without fail just to earn my keep day after day.
Is the purpose of life solely about making money?
As a financially dependent individual, I will be constantly asking myself this question but continue to soldier on because I don't have any choice.
Just because you are not financial independent, doesn't mean you are 100% financial dependent
It's hard to imagine Singaporeans to be on the extreme side of financial dependence because we are one of the biggest savers, when compared to the rest of the world. While it's unlikely that any of my readers would be living in this fictional life, I imagine some of us may be experiencing some parts of what I've described above.
The thing about personal finance is that it is a truly personal journey that is unique to each of us. I don't expect everyone to have a disciplined 70% savings rate like me and live below my means, just to plan for the future. If you can only manage a 40% savings rate, that's good too. Any savings rate that is higher than 0%, shows that we are doing something to better our future selves.
Don't restrict yourself from spends some money on things and activities that brings you joy and enjoy the moment. You should feel free to order that Starbucks Frappuccino or that Brown Sugar Bobba that you love, and enjoy every moment of drinking it. Because time is unlike money, and we can never have a savings rate for it.
I doubt I'd ever regress all the way back to the horrible life that I've written below because I think that would be the worst life possible for me, and I wouldn't even wish that on anyone.
I'm going to soldier on with the current life of mine, occasionally relaxing the restrictions that I've set for myself, and hopefully my future self will thank me for this.