Milestones: Money is Not a Goal, Financial Independence Not a Destination



I sign a lot of death certificates.  Working in nursing homes and hospice, it is not uncommon to fill out one or two a day.  Every day.  While this practice has become so routine that it is hard to become too circumspect, it often makes me think about life milestones.  We talk a lot in this community about money, finances and retiring.  But I think it’s time on this blog, at least, to step back and look at the big picture.

When our doctor is signing our death certificate, or our neighbor is reading our death announcement in the newspaper, the last thing we want them remember us by is how much money we made, or how early we retired.

In other words, money is not a goal, financial independence is not a destination.  These are tools, milestones, markers on the path.

That is not to say, however, that our discussions and interest  concerning finances and financial independence does not have value.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Here are some thoughts on the importance of money, financial independence, and our community from the perspective of someone who deals with death everyday.

Money is Not a Goal

Most simply stated, the value of money is freedom and time.  It has no other value.  It can not buy you happiness or fix the majority of problems in your life.  It’s a tool.  Those little green pieces of paper that we covet so much are  a mirage.  Just a representation of something that is far more important:

Freedom-the ability to choose how to navigate your daily allotment of wakefulness.  Will you work today? Will you travel?  How will you be more fulfilled than you were upon rising this morning?

Time-will you spend the fleeting hours of your measly life expectancy doing the bidding of others.  Will you have to trade each precious moment for material goods, for sustenance.

You can’t measure freedom or time by checking your online bank balance.  You will not see it as a category on your W2.  No matter how much VTSAX you own, you are only given so many days on this earth.


FI is Not a  Destination

It’s one of many milestones.  A random milestone. The stock market goes up today and you have 25X yearly spending.  You’re FI!  Yippee.  The market plunges tomorrow and you now have only 24.5X saved.  Boo!  your life dreams up in smoke.

Either way, you are the same person on both days.  The skies don’t automatically clear and the sun doesn’t always shine just because mathematically you are FI.  What gives value to your life, and makes you a human being, are the rest of the yearnings, interests, and responsibilities you engender.

It’s your role as a spouse, or parent, or friend.  Your enjoyment of hobbies.  Maybe your flair for the written word.

The point is that reaching FI will create a vacuum in your life that must be filled with something.  What you choose to fill it with, how you choose to spend your new-found freedom and time, will be the anecdotes that  your loved ones remember you by after you are  gone.  They will be your value as a human being.

The FI Community Has Great Value

Not because we have siphoned off a bunch of cash.  Not because we are miserly and overly frugal.  We have value because we are teachers and learners.  Writers,  thinkers, and podcasters.  We create epic apps and helpful spreadsheets.

We volunteer money and time.

This is  a vibrant community of caring people who support each other, and help develop unique talents and abilities.

Finance is the tool by which we connect, create , and innovate.

That’s what brought me here.


Doc G

A doctor who discovered the FI community but still struggling with RE.

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6 Responses

  1. Being around death myself a lot (estate planning attorney who is in-house counsel at financial planning firm here) it is amazing how many people’s priorities are just completely f’ed up. The PF community (including the subset of FIRE) is fantastic to find like minded people discussing a topic that is still sort of taboo

  2. Well said DocG. Everything you said is so true. Even though having a large bank account is nice, it is not life. The tagline of my blog is ‘Invest in Life’. I try to mix it up sometimes so my readers can get the big picture. Running a blog is not the the highest and best use of my time, but I’ve been fortunate and blessed financially so now it’s time to send the elevator back down.

  3. Wonderful post! It’s all about the freedom to choose how to spend your time. You still have to enjoy who you are now.

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