Another more conventional definition of financial freedom is when you have “passive” income that covers your expenses so that you no longer have to work. Usually, this comes from paper investments like stocks, bonds, or annuities. In the book Your Money or Your Life, the authors outline a somewhat unique way to track your progress towards financial independence (FI).
First, you should go out and buy a huge wall-sized piece of graph paper and put it up somewhere you’ll see every day. Create a chart with the horizontal axis being time, and the vertical axis being money. Each month, you should record the following items:
- Your monthly income
- Your total monthly expenses
- Estimated investment income
Here is a sample of what it might look like:
Line 1 – Graphing Your Income Each Month
While many personal finance articles focus on spending less, the book does a good job of reminding us that income matters and we can always do something to increase it. It also tells us that the path towards a happier life and a career you enjoy of also tends to increase your income. The book summarizes this with the following:
“Increase your income by valuing the life energy you invest in your job, exchanging it for the highest pay consistent with your health and integrity.”
Line 2 – Graphing Your Expenses Each Month
Note that we are not making a budget here. A budget often seems to suggest a goal of “I will spend this much”. Instead, here you are first making an assessment of your situation from last month. You then attempt a few (or several) changes, and re-assess again a month later. This continual feedback should ideally help you see what is working and what’s not.
For those dealing with debt, the Expenses line might even be higher than your Income line at first. This should provide a nice incentive to get to the first “crossover point” where you at least earn what you spend. Gradually, we can shave off those lower priority expenditures as we keep seeing that gap between income and expenses grow wider and wider.
Line 3 – Graphing Your Expected Income From Investments
Here, the simple formula given for finding the income you can derive from your investments is this:
The suggested investment here is to use is that of the 30-year U.S. Treasury Bond, currently yielding somewhere around 4.5%. This means if you bought $100,000 of these bonds with your savings, you would earn $375 reliably every month for 30 years without risking your principal. Other people might use dividend payments from stocks, or use a historically-safe withdrawal rate.
Either way, the big goal is to make this third line meet up with the expenses line. As time goes on this line will hopefully curve up exponentially, providing inspiration to reach this “crossover point”. The idea of working for only a finite period of time can be very motivating.
Given that this book was written in 1992, I am going to guess that doing this using a spreadsheet program like Excel is also acceptable. While a physical chart may work better for some people and provide a more constant and tangible reminder, I think perhaps making the chart your Desktop wallpaper might serve a similar purpose. (Or you could create blog about it…)
This is a pretty cool idea. Perhaps I should stop tracking net worth and simply do this? For us, as mentioned before, once our mortgage is paid off the expense line should drop dramatically. Separating out the non-housing expenses into a separate line might help me focus better.