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What is FI Anyway? A Brief Introduction to Financial Independence for Current and Future PAs...

financial independence Jun 04, 2022

FI stands for Financial Independence, which is the first half of the FIRE acronym (Financial Independence Retire Early). Once one reaches FI, the RE part is optional. In the FI community, FI is considered the point a person or couple has reached when their savings is 25x their annual expenses. For example, if a couple spends $80,000 on their expenses per year, they would need to reach a cool $2 million to have been considered to have reached FI. However, if that same couple were able to cut annual expenses by stacking various savings down to $40,000, they would be able to cut that in half, and need to reach $1 million saved. Better yet, if that couple were to live very frugally, and only needed to live on $30,000 per year once they were done working, they would only need to reach $750,000 to have reached FI. 


The two very condensed ways to achieve FI sooner rather than later are (1) to cut your expenses and (2) to increase your savings rate, all while investing as much as possible for the future. Throughout this site, you will find several ideas of how to do both! Many people on the path to FI actually have mind-blowing savings rates of 50% – 70% per year!


The generally suggested 25x annual expenses in savings is based on the Trinity study. This study showed that if a person or couple were to withdraw 4% of their savings annually to spend in retirement, there is a 95% chance that their money would last for 30 years (this is also called the 4% rule). If you are familiar with this concept, you may be thinking, “But wait, if I do plan on retiring early in my 40s or 50s, then 30 years based on the Trinity Study doesn’t sound as though it would last me until the end of my life?” That is completely true, so if you are looking to truly retire early, you likely should aim for having 30 to 33 times your annual expenses in your invested nest egg combined with your other streams of income that are not your traditional working role. Some will choose to have some type of income once they’ve reached FI to still be able to RE with 25x their annual expenses (think part time work, a side job, entrepreneurship, rental properties that generate income, etc.). Additionally, many will choose to decrease their withdrawal rate if the market is lower for a period of time to conserve their money. Pursuing FI takes patience and persistence, but hey, so did becoming a PA, so you got this!  


The Trinity Study also assumes the average for the stock market’s rate of return to continue to be the amount of 7% – 8% since the 1950s. Even though the market has crashed several times since the early 1900s, the market always comes back up, and rises higher to what it had previously been. The standard FI key to investing is to invest in low-cost broad-based index funds, and to not panic when the market dips. Rather, continue to invest in the market, and envision it as though it were on sale! 


So why do people pursue FI? There are so many reasons! To retire early (if they want to). To work part time. To develop and practice hobbies. To travel the world. To spend more time with family and friends. To start a passion project such as a business or nonprofit organization. To give back to others. To have the time and headspace to truthfully figure out what they would like to do with their “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver). I hope you can see that ultimately, FI is Freedom, FI is Flexibility, and FI is Fun! Ideally, one is able to consider and hopefully start to incorporate many of these things on the journey to FI. So, let’s continue to discuss how to be a PA the FI Way. 

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