The world at large does not want you to be financially independent. It wants you to spend, consume, and fuel the fires of commerce. It will try to break your will at every turn.
But as sinister as that may sound, it’s not shadowy corporations who are the biggest threat to your FI commitment. It’s your friends and family, the people you trust, respect, and listen to. In a world where debt and materialism is the norm, living a frugal lifestyle is a threat to the status quo. They’ll try to convince you, usually in subtle but even sometimes aggressive ways, to make choices that more closely reflect their own financial values.
That’s why you need a playbook to avoid pressure, both from your peers and the world at large. You only have so much willpower in a given day, so it helps to be prepared and crafty.
Here are some common scenarios you might experience, and how to work around them.
Make Suggestions First
There's nothing that annoys me more than the friend who always wants to shoot down my ideas and refuses to offer their own alternatives. Don't be that person. If you’re pursuing FI, it might be tempting to nix every idea, silently hoping the other person will suggest something frugal, but why would they?
If you feel like all your friends want to do is eat out or visit expensive bars, it's your responsibility to find a frugal alternative everyone will be happy with. Don't be the person who expects everyone else to accommodate them.
That can mean hosting more events at your house, finding cheap community activities, or booking group tickets to save money. When I was in college, my friends and I used to have potlucks all the time. Every person brought a dish, and no one spent more than they would have on a normal dinner, but we all got to enjoy a feast full of interesting options.
There are plenty of ways to suggest frugal events your friends might be interested in. If you take the lead while planning social events, it may never occur to them that you’re choosing frugal options.
Just make sure to be accommodating and compromise every once in a while. Even if your friends want to do something more expensive than you’d like, indulge them from time to time.
My old boss used to go out to lunch a few times a week, asking people from around the office to join him. I usually sat out. Every once in a while, if I forgot my lunch or felt like being social, I would say yes. It made a big difference in maintaining my work friendships.
Set aside some money in your budget for situations like this so it won’t feel like such a sacrifice. Friendship is about give and take, so being prepared to give can go a long way.
Don't Use Fake Excuses
When I was paying off my student loans, I was incredibly diligent about not spending money on anything unnecessary. I brought my lunch to work, avoided the bars, and bought my clothes at thrift stores. When someone asked me to do something I hadn’t budgeted for, I usually said no.
So when a co-worker asked if I wanted to split a Groupon two-for-one manicure, I told her I didn't have the money for it. I didn't feel like explaining my debt payoff strategy to her, but she kept hounding me about the decision. She just couldn’t understand why I would turn down such a great deal.
Looking back, I think she was lonely and wanted to do something fun with a coworker. Refusing to go probably felt more like a personal diss than a financial decision. I should have just been honest from the beginning instead of trying to play it coy.
If you're striving for financial Independence and early retirement, just tell people about your goals. Maybe they’ll think you’re crazy, but it's better than beating around the bush and coming up with excuses. If you continue to talk openly about your financial goals, you might even convert them to the FI lifestyle.
If you’re on a diet, you don’t go to the Cheesecake Factory and hope you have enough willpower to avoid ordering a slice of cheesecake. In that same way, you probably should avoid places like the mall when you’re on the path to FI. When you live on a strict budget, it’s important to keep yourself on a short leash.
Figure out what your biggest spending temptation is, and create a plan for how to avoid it. That can mean anything from avoiding a certain part of town to using a browser extension to block certain websites on your computer. It can also mean avoiding certain activities with a friend who has a knack for getting you to spend.
I love buying makeup, so I have to actively avoid going down the makeup aisles when I’m at the drugstore. The more time I spend there, the more likely I am to walk out with a new lipstick. My husband loves good food, so he avoids shopping at specialty markets or in the pricier aisles of the grocery store.
Keep Reminders Everywhere
No matter how dedicated you are to financial independence, the outside world is just as focused on getting you to spend. Everywhere you look, there’s an ad for something you might want to buy. It gets exhausting, and even the most committed FI devotees give in from time to time.
Having physical and digital reminders of your goal can help you stay focused when you feel the urge to stray. Print out photos that connect you to your FI goal, like the cabin you'll retire to or the traveling you want to do. Keep these reminders everywhere, like your fridge, bathroom mirror, wallet, phone, screensaver, and anywhere else you can think of. Setting your passwords to something FI related can also be a great reminder.
If you have friends or family that are also FI, you can help keep each other accountable. In the same way that peer pressure can push you further away from your financial goals, it can also help to bring you closer.
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