The big things I started doing, stopped doing, and continued to do on my journey to financial independence.
By Brad Beckstrom
A few months after I started my first real job, some nice folks from HR came to our regional meeting and did some “break out exercises” with our office. One of the exercises I remember was called: Start, Stop, Continue. We sat around in a circle and everyone discussed things in the office that they’d like to start to happen, stop happening, or continue to happen.
I’ll always remember this particular session because some people in the office obviously wanted to get some things off their chest and saw this as a great opportunity?! One of the recommendations was a certain manager stop yelling at field employees using the speakerphone on his desk, with his office door open. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed that this was great thing to stop doing. Or I think some people just hoped it would be a good idea to pick up the receiver and close your office door (back when people had actual offices).
Just when we were ready to move on to the next item our regional manager said “Wait a second, you’re talking about me! If you’re going to call me out on something why don’t you just say who you’re all talking about!” Our HR facilitator immediately intervened to smooth out the situation and then recommended we all stretch. I remember these times fondly, but don’t miss them. Our office really was “The Office” with meetings, weekly numbers, HR, late reports, managers, drama, all of it. The stop list was the longest list by the end of our exercise. The exercise had a big impression on me personally, well, hey I was 26. Ever since then I’ve always tried to look at things that I can start doing, stop doing, or continue doing in life.
For those of us pursuing financial independence and freedom from the corporate grind, offices, commutes, managers, and meetings, it’s important to keep those start, stop, continue ideas coming. Whether you’re looking to achieve financial independence through starting your own company, or aggressively saving and retiring early, it’s important to look at your own habits first.
Here are the most important things that I started, stopped or continued doing on my journey to financial independence.
- Started saving 20% of my income after college. Many people do very well on the income part, but somehow miss the savings. The average American saves about 5% of their income. Some years were higher, some were much lower, but I shot for 20% each year which included 401K contributions.
- Opened a brokerage account when I was 26 and started buying low fee / no load mutual funds. I treated this as my savings account. I later switched to 4 ultra low fee index funds and consolidated them all into one account with Fidelity.
- Rolled over my 401(k) and, once I was self-employed, created my own retirement plan, maxing out a SEP IRA. Buying index funds and holding onto them long-term.
- Stopped driving new cars. For years I had a company car or a car allowance and would regularly get a new car every three or four years. Once I was off on my own I stopped buying new cars. My current vehicle is 13 years old and only has about 60,000 miles on it primarily because I stopped commuting and choose my bike more often than my car.
- Stopped commuting, I believe working from home not only saves you money and time on commuting, which most people underestimate the cost of, it also makes you healthier and more productive. Something simple like wearing shorts and a T-shirt on a hot day does wonders. I believe it’s important to spend several years working in an office learning how those interpersonal relationships work so you later have something to compare it to.
- Started house hacking while I was still single. Over the years, I’ve purchased three houses and brought in roommates to help share the expenses. I also purchased a couple of properties with friends and shared the property. With the cost of new homes today this is not a bad option, just make sure you have an exit plan you both can agree on.
- I picked an area that I wanted to live in long-term, then raised a family, developed relationships, built my business, stayed in one house and paid down the mortgage. Moving around a lot when you’re younger is great but there is a lot to be said for putting down some roots, paying off a home, and building relationships in a specific area. It helps even more if the area is affordable, but don’t let that be the only factor in your choice. I should add that I was 38 years old when I did this, so it’s never too late to start.
- Started working for myself, applying a live lean philosophy to my work. When you work for yourself you can apply the same lean principles to your company expenses as you do in life. Your company can also save money and make tax deductible retirement and health care contributions.
- Started tracking my expenses and hacked away at the nonessential. I currently use Quicken to track expenses and pay bills and Personal Capital to track investing performance. At the end of each month I look at all of our expenses and explore ways to save money. My philosophy has always been to beat last month.
- Started a (HSA) Health Savings Account. At some point, health care will be an issue for all of us. Having a tax-advantaged HSA that you and your company can contribute to is a great hedge against rapidly rising health care costs.
- Started writing about things I was interested in. Writing things down, whether it be in a journal or a blog like this, is essential. It helps me digest new concepts and scratch my creative itch.
- Have short-term goals but also create a big long-term goal. I’m halfway on my creative quest to publish 10,000 images, from 1000 places, in 100 different cities, over 10 years.
- Continue the health kick. My wife and I always joke that as you age it takes twice as long to get half the results. That doesn’t mean you should stop. You just need to plan exercise for each day and incorporate high intensity interval training.
At least on this list there are more starts and continues than stops. There are probably a few I left off, but the important message is to start this exercise and continue doing it every few years. You’ll always find a few new habits to begin and a few old ones to end.