Do you dream of one day leaving the rat race? Who doesn’t? For me the idea of “retirement” does not evoke visions of fishing and golfing, rather the ability to do whatever it is that I truly want to do. Personally, that looks a lot like writing, coaching youth sports, and perhaps working with a non-profit for a cause I strongly believe in. Unfortunately, much talent is wasted doing the 30-year corporate shuffle to pay for “stuff.” What if you could begin to eliminate some of this “stuff” and find new ways to diversify your income to cover basic expenses?
Step 1: Tracking Expenses
One of the best ways to begin any new plan is to figure out a baseline. Dieters often begin a new fitness plan with the dreaded measurements of weight, BMI and bodyfat percentages. Think of this portion of your plan for an early “retirement” as your financial fitness evaluation. The very first thing you should do is figure out what you’ve been doing. Stop reading this and estimate in your head how much your monthly expenses are (debt payments, utilities, food, gas, etc.). Keep that initial estimate in mind as you move forward with this exercise.
At the beginning of the next calendar month start recording all expenditures, from the $2.00 cup of coffee to the $1,000 mortgage payment. If it is early in the month you may begin this step retroactively, assuming you can account for expenditures up to this point. For now, don’t be overly concerned with the method of recording these figures, just record them. Some people like to set up elaborate Excel spreadsheets; others prefer a ledger pad and pencil. During this first month resist the urge to reduce your spending. Try to spend and save as you have been doing to get an accurate representation of your starting point.
Step 2: Tracking and Diversifying Income
This step will take much less time, unless you are already in the enviable position of receiving daily income from multiple income streams. Most of you are probably like me. My first month of tracking income had exactly three records. Two paychecks and about $0.16 in interest from a savings account. Some of you may have even less. That’s fine – as they say in the book that inspired this entire exercise, Your Money or Your Life, “No shame, no blame.”
If you really want to step off the corporate treadmill one day, you simply have to increase your passive income either by investing current earnings in high-yield accounts, or by developing multiple income streams from part-time or freelance work, or some combination of the two. As long as you rely on your current full-time paycheck to pay for your expenses you are trapped in the rat race.
Step 3: Creating a Freedom Chart
At the end of the first month you should now have a detailed cash flow statement listing all of your expenditures and your household income. You may need to sit down for this step. For most people this is the point where they realize they are spending more than they earn. This overage accounts for what I refer to as “lifestyle debt.” It is the two hundred dollars you charged at the grocery store to float until you got paid, or the insurance bill you paid with your credit card because there wasn’t enough in checking. Lifestyle debt is a killer when it comes to early retirement plans. It ties up your income from future investment, and the interest accrued cheapens your future earnings.
Step 4: Project the Intersection
At some point in the future, as your passive income increases and daily living expenses decrease, your monthly expenses will equal your passive income. It is at this point that you are technically free from the rat race. If you received a pink slip from your job tomorrow you could survive indefinitely assuming your expenses did not increase significantly due to health coverage, etc. From this point of intersection forward you are continuing to work, save and invest to improve the quality of life in your early retirement. The more you have invested in high-yield accounts the higher your passive income will be, allowing you a few more expenses each month. You may decide to continue working at your full time job to generate some capital to put into your own business, adding even more to your passive income stream. Whatever you decide, the choice is now yours. At this point of intersection you are officially free from the rat race.
photo by davidandnasha