One of the most surprising lessons for me on this early retirement/financial independence journey is that it isn’t only about money. While being focused on the money, we have unintentionally also become focused on the quality of our lives, living intentionally, self-sufficiency, the environment, health and just generally leaving the world in a better place. The early retirement/financial independence blogs talk about all these things of course but I initially (and swiftly!) wrote them off. I told myself that I didn’t need these extra lessons (or was already doing what I thought was enough) and focused instead only on the money.
However, to my surprise all that other stuff snuck its way into my life anyway. If not into my life as such, definitely (and increasingly), into my thoughts. I increasingly find myself contemplating what I want from my life, what kind of person I want to be, how I could be healthier, wondering if I should still be eating animals and how I could reduce my impact on the environment. I find myself weirdly drawn to the kick-ass feeling of self-sufficiency. The fact that I made jam from scratch, for example. Or that Husband now wants to make pasta from scratch (he’s already nailed pizza). In other words, this financial journey is unwittingly making us kinder to both ourselves and the environment. HOW weird is that, dear Reader?!?!
(And as a side note: WHY is that?! My growing suspicion is that as you transition into intentional spending you necessarily unplug out of capitalism and its marketing. A marketing which is based on telling us how we’re lacking, what item we need to make us happy and how to think. As an intentional spender suddenly our mind is our own again and we’re able to decide for ourselves what makes us happy and what we need. And with all that space for our own thinking we seem to go back to the basics… The basics that were necessary for hunter-gathers (i.e. most of human history): to build independence (self-sufficiency), work with others (help others), maintain our health, and make sure that the environment in which we live is healthy. The moral of the story? Capitalism is the devil. I’m just not sure what the alternative to it is though… My other hypothesis though is simply that I’m really bored at work and so, for the first time in my life, have a LOT of time to mull over all these different aspects of life…Anyway, back to the post!)
So here I am, feeling like I am on the right path financially and becoming a happier, fuller, more ethical person all round and BAM! Brexit. And fucking Trump. Whatever the politics, the fact is that twice this year a LOT of people have voted for segregation. And their vote has, intentionally or not, condoned discrimination and prejudice. This is particularly for Trump who wore his sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, religious discrimination and sexual assaultive tendencies loud and proud for EVERYONE to see.
Trump’s election, particularly, devastated me. Like trying-not-to-cry-at-work-or-on-the-walk-home devastated. It confirmed that as a woman I am right to have felt afraid for most of my life. Because somehow, even though it is 2016, 1 in 2 Americans (out of over 100 million votes, which I would argue is quite a representative sample) are happy to make a sexist man president. 1 in 2 Americans are happy to make a homophobic, racist, xenophobic man president. ALL our (society’s) years of standing up for people’s rights to be treated as people and we STILL have 50% of the population to convince. The wind was completely knocked out of me. I felt powerless and, worse, immobilised.
I know that I’m not American. You, dear Reader, know that I’m not American. But, like it or not, you dominate the world. You dominate our media. You dominate our music and the movies we watch. And so you (maybe unwittingly) have a MASSIVE impact on how everyday-normal-humans around the world think. You are our example. You are the “land of the free” and ‘real’ democracy. In other words, you are supposed to be better than the rest of us. And so the fact that over 50 million of you condoned and legitimized Trump and his ideas… It’s not a good indication of where the rest of us pleb societies probably are… It makes me doubt if we are making any progress at all in our fight for all people to be treated as people.
But I had my mourning period. I was shocked, in denial, angry, sad, the works. And now I have picked myself up and am ready to ask, “what can I do?” I am not a politician but I am still a human who has influence over the micro-world around me. And my choices matter – if you don’t believe me then please listen to Kid President:
And if the Brat Experiment has taught me anything, it’s that small choices add up quickly. So our (current) plan doesn’t involve simply money anymore.
Financially the plan is:
- Continue to save as much as possible.
- The money that we are saving is currently being sent to our bank account in New Zealand. We are moving to NZ after Korea and it’s silly to pay charges sending our money back to South Africa only to pay charges sending it to NZ. The bugger is that while we were able to open a NZ bank account from overseas (YAY!) you can’t move or touch it until you authenticate it in person. And they only let you open one kind of account from overseas – which doesn’t earn a lot of interest. This is not awesome but I have looked into buying shares in NZ from Korea and it’s a firm no go. So our current course of action is the best course for now.
- Once we get to NZ we plan to transfer our savings into index tracking funds as soon as possible. We will also focus on:
- Getting free or matched money (i.e. KiwiSaver in NZ). This is any savings scheme where your employer or government matches whatever you put into it. At first I was skeptical about this approach because I thought that I could earn more interest if I rather put my money into my own saving scheme (read: a high equity product). But it seems that no amount of interest will ever be able to beat the free money that I will get from my employer or government. PLUS it seems that most countries let you choose where you invest your free/matched money i.e. I could choose a high equity product. This is the case with the KiwiSaver. High-fives all around 🙂
- Setting up a tax free investment (if your country allows this). South Africa has recently brought this in and it’s awesome (whether I qualify for it as someone who doesn’t currently live or earn in SA though I don’t know). This is because tax erodes your compound interest horribly. So if there is a legal way of avoiding tax then that’s the way to go 🙂
- Buying/building a house. I know that financially we would make more money plowing all our money into equities but we’re still set on this. This is because we like the idea of having rental income from NZ one day (FANTASTIC exchange rate if we are living in SA) and we also like the idea of diversifying into property (instead of just being in equities). But more than that, we both just really want to own our own home. We want the security and the this-is-ours feeling. Plus we’re both obsessed with Grand Designs and are desperate to build our own house (or convert an old barn into a house!).
Non-financially the plan or our ideas are:
- Keep learning as much as we possibly can about personal finance, health, living in an environmentally friendly way, self-sufficiency etc
- Once we get to NZ:
- Start growing our own vegetables (made easier by the fact that basically anything grows in NZ). What we can’t grow ourselves we want to try to source from local farmers.
- Ideally have our own chickens but I don’t think chickens would go down well in a suburban area so it all depends on where we buy/build that house.
- Only eat meat from animals that have had a quality of life. No more battery, antibiotic-pumped, industrialized crap. (This is for ethical reasons and for our own health).
- Husband will fish and ideally learn how to hunt (NZ doesn’t have natural predators so hunting is encouraged and almost free – so it’s a great opportunity for us to help the natural NZ environment, eat animals that have had a good quality of life and eat meat for almost nothing. Plus, that self-sufficiency is fabulous).
- I want join a yoga studio and Husband a hockey club. We will figure out a cost efficient way of doing this or simply make it a priority in our spending. We want to both get into the routine of going regularly.
- Make sure that we join or create a community for ourselves. Yoga and hockey will help but we also want to make an effort to get to know our neighbours, join community events, join clubs, volunteer etc. One of the big lessons living in Korea has been that having a community is important.
- Ideally buy/build our house in an area where our (future) kids would be able to play with other neighbourhood kids easily.
- When we build our house make sure that it is environmentally, financially and spatially efficient. Nothing goes to waste. We LOVE the tiny house movement and the ideas behind it.
- Work harder than ever to be vigilant about checking our own prejudices and calling it out when we see it in others.
- As much as possible support those who other people or society treat as non-people or less-than-people. Let those people know that they are valid human beings who deserve to be treated as such. Stand up for people’s rights when needed. (This is actually a necessary part of both of our jobs, which is great).
- Hope like hell that all these little things will snowball into actually making the world a better place.
I know, dear Reader, that the second list sounds like some real hippie bullshit. But it is actually all backed up with research into what makes humans and societies happier, healthier and more economically successful. For example, having trusting community relationships is a greater predictor of a country’s future economic growth than skills that people have. How awesome and surprising is that?! I just love it when hippie loving wins out over self-serving greed. Trump: 0. Hippie Loving: 1. Take that prejudiced world! Not only is hippie loving more ethical, but it’s actually going to make people healthier and wealthier too! 🙂 Win-Win 🙂 There is hope after all… 🙂