I posit that most people can attain financial independence in less than 10 years and in less than 5 if they are truly determined. I also submit that many people are not willing to make the necessary changes.
Having just graduated with a PhD and paired everything I could possibly need into a couple of large suitcases (except for my humongous book collection) I moved to my new job. With everything in a couple of suitcases it is quite easy to move. It takes maybe a couple of hours to pack and clean the place and off you go. I had also made sure not to exceed the airline weight limit for either suitcase to get the added freedom of flying with my stuff and not paying for excess weight.
Prior to my arrival I had decided that after 4 years of sharing a kitchen and bathroom with 18 other people, I wanted the luxury my own kitchen and my own bathroom. Luckily I found such a room on the top floor of a house which the landlord rented out to visiting students and researchers. This was within walking distance of my new job, so I was good to go. Groceries were acquired during lunch breaks by hauling a messenger bag over to the nearest supermarket which unfortunately was in the opposite direction. I kept eating like I used to.
One problem was that I hadn’t moved my bank accounts, so after a week of eating out with my new boss, etc. I was down to a couple of cans of tuna, a large bag of rice, and some soy sauce for the second week until I got my pay check. I suppose I could have gotten a payday loan, but I was used to eating simple, so eating rice three times a day for a couple of days was no big deal. After all most of the world does just that. Shortly after that I got the bank connections in order, but I did learn an important lesson. It does not matter how much money you have, if you can not buy food. Second, if you can rough it a little, you have choices e.g. I could attend to the social arrangements for my new job (the cost of having a job) even though I didn’t really have money to eat.
It was shortly thereafter that I met DW who in addition turned out to work just a couple of buildings over from where I worked. After the incident at the karaoke bar dating comprised mostly hanging out at either her place or my place. After several months of dating like that we decided that we might as well move in together. After having looked around, we found a nice little house for rent within walking distance of our work. In my case walking distance usually means less than 4 miles but this house was less than 2 miles away, had a huge backyard and was located in a quiet neighborhood just at the edge of the city. Nice! At $660 a month it was hard to beat (except for the $400 apartment we found later just before we moved to CA). Of course since the house had been empty for a couple of years prior everything and I do mean everything started failing in short succession just after we moved in. The nice thing about renting though is that the landlord is usually responsible for maintaining the appliances.
DW was used to eating more varied than I was, so I gave up my lazy spartan diet figuring that I could afford the luxury given that I now had a real job. Besides, not eating lentil soup 6 days a week interspersed with tuna sandwiches anymore seemed to be worth the $70 increase in food expenditures. I mean, in 30 years, I might not have any taste buds left to appreciate the $700 of monthly food money that this increase would compound into.
We got most of our furniture used. Some of it was donated from people at our workplace moving on to better things. Other things we bought used. We also bought a few crappy particle board pieces new. You generally get what you pay for unless you buy used. In that case you tend to get a lot more than what you pay for. When we moved, we freecycled a lot of our furniture, sold other furniture. On a net basis I don’t think we paid anything for the furniture that did not come with us. Buying used often means that depreciation costs are fully factored in, so effectively, we got free use of a lot of that furniture.
Being normal, DW had a car even though we lived, worked, and shopped practically the same places even before we met. It’s been a subject of continuous debate ever since whether to keep it or not. One thing I noted was that I could get from our house to my office in 30 minutes by walking. Going by car, I could get there in about 20 minutes. Running I could get there in 10 minutes. Thus often I would simply take off on foot before DW got the car defrosted, etc. and we would arrive at the same time. Eventually I bought a used bike for $35 from a professor that was leaving for California. I ran that bike into the ground but it was worth it given that I could make the trip in 10 minutes instead of 30 minutes. Of course the bike was useless during winters. Sometimes I would brave the cold (-17F) and walk through the snow which was conveniently thrown onto the sidewalk. Walking was passively discouraged in the city we lived in. One might say the citizens were not particularly enlightened. One resident explained to me that the reason that there weren’t any more sidewalks was because the voters believed that sidewalks would provide poor people with an easy way of getting around. Yes and? Well, clearly poor people that otherwise could not afford a car are mostly criminals. Huh? Read that one again, if that did not make sense the first time. It still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but I guess there was something to it as I once got held up by a campus police cruiser (spot light in my face and the loud voices from a conversation at 30 feet – I could not see a thing) while walking home from work. He probably thought I was casing the bank I just walked by, but I eventually managed to convince him that that was my standard route for walking to and from my job. Next day I got a ride from him while walking to work. He was probably trying to make up for the episode the night before. I also got well intended albeit naive advice from people I passed on the campus parking lot ranging from how I should dress for the weather to questions from strangers about where I got the nice gear? So I kept walking although I must admit that I did get a ride from DW when the weather was particularly bad or when I was particularly lazy.
Meanwhile savings kept going up, but at this point I was starting to think about investments. These will be the topic of part IV.