I see and hear from people around my age – in their 20s and 30s – really struggling to make decisions in their lives.
They want to save, but they want to enjoy life. They want to get married and have kids, but they want to work less and have more free time.
These are decisions that a lot of us are facing. And unless you’re a weirdo like me, who realised at age 19 that freedom was my #1 goal, it’s possible you struggle with this too.
So today, I’ll try to pry apart this frustrating web of trade-offs and see what we can do about it.
FOMO and the Millennial Mindset
I’m calling this fear-of-missing-out (FOMO), the ‘Millennial Mindset’. That’s because it seems to be mostly young people who struggle with wanting it all.
It could just be our lack of life experience, or that our identities are not as well solidified yet. Maybe it’s being constantly exposed to what others are doing through social media.
Whatever the reason, the average Millennial’s default setting seems to be, “I want to do everything/go everywhere/meet everyone/buy everything/experience all there is.” In short, we seem to have a hard time choosing between things.
On the other hand, the older folks have already realised something important: everything cannot be equally important, so it’s our job in life to prioritise and choose what matters.
Quite often, comparing ourselves to others is where the pain-point begins. Where others are progressing to their goals faster than us, or are seemingly enjoying more good-times than we’re having.
The main point here is, you can’t have it all. You have to choose. And the frustrating part is some of the goals I listed earlier are in opposition to each other. If we try and achieve both at the same time, we don’t really get the full benefits of either. Damn!
But rather than moan about it like the rest of the internet, we look for solutions. What can we do?
Decide on your top priorities
It almost sounds too simple. But almost nobody consciously does it. Many of us just cruise through life, wandering in whichever direction takes our fancy at the time, hoping things turn out for the best.
But it’s your life we’re talking about. This shit is important!
So, sit down and think about it. Really think. What’s most important to you? Is it starting a family? Is it having a big wedding? Travelling the world? Being financially independent? Building your own business?
It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is you get very clear with yourself about what you’re choosing to focus time, energy and money on, and why.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s situation and path to financial freedom is different. So try not to have expectations around what your journey should be like. Also, it’s your life, nobody else’s, so try to ignore the influence of others and decide on your own priorities. Do what makes sense for you.
Of course, you’ll have multiple things you want to do, experience and accomplish. That’s healthy. But deciding which things sit at the top of your priority list is a must.
After this, everything will start becoming easier. Because when you feel scattered and frustrated, you can revisit your priority list. And this helps you refocus, or allows you to make changes, reorganise your priorities, and steer your life’s ship in a new direction.
Maybe you’ll realise that reaching financial independence is not actually your top priority. And that might actually be a good thing, for your sanity at least!
Where to go from here
If you’ve concluded that FI is essentially your top priority at this point in your life, then knowing what to do is easy.
You can comfortably optimise the crap out of your spending, while still enjoying your day-to-day life. And you’ll have a rosy internal glow, because your actions will be in harmony with your highest current priority.
Maybe you decide that getting married and having kids is more important right now. In that case, you can actually be happy about the higher spending and/or lower income that typically goes with it. Why? Because you’ve thoughtfully decided this is your key focus for now.
But remember, having kids and reaching FI is not incompatible, as many readers have correctly pointed out (with one reader even compiling all his tips into this guest-post). Also, weddings aren’t all that expensive either. Big fancy parties are expensive! 😉
So do you want to be married, or do you want to have a big fancy party? If you really want the big wedding, that’s totally fine. But make that a conscious decision, rather than something you feel obligated to do.
Of course, it’s also possible to have a small wedding with only the most important people there and keep it simple.
The same goes for travel. It’s possible to chew through all your spare income on travel and ‘experiences’. But seeing the world and experiencing different things can also be done at much lower cost. If travel can’t possibly wait till you’re wealthy and a bit older, then simply have a travel cap built into your yearly spending, which still allows you to save too.
So, even though I said you can’t have it all, I’m going to contradict myself here. While you may be choosing other priorities over FI right now, you can still do those things while building the future life you want. It’ll just take a bit longer. But the point is, if you’re happier along the way, you won’t even care!
To square up my contradiction, you still have to choose a couple of top priorities and weigh them accordingly. If exotic travel, constant restaurant visits, cars, a fancy home, and designer clothes is your ultimate dream… then reaching FI at a young age is probably not for you.
Those two goals are too far in opposing directions. And while it’s still possible, reaching FI with lavish consumer tastes will be like pushing a stubborn elephant up a hill!
What does this look like in practice?
Suppose a couple is torn between FI and getting married/having kids. Let’s say the second option wins out, but they still really want to reach FI. They have a few options.
First, get married and have kids, while keeping the costs under control. Accept a lower savings rate due to higher spending/lower income for a while.
At this point, they’ll be happily enjoying their little family unit. And if they keep their life simple, they’ll still be able to save as well as make the most of time with bub. After a few years, bub will be nearing school-age so they can start getting serious about FI again, by ramping up work and savings.
Another option is to opt for (say) 5 years of hardcore saving, then switch to part-time work while having kids. At this point, the couple’s investments will provide some passive income and they can cruise for a while to enjoy the early years. Hello, semi-retirement 😀
Later, work and savings can be increased as desired, eventually taking this family to 100% FI. Still a fantastic outcome!
The details don’t really matter right now. The important part is deciding on your priorities and from there, developing a plan of action. Once you work this out, you’ll find life much easier and the stress and FOMO should melt away. Just like enjoying more of the simple life often leads to material desires melting away.
Oh, and forget what everyone else is doing (they’re just following each other and winging it anyway!). Focus on what YOU really want.
Some thoughts on regret
Regret seems innocent enough, and in some ways, it’s inevitable anyway. We all end up looking back in hindsight at what we could have done, rather than what we did do.
But if we’re making thoughtful choices about our lives and where we’re going, there’s little reason for regret. Why do I say that?
Because we’ll have made the best choices for us, based on the information and motivations we had at the time. You’ll likely find yourself later with different priorities. And that’s okay too.
The important part is, you’re creating your path. And because it’s self-selected based on your key priorities, there should be no regrets later.
Contrast that with someone who is just drifting through life, following their peers or the standard script of work, spend, repeat forever. Those are the people who will end up with regrets, because they set life to ‘automatic’ and didn’t think for themselves or decide what future to create.
The solution to FOMO is all about mindset. That’s because financial independence and building a great life is also more about mindset than anything else!
So, it’s important for each of us to do some soul searching. We need to think about what kind of life we want to have in 10 years time. Then, it’s simply about gently steering ourselves in that direction, making small adjustments as we go.
Whatever priorities you have right now, rest assured, you can still build wealth and become financially independent at a reasonably young age… unless you’re the hyper-consumer I described earlier 😉
It’s usually when we’re scattered and hazy on our direction that FOMO rears its ugly head. But getting our priorities in order forces us to get clear on what matters. And that makes sticking to your financial and life plans so much easier.
Sit down this weekend and get clear on where you’re heading and why. Either in your mind, on paper, or in conversation with your spouse. Then watch your FOMO melt away as your energy flows naturally into those key areas.
Enjoy the calming effect of your renewed focus this week. Thanks for reading!
What are your views on dealing with FOMO? Do you have any advice for those struggling with this? Share your thoughts in the comments…