Should you sacrifice the best years of your life to achieve financial freedom?

Should you sacrifice your 20's and 30's to achieve financial freedom

Two schools of thought

By MeTheMillennial

Next month I turn 31, roll back 10 years at the end of my 2nd year of university I was setting off from Ireland for a working summer in Chicago.

I spent 3 months in Chicago with a group of 8 friends working minimum wage jobs – thanks to a J1 working visa. Before returning for my penultimate year in University.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I took whatever seasonal work I could find.

I spent two weeks as a corn dog flipper not knowing what a corn dog actually was on my first day. A week as a bouncer followed, having to rush out and buy a black t-shirt before my first day. 

Literally the most random jobs going, but whatever provided me money to live and go out and have fun with my friends, with the occasional alcoholic beverage … or ten thrown into the mix.

That summer really ignited my passion for travel, at every chance I got I would book a flight and try to explore as much of this world as I could. 

This included:

  • Inter-railing around Europe, sleeping on overnight trains to keep our costs down. We were broke students after all. 
  • Road trips across the US from Austin to Vegas, driving a car with no AC!!!
  • Trips to South East Asia (twice!), island hopping our way through Koh Samui, Ko Tao, Ko Phi Phi and all night full moon parties in Ko Pha Ngan.

The list goes on, over the next few years literally all of my money went towards that next adventure.

I graduated 2 years later and went directly into a Consulting firm. Money was definitely not my forté. I made every mistake, even while studying to qualify as a chartered accountant – irony at its finest.

Right up until the age of 26, I had not got a penny in savings to my name. In fact I took out loans to fund my traveling adventures and spent all of my monthly pay-check and then some without fail. 

I was in debt, even though I was earning more than I had ever made before.

School of thought for how you should live your 20’s

So much is made of what you should and shouldn’t do in your twenties and thirties. 

There are generally two schools of thought:

1) Spend your 20’s working to set yourself up for the rest of your life. We’ll call this the ‘Dave Ramsey Camp’.

If you work hard during your 20’s, you can set yourself up for life. But the drawback is that you can spend too much time working and neglect to actually enjoy the so-called best years of your life! 

To illustrate how this is commonly perceived, I came across a reddit comment which summed up this school of thought well – see below Persona 1.

2) Spend your 20’s living life to the fullest, don’t worry about finances, money, your future.

Alternatively, go and have fun and spend all you have on doing just that!

Again another Reddit user summed up this school of thought perfectly – see below Personal 2.

As you can see from both persona’s there are definitely arguments for and against both schools of thought. Let me know in the comments which persona (or neither) resonates with you?

But as I’ve reached my thirties, it still hurts me to say that, I’m constantly coming back to the question. Why does it have to be so clear cut? 

Why is there so often only two polarizing choices depicted in the media and the blogging world?

Is it as clear cut as grinding it out miserable in your job, saying no to every trip offer from your friends. Versus all out mayhem having the best fun, without a dollar to your name.

Is there a third option, that strikes a balance? Can you;

3) Enjoy your 20’s and 30’s to the fullest, while managing your finances in the simplest way to set yourself up long term.

At around age 26 I discovered the topic of FIRE (financial independence, retire early) and the fire movement along with the benefits of long term compounding through investing at an early age.

Simply things like actually looking into my spending patterns, through my monthly credit card statements, and putting money aside every month into a savings account and actually opening up a pension.

Looking through my statement back then was pretty horrific to realize how much I spent on coffee out, not to mention drinks post 1am! on a Friday or Saturday night….or sometimes Tuesday…who even goes out on a Tuesday? I didn’t have a clue of how to spend my money in my twenties.

Even though I wasn’t earning any returns on my savings (maybe 1% at best). I still was getting into the habit of living within my means.

As I learned more, I started contributing to my pension and tax advantages accounts (e.g. 401k, RRSP, TFSA, ROTH – depending on your location)

I opened up a brokerage account, and instead of leaving my savings in a simple cash account earning 1% – I started investing into broad based low cost index funds. 

My net worth started growing rapidly, without sacrificing enjoyment in life and travel. 

Not giving into lifestyle creep as I earned more. Keeping my expenses down and looking at the big ticket items like switching from driving to cycling and sharing accommodation to half my rent.

It wasn’t all that hard once I started, and you don’t need to be a stock market guru to invest.

How to live your 20’s, my thoughts…

During my late twenties I felt I was hitting that third option noted earlier, I was enjoying my twenties to the fullest, while managing my finances in the simplest way to set myself up for the long term.

There has been a tidal way shift over the last couple of years and more young people are becoming more interested in personal finance and investing. It still shocks me this isn’t part of everyone’s schooling growing up. 

Personal finance is literally the most practical and useful skill anyone should know!

Things are improving, but many people are still turning a blind eye and pushing out taking control of their finances by a decade or more.

I put this down to a narrative being pushed that personal finance is boring and means you give up all the fun in your life. Coupled with the fact that many people are still so uncomfortable talking about money with each other. 

This is one of the reasons I set up this blog, to openly talk about money and investing. It’s not shameful to do so. Who do you actually talk to about personal finance, if anyone? Let me know in the comments.

But it doesn’t have to be like that, you don’t have to live like a homeless person to do it either!

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to your financial freedom.

Your twenties are the years to experiment, explore and to take risks. But looking back, I did this both the wrong and right (or maybe less wrong) way. The smarter way as per my late twenties that set me up for life versus the ignorant way as per my early twenties. 

Both included traveling, drinking too much, making friends …and losing some. I had just as much fun in both timespans, it’s just in the latter that I started to grow my net worth and set myself up for the long term. 

Now on the precipice of turning 31, I am so glad I actually started! 

I followed the basics of the FIRE movement- check out my beginners guide here… and have since grown my net worth from being in debt in my mid twenties to over $350k at age 30 today.

This not only sets you up for the future but gives you a security blanket to pursue a passion project you always wanted or leave a job you’ve always hated.

One of my favourite personal finance bloggers, Financial Samurai puts the figure of $300k in savings is when you start to feel the benefits of being free

With a $300,000 portfolio, you have the potential to return an annual average of $30,000 (i.e. 10%). Once your portfolio has the high potential of returning greater than the maximum amount you continue every year, psychologically, you feel like you no longer have to work as hard to contribute as much. 

This may seem like a lot of money, but it can be done. I’ve gone from negative net worth to $350k in a 5 year timeframe. This is not to brag, but to show it is achievable… you don’t need some inheritance or windfall to get there.

In fact recently I quit my high paying corporate job, and having a financial security blanket gave me the confidence to actually push the button.

This drastically increased the quality of my life. Work life balance became an actual thing and my overall happiness, from being less stressed, soared. 

I was no longer working in a job solely for the money and now had the time to pursue hobbies and passions be that triathlons, hiking, writing (setting up this MeTheMillennial blog).

My mental and physical energy is restored to actually pursue these passions, not drained from money or career worries.

I took a less stressful job, albeit for less money but given the foundation I had already set from my late twenties. I could stop saving at 35 and still reach an $11m net worth by age 65! Run the numbers yourself.

Life is to be lived

Your twenties and thirties are the best decades to pursue that. Don’t be too hard on yourself from drinking too much or making mistakes or spending too much money. 

But if you follow a simple plan of living within your means and investing for the long term you can set yourself up forever and be a millionaire in your 30’s to do whatever you want! 

Your future self will buy you a drink for it!

I hope you find some of these areas helpful in your own journey and planning going forward.

One useful thing that’s also helped me – take time this week.

Grab a coffee (or tea), grab a pen and physically write down specific, measurable financial goals you want to achieve by the of 2022.

The first step is having a plan, write down your goals and stick them to your fridge so you are reminded every day of them. They should haunt you. 

Download the free template below.

Download FREE printable SMART financial goals template now


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Appreciate you making it to the end! Have an awesome week.


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