Financial Independence is a major counter culture movement right now. Some people are being proactive about the financial lives, while most people are up to their necks in debt. This is great, I wish everyone who reads this article success in achieving financial independence. Since it is so rare for people to achieve financial independence, especially at a reasonable age (50 or younger) I want to explain one of my theories of why it is so difficult.
Fabian strategy is a military strategy that involves avoiding open battles and frontal assaults in favor of a war of attrition. In simple terms, the strategy involves avoiding direct open battles in favor of slowly wearing down the enemy through continual losses in material, soldiers and morale. This strategy is adopted because the side employing it believes time is on its side, and there is no other alternative strategy that can be employed. This is the analogy for financial independence, it takes time and you are battling against the forces of society that want you to waste money. Marketing, social pressure to spend, a low cost of borrowing money, all of these things make it easy to spend spend spend. You want to go in the other direction and this takes time and strategy.
Military Success, Political Failure
Fabian strategy was originally used by Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, a Roman general fighting Hannibal’s Carthaginian forces in the Second Punic War (218-202 B.C.). Hannibal invaded Italy from the Alps and was a brilliant tactical general who inflicted heavy losses to the Romans in two open battles. Fabius changed his strategy and won the war by delaying battles and attacking supply chains. He won the war but his strategy was a failure politically. The wise men of the Roman Senate understood the tactics, but it was incredibly unpopular with average Romans who were used to facing their opponents and defeating them on the field of battle.
Similarly, financial independence is not a politically popular strategy because of two main reasons. The first reason is because you no longer have the mindset of a consumer, this is not good for a spending and debt based economy. This is the structure of the economy in the modern world, cheap borrowing costs and massive debt is how our economy grows. If you are deciding to save money, you are not contributing to that.
The second reason financial independence is not politically popular is because you are no longer reliant on your job. You have sufficient wealth, or you’ve started a business on the side so you no longer need your job. You may enjoy your job and decide to keep working but you no longer need it. You have the freedom to quit your job and no longer contribute to the economy through this work.
Ignore the Joneses
Financial Independence is politically unpopular, but also socially unpopular, because you no longer try to keep up with the Joneses. When you compare yourself to your neighbor for the purposes of measuring social status adopt a consumer mentality and you will inevitably fail at achieving financial independence. This is because acknowledging the game of consumerism is to lose simply by playing it. If you “win” at keeping up with the Joneses you end up with a bunch of material possessions and comparing yourself to others. If you “lose” by acknowledging the game and playing it unsuccessfully, you demonstrate what people perceive as socio-economic or cultural inferiority.
Fun fact, Keeping Up With The Joneses was originally a comic strip by Pop Momand that ran from 1913 to 1938. The comic strip is about the McGinis family, social climbers who constantly fail to keep up with their neighbors, the Joneses. We still use the expression “Keeping up with the Joneses” because people still exhibit this silly behavior. People should be judged by their character and not by their amount of material possessions.
Escape The Rat Race
It’s hard to work in the corporate world without cracking jokes about being part of the rat race. The employees are rats racing forward towards their goal of more money and status. If you work in an urban area you definitely know the feeling of being in the rat race. If you take the subway to work you know the dehumanizing effect of packed subway cars and waiting platforms. In financial independence communities there is a common theme of “escaping the rat race”. If someone hates their job and the corporate bureaucracy, it truly will feel like an escape.
If you are planning on escaping the rat race, I urge you to consider what I am going to say below.
Do not tell anyone at your workplace about your plans for financial independence. The first reason why is because of the bad impression you will give to your employer. If there needs to be downsizing at your company they will remember your plans for financial independence and say you are not a loyal employee, whatever that means. The second reason to not tell anyone is because it will inevitably provoke a crab mentality.
When crabs are in a bucket and one tries to crawl out to another will grab them and pull them back down again. This crab could easily have survived and crawled out on its own but the other crabs undermine its efforts. A similar thing happens with people but it happens mentally instead of physically. When certain people see someone else getting something they cannot have they try to undermine their confidence and cause them to fail. They are envious and resentful of this person’s ambition or success.
Let’s say you’re sitting in your lunch room at work with your colleagues and people start talking about career goals. They start talking about things like moving up the company ladder, eventually getting into senior management, and other linear thinking of this sort. If you start talking about how you want to start your own business you will provoke resentment and someone will try to undermine your plans. They will do this by saying things like “don’t you think that’s really risky?”, “what are you going to do if your business fails?”, or my personal favorite, “most businesses fail, why is yours going to succeed when most people fail?” They may gaslight you and undermine your self-confidence in your ability to do things independently.
The truth is that unless you are dealing with a psychopathic narcissist in your workplace the crab mentality is probably a defense mechanism and has more to do with the other person than you. It is a semi-conscious or unconscious reaction to their own feelings of inferiority and helplessness. If you don’t want to provoke these feelings, don’t bring up your plans for starting a business (especially if it is an online business) or achieving financial independence.
The Default Conversation Topic
In the United States the default topic of conversation. The first substantial question you will hear when you meet a new person will likely be, “So what do you do for work?” If you are financially independent and retired early you may not want to say that you are retired. Some people will admire you for this achievement, but a lot of people will resent you. This is particularly true if you are under 50. The proper response will be to talk about projects you are working on in your free time. You could be starting your own business, volunteering with juvenile delinquents, or doing yoga 8 hours per day. Simply steer the topic towards hobbies and other projects, if someone keeps asking about work simply say you don’t work, this is better than saying you are “financially independent” or “retired early”, people will find these explanations pretentious.
Having conversations with people who don’t understand your situation is part of the battle of financial independence. You don’t provoke pity and compassion like someone who doesn’t have a job because of a poor life situation. Not having a job because you don’t need one will confuse and anger some people, such is life. Our society has an extremely unhealthy obsession with wealth and the desire for riches, but it also has a lot of resentment for the rich. This is why so many people opt for “stealth wealth” instead of buying status symbols.
There is a great saying in economics, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. You can’t get anything for free without either paying or sacrificing something else (consumption, time, etc). There is no free lunch once you have achieved financial independence, you have traded one set of problems (no money, debt, stress) for a different set of problems (people asking for money, people being less compassionate since you are “rich”). It’s weird and when you read about it you realize the only smart thing to do is to not talk about money with people.