A reader recently asked me what sort of life strategies are useful for a single person who is already on the road to financial independence. I'm lucky to be married with a family, but it got me thinking: If I were suddenly single again with no wife or children and had my current financial state, what would I do?
Marc writes in with an interesting question.
I've been really enjoying your articles and have read many articles in the archives over the past week. Your story is a lot like mine but different in some ways. I also started a job right after college that paid pretty well, got myself into debt. I started a YouTube channel about five years ago that became my full-time job about three years ago. I am now more or less debt free. The biggest difference is that I'm single. I don't date and don't have any interest in doing so. I have no children and no plans to ever have any. What would you do differently if you were in my shoes?
I interpreted Marc's question this way: If I were suddenly single again with no wife or children and had my current financial state, what would I do?
Or, to put it another way, what life strategies are useful for a single person well on the road to financial independence?
It's an interesting question to think about, I suppose. I really don't even want to imagine my life without Sarah and my children right now. They are truly the brightest parts of my life.
However, if I were to step back and imagine my life if they suddenly didn't exist, I would certainly have lower expenses than I do now, as I would move from having the living expenses of five people to having the living expenses of one person. On the other hand, I would lose Sarah's income.
I'd still spend far less than I was earning, but I would save less per year. However, my annual expenses would be less, so the amount I have in the bank would actually be a much larger multiple of my annual living expenses. I would have substantially more free time without needing to be a father to three children or a husband to my wife.
In short, I would be well on my way to financial independence… but I'd be going there alone.
What would that change? What would my life look like?
I would be less afraid to take career leaps. Right now, I'm very happy with my current set of writing responsibilities, most of which appear on The Simple Dollar. This gives me the flexibility to be there when my children get on the bus in the morning, be at home when my children get done with school, be able to easily go get them if they're sick, be able to attend school events, and so on. When I was younger, that type of flexibility was very difficult for my father and I am thrilled to be able to be that flexible for my own children.
If I were single, though, such flexibility would be a lot less important. It would still be nice, but it wouldn't be a top priority in my life. My primary focus would be on whether or not I found the work I was doing to be exciting and fulfilling and, if I felt that my interest in a particular job was waning, I could prepare myself to move to something else.
Right now, I have pretty much the perfect job given the life constraints that I have and the life choices I want to make, but if I were single, those constraints and choices would naturally change.
I would invest a bit more aggressively, but not recklessly. My investment plans would involve less bonds and cash and more real estate and stocks. If it's only my financial future at risk here, I would be more likely to push the envelope when it comes to volatility and risk in my portfolio.
Does that mean I'd jump on board with things like Bitcoin or precious metals? Nope. Those things are outside even my own personal risk tolerance. I'd simply make my investments somewhat more aggressive, not radically aggressive.
I'd fill my evenings with a lot of community events. Many of my evenings these days are filled with things like preparing meals and making sure my children make it to taekwondo practice and handling bedtime routines. Without that kind of constant evening commitment, my non-working hours would be very different.
What would I do? I'd fill almost every evening with community events. A simple look at Meetup.com provides a starting point. Within a fairly small radius of my house, there are more than 100 groups on all kinds of different topics. I would actually be interested in at least trying about 30 of those groups.
I could easily fill every weeknight with a different group in my area, and I'd happily do so. I have a lot of interests and it would be a great way to channel them in a social way.
I'd probably live even cheaper than I do right now. I think my personal expenses would go down. For example, look at food: The only time I eat out these days is when we're out and about as a family and packing a meal for five is rather difficult. I can easily pack a meal for myself, but packing a meal for five is pretty tough.
I'd still make batch meals, but that's because I don't mind eating the same thing for supper three or four nights in a row. I'd get rid of cable television and might just get rid of my television entirely.
The biggest drop in expense? Housing. Let's talk about that specifically.
I'd live in a different home and a different place, but not something radically different. I'd live in a smaller home or in an apartment or townhouse. I wouldn't need a house this big if I were a single guy. I could easily eliminate a bedroom or two, multiple bathrooms, and some of the living space. That would drop the square footage significantly.
I really enjoy living in central Iowa, so I'd probably stay in this area, but I'd use a fairly wide radius while searching for a new place to live. I'd likely figure out where employment and entrepreneurial opportunities were and where I was building a social circle and community presence and then move somewhere that was convenient for that.
I'd probably go back to school. When I was in college, I studied in fields that I felt would earn a good income when I moved into professional life. While I thoroughly enjoyed what I studied, I recognise that I was using a big "money filter" when deciding which major to choose. This caused me to skip over other areas that didn't seem to have an obvious path to money, such as English, philosophy, political science, and history.
Since I am well on the road to financial independence and I live a lifestyle that doesn't require a ton of financial input, the thought of going back to school to study those areas sounds very appealing. I wouldn't worry so much about finding a job afterward for two reasons.
One, I don't need a tremendously large income, so a lot of jobs are open to me. Two, I am good at finding avenues with which to create my own self-employment. I think that many people on the road to financial independence are in that same boat.
I'd travel more, but do it very low key. By "low key," I mean the type of travel where you wander around with a backpack, largely avoid the tourist-y places, and stay in cheap accommodations. For example, I would love to spend a week or two in each of our national parks, camping in a simple tent, hiking on the trails, and relaxing with a book when I was tired. That sounds like a heavenly trip to me, but it's one that's very difficult to do with young children. I might even do something like walk the Appalachian Trail.
This type of perspective is in line with the article I recently wrote about how money "cannot buy what time delivers." The experience I really crave from travelling doesn't come from expensive trips, it comes from time.
In the end, the biggest change in my life would come purely in the form of time. I wouldn't change what I do financially much at all. If anything, I'd double down on the frugality. Instead, I'd use that abundance of free time to do some of the things I truly value — continuing my mission of lifetime learning, joining some social groups related to my passion, travelling a bit in a very low-key fashion and living a simple and joyous life.
I don't want to ever be single again, but if I did, it would look something like that.
If I Were Single [The Simple Dollar]
Lifehacker's Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.