I’m often asked whether FIRE* – or FITR**, as I prefer – was my grand plan.
I started investing at 19 because I didn’t want my money to go to waste.
Given how much time and energy I’d exerted to earn it, watching it fritter away seemed insane. Far better to watch it breed more money.
I didn’t know exactly what I would do with the offspring of my earnings, but I wanted those dollars more than cars or furniture.
Then, at 26, life dealt me a comprehensive lesson that money is not the point when I got sick and my little sister ended her life.
From that experience, I decided:
Money is a means to an end.
It’s a tool to be deployed. Accumulating money for the sake of it is useless.
That shift led me to quit the corporate ladder, start taking mini-retirements and change focus from solving for ‘most money’ to ‘most time’ in everything I did.
For the last decade, I’ve used my money and the wealth it bred to decide how I’ll spend that time.
Even before I became financially independent seven years ago, I could see how money’s best use was buying the days you would otherwise spend at work, if work wasn’t what lit you up inside.
Back then, it was all about following my instincts and my values, and occasionally my whimsies.
That’s what led to Money School, and Maker Kids Club, and leisurely years watching my babies grow. It’s been a privilege to be unfettered by the need to grind it out at a 9-5, or the 7-7 I was heading for.
I’m proud of what I’ve done with that time. I think I’ve helped people.
Now it’s 2020, and the lessons that help us prioritise are coming thick and fast across the globe.
My lessons, like so many others, have been rendered more poignant and intense thanks to the pandemic.
This time, the lesson has been:
You never know what’s coming.
We can’t plan for everything, but when the proverbial hits the rotating blade, FI simplifies decisions.
Specifically in my case, my earlier indulgences now pale in comparison to the gratitude of being free to care for my dying mother, Fran.
Fran is also my co-founder, hero and best friend.
Since May, she has been valiantly battling a cancer so aggressive the medicos have been cursing. It will kill her. Soon. Given she’s in perfect health in all other ways, this is a cruel blow.
It’s not fair, but life isn’t. This is the hand Fran has been dealt. If you know her, it won’t surprise you to learn she’s playing it with grace and plenty of (black) humour, along with an appropriate amount of sentimentality.
Though the thought of a world without Fran is unbearable, my sadness is overwhelmed by gratitude.
That I won the ovarian lottery in such a specific way. There has been no better mother on Earth.
That I had her guidance for 38 years. I wish I had 38 more, but she has taught me well.
That in this awful time of uncertainty, Fran is here with me in Perth, as she has been for the last six years. Closed borders mean I don’t have to choose between living with her and seeing my kids during this period. #ThankyouMcGowan.
Most of all, I am grateful that we both got to FI.
For Fran, it’s meant seven years on her terms, most of them living around the corner from my young family.
Had she followed the typical Australian single mother narrative, she might have been working full-time still, unable to leave Queensland due to work commitments. Or she might have been on our punitive pension and unable to afford to visit.
She might not have been free to care for my children several days each week, or to help me build Money School and Maker Kids Club, or just be an integral part of our lives.
We’ll never know if different choices would have meant lower chance of cancer. Diffuse large B cell lymphoma is one of the cancers for which there are no lifestyle or hereditary indicators.
It’s just bloody bad luck.
But having seen how fulfilled she has been looking after me and my kids, being free to enjoy our company, to come on holidays with us… I feel it’s time we’ve been lucky to have, and it would have been much less likely if we weren’t both FI.
As for me, FI has meant I can drop everything to help Fran meet a peaceful end, hopefully at home, after being able hold her hand through the rollercoaster that’s been the last four months of cancer treatment.
I don’t have to go to work – though I can work when I want to, and sometimes that distraction is a blessing. With hubby Adam 16 months into a mini-retirement, I don’t even have to worry about who’s looking after our kids while I do this.
And I don’t have to worry about losing my home or my family going hungry while I ignore life beyond Fran.
This again feels like indulgence. It’s a privilege denied to so many.
But this, this moment, right now:
*This* is why we FI.
We can’t know what’s around the corner. We don’t know how much time we’ll have. If you want to suck the marrow out of life, you’ve got to find the time. You have to be able to afford to spend that time.
At 38, I feel too young to be facing this, though I know so many of my peers have lost parents far earlier. I also feel no regret for time not spent with Fran, as there hasn’t been any. I have been in my mother’s company almost daily for six years, as have my kids.
FI gave us that.
I wish we had even one more year together, but no amount of time would ever be ‘enough’.
These last days will have to do. I guess I can thank FI for those too.
* FIRE = Financially Independent, Retiring Early
** FITR = Financially Independent, Time Rich