Spiritual Financial Independence

Welcome to the first post of my new blog, SpiritualFI. I am a former financial advisor, now pastor, and avid saver and investor. The purpose of this blog is to talk about the spiritual aspect of financial independence.

Now, a lot of people will see “spiritual” and “financial” and have a lot of baggage come up. Some will think, “They have nothing in common! If it’s spiritual, it certainly can’t have anything to do with something as worldly as money.” We might feel we need to sneer at money to feel truly spiritual.

Others may think the opposite. “Spiritual? You mean superstitious, hocus-pocus stuff? Pah-lease! Give me something concrete. At least with money there’s math.” Again, same attitude, different take.

A third position might be, “Oh, yes. My spiritual well-being brings me riches. Prosperity comes to those who live a good life. If you put good out there, good will come back to you.” This could be a new-age, “law of attraction” type thing, or a more religious, prosperity gospel thing.

Not a big surprise, but I’m not talking about any of those things, though in time I’ll address them.

I want to talk about being spiritually independent of finances. Your spirit is the real you, your thoughts and feelings, and even deeper, what you love. Imagine what it could mean for your mind and your heart to be freed from dwelling on money.

Here, some might say, “Well, if I had enough, I wouldn’t worry. That’d be freedom.” What is enough? Do those who have a lot not worry about it anymore? Even if they don’t worry, do they still think about it, perhaps too much? Are they still emotionally tangled up in their money?

My Uncle Terry, who was a wise, generous, and all-around good guy, worked as an executive at a large financial firm. In the 90s he used to go around with his boss selling their advice to people who had big incomes who were in charge of a lot of money. Invariably, a conversation like the following would come up.

Mr. Big Money — “Okay, this all sounds great, but why should we listen to you? How much money do you have?”

Uncle Terry — “I have more money than Donald Trump.”

Mr. Big Money — “Oh really? How is that?

Uncle Terry — “Because I have enough… and he never will.”

I’ve been finding a lot of wisdom in the FIRE community, which stands for (Financial Independence, Retire Early). This community of people already are or are seeking to become financially independent and able to retire early. “Financial independence” in this group means having 25 times their annual expenses in invested assets. So if you need $40,000 to live on, you’d need $1 million invested to be “FI”. Members of this community share ways of doing that, especially by reducing their spending and increasing their savings.

One of the more influential FI bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache, has a great article about this where he boils it down to savings rate. “If you want to retire within 10 years, the formula is right there in front of you – simply live on 35% of your take-home pay.”

But is that the end of the story? Is it that simple? If you spend a little time reading or listening to some leaders in the FIRE community–Mr. Money Mustache, JL Collins, The Mad Fientist, GoCurryCracker, The Millionaire Educator, FrugalWoods, Slowly Sipping Coffee, PastorFI, or Brad and Jonathan at ChooseFI — you’ll see that there is a much more important thing going on than the math. It’s a mindset.

There are what I like to call “virtuous habits” that are keys to becoming financially independent. I’ll write more about them later, but they include:

  • Resisting the immediate gratification you get from buying something you want
  • Humility, patience, and perseverance when it comes to investing
  • Prioritizing time with loved ones over the accumulation of stuff
  • A willingness to think differently, listen to new ideas, and think critically about oneself

These virtuous habits are the qualities ancient Greek philosophers, medieval scholastics, Indian and Chinese mystics, and other deep thinkers have promoted for thousands of years. The FIRE folks are simply applying these virtues to a lifestyle of financial independence.

But here’s my main point. Here’s why you might want to read on. Being financially independent spiritually is about a lot more than practical habits or math. It is about finding a way to no longer care about money. It’s about liberating yourself not just from the concerns about money, but freeing yourself from consumerist culture, the cult of materialism, and the lust for stuff.

Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Mammon is the ancient Greek term that meant an almost personification of money, or money as an idol or god. Even if you don’t believe in a god, you can still see the wisdom here. Something in your life is going to be a priority, and you can judge what that is by how much time and energy you put toward it. And whatever that top priority is for you is like your god. It could be the love you have for your family, it could be the pride you have in your work, or it could even be a God. But please, please don’t let it be money. It surely will not bring you, or anyone else, happiness.

In the future I’ll explore the nuts and bolts of financial independence–good, solid advice to literally take to the bank. But as we explore ways to change financial habits, let’s think about our end goals, our relationships, our mental health, our spirits. Because really, I love you, and I want you to be happy. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you rather be happy than rich? Or maybe you can be both….

2 Replies to “Spiritual Financial Independence”

  1. Good sir and spiritual guide to FI, I am interested to see where you go with this. I am not sure I buy the non-attachment bit about money. I think in balance (or rightly ordered) a love of money (or actually a love of the useful things money can accomplish) can be healthy. But maybe that is where you are going. And maybe I am mistaken.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes, money can be useful. It’s when it becomes the primary love that it becomes a problem. I think a good way to judge that is how much delight or anxiety one has about money. If we want to know what we truly love, we can look at what delights us. But more later!

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