What is Financial Independence (FI)?

Let Topia's co-founder, Grant Sabatier, talk you through what FI is all about

You may know me as the creator of the popular website Millennial Money and author of the international bestseller Financial Freedom… which has helped hundreds of thousands of people around the world reach for financial independence as quickly as possible.

I want to ask you a question:

When you were a little kid, did your teachers ever ask you what you wanted to do when you grew up?

I bet very few people answered that question with, “Work 40-50 hours a week in a job I hate, away from my family, so I can make someone else rich.”

When you’re young, you see a world of endless jobs and possibilities.

Your parents, teachers, and friends probably encouraged you to get a good, safe job. To go to college. To settle down and settle in.

The thing is…

We don’t live in that world anymore.

We live in one of the most uncertain times in human history.

You’re living through it. Right now. Even as you read this.

If you’ve ever worried about your financial situation: it’s okay.

You’re not alone.

No matter how dire things might seem, there is a path forward.

But you’ll have to act fast, because...

Life's too short to be wasting the best years of your life stressing over money 24/7.

Life's too short to be wasting the best years of your life stressing over money 24/7.

In her deeply moving book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, nurse Bronnie Ware says the big two regrets of the dying are:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Ask yourself:

Are you making the most out of your life right now?

Are you spending enough time with the people you love most... making new memories with your partner, kids, siblings, parents, and grandparents?

Are you living out your highest purpose and growing as a person... whether it’s making art, traveling the world, learning new skills, or teaching others?

What about your health?

Are you taking care of yourself so you can keep showing up stronger, faster, and better for the people counting on you for as long as possible?

Or is it all on hold and fading away quickly... because you’re stuck burning out in some never-ending hustle for biweekly paychecks at a job you hate?

I don’t know about you…

But I believe life’s way too short for that.

The truth is, so many people get caught up living a life that isn’t theirs because they’re trying to achieve someone else’s idea of success, be it their parents, colleagues, or even strangers on social media.

They start thinking life is all about sacrificing your best years alive so you can become some 90-year old millionaire who can zip from penthouse to penthouse in a private.

But if they took a moment to sit down, breathe, and get honest about what truly makes them happy in life...

…they’d realize they don’t need nearly as much money as it might seem to live “the good life,” and that they’re closer to achieving real financial freedom than they’d think.

Traditional FI: Your Key to a Future by Design

At its core, traditional Financial Independence (FI) is about achieving a state where your assets sustain your lifestyle without requiring further employment. It’s built on three pillars:

  • Living Within Your Means: Adopting a lifestyle that prioritizes necessary and meaningful expenses, and eliminates the superfluous. This is the foundational step towards FI.

  • Adopting a High Savings Rate: After expenses, a significant portion of your income is saved and invested. The higher your savings rate, the quicker you can achieve FI.

  • Accumulating a Sizable Investment Portfolio: The goal is to build a nest egg that is substantial enough to fund your living expenses indefinitely. This is known as your ‘FI Number.’

Your FI Number is the total amount of savings and investments needed to support your desired lifestyle without having to work for money. It’s generally calculated as your annual living expenses multiplied by a factor (often 25, based on the 4% withdrawal rule).

The Savings Spectrum and the Magic of Compounding

Here’s the enlightening reality:

  • Spend 100% of your income, and you’re never retiring (unless external help arrives). Your working career is, theoretically, infinite.

  • Spend 0% (living frugally or for free), and you’re technically ready to retire now.

Between these extremes lies the essence of FI: saving and investing your money, which starts earning income all by itself. This income compounds, snowballing into a larger and larger sum as time goes on.

Hitting the Savings Sweet Spot

Consider this example: if you’re saving 50% of your take-home pay, you are on course to reach Financial Independence in approximately 16 years. This assumes a 5% investment return after inflation and living off a “4% safe withdrawal rate” after retirement.

Cutting Costs: A Double Victory

Reducing your spending rate is a two-fold triumph:

1) It boosts your monthly savings.

2) It permanently decreases your future monthly needs.

So, your lifetime passive income goes up due to a larger investment nest egg, and it more easily meets your needs, as you’ve developed skills at living efficiently.

The Path to Early Retirement

To retire within 10 years, you need to live on around 35% of your take-home pay—an ambitious yet achievable goal for those dedicated to this lifestyle.

Traditional FI isn’t a lofty, unreachable ideal—it’s a formula, a lifestyle choice available to those willing to live intentionally, save aggressively, and invest wisely. Are you ready to redefine your relationship with money and unlock a future of possibilities?

Cashflow FI: The Fastest Lane to Freedom and Fulfillment

Cashflow Financial Independence (FI) is a modern approach to financial freedom that emphasizes creating multiple, sustainable income streams rather than solely relying on accumulating a large investment portfolio. This approach allows individuals to unlock more freedom in their lives, often more rapidly than traditional methods. Cashflow FI can be more fulfilling, faster, and may provide a greater sense of security.

Beyond the Portfolio: Creating Income Streams

Instead of focusing solely on frugality and saving to build an investment portfolio, Cashflow FI encourages individuals to actively cultivate additional sources of income. This might include rental properties, dividends from investments, side businesses, freelance work, or any other income-generating ventures.

The Fulfilling Route

Passion Projects Turned Profitable: Cashflow FI often involves turning hobbies, skills, or passions into income-generating ventures, making the path to FI more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Engagement and Purpose: Maintaining active involvement in income-generating activities can bring a sense of purpose and achievement that simply living off savings may not provide.

The Fast Lane to Freedom

Accelerated Journey: By creating additional income streams, you aren’t just waiting for investments to grow—you’re actively expanding your wealth, often at a faster rate.

Less Reliance on Savings: Because you have income flowing from various sources, you don’t need as large of a nest egg to become financially independent.

The Secure Path

Diversification: Cashflow FI inherently involves diversifying income streams, reducing reliance on a single source and potentially lowering risk.

Flexibility and Adaptability: With multiple income streams, you can more comfortably navigate economic downturns, as you aren’t solely dependent on withdrawals from an investment portfolio.

Cashflow FI in Action

Let’s consider an example: Sarah, a graphic designer, not only invests 30% of her salary but also rents out a property, freelances on weekends, and sells her own artwork online. These income streams not only accelerate her savings but also provide a fulfilling and varied work-life blend. She reaches her FI number sooner and feels secure with multiple income flows.