Hierarchy of Financial Needs (and the Meaning of Life)

A Hierarchy of Financial Needs and the Meaning of Life

When I was in Ecuador last year, Mr. Money Mustache came up to me and said he was pissed off.

Someone had been asking him questions about FI but when the discussion started getting into the numbers, the person said that they’d just save those questions for me.

MMM jokingly asked me if that means he’s lost his edge? Has writing about happiness and more philosophical topics resulted in him not being viewed as a financial mastermind anymore?

Obviously he was just messing around and wasn’t really angry/concerned but this topic actually came back up a few days later.

After I finished my presentation to the group, Mr. Money Mustache raised his hand and said, “Fientist, it seems you too are turning soft in your old age. Do you not care about money or numbers much these days either?”

Turns out, my presentation had nothing to do with numbers. No graphs. No math. Nothing even close.

I laughed and said, “Yes, it’s weird but I don’t think about numbers much at all now and I’m starting to realize that money is the least-interesting and least-important aspect of this whole journey.”

I’ve built my whole blogging career on numbers so it’s been an unexpected turn of events, to say the least!

After the presentation, I was chatting with some of the other attendees and was saying how I wondered why I stopped focusing on money as much. Thankfully, one of the attendees offered a perfect explanation for it – Maslow’s hierarchy.

Maslow’s Hierarchy

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows what motivates humans, the relative importance of each need, and the order in which the needs are generally fulfilled.

Maslaw's Hierarchy of Needs

At the bottom of the pyramid, the first human needs that have to be met are those necessary for human survival (e.g. water, food, etc.).

Once a person’s physiological needs are met, focus then turns to safety.

It’s obvious safety is less important if you don’t have fresh water to drink so you’d need to focus first on finding water before then getting somewhere safe from predators.

That doesn’t mean you’re not on the lookout for hiding places or shelter when you’re searching for water, it just means water is your first priority and the other things are less important.

So that’s a really brief summary of how Maslow’s hierarchy works.

I’d say a similar hierarchy exists for financial needs as well.

Here’s what I came up with:

Hierarchy of Financial Needs

At first, you need to pay for all the things that you need to survive. If you have to use debt to do that, it doesn’t matter because you need to buy food to stay alive so that’s what you do.

That is not sustainable though so eventually you’ll need to make enough money to pay all your expenses.

You could live quite happily at the Sustainability level for a while but you’re not necessarily safe there.

One small injury or unexpected expense could derail everything so ideally you’ll soon reach the Accumulation level. On this level, you make more than you spend so you are able to save for future unplanned expenses.

The next level is Independence. Since it’s unlikely you will be physically able to work your entire life, you eventually need to get to the point where you can pay all your expenses without working.

Finally, you reach the Utilization phase. This is when you know you’ll never run out of money so your sole financial focus is aligning your spending and giving (to charities, heirs, etc.) with your life’s purpose.

Usefulness of the Pyramid

The Hierarchy of Financial Needs is useful when talking about finances with other people because it allows you to be more understanding of different situations and more empathetic.

For example, it’s easy for someone on the Accumulation level to say, “Payday loans are bad and you should never use them” but if you are at the Survival level and have no other way to put food on the table for your kids, it may be something you are forced to consider.

And although we’d all like to think that Independence is what everyone should be focused on, someone who is at the Sustainability level may be too stressed to even think about something like that because they’re just one unexpected expense away from big problems.

So they first need to focus on increasing their income and/or lowering their expenses so they can reach the Accumulation level and then once they’ve built up a bit of a buffer (i.e. an emergency fund), they can think more about investing and pursuing FI.

My Journey

When I started writing this blog, I was on the Accumulation level so my primary focus was getting to the Independence level as quickly as possible.

The problem was, I don’t even think I realized there was a level above Independence that I should have also been thinking about and planning for.

In hindsight, this was a big mistake.

Because the real goal isn’t to have a lot of money.

As the idea of FIRE becomes more popular, it seems people are becoming more obsessed with FI and all they want to do is talk about FI, read about FI, and hang out with others pursuing FI.

This is useful for improving your finances but may cause you to miss the real point.

Financial independence isn’t life, it’s just a tool you can use to help you live a life that’s most meaningful to you.

It’s a means to an end, not the end itself.

The more you think about the top level of the pyramid while you’re on the journey to financial independence, the easier and more enjoyable that journey will be.

After achieving FI and accumulating more money than I had planned, I can now see the Utilization stage more clearly.

Is it the top of the pyramid? I’m not sure but it’s the level I’m focused on now and it’s what MMM has already been brilliantly writing about for years.

What is the Meaning of Life?

Before we can figure out how to best use our money for our life’s purpose, we have to figure out what that is first.

So what is the meaning of life?

That’s the big question and I’m still not exactly sure but I have a few theories…

Immortality

At first, I thought the point was to achieve some sort of immortality.

If you’re immediately forgotten after dying, isn’t that like you were never here in the first place and isn’t that pretty meaningless?

To achieve immortality, or at least lengthen your impact on the world, I thought there were a few options:

Having Kids

Having kids seems to be the default option.

Of course your kids are going to remember you and then you have the added bonus of passing on some of your DNA to future generations.

Kids don’t guarantee immortality though.

Do you know anything about your great-great-great-great grandmother? No, me either.

Doing Something to Be Remembered

What if you instead do something memorable?

Einstein has been dead for over 60 years but he still lives on due to the things he accomplished when he was alive.

I thought this was the answer for a long time because it seemed like the best way to achieve something close to immortality.

But even that plan isn’t great either.

Memories fade. Civilizations die out. Planets are consumed by their suns.

Does it really matter being remembered for slightly longer than the average person?

Probably not.

When you realize how insignificant we are in the universe and how short our species has actually existed, can one little human actually make a noticeable dent in the grand scheme of things anyway?

Ignorance is Bliss

So if immortality isn’t the point, what is?

I’m not sure but I know one thing…these are very heavy things to think about!

I hate to admit this but at times during the past year, I’ve actually been jealous of people still in the daily grind because they’re too busy and preoccupied with normal life to think about stuff like this.

Everytime I think that though, I remind myself that it’s actually an incredible priviledge to face these big questions while I still have so many years (hopefully) to make adjustments and change course, if necessary.

Because I think everyone faces these questions eventually but unfortunately, many people face them on their death beds, when they are out of time and options.

There is No Point

The conclusion that I eventually arrived at was that there may not be a point.

It’s likely our existence is just a happy accident so the only point is to enjoy it as much as possible and help others enjoy it too.

That’s it.

If I was religious, maybe I’d think there’s a higher purpose or more to come after this life on Earth but I’m not, so I don’t.

At first, this conclusion may seem sad or anticlimactic but it’s actually very freeing.

No pursuit is more noble than any other so when you achieve FI and have the power to do whatever you want, you can just try to live the life that makes you happiest (assuming it doesn’t infringe on the happiness of others).

Any external pressures that have influenced your life in the past can all be ignored because no lifestyle is better than any other so just live the life you want to live.

What Life Do You Want to Live?

Figuring out what that life is though is also very tricky!

Just like people don’t know what makes them happier, they also don’t know what they want out of their lives.

For example, I thought I wanted to travel all the time after leaving my job but I tried it for a bit and realized that long-term travel isn’t as fulfilling as I expected.

Kobe Beef

This Kobe beef in Kobe, Japan was pretty damn good though

What I’ve now realized is that the reason traveling didn’t make me happier is because it didn’t align with my own personal purpose.

What’s Your Purpose?

So how do you figure out your purpose?

My buddy J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly and Money Boss suggests you try to craft a personal mission statement.

Can you boil down what you want your life to be in just one sentence?

After a lot of thought, I was able to come up with a sentence and here it is:

I want to learn and improve my skills so that I can create things that have a positive impact on my life and as many other people’s lives as possible.

Looking back at my past and reflecting on some of the best and most rewarding things I’ve done, they all seem to fit that one sentence.

This is why travelling wasn’t as fun and fulfilling as I thought it would be.

Sure, I had a great time experiencing new cultures, eating new food, seeing interesting sights but I wasn’t improving my skills (besides maybe my travel-hacking skills), I wasn’t really creating anything, and I wasn’t doing anything that positively impacted a lot of other people.

The Mad Fientist, on the other hand, does tick all those boxes and that’s why I still work so hard on it and get so much pleasure from it 6 years after I started it. I’m constantly trying to improve my writing/interview skills/etc., I frequently create new articles/podcast episodes/web applications/etc., and all those things hopefully help millions of other people improve the quality of their lives.

Asking Why

If the personal-mission-statement approach doesn’t work for you, another way to figure out your purpose is to identify something you’ve done in the past that was particularly fulfilling and then ask yourself why it was fulfilling and then keep asking yourself, “Why is that fulfilling?” until you can’t answer the question anymore (thanks to Vicki Robin for sharing this tactic with me when we were together in England last year).

Here’s how it works…

As I mentioned, the Mad Fientist has been incredibly rewarding so I’ll choose that (since you’re all obviously familiar with that project as well).

Why has the Mad Fientist been fulfilling?

Because it has allowed me to develop my writing skills, interview skills, and programming skills while helping myself and thousands of others reach financial independence sooner.

Why is that fulfilling?

Because it’s allowed me to learn new things, improve my skills, and help myself and others start living lives that are more enjoyable and purposeful.

Why is that fulfilling?

Because it’s allowed me to learn new things and improve my skills while also making my life and the lives of many other people better.

There it is! Asking “Why?” eventually got me to that mission statement I mentioned above.

Future Projects

Once you have a defined purpose, you can judge future plans against that purpose and figure out if what you plan to do has a high probability of improving your life or not.

I’ve actually been working for the past year on a secret project that I’ll share with you soon and luckily, it fits my purpose so that’s why I know it’s worth the effort and will likely be more rewarding than simply doing something fun like traveling around the world.

Moving to the Next Level

So that’s where my head’s been lately.

I definitely don’t have everything figured out and as I continue moving up to the next level of the pyramid, I’m sure there will be new challenges to face and interesting questions to try to answer.

As always, I’ll share what I learn along the way and don’t worry, I still love numbers so expect plenty more of those in the future as well :)

How about you? What kind of life will be most rewarding to look back on? What do you plan to do after you retire? Do those plans align with your purpose?

These are important questions to answer, no matter where you are on your journey to FI, so give them some thought and if you come up with your own personal mission statement, please share in the comments below to help inspire others!

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159 comments for “Hierarchy of Financial Needs (and the Meaning of Life)

  1. January 18, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Reaching and understanding FI has been incredibly frustrating. What now? I often tell my children…”may you never fully reach your dreams…best to make it only %90 there”. I think in some ways, true happiness requires striving.

    • Tickledpink99
      January 19, 2018 at 11:06 am

      Absolutely love and agree with this. I remember watching the documentary “Happy”, and that was the conclusion they also reached. The achievement of the goal brought much less happiness (or none in the long term) than the actual pursuit of it!

      • SFuchs
        January 20, 2018 at 4:01 pm

        I agree. I had that exactly happen to my this past November when studying for a professional certification. I had a SMART goal. Measurable, time boxed, specific, all that. Well I passed the exam and was happy about it for about 2 days. Then I found I was just unhappy and unmotivated. It hadn’t changed anything (yet..). I wasn’t working towards anything, nothing to strive for so I moped around for a bit. I knew going into the exam that that may happen, that I wasn’t working on daily habits of happiness instead. I can’t remember where I read it but SMART goals for life are terrible. They should be time boxed and specific. They should be daily habits that no matter the time frame you can always work at them.
        For example, instead of: “I’m going to lose 10 lbs” say “I’m going to work out 3x week, eat such-and-such, be active and be happy to look at myself in the mirror”. The first one leaves you lost when you lose the 10lbs and still aren’t happy…”well maybe 10 more pounds will make me happy”. It never ends.

        Happiness: I like to think of it as my “baseline happiness”. I want to do things that are going to inch up my happiness long term. Buying that new tech gadget, vehicle, house, any…only temporarily increases your “happiness”. And in some cases with that being temporary AND the accompanying financial burden it actually lowers it and you feel worse.

        • cnelson
          January 22, 2018 at 11:35 am

          I highly suggest listening to Tony Robbin’s talk on creating lasting change on youtube. In it he talks about exactly what you have discussed. Progress is what brings us happiness. How do we make progress? By creating habits (or rituals as Tony calls them) that we do each day and that get us to the vision we have for ourselves.

    • January 26, 2018 at 9:02 am

      I cannot agree more with this. Reminds me of a quote my Alan Watts:

      “No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”

    • Denver Dave
      January 28, 2018 at 1:03 pm

      I think it would be amazing for the world if we could develop a new economic system that allowed people to pursue their dreams and goals without the burden of earning enough money to pay for their monthly expenses. Imagine a world where people could pursue their creative desires to create/invent more things that benefit society. Most of us are caught up in just fulfilling our fundamentals needs of shelter, food, etc that we have very little time to conceive how this new economic system could work. The challenge is to find a way to enable people to pay for their expenses so they can pursue their creative ideas but also developing an incentive system where someone or something does the jobs people prefer not to do yet still need to get done like garbage pickup, building sewers, roads, restaurants, etc. Think about every job – would the person be doing it if they didn’t need or want the money?

  2. January 18, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Great thoughts, Fientist! One thing I’d caution others against on the path to FI, which you’ve touched on a bit, is the thinking that you can only achieve your purpose and happiness after reaching FI. Many of us have fallen victim to focusing on getting to that number as fast as possible with the idea that THEN we’ll live the happiest lives we can. Instead, there are many ways we can structure our lives right now (during the accumulation phase) to maximize happiness. Reaching FI will likely boost happiness further, but it’s a fallacy to think of it as a finish line.

    My goal is to start to craft that purpose statement now, before FI, and work towards a life of purpose at the same time as I’m working towards a financial life of independence.

    • January 18, 2018 at 4:39 pm

      Hey Andy, I agree with that thought. I’m with the MF that the top of the pyramid is about more than money. But I think like you said, the practice starts earlier. The earlier you ask these awesome questions from MF in the article, the earlier you’ll start aligning with your bigger purpose. And you might find jobs that fulfill you AND make a ton of money on the way to FI. That’s the best of both worlds!

      • January 18, 2018 at 7:15 pm

        Hopping on this thread in agreement. As someone who no longer has to work and has reached FI, I’d trade places with a 30 year old even if I had to work 5 jobs like a madwoman. Decades move swiftly! FI may be elusive. Happiness need not be elusive. Don’t pin your happiness on FI.

        Still working on that mission statement. Right now it’s:
        Be honorable and truthful.
        Have a positive effect on people around me.
        Laugh a lot.

        • Sue
          January 21, 2018 at 8:49 pm

          Love your mission statement Mrs Groovy!
          No timeframes, no boundaries, just a guide to living your everyday life…great!

      • Bri
        January 18, 2018 at 7:56 pm

        I too agree whole-heatedly. I am in the Accumulate phase and find myself challenged to find that fulfillment and sense of purpose HERE and NOW instead of waiting for that certain number. If I can’t find a rich life during this phase, what are the chances that I can once I reach FI? It is tempting to peep over the fence to where the grass is greener, but my focus now is on the now.

      • January 20, 2018 at 2:20 am

        Completely agree with the sentiment here. You don’t necessarily need to hit FI to start asking yourself these questions and starting to shape a purposeful, happy life. In fact, if you’re struggling with life and counting on FI to save you, all the time and the money in the world probably won’t be the answer – and might even make things worse once you get there. However if you’ve been shaping a purposeful, happy life along the journey, you’ll probably do some great things at the top of that ‘Hierarchy of Financial Needs’.

    • BillR
      January 18, 2018 at 10:42 pm

      Yes, I agree that the trick is to enjoy the journey, not just focus on the imagined destination. It took me a while to figure that out, but life has been a lot more pleasant. The catch phrase “be in the moment” sort of describes this. When you are in the Sustain level (or lower), you basically have to focus on finances. Once you’re into the accumulate phase, don’t forget to “stop and smell the roses” occasionally.

      I’m 62 with eight children and have yet to achieve complete FI (although I am quite close). However, I’ve managed to make a great number of years of my life very enjoyable by “living” them, not just surviving or enduring.

  3. January 18, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    Very interesting thoughts here! I know I’m excited for the day that I can spend less time on the numbers :)

    I think there are two dangers with defining any hierarchy (Maslow’s or otherwise):
    1. Ensuring that the upper levels truly depend on the lower being satisfied
    2. Creating and remembering minimal definitions for reach level.

    One awesome book on some of this is Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. One could argue that he was missing some of the lower levels on Maslow’s hierarchy while in a concentration camp, but was still able too find love and self actualization.

    With regards to the FI side of things, what I’d caution people against is thinking they can’t live a happy purposeful life until after they achieve FI. Having the freedom of FI is a huge amplifier, but there is a lot to be said for living purposefully before getting there.

    Go for freedom, but don’t be a slave to the process along the way!

    Great thought-provoking post!

    • Marissa
      January 18, 2018 at 5:01 pm

      +1 to reading Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl. I remember reading it in high school, again in college, and it’s probably a good time for me to pick it up again.

      • Ryan
        January 18, 2018 at 6:40 pm

        +2 on that book, it was my first thought when I read this post.

        The meaning of life is to give meaning to your life. It doesn’t chose you, you chose it!

    • January 18, 2018 at 10:47 pm

      I think you actually have come up with the real conclusion… it’s not a heirarchy after all! And that’s really good news for all of us that are a long way from FI.

  4. January 18, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    This is spot on. Having just reached the financial independence tier of the pyramid last year, I’ve had a feeling that something was missing. Since then I’ve had many similar thoughts… what should I be spending my time on? What actually brings me happiness, vs. what do I feel obligated to work on? The answers are tricky, and the timing of this post couldn’t have been better!

    • MarciaB
      January 18, 2018 at 8:19 pm

      I’m in the exact same place as Joel, having reached FI and retired last year. And now…well, the timing of the post is perfect for me as well.

  5. January 18, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    That was well put Brandon.

    The great thing about financial freedom is the luxury of choice, control of your time. How we choose to invest that time is like any other investment decision… some will do it well, some thoughtfully, and others will piss it away.

    I’m inclined to agree with your conclusion about there not actually being a higher purpose or a definitive answer.

  6. January 18, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for this! When I first discovered FIRE I was all about the numbers and caluclating our FIRE date, but pretty quickly I understood the math and stopped hanging around on the FIRE blogs that focus on numbers. Finding health, happiness, and purpose has been my main driver for the past few years in the wealth accumulation stages. Your posts on making yourself miserable getting to FIRE fastest helped steer me down that path. My new goal for 2018 is to retire from my day job in pursuit of filling my days with more meaning. My husband quit his job last year, and took a job that aligns with his goals/values and will support our annual spending. We have just over our half-FI number saved, so it’s pretty terrifying thinking about making the leap and stopping adding to our investment accounts in the near term, but I think it’s the right choice for us now.

  7. January 18, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Dear Fientist, true wealth is the ability to fully experience life!

    While mountaineering all the way up your pyramid, you probably agree that the best view comes after the hardest climb. So, having reached Mt. FI-verest, what’s next? Immortality? Thanks to “memento mori” we sooner or later will all find the next higher mountain. Maybe Olympus Mons?

    Having reached FI myself, the next issue becomes the time-affluence you’re finding yourself in. As we’re all rather savers than spenders, you’ll rather quickly reach a point where you no longer enjoy “spending” your time away (travelling, splurging and so forth). Instead, you will rather think of how to possibly best “invest” your time. The ticking clock of your mortality [and our health] remains as the only part we can’t cheat yet.

    Time is and remains the most precious asset in life. Haven’t heard of FCUK TIME or a safe time withdrawal rate yet. Time is the same for all of us. Every year we all get 365 days credited into our lifetime accounts, every day consists of 24 hours. Unfortunately for some of us, the credit even gets called-in early and unexpectedly for some of us. So beware.

    Influencing people using your wonderful webpage and your great network is for sure the highest rewarding activity for yourself going forward. Sometimes I wonder how the ancient Greek philosophers could have had so much time to think brilliant thoughts that will still get printed thousands of years later – this is the gift of FIRE. Just think of yourself as a modern FI-losopher equipped with keyboard and a vast supportive online community.

    Keep rocking and so looking forward to your future projects!

    So long,
    Financial Imagineer (Matt)

    • Marla
      January 18, 2018 at 7:38 pm

      Very insightful thoughts about the value of time! One of your best articles ever Brandon!

  8. Craig
    January 18, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    Spot on agree with this post. But in my opinion I believe there is a step after “Self Actualization”. This step moves past the “Achieve Individual Potential” and focuses more on humanity achieving its potential, or large scale altruism. I remember a scene from Star Trek First Contact where Captain Picard had gone back in time and was asked how it was possible for future man to afford mass space explorarion, etc. Picard simply replied that there will come a time where man moves beyond looking out only for himself and strives to improve humanity. That scene has always stuck with me and I believe it is the highest point on the Maslow pyramid.

    • January 18, 2018 at 8:38 pm

      In the book “Being Mortal”, a look at helping the aging has made some researchers feel there is another level at the top of the pyramid called “transcendence”, which is the desire to see and help others achieve their potential. I think Brandon has that in mind with his mission statement!

      • Daniel B
        January 23, 2018 at 10:41 am

        This is similar to a thing I read about in high school when I was studying budddhism. There’s a stage in Buddhism where one can essentially achieve enlightenment but chooses to stay behind to help alleviate others’ suffering. They’re called bodhisattvas. I don’t know if I spelled that correctly and I dont have time to check.

        I also saw a painting once at a high school art show when I was doing teach for America that showed a middle aged African American man who had climbed over a wall and then turned around and put his arm out to lift a teenager over. The piece mostly showed the arm up close. And then next to it the kid who painted it wrote, “He ain’t that heavy.”

        And I thought to myself, it’s a bodhisattva.

      • January 29, 2018 at 11:45 pm

        I read that it was Maslow himself who added Transcendance to his pyramid of needs. It’s about moving beyond one’s individual needs to addressing the needs of the larger community. Unfortunately, the pyramid usually only reflects his first version which stops at self-actualization.

        I really enjoyed this post and the uplifting comments!!

  9. January 18, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    I had a disagreement of sorts with my husband last night about just this! Our post life retirement plans are very different. He would like to stay put and be a father. I would like to raise our child overseas so they can grow to be more balanced and knowledgeable people.

    (Side bar! So jealous that you got to taste real Japanese Kobe by the way. Which restaurant was it exactly?)

    Although we are in disagreement with each other, we both know we are nearing the top of the pyramid and that’s a privilege. I envision a legacy for me and everyone I bring into the world. Hubby just wants to relax and have the kids decide on their own what need to do for money. I think he’s wasting his vast potential but then again it’s his life.

    My mission statement is all my own…1) leave a mark on history 2) get my own Wikipedia page 3) write a damn fine American classic. 4) die like the janitor that people found to have accumulated $8 million dollars somehow.

    • S
      January 21, 2018 at 12:08 pm

      You may be interested in reading about Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.

  10. January 18, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    I might print out that Mad Fientist pyramid and hang it on the wall! I’m new to the FIRE community and after just six months of doing nothing but getting my financial house in order, I’m now paying more attention to what I’ll retire TO. As a result, I’m feeling the same way you were – jealous of those who aren’t thinking yet of the big questions – it was so much easier just to obsessively play around in Mint! Glad to know I’m not alone, and I can’t wait to see the secret project reveal!

    -Jules

  11. January 18, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    These are some invaluable insights, for someone who has recently discovered FIRE and is very much in the accumulation phase. I’m certainly someone who reverts to numbers but have made conscious decisions to maximise happiness in this phase. I sometimes find myself mulling over these unanswerable difficult questions, whenever I drift down that route I usually just tell myself, I’ll never really know the answer and every second spent thinking about it is another minute wasted!

  12. January 18, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    You raise some excellent points, some I’ve thought of before, but never too deeply for fear of hurting my head

    I think many within the FIRE community (including myself) are progressing through the accumulation phase and want to fast forward to FI.. I’m definitely guilty of this.

    What I’ve been doing recently is trying to slow everything down and realize that I can still live an FI life while Accumulating. We all right now can be the people we want to be post retirement. If we do this, then the only thing that changes when becoming FI is you’d have more time. More time to create value and do the things you want.

    Great post!

  13. January 18, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Deep post Brandon. I love your mission statements. There is something deeply satisfying about building skills and using them for good.

    I think both of those hierarchy’s make perfect sense. Once you have what you need financially, it’s time to focus on higher goals.

    I’m not FI yet but I’ve been thinking about “my purpose in life” a bit. I wrote a post (link in my name here) titled “What Will They Say at Your Funeral?” It was my way of thinking about the end and living my life to get to that end.

  14. January 18, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    You bring up a lot of great points here… and I’m definitely looking forward to not really thinking so much about the money and math so much.

    One thing that really stands out for me personally is that not everyone can actually think about financial independence if they’re on a lower level of the pyramid. That’s something I struggle with – both on my blog and with friends and family. A lot of times I just assume that the goal is FI for everyone, but maybe some folks are really struggling to to the point they can’t even really think about getting to that point… at least for the time being.

    Thanks for the eye opener – I’ll meet you in the Self-Actualization level in a couple years! ;-)

    — Jim

  15. January 18, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    I love the combo of FI and Maslow’s hierarchy! Well done.

    My frame for the same idea (and the theme of my website) is “Win With Money, Do What Matters.” Money is the tool that enables you to have more flexibility and freedom so that you can live more authentically. But like others have said, you don’t have to wait on the do what matters part. In an ideal world you start doing what matters early on and not wait until post-FI.

    I also like how you’ve worked on your mission statement. That takes a LOT of thinking and reiterating. My latest stab at the same concept is:

    1) Be my best
    2) Make a difference
    3) Enjoy every day.

    I added the last one because I could try to grow and learn and help others, but if I didn’t have fun in the process – what’s the point?

    Cheers!

  16. Peter English
    January 18, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    Lily & The Frugal Gene,

    No need to wait on the Wikipedia page.

    Start it now AND incorporate that Wikipedia page as the opening scene for your great American novel.

  17. Mitch
    January 18, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    I’ve got this pyramid upside down. I started walking toward my ultimate goal when I was in my teens. My eyes have never left the horizon, so I trip and stumble over all the petty instruments in between. Food, Money, FI ….. simply requisites to achieve the ultimate (and infinite) goal. My only enemy is my own inadequacy. Which is why I’m here. Thank you, Mad Fientist. I and the people I love have stumbled far less since reading your work.

    • Ms Marketa
      February 24, 2018 at 8:17 am

      Dear Mitch,
      Your only enemy is thinking that you are inadequate. Release yourself from self criticism, embrace yourself with love and compassion, and you will be free to move forward more easily and effectively.
      Ms Marketa

  18. January 18, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    This is such a good point.

    We started getting out of debt in 2015; by the end of 2018 we’ll be debt-free with the exception of our mortgage. When we first started, all I could think about was the numbers. It was all-consuming.

    But now our finances are generally on autopilot. There’s nothing super interesting going on, to be honest. My concern lately has shifted more towards building a happy life instead of prioritizing pinching pennies. I love the idea of using the Hierarchy of Needs here, because it explains so poignantly the shift you experience once you finally get your finances on lock.

    I just reflected on what I would do during retirement. In actuality, I want to live as close to a retired lifestyle right flippin’ now. Why postpone happiness for something that’s a decade away for me (thanks debt)? I’m integrating fun retirement-centered activities like daily naps and regular adventures. It’s been awesome. :)

  19. January 18, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    This was really interesting. I loved the “FI Hierarchy”comparison.

    I agree with much of the post, although I have more of a religious worldview so we reach two very different outcomes. I appreciate your line of thinking though and can definitely count myself among those positively influenced by your work.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  20. Jon D
    January 18, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    I am curious why you first conclude that there is no “higher purpose” and then reason yourself to a definition of what you find fulfilling. In that self determined definition seems to be a fairly common idea of extending the awareness and development of your own understand to others with the hope of it aiding them.

    This empathetic attitude may be a “higher purpose” as it fills all the expressed needs you noted in the post FI stage. In teaching a person learns any material more deeply furthuring their development, in helping you affect change in others toward their betterment leading to rememberance and once rememberance of the person may have passed, the concepts taught may continue to affect society in an uplifting, unifying, creative manner. And that would be a purpose higher than an individuals recognition of these concepts independently.

    Just food for thought.

    • Daniel B
      January 23, 2018 at 10:57 am

      +1 I was going to say a similar thing, but wanted to make sure someone else hadn’t said it first in a better way. Glad I checked.

      But to add on, yeah, I think the conclusion that there is no purpose to life is an easy way to let yourself off the hook, and many people use it to rationalize not thinking about it very deeply. You’d be in good company though as there are tons of philosophers who come to the same conclusion after 500 pages of reasoning.

      In the end though, I think, as Jon D points out, you actually came around to a different conclusion.

  21. Joe
    January 18, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    This a very thoughtful post. Most of us are very goal oriented so it’s easy to focus on a number. Once you achieve FI, then what? Last year, I read Scott Adams’ How to fail at almost anything and still win big. Parts of it are very good. Instead of setting goals, he encourage setting up systems. Basically, good habits that will help you succeed. FI is kind of like that too. It needs to be more than just about the numbers. You need to have a system that enable you to enjoy life. Of course, it’s easier when you’re financially secured.

    For me, it’s being a dad at this point. Once my kid is more independent, I’ll pick up other things to do. I’d like to improve at photography. Occasional travel is fun too.

    Very cool pyramid.

  22. January 18, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    This is right on the money! As I have achieved financial independence my focus is now on all the other things in life. The post money age of ensuring health, building relationships, giving back, controlling time. All these other areas are becoming so much more important.

    I am working on teaching my kids and others to look to the bigger things and the money will come in time. Glad to see more people focused on this.

  23. Ellen
    January 18, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    I’ve been wrestling with this question of PURPOSE for a long time before I achieved FI this year. It’s the question men have been asking since the beginning of time and I learned that the reason why God created men is to MANAGE the earth. So everyone is a manager. We manage what God gave us like time, relationship, money …etc. The goal is to make it better so for example, if God gave you $1, He wants you to turn it into a lot more than $1. That is what it means to be a good manager. That’s when I started to get serious about my financial life and I finally achieved FI this year. Just my 2 cents regarding PURPOSE.

    • Marissa
      January 18, 2018 at 5:05 pm

      Sounds like the parable of the talents in Mathew 25:14-30. Use the gifts you have to create more.

  24. January 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    A few things that would be rewarding to me are:

    1) teaching – once I have a big enough nest egg and hopefully some side income coming in that is somewhat an annuity, I would love to give back and teach. Specifically, I’d like to teach how to integrate technical strengths with the appropriate business acumen to be successful.
    2) Help kids bridge the gap between finishing high school and the real world. College isn’t the only answer – there are many avenues kids can take after completing high school that will lead them to a happy and successful life.
    3) Creating a hardware product is hard and it is even harder to sell a hardware product that you can monetize. But, I will keep looking for opportunities to create a product that can solve problems for people.

  25. David M
    January 18, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    Great Article. Well said.

    I reached FI last year at the age of 51, perhaps even earlier than that due to the fact I wanted cushion in my number.
    I have been asking myself the same questions what should i do? How do I want to live my life? I am still working but I think once someone reaches the FI Milestone.. there attention turns to other things in life. My kid brother reached FI as well, we both talk about whats next.

    I really enjoyed this article.

    Thank you

    Dave

  26. Ginzu
    January 18, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    I’m still enjoying the FI numbers rubric with all the spreadsheets to show me the numbers, and now liking the “Hierarchy of Financial Needs (and the Meaning of Life)” posted with you for more of a balance. A thoughtful, introspective post – Thank you.

    This flowchart came from across the pond (Belgium), at AmberTree Leaves:
    https://ambertreeleaves.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/no-more-fire-for-me/

  27. The Savvy Accountant™
    January 18, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    I’m new to this world and I’ve been focusing on the numbers and I believe I am still in the obsession phase. But lately I’ve been asked what my why is and I’m excited to be venturing down that path.
    Thanks for your post!

  28. January 18, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    Fantastic post that everyone needs to read. Here are a couple other thought starters.

    It’s estimated 108,000,000,000 people have ever lived on earth, and the average lifespan (in the US) today means you could live for about 1% of (recorded) human history. Will your be able to say your brief time on earth was well spent? “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

    Check out the Ikarians from the Blue Zones. They may have life figured out more than anyone else: long healthy life, minimal impact on the planet, meaningful relationships (“us” vs. “me”), plant-based diets, drink wine and tea with family and friends, clear purpose based on satisfying low-level needs, no care about time, walkable communities, gardening, enjoy physical work and find joy in everyday chores, enjoy being outside, etc.

  29. January 18, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    I never thought of applying the “5 Whys” technique of root cause analysis in the Toyota Production System to finding your purpose(s) in life — brilliant!

    While “5 Whys” is a brilliantly simple way to get at it, there are some other methods I’ve seen that are also quite good, but a bit more involved. For example, there’s the SIMA “System for Identifying Motivated Abilities” that helps you find your MAP “Motivated Abilities Pattern”, which spells out many of the key aspects of the kinds of activities that will bring you deep satisfaction and happiness — kind of deep in your “soul”, so to speak.

    Another potentially helpful subject to explore is Logotherapy, such as in the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl.

    Fantastic thoughts in this post. Thank you for sharing!

  30. Monica
    January 18, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you Fientist and thank you to all the commenters. I am in the accumulation stage but feel massive guilt when I try to switch gears since I’m not officially FI yet. I imagine MMM’s fists coming to punch me in the face. It’s a huge relief to hear that others think it is okay to pursue purpose when you only have F-U money.

    My purpose as far as asking the “why” question is: To help give those who have made mistakes a second chance. That is the most moving experience I’ve had in my own life and I want to be able to give back in the same manner.

  31. Adam
    January 18, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    Fantastic post and a good thing for those of us in the accumulation phase to think about. You’re a good role model (or guinea pig, depending on your perspective) for us FIRE-focused heathens without kids too! ;-)

  32. lucas
    January 18, 2018 at 5:55 pm

    After my wife lived with Kenyans for a year (real Kenyans) she found them to be some of the happiest and purpose-filled people she’s ever met to this day. So I do take some umbrage with your definitions at the top of your period as there are plenty of people in the Survive level (or lower) that live happy, purpose-filled lives.

    In fact I don’t resonate with this post at all, find it a bit insulting. No worries though, I know you’re intending to help and all.

    • S
      January 21, 2018 at 12:02 pm

      Agreed, Lucas. I made this comment below, but many people at the “bottom” are obviously more spiritually enlightened than the hypothetical person hear who makes it to the top!

      • S
        January 21, 2018 at 12:02 pm

        Sigh, *here

  33. January 18, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    Let’s look at Dave Ramsey through the lens of he hierarchy of financial needs. We all say his math stinks and that we should do the debt avalanche instead of the debt snowball. But numerate, disciplined, financially savvy people do not call his radio show. His rhetoric is adapted to an audience who includes all types from survival-mode on up. God must love poor people b/c he made so many of them and Dave is rich because he reaches out to a larger audience. Pay off that small, but lower rate loan first? Sure, you get a motivation boost, and if you backslide and get behind on your payments, it’ll be the big lenders who’ll be more flexible with you than the smaller lenders. And if you totally fail, your credit score will reflect a few big bad loans instead of many smaller bad loans. When I’ve looked at people’s credit reports, I’ve counted the number of bad loans and haven’t weighted them by the size of the principal outstanding. No, Ramsey’s numbers aren’t optimal, but people who can follow optimal courses of action never get in trouble badly enough to call Dave Ramsey.

  34. January 18, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    I like what you came up with: The MAD Fientist’s Hierarchy of Financial Needs (pyramid).

  35. Frank
    January 18, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    The answer to everything is “42”

  36. Jo
    January 18, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    This post could not have come at a better time. I was just biking back from lunch to a job that seems just right on paper but is actually draining and stifling, and I was thinking to myself that I’m doing this work day after day to achieve FI so that I can…what? Like so many in this community, I’m not sure if I know the “what” yet, but I’ve come to the realization that the “what” is the most important part. My husband and I have been talking this through a lot, and both of us realize that a life with no work is not what we’re after. So forcing ourselves to define what work we’d do if we had unlimited time and no money constraints has made us realize that we may be able to leave our unsatisfying jobs sooner than we expected to pursue work that we want to do, even if the pay sucks.

    Rather than waiting to reach FI, we may pull the trigger when we’re closer to 60-70% there, which would mean that we could float along for 10-15 years figuring out how to spend time on work we like. I’d be really surprised if we weren’t able to figure something out during that time. Just pursuing FI might give us the space we need to try something new without fear that failing would bankrupt us. The challenge for the next few “accumulation” years will be figuring out what we’d like to try once we’ve made space to try it.

  37. Earlier FI
    January 18, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    Your post was insightful and thought-provoking, and I particularly enjoyed each and every comment. While teaching is rewarding in and of itself to the teacher, teachers derive satisfaction not from the mere act of teaching but from witnessing the learning that takes place.
    Practically at FI now (if we can answer the question, “when is enough, enough”), my purpose and happiness lies in the learning that results from my teachings to my children ( and my students). I can and have taught them numerous lessons but that is not a parents’/teachers end goal, if you think about it. It assumes your kids automatically learn what your teach. We know how that sometimes ends!

    • Chris Hipskind
      January 19, 2018 at 6:10 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I am a teacher of 24 years after being in Industry for 7. I too have enjoyed the feelings you speak of. Unfortunately the system is designed to pull out all of your energy with the day to day challenges that you and I are fully aware of. That along with the requirement of teaching the same curriculum many times ( I have a lesson that absolutely need covered that I have done many times… Like over 250 times. That is life draining.

      Normally I just change up my activities to keep it fresh and learn new things every 3-5 years.

      I am currently dealing with this burnout challenge by taking a sabbatical and doing some traveling, retraining and reflecting. The refecting part is difficult because other things need attention too… Like the roof needs replacing or starting and maintaining an exercise program . These things are easier to check of your list.. Do you relate to this?

  38. Dwayne
    January 18, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Good post…and so deeeeep. We have reached FI and have recently (9 months) retired early. We’re in the deceleration phase now (which is far longer and more complex that we anticipated) but we see the time coming when we will come to rest and have time to consider these things.
    Right now we feel like we just finished a long and grueling marathon (35+ years of work). We did enjoy ourselves along the way, but were clearly far too committed to our careers to enjoy as much as we might have.
    We see volunteering and spending time with relatives (especially older ones, and of course our kids) and friends as an acceptable contribution at this point.
    Thank you for sharing and causing us to consider your points as we pursue the next level.

  39. Michelle Hornin
    January 18, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a genius article!
    Definitely widened the scope of my thinking.m

  40. January 18, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    Thank you for posting this. This has been refreshing to read. You’re right, there’s so much more to life than numbers but they sure are fun. No matter where you are on the Maslow’s Pyramid or the Financial Needs Pyramid I believe you should always strive for a life pull of purpose and happiness. Some say that money can bring you happiness and that may be true to some extent but I do not believe money in itself is the path to happiness. I have been to third and fifth world countries and have seen some of the happiest people on this earth and trust me they could not fathom a term like “Financial Independence” but oh what I would do to have a joy like they have. That joy is something money (even FI or Post-Money status) could never bring you. These people I have met in those poor countries are at the very bottom of both pyramids but yet they are also at the very top of both pyramids living a purposeful, happy, and fulfilling life all while not knowing what or when they may eat again. They have found their purpose in life and have a faith we could not fathom.

  41. January 18, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    I have been FI for almost two years now, and have gone through almost exactly the same cycle of questions and answers. At bottom, the meaning of life is a life of meaning that you create for yourself – it has nothing to do with external validation, or rewards of any kind, just knowing that you have lived up to your full potential (as you define and strive for it) and positively impact yourself and others as much as you can. I’ve been exploring these ideas in my blog, http://www.declaringfreedom.com, would love your feedback if you get a chance.

  42. January 18, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    You haven’t lost a step, that’s for sure, or that other guy you mentioned. Really I kept catching overtones of Solomon while reading this. The idea that the point is there is no point, all is vanity. Yet at the same time there very much is a point in being present for those you love and those you can help. I think, like a host of others, I appreciate what you’ve done to help all of us to take steps up the steep side of the pyramid and for being honest about the fact that FIRE isn’t the answer to all of life’s questions, just a way to ponder them with more freedom.

  43. January 18, 2018 at 8:20 pm

    The struggle is what is fun and gives meaning. We have had a nine year bull market, nearly full employment, and low interest rates that allow many to afford anything. Amazon will bring little packages of whatever your impulse is to buy straight to your door. The internet will bring you endless binge opportunities so you never have to struggle to create or think. And yet…people are losing their minds over minor inconveniences. Some men look back on combat as the best times in their lives, other people change and feel free after a terrible diagnosis, I felt gritty when I was deep in debt and riding a bicycle in negative wind chill because I couldn’t afford a car. Deep down we want to fight and claw and grapple and bleed. When we are too comfortable is the time to find a new source of discomfort (hopefully one that benefits others, such as you describe with the skills you develop with this blog).

  44. January 18, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    This is a thought-provoking article but one that was very necessary. I loved every minute of it.

    “Financial independence isn’t life, it’s just a tool you can use to help you live a life that’s most meaningful to you.”

    Sometimes it is so easy to get bogged down in trying to reach FI that you never stop to take a step back and see why you even want to do it. It can be seen as the newest and trendiest thing to do, but it really is just a means to meet your purpose in life. Now, finding that purpose is a bit more difficult, even if you are religious.

    Thanks for the article and the food for thought.

  45. January 18, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    I have also struggled with the drive for “immortality”. I may not have fully realized it at the time and certainly wouldn’t have called it that, but reflecting back, that’s exactly what it was. I asked myself how I could be in a position to affect/help/influence as many people as possible. How can I make my “mark” and keep it from fading for as long as possible? That’s likely why I started blogging in the first place.

    However, just as you mentioned, living on for one or two extra generations doesn’t stack up in the infinity of the universe. That definitely was freeing to me as well. I realized that I personally don’t want or need to have a large audience. I am interested in making the lives of the community around me better.

    Of course, this is not to say that people shouldn’t dream big and change the world. Of course they should. I just realized that isn’t what I wanted and I didn’t have to feel guilty or like I was throwing in the towel about it. I could shift focus, niche down, and I wouldn’t be living a less worthy life for it. It’s definitely a very tricky topic and I am still wrestling with it (which I see as a good thing – I hope I continue wrestling with it for the rest of my life).

    Excellent post. It’s funny that my catchphrase over the past couple of years to people who ask (and are on or close to the top of the pyramid) is “money is boring”. It really is. It’s just numbers on a computer screen, in a personal capital account. It’s just a web-based dopamine game – like Lemonade Stand. It’s what you can do once you win the game that is really interesting.

  46. Joey Scherr
    January 18, 2018 at 8:55 pm

    Great post, I really like your conclusions and appreciate you taking the time to explain the journey of first wishing for immortality. I feel like that’s such a common trap!

    I have one small thing I’d like to argue if you’ll indulge me. I don’t agree with you saying life has no point. Now the following is semantics, I know, but I believe it’s important because of the message people take away. I agree with you the life probably doesn’t have an external meaning, at least one we have evidence for. However, that’s using the word “meaning” in the way words have meaning. They aren’t the real physical thing themselves, they point to the real thing. Words are the finger pointing at the moon if you will. Life has meaning in the other sense of the word that we often confuse. It has meaning like music has meaning, or dance, it “matters” to us. In other words, life isn’t the thing that points to something else, it is the something else. So, that’s my long winded argument to why life isn’t “just” about being happy. It’s about being happy! No reason to put it down.

    Great article, I especially enjoyed your advice to figure out what’s most meaningful to someone as an individual. That’s something I’m still journeying to learn as well. Thanks for permitting my argument/discussion and keep up the great content! It means a lot.

  47. January 18, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    Is this a long winded way of saying you’re getting soft just like MMM? LOL!

    In all seriousness, as someone that was privy to both of those conversations, I think it’s immensely helpful to think about these things in a broader scale. If you concentrate on the numbers the whole time, I think you’re missing the point. The point really is to liberate yourself to make a difference in a way that you see fit. Getting a handle on the money is just the first step, it allows you to look further down the path and not worry about the day to day.

    It’s really interesting seeing how I’m writing this in Cambodia. Here, they’re rebuilding their country from years of civil war and destruction. It’s only recently (around 2006) that the kids are growing up to know what life is like with out having to worry about if tomorrow will be there, or where the next meal comes from. And as such their future is bright and they can feel it coming.

    I think that’s a big part of this whole journey as well. Once you have the freedom from worrying about your basic needs, you have the chance to tackle some of life’s really big problems. That’s when you’re future gets bright and you start to really think about these things.

    This is definitely something that we’ve been struggling with as well. While we aren’t quite FI yet, we’re close enough that it’s starting to sink in that we are going to have a lot of interesting discussions going forward. We’re going to have to figure out where our place is in this whole crazy world.

    Very thought provoking… Now back to the beers!!

  48. The Errant Economist
    January 18, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    Did my recent post just get sent off for a review? It disappeared.

  49. Troy
    January 18, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    It’s become obvious recently that the consumerist lifestyle is a fantastic distraction from these kind of existential questions. The FI lifestyle seems leads you down the road to these fundamental life questions much more quickly. This is a blessing and a curse, but ultimately it allows us to have more control of our own short life experiences, and there is no denying that incredible benefit. Being roughly the same age I have recently spent a lot of time laying awake at night ruminating on these same topics, and I think you’re right. I find it to be a remarkable circumstance to be alive and it’s a fantastic gift to be able to buy time. What to do with the time, is a question so many from all backgrounds have failed to ask.

  50. January 18, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    Oooh, secret project! Heads up, I’ll be pummelling you with questions at Chautauqua UK reunion. :D Maybe I’ll bribe Jill to tell me.

    It’s not surprising to have a identity crisis after FIRE, because after we’ve been in indoctrinated into thinking we were our jobs for so long, it’s hard to imaging doing anything else. When we were working, it’s easy to not have to think about life’s big questions because our brains are constantly distracted. But remove that distraction, all of a sudden you’re left with your own thoughts. And sometimes that’s TERRIFYING (especially if you’re a hot mess like me). But what I found is that when you can no longer hide behind your job and are FORCED to figure out what you love to do, that’s when you truly shine.

    Thanks for sharing the Mad Fientist pyramid with us. Excited to hear about your secret project!

  51. January 18, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    Great post. I too have found that writing about the meaning of life, FIRE style, can be more enjoyable than writing about just numbers and cents. Some of the more popular posts I’ve written involve how my wife and I spend our time after FIRE and what I consider more important than money in life.

    The Maslow Hierarchy is a great way to think about your life’s journey. I wrote a similar post using an ice cream sundae as the hierarchy — 5 Things More Important than Money. http://www.retireby45.com/5-things-that-are-more-important-than-money/

  52. January 18, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    Lovely, lovely post. I just made it to the accumulation phase so I am still quite fascinated by the numbers; however, I know my why and my mission in life. Financial independence isn’t life, it’s a tool – well said!

  53. January 18, 2018 at 10:54 pm

    What really is our mission in life. I remember one day my 11-year-old son came up to me all of a sudden and out of the blue told me this. “Dad, I really do not want to have a lot of money,” I asked, why? He goes. “Because I really do not know what I would do with it”. I told him, son make as much money if you have the chance. The more money you have the more people you can help. He then gave me that question mark look for about 10 seconds and walked away.

    To date, i still tell people that every person’s ultimate goal in life should be to help other people.

    Excellent post!

  54. January 18, 2018 at 10:59 pm

    Nice post – and nice use of the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys

    We’ll probably see more people having time to ponder these questions (and hopefully find their calling) as we get more productive as a society. I used to think the French idea of a 30 or 35 hour work week was crazy – now I think we may see it just like we are seeing ideas like FIRE become a reality for more people.

    JD and I touched on some of these items in a recent podcast: https://www.newretirement.com/retirement/podcast-episode-1-interview-jd-roth-retirement-purpose-happiness/

  55. January 18, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    Yes yes yes!
    Financial independence isn’t about the money, it’s about freedom and choice, and the time to do something more worthwhile with your life.
    Love the Mad Fientist’s Hierarchy of Financial Needs. I’ve struggled on occasion to write posts, concerned that some readers will be in very different situations with very different priorities, and your hierarchy has helped articulate those differences.
    In terms of purpose, I share the desire not only to learn and improve my own life, but also the lives of others. I think it’s why I took up writing about personal finance, first as a journalist and now a blogger, and why I continue to use my blog to campaign for causes I believe in. Helping people manage their money is practical, useful and can give them a leg up your pyramid and more chance to enjoy their lives.
    So thanks for reinforcing my sense of purpose.
    And I will keep on encouraging people to save and invest, to accumulate and move towards FI, despite the tough crowd we saw at the SHOMOs!

  56. Fl Monkey
    January 18, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    So right one, Brandon. I am a psychologist on the path to FI and this hierarchy has definitely occurred to me in the past so I appreciate you calling attention to it. I really get the whole piece of there being no point except the one that we make of it. One thing that comes to mind is how Buddhism addresses purpose and meaning. My great-great grandchild might not know anything about me, but he or she might embody some of my values/physical features/style of love/wisdom. Maybe that’s how I comfort myself but I think we (as non religious folk) do need (and ought) to look deeper and search for that meaning. Thanks for noting this!

  57. Nick
    January 18, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    Great Post. I FIRE about 3 years ago now and felt some similar emotions. Myself, wife and son travelled thru Europe for a while but I found myself missing my relationships with family and friends. I’m still not sure what I want to do with my free time but I think developing a personal mission statement would be a great start. I find having unlimited options becomes a burden and as such I have a hard time narrowing things down. Your post is just the exercise I need in order to narrow things down and find some direction. Looking forward to your upcoming project.

  58. Scott Thatcher
    January 19, 2018 at 12:33 am

    Perfectly stated and too often forgotten. Very much appreciate the reminder and timeliness (beginning of a new year).

  59. Robert Hall
    January 19, 2018 at 12:47 am

    Can I steal your life mission statement? I would just insert collaborate with others…”so that I can collaborate with others to create things…”

    For me there is joy in partnering with people to bring an idea to life.

  60. JessieG
    January 19, 2018 at 1:34 am

    I’m convinced that our ultimate purpose is to glorify God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Anything we can do in life to show love to others and glorify God are worthy pursuits indeed. Thanks for this post Fientist. I’ve been pondering lately how to best use the hours once FI is reached.

  61. January 19, 2018 at 2:47 am

    Good post, Mad FI. I think some level of ’emptiness’ (if I can call it that) you may feel after experiencing FIRE’d life is directly related to how hard and single-minded your focus has been in reaching FIRE in the first place. People who make FIRE the be-all-and-end-all objective miss out on the perspectives you have shared here. While happiness may be a logical pursuit, I still won’t tag it as “the only” pursuit either before or after FIRE. Most of us (especially FIRE types) don’t feel good in an easy life, we feel good only after we’ve accomplished something “hard” to do.

    Until FIRE, that was the “hard” goal but after that, very few goals match up to that scale requiring years of focus and discipline. The ones that do almost always involve other people – so helping others is the only sustainable pursuit that can lead to happiness, but the process need not be happy especially since the focus is on making other people happy, and not so much yourself. While accomplishment may make us happy, the process of striving for it need not be. In other words, I see happiness as a byproduct of doing something meaningful and not the objective itself.

    It will take an evolved soul to calibrate – in equal measure – your own happiness with that of other people. I have seen some Hindu and Buddhist monks have this perspective, which is so visible on their face that always seems radiant and at peace. That’s what I tell myself is worth pursuing after FIRE.

  62. Chris.
    January 19, 2018 at 2:56 am

    Great Post ! Really enjoyed it.
    This amazing video resonate a lot with your post – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBRqu0YOH14
    Cheers.

  63. January 19, 2018 at 3:22 am

    Well put. You may enjoy checking out some books by Albert Camus from the local library. His premise was that life is absurd, and you have to create your own meaning. For the scientist-types who tend not to seek that meaning through religion, that process of defining it on your terms is both intimidating and powerful. Spoiler alert: he was French, don’t expect Rom-Com happy endings.

    Thanks for choosing quality over quantity posts.

    Fondly,

    CD

  64. January 19, 2018 at 3:30 am

    It is so refreshing to read your well written and thoughtful posts. Your hierarchy of finance makes a lot of sense, it has been such a relief to move from the “sustain” level to the “accumulate” level during the last year. Society tells me I’m earning less than average for my field/education, but I don’t care. I’m still riding that high of finally moving to a higher level on the pyramid.

    One day, I’ll probably feel more impatient to reach FI, but for now, it’s nice to just enjoy seeing that we use way less than we earn. It is a sense of safety I have never experienced before. I know it won’t last, since this is a 4 year contract and not a full time position, but it is still the best I have gotten so far. One day I aim to reach the crowd of FI enlightened!

  65. January 19, 2018 at 4:46 am

    I’ve been working on (struggling with) the top of the pyramid for years.

    I love this kickoff to the discussion. I think it needs to go quite a bit deeper, but I also think it isn’t brought up enough on FIRE blogs. The end point of life is not FIRE. FIRE just enables you to do what you want (i.e. your purpose).

    I love the linking of Maslow and FIRE, and the pyramid you created. Spot on!

  66. January 19, 2018 at 7:39 am

    As someone who is FI with plenty of padding, the Fientist speaks truth. It didn’t make me any happier. It gave me satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, but happiness is tough. And I also spend more time ruminating about life, the universe, and everything. That’s a good and bad thing. I mean, infiniti bothers the heck out of me.

  67. Jeff Diritto
    January 19, 2018 at 8:19 am

    Surely worth reading the work of Viktor Frankl as we all search for meaning, regardless of where we are.

  68. Chris Simmonds
    January 19, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Interesting thoughts FIentist, but I can’t help wondering why you wanted to be FI in the first place? What was the intention? Be FI for what purpose? – just break away from work? Most issues people have with the work place and at home are self esteem issues, they are not always sure they can be a good manager, or a good leader in the commercial world and they believe that if they didn’t have to go to work then everything would be ok and they would be able to handle life better. It turns out that it’s more about understanding yourself, your habits, and your own confidence. The question might be; what is stopping them from achieving their goals in the first place. I’m pretty sure that your readers would benefit from asking themselves these type of questions to understand why they think FI is the answer in the first place. Once they have a better understanding of ‘self’, then they are more likely be able to put your FI into practice and then they go on to achieve Self Actualisation – all at the same time as being FI.

    What I’m saying is don’t forget those who are still struggling with Maslow’s first three layers.

  69. January 19, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Breaking down the complexities of life into a repeatable algorithm. I can so relate to this. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  70. January 19, 2018 at 9:33 am

    A lot of stuff here rings true to me. You don’t want you first thought after retirement/FI to be “Now what?”

  71. Bob. Frugal+as+dirt.
    January 19, 2018 at 9:44 am

    This article may come to be a seminal moment in the FI Group think evolution. FI has to be a means to another (quite different) end.

    Once I planted 100 Redwoods on my property, and since I’ve come to realize they (increasingly) symbolize my own meager attempt at immortality. My act explained to me why the phrase “Only old men plant trees”. We’re beyond ourselves, looking at the end, and thinking of others.

    Of course the real saying is “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Yeah. I get it now at age 57.

  72. January 19, 2018 at 10:05 am

    The timing of this post is funny because I was just thinking about the things I want to do but am uncomfortable putting effort into before becoming FI.

    You would probably like reading more about Stoicism. They have spent a lot of time thinking about the purpose of life, and I would probably summarize it to doing good for your community.

  73. Rutter
    January 19, 2018 at 10:10 am

    One of my favorite quotes comes from James Altucher:

    “Forget purpose. It’s okay to be happy without one. The quest for a single purpose has ruined many lives.”

    Simple, but I found that concept very freeing. Great post. As you mentioned, we’re so fortunate to be having these conversations.

  74. January 19, 2018 at 10:10 am

    You are so right!

    I though the same thing years ago; there is no purpose in our life so wtf, enjoy the journey! I feel 100% identify with your thoughs.

    Hope to hear about your new project soon!

    A reader from Spain,

    La Hormiga Capitalista
    (The Capitalist Ant)

  75. January 19, 2018 at 10:54 am

    I’ve often thought of Maslow’s pyramid as it applied to finances as well, but I never considered there to be something above the financial independence tier. It makes sense, though, since FI is a means to and end, not the end itself. It’s also possible throughout life to go back and forth between tiers.

  76. January 19, 2018 at 11:18 am

    “Financial independence isn’t life, it’s just a tool you can use to help you live a life that’s most meaningful to you.”

    Powerful quote. I suspect many others face the same questions you’re facing after they FIRE (I have a good friend who FIRE’d 18 months ago, and is asking the same). Best to face them while you’re still on the journey to FIRE. Life’s a marathon, not a sprint. Think about Mile 20 while you’re still running through Mile 10, hopefully it’ll make it easier when you get there….

  77. shawn devooght
    January 19, 2018 at 11:20 am

    fientist, surely u wouldn’t remember but i met you once at the airport in quito whereas you were there to guide us to the fi people. anyway, it was cool to hear what your thinking because i thought i was the only one having this “what do i do know” thoughts. Same feelings in regards to “what do i do know’ or whats the point of it all. I think ive somewhat came to some of the same conclusions like ‘maybe there is no point to it all’. im losing my interest in living and striving to leave a legacy. I agree that maybe the best we can do is enjoy ourselves and do things we want to do. again, i can relate to a lot of your feelings expressed in the article.

  78. Alicia
    January 19, 2018 at 11:56 am

    I’ll admit my first response to ‘craft a mission statement’ was to go to the Dilbert mission statement creator. Because….corporate-y. Heh. But as one of those kids who constantly asked ‘Why? Why? Why?’ Genius method. So thanks for that. I remember reading ‘Your Money or Your Life’ when it first came out. It resonated then, but I was still a starving student and soon swept up into the lower pyramid levels, so it didn’t stick. Funny how it all comes full circle.

  79. January 19, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    Great thoughts Mad Fientist. Read Ecclesiastes and you’ll find similar words of wisdom.

    “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.”
    Ecclesiastes 8:15 NLT
    https://bible.com/bible/116/ecc.8.15.NLT

  80. January 19, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    Oooh, one thinker of a post. But before I get into that, are you wearing a bib in that picture? Is that the custom in Japan? If it’s your thing, great! I’ve just never seen you wearing a bib before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against them. When our kids were babies, we’d put bibs on them at every meal cause they’d spill sh*t all over themselves. I’m just not accustomed to seeing an adult wear one. Don’t let that worry you; I’ll have plenty on hand for when we visit microbreweries in Colorado. ;)

    Bib talk aside, this is the exact same stuff that’s been going through my mind lately: “I have all of the money I need. I don’t need to perform a service for money. So now what. And why?”

    I’m starting at the bottom of the pyramid, but a different one. I’m getting my health in order and working my way up from there. The thing I’ve realized very recently is that I don’t need to work like a madman to be happy. I’m going to wrap up all of my current commitments and then just wander for a while.

  81. January 19, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Hey Brandon,

    Long-time listener & reader, first-time commenter :D
    It’s really great to hear you discovered that your basic needs are met and now you’re on the path to self-actualization :D So great to know you’re on the path to find yourself.

    Your discussion about moving on from thinking about money was something that I bumped into when I first started on my FI path too. I was SOOOO excited to discover FI. I told friends about it and read a bunch of investment and FI books. Then I realized that the most efficient path with investments is also the least work. In fact, in the case of mutual funds, the less I touch them the better.

    Well, if set it and forget it is the best strategy, then what do I do with all my time? I went down the path of thinking perhaps I’d like to manage money for others then. Spread the good word and make sure others know about FIRE.

    I researched how to become a CFP. I did informational interviews with CFPs. Thankfully I shared this aspiration with one of my mentors who told me that becoming a financial advisor would be a terrible idea for me based on my personality. Knowing me he said I could never be successful managing other people’s money. Too much stress and responsibility. Add on top of that the robo-advisor competition with nanosecond-response-time advantages.

    So I set off on the path of figuring out what to do with my life if not financial planning. It took many years. I read a lot about this topic including doing exercises like JD Roth’s Personal Mission Statement exercise. In fact, I even just recently did Mrs. Frugalwoods’s current & future bio exercise to make sure I’m still on track.

    On my journey, I found Steve Pavlina’s advice helpful: https://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/01/how-to-discover-your-life-purpose-in-about-20-minutes/

    It sounded magical, find your life purpose in 20 minutes.
    When I tried Steve’s technique 3 years ago, I was not able to write something that made me cry. It felt a failure and a disappointment…in myself. Do I have no purpose in my life???

    Fast forward to 2017, I had had enough of my job. (Hope my boss isn’t reading. If he is…hello!!!) I was close to tears every day and wanted to quit. I talked to the same mentor who told me in 2012 that what I should do with my life is cooking and share my love of eating with others. At the time, I immediately rejected the idea. It sounded so frivolous and trivial. And like a ticket to poverty. Teach ppl to make food for a living? It sounded like a dream I could never realize at the time. So last year, talking to the same mentor I told him I planned to just quit and figure it out. I mentioned offhand that maybe I would create a website about real estate and write about my FI journey. No attention paid to the gigantic number of other bloggers out there who write about FIRE and do a much better job than me.

    My mentor started shaking his head. Eventually, we got on the topic of food again and that he still thinks it is the best thing for me to do. He started talking about how we live in an abundant world and that it’s time to think about what to do to light others up and bring joys to others, rather than continue a scarcity mindset and try to make money for the sake of having more. Lo and behold, tears were pouring down my face from out of nowhere. Very awkward situation because I was Skyping him while in a conference room at work just as I was about to put in my notice. Funny that Steve’s technique did end up working for me after many years but I had to hear it from someone else because I couldn’t be truthful to myself.

    Anyway, it’s been a rollercoaster ride but now I’m honest with everybody and it’s working great. I’m not FI yet so I still work my job so I can have basic needs met. And then I work on publishing content about food in my free time and during “working hours” too because my bosses all know about what I’m doing and they’re cool with it as long as I get my full-time job duties done. Win-win!

    I hope this comment helped someone out there figuring out what to do with life and how it fits in with FI. I’m so glad I didn’t wait until after I retired to figure it out because my life is so much richer now I have something to look forward to every day. And my only secret is to find someone who knows you better than yourself, especially if like me, I couldn’t be honest with myself about what I was genuinely passionate about because I thought I wouldn’t be able to make a living at it. Or maybe I was just embarrassed about having dreams.

    • January 23, 2018 at 1:28 am

      1. Your guys’ site is neat; totally going to make that french onion soup.
      2. That’s a really cool story Anna, thanks for sharing it. I’m trying to figure this whole purpose before hitting FI thing too; knowing that others like you found it gives me some hope. I’ve thought of going the CFP route too, I figured doing it from an altruistic foundation might be gratifying. But I pretty much arrived at the same conclusion you wound up with.
      3.I’m going to try the purpose of life exercise you linked. Will probably have to budget 60 minutes, being the more stubborn type. Thanks for the resource!

  82. Joshua
    January 19, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Another great article!!!

    In my experience a lot of people have a hard time answering the question, “What makes you happy?”. I think one way to make you happier is to not do things that make you unhappy. If you cut this out, your be surprised at how much happier you become.

  83. Ty
    January 19, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    I’ve been FIRE’d for 10+ years. When I look back on my life to see what was most fulfilling, it’s my old job that I left… oh s**t !!!

    I was designing technology that benefited tens of millions of people and advanced humankind while getting paid millions of dollars to do it from anywhere in the world that I chose. What now??

    • Chris Hipskind
      January 19, 2018 at 6:47 pm

      Go back part-time?

  84. January 19, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    Love this piece, you broke it out in such more elegant way than I did with my recent post (shameless self plug https://www.tawcan.com/fire-rip/). For some reason, this is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

    I would say live a happy purposeful life can certainly be done before you reach FI.

  85. Barry
    January 19, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    Brandon,
    Thank you for this insightful post. I appreciate your ability to articulate one of the most difficult concepts that people struggle entire lives to reconcile. And some never do. We must optimize the time we have in the service of ourselves and others. Looking forward to learning about the secret project.

  86. January 19, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    Hmm! Reminds me of Jim Carrey quote, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

    Thought this from Jim Carrey might be of interest. https://vimeo.com/226379658 Without a belief in God, I’d probably consider ‘happiness’ as a goal also (post-FI). I think for me, the pursuit is instead ‘joy’. I’m not a fan of religion, but I am a fan of Christ. I think suffering is part of life, and I don’t expect to be happy, but want to be joyful in the midst of it all!

    Good article – scratching at an “itch” we all face as we explore our humanity and purpose.

  87. January 19, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    Great reflective post Fientist … but it did remind me that Maslow’s Hierarchy had received a few necessary modifications in the last few years … http://www.santabanta.com/cartoons/16757/hierarchy-of-needs/
    Cheers

  88. Alberto
    January 19, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    Fientist – Living a purposely live in Napolion Hill’s How to win friends and influence people.

    People seek relevancy as well as legacy in order rationalize their existance. The pyramid is good but just a version of Moslow’s, not new. We can pick a difference theme such as love or happiness and do the same.

    We would suggest to simplify it by elevating our consciousness doing good things. For example, simply help someone with their groceries or speaking to younger people’s consciousness. Simple things that elevate the spirit of others and subsequently you.

    BTW, your position in life changes some of these definitions and struggles at each level described. For example, if you reach FI at 40 and another person at 70. These levels change. A person at 40 has time to learn and experience while someone at 70 does not. Consider that.

    FI even sustain mental is not achieved by the majority of the population. Retirement does not equate FI. Lots of retired people in survival mode early, middle or late.

    Can people regress from the top of the pyramid? Absolutely. Seen it myself. Try to do what you did at 70. Not that easy.

    Point the more time you have, the greater the probability. End of life is scheduled and getting closer every day.

    Your most valuable assets are time and money. Once you control one, you have to deal with the other.

    Respect others and simply do things to make your life and others better. It can be be by simply taking out the trash or staying silent.

    Be greatful and thankful for everyone, everything, and every person that has come into your life. Personally, that is how I feel and live. Something special about being greatful and thankful about whatever level you are in life.

    Ultimately no one is forever and no one existance is truly relevant. It’s only you and your experiences and the people you touch along the way. We are all forgotten. Even Einstein.

    Test it. Ask 100 people who was Einstein and what exactly did he do? Record the answer.

  89. Dan Glover
    January 20, 2018 at 3:12 am

    I think if you look back on those who have made the world a better place, you’ll notice a common thread: few if any were financially independent nor did they care to be. They were right down there wallowing in the mud and the muck and the mire doing whatever they could to help pull up their fellow creatures. This incessant need for getting getting getting tends to blind most people to their own true purpose sometimes even to the point of reaching the conclusion there is no purpose. Stop. Listen.

  90. SFuchs
    January 20, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    This is a such a great post. My 2017 was about understanding what makes me happy and I’ve come to a similar conclusion. Keep learning, improving, creating and make the world a better place for myself and others.

    I’m far off from FI and executing my plan to become FI. I’ve found over the last few years I’m less about the numbers and more about the day-to-day habits that 1) make my happy and 2) are going to make my plan successful. Thanks for sharing!

  91. January 20, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Wait, you haven’t achieved immortality yet? Maybe I’m blogging for the wrong reasons….

  92. Steve in Colorado
    January 20, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    Great article! I am close to financial independence myself ( probably later this year ) .

    Personally, I look forward to the ability to wake up in the morning and do whatever I want – not what someone else tells me to do .

    I may have second thoughts when I get there – but I doubt it.

  93. Roberto Sans
    January 21, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Hello Mad Fientist

    I am an admirer and user of your blog and podcasts but I have never written any comments. Your post today was thought-provoking no doubt. However I have to disagree with you in a number of points. The Hierarchy of Maslow is a very potent metaphor and your analogy to the personal financial journey was equally revealing. However I think that Self realisation and aiming for a sense of what is life for is something we all strive to find in life, from a very early age. As some others have pointed out, look at Viktor Frankl´s “Man in search of meaning” to see how you can find purpose in waht is basically Hell.
    Your realisation of the transience of life is very true. Not enough time is devoted to remeber that time is our only treasure, and we might run out of time tonight. Also, our importance in the great order of things is minuscule, as we think of us as an brief spark of consciousness in the unimaginable voids of time and space. But I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is purpose to life, once we realise the true nature of our existence. Aiming to be the best possible version of ourselves is the noblest goal to be achieved in life, and this has not much to do with being financially independent or rich. Money can be a powerful weapon to do good and to have a rich and fulfilling existence but it is by no means necessary for having the best possible life, as it is not essential to have excellent health or a high social position. These things are indifferent, even if they are preferable to poverty, sickness and exclusion.
    In any case thank you for your post and your great blog and channel.

  94. S
    January 21, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    This was the most depressing post I’d read in a long time, but it’s simultaneously slightly uplifting too. I forget how far people can go without caring about why. This kind of “heavy” content—well, I couldn’t get up in the morning without a deeper purpose. I’ve been honing my values since age 9. (I’m an atheist who broke with Christianity as a teenager.) It’s interesting that other people prefer to wake up without thinking about these issues. It makes me worry for humanity, however.

    Remember that people at the bottom level of the pyramid are more philanthropic than people toward the top. Many people don’t wait to achieve FI before orienting their lives to others. The pyramid (as interpreted) is not the norm, at least in the U.S.

    I’m a research scientist and University professor who studies infectious diseases. I chose this career not to get rich fastest but to reduce suffering (and to do interesting work!). I’m guessing all of us who read this blog have substantive control over how we spend our time, including how we work. Others’ joy and suffering is our own—give to be happy.

    • S
      January 21, 2018 at 12:04 pm

      p.s. In case you’re wondering, I read this blog not to retire early but for the excellent financial strategies to improve security!

  95. January 21, 2018 at 9:05 pm

    If the goal is to find the “purpose” (and work to accomplish it), then does the FI even matter ? I am sure there are many ways to fund one’s dream (provided she has one !!!) …. And if she doesn’t, whats the point of being FI anyways?

    In fact , I would argue if one can push a passion to post FI, then probably that isn’t even her purpose :-) Rather run to find the purpose than waste prime years of life in number crunching. FI is just a distraction unless FI itself is a passion as in case of Mr MM and yourself. Which is NOT a bad thing. But if one wants to be a musician than that is what she should totally focus on than FI. Financial means will auto magically appear.

  96. Valerie
    January 22, 2018 at 2:27 am

    How old is this article again? anyhow, just read it today…and its perfectly timed for me! I learnt about Maslow’s Hierarchy in my undergrad classes and have always tried to apply it to my life in a crude way…i kind of knew that i hadn’t reached self actualization but the how of getting to self actualization always got muddled up in the busyness of life..so i lost interest in it and felt is was part of the theoretical stuff we all have to swallow to get our degrees with not much practical usefulness (dont get me wrong,intrinsically i still knew that I wanted to live a purposeful happy life, so I searched for this in other non monetary aspects of life – spiritual, acts of kindness, community etc but always got a bit frustrated because it always came back to finances and survival…which I hadn’t figured out how to do well; long story short, i decided to just work on my finances so that I can be comfortable…yeah, under par financial goal i guess…and do what I can for my community *resignation, sigh!*…). SO your interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to money and finances and life is so great!…the mad Feintist’s hierarchy tells me exactly where I am financially and why deep down I still feel like there needs to be more than what I had achieved…more to life and more money somewhere! I feel I am not done! I realize now that I have actually graduated from SUSTAIN ( done the best with what I earn – got a house, cars and basic life necessities), and am actually working so hard to ACCUMULATE (saving and investing, but I felt unsure of myself and felt like I was still scrambling in the dark – I was still looking for that self actualization feeling). Now I wont feel like am scrambling to get a grip on life and my finances anymore, but will be assured am moving in the right direction one step at a time and I can finally marry my non monetary life needs with my money goals…all I need is to FOCUS! Thanks for a great article!

  97. January 22, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    I think about MHON all the time. I started my blog because I wanted to help people. It has been very therapeutic and rewarding. It makes me feel useful and like I have a purpose. It isn’t just about the money. Hearing someone say that I helped them. Now that’s priceless.

    Thanks,
    GBM

  98. SteveK
    January 22, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    “There is no point” contradicts “don’t infringe on the happiness of others”. You want to have your cake and eat it. If there truly is no point then letting others be happy is just as pointless as making them unhappy.

  99. January 23, 2018 at 1:03 am

    I’m amused by the apparent need to find one’s purpose when reaching FI: I stay frustrated by all the things I CANNOT do while I’m in the accumulation phase: Complete all the projects I have queued up in a timely manner would be the first one. Develop new energy efficiency products would be another. Pester the hell out of my congressman when he screws up something. It goes on and on and on.

    I love the journey, don’t get me wrong. And my frustration powers me every day. But when I reach FI, watch out, I’m going to raise some hell!

  100. January 23, 2018 at 1:05 am

    Damb, I left out one thing: Compete with all the world’s brewers to make better beer than they do!!!

  101. January 23, 2018 at 1:07 am

    One of the happiest moments of my life was at the base of the pyramid.
    It was during some military training in the mountains of northern Georgia. We were living in the woods with nothing but what we had on our backs, hiking for miles every day, barely eating anything. The training had started in hot August, and we were still there when the snow buried us in December. We spent every day and night fighting some pretend war against a permanent cadre whose sole purpose was to harass us, with the aim to make us better leaders and teach us the finer points of small unit tactics.
    This faux enemy kept us on the run, so we only slept a few hours a day. When we did sleep, we slept on the ground with no shelter. Our existence felt primitive, which I guess is what they were going for. All of us there had been deployed before, so though the training was constant misery, it wasn’t like they were going to actually kill us.
    Through all of that, I had one of the best nights ever.
    It was hours past midnight, and we had finally stopped for a few hours. I had just gotten off watch duty, so I knew I had at least an hour before it was my turn to keep a lookout for the bad guys again. I huddled under a blanket next to my rucksack in the dirt, and was absolutely giddy. It was a good night because it was just over 40 degrees out, and it hadn’t rained or snowed in over a day. I was especially excited because I had a brand new type of MRE (military ration that comes in a sealed plastic bag). It was chili! It’d been a few days since I had eaten, and I swear that was the best meal I’ve ever had. I still vividly remember being so happy that I was warm, dry, and just eating food.
    I’m serious, it’s funny to say but that had to be in the top five best experiences I’ve ever had. When I’m on the ball(which is not often), I’ll catch myself when I get annoyed with traffic, slow internet, or whatever. I’ll think back to that chili and try not to complain so much about the meaningless minutiae that trips me up while existing at the higher levels of the pyramid.

    • Cam
      January 23, 2018 at 8:52 pm

      This is a great perspective and it’s wonderful that you have this to ground you. Many of us have become so desensitized to the beauty of everyday things.

  102. Jamie V
    January 23, 2018 at 10:03 am

    Thank you for this article. The pyramid is something I never really thought deeply on before, but I think you might have a really good point. I’m in the sustainability phase myself (I’d be in accumulation if I wasn’t putting every penny towards my bills to pay off debt). As I just commented on the 1500days blog..I’m getting so antsy to begin that accumulation..Debt fatigue is a real thing, and I am so tired of worrying about debt. ARGH. But I’m okay. I’ll be accumulating by the end of the year!! I don’t know if this is just maybe my experience..but I took the red pill and ‘woke up’ about 5 or so years ago. I’ve been realizing my Self while I still am not comfortable financially and it’s hard to reconcile the two – how does one pursue these spiritual and philosophical things, how does one navigate the deep worlds of consciousness, or contemplate how to help the world, etc.. when there is worry about paying my own electric bill, eating something not Ramen noodles for dinner, etc.. It’s been a ride, and one that I’ve worked hard at to get to a stabilizing “set it and forget it!” point later this year. I am so amazed at how far I’ve come, how I’ve worked hard for this..This minor success came about because the cells in my brain changed to start thinking about getting here, and I found the strength and discipline to get here. Just WOW. If I can do this for myself, just imagine what I can help others with..

    I also want to say thanks for opening up this discussion in the comments. There have been some really good ones, and there’s still a lot I need to read through, but I’ve seen book suggestions and links and tips and I really think that this comment section has incredible value. There seems to be people similar to me, people who seem to have figured out how to avoid the traps I sometimes fall in to, people who have different struggles, who have different perspectives… It’s a beautiful place to be able to see all these different things and think all these other, different thoughts, maybe get new ideas, remember things I knew but forgot… So, thank you.

  103. January 23, 2018 at 11:13 am

    Brandon – you may want to check out some books by the Greek Epicurean and Hedonist philosophers (they modern meaning of these terms is really removed from their ancient background). They spent a lot of time struggling with the meaning of life and how to pursue pleasure, without it being consumed by it.

  104. Bee
    January 23, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    This thread follows my Buddhist philosophies about attaining enlightenment. Once there you naturally radiate calm, love, peacefulness and good karma or metta to others whilst having inner peace. Namaste

  105. Cam
    January 23, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    This is a great hierarchy and blog post. On the question of purpose, I have a suggestion for you! Since you started at the accumulation phase and probably most of your readership are also in that phase and trying to get to FI, maybe you will find purpose and fulfilment in helping people get out of survival or sustainability mode.

  106. January 24, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    I don’t know that it is the worst thing to just be focused on the stage you are in while you are in it. It’s fun to get a bit obsessed with that stage. It’s all so new as you learn each new thing, it all feels so revolutionary. So I’m just enjoying being obsessed with the accumulation phase, and I’m sure when I reach the next phase I’ll get obsessed with it, too. It’s all just a passion for independence and it’s all so much fun!

  107. Erik
    January 25, 2018 at 11:07 am

    I was totally with you. Then I got lost a bit in the “There is No Point” section. Then I was glad to see your thoughts push past that as you explore what your point is, what your purpose is. This made me think of a quote from one of my favorite books, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. In the book, an elderly country pastor is faced with his quickly approaching mortality. Throughout the book, he reflects on his life and also contemplates the future for his seven year old son and what he wants to pass on to him. The quote I love is, “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, everyone of them sufficient.” I find this especially valuable coming from a character that had lived a life dedicated to religion. He doesn’t simply sum things up with a syrupy, overly spiritual sentiment on how it’s all about God. In his worldview there is clearly room for God, but he leaves room for a myriad of wonderful reasons. I think, at the lower level of the pyramid, some of the survival and security motivations are valid and sufficient reasons to live, but as one moves up that pyramid, it’s like the “reasons to live this live” become more of a challenge to identify. We’re then faced with the decision of giving in to a nihilistic (belief in nothing/all is meaningless) philosophy, or, instead, doing the hard work of finding and creating meaning. That meaning we create/find might be different for all of us, and it might change for each of us from now to the future. Not sure if it’s a word, but it’s somewhat of a “polyism” (belief in many wonderful, meaningful things) instead of a “nihilism” or stopping at just “theism,” or, for that matter, “atheism.” That meaning we find and work towards is so much more valuable than just accepting the shallow meanings people/media/advertisers tell us are important. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I definitely think this post furthers your purpose of “…creat(ing) things that have a positive impact of….many other people’s lives.”

  108. January 26, 2018 at 7:15 am

    Awesome application of psychology.
    Now that I’m in the “utilization” phase, I find myself contemplating meaning more and contributing time and money to causes I believe in.

  109. January 26, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    Great article!

    I am nowhere close to achieving true financial independence just yet, but my fiancée and I are on our way. We have increased our net worth dramatically in this past year, but I began to notice the same effect you discuss as our net worth was increasing. As I saw our dollar figures going higher, I began to think about the actual number amounts less and less. My attention began focusing on the next step, what are we going to use that money for to begin to transition into the life we want? Now our focus is obtaining our house where we can begin to raise our future children, and build a home together.

    I think the chart you made is absolutely brilliant, and very truthful as well!

  110. January 26, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    Deep stuff here my fellow Brandon! (Rocky is my sometimes pseudonym) Self actualization and FI seem to go hand in hand….which is why many can’t undertake the FI challenge. Knowing who you are, truly and completely, is terrifying to most people and when you don’t have to worry about money you really need to know why you are doing what you do. Luckily, for the rest of us you have not only explored that for yourself but you continue to provide us insight into the process! Thanks for sharing this and congrats on the epiphany!

  111. January 26, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    Crafting a mission statement has been a big help to me. I had to figure out what I am here for. What contribution do I want to make to make the world better. More importantly, what talents, skills, experience and knowledge do I have to contribute. Once I figured that out, it was easy for me to stop being what I am not and focus on what I truly want to be. It also helps to have a vision board of this mission statement, showing where you want to be in 5 years. The visual is powerful. From here, your financial priorities come into focus.

  112. January 26, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Love it. I’m starting to catch a glimpse of the top of the pyramid now that we have no debt, two rental properties, and a fast-growing 401k. You’re right. Money is becoming less and less important as we attain more of it. It’s just a means to do what’s right – what you love to do and what you’re made to do.

  113. January 27, 2018 at 5:45 am

    A couple of years ago I played around with writing a personal mission statement. I came up with 2!

    Mission Statement 1: I am learning to pay attention to my AHA moments. Those moments of insight that gently guide me in My Little Blue Kayak in the direction of abundant health, wealth and happiness. I share them with you in the hopes that they nudge you to pay attention to your own AHA moments. Or at least give you a laugh…

    #2: To make 1 good decision after another that allows me to be flexible with my time and that adds to the overall health, wealth and happiness of myself, my loved ones and my community. AHA!

    Thanks for reminding me to dig it out and dust it off!

    I love the hierarchy of financial needs.

  114. January 28, 2018 at 10:11 am

    This is beyond awesome.

    I’m at the accumulation stage, but can’t wait to get up there to the independence and utilisation stage.

    Also shocked that only one person has told you the answer is 42 so far.

  115. January 29, 2018 at 7:19 am

    I think you could flatten the pyramid based on your environment. Seems funny how living in an area with fewer natural and open attractions “forces” you to spend on movies, dining out, etc. Couple that with cold winters and, okay, I just realized I’m whining again…

    The purpose driven part of the equation is really the key in my view. I look no further than the Blue Zones populations, where caring for one another in the family and community take precedent. It’s less about happiness than it is about feeling useful each and every day.

  116. January 30, 2018 at 7:39 am

    We should seek wisdom and self knowledge way before reaching financial independence. Philosophy + FIRE = freedom of the mind & body. FIRE is power and without wisdom it will be used for an unenlightened purpose. As a community let’s always keep in mind who we’re empowering because there’s nothing more dangerous than a wealthy person who is unwise.

  117. January 30, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    I had a somewhat similar comeuppance when I first hit FI and left my intense and meaningful job. It’s a tough transition, for sure, and one that is hard to really anticipate (even if you see it coming intellectually).

    I think it is beautiful that our deepest self wants something more than to just pile up a bunch of coins and live off of them–that there is something more calling to us from life. I’m looking forward to seeing how MadFientist brings this additional part of himself out into the world.

  118. January 31, 2018 at 10:27 am

    Hi there,
    This is fascinating. I think you should read “Jean-Paul Sartre” and Albert Camus. You would love existentialism.

    Keep up this life of discovery and sharing.

    Cheers
    Miguel

  119. February 1, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Its all about a balanced life for me. And I’m talking about in a relationship, family life, routines, work, habits and in spirit. FI is good but we need to find our purpose. I always tell my kids to make money as much as they can if the opportunity is there. The more money you have the more people you can help and everyone’s ultimate goal in life should be to help other people.

  120. February 9, 2018 at 9:41 am

    Hello, I really enjoyed this post! I think it’s a big question a lot of people ask but don’t address in their own lives; it’s great to see you cover it. I recently finished “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. It’s an incredible read, and a book that I found really opened my eyes to greater meaning in life.

  121. February 10, 2018 at 2:27 am

    Regarding the ‘life purpose’ question, I’ll put in my top tips since I’m working on this exact thing right now.

    1: Listen to this short exercise of Debbie Millman on the Tim Ferriss podcast (1m47 long): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpUj1f5_4So

    2: Watch this short Jim Rohn clip (10 min): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xD9KMgML8aI

    3: Read: Designing Your Life: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26046333-designing-your-life
    It’s awesome, trust me.

    4: Take the Future Authoring course: https://selfauthoring.com/future-authoring.html

    I can only give you the very best I’ve got on this topic and leave out anything that isn’t an A+. And this is it.
    I’d have paid someone handsomely to narrow it down to just these 4 items for me, so trust me when I say; this list will save you an enormous amount of time. All the best!

  122. David
    February 17, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks so much for this post. I tried doing a family mission statement last year but it felt forced and awkward and in the end was not very helpful. I am currently working on a new personal mission statement, this time using the “why question” method laid out by Vicki Robin and it is working much better. I’ve been swimming in a mid life crisis of trying to figure out purpose and meaning, and I think this will really help. To me, this is the most important thing to figure out in life. Money and numbers are nice, but they can still be a distraction to what is most important. My sincerest thanks Mad Fientist!

  123. February 18, 2018 at 11:46 pm

    We haven’t reached FI just yet, but I have been thinking more and more about what life will be like after we reach our goal.

    I can already tell that reaching the FI goal itself won’t do much for me. Extra free time by itself won’t do much either. What changes will I make in my life that will provide me with more happiness after I reach the goal is the real question I ask myself. I have come up with several things:

    1) Take better care of my body. More time for exercise and stretching.
    2) Take my kid to school and pick him up, and volunteer at his school so I can enjoy watching him interact with his friends.
    3) Take long road trips (6-8 weeks) during the summer when RME Jr. isn’t in school.
    4) Read a book a week to allow my mind to escape.
    5) Plan and execute long backpacking trips, either solo or with friends. Both the planning and the trip itself brings me great joy, and I just don’t have time for it now with a full time job.

    Now, what is the meaning of life? Still working on that one!

  124. February 25, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    Love Love Love the FI Hierarchy of Needs!

  125. February 27, 2018 at 10:14 am

    Love the hierarchy of financial needs! This totally makes sense and resonates completely. I’m starting a blog and have many posts scheduled with this exact topic – saving money for things we value while enjoying life. Since a large portion of my target audience is millennials, many of them are in the lower tiers as of right now, but want to get higher. Thanks for your genius input all the time!

  126. April 4, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    I think you can simplify this down into 2 levels:

    1. Physical needs.
    2. Psychological needs.

    We all need money to sustain our lifestyles. But once that is achieved, we need to make money to fulfill a psychological need. Everyone wants to feel useful and do something with their lives. Money is just a yardstick for that success.

  127. Deva
    April 6, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    You’re quite right that our being here is one happy accident, but humans, like animals, do have one purpose and that is to keep the species going. Other than that there is no point. All that mumbo jumbo about having a career/job because we need a purpose is part of the old fashioned Protestant work ethic which included plenty of guilt. How else can we keep people in line unless they’re working like demons 14 hours a day and then falling into bed exhausted, but fulfilled because they’ve served their purpose. Hahaha. “A sucker born every minute”, said PT Barnum.
    As for keeping the species going there are far too many people on this planet and Mother Nature seems pretty pissed off at the human race for making the earth the mess it is. Chances are in the coming 100 years she’s going to get rid of the lot of us so she can heal the earth for a million years or so and then introduce the next species. So enjoy it while it lasts and do try to ignore the Protestants (except for the part about being frugal and thrifty).

    the of us so she can heal the earth for a million years or so and then introduce the next species. So enjoy it while it lasts and do try to ignore the Protestants.

  128. Mouse
    April 11, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    Oh, my goodness. Yes. I’m sorry – I’ll admit I scrolled down here immediately after I read the part about “Immortality”.

    I recently broke up with my boyfriend of 6.5 years and a big ideological difference between us was this concept of “Legacy”. It drove a wedge between us for a lot of things – his “on the fence about being on the fence” thinking on having kids versus my child-free bearing and his inability to think about Financial Independence, nevermind early retirement. And it wasn’t like I was forcing FI on him, either; we ran similar to how you and your wife did in splitting things 50/50 and keeping our assets separate.

    I know for myself I don’t have a lot of hang ups on making a “legacy” or being remembered for a long time. I agree completely with that idea that we’re so small in the universe and that the collective memory of the groups of people we touch isn’t going to last forever. I also don’t think that’s anything to fear. New ideas, new concepts, new life comes out of that constant churn. Thinking about the organizations I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of for my young life, I’ve often seen that there’s a sort of beautiful nature to the influence of people long-past.

    My karate club has ties to several spread throughout my province and while our current traditions are vastly different from what is taught in the most stringently traditional clubs, ours has a culture and community that couldn’t have evolved without the changing priorities of its aging members.

    It’s a relief and a joy to find others who think the same way I do. :D

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