Hello there! This is the second interview of the guest post/interview series by people who are well on their way to financial independence (FI) or have reached it already. It’s pleasure to invite Sarah Burch to the stage. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did!
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Sarah. I achieved financial independence five years ago, at the age of 34.
For the last fifteen or so years, I have been living my life in reverse. I started out with a husband, a house, a career, and a plethora of responsibilities. Over the years, I have simplified my life – shedding those things that bog me down from living life to the fullest. My passions include voluntary simplicity, minimalism, financial independence, happiness maximization, and sucking the marrow out of life. I also enjoy traveling, bike touring, leading cycling trips, writing, photography, and yoga.
I believe we are all born with an inner compass. Most of us choose to ignore this personal compass and to navigate through our lives via society’s nudgings. Through introspection, we can become attuned with our inner compasses. I have decided to honor my compass as I navigate through my life.
What does financial independence mean to you?
Financial independence means having sufficient financial means to spend my time as I so choose. While financial wealth is important, being time-wealthy is even more important. For me, financial independence is about living a sustainable lifestyle. It is about practicing financial responsibility day-in and day-out in every decision I make.
What would you like to dedicate yourself to when you reach financial independence?
I believe the most important dedication of my energies is on being the truest person I can be. Lao Tzu once said:
If you want to awake all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.
Though some may consider this dedication to be selfish, I believe it is the reason we exist.
We each have a unique set of interests and curiosities. It is the combination and expression of our uniqueness that serves as the foundation for our contribution to the world. My combined interests of financial independence, cycling touring, traveling, and writing have created a unique niche for me. By manifesting that niche, perhaps I might inspire others.
What is your financial goal?
My goal for achieving financial independence was to reach a certain threshold of assets. Once that threshold was met, I would be comfortable “retiring” early.
When I first set my eyes on my goal, I already had a significant head start thanks to saving and investing habits established in my childhood. I created a five-year plan for obtaining the rest of the assets needed to achieve my goal. Alas, two and a half years into my five-year plan, I quit my job prematurely.
Though I was only 75% of the way towards meeting my goal, my body had become exhausted from the grind of the work world. Though I abandoned my plan early, my aggressive investment strategy enabled me to meet and surpass my goal despite no longer having steady employment income.
Nowadays, I casually aim to earn enough income each year to cover my living expenses. Doing so enables me to reserve my investments for my true retirement years. Though I earn income each year by leading bike trips, writing, and via other odds-and-ends, I haven’t yet managed to earn enough each year to cover my annual expenses. Thankfully, however, as time passes, I find myself making more-and-more money doing the things I love. This intangible is hugely valuable to me.
What is your strategy?
I achieved financial independence through a combined strategy of saving, investing, and living frugally.
I have saved ever since I was a kid. Modest cash birthday gifts from my grandparents, for example, went straight into my piggy bank. Though my career path brought with it pay increases, I continued to live well within the means of my first paycheck. This enabled me to save a significant chunk of my growing paychecks.
I have also invested ever since I was a kid. I recall investing my piggy bank cash into certificates of deposit when interest rates generated an impressive 5 to 8%. With time, my investments have become more sophisticated.
Though my portfolio once included real estate, I have since divested of these investments, as I no longer wish to be burdened with the hassles and risks of property ownership.
Nowadays, I mostly invest in a Vanguard index funds and a few other industry-specific mutual funds. I invest aggressively, knowing the risk can be offset with time and resourcefulness. I manage my own investments for two reasons. Firstly, traditional financial models don’t apply to my situation. (Your typical retired individual is at least in her mid-60s and invests heavily in bonds). Secondly, I don’t believe anyone else is as vested in my finances as I am.
Living frugally is the most critical component of my financial strategy. As I see it, it is not your income that makes you financially independent, but rather your spending habits. At the foundation of frugality is having a deep appreciation and respect for one’s values and priorities. I don’t spend money needlessly on things that aren’t important to me. On the flipside, for things that are important to me, such as cycling gear and experiences, I have no problem spending. Though some people equate my frugality with sacrifice, my ability to afford the freedom of time is no sacrifice in my eyes.
One of the ways I live frugally is by housesitting. A few months a year, I hunker down in the Pacific Northwest (my “homebase”) and housesit. Housesitting enables me to enjoy the benefits of homeownership (a comfortable home, a garden, pets) without the financial or other burdens of owning a home. Though I don’t get paid to housesit, I am able to avoid the significant cost of mortgage/rent payments.
What motivates you to follow the strategy day in day out? How do you stay on course?
Mondays provide strong motivation for me to maintain my financial independence. On these days, I often think of my friends trudging back to the office while my infinite weekend lives on. I am also motivated to live frugally by thinking of costs in terms of the number of hours of work I would need to exchange to pay for a good or service.
I have developed a few life mantras that are helpful in keeping me on course with my financially independent lifestyle:
- Be true to yourself in all that you do.
- Explore your curiosities.
- Strive for tendays.
- You, alone, are responsible for your life.
- Keep your eyes open for opportunities.
- Surround yourself with people who lift you higher.
- Never squander time, energy, or emotion.
- Don’t spend time obsessing over details; just do it.
- Embrace failure.
- Give yourself permission to leap; a safety net will appear.
What are the obstacles you are struggling with?
The obstacles in my life are plenty. Fortunately, we don’t grow when things are easy, right?
Here are three obstacles at the forefront of my mind:
Finding people with whom I can relate.
My lifestyle is very much in opposition to the standard American consumerist society. As such, it is difficult to find like-minded people who are similar in age and who have the financial means and the freedom of time to satisfy their wanderlust.
Focusing my many interests and curiosities.
I have captured my many interest and curiosities in a mind map, a visual representation of hierarchical information. I add to and subtract from the mind map as my interests evolve. Every so often, I review my mind map and break down my interests into three tiers: interests I will actively pursue, interests I will pursue if time and energy permits, and interests that will simmer on the back-burner. This helps me stay focused.
Guarding space for spontaneity on my calendar.
I make commitments to lead bike trips and to housesit months in advance. These commitments serve as anchors in my schedule. Though I have no problem filling in the surrounding time with other activities – personal bike trips, international travels, and the such – I struggle with maintaining flexibility in my schedule so I can take advantage of spontaneous opportunities that may arise.
What is one thing that I can apply today that will have a positive impact on my finances?
Know your values and your priorities.
I can’t stress this enough. Taking the time to introspect and to understand yourself will help you in all avenues of your life, financial and otherwise. Many years ago, I wrote a personal mission statement. That mission statement has been fundamental in guiding my values and priorities.
Where can we find you online and learn more?
You can follow my musings on my blog, Honoring My Compass. My blog is a hodgepodge of posts about experiences and philosophies.
I’m also available for coaching. My specialties include: achieving financial independence and simplifying one’s life. If interested, you can contact me at
Did you enjoy Sarah’s story? Check out the first interview of the series: The Minimum Goal I Want to Reach is 1 Million Euros: Interview With Alexis
If you found yourself nodding your head through this post or learned something new, please share it with your friends and followers!
Do you have a well-thought strategy for reaching financial independence? I would be delighted to interview you and feature your story on the blog.