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At the tender age of 51, as I’m enjoying my retirement party, I’ll be standing before jealous soon-to-be-former coworkers, and basking in their incessant questions about early retirement. My thoughts will careen around like a drunken teacup spilling over images of investing, saving, and eating free office food, until I burp out the secret to retiring young – a growth mindset.
Index funds, high-interest savings accounts, and multiple income streams have their place on the Olympic-like pedestal of early retirement. Yet, a growth mindset is what will heave my financial bulk to the finish line.
A growth mindset is the belief that a person’s capacities and talents can be improved over time.Psychology Today
I became familiar with the growth mindset through two sisters.
One sister was young, and she had very little knowledge of financial hygiene. She spent her money quickly, giving little thought to the future and her frequently negative checking account. Even though she was unhappy about her finances, she was unable to do anything about it. She had a fixed mindset; she would never be good with money. Her motto, why try?
The older sister was different. She made less, but she saved most of it. She used library books to self-teach her way to saving and investing. There were mistakes, but she learned and continued to grow her net worth.
The biggest fault of the younger girl was she avoided trying. She believed she would always be poor with finances like a never-ending Groundhog Day fail.
The older sister embraced her lack of knowledge and used it to learn and grow from her mistakes.
I know these sisters well because they are my story. I was the younger spender who had a fixed mindset who blossomed into a less-awkward, older saver with a growth mindset. As with any growth, there was plenty of acne-inducing mistakes.
My first stop was working with what I had, a steady income. I had incoming wages, but I needed a way to control my finances. Mostly, the part where it stayed in my account.
Like the creepy basement stuff that never sees the light of day, I started stuffing money into a savings account.
For ideas on how to save, I started with the preferred platform for female America, Pinterest. I read blogs about how people were hacking their way into saving.
While everyone was scooping up the gravy train of savings, I started using their insight from no-spend days, which turned to weeks and occasionally months. I dumped my feelings for shopping. Developed a budget and let the numbers dictate what I needed, not my emotions.
These little things felt common sense and easy, but it took practice to break bad habits. At first, the savings was like going to Krispy Kreme and buying a single donut hole – so tiny I wondered what I was doing with my life.
To add excitement to the sugarless journey, I started tracking every tiny amount. One day, I felt saucy with the spreadsheet, and I combined the little bites, which turned out to be impressive. The little bits had grown to a giant bakers dozen of Krispy Kreme delights.
The shift was subtle but official. After experimenting with the power of small savings, I had turned a curiosity into a lifestyle.
The spender was given time to splurge but only in the presence of National Parks, foreign countries, or delicious pastries.
Increasing Passive Rewards
I was drinking the saving Haterade and I wanted more. I started looking at savings accounts and found a high-interest version. By high, I mean measly and sad in the face of the stock market, but I was still mean mugging that unpredictable beast.
Then, I started exploring passive income love like credit card rewards and cashback apps. I started giving mystery money the side-eye. Returns, gifts, and found money were just another way to fatten up savings.
I started looking at money differently, similar to seeing a d instead of a backward g in the Disney logo. No going back once I see that!
I was stumbling along, accepting savings account growth, and feeling content with my financial skills.
Of course, I had to change that!
High Gear Investing
Early retirement seems bound to the personal finance world. Is there a better reward than a life of leisure after accumulating a lifetime of wealth?
For a while, I watched as a spectator, drinking in the dedication of the DIY finance community as they made their way to early retirement. Watching lead to ideas. Ideas turned into an inner dialogue where I began to ask (in my head), could I do that too?
At times, I was caught in a tornado of doubt reeling from my atypical career as a Park Ranger, vastly different from the typical engineer/doctor/inventor of digital cryptocurrency type. My wages reflected that income crater. My doubt began to spin in circles: Should I try? Am I setting myself up for failure? An even bigger question, should I tell people?
As my subconscious hurled, I started exploring more of the scary side of personal finances, investing. I thought, better leave it to people who had fancy suits, understood stock market jargon, and who yelled at the TV when stocks plummeted.
But the growth mindset began its siren call. After reading the same investment information multiple times from different human packages, I decided to start exploring the wild west that is the stock market.
As a cautious kind of gal, I prefer to start with easy wins which have included taking lessons before buying a snowboard, writing pros and cons before joining the Navy, and wondering if I did sunrise yoga but didn’t take a selfie, did really it happen?
Unless it involves travel, then I’m like hold my coffee, I’m going camel riding in the desert – bbbyyyeee!
With money, it’s all caution, all the time. I started dipping my toes into investing with a Robo investor. The many questioned survey seemed to know my risk tolerance better me. In fact, it did because it took the time to ask. I dabbled with financial engines until I felt confident I could do a better job.
One opportunity that screamed my way was my poor performing Roth IRA. I took the default route and let a bank manage my biggest retirement asset. I was making 4% annually thanks to an overabundance of fees and other financial atrocities. By this point, I knew this was a gross underperformance. Like a vengeful Valkyrie, I seized my disappointment and Roth IRA, flew it over to Vanguard where I started investing in low-cost index funds.
After being exposed to the cliffs and craters of the stock market, my investing experience went from a hand-sized Tamagotchi to a level 36 fire-breathing Charizard. I prefer not to learn by investing thousands of dollars that took years to accumulate. But it did provide a fire for learning that I have yet to experience, except for that one time I had a bladder infection.
Growth Mindset Matters
Learning, mistakes, and learning some more is how I went from the spender who cashed out her retirement early to the saver who will retire early.
I released the toxic fixed mindset that whispered dark thoughts like being financially awful now means being financially awful in the future. Instead, I embraced a growth mindset. I threw my love of reading into an affair with personal finance, which fostered courage to take a dream, upgrade it to a 15-year goal with hallucinations of an early retirement party and all.