Harnessing Emotions on the Road to Financial Independence

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One of my goals this month was to shop around for cheaper car insurance before mine auto renewed to a higher rate.  That’s just normal good practice but I’ve felt like a mug all year because I didn’t do it last year.  

When I thought about why I hadn’t done it, it wasn’t because I didn’t realise it was coming up, or didn’t have the time.  It was because I felt embarrassed about the two accidents we had had and didn’t want to go through the process of documenting them, and revisit the shame.  I also thought that I’m clearly such a bad driver that other companies wouldn’t insure me for any less.  So shame and low self esteem stopped me from switching last year.

This year I did switch, and I saved more than £400 compared to my existing insurance.  I probably could have made a similar saving last year – so shame and low self-esteem cost me almost £500 last year.

That got me thinking about the other emotions that are holding me back from making other money moves at the moment that could rapidly accelerate my route to financial independence.

When I look critically at my own behaviour I can see that my three big missed opportunities on our path are probably:

  • Not making better use of my skills to increase my main income (either through freelancing/asking for a pay rise/getting another job)
  • Being underleveraged on our rental properties (as we could withdraw from our equity to buy at least two other properties)
  • Not enough focus on scalable additional passive income sources

When I take a good hard look at why I haven’t explored these options, it’s not as simple as saying that I haven’t had time, or that I didn’t know what to do.  In each case there are emotions and vulnerabilities that have stopped me from taking action.

Not negotiating a raise or applying for another job

In terms of my main income, I’ve definitely hesitated from asking for a pay rise because I’ve felt under confident at work, partly because I went on maternity leave quite soon after starting my role and partly because a number of changes at work also undermined my confidence.  

Although I know this isn’t how things work, I can’t help thinking that if I’m worth it they will offer me more (LOL).  I also think that I’m lucky to have a job that allows me to work 4 days a week, and work from home, and that I won’t be able to convince another company to take me on on those terms, because I’m not good at demonstrating my worth in an interview scenario.  

Fortunately I do also have another counter-voice that is a bit more confident and hopeful, but she isn’t a permanent resident at the moment, so I’m working on trying to get her to stay around more and to take up more space!

I know that I’m not alone in hesitating.  My partner has been at his company for 10 years and he has never asked for a pay rise.  He has received a few, but not every year, and not always in line with inflation. I suggested to him yesterday that he did and he freaked out, saying he didn’t want to jeopardise his position, knowing how much less new starters were paid and how replaceable he was.  He feels a lot of anxiety about the security of his role, and I’m not sure he would ever feel confident about asking.

I’m not going to push it with him, but I am determined to push myself out of my comfort zone this year and to ask for one.  

When I look into it I realise that it’s something many people do regularly and is expected.  I also feel frustrated when I see how high inflation is at the moment (knowing the official figures won’t even represent true inflation) and how much lower our standard (what you get when you don’t ask) pay rise is.  

This is a turning point for me, because instead of letting emotions stop me making a positive move towards my own growth, I’m harnessing emotions that will drive me to grow to the point that I can make that move.

Feeling like a mug over the car insurance for a year made me make it a priority for this month.  

With this, feeling like a mug for about 15 years is also driving me to prioritise making the request this year, which means prioritising all of the pre-work that’s required to give me the confidence to do it.

Not being more ambitious with our rental portfolio

The second missed opportunity is holding a significant amount of equity in one rental property and not taking practical steps to build up our portfolio.  The emotions blocking us here are fear and feeling like imposters.

While our rental is not that profitable, at least the (interest-only) mortgage is low so the impact is manageable if it’s not filled for a short time, although there is a hefty service charge.  We’ve accepted tenants paying below market rate because they are reliable and have signed long leases.  It’s a relatively safe and reliable income stream for us.

When I put my more bullish hat on I see that we could pull out another couple of mortgage deposits from it and cash flow another few hundred a month from each. But we haven’t done it because it scares me, not knowing how long it would take to get a tenant or what extra costs there would be.  

While our rental now is our first flat, getting more properties would make us feel like property investors, something we haven’t seen ourselves as before.  How much time would it end up taking and would the stress be worth it?

Looking at it rationally I know that while this does open us up to some more risk, our current rental takes hardly any time at all.  If we are building our assets and we are likely to have more income coming in than doing nothing or than other viable ways of using the money, then we should explore getting a second rental more seriously, which is what I am planning to do, possibly by pulling out the extra money when we next remortgage to avoid paying another (higher) rate on an additional loan.

Rather than just focussing on the negative emotions, I’m trying to focus on the satisfaction we would feel if we could build our portfolio and benefit from efficiencies and learnings from managing the first property.  

I’m also thinking about the additional income in terms of my time, exploiting my strong desire for more time freedom.

The monthly profit from each would likely be the same as our financial deficit from me working 4 rather than 5 days a week.  So every additional property would represent another day of freedom for me if our costs stayed constant..  I could call them my Monday flat, Tuesday flat etc.

Again, I feel capable of overcoming the emotions holding me back because I am critically challenging them (using evidence) and also harnessing the feelings that inspire me to take action.

Not enough focus on scalable additional passive income sources

This blog and my other projects are very cherished hobbies of mine, but I don’t take as professional an approach to them as I should if I want to improve, make an impact and grow.  

What are the emotions holding me back this time?

This is the hardest example because it’s so easy to say that it’s because work and parenting don’t leave me much time, but it’s more than that.  I know it is because I still find time to watch TV.  I’m not a hustle culture manic, I do think it’s important to relax, but I do really enjoy creating content so I think it’s a fear of embarrassment or rejection that stops me from dedicating more time into this blog (and keeps it anonymous).

I’m still not ready to put my face to this blog or my Instagram account, but I am thinking of branching out into YouTube which is less anonymous and more outside of my comfort zone.  

The emotions or qualities that are helping me out this time are patience and integrity.  I’m focussing on being as consistent as I can and accepting that slow progress is better than no progress.  Integrity for me means doing what I say I am going to do and seeing things through.  It also means being honest and authentic with my content and taking any positive feedback that I get at face value.

The importance of self-care

I’ve been talking about financial missed opportunities and how I am working on turning these around.  But for me the fire journey is as much, if not more, about quality of life along the way as you build up a liberating financial future.

In this respect, emotions can be part of a vicious cycle.  For example, it can be hard to prioritise healthy movement, good food and positive relationships if you are feeling tired or guilty about not spending enough time with your family.  However, letting these parts of your life suffer will only trigger more negative emotions which will make it harder to stick the course and to dig deep to take nerve-wracking (but profitable) steps outside your comfort zone.

What I’m learning is the significant role that emotions play and that it’s not enough to try to act without emotions.  If we understand where they are coming from and can also harness emotions that have a more constructive impact, then they can be an important part of our successes.

I also know myself well enough to know that forcing a change of mindset isn’t enough.  I won’t be able to make any of these changes without prioritising self-care, but that’s where the extra energy and confidence that I need will come from.

For me this means:

  • getting better sleep – earlier bedtimes, trying tactics to keep the kids in their own beds, winding down at night
  • working on our family relationships – counselling, practising better communication and more empathy
  • exercise – extra steps at first with accountability buddies (loving Treekly), building up to lunchtime at-home yoga and fitness
  • eating better – eating intuitively, having more veg, drinking enough water, cutting down on sugar, coming back to Ayurvedic principles that have helped me in the past
  • reading – picking up a book instead of a phone, even if it’s just a few minutes at a time
  • creating more and consuming less

I’ve been reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (affiliate link) and in this McKeown talks about the concept of “protecting the asset”, i.e. taking care of yourself first and foremost.  It’s so easy while pursuing FIRE to focus too much on external assets (investments, property) and to lose sight of the fact that ourselves, our abilities and our wellbeing are our most precious asset.  It’s what will enable us to be successful, and also what we want to be thriving and “intact” if/when we arrive at our destination.  

Without making a conscious effort, we can sacrifice ourselves in pursuit of a better life.  It might be staying for years longer than you want to in an unfulfilling job or not allowing yourself enough time or money for fun and relaxation.

However, shifting the focus to investing in yourself, addressing your needs as a whole person (regardless of your goals for the month) and also supporting yourself to grow, can  be what makes this FIRE journey not only more successful but also more rewarding.  

If you’ve read my blog before you may be thinking this is similar to other blog posts I’ve written, such as this one, and I suppose I come back to these themes because this is my life and I haven’t cracked this yet.  I hope other people can take something from me sharing my experiences, but this isn’t intended to be educational because I’m still learning so much myself.  I’m no guru. Writing this down helps me to crystallise my thoughts and gives me something to come back to when I feel like I’ve gone off course.

I hope that sharing this helps and resonates.  I’d love to hear what emotions are coming up that either help or hinder your progress and what you are doing to keep moving forward and enjoy the journey.

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