I will never forget the day my older brother told my parents he landed a job that paid over $100,000 a year.
I was a junior in high school and only had one thought:
Holy shit, $100,000 is a lot of money. I want to make that much too.
I was 17 years old at the time.
Seemingly out of nowhere I went from a kid who only cared about playing video games and talking to girls to having a very real goal of some day earning $100k a year. I wanted to be as good as my brother.
I carried this goal with me through my remaining two years of high school and well into college. It was during my freshman year that I discovered the new rising field of “data science” and found that it could be a lucrative profession if you had the right skills. Specifically, understanding statistics was crucial to thriving in this field.
I had found my golden ticket. I declared my major to be statistics.
I was 19 years old at the time.
For the next two years I worked through difficult math and stats classes, all with the hope of one day earning my bachelor’s degree and starting down the road of earning good money.
But I no longer just wanted a high salary, I wanted the title that came with it. Data Scientist. That sounded prestigious. People would surely be impressed when I told them. Earning a lot of money and being recognized for having an impressive job became my primary focus.
That is, until my junior year when I stumbled upon the site Mr. Money Mustache.
Money, But Different This Time
I was 22 years old at the time.
Almost immediately my goals changed. In less than a week I read all of his articles along with hundreds of others from the most well-known personal finance blogs. My entire view of money changed drastically and I had a new perspective on life in general. I suddenly had a new focus: earn a ton of money as a data scientist with the intention of retiring in ten years or less.
Fast forward two years. I got my bachelor and master’s degree and was deep in the trenches of Corporate America.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that sitting in a cube 40 hours a week took a toll after a while. The work was interesting, but I dreaded everything else. The commute, the performance reviews, the unnecessary meetings, and the office politics had become a pain. At some point I began to think is 10 – 15 more years of this worth it?
While trying to figure out this dilemma of getting around working for another decade to achieve financial independence, I began to dive into different fields. I read books on philosophy, psychology, and habits. I listened to a variety of podcasts from Tim Ferriss, Sam Harris, and Jocko Willink to name a few.
Without realizing it, I was on a quest to discover the secrets to living a good life. The more I listened, watched, and read different sources, the more I began to notice trends. The people who seemed to be the most content in life were the ones who focused on connection, growth, and contribution. The people who were most excited to get out of bed each day seemed to be the ones who had found work they loved.
I felt more confused than ever. Is the secret to happiness not working at all or is it doing work you love? And how does personal finance fit into all this?
I thought about these questions constantly. As I continued to read books, listen to podcasts, and gain knowledge, I slowly began to develop my own framework and started this blog to share my thoughts. My overarching belief on life (at this point) is:
Life is about meaningful relationships and meaningful work. And it just so happens that mastering your finances allows you to do these two things more effectively.
I feel like the goals of younger Zach were well-intentioned. I just wanted to live a good life. That’s why I thought money was the key, then I thought recognition might be the answer, then I thought early retirement could be the solution.
The more I think about it, the more I think early retirement can be the solution for some people, but the more general solution is simply to not let finances hold you back from living your best life.
Whether this means saving up enough money to be completely financially independent or simply having enough in the bank to keep financial fears at bay, there are many financial solutions that can be the right answer. More than ever I am open to the idea of mixing passive and active income for maximum happiness.
Predicting the Future
Right now, at age 24, I feel like I have found many helpful pieces to answer this puzzling question of how to live a good life. But I don’t have all the answers yet. I know that contribution is important, but I don’t know exactly what that contribution should be. I know I like writing, coding, and being a creator. But I don’t know the exact thing I should be building to bring the most value to the world.
My goals at 17 were radically different than the ones I had at 19. The ones at 19 were different than the ones at 22. And now, at 24, I have a different view again.
I can’t predict what 26-year-old me or 30-year-old me will choose to pursue, but I do know one thing for certain: I will be glad that I decided to save money while I was young. The money I’m saving now will give my future self tremendous flexibility to pursue whatever type of work I want.
Predicting the future is hard. And while I might not know my exact purpose in life or the most valuable work I should be doing yet, by saving money I’m giving my future self the best possible chance at doing that work without being held back by financial struggles.
My favorite free financial tool I use is Personal Capital. I use it to track my net worth, manage my spending, and keep an eye on my monthly cash flow. It only takes a few minutes to set up and it makes tracking your finances simple and easy. I recommend trying it out.
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