FI—It’s All About Why, Not How

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Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

This week’s article is another guest post I wrote for Frugal Trader at Million Dollar Journey. (He generously offered me the opportunity to share another article with his audience—and I happily jumped at the opportunity!)

You can find links to my other guest posts for Million Dollar Journey on my guest appearances page

July 2020 update

Million Dollar Journey became a partnership in late-2019, and since then, it looks like they’ve done some reorganization. Sadly, my guest post was one of the casualties in this shuffle, and it appears to have disappeared from the site!

Fortunately, I’d typed it in Google Docs, so I’m republishing it here at Eat Sleep Breathe FI instead. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you enjoy this (former) guest post!


While following the stories of others in the FI community, I started to realize that many of us focus too much on the ‘hows’ of FI. This is the source of much of the negativity towards FI. 

I also started to see how shifting the focus to the ‘whys’ of FI first, the benefits and rewards of FI become clear. Once this happens, the buy-in becomes almost automatic, and the hows quickly fall into place. 

In this post, I address the issue of FI newcomers (like my husband) initially being turned off by the hows of FI. Then I discuss how we, as FI enthusiasts, can move past that resistance. Have a read, then let me know what you think in the comments below!

FI—It’s All About Why, Not How

With new articles being written about it almost daily, it’s highly likely that you’ve heard of the FI (financial independence) movement. For some, FI is a breath of fresh air and diving in feels natural and easy. But for others, FI can be confronting and a complete turnoff. 

My husband fell into this second group of people. He was initially excited and intrigued by the idea of financial independence. But when I dove into the details, things took a turn for the worse. My focus on how we’d reach FI completely turned him off. He dismissed FI as unrealistic and ended the conversation. 

In all honesty, I can’t blame my husband or anyone else who initially rejects FI. Here’s why:

We’ve got it wrong

I’ve come to realize that many of us in the FI community are getting it wrong. By focusing on the hows of FI, we’re putting the proverbial cart before the horse. There’s no way we can expect the cart (the hows) to get rolling without first getting the horse (the whys) in place.

The harshest criticisms of FI tend to focus on the hows: frugality, saving, and cutting expenses. At first glance, these things don’t hold a lot of appeal! After all, they:

  • Can be boring and tedious.
  • Often require us to give up something.
  • Can cause overwhelm—there’s so much to deal with!

Based on all this, it’s no wonder people get turned off of FI. It sounds like a lot of drudgery and sacrifice—who wants to sign themselves up for that? It makes sense to me now, why others are quick to dismiss FI. 

Let’s change the conversation

What if we flipped things around and put the horse first? Let’s put the hows aside and start with the whys.

When we do this, the hows just fall into place. The whys give us all the motivation we need to keep pulling that cart towards FI, and some of the previously-unrealistic hows move into the realm of possible (and even easy).

How our whys motivate us

Finding our whys is a great way to get motivated for any goal. Here’s how:

1. Our whys align with our core values

  • Our core values bring meaning and purpose to our lives, and our strongest whys tend to align with our core values.
  • Leading with our whys means we’re constantly feeding into our core values. This is deeply fulfilling and keeps us motivated.

2. Our whys reward us

  • Not all our whys should be huge or reserved for the end of our journey. We should also have smaller whys to reach on our way to FI.
  • These smaller whys are rewarding to achieve, and help to keep our motivation high throughout our journey.

3. Our whys make our goals easier to tackle

  • Big goals can be too vague and distant to seem real. 
  • Break your journey into smaller milestones/whys to guide you along the way.

Find your whys

Now that you know how important your whys are in the journey to FI, let’s figure out what those whys are. Think about what your ideal life would look like if you no longer had to work for money. Try to be as specific as possible—this will make your whys more real and tangible.

Here are some ideas:

  • I’ll be able to spend more time with my parents while they’re still healthy and able-bodied. 
  • I’ll be able to go on school field trips with my kids. 
  • I’ll be able to travel when I want—not when my manager says I can.
  • I’ll have more time to pursue my hobbies and interests.
  • I’ll be able to start my dream business (and have a financial cushion to back me up).
  • I’ll no longer have to wake up to an alarm clock.
  • I’ll be able to spend more time helping others.
  • I’ll be able to get more involved with causes I’m passionate about.

Some of your whys should be big and audacious, and some should be smaller and easily-achievable. Think of the big ones as your compass, and the smaller ones as guideposts along the way.

Live your why now

This is something the FI community is beginning to stress more often—you should strive to live your best life now. Don’t wait for FI to live the life of your dreams. 

Go through your list and see which of your whys are achievable now, or very soon. Then make a list of ways you can achieve those whys. Here are some ideas:

  • I’ll set a reminder to call my parents weekly instead of when I happen to remember.
  • I’ll take an occasional half-day off work to go on field trips with my kids.
  • I’ll start a new hobby and enjoy it in smaller doses. It may only be for 15 minutes a day, but that’s a good start.
  • I’ll scale my business idea down to something I can do in my spare time, then ramp up as I get closer to FI.
  • I’ll volunteer once a month for now, then when I reach FI I can add more shifts.

I’d argue that these smaller achievements are even more important for our happiness than reaching FI. That’s because they’ll fulfill you and improve your life whether you reach FI or not.

Our whys lead to our hows

Now that we know our whys, the hows will just fall into place. This doesn’t mean they’ll be easier to achieve, but they’ll definitely feel easier to achieve. I’ll go back to my husband’s story to explain why this is the case. 

I gave my husband some time and space to find his own whys—and find them he did! These whys were deeply meaningful to him because he came up with them himself. (Versus me telling him what his whys should be.)

Once he had his own whys, he came fully on board with FI. He even surprised me by being more supportive of some of my hows than I’d ever imagine he’d be. Since finding his whys, my husband’s continued to surprise me with the huge attitudinal shifts he’s made. That’s the power of finding your whys.

I have full confidence that finding your whys will also shift your attitude—not only towards FI, but towards your entire life. I’ve seen this shift in myself, my family members, and others in the FI community. It’s truly life-changing and magical!

More about our hows

When we have our whys established, it becomes very easy to filter our hows. It won’t matter that others in the FI community rave about one tactic or malign another. We know which hows work for us and our family, and we have a deep understanding of why.

I won’t go into the hows of FI here since you can easily find them on any FI blog (or right here on Eat Sleep Breathe FI):

I’ll just finish off by saying: even if you never plan to reach FI, knowing and following your whys and hows will lead you to more happiness and financial security. That’s something we can all get behind.


  • If FI’s turned you off, put the hows aside.
  • Turn your focus to the whys, and everything will fall into place.
  • You’ll find all the motivation you need by always turning to your whys.
  • The hows feel easier to tackle, and you’ll know exactly which ones work for your lifestyle and which won’t.
  • Even if you have no plans to achieve FI, you’ll be happier and financially better-off for knowing and following your whys and hows.

What about you?

I’d love to hear from those who’ve been turned off of the FI journey. What put you off, and have you tried exploring your whys? 

I’d also love to hear from those who took to the FI message easily. What appealed to you, and how do you keep yourself motivated? Comment below and share your thoughts!

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