I achieved financial independence at 35: My journey and lessons

A reader shares her journey to financial freedom. How it changed her life and how the formula for financial independence is simpler than we think!

Published: November 1, 2019 at 9:15 am

Getting rich requires focus and discipline more than anything else. Yes, a good salary helps, but that is like having access to a fast car. We can get where we want to go quicker but focus charts the course and discipline travel safe. Many of us need the inspiration to start and to stay the course. This is the journey of a 35-year-old who has achieved independence.

Editor’s note: Reader story is where freefincal readers share their journey.  From rank newbies (who are not worried about their low income and steep investment amount necessary) to seasoned investors, we have seen some great articles. I am particularly delighted with this one. I have been looking for contributions from a women investor, and I am glad that I found one. The author wishes to remain anonymous.  Other financial independence stories can be found at the end of this article. If you want to start your journey, download the free book, listen to my Paisa Vaisa Podcasts (links below)


Everyone who has aspired for FIRE (Financial Independence Retiring Early) – including myself – has at some time googled “How to achieve FIRE” and come across a barrage of articles, calculators and advice. Hopefully, they stumble across Pattu sir’s calculators and get their “How-to” sorted.

What is missing from that Google dump are more personal stories of people on the road to FI — sharing my story so that hopefully you can relate and connect to it. No investing advice included!

My path 

Growing up: Perhaps the single most significant external factor that influences the financial journey of each one of us is the accident of our birth. I was lucky to be born in a family with a unique attitude to finances. My father was financially independent at 42 and voluntarily retired to follow his passions. Growing up – we lived in a modest apartment, wore modest clothes. We were extremely frugal when it came to things like eating out and holidays. At the same time – I was encouraged to buy as many books as I wanted as long as I read them. On many occasions, I was given a few hundred rupee notes and left alone in a bookshop for hours. My mother was also unique in her own way. Though she is a homemaker – she capably managed the finances, paid the taxes, went to the bank and managed the investing herself.

Growing up, I never felt that managing money is not a woman’s job.

The phase of investing inertia: I studied hard and went to a decent B-school; Got a good job after post-graduation in the field of my interest. Continued to focus on my career, got married. While I gave massive attention to detail to my work – I gave zero attention to my finances. My parents believe that children should make their own mistakes – and unfortunately, I made all of them! FDs, inadequate equity, LIC policy, regular funds instead of direct, real estate as an investment – you name it. My mother would beg me to at least complete my tax saving in March. All the mistakes I made were a result of carelessness and insufficient research. I saw investing as a hassle and a bunch of unnecessary paperwork. I was lazy and ended up doing the most convenient thing, not the best thing. Even worse – I started outsourcing my investing decisions to others. I thought I was too busy focusing my efforts on my career – but by being careless about money, I was disrespecting the fruit of those efforts.

The phase of investing action: Finally, at around 30, I kicked the cobwebs. The catalyst was a lousy real estate investment I had made a few years before. Two years had gone by – I had paid up the entire amount for the flat but still not received possession. Finally, I realised that if I don’t take action and continue following the advice of XYZ blindly, my spouse and I are going to end up broke. In about 18 months, I got back the amount for the flat, got out of regular funds, stopped the FD habit and started investing in equity. I spent an hour every morning reading and trying to learn more about investing. I kept an excel and started religiously tracking and updating our investing and net worth. I read good books about money. Investing used to be dull and all about paperwork – it soon became exciting and worth learning.

My biggest dream was to achieve financial independence (FI), and I kept going. I kept up with my investing habits and didn’t give in to laziness even when the temptation was there. I still made mistakes (invested in a few poor funds), but this time I took corrective action at the right time. Today at the age of 35, we (my spouse and I) are financially independent. As per Pattu sir’s Even More Low-Stress Retirement Calculator, we can retire tomorrow.

How Financial Independence has helped my career

The closer I got to FI, the more I started enjoying my career. In the corporate world, competence is important – but so is confidence, and FI gives you that by the bucketful. You start pushing back on unrealistic deadlines and saying no to useless work and meetings. You don’t hesitate to be truthful even to your boss. Your juniors respect you more because you are not a yes-man/woman. You can get away with avoiding office politics.

Last year – I asked for a pay hike and promotion. I received a 20%+ salary increment. I would never have had the confidence to ask outright if it was not for FI.

Most important of all – work becomes a choice and not a necessity. This attitude itself makes your job immensely enjoyable. You are no longer a slave. Once you taste this freedom, you can never go back!

The Formula for Financial Independence

Pattu sir and Srinivesh(see links below) have talked about the factors necessary to achieve Financial Independence, and I agree with them. No point in repeating what has been said well – so I’m going to list a few other things that I learnt which are hopefully slightly new to the reader as well.

1 Income X Savings X Investing: Of course, this isn’t an actual formula! But it helps to understand that each of these things is necessary for financial success. Importantly – each of these things has a multiplier effect on the result. You may have the best income in the world, but if you don’t save enough, it’s irrelevant. I see too many people focusing on getting the best investment and that extra 2% – but if you are not earning and saving enough and investing enough capital, then it just doesn’t matter.

2 Know your superpower – There is going to be one or more things in this equation that you are going to be relatively good at. Make that your superpower and try to be exceptional at it. For me – my superpower is saving. In the last 10+ years of my career, there has not been even a single year where I have not saved a minimum of 75% of my salary. Post marriage too, I ensured our overall household saving stayed above this rate.

The converse of this is: Be brutally honest about your shortcomings. For myself – I am a mediocre (at best) investor. I know I do not have the time or the aptitude to be a good investor. I have accepted this and do not desire to beat the market. I did my summer training in an investment bank and was amazed at the level of study and due diligence that goes behind each investment decision. I know that I, as a retail investor, can never match that level of effort, rigour, time and insider knowledge, so I am happy sticking to some funds mentioned in Plumbline and some index funds.

3 Drop the baggage: Each of us, even the best investors, is carrying some baggage when it comes to finances. Understand the baggage you are carrying. Forgive yourself for it and drop it. 

For some of us – we come from families where the money is a taboo topic. We never discussed it openly with family. Hence we feel significant discomfort talking (or even thinking) about money, and we tend to avoid the topic altogether. For other families, – money is seen as a statement of success. So when we start earning, our families expect us to buy a house or car or have a lavish wedding as proof that their child has “arrived”. We unknowingly imbibe the same philosophy and struggle to save enough.

For some of us, the baggage is simply the fear of asking questions and sounding stupid. Or the fear of starting too late. Whatever it may be, forgive yourself and move on. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Don’t let the baggage of past mistakes become an excuse for future inaction.

4 Take Action: Just do it! We can never know if an investment decision is correct with 100% certainty (especially in equity!). But at some point, the cost of inaction outweighs the cost of accuracy. Mistakes are inevitable – so the best we can do is to keep learning and keep improving.


Other Financial Independence Journeys

  1. The Srinivesh story (part 1): How I achieved financial freedom and became an Investment Advisor!
  2. (part 2): Factors that helped me achieve financial freedom
  3. One of the smartest DIYers I know: Early Retirement at ’40s in India with financial independence: An Interview
  4. The pattu story part 1 Ten Years of Mutual Fund Investing: My Journey and lessons learned and My personal financial audit 2018
  5. Part 2  My journey: driven by the fear of making the same mistakes again and the Livemint feature.

How to retire early in India: Free E-book


Download the “how to retire early in India” E-book

Paisa Vaisa Podcasts on Financial Independence


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About the Author Pattabiraman editor freefincalM. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. since Aug 2006. Connect with him via Twitter or Linkedin Pattabiraman has co-authored two print-books, You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) and Gamechanger and seven other free e-books on various topics of money management. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India” an organisation to promote unbiased, commission-free investment advice. He conducts free money management sessions for corporates and associations on the basis of money management. Previous engagements include World Bank, RBI, BHEL, Asian Paints, Cognizant, Madras Atomic Power Station, Honeywell, Tamil Nadu Investors Association. For speaking engagements write to pattu [at] freefincal [dot] com
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