How being accountable to others can help you on the path to FIRE

The Silhouette of two man with success gesture standing on the top of mountain

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Are you an Obliger?

Gretchen Rubin in her book “The Four Tendencies” uses how we respond to outer and inner expectations to divide all of humanity into four distinct groups or tendencies.

Outer expectations are expectations others place on us eg our family expects us to make dinner for them.

Inner expectations are expectations we place on ourselves eg we want to lose 10kg this year.

In a nutshell, Rubin identified the four tendencies as:

(1) Upholder – you respond well to both outer and inner expectations

(2) Rebel – you resist all expectations, outer or inner

(3) Questioner – you question all expectations and only respond if they meet your inner expectations

(4) Obliger – you respond well to outer expectations but struggle with inner expectations

Interestingly, according to Rubin’s research, Obligers form the biggest category with 41%. Questioners are next at 24% while Upholders are 19% and Rebels are the smallest group at 17%.

Which tendency am I?

I am an Obliger, through and through.

Let me demonstrate.

I know how important exercise is, being a health professional. But I cannot for the life of me, exercise on my own. I just lose motivation very quickly and give up.

It doesn’t matter whether I have a goal in mind, for example participating in a 10km fun run. Umm … I have been known to drive to the gym, sit in my car and then turn around and go home. I also struggle with going for a walk by myself, just for the sake of exercise.

Until I read Rubin’s The Four Tendencies, I always assumed I was an ultra weak person who could not stick with any schedule or project.

My life is littered with numerous craft projects that I started but never finished. I may have once donated a half finished knitting project, complete with knitting needles, wool and pattern.

Yet, I could always finish school or work projects. I love having deadlines and that last minute adrenaline rush that force me to complete my work on time. So it’s obvious that I work well under other people’s deadlines, just not my own.

What is the solution?

Rubin’s solution for Obligers is to create outer accountability, to be accountable to other people in order to help us be accountable to ourselves.

Being accountable is being responsible for one’s actions and answerable to someone, be that an external person, organisation or internal ie to yourself.

These days, I share a personal trainer with a friend. It is much easier for me to turn up to a training session knowing I can’t let my trainer or friend down ie they expect me to show up. I feel bad if I don’t show up, my friend will have to pay the full price of the training instead of half.

If I need a short walk after being cooped up inside, I will happily walk to the supermarket, telling myself I need to buy ingredients to cook for my elderly parents.

So my own experience bears out Rubin’s solution.

I can exercise if I do it with others or if there is another purpose that benefits others. I can complete projects if I have to answer to my teachers or colleagues or employer.


What has this to do with staying on the path to FIRE?

Depending on where you are at in managing your finances at the time you discovered FIRE, it may take many years to achieve financial independence and then retire early.

Even though the concept is simple enough – spend less than you earn; increase the gap between your expenses and income; invest this gap wisely to grow your wealth – continuously taking action is not easy.

Results are not instant. It’s a long game. It takes time for compound interest to kick in and do its thing. It takes time to change your behaviour and habits that have been ingrained for years up to this point. Unless you are a high income earner and spend well below your income, of course. But many of us are not in this fortunate position.

It is exciting at the beginning of your FIRE journey – you are filled with enthusiasm and rush to implement everything you’ve read and learnt.

But as time goes on, it is also easy to be discouraged and become impatient to get to your end destination.

Wanting to be financially independent is an inner expectation. No one is forcing you to start your FIRE journey and stay on track. How do you stay on track? Are you an Obliger like me and struggle with being accountable to myself?

On a side note, if your life partner is not on board, knowing their tendency will help you convey your goals in a way they can understand and support.

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My experience

I hadn’t read Rubin’s book when I discovered FIRE in my late 40s and therefore didn’t know I was an Obliger. But I knew myself pretty well to know that I would give up at the first sign of a road block. Especially because there was no one in my real life to share the journey with.

My solution?

I started a blog.

I know, right?! Pretty extreme.

Especially considering that I hadn’t read any blogs before reading FIRE and personal finance blogs when I stumbled on the FIRE community. I had looked up recipes on the internet before but that’s about it.

But it was ultra important to me that I stay on the path to FIRE. It was the only way I could see that would accelerate my retirement savings and enable me to retire at all, let alone retire comfortably. After all, I was already a late starter and I really didn’t have any time to lose.

I knew it necessitated behavioural changes especially in the way I spend money.

So I was nervous about relying on myself sticking to my own ‘rules’ – I can foresee failure from a mile away.

But, as I reasoned to myself – if I have to report my spending or saving rates on the blog to you, even though you are all originally strangers on the internet, I have to track my spending. And if I overspend, I will have to explain why.

So far, I am happy to report – being accountable to you has kept me focused and not stray too far from the path. I am very grateful to all of you ❤️

What if you don't want to start a blog?

I hear you. Blogging can be quite hard work, especially when you already have a full time job or are not very techy (sorry, my excuses!)

I encourage you to find others on the same path, be that in an online community or in real life. Sometimes, simply connecting with people on the same path online is enough to bolster your conviction and help you along the difficult times.

Even if you are uncomfortable disclosing your pursuit of FIRE to your friends and family, you can tell them you are saving hard for XYZ and ask them to keep you accountable by not spending money on takeaway or whatever your weak point is in spending habits.

There are also online accountability apps such as StickK that you can sign a ‘commitment contract’ with – up to you to define your goals and add a (dis)incentive such as donating to a charity or political party you don’t like if you don’t achieve your goals.

But if you are an Obliger, you may also need an accountability partner.
That can be your spouse or partner in life or even someone else
entirely, online or in real life.

This person must be encouraging and supportive but also ready to  administer some tough love ie not let you off the hook too easily. They don’t even have to share your goals. But both of you need to commit to the number of check ins over a defined time frame.

It is the act of checking in that is crucial – you give an account (or report) of your actions. In return, you receive encouragement and support. This makes you feel good that you’ve achieved what you said you would and you want to do it again.

How do I know all this? Because I have real life accountability partners for blogging. Ok, this is going to sound complicated …. blogging about my FIRE journey keeps me accountable to you about my financial goals and progress – that works for my FIRE journey.

But I struggle with the act of blogging sometimes. So even if I set a deadline to publish every week on say, Friday, I DON’T. I let myself off the hook all the time because all deadlines are self imposed.

And this is where my blogging buddies come into the picture. I tell them my goal and we check in weekly. Of course there are times when we grant ourselves some grace when life is ultra busy, but we work out ways to help each other achieve our goals.


Final thoughts

Reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies helped me understand myself better. Knowing that my tendency is an Obliger, I can come up with ways to be accountable to myself by being accountable to others.

This has helped me tremendously on my own path to FIRE.

I encourage you to find ways to be accountable on your journey to FIRE. If you are an Obliger like me, it’s so helpful to have others to be accountable to.

How are you accountable on your FIRE journey? Do you have someone besides yourself that you are accountable to?

What do I want to do Before I retire?

Silhouette of woman with hand on her face | What do I want to do before I retire
Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot about retirement lately. Surprise, surprise 🙂

You probably think that being a part of the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) community automatically implies that retirement is a goal one strives for continuously and is something we think about often anyway.

But there is a more immediate reason. I always dream about retiring when I feel stressed at work. And this time is no exception.

The flu season is upon us and I can’t help but remember what this time was like last year. Without being dramatic about it, it brings up feelings of anxiety and stress.

We were inundated with bookings. Phones were ringing off the hook. We struggled to get enough supply. My colleagues were worried about getting Covid 19, either because they have chronic health conditions themselves or were worried about spreading it to elderly parents. It was left to me to keep the service going. And I did. There really wasn’t any choice.

It may or may not be easier this year. Certainly my colleagues don’t mind helping out this year (I am still obviously alive!). But this year, there is the added complication of Covid 19 vaccinations (a good complication, mind you).

It is advised that the flu and Covid 19 vaccinations be separated by at least 14 days. Mainly because we don’t know if there is any interaction between the two. And if there are any side effects experienced, we’d like to pin them on one or the other. So people need to be extra organised this year – having to organise 3 jabs instead of just the one.

Anyway, things got to a head (literally, inside my head) that I took some unplanned time off work, 13 days in total. Just so that I can have a break before the busy season ahead.

But of course, I don’t know how to relax completely. I made appointments to see my optometrist and GP. Finally got a blood test. Blah blah blah, mundane but important chores that didn’t get done in 2020.

Retirement? No, no no!!!

My eyes were so bad that I needed two appointments with the optometrist. At the second appointment, during a lull while he was setting up some equipment, I innocently asked if he would be retiring anytime soon. He’d been my optometrist for more than 20 years and I was wondering what to do if he were to retire.

Well! His reaction was comical. Why would I want to retire? Why did you ask me today, of all questions? I just received a letter from some corporation asking if I intend to sell my practice and retire soon. What would I do in retirement? I’d have to see my wife 24/7 – she’d have so many jobs for me to do around the house and garden. No, no, no, definitely do not want to retire. I would want to work a few days at the very least.

I replied, knowing he loves to travel – don’t you want to travel to somewhere that you can stay longer than two weeks or a month? Say, stay for 3 months and explore in a more leisurely manner?

His eyes lit up. Hang on, he says. He left the room and came back with his iPad. Here, let me show you some photos of when I was in the Serengeti a few years ago. I would absolutely love to stay for 3 months here.

And the photos were gorgeous … he was on a trip that followed the migration of wildbeests – every night, they stayed in 5 star accommodations and by day, they followed the animals.

Going to Africa on a safari to see these animals in their habitat was on my to-do list for retirement too. So this was handy – more info to file away to that part of the brain that deals with future retirement.

A herd of wildbeests crossing a river
Image by Les Bohlen from Pixabay

Retirement? Yes, yes, yes!!!

Immediately after this discussion, I was off to visit Frogdancer Jones in her Best House in Melbourne. We’d only met in person once, in 2019 at the Playing with Fire documentary in Camberwell.

And since I’d basically asked to tag along on her Antarctica trip, I thought it’d be a good idea to get to know one another in person.

We got along like a house on fire and didn’t sop talking for hours. Phew! I think we’ll be fine in a cabin on a boat to and from Antarctica 🙂

What really struck me was the stark contrast between my optometrist’s abject horror at the thought of retirement and FDJ’s obvious delight at being newly retired.

She was rested, napping whenever she wanted and has read 20+ books (it’s only March!), discovered new programs to watch on Netflix and Stan, renovated her en suite ….

She generously fed me delicious gnocchi made from home grown potatoes in a tomato and basil sauce – yes, all grown from the back garden.

And sent me home with 2 gigantic zucchini from the front garden, some lazy housewife beans, lime verbena leaves for a refreshing tea and a bar of hand made soap.

Reading her blog posts always inspire me. Face to face conversation with FDJ was even better! I went home, inspired by her effortless generosity and exuberance. I cannot wait to be retired myself!

2 giant zucchini
Frogdancer Jones' gigantic zucchini

And there was more ... on retirement ...

In the same week, FIRE Your Own Way asked on Twitter – What is the first thing you’d do when you retire?

My reply – NO MORE ALARM CLOCKS – and no routines … read for as long as I want, sleep/nap often …

So yes, it seems that I have been thinking a lot lately about retiring and what I’d do when I retire. Most of all, I am looking forward to having my own routines for me, not because I have to be in my best form for work.

And now ... the conundrum ...

As part of my GP visit, I mentioned about how stressed I feel thinking about the upcoming busy season at work. We discussed the benefits that I may gain from talking to a professional psychologist.

So off I went …

At my second appointment with the psychologist, I unloaded about how unproductive I feel at home, after work even though I had made progress from the first appointment. I had accomplished little chores each night and practised self care by reading (I love my new reading glasses!). She asked about my passion and I told her about the blog and wanting to retire at 55.

Her comment was … hmmm … what do you want to do BEFORE you retire?

I was flummoxed. Ummm … what do you mean, BEFORE I retire? In my head, I was thinking … working obviously, I have to work until I retire, duh!

She replied – based on how you are feeling now, despite having a full time job and a blog on the side, you still feel unproductive. How will you feel when you don’t have a full time job? Will you feel unproductive?

You obviously have a financial plan to take you to retirement. Instead of thinking about what you want to do when you retire, how about thinking about what you want to do before you retire? Let’s transition you towards this retirement.

No joke. This question has kept me awake. It is 2.59am and I cannot go back to sleep. 

My constant struggle with productivity

I think I have an issue with allowing myself to relax. I always feel guilty that I am not more productive. Without meaning to, I am always comparing myself to others’ prodigious productivity.

I tell myself – you don’t have any excuses not to be productive. You don’t have to cook and clean and take care of a family in addition to working full time. What’s your problem?

Four people I’ve spoken to about this in recent weeks have all said the same thing to me – You are so hard on yourself. But am I, really?

Do I just have high expectations of myself? I don’t know. Perhaps. What I know is that when I don’t fulfill those expectations, I feel defeated. Then I procrastinate and am paralysed and don’t do anything. Arghhh … why do I do this to myself?

I get the psychologist’s concern. If I always feel unproductive now, then how will I feel when I am well and truly retired? While I may spend the first few months being blissfully happy with no routines, staying up late reading and when I’ve travelled to my heart’s content, what then?

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So what do I want to do before I retire?

Perhaps I should reframe the question as – what can I do now instead of waiting for retirement?

I want to work on my fitness and weight loss goals now. There is no point arriving at retirement with a body that can’t enjoy some vigorous activity, especially while travelling. Since I live a fairly sedentary lifestyle now, I will need to up my game by increasing time spent outdoors. Losing 10kg is one of my 2021 goals – I am pleased to report that I have made a start on this and lost 2kg so far.

I’m loving growing my own vegetables – I have so much to learn and would love to expand into growing dwarf fruit trees and maybe venture into beekeeping … I’d love to be self sufficient by the time I retire and have thriving food gardens.

Building and maintaining relationships – this suffered to a certain extent in 2020. There were of course, a lot less get togethers due to Covid lockdowns. But as a result, I am not as enthusiastic as I once was for organising meet ups with friends. But as more of us are vaccinated, hopefully my enthusiasm will be rekindled. Regardless, I have to work on this more.

Building and maintaining this blog. It breaks my heart when I read someone posting in Facebook groups about how late they think they are at starting saving and investing for retirement. I want to shout – no, start today, it is not too late. So I want to continue sharing my story and other late starters’ stories. Yes, I will have more time to work on it when I’m not also working full time but I can devote what I can to it now. Instead of feeling frustrated that sometimes I am just too tired to work on it. And that I am not being consistent. Blah blah blah.

I would also like to explore some volunteering before I retire instead of waiting till retirement. Right now, I contribute money to various charities and causes. But I’d like to contribute my time too, eventually.

Hopefully, doing all these before I retire will lead me to find some purpose and still feel productive when I do eventually retire in 6 years.

Final thoughts

I don’t want to arrive at retirement with only a financial plan in place. 

Right now, I long for retirement as a means to escape the stresses of full time work. I yearn for time to do my own thing and for slow travel and perhaps to tick things off my bucket list before the threat of dementia descends.

But really, I need to start exploring now and think about what I can currently be doing to live life to the fullest, instead of dreaming about what I’d do in retirement.

How about you? What do you want to do before you retire?

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