Self-sufficiency, whether this translates into becoming financially independent or living without the aid of conventional societal comforts, cannot be achieved without the proper mindset. It is thus critical that one’s practice is founded on one’s beliefs and personal philosophy.
Conviction and ideas are the real drive for change and will inspire continued effort toward the end goal. It is your mindset that gives actions meaning and coherence, and will give you the strength to move forward even when things seem difficult.
It is thus critical that you approach self-sufficiency with the right attitude, being mature and rational about the reasons behind your goal.
Freedom of Thought
Most regular followers of this blog are critical thinkers – They have the independence and thought power to challenge mainstream beliefs and behaviours and analyse whether they make sense to them. This is one of the core benefits of democracy: Having the opportunity to disagree with the masses and think differently without facing any real penalty. Indeed, freedom of thought is one of the core tenets of democracy and a principle many Western nations are organized around.
This independence is also something Monkeyism encourages. In writing this blog, I challenge you to reflect on your own life and think about whether there may be alternatives that you have not yet considered! My goal is not to attract people who follow me blindly. In fact, this blog is written with a minority, not the majority in mind. (Otherwise I would be targeting a sexier topic, like fashion or weight loss!).
The other important thing to remember is that there is no single best way. Everyone must make decisions based on their own personal situation. Monkeyism is about you! All I do is to provide you with examples that enable you to think about the kind of things that might be appropriate within your context.
As someone working in the financial markets, people have asked me on numerous occasions to give them tips on how to make lots of money. However, it very rarely happens that someone tells me what they are trying to achieve. For instance, they don’t know how much money they want or what they would use it for. They just know that being rich is good.
However, what most people do want is financial independence. They want the freedom to decide what to do with their time. Depending on their personal circumstances, the answer will vary. What seems like “a lot” to one person, is a “pittance” to another (and vice versa).
Let’s look at my situation for a second. I am quite satisfied with the current interest rate on my savings account (4% risk free! – see the highest-paying savings accounts in Australia). Because I have worked hard to accumulate capital and because I have a low lifestyle requirement, I could envision comfortably living off the interest my savings generate. I would be happy because I could do what I would like to do.
However, my vision of the perfect life doesn’t involve fast cars, expensive restaurants or extravagant holidays! I would be happy with a calm and quiet life in the country, living off the land as much as possible and minimizing expenses. That is why I aim for the investment with the lowest possible risk: I don’t need more. That is my choice. Yours might be different.
The point is not for me to convince you that I have found the answer; the point is for you to understand the importance of asking the question in the first place: What do you want and how can you get there?
Freedom of Action
Of course it is not enough to just believe. You also need to align your actions with your belief. Unfortunately behaviour change is more difficult because it requires compromise. And we humans aren’t naturally good at compromise. It means that we generally need to reach a tipping point, i.e. realise that something is not working when we are maintaining the status quo, that propels us into action.
For us, that was the birth of our first child. It made us reflect on our lifestyle and what was truly important with us. That was the catalyst. Of course, a lifetime of thoughts and actions preceded it!
The fact is that we are unhappy about our current direction – Spending more time at work than seeing our children grow, being caught up in a cycle of buying products and services that we don’t need because we don’t have the time to provide adequately for ourselves, and engaging in a lot of activities that we would prefer not to. It feels like a zero-sum game to us.
That’s why we started asking ourselves: Why are we wasting our time and money living a life that doesn’t make us happy? And, more importantly, what can we change?
Considering the High Cost of Waste
One of the pivotal first steps of self-sufficiency is acknowledging our own laziness and wastefulness. If you don’t see yourself being wasteful in how you spend your time and money, there is little chance that you will make any changes to your life. Somehow, we have been blinded by our own waste; wastefulness is normalised in some way.
When a t-shirt becomes unfashionable, we throw it away or donate it. When our camera becomes slow to take pictures, we replace it. When we’re not sure if food is good anymore, we chuck it out. We’re very quick to throw away and replace things, without considering whether these things actually have outlived their purpose.
Interestingly, our ability to be wasteful is in some ways tied to the cost of an item. We are more likely to hang on to more expensive items longer, potentially seeking to extend their life throughout repairs and fixes. When something is cheap – like many things are these days – we don’t find it wasteful. After all, we can just replace them!
However, this kind of thinking is dangerous and has led us down the path of destructive behaviour: Wasting water when there are worldwide droughts, extracting oil at a cost to flora and fauna, logging forests to the point of extinction, throwing away clothes and replacing them with others sown by children’s hands, buying cheap flights and ignoring the damage of carbon emissions, etc…
Sure, these are harsh examples, but one simple fact remains: There is a reason these things are cheap. But financial cost does not necessarily reflect the true cost. You are not paying for the externalities or the future damage you are causing. Being a little more self-aware and a little more responsible will allow you to have a positive impact in these areas and also save money.
Monkeyism encourages you to decouple the notion of waste from financial cost. You need to look beyond the price tag and internalize the key practices of sustainability, self-sufficiency, and resourcefulness. Monkeyism is founded on these beliefs because the idea is to make real changes in people’s attitudes and that behavioural change will flow from this. Such behavioural change will ultimately improve your quality of life and your pocketbook!
Stop Wasting and Start Saving
This same mindset applies to saving money. In our apartment building, people often throw fully functional items in the garbage. These items are discarded not because they are broken but because they have been replaced with newer models. This is particularly true for electronics. This is not only extremely wasteful and bad for the environment, but is also is a lost opportunity. The items could be donated to charities or sold on classified websites.
This approach has three key benefits:
- Those items don’t end up in a landfill
- Someone who actually needs those items can get them at no cost or at a very low cost
- You can make a little bit of money by recycling those items.
This means that not being wasteful can have significant benefits. It doesn’t matter how much you save. The key is that you stop wasting money altogether.
That means holding on to things that are still functional, even if convention dictates that they should be replaced. It means not buying things that you don’t need, even if you are encouraged to buy them because there is a sale! Even if something costs only $1, that $1 may be wasted if you don’t need the item. Every dollar adds up!
That’s why trying to reach financial independence also implies realising how much you waste. Only when you start being able to distinguish what is essential from what is superfluous, you can start meaningfully cutting down your expenses. This could mean eating leftovers rather than throwing them out, buying pre-loved items at used stores or on Gumtree rather than buying new, or simply switching to lower cost items that perform the same function (e.g. generic brands). Less waste means more savings!
Many people complain about not being able to save money and needing to earn more. But they never stop to think about how much they can save just by making lifestyle changes. Think about all of the small incidents of spending that add up to your monthly expenses – Do you need two daily artisan coffees? Do you need to go for brunch at that hip cafe every Sunday? Do you need to buy $200 jeans? Just like everything in life, small things add up to big things.
So the sooner you can change your mindset and start thinking about how you can reduce your waste, the sooner you will be able to achieve financial independence and early retirement!