April 9, 2023
5 min read
For the past five years, I've believed that owning a successful business is the only way to achieve financial freedom and fulfillment from work. Now I realize it was a false belief that didn't serve me well. It made me feel like I have something necessary missing in my life, ultimately leading to anxiety and periods of unhappiness. While entrepreneurship could be a great way to make a living for some people, I think most remote workers like me could have a happier life without obsessing with side hustles.
In fact, as a software developer, I've recently achieved my first step toward financial independence, covering basic living expenses through rental real estate. There's a whole video where I explain in detail how I got there, but if we examine my story, it comes down to just a few variables. I believe every remote professional with a highly paid skillset can retire early, but the timeline would depend on the tradeoffs you are ready to take.
The most significant variable is your pay. While the highest-paying remote jobs are still in the US, it's starting to change, and you can find engineers making more than 100k living in developing countries. While I've always had one job at a time, people also find a way to have multiple remote positions simultaneously. Sure, it's more stressful, but it's quite an option to double or triple your income. Also, two paychecks in one year can produce more wealth than the same amount over two years due to inflation and the compounding effect of investments.
Part of your income goes to the government in the form of taxes. While not everyone is excited about going to a low-tax country, some of us don't have a strong tie to our current residence, and saving more of our earnings for ourselves could be quite a compelling reason to try a new location. For example, most Eastern European countries have a flat tax of 20% or less, and you will most likely maintain your quality of life after moving there.
The third variable is how much money you spend. Tracking expenses would be the easiest way to shine the light on most consuming categories, and you can easily cut down on things like eating out and traveling without losing that much in your life quality. Yet most often, rent is the most significant perpetual expense, and you can also reduce it by going to a country with cheaper housing. There are still good places where you can buy a property for less than two thousand dollars per squire meter.
The final variable is investing. It's especially crucial in the current age of high inflation. I chose mortgage-free investing in developing countries' real estate as my primary vehicle, but stocks or other types of assets can also be a way to preserve wealth. For me, apartments are more rewarding than numbers going up and down on the brokerage dashboard. At the same time, I acknowledge that having everything tied to a single country it's not a diversified approach, and I'm already thinking about other ways to invest money.
Many gurus claim that you cannot be free with a traditional job and that the only way to own your time is to have a business. While this may hold for a 9-to-5 office job, the rise of remote work has changed the game. All you need to do is complete a set amount of tasks, and your manager won't care when you do it. While there could be useless meetings at odd hours, companies adjust to having less synchronous communication. Adopting a contractor mindset allows you to approach remote work as a gig, working with a client for as long as you're happy to do so. And if they require too many meetings, find another client.
Granted, you won't get any upside from working a regular corporate job, but if you want to have skin in the game and the potential to win life-changing money, you can join a startup and negotiate to have more equity. One of my former colleagues became a millionaire by joining a company in its early stages as a hundred-something employee and having his shares converted to cash during an acquisition event. While equity usually means less compensation, it could be a great trade-off if you believe in the product and the founders' ability to make the business more valuable. Also, one of your coworkers may one time have a startup opportunity, and then they might consider you as a potential cofounder.
When it comes to fulfillment from work, there are plenty of companies and positions where you can enjoy the process. As you build up your investment income, you'll have the freedom to be more selective in the jobs you pursue and focus only on those that align with your passions and interests. Perhaps you have a particular affinity for programming or design and would prefer to dedicate your time to those pursuits rather than running a business. Realizing you may not need to become a millionaire to have a happy life could remove unnecessary stress. By adopting a more relaxed and open mindset, you may even stumble upon a business opportunity you'll enjoy pursuing the sake of the journey.