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Wealth beyond money

By Michelle, Frugality and Freedom

Chapter 24 of Aussie FIRE, a collaboration between 20 of Australia's top FIRE experts

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What do you think about when you consider the idea of wealth?

Money and financial resources are generally what quickly spring to mind – whether it be cash, shares, bonds, or even gold. Perhaps material goods like houses or cars soon after, or assets such as businesses that provide you income.

With all our talk of Financial Independence, it’s easy to get fixated on the “F word” – Finances – as the all-important measure of wealth and resources to create our desired lifestyle.

However, when you start to look deeper, you’ll understand there are many other resources you already have and can grow for your abundant, fulfilled life – no matter your bank balance.

In this chapter, I’ll highlight different aspects of wealth beyond only money, reasons you may be far wealthier than you knew, and why appreciating these alternatives could mean lowering the amount you need for financial independence.

Later, we’ll explore using our resources to help create the world we want to live in on the way to financial independence and beyond, specifically:

Your wealth is more than your money

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “The best things in life are free”. This is hinting that not every aspect of a fulfilled and abundant life is tied up with money.

While this book has mainly been discussing money as the tool for creating our ideal lifestyles, this is only a single piece of the puzzle.

In fact, you actually have a much broader “portfolio” of wealth already at your disposal – such as your skills, connections, knowledge, culture, society and environment around you.

While these can seem abstract, understanding and investing in these actually has practical applications on the path to financial independence, as we’ll discuss below.

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You have multiple forms of capital

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Capital” as “Wealth in the form of money or other assets”. It is this “other assets” component that has underestimated potential in creating your ideal lifestyle and fast-tracking your financial independence.

I came across the idea of “multiple forms of capital” from US-based FI blogger Rich and Resilient Living. She often discusses the 8 Forms of Capital expressed by Ethan Roland and Gregory Landua, which present a more rounded view of our resources – with financial capital only one part of a bigger whole.

These 8 Forms of Capital are:

Financial capital

Monetary wealth, such as cash, savings, shares, credit access, bonds, term deposits and other financial vehicles.

Material capital

Physical assets and tools you own or have access to. Houses, cars, equipment, kitchen goods, computers, garden tools, furniture and other items that make your life comfortable or bring you usefulness.

Social capital

The benefits enjoyed from your relationships and being part of your wider society. Having high social capital can bring you satisfaction through friendships or allow you to access help through your personal connections

Living capital

The wealth you have in the living environment around you, such as having a garden for food or pleasure, access to parks or nature, or quality air for good health.

Intellectual capital

The knowledge you gain through schooling or self-education.

Experiential capital

Your wealth of hands-on experience and skills, such as cooking, basic car maintenance, or DIY know-how.

Cultural capital

The wealth you feel in relation to culture and traditions, such as through your heritage or community.

Spiritual capital

The richness in your sense of spiritual well-being, whatever form that takes for you. You may feel peace and abundance from connection to religion or practices such as mindfulness and meditation.

 

When you take this broader view of wealth and consider these other components, you may find:

  • You increase your sense of abundance and well-roundedness in your life, even if your financial net worth is low.
  • You feel peace of mind from lowering your risk and diversifying your wealth into forms beyond only money,
  • You feel empowered by growing your overall wealth through investing in these other areas of capital, especially if growth in financial income or savings is a struggle.
  • You reduce your stress around money by acknowledging these other resources you have to help support yourself.
  • You get a boost of self-satisfaction from learning and increasing your skills.
  • You might not need as much financial capital to achieve overall financial independence, if you boost your wealth in other areas.

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You can reduce your FI number through other wealth

This last point is worth repeating: You can lower your overall “FI number” - the financial stash you need to achieve financial independence - by growing your wealth in these other forms of capital.

Here are examples of how investing time and effort towards other forms of capital can reduce your FI number through lowered living expenses - or get you to your goal more quickly by raising your financial income potential.

  • Increasing your experiential capital can reduce the need to hire others or pay a premium for convenience - such as building hands-on skills in minor renovations, cooking your favourite cuisine, or making clothing adjustments. You could turn these skills into a money-earning side hustle, or boost your social capital by providing these skills as a favour to others.
  • Increasing your living capital by growing an edible garden means you could increase food security and lower your food bill, so you need less for this budget line in your FI stash. Again, you could offer the excess fruit and vegetables to others for income or good will.
  • Increasing your social capital with shared history and reciprocity over time could mean you’re invited to holiday at a friend's beach house for free which reduces your travel costs. You could have neighbours share some babysitting with you and you can eliminate that expense. Or a fellow social club member could recommend you for a new job which boosts your salary.
  • Increasing your material capital could lower expenses in the long-run, such as buying a slow cooker which makes meals easier and reduces your takeaway purchases; or owning a trailer you use regularly means avoiding the need to hire one and can allow you to rent or lend it out.

You can find a “multiple forms of capital” approach in play by looking at many FI enthusiasts out there. A few examples are:

Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme famously lives on US$7,000 a day, having reduced the financial capital he needs through “in-sourcing” many activities. As a self-described “renaissance man”, he has a strong focus on building experiential capital, with skills such as doing repairs, building and gardening.

Vicki Robin of Your Money or Your Life talks about the social capital she’d built through friendships and community, and how well she was looked after by those in her network at a time of medical need – reducing her care costs.

Others such as Financial Mechanic decide to invest in their intellectual capital, taking on specific courses or self-study in areas that level up their earning potential.

As you can see, there are immense benefits from considering these alternative forms of capital on your journey to financial independence.

On the flipside, if you neglect these other aspects, I’d argue that you won’t really be wealthy even once you’ve crossed your financial independence number. For example, if you don’t have social capital of friendships, the material resource of a home you enjoy, experiential skills or intellectual knowledge for self-actualisation, or the living capital of a healthy environment – you’ve missed the essence of what being FI really means.

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Identifying the extra wealth you already have

I’d encourage you to give some thought to these different forms of wealth and how they apply in your own life.

  • Take some time to brainstorm the specific assets you have in each category, so you can see the different ways you are wealthy.
  • Next, consider areas you’d like to invest in and what benefits these will bring to you.
  • Make a plan for how you are going to invest in these other areas – such as learning something new via a YouTube video or reaching out to make a new friendship.
  • While we are aiming to disconnect our idea of wealth from only money, old habits die hard (!) so you may wish to put a dollar estimate to help quantify the increase in other forms of capital. Examples using the ’25x Rule’ to estimate your FI stash needed:
    • Eg. Experiential capital: Learning to cook your favourite takeaway meal: $30 saved per month x12 = $360 saved in annual expenses x 25 = $9,000 less needed for FI
    • Eg. Social capital: Taking up a friend on their offer to use their beach house for a weekend each year: $400 saved annually x 25 = $10,000 less needed for FI

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Creating the world you want

While we’re discussing wealth beyond what is in your bank account or your investment portfolio, it’s a good time to talk about how we can enhance wealth in the world around us.

As you’ll know, the pursuit of financial independence is about intentionality and aligning how you use your resources with what you value. It’s about making deliberate decisions for how you spend or save for your desired lifestyle. And because we don’t exist in a bubble, I’ll bet that your desired lifestyle will typically include being in a clean, healthy environment in a safe community that’s part of a robust society enjoying positive well-being.

Here we can see some of these other forms of capital in play. Investing in the living capital of our environment, the social capital of community, and the cultural capital that grounds us has benefits extending beyond ourselves.

Let’s look at some ways you can use your resources and wealth to create the kind of place you want to live your best FI life within.

Value-based spending

You may have heard it said that each dollar you spend is casting a vote for what you want to see in the world. It’s saying “yes” to showing support and creating demand for a particular business, service or cause. At the same time, the dollars that you don’t spend also make a small statement towards your desired personal and community life.

"Each dollar you spend is casting a vote for what you want to see in the world. It’s a 'yes' vote that you want to support a given thing, service or those behind it" - Michelle from Frugality and Freedom

With this in mind, it’s worth considering taking time to consider a short spending policy for yourself. This can help guide you when making purchase decisions, so you are reminded in the moment to spend in alignment with your values.

  • Will you avoid or reduce spending at certain businesses or on selected products? Eg. Avoiding cosmetics with animal cruelty, products with excess packaging, or corporations with a history of unfair labour use?
  • Will you choose to spend in the small business or café nearby, even if more expensive than a large chain, so your funds help its family owners to keep the doors open and save diversity of businesses in your area?
  • Will you choose to buy second hand, or not purchase at all, to limit waste to landfill and reduce new resources being used?

Be a conscious consumer and think about what you want to see for the future of your community and environment – then put your money where your heart is! We can’t get it right all the time, but if we aim to bring some of our signature FI intentionality and reflectiveness to our spending, we’ll all be richer for it.

Ethical & socially responsible investing

Following on from value-based spending, you may wish to bring these values into your investments – especially in the share market.

According to Canstar: “Ethical investment (or responsible investment)… is when an investment is selected to complement views on moral, environmental or political matters.”

These options are growing in popularity, especially as climate change becomes a growing concern across the world. Depending on the ethos of a certain investment product, negative screening may exclude certain corporations (such as those in fossil fuels or coal mining) and/or positive screening can actively seek out companies in priority areas (for example, renewable energy companies).

  • There is no single perfect way to do ethical investing, as everyone’s values vary and it’s challenging to represent all concerns in one investment option. You'll need to consider what your main priorities are – such as your stance on gambling, weapons, old-growth forestry, uranium mining, underrepresentation of women on corporate boards, etc.
  • Being clear on your motivation for whether or not to pursue ethical investing will help decision making. For example, you may be uncomfortable earning profits from corporations that don’t match your ethics in doing so; you may anticipate better future returns by avoiding companies focussed on depleting fossil fuels; or you may even choose to be a shareholder for certain companies to advocate for change from within.
  • Ethical investing typically has higher management fees, with fund managers being more actively involved due to the company screening process, vs. basic low cost index funds. You’ll need to weigh these against potential returns and your motivations.

Do your own research to see if ethical investing options suit your preferences and needs. Organisations such as Australian Ethical Investments offer a variety of ethical managed funds based on different criteria. If you prefer to buy exchange traded funds on the stockmarket, you might like to review Betashares’ Australian Sustainability Leaders ‘FAIR’ ETF (including 80 local companies) or Global Sustainability Leaders ‘ETHI’ (including 100 international companies). You can read more on how I choose to invest here.

Giving

Another way to help create the world you want to see is through charitable giving to the causes important to you – whether with money or volunteer time.

Giving generously to organisations, services or directly to people who need it can create positive change and improve lives. Making room for giving in your budget can also foster a sense of abundance and boost your own joy. There is a quote that reads, “No one ever went broke from giving.”

  • Similar to a values-based spending policy mentioned earlier, consider having your own short giving policy. Identify the organisations and causes you want to support and the ways in which you will commit to doing so – whether through automatic donations, adding a bequest in your next will update, setting aside a regular budget line for spontaneous giving, or signing up to volunteering on a project.
  • If established charities don’t resonate for you, consider supporting causes in different ways such as through advocacy on issues, sponsoring local amateur sports teams, donating books to libraries, or setting aside money for direct gifts to extended family or community members in need.
  • For FI enthusiasts who enjoy optimisation, you may like to join the Effective Altruism movement, which conducts extensive research into the most effective charities providing the highest benefit for donations.
  • If you are making financial donations to Australian charities with DGR status, don’t forget to keep receipts for tax deductions on donations.

I’m glad to have been able to share a more well-rounded picture of wealth in this chapter. I hope it has opened up your views on the many different resources in your hands and the positive impact you can have with them on your FI journey.

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About Michelle from Frugality and Freedom | frugalityandfreedom.com

Michelle is a mid-30s semi-retiree, sharing her journey towards financial independence on her blog at FrugalityandFreedom.com. Michelle alternates between seasonal events work, online freelancing and long-term travel – visiting 40 countries so far. She writes with the perspective of pursuing FI as a single person on a modest income, emphasising lifestyle design and enjoying the FI journey as much as the destination.

Michelle writes about frugal hacks, solo travel, housesitting, minimalism, sustainability, and ethical investing. She is passionate about connecting with others in the financial independence community, including highlighting different voices through the Australian FI Weekly series.

 


 

At Pearler, we pride ourselves on the quality of the financial advice we give. Please note though, that this advice has not been tailored for you. You have unique financial goals, circumstances and needs which may make this advice inappropriate, and it is important that you know whether it applies to you. If you are unsure we urge you to speak to someone you trust who is competent with money and understands your individual needs, whether they be a trusted friend or professional.

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