Why the Numbers Don't Matter Right Now

Why the Numbers Don’t Matter Right Now

If you are early on your journey like we are, I want to make the case that maybe the numbers don’t really matter right now.

Projecting is Harder Long-term

Just like the 10-day weather forecast is never right, the 10-year projections won’t be right either. I can tell you firsthand that projecting can be frustrating when you have so little in savings. Conservative estimates make early retirement look impossible.

Do you know why we chose $500,000 in 7 years? Because I could make the numbers work. Barely. And because anything more than that seemed impossible.
No one can predict the market. Maybe you want to be conservative and say 4% return after inflation, 6% return after inflation, or plan 10% returns! There’s not a “correct” answer. No one has any clue what will happen the next 10-20 years. Everyone is guessing. We could (and probably will) have another recession in that time period. No one knows when or how long it will last.

You Can’t Predict Your Future

Just like we can’t figure out returns to count on in making projections, we also can’t count on our numbers. When I slated out our numbers, I used exactly what Mr. T and I were making that year and how much we spent that year. Guess what? Mr. T makes a bit more now. I make about the same. We also have a few side hustles we didn’t have before. We also now spend more money than we did then. We travel more. My kids take more lessons.

Your life won’t look exactly like it does now in 10 years. Guaranteed. Nothing goes as planned. Hopefully, your life will actually look much better than it does now. Maybe you’ll be making more. Maybe you’ll be promoted. But maybe it looks better in that you left that job you hated and you now have a better work-life balance. Maybe that means your life is better but your numbers are worse. There’s no predicting.

What Can You Do?

Instead of focusing on projections, focus on what you can do today:

1. Focus on Savings

You know that in any projection, higher savings means less time until you hit your goals. You don’t need to know all the details of how much money equals how much time. Just focus on your progress. Can you save more this month than you did last month? Can you increase the amount pulled out of your paycheck for retirement? Every change will help your future.

2. Focus on Priorities

Have you assessed if your spending reflects your priorities lately? What spending happened this month that didn’t actually improve your life in any way? Is there a way to cut that spending next month?

3. Focus on living your “why”

What is the big reason you’re racing to early retirement? What exactly does that awesome life look like when you get there? Is there a way you can get closer to that now without completely thwarting your future?

4. Focus on the Plus Side

It’s so easy to think: “I wish I had discovered the path to early retirement sooner” or “I wish I had more saved so I could just snowball to early retirement in just a few years.” This thinking is harmful. You (and I) are at the beginning of our journeys. The plus side of this is that we already know it’s a long road ahead. Maybe it will come faster than we think, but we’re already putting our future selves in a great position. Instead of killing ourselves over the next couple of years, we can make sure things are set and forgotten and enjoy that “rest on a moving sidewalk” I talk about so often.

What do you focus on when your projections get you frustrated?


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  1. Good stuff Maggie! I agree many people on the path to FI are always looking so far ahead, and probably kind of suffering in the present moment because they are never really living there. It’s hard to strike the balance but I think worth the effort. Something to live for today, and something to live for for tomorrow.

    • MaggieBanks

      Agreed! So hard to find a balance. But it’s miserable if we’re always just giving up the present entirely to fight for that better life.

  2. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot too! We’re also far away from FIRE and a lot of things might change in the next 5-10 years that will impact our FIRE numbers. We don’t have kids right now so we have a high savings rate and lower expenses. We hope to be able to have children in the next few years so in that case our income will go down a bit (because my partner and I both want to go to part time) and expenses up. We’re also more focused on paying off the mortgage right now than on investing so our progress to FIRE is really slow at the moment. Maybe it would be better if I stop looking at that FIRE number and just focus on the mortgage payoff progress instead for now. Then once the mortgage is paid off in 5-7 years we’ll have a better idea of what our FIRE number and progress might look like.

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes! I look forward to recalculating everything once we pay off our mortgage as well! Priorities also change when you have children and a lot could change in your plan. If we all just keep moving forward, we’ll all get there eventually!

  3. You are speaking my language! I do have those “if only” moments but reality check – even if I came into the early retirement folks ten years ago, what difference would it have made? I needed to do what I did THEN so that I’d be here now, in a place and time when I could even contemplate ER without laughing myself out of bed. Ten years ago I couldn’t have imagined being safe and comfortable, in my own home, with my family nearby working on plans to stop working in the near future because of relative financial comfort. Not even close. At 25, I was hustling my butt off because I had to and thank goodness I did!

    Now I catch myself thinking “how about it? Can we do this in 7 years?” And the answer is a solid I dunno, maybe, probably not with killing the mortgage but heck, why not try? Definite answer, there.

    Meanwhile, life is gonna happen. JB is going to keep growing. I’m going to learn new ways to be healthier. PiC is gonna run some marathons again. This will all cost some variable amount of money and time. We’ll work for our money and invest it best we can despite the recession whenever that happens.

    I’m terrible at guessing the future in specifics. The only thing I know for sure is we will roll with the punches, get our feet back under us as it happens, and sprint to the next goal when we’re ready.

    We all will!

    • MaggieBanks

      Yeah… 10 years ago we were still in school. 9 years ago, we were unemployed with a baby in the middle of the Great Recession. When Mr. T got this job, the income was barely enough to get by. I didn’t discover this whole movement until we finally had enough money to actually save something and I got really into PF blogs just to figure out how to do that! So yeah, it would have been lovely to be farther along, but that just wasn’t our journey.

  4. Your points are well taken and important. Don’t let planning and projections get you down however. If you dream it, can visualize it and plan for it, your chances of achieving your goal is most likely higher. Tom

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh I’m a big proponent of very concretely coming up with a plan for your future… but I’m just saying the numbers don’t need to add up right now. If you can visualize where you want to get (with big goals), you’re more likely to blow your own calculations out of the water.

  5. zeejaythorne

    Trying to predict the future is just too much. Who knows what our cities will look like in 10 years?!? Few people predicted that some suburbs would fall while others continued to grow. I like the idea of focusing on savings and numbers small enough that they seem manageable. It is so easy to become overwhelmed. I don’t know what my life will look like next year. I did not predict that my girlfriend would have to move, nor that my father would pass, nor that my girlfriend’s closet would become too overwhelming for me. Perhaps I’ll be single for the first time in my 30s. Or perhaps we’ll become engaged. I do not know tomorrow. So I’m trying to focus on the smaller things within my control.

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s all we can do. Life keeps punching us in different, unpredictable ways. We just keep moving forward and changing our vision of what we want the future to be and working toward what we can control. Well done, friend.

  6. This is why automating as much of the regular stuff is important. Automate your savings and your normal bills. Focus on you family and living your life. If you have automated your savings and payments, then you don’t need to think of them other than in your somewhat regular planning sessions (to see if you are still on course). Then, just live.

    We tend to get so focused on FI that we forget the life stuff that is happening around us (personal experience there – don’t do it). What good will money be if you get to your FI goal only to realize that the rest of your life is a shambles?

    Live well and love often. Just my $0.02.

  7. I’d say all of your points are dead on. even if conditions in the market go down or personal circumstances change, you’ll definitely achieve more by focusing on saving and being mindful of the other points you make. I would also make a plug for putting some focus on opportunities to earn more to really accelerate your timelines. You can only go so far with savings, but with earning more the ceiling is potentially limitless.

    • MaggieBanks

      Agreed. Thanks for the input. Finding a side hustle has changed our numbers slightly and made us realize who knows where we’ll be in even a year!

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