Are You like a Fish out of Water?

Are You like a Fish out of Water sometimes?

So you’ve started your own journey towards financial freedom or even early retirement, but progress is slow and your motivation is dropping day after day. Reading tons of blog posts from your favourite personal finance writers has definitely taught you a lot, but putting theory into practice yourself turns out to be more difficult than previously imagined. You feel like a fish out of water.

And you’re not alone. We’ve all been there at some point in time, even the best of the best. If you believe that progenitors like Mr. Money Mustache and the Dividend Growth Investor booked much of their success overnight, you’re mistaken. They too faced some uphill battles, especially in the beginning. By simply looking at the graveyard of abandoned dividend investing blogs on the internet alone, it’s safe to say there are as many failed early attempts as there are success stories.

That’s all right, though. Even though many people love the idea of having enough money to cover their basic living needs, few believe it feasible. Even fewer have the willpower and especially the fortitude to undergo and complete a long-term project like financial independence.

I admit that I too sometimes felt like I was splashing about, unable to get things moving fast enough. Getting out of your comfort zone isn’t easy after all. Ironically, one little fish in a Japanse anime always reminds me that feeling like a fish out of water might be just what it takes to make it to financial independence.

For those of us who enjoyed a great childhood, we experienced the early Pokémon games on the Nintendo Game Boy – yes, having played Pokémon Red or Blue is an official SI measurement to determine childhood happiness. If you’ve played the game, you quite possibly remember the most useless Pokémon you could catch after receiving the old rod: Magikarp. Often being a level 5 catch, all the stupid fish could do was splash about.

At least, that was everyone’s first opinion of poor Magikarp. It’s true that he was like a fish out of water when forced into battle against other Pokémon trainers, but that’s just because it requires dedication and long-term care from his owner to grow him into a tsunami of powerful abilities.

Just like training a Magikarp, financial independence requires that you give it your all now and reap the potentially huge rewards later on. However, it’s important that your current level 5 splashes don’t amount to flopping this way, then that way, without any apparent strategy.

When I started my own financial independence journey, I made exactly that mistake. My overarching goal of early retirement by 40 sounded pretty concrete at first, but soon it dawned on me that long-term objectives are hard to keep up with. What I needed was a roadmap in the form of quick wins that gave me the feeling I was actually propelling myself forward.

I decided tot define a set of objectives that took into account my one major goal, the resources at my disposal, my own capabilities, and the external environment. While other bloggers already helped me find the dots, they couldn’t possibly connect the dots for me. It was up to me to synthesize all the insight they provided into a strategic, long-term plan of action.

If you look at the recap of my goals for 2014, you can see how my small and rather meaningless individual splashes slowly amounted to tangible results. Even though I didn’t achieve every single item on my to-do list, I still took big strides to achieve financial freedom in the near future. You see, having a game plan is ultimately more important than fully carrying it out.

It’s also not really surprising to see that once I had put these short-term goals in place, I no longer felt like a fish out of water. There was no more random splashing and flopping about on dry land, merely swimming with the other financial independence fishes. It felt the same way as training Magikarp until he finally turns into the magnificent and unstoppable Gyarados at level 20.

Just like Magikarp has 15 levels to grow, I have another 15 years to go until I want to reach financial independence, slowly splashing my way there. You can get there too by simply coordinating your splashes into a large wave you can ride until that wave starts to grow all on its own, thus pushing you forward faster and faster. Before long you’ll turn into a magestical, unstoppable Gyarados.

Do you still feel like a fish out of water sometimes? Or have you already found a way to turn your splashes into a coordinated force towards financial independence?


  1. Ah…Pokemon…really one of the best games I have ever played. I loved Pokemon Yellow, Crystal, Ruby and almost every game that came after Ruby. I did buy Pokemon X but haven’t played it much because of lack of time, I still want to play it though.

    Your analogy of financial independence with a sad Magikarp really hit me because it is true. Gyarados is still one of the best water Pokemon I think, so is dividend growth investing ;).

    1. Robert,

      The Pokémon games are a lot of fun! Even though they are extremely easy, levelling your Pokémon is so addicting to me. I remember they day I completed my entire Pokédex like it was yesterday. Haven’t played anything beyond Yellow though (except FireRed, which is a remake of Red).

      Magikarp is by far the best example of FI in a video game I can think of. It takes ages and a lot of dedication to get him to evolve into a Gyarados, but what a beast Gyarados is! 😀 Let’s hope dividend growth investing turns out the same way.

      Thank you for dropping by again,

      1. I suggest you pick it up again. There is MASSIVE depth to multiplayer competitive pokemon, including EV training and breeding for personality types. They hide it from you in the one-player to make it accessible to kids, but the game is there to explore if you care.

        1. Charles,

          Didn’t know that! I’ve checked out some reviews of the newer games, but they mostly focus on the singleplayer experience, whereas multiplayer Pokémon where you could put your creatures up against your friends’ would be amazing.

          Too bad I don’t know any of the new Pokémon. Guess I’ll have to start studying next weekend. 🙂

          Best wishes,

          1. Yes indeed! Look up “effort values” for Pokemon to read about EV training. It allows you to determine (or guide, anyway) the ending stats of your Pokemon, allowing you to create a truly specialized team (glass cannons, tanks, etc.)

  2. NMW,

    This is probably the best analogy about FI I have read so far! I’m so gonna make my kids play through Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow when I have them (the kids, not the games!).

    I wasn’t aware there were that many failed dividend investing blogs…let’s hope they just got tired of blogging, but continued saving and investing!

    1. DL,

      Ha, glad you like it! 🙂 And any self-respecting parent should show the children the joy of Pokémon on the GameBoy. It’s kinda crazy to think that Pokémon still is going strong these days with record sales year after year.

      There are quite a lot around. I only started six months ago and in that time frame I’ve seen many people come and go. I’m not entirely sure if they’ve abondoned DGI completely, but they gave up on blogging and following the community, so it’s likely.

      Keep it up over there!

    1. Emily,

      You’re one of the first people that I know of that owned a GameGear, awesome device! Too bad FI isn’t more like Sonic the Hedgehog, a quick race to the finishing line. 🙂


  3. Love your analogy but I was a bit too old to have played Pokemon games.

    Achieving FI is definitely a process and it will takes years to build.

    1. Tawcan, you’re never to old to play Pokemon games! 🙂

      NMW – I enjoyed many an hour trying to ‘catch ’em all’, so loving how you linked Pokemon to FI – I recall the disappointment of trying to level Magikarp because the splashes were rather useless! But as you say, patience and time pays off in the end.

      I look forward to reading about how you turn into Gyarados!

      1. Weenie,

        Magikarp’s splashes were quite useless, unless you added him into some strategic mix with other Pokémon. That was by far the fastest way to level him and get the ultimate reward; Gyarados.

        I’ll let you know once I turn into a huge water dragon! 🙂

        Best wishes,

    2. You’re never too old to play Pokémon, Tawcan! Weenie is right! 🙂

      Financial independence might take years, but just like training a Magikarp it’s quite an enjoyable process and the end-result will blow you away.

      Best wishes,

  4. NMW,
    Great read, I really enjoyed this one even though I never watched and played Pokemon. I used to be a video game addict with Call of Duty and I see similarities of life and a video game. The more we play the more we level up unlocking valuable experience and rewards.

    1. FFF,

      Too bad you never got to enjoy Pokémon! I wasn’t a huge fan of the television series, but the trading card and video games were right up my alley.

      I remember the first CoD blowing me away with its great first world war setting. After they switched to modern settings I haven’t enjoyed the series nearly as much. Haven’t even played the last four iterations.

      Leveling up in video games is very much like leveling your own life, be that towards financial independence or any other goal. That’s why I sometimes like to gamify my life with small rewards for certain achievements.


  5. NMW,

    Absolutely. Financial independence is achieved one dollar at a time. $1 million is just 1 million individual $1 bills. You have to start somewhere.

    The great thing about accumulating wealth is that not every single $1 bill has to come from your own pocket. Compounding is a wonderful thing. 🙂

    Best regards!

    1. Jason,

      In Belgium we have an expression for when you find a penny that “it’s the start of your first millon”. Even though everyone jokes about it, there’s some truth to the statement, just like you said.

      The day I discovered the actual effect that compounding could have on wealth, I couldn’t believe I had been so blind all these years. If it’s true that Einstein believed it to be the eighth world wonder, he definitely wasn’t wrong! 🙂

      Best wishes,

  6. It can definitely feel like a long slog at times, but, I just remind myself that it’s a much shorter slog than working full-time until I’m 65!

    I think having short, interim goals helps too, so that you can enjoy little successes along the way to full FI. Just seeing our monthly savings rate motivates me and I consider each month to be its own achievement towards the BIG goal :).

    1. Mrs. F,

      That’s the spirit! I hadn’t thought of looking at it that way, but you’re 100% correct. The trouble for many folks is that they can’t handle putting of short-term rewards for long-term gain.

      Short-term goals definitely help me move towards my big, overarching goal of financial independence. It’s one of the main reasons why I decided to pick up dividend growth investing instead of sticking to passive index funds. The monthly dividend income boost my motivation way more than seeing my net worth slowly creep up.

      Hope everything is great over there in the Frugalwoods!

  7. Do you have a roadmap with goals for each year? I agree that the slow progress is difficult and losing motivation is probably the biggest risk along the way. I am thinking about celebrating specific milestones along the way, do you do stuff like that?

    1. RN,

      At the moment I’ve got a roadmap until I’m 40, but I’ll have to revise it at some point in time because I’m already ahead of my plan. I guess that FI comes even faster than you believe if you truly give it your all. 🙂

      Even though progress is slow, the pace definitely picks up after you’ve been in it for a while. When compounding starts to work its magic, you’ll be amazed how fast you’ll start to progress.

      Celebrating milestones is definitely something I do, just to keep myself motivated. It’s not that I go to town and spend a whole lot of money, but I reward myself with an exclusive beer or something similar. It’s nothing big, but certainly enjoyable.

      Good luck,

  8. I definitely feel this way very often. I desperately want to swim in that beautiful FI lake, but I try to kick my tail and realise I’m sitting here on the land, in an environment that makes it extremely hard to make progress (and some of that is self-imposed also).

    I’m really trying hard to focus on the little things day to day, and make life as enjoyable as possible through those little things each day in the meantime. Then if I keep doing the basics like saving a little and investing well, I’m bound to keep wriggling to the edge of the lake eventually – hopefully learning to breathe the air through my gills along the way and enjoy the journey!

    1. Jason,

      You’re right that sometimes it’s not easy to jump in the deep blue because of external factors, but we have to work with what we got. It furthermore doesn’t make sense to fret over things we can’t change, we better focus our energy on things we can positively impact ourselves.

      Keep wriggling, my friend, and I’m sure you’ll get off your island and into the beautiful lake of FI!

      Good luck,

  9. I’m such a wimp, I’d include something like travel to somewhere nice and warm in 2015, or travel out of the country as one of the goal. Otherwise even if you “reach” FI, you’d be asking where is the feast? Here have my 10 years gone. What did I do in my most youthful productive time of my life? 22-40 years old. Yup! You got to live a little. And each time, work get frustrating, use that energy as a force for you to continue to get the heck out of the rat race!

    1. Vivianne,

      Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important to have other goals beside purely financial ones. Recently I wrote an article on how it’s important to also have fun and enjoy yourself on the way to FI, what good is it otherwise?

      I hope you enjoy Puerto Rico, but that won’t be a problem! At least the plain tickets were cheap. 😉

      Have fun,

  10. Hey NMW, Yesm I definitely feel a bit out of it sometimes. I think for me, my other half often doesn’t seem to ‘get’ the point of FI, or even believe we can there within 17 years. On the other hand, he dreams of having a private income and not having to go out to work if he doesn’t want to… I wish I could convince him somehow and show him it’s easier than he thinks. He’s all up for saving and investing, but I think he feels like he needs to be able to spend what he wants on certain things and doesn’t seem to want to compromise 🙁

    I hated pokémon, but I did have a tamagotchi watch and I was pretty good at looking after that little creature. Great reminder of the old days of Nintendo playing!


    1. M,

      At least T has the same dream of having private income. As such, I’m sure he’s on board, even though he might not be as hard core as you are. The only way you can both align your goals is by talking things through and come to a mutual understanding. Good luck!

      Too bad I now won’t be able to ever talk to you again though. Hated Pokémon!? Who says that! 😉 To be fair, I didn’t like Tamagotchi. The stupid things constantly needed attention.

      Have a great weekend,

  11. Hi NMW!

    Sometimes I feel very unproductive and I should be doing more towards my goal of financial freedom. It seems like all I have been doing lately is going to work and building up my cash from working… I guess there is always the option of increasing financial knowledge and good point about creating a detailed plan to reach financial goals. : )

    1. Jeff,

      If you’re feeling like all you’ve been doing is working and accumulating cash, you should make sure that you have some hobbies and activities on the side. It’s no use to become financially free when you can’t enjoy life!

      Keep it up,

  12. NMW,

    Really enjoyed this analogy as I also played Pokémon red, blue, and yellow knowing exactly what you are talking about with Magikarp. When I first started investing I felt the same with way that I had a long ways to go with no light at the end of the tunnel.

    With the saving rate that you have you will be surprised how quickly everything begins to fall into place. I am sure I will be reading 10 years from now you plan to retire next year at 36 instead of your original estimate of 40.

    Compound interest is a powerful force.

    Mr. Captain Cash

    1. Mr. CC,

      A fellow Pokémon fan, great! Impressive that you played all three games as they are basically identical with some Pokémon switched out. I’m glad you immediately understood the analogy.

      Ha, retiring at 36 instead of the planned 40 would be a dream! If that happens I’m opening a large bottle of exclusive bubbles for sure. 🙂

      Thank you for your support!

  13. Pokemon was AFTER my time. I was quite amazed though with how popular it was and how children were so obsessed with it. I was a camp counsellor at a day camp for one summer in high school and we actually had to send out notes to parents saying that Pokemon cards were not allowed at camp. There were too many fights and tears between children saying they lost their cards, so and so took their cards, so and so wouldn’t trade with them, etc.

    When I compare my financial progress to other bloggers, I sometimes think, wow, I have such a long way to go or why didn’t I start sooner on this. I sometimes have to remind myself that everyone is different, and while I may not get there right away, I’ll get there eventually.

    1. Karen,

      Having been one of the kids you describe, although not as bad, I completely understand where you’re coming from. You don’t want to know how many times friends’ cards were lost or got stolen. I always kept mine at home, so nothing could happen to them. Sold my entire collection for a pretty penny too after a couple of years!

      Comparing yourself to others could be useful, but only if they’re situation and timeline doens’t differ too much from yours. That’s why I enjoy discovering folks from Germany and the Netherlands as these two countries compare very well to Belgium.

      It’s like you said, everyone is different. However, if you apply yourself to FI and give it your all, you’ll get there eventually.

      Thank you for dropping by,

  14. Hey mate!

    Even though I never played nor like Pokemon, I can relate to it via other car video games such as NFSMW 😉 When you got this slow car at the beginning, with which you win race after race, tuning it with more powerful components all the way along when you get enough cash to do so.

    I think my motivation remains intact since more than one year thanks to 3 things:
    1/ My blog where I share my journey and interact with other FI seeker is a good source to keep going when I see people encouraging me to write
    2/ YNAB, as I love personal finance and its computing to make numbers match! Every month I take a real pleasure to budget the next month! Control, power, safety, and much more!
    3/ Savings rate and net worth competition with myself but also the rest of the world with websites like the one of RockStarFinance!

    I must say that I never felt like a fish out of water so far, thankfully!

    Also, I learn so much stuff about my new home country (i.e. Switzerland) that I never feel bored!

    Maybe the fact that we wanna buy our home soon and take a world tour within the next 6-8y also help to have rewards on the way 😉

    Happy week-end!

    1. MP,

      Ha, Need for Speed Most Wanted was amazing! Quite possibly the last good Need For Speed game in my book. The BMW M3 you got for finishing the game was amazing. I still remember the last race against the Porsche cop like it was yesterday – and that’s saying a lot because it’s a race game.

      Sharing your journey and keeping yourself accountable makes it much easier to stay the course. The feedback and support from our community is incredible and helps me keep it up, even when I feel like splurging on one thing or another that I don’t really need.

      To me it’s not a competition though. Life styles differ so much accross countries and between individuals that it doesn’t really matter how high your net worth is. I’m just glad to see everyone’s net worth go up with large percentage numbers each month!

      Let’s hope you can make that world tour soon and make a quick stop in Belgium!

      Best wishes,

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