The 5 things that helped me reach financial independence at 33


I am so blessed with having been able to reach financial independence at 33. Since then, for the past five years, I’ve been able to enjoy life in an almost unimaginable way with my wife and my two kids. 

But what made that possible? What did I have that enabled me to build financial freedom and stop working at 33? 

No unicorn startup tech company. 

No lucky bet on individual stocks.

No early crypto. 

And no inheritance. 

In fact, I started at 0 when I was 26. 

I was even in debt to my little brother. 

I had no accommodation, no social security, no pension system to rely upon because I was an expat. 

All I had was my capacity to do valuable work and learn.

In this article, I share the 5 elements that really helped me reach financial independence

  1. Money and happiness mindset
  2. Index investing
  3. Value and impact
  4. Community
  5. Working as a team with your partner

Money and happiness mindset

How you see the world shapes how you live your life. Your mindset and your beliefs are the toolbox you use to build your life.

And money is a tool. 

It’s a tool that all of us use to exchange value and buy the stuff we need and want. It’s often associated with various negative emotions, such as greed, scarcity and stress. While money helps get short term satisfaction, most people agree that it doesn’t in itself make people happy.

But what most people are missing is that money is also a tool we can use to buy time, to buy security and freedom, all of which can then help us buy happiness. 

To me, just knowing that I could use money to invest and gradually depend less and less on my income has completely changed my life.

It’s probably the most valuable mindset shift I have had on my journey to financial independence.

Most people think they have no choice but to retire at 65 or 67, but with money you can buy freedom. And with this freedom you can better decide when and on what you work or even retire earlier.

Not  everyone is going to retire at 33 like me or at 40. The journey to FIRE is very personal and depends greatly on your personal circumstances and what your options are.

Forget about what age I have been able to stop working. In fact, forget about everyone else. You start where you are and you improve.

When I was 26, I had no idea about financial independence, I had no idea about personal finance in general and I was in debt. That’s where I started. And step by step I improved.   

Everyone can improve his or her finances, so it doesn’t work to say “this is impossible for me”.

Another important mindset shift is to be able to focus on the value that money can bring

This is about spending your money wisely, on the stuff that is important to you and in an efficient way. Brad, from the ChooseFI podcast calls this the “valuist” approach, where we spend on the things we value, and cut on the rest.

For example, when I worked as a consultant, I moved from my studio in a nice neighbourhood to a shared house with friends. My social life got much better and it was cheaper.

Time with friends and family doesn’t have to cost much. I enjoy spending time with friends and family outdoors, hiking, having a picnic, a walk, going to the beach, riding a bike or going to the pool. 

Good things in life actually don’t cost very much

Some people call people in the FIRE movement cheap.  We call ourselves frugal. I like to say we are value-focused. 

For example, most of my colleagues were driving nice cars, but at some point I sold mine and moved to public transport and car sharing with my wife.

While some people thought it was odd (for a consultant), I was pumped because I knew I was saving money and investing for freedom, and I was also making my commute much more enjoyable.

I think it’s good to be different, especially if you’ve discovered what most people don’t know, which is that financial independence is possible. 

When you have a solid personal finance system, you gain the confidence to be different.

It’s okay to be different from what everyone around you expects.

There is an interesting quote that says “if you don’t change direction you’ll end up where you’re going”. Most people are on the train of regular life where they just accumulate stuff, work more, get more stress, less time to meet family and friends.

They use all their energy when they’re young and then retire late with financial stress. They are stuck in the “financial hamster wheel”.

If you don’t want this you have to change direction. For me this is really important. 

Index investing is not complicated and you can learn it!

Passive low-cost index investing is not complicated.

It’s based on academic research from the 1950s, and index funds already exist since 1975. And they become more and more popular because they provide so much value for the investors. 

It used to be reserved for institutional investors, but it is becoming gradually more available to individual investors like you and me. 

In Belgium, index funds are still largely unknown. This is mostly because investment products are controlled by banks, and banks have no interest in giving us access to low-cost index funds. They’d rather sell us expensive actively managed funds where they can make money (despite the overwhelming evidence that index funds provide better value to investors).

You can learn to understand index investing and apply it, yourself or with someone else.  For me, this is the key to becoming financially independent without doing insane amounts of work.

Index investing is simple, effective, perfect for the long-term, for supplementing your retirement or financial independence. It involves risk, but this is something you can learn to manage.

I explain how to develop your investment approach and how to get started with index investing in this free workshop on index investing for beginners.

In this workshop we cover the main pillars of index investing and towards the end I give my roadmap on how to get started.

Focus on creating value and impact 

The third element that helped me achieve financial independence is the way I approached work.  

From the start during my studies, I realised I wanted to work on something meaningful, something that would have a positive impact.

I studied engineering and specialised in sustainable energy and climate change.

Because of my intrinsic motivation to do something useful, I ended up learning and progressing fast. I started with small projects and gradually worked on larger projects, with more impact.

This naturally helped increase my income, as I was usually taking the bigger projects and the bigger responsibilities, leading to early promotions and working on national projects.

Focusing on maximising my impact, increased my value in the eyes of my employers and my clients and led to fast career progression and higher pay.

If you focus on maximising value creation and impact (also from an economic perspective) then money will follow. 

It’s not about finding the smartest way to get rich quickly, it’s about finding the best way to create the most value. And when you create value, you get rewarded.

So this is my approach about creating a high income, and it certainly paid off by accelerating my journey to financial independence.

Of course, moving abroad to a country where my skill set was even more valuable and where the income ceiling is higher also accelerated my journey.

You are not alone, there is a large community to help you

It is hard to stay motivated and committed when you are on a journey alone. 

It’s a lot easier when you can share this journey with others.

You can share your ideas and experiences, inspire and help each other, learn from others and teach others as well.

Community and accountability can help you get better at what you do and help you stay motivated in difficult times.

To me, the community aspect has been very important. The moment I discovered index investing and financial independence, I started looking for other people doing the same thing in my area.

I connected with a few people and we started a Bogleheads chapter in the UAE which then became, a community of more than 25,000 people today.

When I came back to Belgium, I did the same thing: I tried meeting like-minded people. And so I created FIRE Belgium. Today it’s an education community of more than 7000 people.

We discuss online and have meetups a few times each year. Its main purpose is to help you progress on your journey. Make sure you join us on Facebook or Meetup! You can also connect to FIRE Belgium on social media.

Working as a team with your partner

The last element that really helped me achieve financial independence is that I was able to do all this with my wife.

My wife and I have similar interests and values.

We have the same view of what is important in life: time with the people we love and doing simple things that make us happy.

And because we were aligned on the important stuff, it was easy to work together towards this goal of simple living and financial independence.

And working on this common goal together helped us get there much faster.

We budget together, we have combined finances and we manage our investments together. 

We each have our own broker account. So we both need to have the skills to manage our finances and we’re both involved in the planning.

In our personal journey, she contributed the same amount as me, so she deserves as much credit as me. And it went clearly much faster together with her than if I had to do it alone.


As you can see, my journey to financial independence was really possible thanks to a combination of multiple elements:

Mindset and beliefs, understanding the truth about long term investing success, creating value at work, surrounding myself with like-minded people and working on this project with my partner.

You may not be able to replicate what I have gone through, but I hope that by sharing what helped me, you can find ways to improve your own situation.

The 5 things that helped me reach financial independence at 33

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top