Have We Got It All Wrong?

Before going any further, let me just address this week’s post title.  This blog is about personal finance, focusing on telling our story.  We are in our late 30’s.  We are debt free (including paid off house) and have built substantial savings that should allow us to retire in two years by age 40.  We have an awesome marriage. We have a happy, intelligent, adventurous 2 1/2 y/o daughter who is the love of our life. We all have our health.  We have traveled the world and continue to seek new and exciting adventures.  If you feel we deserve a virtual punch in the face for even asking that question, feel free to jump down to the comments and deliver it.  However, I think this post will be thought provoking and deserves a read first. –EE

On the surface we have it all together.  We recently shared our Financial Independence date, less than 2 years off.  We have everything in the world to be thankful for, and we don’t take that for granted for one second.  The purpose of this post is to take a look at the bigger picture.  Are we approaching life in the way that makes the most sense for both our present and our future?

A lot of life happens.....
A lot of life happens…..
.....in just 2 short years.
…..in just 2 short years.

For our entire adult lives we have tried to strike a balance between living for today and preparing for tomorrow.  As the intro to this post would demonstrate, we’ve done a pretty damned good job overall.  However, recent events have us second guessing some things, including our home stretch towards financial independence and how we will structure the rest of our lives.  Three recent events have me second guessing where we have been placing our priorities.

Just Do It!

We recently went to the 2nd birthday party of our friends’ son.  They are climbing and skiing friends who happened to have their child 6 months to the day after we had little EE.  They are among a very select few people we have shared our identity with when starting this blog because we share similar life goals and philosophies and we wanted their feedback.  They are also on the path to FI.  However, they have taken a much different path than us and are well behind us in their journey.  Despite that, they informed us that they are going to just go for it and change everything.  Now.

He lost his job, so they took it as an opportunity to do something different.  Instead of getting more conservative, cutting spending and looking for a new job, they’re going to take a very different approach.  They’ll be moving west for the winter where he will ski patrol a major ski resort.  What would they do with their home?  Would this be a full-time move?  How would they afford a much higher cost of living on a much lower income?  Many of the details were up in the air.  Regardless they would just do it.  The excitement of doing something totally new and different, following a dream and seeking an adventure was palpable.

In the meantime, we plan to stay here and methodically work towards our goals of achieving financial independence before making any major changes.  But does it make sense to continue to focus our lives around a goal based on an arbitrary number and date?

R.I.P.

We recently learned of the passing of a friend.  He was 45 years old.  He was in excellent health.  He was one of the most fun loving people we ever knew.  One morning he simply didn’t wake up.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a story like this has touched our lives.  Two and a half years ago, my cousin passed away.  She was also in her mid 40’s when she died.  Two years earlier, she received the diagnosis of colon cancer. It rapidly spread to her lungs, bones and eventually killed her.  Prior to her diagnosis she was also a picture of health.  She was an amazing person, a great friend and an even better mom.

Watching and helping her through her painful final years was one of the catalysts, along with the birth of our daughter that occured a month after her death, that caused us to question our priorities and start down this different path in life.

Many people see our plans of early retirement as risky.  This recent passing of a friend was an all too unnecessary reminder that nothing in life is guaranteed.  If one of us were to meet this fate, would we have any regrets?  Should we be living less for tomorrow and more for today?

A False Idol?

I regularly site blog posts from the Mad Fientist in our investing and especially our tax planning posts.  His writing focuses on how to achieve financial independence with maximum efficiency.  His work has been invaluable in developing our own plans.

I have in some ways placed him and other early retirement bloggers like Mister Money Mustache on a pedestal.  I have written in several posts on this site that if I hadn’t made this or that mistake that we could be financially independent already.  I at times am jealous of the path these bloggers have taken.  I crave their efficiency and seemingly smooth road.

Within a few days of the funeral of my friend, I received a post from the Mad Fientist that really has me questioning all of that.  It is entitled “Happiness Through Subtraction“.  In it, he reveals that on his journey to FI, he became so obsessed with reaching that goal that he developed a tunnel vision.  He isolated himself from friends.  He placed stress on his relationship with his wife.  He went through a bit of a depression.

Our new efficiency has had many positive effects.  Has it been beneficial to cut out many large and wasteful expenses?  Absolutely.  However, what would our life look like if we were all about efficiency from day 1?  We have never been afraid to spend on things that we really wanted to do regardless of cost.  How many of the experiences and memories that we hold dear would we not have had if we were so focused on the fastest and most efficient path to FI?

Are we becoming TOO aware of our spending and allowing that to become too large of a focus in our lives?  Should we really be worried about the fastest path to FI, or would it make more sense to add more balance to our lives right now, even if it takes a bit longer to reach our FI goals?

Have We Got It All Wrong?

Let’s go back to this original question.  I would have to answer no.  We’re doing many things right.

Maybe a better question though is this.  Are we working towards the right goal?  Should we really care at all about a traditional retirement?  Is the idea of not working even a worthwhile one to pursue?  Should we be worrying at all about things like safe withdrawal rates?  Is the fastest path to FI necessarily the best path?

The more we read and learn about the concept of financial independence, I have to go back to the concept of “F-You Money” as introduced to me by our friend Jim Collins.  Isn’t that really what this is all about?

Maybe instead of waiting until we have 20 or 25 or 33X our expenses (or any other arbitrary number that we determine “safe”) to retire, we should take a totally different approach.  Once we have enough F-You Money to give us a bit of financial security (whatever that amount is for each individual) we should stop focusing on the idea of retiring from some job or life we hate.  Instead, why not start immediately on building a life that we don’t ever want to retire from.

Let’s not forget about our friends who have taken a much less conservative path than us.  They have problems and issues to address, but so do we.  Life is full of compromises and no choice that we make is without costs and benefits.  There is no single “right” path to follow in life.

Let’s not forget about our friends and family who passed far too young.  We have to continue to plan like we may live to 100 but not forget to live like each day may be our last.

Finally, let’s not throw out the technical advice of the Mad Fientist or others like him who are showing the fastest and most efficient path to financial independence.  We just need to take care to not lose sight of WHY we are on this path.

We must remember to cherish the journey as much as we crave the destination.

Do you feel that your life has a good balance right now?  Are you spending your money AND time on the things that you most value, or are you waiting for some big change after achieving FI?  If today was your last, would you be able to say you went out on your own terms?  If you answered “No” to any of these questions, what is stopping you?  Share your thoughts below.

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28 comments on Have We Got It All Wrong?

  1. I guess it all depends on how you define your retirement. To me, I don’t regret a single dollar I have saved living for tomorrow and not today. I’m still a few years from FI but if I never saved another dollar in my life, the amount I already have saved would provide the equivalent of Social Security to me at age 60.

    I don’t feel deprived of anything. In many respects, I have fancier things and eat higher quality food than most of the world. If I had just spent all that money rather than saved it, I would probably have very little to show for it except maybe a newer car. The rest of the material stuff would have just been donated or sold away as it become obsolete or outdated within a year.

    The reason for all the savings is always F-U money. It’s always been that and the ability to pursue a job that I’m truly passionate about without worrying how much it pays me and spending time with my young kids. Living for today is not living, it is enslavement to future work for the short lived thrill of conveniences and consumer waste.

    Don’t be shaken by a few statistical anomalies in the unfortunately early deaths of some loved ones. There are millions more people who don’t die until they are old. Don’t let recency bias change your mind on your plans. You’re much more likely to live to 80 than die at 45. Even if you did die at 45, would you have gotten any more enjoyment out of the nest egg? I doubt it unless you get your kicks out of material spending. The nest egg will live on after you and provide for your family. It’s still worth it.

    1. Ryan,

      Great comment and insights. I think we agree on at least 99% of what you said. I think that I just didn’t explain myself very clearly.

      Let me redefine two concepts.

      Retirement: Traditionally means you quit working and live off of investments, SS, pension, etc. The more I learn and think about this, it makes little sense for people our age to plan to do nothing for the rest of our lives that will earn us any compensation. Read the story of the biggest influences on our planning like Todd Tresider, MMM, Jacob at ERE. None have retired in this traditional sense of the word. So why worry about things like a magical FI number and SWR’s when it will likely not be our scenario either. As you said it perfectly, “It’s always been about … the ability to pursue a job that I’m truly passionate about….

      Living for today: This has nothing to do with spending frivolously, buying a fancy sports car, electronics, jewelry, etc. It has everything to do with living our values each and every day. I can not believe how much my daughter has grown and changed in the last 2 years. I love to climb but have been outside climbing a grand total of one time so far this year on June 8. I have some great friends that I rarely see. It feels that life is passing by quickly in all of these areas while I continue to work 40 hour weeks just to save my entire salary and a fair portion of Mrs. EE’s.

      This is why I question if our path really makes sense. We could just start working less and eliminating the things that we don’t want to do right now and just slow down the time frame until we are “FI” by the rather arbitrary 25X expenses rule. Make sense?

      1. Yeah, I understand what you are saying. For me, I’m willing to work my 40 hour weeks at least a few more years to shorten the necessary work life. I could easily give up my high salary now and work in a part-time position for less pay but that wouldn’t make me happier knowing I’d still HAVE to keep doing it for 20-30 years even if I didn’t want to do it.

        The 25x rule is just a goal for me. I agree it is arbitrary. However, it is backed up with some research. Yet, more importantly, it is a defined goal. People like us need hard goals. The 25x rule just gives a target to aim for. If you get to 17x or 22x or whatever and decide to hang it up and quit your job. I’d posit you are still going to be ok with a mindset like you’ve got.

        My point is, it’s not an all or nothing endeavor. Like Josh says, the system we have set up just works. We have large cushions of cash to give us flexibility if not total freedom and independence just yet.

  2. Hey EE, I resonate with the sentiments in your post.

    I have to admit that when I decided to pursue this whole early retirement ideology, I was at one of the lowest points of my life – with a debt and zero savings + a job that I dreaded.

    At that point in time, the whole idea of early retirement was highly appealing (it still is) – it presented itself as a solution to my problems then.

    I’m far from FI but I no longer worry much about money because I know that the system I’ve set for myself works….I have a healthy surplus each month.

    Now, I ask myself everyday if I have a healthy balance between the pursuit of FI and the pursuit of joy and happiness.

    Still figuring things out.

    Cheers,
    Josh

  3. Hey EE,

    it is a thought that I have as well… Am I doing the right things. we have friends that go work abroad, straight into the adventure, but others do not even consider leaving Belgium. Both are happy…
    For me, it comes down to doing the things that make you happy, that excite you. The reason that I am sometimes doubtfull is because I think too much… rather than enjoying it. Maybe, it is that what I need to change. I hope that having enough F-money will change the way I look at things, that I will be able to jump into a new life. My biggest fear is that there, I will start thinking and doubting again…
    For now, I go ahead as planned, and I will evaluate if it start to itch really hard inside my brain.
    I do not feel I miss something. I have the material things I need (more would not make me happy). I get to spend time with my family and friends, I have my challenges. Working less now would not make me more happy I think. I would have more me time, but I would use that to start working on some other challenge.

    1. Amber,

      I definitely think that we also think too much. We also have a way of always finding too much to do (see starting this blog, planning our early retirement and trying to maintain our already busy schedule while having a toddler running around our house).

      I appreciate you insights and thoughtful comments. It will give us something more to think about, just what we need! Ha, ha!

      Cheers!
      EE

  4. EE,

    This is the best article I have ever seen from you. Really enjoyed it. I went FIRE 5OCT2012 about 5 months ahead of schedule. (The office was burning a hole through my soul.)

    I never gave “optimum” much thought during my journey. I knew wastefulness and consumerism made me grouchy so it wasn’t hard to make what sacrifices I did. My only real sacrifice in FIRE is I drive an old battered Chevy while my (still working) friends have Mercedes, BMW, etc. Cars don’t wind my spring so I don’t think about that much either.

    I think if I could do it again, I might have found another job (more enjoyable at a lesser rate) to pad numbers and thus allow for more travel in FIRE. I’m much too lazy to do any respectable work now. lol.

    Stop over thinking it. Adopt a little Zen and live in the moment. It passes too fast.

    1. FV,

      Thank you for the kind words. I always value your input.

      We’re very much on the same page. I am actually in a nice position in that I have a pretty great job and wouldn’t mind staying on part-time for a while making for a more gradual transition and less stress about whether we have saved enough. I also enjoy my profession and have various other ideas and opportunities to work less if my current employer wouldn’t go with it.

      The biggest hang-up for me in favor of staying full-time a bit longer is health care. The biggest reason I want to quit now is that work is just such a time killer and we could live on far less and still be fine while having more balance in life. The more we talk and work things out, the more likely I’ll jump early rather than wait.

      Thanks again for the encouragement and feedback!
      EE

  5. Beautiful post. Thank you for this. So personal and moving.

    We struggle with similar questions and have also lost some close friends recently, which makes us question all of it. We’ve looked at the stats and know that we’re far more likely to live past 70 than we are to die before 50, and so we go on that. We’ve also asked ourselves why we don’t just quit now and live like real dirtbags (not dirtbag millionaires), and piece stuff together, but we know that for us, we’ll feel a thousand times better knowing that we’re financially secure, aren’t going to get evicted from our home, etc.

    On your question of whether it makes sense to keep working until you have all of the money saved up that you’ll need, we’ve also talked about that a bunch of times. Where we keep coming out is that we make a lot more per day or hour of work now than we’d ever be likely to make in part-time work, unless we went so far as to build our own consulting business, which is probably more work than we want. So it’s faster now and results in less total work to just keep going until we reach our number (or in our case, our date). We fully expect to work in the future, just to keep our minds active and stay relevant, and also because some work really is fun, but we don’t want to ever HAVE to work to scrape by, and that’s our sticking point.

    Your point about health is a huge one, too. And it’s actually why we picked the date we did. We have some years that are busier than others, and we know that 2018 will be one of those busy years. We’ve decided that’s one busy year too many, because they take such a huge toll on us in terms of our health and our relationship, and so that’s why we picked the end of 2017. We’re trying to make the finance piece fit into that timeframe, and we’ve accepted that we may not be completely to our goal by then. But we’re going to quit our jobs then anyway, and then just figure things out.

    Anyway, not to give advice — just to share our thinking on the same questions. We totally feel your pain, and know it’s hard to make some of these decisions and stick with them. You guys have come so far, though, and two years will pass in the blink of an eye. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the encouragement!

      We’re constantly assessing and reassessing our different options. It gets very frustrating to constantly be rushing from thing to thing that we really want to do while not having time for everything. At the same time we’re continuing to devote such a large amount of time to work when we make far more money than we need. We have done the same analysis and come to the same conclusions as you, but are still not sure it is the smartest or best way for us to be doing it.

      At the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves that life is good if these are the problems that we have to worry about.

  6. Incredibly thought provoking post! The idea of an arbitrary number and FI goal puts me at a standstill. My father passed at 55 from pancreatic cancer, and I kept help but think about the idea that he didn’t even get to fulfill his desired life in retirement. Living life determined to be financially secure for my family and myself surrounded by his loving memory is what keeps me moving forward. It requires an intricate balance of living in the moment now, and being prepared for the future. Setting up systems to prepare for retirement, short term financial goals, etc. allows for me to spend more time on the things I value with the people I love. Thank you for sharing this moving post!

    1. Thank you for sharing your story of your father. It really is all about finding the right balance because you never know how much time you have.

      It is certainly smart to plan for the future. We absolutely reject the excess, consumerism and lack of personal responsibility that drives many Americans’ lives today. However, people in the FIRE community (ourselves included)can at times lose sight of the big picture and go too far in the other direction.

      Best of luck to you and your family in finding that balance and the right path for you.

      EE

  7. Bravo! This post is something I most definitely needed to read. I know that I (more so than Mr. FI) have been struggling with the balancing act of the “Now vs Future” when it comes to our goals and savings. While we discuss and agree with all big purchases and near-future plans, there’s always that voice in the back of my head that has been there ever since we started our journey to FIRE.

    “But what if we DON’T do the kitchen reno? Maybe we can be FI sooner…And whose to say we won’t move in the next 5 years? Will it even be worth it?”

    And

    “Maybe we should push that Europe trip we’ve been planning in a couple of years back another year or two…you know…just in case.”

    But ultimately, I know we should do these things because we really WANT them. And we want them now, not after we’ve retired.

    Like you pointed out: Who’s to say we’re even going to be around in the next few years? Do I really want to keep cooking in a kitchen that’s not functional for possibly 10 more years? Or not take the adventures that I can’t stop dreaming about in the hopes that in 10 years time I’ll be able to stop working? I don’t think my future self would be very happy with my past self if I let my current dreams die for one future dream.

    Thanks again for your insight and we’ll keep trying to “cherish the journey as much as we crave the destination.”

    1. Mrs. FI,

      Thank you for the positive feedback. I was a bit nervous to put this post out there as I feared it would come across as being ungrateful for the position we are in or be seen as whining about our situation which we acknowledge many would be envious of. However, we feel that we and most of the others in the FI community, while thinking of ourselves as thinking outside of the box, are all following pretty similar paths of being high savers and focusing on FI and retirement. Maybe we should focus on establishing a great life with balance as soon as possible, even if it means working a bit or even a lot longer.

      Glad you found the post helpful and thanks again for stopping by and commenting.

      EE

  8. Hi Mr Elephant Eater,

    Great thoughtful post, and you know the same things are on my mind right now, with a little girl just slightly older than yours, and a little boy arriving imminently. I have to say, if I was only 2 years away from FI, I’d definitely start living life exactly as I wanted to right now! That would probably just mean working a little less, perhaps working in a field I care a little more about, and continuing to fill the extra time with activities I’m already doing – just more of it!

    You’re in a great place, with a great perspective on life – regardless of what specific actions you take I think you’ll be pretty happy!

    Cheers,

    Jason

    1. Jason,

      Kids really do change your perspective don’t they? It is amazing how fast they grow and change and how poorly their schedule matches up with a typical 8-5 type work schedule. It seems like every free moment we have is a choice between seeing her or doing other “grown up” things that we want and it is hard to fit it all in with such a huge chunk of each week dedicated to work. We’re in a pretty fortunate position that whichever way we go, we’re doing OK.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop and comment,
      EE

  9. This part of your article just jumped out at me…

    “Once we have enough F-You Money to give us a bit of financial security (whatever that amount is for each individual) we should stop focusing on the idea of retiring from some job or life we hate. Instead, why not start immediately on building a life that we don’t ever want to retire from.”

    Great stuff. Thanks.

  10. You echo some thoughts that often cloud my mind. While we’ve always been plaiting to retire early..that meant 55, but, when we had our second child two years ago, we realized that there is more to life than work. Anyways, for the last year or so we have been overly focused on our savings and budgeting plans. I realized it was turning into a bad thing when my husband admitted he was always stressed about money… I mean, he never even thought about money or budgets until a year ago! He had a bad case of tunnel vision! Now we are refocusing, trying to focus on the simple things in life, the daily things in life that make us smile… And not stress about if we can save an extra $1. This weekend we even splurged and took the kids out for ice cream…. That was a great $5 spent!

    1. Mrs SSC,

      Thank you for the kind words. It seems that this post really hit its mark for you and a lot of other people based on the feedback that I’ve been getting. I think that much of what we and others in the personal finance blogging community write about saving and rejecting consumerism is true and appropriate for the majority of people. Unfortunately,the people that actually right or read these blogs already get it and we’re often just preaching to the choir. At times, we tend to drift too far in the opposite direction. We have to keep searching for the right balance. To reiterate your point, if we can’t enjoy taking our kids out and having an ice cream, then what’s the point?

      Cheers!
      EE

  11. I believe that life is all about moderation – even too much of a good thing can turn into something disastrous, and living frugally for early retirement is certainly no exception.

    There is nothing wrong with keeping your eye on the prize, but like you’re saying, a narrow, tunnel focus on one individual goal in life can definitely negatively effect other areas of your life. Early retirement isn’t about feeling frustrated or that you’re depriving yourself of anything and everything.

    On the contrary, it is about maximizing happiness and a reduction of spending on stuff that we really don’t need anyway. This doesn’t mean that we cannot spend. This doesn’t mean that we cannot make mistakes. Life is too short to expect perfection.

    Your words about cherishing the journey are absolutely spot on. The happier we are in life while working, the happier we will be after we’re done with the rat race. Retirement won’t make an unhappy person happy.

    Keep fighting the good fight, and I’ll see you guys at the finish line in a couple of years. 🙂

    1. I agree with your sentiments completely, but am looking at it more from the other side of the equation. We live a very comfortable lifestyle with our current spending and feel we could even still trim a good bit of fat. I more question whether it is worth it to live a life so out of balance with respect to the amount of time spent on making money when already making far more than we need. At the same time, we feel deprived of the time we would like to be spending in other areas of life. We have chosen this path b/c ultimately we think it is much more efficient to continue to work full time for just a few more years and then very little or not at all forever due to tax benefits and health care costs(which with ACA is really more of a tax consideration than anything when buying your own coverage).

      You are better off in my opinion to earn as much as possible as quickly as possible and then enjoy the very generous tax benefits given to those with low incomes. Almost all taxation is based on income, with little consideration given to assets. None the less it leads to an imbalance in life during the working years.

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