Money Isn’t Everything!

 In our November progress update, I briefly mentioned that we made a sizable spur of the moment charitable donation. We were trying to limit our spending for the month, but thought this was a perfect opportunity to give money to a cause we couldn’t pass up.

I want to share a bit more about our donation today, but this story is not about us at all. Rather, it provides an opportunity to share a great example of the impact that we as early retirees with disposable time and money can have. I think this ties in well with themes I’ve written about recently including finding purpose and meaning.


My Role Models

My parents have been amazing role models, teaching me the most important lessons in life through example. Technical aspects of investing aside, one of the big lessons they taught me is to put money in its proper place, and use it to live a better life.

Together, they demonstrated that you are never too busy or too poor to help others. They have always been extremely generous with their time and money. It is a lesson that Mrs. EE and I continue to struggle to master.

A few years into their early-retirement, they are teaching me how to do retirement right as well.

Finding Purpose in Serving Others

I have been thinking and writing a good bit about finding purpose beyond working 40 hours each week. A great example is my father. Since retiring, he has found purpose through becoming a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for a child. He has been working with the same case for over four years.

I would love to write about him jumping into a very positive and rewarding experience, but that would be a lie. A big fat lie actually.

For years, it was incredibly frustrating. The child he was assigned has lived a very troubled life. When my dad was assigned to this boy, no one even knew where he was. He had not been to school or to scheduled court hearings in months. He could not be found at the addresses and phone numbers given to authorities.

Eventually the boy was found, and was placed in foster care. At that point my dad began to have some interactions with the boy. After a few months, he was returned to his mother and an extremely dysfunctional lifestyle.

My dad’s access to the child was irregular. When he did have time with him it ranged from frustrating to heart breaking. My dad felt in many ways that he was wasting his time. But he kept showing up at court hearings, at the school, and to do things with the boy when possible.

Finally, this summer, things turned even worse for the child and he was again taken from the mother. This time, rather than being placed in foster care, the boy was returned to his father who has had been out of the picture for some time.

Shortly thereafter, the boy’s father began calling my father regularly. My dad asked bluntly why with of all the professionals assigned to help the boy they kept calling him, a volunteer advocate, for advice and guidance. The boy’s father said he didn’t know what to do. The boy told him that my father was the only person in the world who he trusted. My dad, unsure if he was having any impact with the child, was taken aback. From that point forward, my dad has had much more involvement with the boy and his father.

My dad noted that since being with the father, the boy is doing better in school. He has less anxiety and behavioral issues. He is communicating with my dad more easily, including starting to make eye contact.

My dad also noticed that the boy’s father was making a real effort to turn his own life around. He was taking online classes and had gotten a new job.

However, he was walking or riding a bike while commuting over an hour each day to get home from his shift, which ended after bus service did. As winter was approaching, this was going to be difficult to impossible to sustain. My dad talked to the boy’s father to see what his plan was. He really had none, but to keep doing in winter what he had in summer and fall.

Our Turn To Help

My dad shared this family’s story with a group of friends from his church. One took it upon herself to organize a group to help the boy’s father. My dad included Mrs EE and I in the group e-mail she sent out looking for donations. We immediately knew what we had to do. Our silly “no spend November” challenge made no sense with an opportunity to contribute generously. Within just a week, the group had exceeded their goal of $5,000 and was able to buy the man a car and insure it for at least the first year.

There is no guarantee that this story will have a happy ending. This boy and his father both continue to live a tough existence day to day and they carry a lot of baggage. But for at least this time, their burden has been lightened. This father has been enabled to continue to work, while having more time every day to continue his education and spend time with this boy who desperately needs a stable parental influence.

A Purposeful Retirement

We started on our journey to early retirement with self-centered goals of becoming a couple of “dirtbag millionaires” who could spend our winters skiing and summers hiking and climbing. I remember the first time we shared this vision with my parents. They asked what we were going to do when we got bored in a year.

While we still have plans to spend plenty of time in the mountains in the years ahead, my parents have taught me another valuable lesson. I may be helping and teaching them to to better understand and manage their investments in stocks and bonds. However they have taught me that the most important investments that we make are in investing in the lives of others.

Who are your role models in finance, retirement, and life? Do you have any specific plans for how to give back more of your time and/or money in retirement? Share your thoughts below.

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12 comments on Money Isn’t Everything!

  1. I love the aspect of having enough money that if I happen to lose $5K I won’t even notice it.. That happens on the daily in the stock market. That being said.. If I see someone who looks like that could use an extra hand financially… I love being able step in and help out in those situations. So many people are living day to day wondering when they will just be able to pay for their next meal.

    It takes a little will power to know where to best direct ones financial giving… But one place it certainly isn’t for me is padding some salesman’s pockets at the car dealership.

    It’s the holidays!! Make a difference in someone’s life. Share the love and Give to others. What good is money if you can’t use it for helping others?

    Cheers to you EE!!

    1. Agree that it is difficult to know where best to direct charitable giving. We have gotten hung up on being overly critical of many charities and non-profits who are bloated beurocracies who waste much of others’ money on admin and fundraising. While it is a fair criticism, it should not be an excuse for doing nothing as it has at times been for us. We have in the past few years directed our giving to causes we know well and feel fairly confident will have a positive impact. We each have to find what is best in alignment with our values and abilities, but we should all try to find some way to help others to share our good fortune.

  2. Market discussion aside, I have seen first hand the side of foster care and the court systems that support this behavior from irresponsible families.

    I wish everyone could take a few lessons from the CASA’s. These volunteers seem to be the only people in this awful system that do not have some sort of alterior motive.

    It saddens me to see the kids caught in the middle of the adults who can’t get it right.

    Thank you for sharing this story, it touched me deeply and made me recall my days with this system.


    1. Dave,

      I agree that there is much that is wrong with the system, but also think there are a lot of really well intentioned and hard working professionals and foster parents who are also in it for the right reasons, but are frankly in a tough situation due to the magnitude of family dysfunction and the sheer number of kids in this situation. It is heartbreaking. However, this is the type of environment where someone with the time and willingness to simply keep showing up and showing a kid they have someone who cares about them can be extremely impactful.

  3. What a wonderful story. My long-term end life goal is to be a philanthropist. Undoubtedly, this will take decades. Imagine coming into a bad situation and having the ability to change the lives of a person, or even a group of people. What you did here is similar to that, just on a smaller scale. This is a nice stepping stone to philanthropy!

    Good stuff guys

    1. Thanks for the kind words Dave. I do want to reinforce that my wife and I were only one of several people who were able to contribute financially in this situation to throw some gas on a fire that took a loooooong time to get going. Hopefully it will be a positive thing that will help this family out.

      Agree that philanthropy will also play a large roll in my future.

  4. I’m glad you could share this story about your father and the CASA experience. It’s so important to have goals beyond early retirement or financial independence; you have to have greater purpose than that! I struggle with wanting to give, give, give, yet also wanting to be wise in setting ourselves up for the future. It’s a tough balance sometimes.

    1. I agree it is a tough balance. I think the key is to develop an abundance mentality vs a scarcity mentality, realizing that your resources are not limited. However it can be easier said than done at times.

  5. Great post. “Just show up” comes to mind after reading your father’s story. The several years of just showing up enabled your father to have the impact that I am guessing he was intending to have from the beginning. In considering life choices, I need to remember this because I tend to move on to new things too quickly.

    Your parents’ question about what you will do after a year of ski/climb/hike bumming is a good one. One I experienced first hand that I will summarize briefly.

    I had enough FU money that enabled me to quit a toxic work situation with the only goal to become healthy again. After several months of focusing on my health, I was in fact much better and skied all winter and spring. I couldn’t ski everyday all winter and was looking for intellectual stimulation (assessing snowpack stability only worked for so long). I stumbled on a couple of non profits that I volunteered with and even traveled to Kenya with one as part of a water project. I then landed an international job working on similar project the following year. I learned a lot about my self through this stage of my life, which was wonderful.

    My favorite work right now is mentoring some college students - so fun and challenging.

    Thanks for sharing, and I hope the boy and his father continue to improve their lives.

    1. I’m really glad that you picked up on the importance of “just showing up”. I think we often get caught up in the idea that we need to have a master plan or make a grand gesture to make a difference, but sometimes just being consistent and giving our time is what is needed. I really desire to be able to do some similar things and live a less rushed life.

      Also appreciate you sharing your experiences. As I have been getting closer to pursuing this very different lifestyle, I began to have some serious anxiety b/c I don’t know exactly I want to pursue next. Over the past few weeks, I have come to the realization that I need to embrace the uncertainty as an adventure which is exactly what I need at this point in life. It is great to hear about the opportunities that have come out of this for you.

      Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts.


  6. I’m so glad that this young man and his father had the impact of your father showing up and caring. Especially when your father worried it was pointless. Kudos to the group of people who helped with the car & insurance for the first year. Reliable transportation makes an incredible difference in poor-people’s lives. CASA volunteers are so vital. The systems are often so hard on all who try to work in them. Thank your father from a random woman on the internet.

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