I want to talk about lifestyle choices and how it relates to ecology and building a better future on this planet and others. This talk is going to take a detour and I hope you will stay with me.
I retired early from the corporate world on 5OCT2012. I was 40 years old. I set a plan to retire early in 10 years in the summer of 1998. I was finishing up an undergrad and just discovered the Living Universe Foundation. I knew intuitively that my academic choice to study Business, Economics, and Accounting was not going to lead to my best life, even if it paid the bills. I like to say I “failed well” because my 10 year plan took 14 years.
The standard bearer of the FIRE movement is Pete Adenay, more commonly known as “Mr. Money Mustache“. This man is the first of many internet celebrities in the early retirement community thanks to his popular blog. Pete combines snark, common sense, frugality, minimalism, an ecological mindset, and hard cold math to champion the cause. He has turned Longmont, Colorado into an improbable Mecca for financial independence. Pete is a Canadian transplant who held a short career in coding and retired at the tender age of 33 to life his best life.
For me, an essential part of happiness is living according to my personal Core Values. Having time to reflect since 2012, I’ve come to recognize that most people can’t even define what their own personal core values are. It is no wonder so many people are unhappy with their corporate careers and the pressure to conform to an external set of core values that are provided by the company. It is also unlikely that the young 20 somethings who finish university with the pressure of a ton of student debt and no clue who they are as a person can successfully choose a career that is consistent with who they are as a person. There is a lot to be said for finding a career that is your passion – if said career pays the bills. If not, there is quite a lot to be said for beating the corporate system and living your best life on your own terms thereafter.
One of the things that has become important to me is Frugalism. This is a recurring theme within the FIRE community. Anyone with some basic math chops and a spreadsheet can quickly model that the fastest path to early retirement is driven primarily by savings rate and not by rate of investment return. It is a two fold driver in that learning to live on less both means you save more and need to save less to retire. There is also a deep current of ecological mindfulness running in the community. Rejecting consumerism, producing less trash, not buying worthless plastic crap, living lighter on the land, and reducing, reusing, and recycling aren’t just good for the environment. They are good for your pocket book.
Another common element in the community is minimalism. I don’t personally take this to the level as some hard core early retirement enthusiasts do. For some inspiration check out Early Retirement Extreme for an amusing set of guidelines to retire within five years. While I applaud the people who have found success with that method, I prefer to take everything in moderation. It might be for you and you might be a little less extreme and decide to retire in only 7.5 years (you slacker!) I have figured out that the Native American proverb is right. We don’t own stuff; it takes possession of us. I still get a little grief from friends and family for not having “enough” furniture. But I’m living my best life.
Quite a few early retirees adopt Stoicism. We have a lot of time to reflect. And it is fairly common to come to the conclusion that there is a lot in life we can’t control. But that to live your best life, you must take care of something that is always within you control, which is manage how to react to adversity. This is perhaps sort of a cop out. I feel like I have two reasons to take things in stride that people who aren’t me don’t. The first is the medication I take to suppress the symptoms of my Tourette’s Syndrome. The second is it is basically impossible for me to have the kind of hardship that will leave me homeless at this point. It is easy to shrug your shoulders when you know ahead of time everything is going to be OK. It is just one of the reasons I champion Financial Independence.
I have a lot of free time these days. I honestly believe now that humans are not meant to toil away for long hours, especially for years at a time. There isn’t enough art or music or beauty in this world. And there isn’t enough charity or activism. Surely, one of the things that keeps obnoxious forces in power of commerce and government is the masses do not have the time to organize a proper resistance. These days, I have time to spend with the Living Universe Foundation, the National Space Society, my local Water Board, and local Homeowner’s Association. I have yet to radically change the world. But I’m convinced a few hundred thousand people with my freedom and a like mind could do amazing things. The ability to pursue a passion is reason enough to pursue Financial Independence.
Freedom of choice is a wonderful thing. I now think of my career days as my “wage slave” days. I had to be at a certain place at a certain time, do certain things, conform to someone else’s expectations, … or else … Americans like to pride themselves on their Freedom. Very few of them realize how precious little of it they actually have and what they give up to have the latest gadgets and fashions. I’m exploring some employment options after almost 7 years of Early Retirement. Salary isn’t going to be important. But flexibility and making a difference and autonomy are. I wasn’t in a negotiating position to ask for those things before. I’d lay odds most of you reading this right now are in a very weak negotiating position with your supervisor. You probably can’t negotiate a raise or a 9/80 schedule or additional vacation. That would change if you literally didn’t need the salary any longer.
I hope I’ve persuaded you that pursuing Financial Independence is a worthy goal. I’d like to also persuade you that it is also fully achievable. First up is a video I’d like share. Mr. Money Mustache gave a Ted Talk about the “Shockingly Simple Math of Early Retirement“. He had some great things to say about getting off the Hedonic Treadmill. But he also had some solid research (academically oriented types are encouraged to Google the “Trinity Study” and the works of Dr. Wade Pfau) that define what has come to be known as the 4% rule. This is the generally accepted wisdom among academics who study personal finance and retirement that the sustainable withdrawal rate over more than a century from a portfolio has been at least 4%. Once you have 25 your annual budget saved, you are done! That will seem impossible to many but don’t forget the power of compound interest. Your portfolio will grow slowly at first and then mightily later. You can do this. And I hope you’ll join me so we explore the stars together.