Is it Worth It?

Is early retirement worth all the savings, planning and discipline to get there?  There are days that I doubt that fact.  For an early retirement blog you think that would be a sacrilegious statement and that I should be struck down by lightning, but the fact is that never happens.

The journey to early retirement is a very long one and it is all about self-discipline.  The fact of the matter is you can stop trying to get there at any time.  No one is making you save your money or pay down your mortgage.  You can toss your plan out the window one-day in frustration and go buy a new car instead or take a cruise.  Other than your spouse no one will likely even try to stop you (and depending if your spouse isn’t on board with the plan they may even help you pick the cruise package).

To choose early retirement over a ‘normal’ middle class existence is to set yourself apart from others.  Humans unfortunately aren’t built to spend your lives apart from others.  We are social animals and thus seek acceptance and belonging from others.  We build communities not isolated existences for the most part.  So by choosing early retirement you are accepting a certain amount of loneliness that will never go away as you will never be fully accepted by some people.

That is a fairly high price to pay for freedom.  So I get why people want to give up at times.  The world can be fairly brutal at times and in our self imposed isolation can be hard to justify.  We can tell ourselves we don’t need stuff, but we still look at the latest movie, book, electronic or clothes ads and think that would be nice to have.  We tell ourselves we don’t need that morning coffee and a muffin, but at times we really just want that muffin and the budget can go to hell.  We tell ourselves we don’t need to eat out, but it is really nice to have a meal where you don’t have to cook or clean up.

So what is the solution?  Give up, but just a little bit.  To combat these feelings might I suggest some ‘un-savings.’  What is ‘un-savings’, it basically money you put aside for the express reason of buying stuff you don’t need, that morning muffin or a meal out when you had a crappy day.  Go ahead and buy some social acceptance with our peers with a round of golf, shopping trip or what ever else everyone is doing this weekend.  Make ‘un-savings’ a regular line item in your savings plan and push off your early retirement target by a year or two if need be.

Then if you really want go ahead and plan to buy that new car or cruise (just save up for it in advance and skip the credit card).  There is nothing stopping you for living today a little bit more if you need.  I’m taking a week long trip to Hawaii with my wife this winter and we are budgeting about $400/day for eating out, shopping and tourist attractions.  To put that $400/day in context our normal spending on those things is that amount for a month.

Then recall you are not alone, there are lots of early retirement blogs out there for you to read other people’s stories and leave comments to discuss issues that come up.  Early retirees are not a big group of people, but they still exist just about everywhere.

So is early retirement worth it?  Most of the time I think so, but just like everyone else I do have my days of doubt.  Maybe I just need to buy a muffin on the way to work this morning.  What do you think?

13 thoughts on “Is it Worth It?”

  1. Go get a muffin! I like the breakfast sandwiches myself. I think this post resonates with a lot of us ‘savers’. Myself, I try and find a balance. I could be saving more, living like a hermit and pinching every penny. In fact I know a few people who have done that for 30+ years. I don’t think thats the best route to go. Likewise you have those that maybe save a few bucks here or there and spend the rest. I honestly believe we should be somewhere in the middle. I save 20-30% of gross but still spend 20-30% of gross on ‘other stuff’. Home renovations (never ending), eating out, spending time away (we’re lucky to have a family cottage), or going out occasionally to the movies or with friends and family.

    If people try and just sit for 20-30 or even 40 years and not spend a penny, you’ve missed the whole point of saving – which in the end is to provide a financial safety cushion in the event of a dramatic and unexpected event. Buying things with huge price tags will become pretty meaningless once your 50 or 60 and finally have that nest egg. Ideally it would be nice to start really enjoying life at 40 or even earlier. Having that cushion allows you to act on those life choices. Maybe take summers off, do part-time work, travel more, whatever you like. Break out of the 9-5 mold.

    In a way im preaching to myself here – enjoy life while you can. Saving x% of income comes second….but not third, fourth or fifth!


  2. In Portland, Oregon, we have a “1% for Arts” program that ensures art is part of every public building project.

    So why not a “1% for fun before early retirement” budget item? Makes sense to me as any decent early retirement plan is going to have a significant savings rate… at 50% savings rate, that 1% is really a 2% drag on your goal, so it’s not going to significantly slow the savings goal.

  3. Great post, Tim… I have to thank you for this blog, as it was this site that, once I stumbled upon it, planted the ER seed in my mind.

    I am still determined to ER by 45, hopefully sooner, but there are a litany of factors which will determine this. That said, if my lifestyle suffered excessivley by this desire to retire early, I’m not sure I could do it. Yet despite the fact my wife and I could be living much “larger”, we don’t feel we are depriving ourselves of much. We still do our 2-3 weeks in Mexico every year, we eat what we want, I still am able to have lots of electronic gadgets (which are my weakness)etc. Living an ultra spartan existence would probably kill my enthusiasim for ER.

    Our big sacrifice (if you can call it that), is that we live in far less house than we can afford… but without kids its hard to justify getting something bigger.

    Again, love the blog…

  4. I’ve been a victim of frugality burnout. My savings over the last few years have been excessive by any standards. A little bit of lifestyle inflation would have been a good thing but I was still living as if I made 1/3 as much.
    One of the things that has been hard is to be okay with wanting some of the things that I want and not telling myself that they don’t matter. Because sometimes they do. I think it also ties into how much discomfort or inconvenience you’re comfortable with. Uber-frugals see it as some kind of game or challenge or are born ascetics.
    I also don’t necessarily agree that people who are extreme savers have the same motivations for social acceptance etc. as those who aren’t that way (for further reading on this see Steven Reiss’ “The Normal Personality” on motivation.)
    The muffin wouldn’t do it for me though – Tim Horton’s coffee on the other hand… 🙂

  5. I think this is a great idea. We all need some slush money, money that we can use for our impulse purchases and little pick me ups. Without this we get discouraged and put ourselves in the situation of wanting to give up. Money is meant to give us the opportunity to enjoy the things we like doing so by not saving it to an extreme, we limiting our life experiences. Balance is the key. Make sure you prepare yourself financially for the type of retirement you want to live but also allow yourself to live now.

  6. My most recent frugality crisis was my inner battle on whether or not to buy an Ipad… so far I have resisted, but it is sooooooo hard.

  7. @Ron,

    I agree with that penny pitching is a little over kill and thankfully I don’t fall into that all that often.


    Actually that isn’t a bad idea. Setting a few percent in your overall budget for ‘fun’ is a good idea. It actually reminds me when my wife wanted to add a line item for eating out and booze. Just to ensure we get out for a nice meal at least once a month and have money for the odd bottle of wine or case of beer.

    @Jon Snow,

    Thanks! By the way, you don’t need the Ipad, but it is ok to want one. I know I’m not helping.


    I sort of see what you are getting at. Early retirement planners tend to be less ‘needy’ of social acceptance, but I still think there is a part of us that still needs some acceptance. Regardless how that occurs it will likely cost you some money like driving to visit family or providing a gift on a significant occasion. It’s hard to remove yourself completely from needing some level of social acceptance.

    @Miss T,

    Well said, perhaps I should just have you write the next post. You summed it up well.

    Thanks everyone,

  8. Another thought regarding “is it worth it?”…

    I definitely don’t want to end up like my coworker (same income plus spouse has income) who lost his home and is getting a divorce because that family can’t manage their finances and are/were anticipating a large inheiritance to pay for the future.

    Can anyone imagine how a person who has not been unemployed managed to lose a house?

  9. There is more to early retirement, than early retirement. First, having money means many things. Not having to work gives you all sorts of time to do, within your budget and physical abilities and age, many areas you can explore and find fun and enjoyment in. There is one thing that no one, not even Bill Gates can buy! More time!!! Tell me where is the store that I can go and buy one more hour or day? If you want to work, so be it. As for me I stopped working several months past my 45th birthday. One of the three best decisions I ever made in my life. Possession of money separates one from the herd and that is a good thing. You get up and work! You get up and rush through the traffic! You rush home to all that is left to do there!!! Not me pal!! I get up about 8.00pm or so and my day, strange as it may sound always seems to be filled with chores I have to do or, even better, want to do. Now that my wife has retired too, we have a great life we share together. Work, someone has to do it! Just NOT me. Think of all those hours I have had to myself to contemplate existance and what lies ahead. We only get one shot at life and at 72 I hope I have a huge number of years left. More money would be nice and I would have more money if interest rates were not almost at zero. Still, one must make do with what one has and there is always tomorrow. There is also the area helping other people. My motto is, I may give you an hour of my time, but none of my money. Money insulates you from most of the harshness on the planet. Can’t pay your bills? Lost your job? If your money is working for you, all you have to be able to do is live within your means and the money will be there each month for your needs. Remember, time is the great enemy. As T. Williams said, “You can be young without money; but you can’t be old without money!” I could write far more on this subject but that is all for now.

  10. “So by choosing early retirement you are accepting a certain amount of loneliness that will never go away as you will never be fully accepted by some people.”

    I think that’s the biggest part of the problem–my solution has always been to have a clear enough goal in mind–a picture of what life will be like at retirement so clear that it’s like a magnet pulling you toward the light.

  11. I’m all for saving, but remember this life could end tomorrow, so make sure you do have fun and have that muffin and coffee every so often!!!

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