we've learned

early retirement is a marathon, not a sprint

recently, we decided that we’re going to can plans for a splurgy trip this summer, and instead do a camping road trip somewhere in the western u.s. we decided this in part because tickets to our desired destination were stupidly expensive, despite the strong dollar, and in part because we’re feeling a bit daunted by the financial targets we’ve set for ourselves this year. (we recently decided to quit our jobs at the end of 2017 pretty much regardless of where we are financially, but of course we want to be ready to retire completely at that point. so the clock is ticking, and the pressure is on.)

at this point in time, we’re close enough to our financial independence day to be able to defer trips like the one we originally planned for a few years, but what if we were still five or 10 years away from retiring? should we stick to only frugal travel completely?

we know plenty of bloggers who would say yes. who would say that it’s worth sacrificing now in order to get to retirement sooner. or who would say that they are frugal by nature, and therefore would never take a splurgy trip regardless of their future plans. well that, friends, is not us. we are not frugal by nature, in the least, and we’ll share some stuff right now that might make us look like downright assholes. fact 1: we had several $400 dinners back when we were dating, not to mention that we dated cross-country for a year, and saw each other on average every two to three weeks (though we banked a lot of miles for all those dollars spent on air travel!). fact 2: our last european trip cost us nearly $10,000 for about a week. don’t worry, we cringe too when we read that stuff. and as you’ve gathered by now, we’re completely reformed now, because we see freedom as being worth the sacrifice. and, in truth, we’ve changed our perspective so we no longer see most of what we’re doing as sacrificing anything. it’s just a different way of living.

but, on the question of whether to do everything frugally in service of ER goals, we would take the contrary view, and say that it’s fine to splurge sometimes. we like to remind ourselves that early retirement is a marathon, not a sprint, and the worst thing we could do is burn ourselves out early in the process by being too strict or restrictive. the key is knowing yourself, and what you need to be successful and stick with something.

it’s just like dieting. if you’re good at eating 100 percent healthy all the time and you never need to cheat, then great. (also, we’re deeply jealous of you.) most people need little moments to indulge, though, to make the diet bearable. and that’s how saving for early retirement has been for us. we’re proud of how we’ve reformed our ways and made huge progress toward our goals, but we’re not sure we could have done it if we were in full on frugal mode from day one and every day thereafter. especially for travel. we don’t regret any money we’ve spent on travel or experiences, because those expenditures really do bring lasting happiness, unlike buying stuff. travel is a big priority for us (we’ve previously written about the trade off of traveling now or saving to travel later), and to us, not leaving the u.s. for the entire decade that we’ve been saving would be in some sense like not living. that’s not worth it, and it’s not sustainable — at least not for us. but maybe it would work for you. that’s for you to decide.

what do you think? are you okay with splurges along the way to get to early retirement? or prefer to save every possible dollar and get to fi day as soon as possible? what splurges are worthwhile to you, if you’re into that sort of thing?

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22 replies »

  1. I’d say my main splurge is travel, but I try to be smart about it. I went to Europe for a week last year but stayed at friends places in London and Ireland so that I only had to pay for flights and food/activities. I also plan vacations at times where flights and hotels are reasonable. I’m not too much of a travel hacker, but I use CC rewards to the extent possible. While I want to be FI by a certain date, I’m not going to live under a rock to get there. Accidents happen, people’s health can go, so you never know what tomorrow can bring so I still like to have experiences along the way such as travel.

    • Jealous that you have friends to stay with in the UK and Ireland! ;-) We completely agree that health can go (a major concern of ours), so love how you’re balancing saving and *living*.

  2. We are known to get the chef’s special or our favorite, Omakase’s, when we dine out and these can be pricey. We recognize that we tend to have expensive tastes but we always try to seek value for our dollar. More importantly, I think your spending should align with your values – so splurge away if you can! On a side note, I would recommend camping and driving along the central California coast (Big Sur is beautiful!).

  3. There is nothing wrong with splurging, especially if it’s controlled. The ability to use judgment, understand what you’re doing and the consequences of your actions is what separates the occasional splurge from irresponsible spending. To me, this is very similar to breaking a rule or law. If you understand why the rule or law was established, you can break it without getting yourself into a stick situation. Understand why the rule was put in place before attempting to break it.

    Much like yourselves, travel is very much a part of our future plans. In fact, we have toyed with the idea of renting out our soon-to-be-purchased town house in Sedona, AZ as a vacation rental and live on the road for a while, maybe 3 to 6 months at a time, in a small RV. I will probably turn my retirement blog into more of a travel blog by then and fill it with the most beautiful photography that I can possibly come up with.

    I think giving yourself a drop dead date is an excellent way to go about this whole process of aggressive savings and retiring early. It’s the “Go big or go home” phenomenon, and it seems like you have no intention of going home. :)

    • Your plan to live on the road sounds awesome — please share your adventures when the time comes! We also plan to transition to more of a travel blog once we reach the point of no return (or the “go big” date). :-) We want to buy a Sprinter van and use that as a mobile homebase… much the same as your vision.

      • Yup, I will definitely share. This is still a little ways off so we aren’t sure whether we will rent or buy a vehicle for this. I feeling is we’ll probably rent cause we may not be doing this full time. But, we’ll see. The Sprinter-van type of vehicle is pretty close to the space that we’d be looking for.

        It’s going to be a fun process to go through how to work all this out and where to go first. :)

  4. Personally, I tend not to think about things in terms of splurge or save. I am frugal by nature and very much enjoy DIY/ anti-consumer living habits. So when I am faced with big purchases, I think about the value and fulfillment. Will I get fulfillment out of this proportional to money spent? I tend to highly value experiences, like travel, live shows, professional sporting events, etc. My catch is I tend to always turn potentially splurgy experiences into opportunities for frugality. For example, when we travel, we always tent camp and 95% of the time for free. I always plan everything we will eat during the trip out and prep it ahead of time, so it can just be heated up on our Coleman two-burner stove at meal time. This frees up more cash to do something fun, like go white water rafting or ziplining. When we go to shows/ events, we limit ourselves to one drink so we don’t run up a crazy bar tab (I actually enjoy refraining from alcohol in these settings as I find it helps me tune in and appreciate the experience more fully). Being frugal like this helps me find the value in spending large quantities of money, while also enjoy being a bit splurgy. I guess it all just depends on your perspective though, as many others would not agree that a week long camping trip is a “splurgy” vacation.

    I love the idea that ER is a marathon, not a race. Sometimes I get so caught up in thinking about life after retirement, desiring and longing for it, that I realize I’m not living in the present. I remind myself that even though I’m currently working, I have so many awesome opportunities every day to relish in and enjoy.

    • We are jealous of your frugal nature! It definitely did not come naturally for us, and is something we had to train. (Hmm… idea for a post?) Your approach to travel sounds great, and is something we do a lot too. But we love camping, so it never feels like a sacrifice.

      • Exactly!! To me the best vacation possible is roaming baseball forest land. Even better that it’s totally free :)

  5. I couldn’t agree more with your point of view in this post. It really IS a marathon. Mr. FI are at the latter end of the “5-10 years away from retirement” bucket you mentioned, and if we didn’t allow ourselves some splurges or the ability to do things that cost a little extra money every once in a while on our road to ER, I don’t think we’d make it. On top of that, when we get to the point of ER and look back, I really don’t want to think, “Man…I wish we had lived a little more on the way here…” and completely regret saving for our future life instead of enjoying our current one. Which is why, though we are okay with splurges, we choose them carefully and usually in the form of experiences rather than things like you said. I’m not going to remember the name of my current smart phone 10 years from now, but I’ll probably remember studying abroad in Costa Rica for the rest of my life. Those are the moments we will continue to pursue, along with the goal of ER. You got to find that balance or the whole journey becomes one that’s not worth telling. Thanks for sharing!

    • So nice to hear that you guys feel the same way, and take the same approach. We’re writing a post for next week about not being naturally frugal, and it’s the same idea — we need a few splurges to keep going (and we’re building them into our ER budget), but mostly on experiences, and only on things when they are things that let us have more experiences (like a better mountain bike, for example). Have a great day!

  6. Great analogy: it is a marathon, not a sprint. Being on the journey, we should indeed pay attention not to get bored or exhausted by pushing always for the maximum frugality.
    Our FIRE date is still far away – partially due to the mortgage and the kids, partially because we do not max out everything. We want to enjoy life also now. In fact, we are looking for the right balance being reaching FIRE as soon as possible, and enjoying life now, today.
    Today is a gift, tomorrow is a mystery…

    • We can definitely vouch for that approach — you need to enjoy your life on the road to ER. We could probably have saved more if we’d gone more austere, but then we’d probably burn out. So keep going with your approach!

  7. Travel is my splurge and I’ll never cut it out. With that said, there are plenty of places to go that aren’t super expensive AND you can go to the expensive places and not break the bank.
    $10k for a week in Europe sounds pretty spendy pants. But 2 weeks for $5k isn’t bad.

    • Totally with you on spending less to travel more. That last trip to London was definitely a “treat yo self” moment after a tough year (and, I might add, before we really figured out that we could retire soon, so hadn’t at all buckled down on spending — but we did budget for a splurgy trip). We know we can for sure travel for less — I’m sitting on 800K United miles, for goodness sake, and even have relatives in Europe. We will for SURE be hitting them up soon! :-)