the process

living for today — and tomorrow

early retirement is, by definition, a very future-focused pursuit. most people saving for retirement aren’t saving enough to feel the pain of what they’re not able to spend, and retirement must feel like some far-off, abstract thing. but when you’re on the early retirement path, that means saving an amount that you feel subtracted from your cash flow. it requires a lot of planning, and thinking, and adjusting, and more planning and thinking, more readjusting, and on and on.

it’s natural to be future-focused, when you’re spending a lot of your mental energy planning for something in the future. and we think it’s okay to think a lot about the future.

the only problem: the future is never guaranteed.

we already know that we may not have a whole lot of good years left, at least for one of us, but we hope we still have more than a few. but we have no idea what the future holds. any of us could die tomorrow. or something terrible could happen that renders us unable to live life to its fullest.

just like the old adage that no one looks back, at the end of their life, and says, “i wish i’d spent more time at the office,” we’re pretty sure no one ever says, “i wish i’d spent more time missing out on the present because i was focused on the future.” (in truth, it’s a long list of things probably no one laments on their death bed, but which too many of us do anyway, like having spent more time obsessing about what our bodies look like, or wishing we were better looking, or holding grudges, or putting others down, or gossiping, or playing video games.)

so even though it’s natural to focus on the future when we’re planning for early retirement, we’re doing our best to stay focused on the present, as well. early retirement is a marathon, not a sprint, after all. we’ve run five marathons between the two of us, and we’ve learned that overtraining is worse than undertraining, leading to burn-out and injuries. living with total focus on the future is the equivalent of overtraining, leading to burn-out in life from not spending some time and money on things that are important to keep us all grounded and sane.

but we don’t want to just be grounded and sane. we want to enjoy our life today, not just tomorrow. and we don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that we need ____ to make us happy. (“everything will be perfect once we retire early.”) for us, the goal is to find contentment in the present moment, and realize that we don’t need more than what we have and who we are today.

we aren’t much for inspirational posters, but we do have one hanging in one of our offices, and it says:

the secret to having it all is believing that you already do

and so we’ve adopted that as our mindset. we think that how we think about things is oftentimes more important than what we think. and it’s for sure true with this. just letting yourself entertain the possibility, and being willing to believe, that maybe you do have it all, can have a powerful effect. and indeed, over time, it’s become not just something we believe, but something we know.

we do have it all.

sure, in the future, once we’re no longer working, we’ll have a different version of “it all,” but that doesn’t mean we don’t have it all today. we literally have everything we need to be healthy, happy and safe. we have people who love us, and people we love. we have each other (our best bad investment!). we have more free time than a lot of people in the world. we have a roof over our head, in a place we love. we have the ability to travel and experience people and places different from ourselves and where we live.

if that’s not having it all, we don’t know what is. and that’s not actually that high of a bar. we could say all of that whether or not we had a big 401(k) balance, or an index fund balance that’s inching closer to an amount that will support us for 20+ years, or a mortgage that’s close to being paid off. that stuff is great, it will help us sleep at night once we quit our jobs, but it’s not necessary. we are pretty sure no one, going back to the deathbed, looks back and says, “i wish i’d blown more money on stuff.”

having it all has nothing to do with things. it has to do with love, time and freedom.

the things that matter don’t cost all that much, in the scheme of things, and we all owe it to ourselves not to lose sight of that. to remind ourselves to notice the beauty around us every day. to enjoy the season of life that we’re in. to make the most of each day. to allow ourselves to be happy and complete, even when we haven’t yet achieved all our goals. to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

do you ever find that you get swept up in focusing on the future? how do you keep yourself grounded and present? share your experiences in the comments!

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36 replies »

  1. This is actually a good articulation of my thoughts: don’t forget to live now as well!

    Our budget has room for that. We have fun money for restaurants, short holidays, experiences. And we try to do it frugal: this does not mean cheap. If something is expensive but we value the experience a lot, then we do it.
    We keep contact with friends and families and throw the regular birthday party with cake and candles. Or the friends BBQ. We could saving money not doing it, but then I do not consider it living by design.

    The hard part is not to worry about the future each free moment. It is more difficult than I thought to not worry about the numbers, process, options… I still need to learn that

    • It’s great you allocate money for “present” experiences, and take time to spend with friends and family! We’ve found that to be so important.

      We’re with you on still learning not to focus too much on the future, and not to worry. We’ve found that taking a moment to feel some gratitude helps! We ask ourselves “What are we grateful for at this moment?” and that has a pretty amazing grounding effect. :-)

  2. Fascinating post. I am 16 years younger than my husband and I come from a lot of very long lived women so it is not unreasonable to think I have another 40 years while he has another 15-20. His pension will continue coming to me after his death until my death. If all things remain the same I will be fine living on that. But we all know all things don’t remain the same. Inflation will eat away the buying power of the pension income. We live below our means to pay into savings each month. We do without some things to be able to do that. Inflation is essentially a certainty. At some future point, we will have to stop adding to savings and start drawing on those savings to maintain our lifestyle. Interest rates change. If they were to rise again, we would have more income later meaning we’d saved too much today. The other thing is I simply don’t trust governments. We already have had a couple of small blows. The age at which I can begin drawing my Canadian government pension has been raised so I can’t get it at age 65. I must wait until age 66 and 4 months. I have seen how governments in financially troubled places simply swoop in and steal a percentage of savings from those who have them. So it is entirely possible that all or a portion of what we depend on for our monthly income or what we have saved by doing without, could simply vanish. If that happens, won’t we have been silly to have done the right thing and saved and earned instead of spending it all now? So our life is always about assessing what is want and what is need and how great the need is, one eye on the future and one on the present and an ear cocked to what the government is up to.

    • We sometimes wonder about this — whether the system could just collapse in the future, and all of our good saving will have been for naught. In our case, we think about it in terms of climate change, global food and water shortages, and the unrest that could follow. But it’s the same question — will our best-laid plans ultimately be helpful? We think, though (and curious to know what you think!), that it’s still good to plan, if for no better reason than it gives us peace of mind right now and probably for several more years. That’s worth a lot!

      • As a scientist with a whole lot of training in statistics I have no faith in the reliability of the computer model projections that generate climate alarmism or that the our addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is going to destroy the planet unless we destroy our way of life. I also don’t accept the 97% of all scientists agree figure as I think that has been horrifically distorted. (I did surveys too and I can spot a very badly biased one.) 97% agree that man has been a factor in changing the climate and that the climate changes. That is a far from cry from the constant crap in the media where every big storm and every drought and flood is touted as proof of climate change. However there are plenty of other weather events worth being prepared for, not to mention earthquakes and volcanoes, and lots of other real environmental issues to do something about, so I mostly get along okay with the alarmists, as long as some ideologue doesn’t accuse me of being in the pay of big oil. I wish! It’s a conundrum, save or spend, because if the system holds, then you’re wise. If it fails, you’re stupid. We do have some of our savings invested in stuff like gold and silver and we made sure the place we have put most of our savings in is a Credit Union that has good local investment strategy and guarantees well beyond the federal banking system. Even if the entire banking system collapsed we are almost outside of that. The important thing is that during the great depression people hit the hardest were those who had a lot of money and a high lifestyle before and ended up with debt and foreclosure afterward. If you are debt free, self sufficient, and living a simple life, honestly what can they really do?

      • Oh and a lot of scientists won’t say stuff like that in public about climate change, especially if they work for the government. It can get you fired or cost you your grants and promotions, almost all of which depend on a “good” reputation with government. I’m retired so they can’t do anything to me for questioning questioning the reliability of the hockey stick.

  3. That’s a great quote, and reminds me of the best thing to come of planning for FIRE. That is appreciating what we have, and realizing that more, bigger, newer things don’t make you happy. It’s a nice feeling being happy with what you have.

    • We’re with you 100%. Planning for FIRE has helped us reset our thinking in so many ways — being more appreciative, seeing less need for stuff, understanding what we really need vs just want. Nice feeling, indeed!

  4. Very inspiring post! I find myself focusing on the future often as I strive for FIRE and often not living in the present and in the moment. I’m often rushing to do something as time is at a premium when you still have to work the 9-5. But you shouldn’t wait to LIVE until you fire, you have to enjoy the journey as well. I realized that one day at an aquarium with my toddler, I was checking the schedule, trying to rush around and plan what we should see…while he was content and very excited about looking at the tank of fish when we first arrived. In my haste to plan the trip, I almost failed to enjoy the moment with him and pulled him away so that we can “enjoy” more stuff.

    • What a great example, and it seems like having a young child could really be a great reminder to stay present. Little kids live completely in the present, and maybe we should all follow their lead a lot more!

  5. I used to be huge planner – everything had to be planned to the smallest detail. That included our future. However, as I get older I find that there are things you don’t have control over and you often times forget to live in the present when you are busy planning the future. My husband is very good at living in the present and over the years I have learned from him to just enjoy today and plan what you can for tomorrow, with the understanding that we have to be flexible and sometimes change gears if needed. Living a more slower paced lifestyle has allowed me to enjoy every minute of today, while looking forward to tomorrow (and it’s surprises).

    • Love this way of thinking about it — planning vs going with the flow. Like you guys, we are a planning wife and a go-with-the-flow husband, and that has sometimes led to tension. But we find that we both benefit when we try to adopt a little bit of the other’s approach. :-)

  6. I absolutely relate to your analogy on planning for retirement like training for a marathon. I have run two half marathons (can that maybe pass as a full when added together?!), and the overtraining & strenuous work can be brutal…and potentially set you back. I prepare as much for the future, but also tend to my present by allocating money for what I like to call rewards savings. This past weekend I went to Vegas for one of my best friend’s Bachelorette & prepared accordingly by setting aside money months in advanced. I would’ve kicked myself in the shins if I turned down that trip simply because I would rather save the money for myself in the future instead. Friendship, support, and spending time with people I care about are things I truly value. I would not want to look back in hindsight regretting the times I didn’t spend with the people I care about. Great perspective!

    • Saw your bachelorette party pics on Twitter, and so glad you did that! So important to make those memories with close friends, especially around the big life events. We were at a bachelor/bachelorette in Vegas a few years ago where several of the attendees were clearly super stressed about money. We would be the first to recommend to everyone that they only spend what they can afford, but it was clear that they didn’t want to spend on the memories because they had, basically, big car payments. We thought that was all out-of-whack (and while we’d like to think otherwise, we might have even told them so after a little drinking!). Travel and making memories with loved ones are the very best uses of money. :-)

  7. It is very true that it gets too easy to focus almost entirely on the future when you’re gunning for early retirement. It’s that bright, brilliant light at the end of the tunnel that everybody within this community is just dying to reach. It’s all we can think about.

    But like you very eloquently said, staying grounded in the present is how we maintain the requisite sanity needed to achieve those longer-term goals. If we neglect our future, then not only are we more prone to mistakes now, but our present-day frustrating and stress levels tend to rise, making our goals that much harder to reach.

    Yeah, that seems to be counter-productive.

    My wife and I focus on the present by doing fun things together. That might include hiking a new trail over the weekend, or cooking a decadent meal every now and then, taking night swims in our pool to cool us off from the 100+ degree days that are now in full swing in southern Arizona, and lots and lots of travel while we are still working.

    For example, Glacier National Park is in July. We are toying with another Sedona trip (but camping this time!) in August. Then, we’re in New York in September for a wedding and some sight seeing. Albuquerque hot air balloon festival in October, Savanna, GA in November and Key West, FL the week between Christmas and New Years.

    If that’s not focusing on the present and having some fun while we still have “jobs”, I don’t know what is. :)

    • Thanks, Steve. You roster of trips sounds awesome. And definitely camp Sedona! 😉 Love your description of the “bright brilliant light that we’re all dying to reach.” It DOES have a way of blinding us to other things!

  8. I’m a very goal oriented person and my main goal currently is financial independence. Therefore I can get caught up in trying to not spend money and investing every extra penny. When summer time rolls around I like to stop and smell the roses. Friends want to take weekend trips and catch back up. This is when I realize it’s okay to break off a little and spend some money since it will create great memories and maintain relationships. Once it gets cold again though, I save, save, save for my future goals :)

  9. I love this post, we do have so much more than most of the world, people forget to remember how much we have,every day I am grateful we have running water, a warm place to live, a car to get places especially when the weather is bad, people at work complain about the dumbest things, I tell them how lucky we are for the above reasons they just don’t get it.
    Also from the financial side buying experiences don’t typically cost all that much and affect your fi journey that much (unless you are going on crazy trips) but a dinner out with friends occasionally or seeing a play will not make real change in the scheme of things. I was using one of those fi calculators and I think it said if I saved another $200/ month I would only reach fi about 4 months early (over 10 year saving period and a low 30k fi budget) probably not worth it if I spend the money on things I enjoy (outdoor gear, travelling, concerts etc)

    • I love that you’re so tuned in and grateful! And yes, exactly on that math! We could have scrimped harder and foregone a lot of wonderful experiences and shaved what? a few months? off our FI timeline? Not worth it at all. We’re completely happy with the pace we’ve taken.