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Bucking Tradition, But Not All Tradition // Finding Our Early Retirement Guard Rails

one of the things that excites (and terrifies) us about early retirement is how different it is from the usual path of working until 60+ and retiring to florida. we often find ourselves thinking about the sign-off emails that we’ll send at work in, oh, 2.5 years. (yeah, kinda cart before the horse.) these pretend emails we write in our heads are full of answers to the questions we expect people to ask:

how did we do it? it’s not that hard actually… just spend less than you earn and save a lot…

what will be do instead? why, we have a long list of adventures to undertake and creative projects to tackle…

why didn’t we want to work forever? well, we wanted something different for our lives…

maybe by the end of 2017, early retirement won’t be such a subversive idea, and more people will be doing it. but we work in sectors with especially career-minded, ambitious, committed people, and we suspect we’ll get more than a few head scratches in reaction to our news. and we like knowing that. we like feeling like we’re breaking the mold, especially since we’ve been the very model of the mold for so much of our lives, or at least our careers and the schooling that preceded them.

we like the thought of doing something different, and bucking tradition. it makes us feel like we’ve figured out some secret, and we get to reap the benefits along with very few others. it’s completely silly and a little childish, but we sorta think we have the secret treasure map (along with all of you on a similar path!), and it makes us feel special. we bet you feel kinda special, too.

but us being us, we’ve also asked ourselves the questions that naturally follow: does that mean we want to buck all traditions? what are the other secret treasure maps out there that we could find and follow? should we forgo all traditional modes of living and live off the land somewhere, travel forever or adopt an rv lifestyle? what about a tiny house? what if we went entirely off-grid in every sense of the word, or join a commune, or volunteer to go to mars? what if we moved to the high planes of south america and got a flock of llamas? what if we give all our money away and walk the earth like the ascetics of india?

somewhere in that conversation, we start to tense up and get that nervous look in our eyes, because we don’t want those things. despite the ways we’re choosing to live nontraditionally (early retirement, not having kids, making earth-friendly choices like buying food with no packaging, etc.), we’re still down with tradition in some pretty big ways. and we’re okay with that, too.

planning for early retirement has been a great thought experiment in finding our guard rails for when we want to buck tradition and when we want to embrace it. we absolutely expect our vision to evolve and maybe even change abruptly over time, but right now here’s where we are:

quit our jobs by the end of 2017, regardless of how much we’ve saved. this one is nontraditional even in the early retirement world. our financial independence day is date-bound, not dollar-bound, for reasons that will be clear when we pull the ripcord. we’re determined to get as close to our ideal number by that date, but we’re committed to walking away from our careers and hustling to make it work regardless.

have a home base that’s comfortable and private. even though we plan to travel a lot of the time after we quit, we definitely desire a home to come back to, preferably one with no shared walls. for now, that means staying put in our house, but we could downsize in the future. we don’t ever expect to be full-time nomads, though, nor full-time rv’ers. part of it is practical — we have a lot of outdoor gear that needs a home, most of which is essential to our outdoor passions — and part of it is metaphysical — we want the grounding effect of a proper “home.” the building, the permanent address, the memories, all of it.

embrace discomfort when we travel. while we want our home to be comfortable, we don’t want that for our travels. just the thought of a cruise makes us mildly nauseous (and not just the idea of seasickness), and same goes for a group bus tour. instead, we love getting off the beaten path, roughing it as much as possible, and experiencing life that you can’t find through the kind of sheltered travels that so many americans limit themselves to. we love camping, and someday plan to have a camping vehicle so we can criss-cross the continent, visit every national and provincial park, and drive down to tierra del fuego — but we don’t plan to get a big, honking rv. we plan to get a little tiny camping van with just the bare essentials. and even though we’re way past the “youth hostel” age cut-off, we’re still game to stay in hostels and pensions around the world, or couch surf with local families. good things happen when you get off the gringo trail. and sometimes the bad things that also happen make for the best stories and personal growth.

spend a lot of time with family. though we aren’t creating a family of our own, unless you count dogs, we are tight with both of our families and want to spend as much time with them as we can in retirement. sure, it might mean we park our hippie camping van in front of their homes for longer than their neighbors would like, or meet up for outdoor adventures, but family is a priority for us.

embrace radical self-reliance. we’ve never been to burning man, though we expect that to change in retirement, but one of its precepts that we love is “radical self-reliance,” the idea of being totally prepared for all situations, and taking responsibility for yourself in all situations. given society’s focus on outsourcing everything possible, this is a pretty nontraditional idea, one we wrote about here. of course we mean the basics — we’ll mow our own lawn, shovel our own snow, renovate our own kitchen — but we also envision making our own clothes, making virtually all of our own food (including condiments!), and making every household product we use (to supplement the beauty products we already make). this self-reliance is as much about saving money as it is about being active participants in our own lives. we want to know how to do everything, be able to handle our business even if we can’t afford to pay someone for their help, and get the satisfaction that comes from knowing we did something. just like with climbing mountains, we don’t crave the easy way.

other questions we haven’t figured out yet. will we dumpster dive for food? we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. how about live a car-free existence? doubtful. and some answers are obvious: we plan to stay married, for example. that’s pretty darn traditional. ;-)

that leads us to a big set of questions for you all today! so curious what you’ve figured out for your own life and future. what traditions are you rejecting or embracing? what have we not considered for our own list? any predictions for the future of the early retirement idea? will it come to be seen as mainstream anytime soon? will young people start planning their lives and careers differently as a matter of course, not divergence? we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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26 replies »

  1. I agree that it’s a nice feeling being able to live your life how you see fit, not the “traditional” plan. While I can lament blowing through so much money early in life, I’m fortunate that we’re in the 3 year window for our own ER date. We like FFLC or Fully Funded Lifestyle Change, since that’s what it will be for us. Again bucking the traditional view of retirement, and just define it as we see fit for our lives.

    • We’re in the same boat — we blew so much money early on, and could definitely be retired by now if we’d figured things out sooner. But better late (and still early, of course!) than never. Cheers to finding the path that’s best for each of us!

  2. Great post! I think you are smart to quit on a particular date and not a particular money amount… you can always make more money, but our time on this planet is limited and we need to experience it. I am like you, where I don’t have kids, so I know that I can always make ends meet no matter what… even if that means “dumpster diving” and “living like the ascetics of India”. :)

    Have you read “The Moneyless Man”? I think you might enjoy it. There are a few good takeaways for how you want to live.

      • You mentioned that you make your own beauty products. I’m curious what that entails. Is there a post on that? I have found that using coconut oil to ‘wash’ my face works great. And then I reused an old toner bottle and made a spritz of olive oil and water. We also have another reused spritzer of ACV and water. I know for a lot of people, it sounds counter intuitive to use oil on your face, but I have oily skin and it actually works better than the drying products. I’d love to hear what you do.

      • Great question, and we should probably do a post on it. We make all of our moisturizers and lip balm, plus specialty balms like vaporub and headache balm. We also make scrubs, which are super easy and make great gifts, and home cleansers (if you can count mixing vinegar with water “making” something). Toothpaste too (baking soda, clay and peppermint oil), and face masks (different clay blends). We had been making laundry soap, too, but actually switched to reusing our laundry bottles and refilling them with the bulk detergent at the coop, because that resulted in less packaging waste. Some spectacular FAILS have been trying to make solid shampoo and conditioner so that we could go through airport security with no liquids. That conditioner, in particular, was more like hair glue that didn’t come out for several washes. Ha! :-) And homemade deodorant — that’s easy to make, but doesn’t actually work. Kind of a problem!

        We’ve tried the oil cleansing method, and find that it isn’t the best fit for us, especially after workouts, so we tend to just use Dr Bronners baby soap, and then follow it with pure argan oil, our favorite moisturizer for face. For body and hands, we love whipped butters that use a solid moisturizer like shea or cocoa butter, combined with softer oils like apricot or almond and some essential oils for scent. With that combo you don’t need any emulsifying wax like candelila or beeswax, which makes our pores happier.

        Maybe that was the post right there! ;-)

  3. “we like feeling like we’re breaking the mold, especially since we’ve been the very model of the mold for so much of our lives, or at least our careers and the schooling that preceded them.”

    I LOVE this quote and idea. It is often hard to think that what we’re doing is the right thing b/c it goes against everything we’ve been taught to do and be to be a “success”.

    I know you 2 don’t have and aren’t planning on children, but this is something we have been discussing a lot with regards to what we will do with our young child and school. Do we want her to go to a traditional school and be socialized to current norms?

    Most of the things we learn through direct schooling and social pressure lock you into a standard lifestyle. Earn as much as possible (to pay high taxes), your house is an investment (actually the biggest fixed cost that locks you into a lifestyle), school is very important and so is worth financing (and sticking many with debt that they’ll carry for the rest of their lives).

    “Breaking the mold” is what allows you to live a different lifestyle and have freedom!

    • Totally makes sense to question that stuff for your daughter. But don’t underestimate the role of parents! Having you all helping her see the light will make all the difference in the world to prepare her to choose her own path. And, after all, that good, traditional schooling is what led us and you to be able to earn enough to retire early — so it’s not all bad. ;-)

  4. I don’t think it will ever be mainstream but from what I have read, I think people are taking more control over their schedules. Freelancing is way up, and people conforming to the 9-5 (and usually later) grind isn’t as prestigious. All things come in waves and I think this is cyclical as well. Millennials don’t like other people controlling their time, they’d rather get their work done in their time constraints and spend the free time doing what they enjoy.

    I too will always need a home base, and won’t be a permanent nomad. I’ll definitely be bucking the trend of working until 65. I have already bucked the trend of being afraid to say no to friends and coworkers. If a group of people is going to an expensive club or bar with a cover, I’m not afraid to say “no, not tonight.” Also I don’t think I’ll ever pay someone to manage my money, or do home repairs. Just a few examples… :)

  5. Awesome post. We, too, have always felt that we’re breaking the mold. It started when we married–everyone expected kids, except us. We’ve opted for three furry children (cats). By getting off the hamster wheel of life, we’ll be able to do things a little differently. We also plan to have a home base, but our tiny house/RV will be our home away from home. It might even be a a converted VW bus. See http://ouropenroad.com for our VW inspiration. :)

    • We love Our Open Road — they’re on our blogroll! 😉 Love what you guys are doing, and look forward to see your downsized home and home away from home!

  6. Lovely post as always – you guys are always making me think more deeply about the “why” behind our decision to reach FIRE. Thank you for that :)

    We have almost all the same traditions planned such as making all our own food (maybe condiments, haven’t decided on that one yet haha), spending as much time as possible with family and having a home base. Where we differ is the whole “discomfort when we travel” thing. Although we don’t plan to stay in posh hotels and fly first class if/when we travel the world in the future, we’re not quite as hardcore as you are with wanting to “rough it” for any long period of time. That may change of course (who knows, I may learn to love camping while right now I just like it) but for right now we’ll stick to the more “sheltered travels” where actual roofs are over our heads ;)

    • So glad we spur your thinking! Thanks. :-) Everyone should figure out their own guard rails, so if for you guys, comfy travel is the way to go, there’s no shame in that! As we’ll share tomorrow, we are MAJOR spenders in one key area, so maybe the bare-bones travel is our way of balancing that out. :-)

  7. Thoroughly enjoyed the read. Our – the wife and I – approach is similar to yours in a number of respects. Like you, retirement for us is a fixed date. While we have a number in mind ($1.5M minimum, currently on track for ~ $3M) we are walking away whatever the number is at that time. We also plan to stay in our present home and use it as a home base while we travel; always being mindful to stay in close contact with friends and family.

  8. I like your approach. I envision a similar future for myself, but in the immediate short term, I think I have to embrace tradition rather than buck it. Of course, with the expectation that it will propel me down a path that provides enough for me to approach things a little differently.

  9. Hit a nerve on this one too. I’ve already started looking for homemade lotion and deoderent recipes but I know this is going to take some experimentation. I hope you share what you figure out when you get there. I’ve already got a lara bar-ish one rolled in coconut flakes down pretty well.

    • Check out https://www.amazon.com/Making-Radical-Home-Post-Consumer-World-ebook/dp/B004XJG5VW, and their other book https://www.amazon.com/Urban-Homestead-Expanded-Revised-Self-Sufficient-ebook/dp/B003YCPD8U. Most of what I make I got from those two books. But I’m still on the search for a decent homemade deodorant and mostly still use Soapwalla at home (and the toxic stuff while traveling for work). But homemade lip balm and lotion have just become normal, and Dr. Bronners serves nearly every other purpose around the house. ;-)

      • Thanks for the tip. Dr. Bronners – do you notice your pipes get a little clogged up from all that coconut oil based stuff going down them? We were using that for a long time and had some issues and switched to something different. Thank you for also inspiring our family to step up our game with our grocery shopping. We listed out all the stuff we need to get to get to a closer to zero waste grocery trip. We have the mesh bags for produce and the reusable grocery bags, but have been severely lacking on taking it to the next level since we are “so busy”. That’s really just a lame excuse. Funny how some of us environmentalists still resist doing some things that require some minor behavioral/habit changes. I’ve been carrying a refillable water bottle around with me for 20 years, how hard can it be to add a little more effort into other things?

      • Hmm… hadn’t noticed anything with the pipes, but will look out for that now! We do use Kiss My Face olive oil soap in the shower and as most hand soap, so wonder if that builds up as badly? And I love your other progress on the zero-ish waste stuff. And geez, cut yourself some slack! ;-) It takes a ton more TIME to shop that way. We’re for sure not perfect at it at the moment because of time, but hope to change that next year!

      • The olive oil doesn’t solidify like coconut oil will. Throw the sand from going to the beach on a regular basis (even though we do the outdoor rinse before taking a real shower) down the drain on top of the coconut oil and you have a good recipe for getting some blockages. Switching away from the Bronners seems to have alleviated the issue substantially though I miss the product. It could be that you don’t build up quite as fast since you don’t travel so much or it could be something with my pipes. I’m no expert! I’m not beating myself up… just feeling like I *could* step up my effort just a little.

      • Oh yeah, that makes total sense that sand and coconut oil together would cause problems! It could also just be that we don’t have time to actually clean, and so our house is a mess. ;-)