we've learned

The Joy of Better Late Than Never // Gratitude on the Road to “Late” Early Retirement

we seem to be in the minority among those we follow on twitter in not attending fincon, though we hope everyone who is going has a wonderful time and learns a ton (all the better if you want to share what you learn!). we wouldn’t rule out going to a future fincon, but still don’t see ourselves as “real bloggers,” and so the idea of spending big travel bucks for a blogging conference is just not where we are right now. for those of you who are attending, what got you over the hump and let you see what you’re doing as real blogging, and made it feel like something worth investing in? we’d love to know! along the lines of investing in your blog, something we are considering is a new layout for the blog, to make it more easily skimmable, and we’d love your feedback here or on twitter. 

and then there was this one:

update: as you can see, we flipped the switch! we were loving everything about the new theme (gazette in wordpress, possibly the best free theme ever — though we may one day pay for chronicle or hermes, our second and third choices), and we got too excited to hold back. enjoy!

now to today’s topic…

mrs. frugalwoods recently wrote a post that triggered something for us: in it, she talked about how glad she is to be writing now, given that she had always wanted to write, but also lamented that it took her so long to get started, and she feels like she lost that time. we can definitely relate to that latter sentiment in a lot of areas of our lives — wishing we’d picked up a number of sports earlier in life so that we could do them more fearlessly now, or, most obviously, wishing we’d figured out our early retirement plan at a younger age. because, the truth is, we could easily be retired by now if we’d just figured things out a few years sooner. and reading blogs by people who are planning to retire by age 35 or even younger can for sure sting when we know we will be 38 and 41 when we retire. it’s easy to wonder: what all could we have done in those years if we’d gotten an earlier start?

this type of thinking is insidious, and doesn’t help anything. it makes something amazing and inspiring — early retirement, and the notion of freedom — into a competition, a race. it’s neither of those things. it also instills a feeling of failure for not doing something sooner, when the very fact that we are doing it at all is downright kick-ass, and a major success by any measure. even if we’ll be “late” early retirees, we’re still retiring waaaaaay earlier than average.

any days of freedom each of us can eke out before age 65 should be considered a victory. so while we may lament on some level that we aren’t retired by now (we’re currently 36 and 38), we’d much rather go with the “better late than never” way of thinking, and be grateful that we found this path at all.

learning the joy of “better late than never” through health

i’ve had another experience with “better late than never” that illustrates this point on a non-financial level. for years, starting in adolescence, i had a bunch of weird medical symptoms that were seemingly unrelated — migraines, restless legs syndrome (it is a very real thing), peripheral neuropathy (tingling in my feet and hands), chronic stomach pain, skin rashes. for years — nay, decades! — i went to an army of specialists to try to get to the root of these and other problems, and would often leave with a prescription for some new medication, but no answers, and no sense that these symptoms were related. then, about 20 years into my search for answers, i finally got it: celiac disease, a serious gluten intolerance and autoimmune disease. of course i was relieved to have an answer after all those years of trying to figure things out, but i also felt frustrated that no one had thought food might be the culprit in all that time. no one ever referred me to an allergist, and even my first gastroenterologist had not thought to explore this avenue.

while i was frustrated initially, very quickly i felt super lucky. i had my answer at last, and all of my symptoms — every single one of them — could be resolved by avoiding some foods. i didn’t need surgery, i didn’t need medication, i didn’t need any sort of gene therapy or dialysis or who knows what else. i just had to alter my diet, which came with a serious learning curve, but wasn’t that big a deal in the end. if i had stayed frustrated that it took the doctors so long to figure things out, what would that have gotten me? plenty of bitterness, sure. and a lot less appreciation for how much better i was starting to feel. so now, three-plus years post-diagnosis, my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude.

  • gratitude that i feel about 100 percent better on all fronts
  • gratitude that i don’t need any ongoing medical treatment
  • gratitude that i got the answer i was seeking
  • gratitude that awareness of cross-contamination and gluten generally are on the rise big time (though gf products are crazy overpriced — which doesn’t help our grocery budget)
  • gratitude that i have a supportive spouse who is willing to eat gluten-free at home (except for beer — he’s not an animal!)

applying the joy of “better late than never” to finances

we spent a good chunk of our 20s blowing money, though if we hadn’t, we also wouldn’t be together. we could choose to be frustrated at ourselves for wasting that money and not getting on the early retirement path sooner, but what would that get us? it sure wouldn’t make us retirees at this moment! choosing to be frustrated would just make us sad or angry or bitter, and perhaps even less motivated to move forward. instead, we choose to enjoy the memories of that time, which we call our “baller years,” and reminisce about the fancy meals we ate and unfrugal travel we embarked on. about the expensive cities where we lived, and the many rounds of drinks we bought for friends. sure, if we had found the early retirement path sooner, we might be retired by now, but there would be a trade-off as well: we wouldn’t have those memories.

we’re not advocating wasteful spending. but given that wasteful spending is part of our past, we are choosing to see the positive in it: the fun that spending bought us, the great memories, the big city life, the beautiful travel, the time with friends. it’s a part of our lives that we wouldn’t trade.

so now, even though we see others “ahead” of us on the path to early retirement, we feel nothing but gratitude:

  • gratitude that we found some helpful blogs and books that showed us that early retirement is really possible
  • gratitude for the incredibly supportive community of bloggers and readers who keep us motivated to keep optimizing our spending to accelerate our savings
  • gratitude that we will be able to retire while we’re still young and able-bodied enough to do the outdoorsy stuff we love
  • gratitude that we found the path at all, regardless of how old we’ll be when we get there!

and if we ever feel like we were late to the early retirement party, we just remind ourselves: better late than never!

do you ever feel like you’ve gotten around to doing something late? how do you overcome the frustration that would be natural to feel? do you feel like you’re late to getting your finances order or planning for some major life goal? please share!

follow our next life with bloglovin

Don't miss a thing! Sign up for the eNewsletter.

Subscribe to get extra content 3 or 4 times a year, with tons of behind-the-scenes info that never appears on the blog.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe any time. Powered by ConvertKit

42 replies »

  1. I feel like I’m the opposite of this. Here I am at 29 (rounding error) knowing that early retirement and all that jazz is possible. I make good money, but by no means great money. Going through law school also put me in the work force as the ripe old age of 27. Good money means it will be about 15 years before I can FIRE. I’m a planner by nature and that makes this tough because I feel like I have no control over the timeline. I guess my control is to kick butt and take names at work collecting all the raises as I go. Then I funnel the money away and wait. I’m not a very patient person.

    On the flip side of this, it’s kinda crazy to think that my entire professional working career could/will be under 20 years. If all goes really well, it could be under 10 years. And to think, some people in my department at work have celebrated their 40th!!! anniversary working for the company. 40 years!

    • This is one of those funny moments where we apparently hold ourselves to some different standard. Because knowing your story, I’m like, “Yeah, you’re way ahead of the game! How great!” :-) But I’m glad that you have the perspective you do, and are excited at the prospect of having a short career, even if it is frustrating not to be in total control of the timeline. I hope you keep that excitement as you progress in your career — I can definitely tell that I’ve been out of college for 14 years, and have been showing up for work every single day since then. :-)

  2. Nice topic. I know that compared to the rest of society, my wife and I found our “financial harmony” much, much earlier in life than most (some never find it). But when I think about how easy it is to accumulate wealth, I do wish that I had started sooner than I did because I would, all else being equal, be that much closer to retirement by now – or hell, maybe we would be retired.

    But hey, nothing can be gained by dwelling on the past. Learning from your mistakes, yes. A lot can be gained from that. But an incessant lamentation that you didn’t do/find/learn something earlier in life, well, that just isn’t helpful. We all make mistakes. We are now correcting them.

    And for the record, my wife also found that a gluten intolerance is the most likely cause of her headaches (migraines) as well. :)

    • Love that distinction, Steve — learn from mistakes, but don’t dwell on the past. And some “mistakes” really aren’t mistakes at all — they’re just different choices during a different time in life. (And some truly are mistakes, and we’re morons if we don’t take away some big lessons!)

      Glad that Courtney made the gluten connection! The annoying thing about it is that the diet is called gluten-FREE, not gluten-light, for a reason… gotta go 100% to get the benefit. Sure miss real pizza and donuts… ;-)

  3. I know that most of my younger days I frittered away money and put myself in debt to live a lifestyle I couldn’t afford. Would I change anything? Well, I’d smack myself and NOT cash out my 401k, but besides that, not really. :) Even thinking about how the Mrs. and I spent out money when we first got together, like you said, it was the “baller years.” Living outside New Orleans, we had lots of nice meals, heard good music, saw some great football games. and generally enjoyed ourselves without much thought to money. We saved for those extras, so we still didn’t think too much about it.

    I think we feel like we’re “late to the party” with this ER business at times, and then when we hear ourselves say out loud, “We can be retired before we’re 41. 43 at the latest and worst case scenario we’ll be 45…” We stop and then bust out laughing at how ridiculous it sounds. Better late than never, I say. I feel really fortunate to be in that situation, and I wouldn’t change anything before then that got me here. Otherwise, I could be a totally different person, and I like me. :)

    • I LOVE your perspective: you’d be a different person without having had those years, and the person you became is a person worth being! :-) And of course you are completely right — it’s absolutely ridiculous to lament any “lateness”! I continue to be amazed at how little a potential layoff for Mrs. SSC will set you guys back. And your baller years sound like they were pretty great, too. :-)

  4. I really like the 2nd new layout option :)

    I am 39 as of last week and I honestly have always planned to retire in my 60’s, feeling that it’s much too late to get started now on an “early(ish)” retirement but I also know that it really is never “too late.”

    • Thanks, Cari! I think the second layout may be the winner. :-) And I’m glad you know that you still have time to save like the wind and get out of the rat race before your 60s! It’s for sure true!

  5. The idea of feeling late to certain goals was a challenging concept to overcome. As much as a attempted to brush away insecurities, it always felt like a race at times throughout high school and college. Proximity was a major aspect of this. When I am in direct contact of people who are accomplishing goals faster, it puts the idea that I’m “late” front and center. My fiance and I just experienced this with our whole run of almost buying a home! We have a size-able downpayment set aside, but from every angle we kept hearing that interest rates are captivating, we are about to get married, and the age we are both at seems more fitting to live in a home than to rent, etc. etc coming from people in proximity to us. When you hear these things, it’s downright hard sometimes to stick to your plan and work with what’s best for us – feeling late again to this financial milestone! After we moved into our apartment, we felt a huge weight off our shoulders. Now it’s back to our timeline to beef up our downpayment, not be in haste to purchase a home, avoid PMI with a mortgage, increase our emergency fund even more, and weigh out multiple aspects of what goals we truly want versus just “buying a home because it’s the next best thing.” From this post, I am very elated you both experienced your “baller days” because it did create the start of your relationship! Regardless of where you started, does not mean you need to end that way. The growth aspect is a beautiful thing, and now together you are well on your way to early retirement. :)

    • I so admire you guys for sticking to your guns and not buying a house even though there is so much pressure to do so. We can definitely relate to that — for years, we felt like we wouldn’t be able to buy (this was before the 2008 bubble burst), and the mainstream media message was that buying a home was the only way to get ahead. Now most of us know that’s not true, and that the rush to buy into that supposed aspect of the American Dream is what got us all into that mess, as the demand drove prices up far too high. Stick to your guns — you’re on a great path!

  6. But it’s so hard NOT to think “what if…” But “better late than never” is a great approach! (And I’m so glad you figured out your health! That must have been terrible. And yes, I had Restless Leg Syndrome with each of my pregnancies. And it never really went away after the last one. A bar of soap in the sheets actually helps. Weird.) And I LOVE the new theme and image.

    • Thank you! We’re kind of excited about the new blog look — no more free Canva logo! We finally took the time to make ourselves a proper one. :-)

      You’re so right — “what if?” is a hard question NOT to ask, but at least in this case, it’s just not helpful. So far we’re finding that “better late than never” is working for us. :-)

      (And ugh — sorry that you had/have RLS! Magnesium citrate is also helpful, though the usual disclaimers… we’re not doctors, that’s not medical advice…) :-)

  7. I’m not attending FinCon, but I do take my blog very seriously. Instead of investing in FinCon I’m investing in a blog redesign. It’s just getting underway and I’m so excited to see what happens.

    For the record, I didn’t make a dime the first 7 months, but once I got over the hump I’ve made some money every month from that point on. It’s been nice to outsource a lot of the writing and focus on developing the blog (and writing my book!).

  8. I don’t think you are “late” on the early retirement front at all. Sometimes people rush to the finish line, but don’t enjoy the race. Having some life experience (which can be costly) is not a bad thing!

    Being grateful for what you have is difficult for some people. I am in a business that is focused on medical care for low income patients. It reminds me how lucky I am in so many ways!

    • Such a good point — more life experience is a good thing, and will surely help us appreciate retirement more! And wow — I’m sure your work can get intense. Thank you for helping low income people get health care!

  9. It’s so hard not to compare ourselves to others. Comparison drives improvement on many levels but often it also diminishes our own accomplishments and causes self-deprecating thoughts. It’s something I struggle with all the time and have to make a conscious effort to remember to be grateful instead of envious. I love this post and how well you expressed why choosing gratefulness is so much more rewarding than choosing regret. Good for you and thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks! Maybe it’s our old age (haha — I just turned 36), but it’s become super clear to us just how toxic comparison and regret and bitterness are. So our goal is to avoid bitterness at all costs. We want to be beatific old people, not grumpy ones. (Though I may still shout at a kid to get off my lawn once in a while.) ;-)

  10. I’m feeling lucky to have had the lightbulb go on at 50. Until then, I just assumed I had to work until regular retirement age of 65ish. Thanks to bloggers like you, I’ll be retiring from the practice of law within the next year (or two). One More Year (OMY) syndrome is a real challenge. With that said, I do feel regret I’ve been slogging away at a profession I dislike for twenty years, when I could have been done years ago. It has eaten away at my spirit and vitality. And apparently my brain as well, seeing as I’m still susceptible to OMY thinking.

    • I hope you can defeat that OMY syndrome and find your freedom ASAP! But we definitely get the temptation, and the feeling of never having enough. Although we also find our weekend conversations going in the other direction, “If we change thing X, could we move our date up?”

      As for the regret you feel, which is totally natural, take heart that most of those around you haven’t figured out what you have, and you’re still going to get a decade-plus more freedom than they will. That’s huge, and cause for celebration, not lamenting. :-)

  11. Job well done on the new blog layout! I like it.

    I do relate to the story you tell here. Be grateful that you have seen the light, got your answer,… I tend to translate this into the following: It does not matter what happened, what you do next is what counts (it is a quote i read somewhere).

    You can only try to learn fro your mistakes and not make them again.

    I only discovered about FI at age of 38, according to plan, I fire at age 53… Really bad compared people firing at age 35, not too bad compared to people that have no clue and will work till 67… In the mean time, I try to enjoy as much as possible the now, while working hard to FIRE one day


    • Thanks for the positive feedback on the blog design!

      I love your positive attitude, and you’re right — in the scheme of things, ALL of us on the FIRE path are retiring early. The important part isn’t HOW early, it’s how much we enjoy our lives in the meantime. :-)

    • Totally agree with you! But the kids these days… they’re talking about retiring just a little past 30! ;-) It’s more of a broad concept, not just about retirement age, but about all things we might look back and regret, like not having as clear a focus on smart finances in our 20s. And when we finally pull it off, you better believe we will feel crazy proud!

  12. I love this post! I’m right there with you on feeling gratitude and banishing any regrets about “If only I’d done this five years ago . . .” Better late than never, indeed.

    Also, I’m late to the party on this, but I love the new layout. Looks very crisp and inviting. :)

  13. When I first began on the road to early retirement, all I could do was kick myself in the ass for not starting sooner!! It’s hard to imagine how different the future will be now that I have started. I hope one day I can look back and pat myself on the back for the decisions I’m making now. I love your attitude in this post – it’s the exact attitude that I hope will carry me through the rest of my long journey!!

  14. I am so incredibly grateful for the moments of clarity and life changing realizations I had 20 months ago. I have kicked myself a few times for not figuring this out sooner but glad to have some additional life perspective, empathy and certainty with my decision. I’m also grateful for this fun and freely sharing FIRE community. So much cool information, opinions, analysis and experience… I will say now I’m totally kicking myself for not speaking with you in person at fincon as I’ve been digging into these old posts and appreciating you pouring out so many thoughts and feelings into words. My curiosity is piqued again – do you have a liberal arts background?

    • Oh you know I am all about liberal arts. ;-) And that’s an incredibly nice compliment — thanks! :-D I can’t believe you’re still going through the old posts, but yeah, there’s definitely a LOT there! I’m completely with you on the openness and generosity of this online community. I’m positive I would have stopped blogging here long ago if not for that!

      • It’s great to see this community isn’t limited to engineering and IT types and finance specialists… double fist bumps for liberal arts. I treasure the skill set I developed from my L.A. education, most importantly the well-honed critical thinking skills. Now I’m curious where you went to school, but I’m sure that will be revealed with time.

      • Well now you know where I went to school. :-) I definitely understand that lots of people feel like they need to make college about job-training (and it’s expensive enough that it BETTER get you a job), but I think it’s the best thing ever to get to go explore a million subjects and points of view and make yourself a more well-rounded person. I wouldn’t trade my liberal arts education for anything… and it DID help me get a job that has gotten me to early retirement in my 30s. (Same is true of Mr. ONL except that he’ll be 41.) So to those who say that liberal arts is a waste, I say look at us! :-D

  15. So. Many. Regrets. Handed my meager 401k from 3 years of a co-op job to an “advisor” who lost over half of it (probably mostly from fees) before moving what was left to anything better. Not ending relationships early enough just to avoid the conflict. Thinking the market was overvalued a couple years ago and throwing $100k into a 1 year CD waiting to buy after a correction (hence missing out on some serious appreciation). The list could go on, but I’m also a pretty optimistic person and am acutely aware of how fortunate we are to be able to retire in our 40s.
    Many years ago I had expected I’d retire early which I assumed meant around age 55, but once I discovered the FIRE community it opened my eyes and I couldn’t be happier driving toward any other goal. So even though we’ll be ‘behind’ many others, we have immense gratitude to be in this position. It’s been quite nice starting your blog at a time that somewhat approximates where we’re at in our journey (a few years away), though I wish we could get to our end working date as quick as we get to the end of yours on the blog.

    • I don’t see those as mistakes or things you should regret — they were just wonderful opportunities to learn hard lessons! ;-) (For real! You can’t learn not to try to time the markets any other way. Or about how much of your assets non-fiduciary advisors and fees eat up.) And remember, if you ever feel like you’re “late” — only 3% of people retire before 55, so you’re already in a super tiny club. :-)

  16. I know this is super late, but I can’t explain how lucky you are to have figured out you have celiac disease. My father had those same symptoms for years, but wasn’t as lucky as you. When he was finally diagnosed, his peripheral neuropathy had progressed to such an advanced stage that he can no longer walk. I am currently negative for celiac, but I get tested often to make sure I stay that way. Several other family members have also tested positive, even without symptoms.

    Somewhat unrelated, but I finally started my financial independence journey at 27 after a sudden layoff from what was supposed to be the start of a long career with a large biotech company. Just 6 months before, I bought a brand new car as celebration for my new job (it is a hybrid, it’s been paid off, and I plan on keeping it for a long time). This was a sudden wake up call that I can’t rely on a job for income and as we both know future health is no guarantee.