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The Good and Bad of Entitlement in Early Retirement

howdy, friends. coming to you from the rainy pacific northwest for all of five seconds en route to the east coast. then three more destinations next week. i travel plenty for work, but usually not to five destinations in two weeks! fortunately, we are taking two weeks off for christmas and new year’s, so we’ll get a solid break from it all soon enough. wohoo!

i was recently reading a non-pf  book (we mostly read non-pf), mindy kaling’s new memoir why not me? (not an affiliate link, but we recommend getting it from the library). in the final chapter of the book, she recounts the story of when, during a public talk, a young girl asked her where she gets her confidence. and she answers, in essence, that her confidence comes from entitlement (in essence, why not me?) — but probably not the entitlement that your mind immediately jumped to, if your mind is anything like mine. rather, a good kind of entitlement, the entitlement of knowing that you’ve worked hard and will continue working hard, and that you know your stuff and therefore deserve something. that whole notion of entitlement sometimes being good was kinda mind-blowing to me, i’ll admit. it has such negative connotations, and is oft-cited in reference to millennials and their supposedly demanding, un-dues-paying ways. well i’ll confess that i’m gen x (barely, as mr. onl would remind me), and maybe i was just ahead of the curve, but i’ve certainly traipsed through life with a fair dose of entitlement, and while i would say that i’ve come by it honestly through hard work and dedication and generally deserving things, i would also be the first to say that it’s a bad quality that i am trying to get better about. because even though i believe i have earned certain things, i definitely wouldn’t say that i’ve earned them more than others have, or that i deserve something more. (mr. onl would never say that he deserves anything, for the record. he’s more humble like that.)

all of this got me thinking about entitlement, and the ways in which being entitled is actually good when planning for early retirement, and the ways in which it can be detrimental. please add your thoughts in the comments! we’re using this exercise as a way to examine some of our own thought patterns and habits, to make sure they’re serving us well as we inch closer and closer to the finish line, and encourage you to join us!

// the bad of entitlement and early retirement //

fewer gold stars in retirement — if you’re a gold star seeker, like me, you could end up feeling like you’re missing something in retirement, once you no longer get glowing feedback, promotions or bonuses at work. focus on building up that intrinsic motivation instead of seeking out external validation.

incompatibility with status symbols — early retirement forces most of us to cut our spending, maybe dramatically, and then to live on that frugal budget forever. if you feel entitled to show off how smart or successful you are through material wealth, early retirement might be a challenging fit, since you’ll blow through your stash buying cars, gadgets and bling.

the markets don’t owe you anything — fundamentally, entitlement means feeling like the world owes you something. and as any seasoned investor knows, the market owes you nothing. though unlikely, all of your invested assets could disappear tomorrow. if you feel like you deserve certain returns, instead of just hoping for those returns, you may find yourself frustrated a lot of the time.

bad vibes at work — we’ve all worked with someone who just exudes entitlement, and let’s be honest: we don’t want to promote that person, or give that person more money. we just want that person to leave. so don’t be that person. it will only hold you back.

// the good of entitlement and early retirement //

knowing that you are allowed to be on this path — there is something a little subversive about early retirement, and you have to be one who strays from the herd. it’s easy to wonder if you’re allowed to do something so rare and so different, but a healthy sense of entitlement will tell you that you’re allowed to go your own way.

courage to ask for more compensation at work — the more we earn, the faster we can save for retirement. if you can’t say to yourself why not me?, you’re unlikely to ask for a raise or a bigger bonus or other compensation that can get you to the finish line faster. if you’ve worked hard and earned it, then don’t be afraid to ask for more.

perspective to disregard bad advice — there’s loads of bad advice out there, like when our otherwise beloved bank usaa told us that we need, like, $4 million in life insurance (um, sorry, why? i promise that seven times our income is way less than $4 million). knowing that you can disregard that bad advice, and trusting yourself to know the different, is a very good thing.

confidence to tell people what you’re doing — i’m sure i speak for lots of other bloggers when i say that starting to blog about our fire journey has been one of the best decisions we’ve made. we feel supported and inspired, and have accelerated our saving this year as a result. none of that would have happened if we’d stayed mum about what we’re doing, and i’m convinced that speaking up came from having the confidence to know that what we’re doing is pretty awesome. ;-) whether you blog or not, having a few good secret-keepers in your life who you can discuss your plans with is a great way to build up a support structure for yourself.

what would you add to the list? do you think of yourself as entitled like me or more humble like mr. onl (who, by the way, earns more than me by a good margin — so maybe humility is underrated). ;-) share, share away!

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42 replies »

  1. Mindy is my favorite and not just because she once said she falls asleep watching Sheldon on Big Bang Theory (but that does account for 83% of why I love her). I do think that there is real power in realizing “someone is going to do X, why not me?” What I think is even more empowering is realizing that there is room for everyone at the top of wherever you’re headed. For a LONG time, I’ve sat on the sidelines in real life and in virtual life because it seemed like people were already doing whatever I was interested in so well.

    • Haha — I love Mindy too. So happy her show is alive on Hulu! And yes — there is always room at the top. I am lucky to be surrounded mostly by colleagues who recognize this (though the ones who try to hoard the power or the accolades still exist, and they stick out like sore thumbs), and I’m grateful for that. So glad you got off the sidelines and have joined the fun!

    • I relate to everything you’ve said. I haven’t asked myself this question enough. I’m trying very hard to convince myself that I can create success for myself if I wanted to. My fear of failure often overshadows my confidence.

  2. While my focus right now is getting out of debt and not early retirement, I can relate to the entitlement thing. One bad thing that always creeps into my thinking is that I need to take care of myself before I take care of others because I’ll be in a better spot to help others once I’ve helped myself first. When I start thinking like this I get selfish and hoard my money. I have to fight against becoming this type of person.

    • That’s great self-awareness that you recognize that pattern in yourself! I do think there’s a lot of truth to that statement, though — if you aren’t taking care of yourself, it’s hard to take care of others. So the sweet spot is probably somewhere in the middle — not giving it all away, and not hoarding either. :-)

  3. This is one of those topics that I think about a lot – entitlement in every sense of the word. I keep pitting the advantages that I’ve had in life with the choices that I have personally made and how everything fits together.

    Personally, I don’t believe that I “deserve” anything. If I work my ass off for 10 years, I don’t “deserve” to retire early unless I made the conscious decision to save aggressively and prepare my investments for early retirement. And likewise, I go to the gym most days – sometimes twice a day. But, I also don’t “deserve” good health. I do enjoy good health, but I only do so because I’m doing the best that I can to maintain my level of fitness and good eating habits.

    But, I also understand that stuff happens. I could work hard in the gym and put on 20 pounds of pure muscle over the course of 2 or 3 years and then get killed in a car accident, or eat a diseased piece of meat and spend a couple weeks in the hospital, giving back 10 pounds of that muscle. I could save huge amounts of money over the years only to find the stock market crashes the week that I plan to retire.

    I don’t deserve vacations, a high paying job, a loving family, a big house…

    The word “deserve” I guess is a pet peeve of mine, because like you’re pointing out in this article, the word is often linked to entitlements – or the feeling that because you did *something*, this *other thing* should become yours. I just don’t believe that “deserve” has an important place within our society.

    But, I think you’re absolutely, 100% correct that the feeling of personal entitlement can be used to our advantage, and rightfully so. How audacious is it to believe that our investments will allow us to live for the next 30, 40 or 50 years without working another day in our lives – when so many other people are stuck in the office putting in a day’s work? How arrogant. How selfish. How…

    Conventional wisdom has a way of putting up artificial barriers to our success, but properly utilized entitlements can break those barriers and see to it that they never become resurrected. Who says I can’t retire at 40? Or at 35? Or at 30? Society? Your next door neighbor?

    Screw that. I can retire whenever I damn well please, so long as I have my finances in order and my post-retirement lifestyle organized. I’m entitled to give it a shot, and there’s no conventional wisdom strong enough to keep me from making it work.

    And I think it all comes down to a very simple phrase: “You’re entitled to try.” But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are entitled to *succeed*.

    • I kinda want to delete my post and replace it with this comment! You rule, Steve. Love how much thought and time you put into your comments! I’m with you on “deserve.” It’s gotten to be such an icky word. And, to use your examples, even if you do “deserve” good health, that doesn’t mean you’ll get it, because the universe don’t owe us nothin’. So what does “deserve” mean, then? Diddly squat, that’s what. I love how you put it, too: “You’re entitled to try.” And “try” means working hard, focusing and sustaining your efforts over a long time. It doesn’t mean expecting to have things handed to you. Hope you’re having a great day!

  4. I never thought of entitlement being a good thing – I tend to have that stigma of it being something negative, like some kids nowadays who feel they deserve everything for nothing.

    This is a nice perspective as to how you can use the mentality to give yourself the confidence to go after the things you want in moving closer to early retirement… very nice!! This might be a push to walk into my boss’ office today and get myself a raise! ;)

    — Jim

    • Go get that raise, Jim! :-) I have my year-end review tomorrow, so we’ll see how hard I feel like pushing for a good pay bump for next year… But yeah, Mindy’s book helped us conclude that entitlement isn’t all bad!

  5. Never really thought of entitlement as a positive. I’ve been guilty of entitlement thinking myself. That has change over the last few years as I have taken a different perspective on things. It certainly started with getting out of debt. I have more of an open mind and understand anyone no matter what their background, education, income can make mistakes.

    • Isn’t that the truth! Sometimes I think people from the *most* privileged backgrounds are actually more likely to make mistakes, because they have a bigger safety net. But it’s always good to shake up our perspective. :-)

  6. Food for thought this beautiful morning. Having retired at age 58 when I fully expected and planned to work until at least age 62 and more likely, far longer, I can honestly say nothing turned out as I expected. I, too, was extremely concerned about the lack of accolades in retirement. Gold stars were, and are, very important to me! It took several months for me to understand why I didn’t miss them. Perhaps I worked too many years, or too hard for too long for too many companies that didn’t appreciate me, but the occasional bones thrown my way, no matter how significant, pale in comparison to the complete freedom I feel to do (or not do) whatever I like with my remaining time on earth. Something I thought was so previous to my identity melted away with the rest of the work related debris, like an old performance review…really, no matter how great it was, what does it really mean to me as a human being? Nothing. As far as altering lifestyles in order to become and remain frugal (and solvent), what a shock it’s been to both Mr. AR and myself to discover how much we enjoy saving money! To think we used to grocery shop and just fill the cart with whatever we liked, without a thought of the cost (or even any knowledge of what anything costs). Are things different now? Absolutely, and we both enjoy the reality shift. Every dime we save on energy, on groceries, on restaurants and many other little daily hacks, allows us to live out our mantra: save on the mundane so we can splurge on what really matters to us. Hang clothes on a line? No problem. Wear a coat inside so we don’t run up the utilities? Easy. Cook all meals at home, eat leftovers, return stuff we don’t need…whatever it is, I’m glad to do it and I enjoy it! What better investment of time, money and energy can we make? We are entitled! We are entitled to enjoy each and every day we have left here on this planet, and anything and everything we can do to make that journey more pleasant, no matter how mundane (even hanging fresh, clean clothes on a line in a lovely autumn breeze) moves us closer, and keeps us closer, to the life we’ve envisioned for all those years of toil. I wouldn’t trade the lack of gold stars or the daily cost cutting for all the accolades in the world, and someday soon, I hope that you don’t either! Enjoy this journey!

    • Your comment made my day! I love the picture you paint of your retirement lifestyle! It is SO good to know that your desire for gold stars just went away — Poof! — and all of the freedom took its place. (I do wonder how that will go for me, so really appreciate hearing your first-hand account!)

  7. I like the idea of a healthy confidence that “entitles” you to ask for a raise that you’ve worked hard for, and pursue an alternative path like earlhe same as the saving y retirement without $4 million dollars. I sometimes feel unsure whether to talk about such goals and plans with those who might not understand or agree, or even feel jealous. Sometimes people may overlook all the hard work and sacrifice that’s put someone in their position, and I agree that acknowledging your own part in your financial situation doesn’t have to exclude the concept of privilege or advantages we didn’t earn.

    • Your last point is HUGE — we feel strongly that we all need to acknowledge our privilege more than most people tend to do, and completely agree with you that having the confidence to assert what you’ve worked hard to achieve doesn’t mean excluding that acknowledgement! But yeah, it’s hard to explain ER quickly, especially to those who perhaps earn less or feel financially set back, and we don’t have a good answer for ya. :-)

  8. incompatibility with status symbols – This one really resonates with me. I sometimes get bummed that I’m making a great salary, older than I’d like to admit, and STILL living like a college student. I hate having to NOT go to the coffee shop with my dear husband, Mr. Mad Money Monster just to save a few dollars. It’s ridiculous at our ages. Or is it? Most of the time I’m highly satisfied with the idea that our lifestyle is really going to pay off in the not-so-distant-future. That makes the college life more palatable. I also agree that becoming a pf blogger after having almost committed financial suicide last year (buying a huge house we couldn’t comfortably afford) has helped us tremendously. It’s an awesome community that keeps us on the FIRE track. Love you guys <3 Pizza anyone?

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • I think all of the ways you live are proof that you haven’t succumbed to lifestyle inflation, which is awesome, not ridiculous. (Coffee shops are still a pretty new thing, after all — it’s not like we NEED to spend money at coffee shops in order to survive or feel fulfillment.) ;-) Thanks for the nice note, too — so glad you guys have joined the community!

  9. Man, I used to get so defensive with friends when they kept telling me “You deserve this.” For context, I was almost out of grad school and I had gotten a great internship, and that led to a great job with a great company, and all I kept hearing was “you deserve this.” My thoughts were, “No, I don’t deserve this, I worked my ass off for it. I earned it! I put in the time, got great grades, did great work and it was HARD.”
    I see deserve as the negative side of entitlement – like I didn’t earn it but it should be given to me. Psht!! Shenanigans I say.

    I like the why not me attitude, because that’s what led me to where I am. I didn’t let people’s ideas of what I should be in life hold me back. I said, I want to go to that school for grad school, and it happened, and I wanted a job with XX company and worked to make it happen.

    The only reason that we’re working towards FI is because we want more life satisfaction. Rather than accolades at work or in the geology field, I’d much rather help show people how to budget or work within their means to make their situation work for them. Mentoring young kids would be great, but I don’t have time for that now. Except for my granddad, there wasn’t anyone around to help mentor me and push me towards something better, and I’d love to be able to open young people’s eyes to that and more in life. Not a nebulous – you can do anything, but more of a “why settle, why not you? Work for it. Set a goal and work backwards to see what steps you need to get there.”

    Confidence and appropriate entitlement or empowerment even all has to starts somewhere, but getting to that point is amazing and can do so much for your direction, outlook, and influence your life greatly in a positive way.

    • It’s crazy how loaded the word “deserve” has become, isn’t it? I bristle just like you do. Even though it *should* mean that you worked hard and earned something, it sure feels like people say it to mean something more like unfounded entitlement. And that is never ever why I want something to come to me — which sounds the same for you. And we’re very much in the same boat as you in terms of what we want — more life satisfaction, not just pats on the head at work!

  10. I think it’s also important to recognize that you are entitled to any lifestyle you want, beyond early retirement – FIRE is only the beginning of a non-traditional world for most! This includes frugality/ anti-materialism, deviant values and belief systems, and your very own version of the American Dream.

    • So true! I’ve never thought of it that way before, but early retirement is really just the doorway, and we can all define what’s on our “other side.” :-)

  11. Interesting post! In general, I find that there is refreshingly little negative-type entitlement among the frugal people I know in person and in the online PF community. If anything, the people I know who most exude it are those who are overburdened with expenses and debt: “I deserve to take a $10k vacation.” “I deserve a boat.” This attitude is abundant in advertising: “You deserve a Lexus,” “Because I’m worth it,” etc.

    I feel entitled to choose my own path and make unconventional life decisions, including stopping working full-time. I do not, however, feel like I “deserve” any particular outcome from those decisions. Ideally, we end up happier, healthier, and wealthier, but there’s definitely no expectation that I’ve earned the right for it to all work out perfectly. I think those who are most at peace with their lives are those enjoy what they have and roll with the punches.

    • Agree with you on all fronts — this is not an entitled community! (Working hard to save isn’t naturally compatible with feeling like the work should be done for you.) :-) And also agree that those who are grateful and able to roll with things are the happiest. We strive to be those people, and are more successful some days than others.

  12. You’re the ruler of your life and you decide what you’re “entitled to.” Forget about people telling you what you are entitled to. I’ve learned long ago to forget what people think about me and just be happy about what I do and how I feel about myself. Life is a lot simpler this way.

  13. In working our way out of debt, I think about the effort as earning my entitlement. The repayment of debt is a penance for our bad money decisions, but we’re on the right track and making progress. I know that others will be confused or jealous when we reach early “semi-retirement.” I’m looking forward to a sense of entitlement when that day comes, a knowledge that my freedom comes from hard work and sacrifice.

    • That’s a great analogy — and I think we’ve all paid some form of penance, except those who are naturally frugal from birth, on the path to FI. It will be such a sweet feeling you’ll get to savor, knowing that you’ve earned your freedom! :-)

  14. Thanks for sharing the “Why Not Me?” book! I haven’t read it yet, but I will need to check it out. Oh the word “deserve”…revisiting memories I recognize how much this word is implanted through real life & entertainment. “You deserve that A” – “You deserve those clothes” – “You get what you deserve” – “I don’t deserve this” – I think we recognize the trend could carry on quite far. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I finally came to a point where I could say “I deserve this,” but simultaneously hold the thought process that “So does everyone else.” My mentality is not so much of a self-serving bias (though, I do think it’s important to have confidence), but a collective thought process. A lot of what happens for me is related to how others succeed as well. My accomplishments relate back to a multitude of support, friends, mentors, family that I feel are all just as much as deserving. :) The important part is recognizing you have the potential, the resources, the time – and not downgrading your abilities/talents/circumstances. Tying back to how early retirement can be viewed in such a negative light by others, it could be the thought process that they do not deserve it, so they can’t and won’t do it. They also feel that others don’t deserve it, because if they can’t…you simply can’t either.

    • I love your “so does everyone else” point! I think that’s a key difference — “deserve” to me suggests a comparative aspect, like “I deserve this more than other people,” whereas the way Mindy put the positive entitlement, it was more like “Lots of people deserve this, and I’m in that group. So why NOT me?” Not more deserving, just deserving. But definitely read her new book — a great mix of insightful advice and funny stories. :-)

  15. I’m having a lot of trouble commenting on this post because there are a couple things I want to comment on and I can’t keep them both in my head at once, but there are so many comments above mine that I have to keep scrolling up and down the very, very long page…but I will persevere! :) (This is not meant as a criticism of your layout in any way — this stuff can’t be avoided! I’m just noting that it’s a great post with lots of comments.)

    Ok right. So first, about markets. I think that’s a really insightful point, and once again: Pema. I think she might be the ultimate anti-entitlement guru. She would say, yes, the markets don’t owe us anything, there is no reason to think they will go our way, we must accept the way the markets go and acknowledge our feelings about the markets.

    Also, a lot of the positive stuff you list really rings true to me. I actually think there’s sort of a connection here with gender and confidence, though I can’t quite articulate it clearly. Like about how women are (as a group) less likely to ask for raises, less likely to speak confidently about their ideas…I guess what I’m saying is just that entitlement here sounds a lot like confidence, and I’m trying to separate them in my own mind. Oh, maybe it’s the difference between saying, “I should get this just cause I’m awesome” and “I should get this because I’ve worked super hard for it.” Is that the difference? Hmmmm.

    • We should just start responding to each other’s posts: “Pema.” ;-) It says so much. And I try not to make this a gender-heavy blog, because it really does represent us as a couple, not just me and my strong feminism, but I completely agree that so much of this is really directed at women. Men seem to have a lot less trouble with the positive entitlement side (see: all the men who think they’d made a great president, so why not them?), whereas for women, we feel like we need to be the absolute best at something before we can even begin to think about suggesting that maybe we’d be right for some opportunity. So I think this form of entitlement is closely related to confidence, but I think the entitlement is sort of like the precursor to the confidence — or maybe not! ;-)

  16. I hate the word entitlement, because I think very few people feel entitled without feeling obligated. For example, I may feel entitled to ask for more money, more responsibility, more whatever, but I feel obligated to do the best that I can for myself and for others.

    This doesn’t get at the heart of what you’re talking about in your post, but sometimes the commenter wants to say what she wants, and I feel entitled to letting the world know my opinion ;)

    • Haha — You’re always “entitled” to speak your mind! :-) So share those opinions, even if they aren’t totally what we were talking about! Love it. And FWIW, I’m also not a big fan of the word either, but it’s certainly used a lot these days, and I had never considered before that there’s actually a positive to it!

  17. I will admit that I think I’ve lived my life with perhaps some of the negative type of entitlement… I have also worked hard and earned some rewards, and also perhaps not asked for some things that perhaps I was entitled to in the positive sense… I think the negative side of it will be a work in progress for me for some time. I have a specific situation in my mind (totally not finance related) where I went to an awesome, once in a lifetime event, and they unfortunately didn’t have a gluten-free alcoholic drink option for me at the event… I got pretty angry about it, and looking back, it was a very stupid thing to get angry about. The event organizers didn’t “owe” anything to me, I wasn’t entitled to a drink, but it was more a privilege to be at the event, and yes, I wasn’t able to have the drink that I would have wanted, but in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t got upset about it. I feel quite sheepish about it now. Does that sort of make sense?

    • I totally get that! I have celiac, so I definitely understand the GF issue, and the feeling like you both deserve to be accommodated wherever you go AND you also never expect to be accommodated (or don’t trust the kitchen, even if they do try to serve something acceptable). It’s tough, especially in flat-fee situations, to know you’re paying full price but are getting much less than everyone else. But I’ve tried to make peace with that, and just never expect that anyone will have anything for me, which helps a lot with that feeling of entitlement. But some of the good kind if helpful, too, like knowing that I have a right to ask for what I need at restaurants, and not to apologize for requiring accommodation (though still be very grateful when I get good service!).