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The Road Less Traveled Challenge

Update: See the end of the post for a complete list of links to those who’ve taken the challenge. And if we’ve missed one, please leave it in the comments so we can add it!

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost, excerpt from The Road Not Taken

Something funny has recently struck us: The whole notion of early retirement is this crazy divergent, even subversive, act, one that is still super rare in the big world outside of this FIRE blog community. To retire early, you have to reject a lot of conventional wisdom and social norms, and think differently. And yet, there seems to be developing something like the Early Retirement Commandments, with certain key tenets. Here’s what an excerpt of the Commandments might look like:

Thou shalt live by the 4 percent rule, excepting when thou art more conservative, and then thou shall live by the 3 percent rule.

Thou shalt make thy choosing between Vanguard index funds or dividend-yielding stocks.

Thou shalt employ the backdoor Roth conversion if thy 401(k) is of goodly size, which it must be, because thou has maxed it lo these many years.

Thou shalt be frugal in all things, and shall not partake of worldly temptations like cable television. Bigger riches await those who partake only of self-powered travel.

Thou shalt feel at a disadvantage if thou art unmarried, with children, or employed in a non-IT or engineering career.

The funny thing we realized is this: If early retirement is this subversive act that rejects the notion that we have to work until 65 just because most people do, then in truth, we shouldn’t feel like we have to follow any of these rules, including the Early Retirement Commandments.

Not to say any of the verses in the Commandments aren’t good ideas, but getting on the path to early retirement is a bit like taking the red pill: We realize that everything we thought was true, on some level, isn’t. Maybe this new knowledge is discombobulating at first (bonus points if you uttered a Neo/Keanu-like Whoa), but it’s also incredibly freeing. We realize that we’re free to define our own path in life, and to make our own rules.

With that freedom in mind, we’re issuing a challenge:

OurNextLife.com // The Road Less Taken Challenge -- early retirement, financial independence, choosing our own path in life

The Road Less Traveled Challenge

Here’s the challenge: Instead of talking about what we’re all doing that’s the same (saving at a high rate, optimizing our budgets, etc.), let’s celebrate what we’re each doing that’s unique.

If you’re on the path to FIRE, or even contemplating getting on the path, you’re already on the road less traveled, and there’s no chance that’s the only way you think differently from the herd. So let’s talk about all of it!

Need inspiration? Here are a whole bunch of unicorns forging their own paths:

Matt and Daniel at the Resume Gap, who hit FI before age 30 (seriously!), and are now traveling the U.S. in a tricked out minivan and begin their overseas travel soon.

Maggie at Northern Expenditure who is saving for early retirement or maybe entrepreneurial FI with her husband and three kids.

Amanda at Dream Beyond Debt who is just starting her FI journey as a single woman in her 40s.

Steve and Courtney at Think Save Retire who have already sold their house and moved into an Airstream, and who will travel the continent full-time after they quit at the end of the year.

Jeremy and Winnie at Go Curry Cracker, who travel the world full-time with a toddler in tow and have no home base.

Joe at Retire by 40 and Justin at Root of Good who have kids, live in a house and mostly live normal lives at home, in between some epic trips.

The Eat the Financial Elephant family who plan to live as “dirtbag millionaires” after they retire next year, and spend their time chasing outdoor adventures.

Amber Tree Leaves, who is taking the slow and steady approach to saving for early retirement, and in the meantime is enjoying things like ski trips in the Alps with his wife and daughters. (They live in Belgium! It’s not as far a trip as it would be from North America.)

Robert & Robin Charlton, who retired in their early 40s without ever earning six figures combined, and now live a fabulous life of travel from a small home base in Boulder.

The Slowly Sipping Coffee family, who don’t call it “early retirement,” and instead talk about a “fully funded lifestyle change.” That change recently included Mrs. SSC leaving her high-paid megacorp job for a higher ed teaching position that pays peanuts comparatively.

The Frugalwoods, who have boldly ventured into the woods of rural Vermont despite never having gardened or lived in a rural area before.

Some of those folks are taking a less-traveled road to get to early retirement, and some have created a less traveled-to destination.

Your Road Less Traveled

This isn’t just about the big, bold differences, or things you’re doing that no one else in the history of the world has ever done. Your road less traveled could be made up of lots of little things:

Ways you’re diverging from the Commandments in your early retirement planning

Life choices you’re making that are different from those around you in real life

Big plans you have for early retirement that get you crazy fired up

Whatever your road less traveled looks like, we challenge you to share it so that we can all celebrate our unique journeys. You can share it in the comments here, if you blog you can write your own post about it and link back, or you can just take a moment to high five yourself mentally if you’re not big into sharing. :-)

Our Road Less Traveled

Since we’re laying down the challenge, we’ll go first:

Our journey to early retirement grew from a love of the outdoors, and a desire to reach more remote places and higher summits. We long to undertake weeks-long expeditions that aren’t compatible with American levels of vacation. We dream about chasing powder around the hemisphere in an endless winter, and might very well be crazy for wanting to camp for months at a time in the depths of winter. And though we loved our life in the big city, we moved to a small mountain town five years ago to be closer to the outdoors and snow. Backcountry skiing has become our primary form of self-powered travel.

Backcountry skiing // OurNextLife.com

We’re currently planning our exits from a career field where people are unironically called “lifers,” meaning both the term that you’re expected to work in the field, and what you’re expected to devote to it. We work hard and care about doing a good job, but we’re eager to devote our lives elsewhere.

We’re following lots of the Early Retirement Commandments, but never at the expense of enjoying life today. We’re not super frugal, we don’t follow a budget and we find the 4 percent rule too simplistic for us, at least until we reach age 60. (Though we do keep our house freakishly cold in the winter — maybe so we’re acclimated to the cold when we do our endless winter?) We’re willing to live lean in our first 19 years or so of retirement to ensure that we have a healthy cushion to support us in our later years, counter to the oft-cited idea that older people spend less.

We have done a lot of thinking about it, and believe that our purpose in early retirement (and in life!) is to find adventure, explore our creativity and find ways to leave the world in better shape than we found it. We’re already living this purpose in little ways now, but can’t wait to amplify that — soon! I dream of spending days writing and editing video, Mr. ONL dreams of creating new mountain bike trails and scouting potential first descents (first person to ski down a slope, which usually requires climbing up it first).

Oh, and we’re super goofy (there may be some serious Peter Pan syndrome going on around here), we dance like no one’s watching, and we should probably be embarrassed by how much we love our dogs.

Your Turn!

Share with all of us — what’s your road less traveled? Let’s celebrate our unique journeys!

And check out these great posts by folks who’ve taken the challenge! Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed yours. :-)


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144 replies »

  1. I about spit my coffee out after I read “Bigger riches await those who partake only of self-powered travel.”

    In all seriousness though I am constantly trying to “follow the rules.” I’m not sure that Mr.Hodgepodge and I do anything inherently unique, but ultimately our goal is to live in the now while saving for the future and sometimes that means spending a little extra while partaking in a fantastic glass of wine. I spent my whole life expecting to live the “typical American lifestyle” so the idea that I can have more by working harder is fascinating to me.

    • Love your attitude. That is how it should be. It’s how we look at life.

      We will never give up a big piece of now for what may ( or may not) come later.

      Sounds like you have an abundance of smarts to find your own balance.

    • Haha — glad you enjoyed the commandments! :-) I am glad to know that you enjoy nice wine sometimes and otherwise enjoy the present. It’s so important not to be so frugal that we don’t enjoy today!

  2. Haha You hit every one of the commandments perfectly! I had just been thinking about this recently since every FIRE blog seems to always hit on the same points.

    I am shooting for FIRE so I can create my version of a remarkable life. For most my life, I have never had a lot of individual interest/hobbies. I see FIRE as my opportunity to try a lot of new things and discover the things I am passionate about and to live the life I want.

    The idea of working until 65 just doesn’t work for what I want for my life.

  3. As we reflect on our story, our journey started as far back when we made the decision to move to the US. We believed then that great opportunities could await us. And through the last 18 years or so, that has been the case. But it’s never been easy.

    Regarding the commandment of being disadvantaged with children. No, not so much. That is too easy an excuse for many people. Our kids have been a big pice of the motivation on why change needs to happen for us as a family. They help you look at things differently in so many ways. And helped us make our decision.

    The beauty of making big changes in our lives is that we are all unique. Everybody has their own story to tell, even in small ways.

    Our friends would no doubt ask – why are two well paid, career successful people with a beautiful home and enviable lifestyle giving it all up? Of course we are giving it up, only for better things.

    • I didn’t realize that you guys have the same “friends” that we do! Haha We also hear that fairly often from the few people I’ve let in on our “lifestyle change.”

      • Same here! Though living in a mountain town, we hear it less than we do from our colleagues, some of whom spend like drunken sailors. I think when you guys both move to the mountains, you’ll find that there’s a lot less explaining to do! :-)

    • I think packing up and moving across the pond was a huge deal, and a bold decision! I’m so glad it has worked out so well for you guys. And I love that you haven’t let the conventional wisdom around retiring early with kids slow you down! You’re so right that it’s absolutely doable, and that it can provide even more motivation to do it sooner. And, having already moved to the mountains, which I know you guys plan to do soon, I feel pretty confident you won’t feel like you’re giving anything up. :-)

  4. What a great challenge! We are in a somewhat unique position because of our pension situation. After investing for years and purchasing multiple rental properties, we are “retiring early” and living off the investments, side gigs, and one pension (my hubby is retired already – not that early, but we’ll take it!) So we are “filling the gap” until I can collect my pension by using our investments and possibly some part-time work. It is kind of a rare position to be in when you read most PF blogs from what I can tell. And yes, I am in a field that few leave because of the pension and years of service requirement – but it can be done!

    • The Accidental Retirees also have a pension, but I think you guys ARE rare! Almost no advice is built around pensions these days since so few people have them, but that’s awesome you do. (I’m a little jealous!) ;-) I do think a lot of us think about filling the gap in some way, though, especially in the years before we can access 401k and IRA money without penalty. But I love the way you guys are doing it with that combo of investments, rental income and side gigs!

  5. Interesting challenge, I like it! I find myself thinking about how my family lives within a structured life and that’s the way we like it… for now. We have our eye on the prize (early retirement), but also remember to live life now. However, I will say we are not world travelers at this stage in life. But that will be our goal!

    The Green Swan

  6. Awesome idea! I enjoy challenge rules and assumptions in any facet of life–at least when I notice them.

    Sometimes I feel like the odd person out in the PF world for having 2 kids, no job (for now), and spending my free time in volunteer church work instead of side hustling. I’m happy with all this, but it can feel like I’m doing something “wrong” by not earning money for a season.

    • I think what you guys are doing is awesome, and you’re definitely not doing it wrong! You provide an incredible example of what it’s like to truly live your principles, which is something we all need to see. It’s not all about the money, after all. :-)

  7. Thanks for the mention! It is Mrs. SSC’s first day of no mega-corp, and she still woke up at 5am, without an alarm. That might be a hard habit to break. :)
    I agree with the “enjoy it now while saving for the future” approach as well. We’re not super frugal but we appear to be to lots of our friends. I did get some odd looks when I explained to some work peeps about “downgrading” my car. Even a quote of, “Dude, you make too much to have to drive that car…” That was also coming from the guy who wants to spend $900 on homebrewing equipment for “the perfect” setup and he’s never brewed a batch of beer in his life, yet.
    We enjoy occasional lunches out and other things like that, but we just try to keep the excess reigned in. Sure we could shave more spending and be more frugal than we are, but it wouldn’t affect our end goal very much if at all, so I don’t feel guilty about it and enjoy that I’m able to “afford” those luxuries while I still have them. :)

    • I just recently had that “I can’t believe you drive that car!” reaction, too! And from a friend! (I had to apologize to my 2004 Honda Civic afterward — she’s such a good car.) :-) And you’re giving such a good reminder that everything is relative. Like you guys, we don’t feel super frugal (compared to frugal people), but compared to our peers at work, we’re practically living like monks — haha.

      I hope Mrs. SSC can sleep a little later tomorrow! Though I understand! I fully expect it to take six months after we quit to get to a healthier sleep schedule. :-)

  8. We don’t go crazy frugal in all areas, we still go out to eat on a regular basis and meet people for drinks, buy things we don’t absolutely need and I still have cable

    We find ways to make it work for us without a budget or some crazy formula (so far)

    I like the challenge!

    • You still have cable?!?!?! Haha. I’ll be so curious to see how things evolve for you guys. We definitely started out in a similar place, but over time have been more and more motivated to save faster, and have found relatively painless ways to keep trimming our spending to up our savings. Keep us posted! :-)

  9. We don’t fit the mold, if there is one. We opted to finance our car at zero percent rather than pull a chunk of equity from our investments, we bought a large, gorgeous home that needs a lot of work that we’ll be dealing with over the next several years, we don’t typically withdraw anything from investments monthly due to pension and social security income, we still go out (though much less frequently), we still spend money on things we could make ourselves or easily do without, and we invest with a broker (OMG). I find a lot of the hard and fast rules regarding retiring early come off as set in stone and don’t to apply to many people, and the advice on the web too restrictive to take into account the huge variety of situations in which potential retirees find themselves. Platitudes like never taking on debt, renting rather than owning, doing without every single thing you possibly can, and all the rest may work well for many people, and hats off to them! For us, having a fixed monthly income we can rely upon as well as a healthy cushion invested in safe, income producing, tax free bonds ended up being the best solution to our early retirement finances. We could pull it all out, invest in a Vangard index fund, sell the house and travel the world in a VW van, but the truth is we don’t want to, at least not right now. We love our beautiful home, and we are very content and at peace with the decisions we’ve made. The only yardstick I use to measure our early retirement success level is our happiness, and as I sit on our soon to be replaced (at an outrageous cost) deck, looking at the lovely lake every evening with my husband, all I feel is gratitude for the wonderful life we live today. It works fantastically well for us, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

    • You invest with a broker?!?!?! Haha. I say, do what works for you! And I really think the folks who extol the virtues of certain investing approaches would trade that in a second to have your pension! That’s so rare these days, and not something most people can rely on, but since you have it, enjoy it! I love that you’ve found such contentment with your life and choices, and enjoying a big, beautiful house on a lake sounds truly lovely! :-)

  10. I’m a rule follower so I’ve mainly been following these commandments. No need to reinvent the wheel — if these things are working for other people, I figure they’ll work for me too. Because of that, I don’t really have much to add but can’t wait to read what other people have to say.

    My main objective for early retirement is the sheer freedom it brings — I want to be able to travel at a moment’s notice, be there for my aging parents, and just take the time to enjoy my morning coffee instead of rushing through it. I may be a rule follower but it pains me to live by an employer’s schedule instead of my own. No big plans for retirement, just to slow down and enjoy life a little more :)

    • Even if you feel like you’re following all the rules to the letter, I’m sure there are lots of elements of what you’re doing that are uniquely Kate. :-) Like supporting your aging parents — I definitely don’t see a lot of people write about that! And as you hit the freedom phase of your life, I’m sure you’ll forge your own path in lots of other ways!

  11. Yes, it is what we are doing uniquely that makes these blogs very interesting to read. Nobody is following the commandments exactly, and there is a lot to be learned in the differences. For us, what has been unique is that I worked an extra full year for building a charitable fund that we are starting to invest in organizations that serve a social good. Our “angel fund” has already benefited a number of 501c3 organizations and well hopefully grow ass we also invest in early-stage companies that are making a difference in healthcare, protecting the environment, and helping breakdown economic barriers. In addition to doing good, it has become a fun early retirement project for my wife & I.

    • You already know that I love your Angel Fund and will forever remain impressed that you worked an extra year that you didn’t financially need to work just to be able to support upstarts and charitable causes that mean a lot to you. I think we should all find some way to follow your example!

  12. You started with one of my all time favorite quotes! I was doing FIRE before I even knew the acronym, but I didn’t follow any commandments except “live well below your means”. When I bought my first house, it cost well below what the realtors said I should be spending. When we married, we always lived on “one salary” and invested the other. I was in the engineering field, which for a woman of my age was the path less traveled. We choose not to have children – another path less traveled for my generation. We always targeted to retire early, more because we saw our dad’s not be able to enjoy their “golden years”. Both died way too young and before they lived out their retirement dreams. So that was out incentive to retire early.

    Living below our means meant not taking the trips our friends were taking, not having the new car every 3 years, not getting the boats or electronics everyone else had, and not dining out as regularly as our friends. So we often felt on another “path”. Now we are early retired and learning to live life differently. That to me is taking the path less traveled.

    • I love that you guys figured out your own path to FIRE without all the commandments and words of the early retirement gospels! That makes what you’ve achieved all the more impressive! (And I love that you had a career that wasn’t typical for women and didn’t have kids — feminist high five!) :-) I love that, through it all, you’ve followed your hearts and created your own path!

  13. Thanks for the shout out, and I love the topic of this post. You already touched on what makes our particular journey unique. We are doing a combination of high savings / extreme downsize / early retirement all at once. It is a fun process and has really taught us how little that we actually *need* to live very comfortable lives. We just can hardly wait to actually start traveling and going places, escaping the heat of the desert in the summertime for cooler pastures – literally! :)

    • You’re welcome! :-) I was thinking of you guys while hearing about the west coast heat wave — the temps you guys are enduring sound hellacious to me, but then I’m the 55 degrees indoors in the winter person. :-) Thank goodness for plug-ins and AC!

  14. It’s a bit like a religion, isn’t it? Years ago, there was the revelation. The Gods of financial independence — Dominguez, Charlton, and even the Holy Trinity — laid out the commandments for a financially free life. There were the prophets Fisker and Mustache, whose messages reached far and wide to the cable-subscribing heathens. Denominations emerged: the indexers, the dividend investors, the nomads, the ultra-frugal, and the big-income/big-spenders. Sinners were scolded: “No cable!” “No sports cars!” “No individual stocks!” Burn them at the stake! And some day, we’ll see financial Armageddon, as millions of non-believers reach traditional retirement age only to find they have nothing.

    Too dramatic? ;)

    There’s plenty of good in those “commandments,” and we’ve lived by many of them for years even before we knew about FIRE. The biggest one we’re breaking (or not explicitly following yet) is the 4% rule. My savings targets have been based on it, but the reality will be more flexible. My side hustles have been lucrative enough to-date that I haven’t made any withdrawals from investments. With the biggest source of income out of the picture now, that will change — and supporting both of us traveling might push the WR to 5%, 6%, or even higher, for a while. We’re fine with that, knowing that we won’t be full-time traveling forever and can always earn more in the future.

    • Quite possibly my favorite comment ever. Will you write my posts from now on? ;-) You already know how highly I regard your plan, so it’s no surprise that your flexible approach to WR (and putting off tapping into investments as long as possible) is eminently reasonable. You know I am starting to get some legit anxiety about actually tapping into our investments, even as I want to quit more than ever, so I hope you’ll share your lessons as you figure out how to do side hustles in truly part-time ways (I know you’ll figure it out). :-)

  15. We break a few rules, as we have one child and are starting to think about trying for a second. We also aggressively pay down our home mortgage instead of putting that money into investments as we don’t want that payment looming over our heads. We don’t eat out often, but still do at times. We also want to have adventures now, so plan travel and entertainment (though do so frugally). We still want to live today as tomorrow is not a guarantee.

    Also, I don’t consider it FIRE as I just want FI. I’m hoping to pursue passions that maybe don’t pay as well. Kinda like Mrs. SSC, I would like to try to teach (but at an elementary level) and if I enjoy it, will continue that until it’s no longer fulfilling but instead a chore.

    We all have our own paths to tread, and I like my divergent one.

    • Hooray for early mortgage paydown! We are big fans of that, and think that paying off homes is way underrated in the PF space — it’s just about the only guaranteed return out there that’s above 1%, after all! :-)

      I love your plan of teaching elementary school, and hope you can make that happen soon! What a great life vision to do passion project work without concern for how much it pays! :-)

  16. Love that you used the word discombobulating!

    Sometimes we feel like we might as well be purple with three eyes and green hair, but at least my husband and I are on the same page and we find our community on blogs like this.

    We have careers in respectable professions that want us to do things that we don’t find respectable to improve the bottom line. Our coworkers soothe themselves with fancy, shiny toys while we prefer nature.

    My goal is to be financially independent so that I can use my hard-earned skills to actually help, regardless of financial compensation.

    • Haha — I love big goofy words like that. :-D I’m so glad that you’ve found community here and around the blog space, especially if you’re surrounded by people doing things… differently. ;-) It’s funny — I never thought about buying the shiny things as being about soothing oneself over unscrupulous tasks required at work — but I think you’re right! And I love that you’re focused on helping others in FI — that’s a big part of our mission as well!

  17. We’re making our own road by working towards early semi-retirement. As we are still battling our debt, there is no way we could reach full financial independence much earlier than traditional retirement age . . . or at least way longer than we want to be stuck working traditional jobs. Basically, we’re utilizing those FIRE commandments to get out of debt and provide us with a small nest egg for support during our old age. In addition, we hope to have two income properties. Once these goals are acheived, we can live a frugal lifestyle through flexible, part-time employment. It won’t be complete freedom, but it will be much better than what our peers have to look forward to, for decades to come.

    • I love the plan you guys are working to, and think semi-retirement will still be a thousand times better than feeling like a full-time worker bee! And you never know — you could end up getting there faster than you think.

  18. Great post. It’s only natural that within the nonconformist movement of early retirement planners we can’t all be conformist. We should all be nonconformist within the nonconformist movement. Here a our views that may deviate from other FIRE folks:
    1: safe withdrawal rule: under the current capital market conditions, 4% would be a bit too aggressive. 3% is not conservative, but the new baseline nowadays. At least that’s our view.
    2: given the meager capital market return outlook we have ventured into other, more exotic asset classes: trading options for income (short Put options on equity index) and Real Estate through Private Equity Funds
    3: we are frugal, but we don’t overdo it. Costco shopping, yes, but we also still have a few expensive habits, e.g., cable TV, driving a gas guzzler (but we drive only ~6000 miles a year), etc.
    4: in contrast to some other frugal folks, we never had the sudden extreme reduction in spending. We mostly boosted our savings rate to 60%+ through avoiding lifestyle inflation, by simply not adjusting our expenses after big salary and bonus increases.

    • As dedicated index investors, your investing strategy does indeed sound exotic! Good for you for educating yourself and taking that on. And good for you for exercising moderation across your approach — not being extreme in your frugality or in your spending reductions. I can definitely understand how some people’s extreme changes come out of enthusiasm and excitement, but we do often wonder if living that way is truly sustainable. We have made reductions, but have followed your logic — making them slowly and gradually, so we’ve never had the shock of a big lifestyle change. We absolutely advocate that approach!

  19. I am a little too conditioned to think about doing things the “right” way, or the way everyone else is doing them, so its great to be reminded that it is okay to do things differently, even within this FIRE community!

    The biggest thing we are doing differently right now is having kids, and spending lots on them. We still save a bundle, but we currently have one child in private school (I hesitated even writing that, because I know it is so frowned upon!). We are having serious discussions about whether or not we will continue, and put our other child in private as well. But the great thing is the conversation has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with what is the best decision for our kids. Because we have a firm grasp on our finances, and know that while that decision does have an impact, we will decide based on our values, not on our pocketbook.

    • It’s definitely okay to do things differently! :-) I think it’s awesome that you’re looking out for your kids, and if private school is the best option where you live, then there’s no shame in that! Good for you for being so dedicated to their future. :-) And you’ve described pretty much the best outcome their is of diligent financial planning: you can make your choices based on your own values and principles, not based on money. I’d say you’re doing it exactly right. :-)

  20. Oh I got distracted thinking about Keanu …
    Great post and love how you encourage not to play by the rules, even if they are rules for pursuing something that is by definition, rule breaking.
    Funnily enough I don’t follow most of those commandments, we don’t follow the 4% rule (like you we’ve done projected cash flow with our investment property etc) we own NO Vanguard funds (shock horror), we live in a city where the average house price is $1m or about US$800k (ours is worth even more) and sadly we don’t have a Roth backdoor conversion option in Australia. I’m proud to say I’m frugal.
    I think one difference is that I choose to work part time (and I’m the breadwinner) and that obviously that slows down the goal but we value family over everything else and I think the most important thing you can give someone is time.

    • Haha — Yes, in his heyday, Keanu was a distracting fellow. :-) You guys have clearly thought your plan through, and it’s very thorough. So what if it doesn’t follow the commandments? ;-) I especially love that you’re managed to be on the FIRE path with part-time work! If we could pull that off, we’d sure consider it!

  21. Although we are not in a financial position to consider early retirement, I totally am inspired by you guys and others that are planning to, or are already living the retired life. There is no one set way to do things, that’s for sure. And chasing an endless winter sounds super cool :)

    • I’m kind of excited that you like the idea of endless winter! Most people want to chase the summer. :-) You never know where you can get financially when you set your mind to it — we wouldn’t have guessed three years ago that our 10-year plan would become a five-year plan!

  22. I’m a single parent by adoption. I have been very conservative with money…breaking lots of FIRE rules, such as paying off my house in lieu of investing that money in stocks, sending my daughter to a private school (totally worth it, she blossomed there), keeping way more money in CDs than I like to admit (hey, some were at 5%), etc. After reaching FI, I realized my job is more fun than ever, largely because I was comfortable saying I wanted to step down from administrative responsibilities and just teach a light load (I’m at a university). This year I’m teaching 18 weeks. Life is grand.

    • You sound like a pretty amazing person, Dee! :-) All of the “rule breaking” you did makes total sense for someone providing for a small family. OF COURSE you’d want to be sure you always have a roof over your head, and that your daughter gets the best headstart in life, and that your money is secure instead of in risky instruments (I remember when CDs actually paid!). And you’re reaping the rewards for that now — how amazing to teach such a light load! Cheers to you! :-)

  23. I’m planning on staying in my city (barring what the girlfriend wants if we are to join forces). I want to use my freedom for travel to practice languages I’ve learned. I think it would be amazing to be an Ambassador. So I’m hoping to have my wealth situation worked out before that is a possibility so that I can take it without worrying about my “job.” I want to continue my LLC, but focus on doing under 20 hours of work a week that is mainly donated to the type of clients I prefer. I want to keep painting and building things. I want to take cooking lessons after drinking strong coffee. I want to train service dogs. I want to continue volunteer for good organizations in my community.

    • I love the vision that you have mapped out for yourself! So many kick-ass things that you’re planning to do! We’re also planning to donate our time to nonprofit clients, instead of just doing run-of-the-mill volunteering (we are calling our approach “nonprofit coaching”). And lots of ourdoorsy and creative stuff too, of course — but sounds like we have a bunch of this stuff in common. :-)

  24. I love reading these comments. I find so many cool people to follow that comment on great blogs such as yours. Anyway, I don’t think we’re that unique. We try to follow the ‘commandments’ and I swear that’s how we’re making it to our goal. We have no kids as well. I doubt we would be able to retire early with kids, but I may be wrong. Like many people in this community, and yes I do feel a sense of community, it seems we think differently than most people. Thanks AGAIN for such an intriguing post.

    • It is absolutely the awesome folks commenting here who keep up motivated to maintain the steady schedule of blogging! :-) And I do think kids add a layer of complication, but as lots of folks here noted (like the SSCs and the PIEs), it’s definitely possible to retire with kids! We’re kid-free like you guys, though, so we’re just taking people’s word for it. ;-)

  25. Thanks for the shout out to us “dirtbags”.

    I thought your commandments were pretty funny. I think the reason they are seen all over is b/c they are proven as effective ways to FIRE and in the case of high savings rate a prerequisite.

    We are pretty unconventional in many ways. Probably the biggest is that somewhere on our journey to FIRE I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole idea of retirement is kind of undesirable. I’ve become much more interested in using finances for lifestyle design and think we’ll do something more like trying out different things that interest us more than our current jobs, semi-retirement or serial mini-retirements rather than anything that much resembles a “traditional” retirement.

    We’re also terrible planners and budgeters. We have no confidence in using the 4% rule not b/c we don’t understand or trust the research, but b/c we don’t foresee any fixed level of spending on our parts. We can see ways that our FIRE spending will be far less than our current spending and ways it could be far more. We also never use retirement calculators or simulators as we think they’re very unreliable since they are only as good as your assumptions. At the end of the day, we’re not nearly the planners that most others in the FIRE community are and we’re ok with that. We’re willing to bank on our abilities to continue to learn and make adjustments as we go once we’re in the ballpark of FI.

    • I’m surprised to hear that you guys don’t think of yourselves as good budgeters, just because you’re so diligent about tracking your spending. I guess in my mind those go together, but that’s clearly not a solid assumption! And no judgment in that — we don’t budget at all, except to figure out how we’ll cashflow big purchases, but even then it’s just more of a “take it out of the life happens fund and then try to pay that back quickly” approach. :-) And on the planning front, that’s a funny point, too — we don’t rely on those calculations either, but do have plenty of our own. We don’t rely on them, though, and use them basically just as proof of concept, and fully expect — as you guys do — that our success will hinge on how well we can adjust as we go.

  26. Fantastic post…and kudos to Diplo-Matt@Resume Gap for his eloquent description of The FI Gods and the “religion”. To that end…perhaps I could be considered “born again”. I’ve wasted a lot of time and money on stuff…fancy cars, houses, clothes…you name it. Mostly to numb the pain of the corporate workforce. At 40, I had my first ( and final ) child and my priorities have completely shifted. What a blessing she has been. Now that she’s 5…I’m at the point of being able to show the “single finger salute” to the work world ( or as the Godfather of FI, JL Collins refers to as F.U. Money ) if it becomes unbearable or interferes with the time and attention I want to spent with her. That provides me more hope and joy than anything that I could ever purchase. I see ONL as a new age, hip FI “church” where it’s ok to sip coffee and wear jeans ( but not jean shorts ). :) Keep up the great work!

    • Are we like FI unitarians? I kinda love that actually. Everyone welcome, no fire and brimstone here. :-) Just no jean shorts!

      As reformed “sinners” ourselves, we can relate to some of that prior waste. How awesome that your daughter has been such a big inspiration to you in changing your financial ways! And yeah, nothing better on a rough day at work than knowing you could walk away. :-)

      Thanks for the nice compliment! We’re totally running with that new agey church idea! ;-)

    • Interesting (and timely) reply jonbuc! I’ve just finished pulling my thoughts together on this topic (which centers around my own daughters, in fact).

      Check it out at middleclassdad.com – I would really be interested in your thoughts.

  27. Love this challenge…I’ve actually got a draft surrounding that Frost poem, sitting untouched for the past few weeks that I’ve had, literally, zero time to touch. As time allows, I will definitely have to link back to your post. Thanks for the added inspiration! :)

  28. Great challenge. I already see some nice stories popping up left and right.
    Thx for the mention. And let me know when you ski the Alps… I might join you for a gluwhein!
    The recent move I made is for me also road less travelled/ quoting a job to earn less. Is that not in contradiction with some of the commandments? I do not know. for now, it just feels the right thing to do.

    • Oh we will definitely tell you when we are in the Alps! We’ll make it there in the next few years, I’m sure.

      I’m not sure where your job change falls in relation to the commandments — there’s certainly a lot of respect in the PF space for taking a risk to potentially earn more! — but I think it sounds like a great move for you on so many levels! Keep us posted on how the new job goes!

  29. Another stellar post Ms. ONL! I think about the rules and they make me feel bad. I’m single (financially speaking), I’m not an engineer and my investing knowledge is pitiful. I think making rules that apply to your life is smart and good for not only the individual, but our community as a whole. There’s a lot of ways to get to FIRE. Your way needs to work for just you.

    • Thanks, Kara! The “rules” really shouldn’t make you feel bad. Though you’re single and working to build up your income, you still have time on your side since you’re starting the FIRE journey in your 20s. And the Charltons got there with relatively low income for much of their saving years. But as you said, your way has to work for you. So maybe it’s following the example the Charltons set, and maybe it’s becoming your own, new example for others who come after you to follow. :-)

  30. Love the commandments!

    Just like many others, we’re finding FIRE in our own way (following our own path you could say).

    I know we’re not as frugal as some. And that’s ok. We have done well earning, but we have also spent money living along the way. We have saved more than we spent and we have invested what we saved.

    We still work, but it’s mostly on our own terms – working from home or wherever we want. And working funds our travel expenses and educating our children.

    The lifestyle works for us. In 10 years, that will probably change. But for now, we’re fine with our setup.

    Good post!

    • Thanks, FS! Wow, you guys have figured out a pretty sweet way to live and work, it sounds like! We hope to follow parts of your model very soon, especially naming when and how much we work… but not there yet. ;-)

  31. I saw the word Unicorn in there so I’m in. What do we differently? I would say real estate. A huge part of our plan is currently rental real estate, we own a rental home in FL and house hack our current home in CHI.

    I think FI is open to discussion in terms of fun activities. Since my wife is from Nicaragua, I personally would love to own a home there and have a place to stay 3-6 months out of the year. We have also talked about going with the big house in the middle of no where and include our parents in the living situation to make it a compound of sorts.

    It will all be part of the journey ahead, first thing is pay off FL and max out all those pretty retirement accounts:)

    • Haha — I’ll put unicorn in every post if that helps. :-) I think all of your possible visions sound so wonderful — a house in Central America, a big compound for the family… And, I think you know this, but I love that you have so much real estate built into your plan. Even if home prices decline, people will always need somewhere to live, so there should be renters out there no matter what the economy is doing. That’s got to be a great comfort!

  32. We are aggressive savers and don’t have cable, but we do have 2 vehicles (purchased used with cash, do we get half a point?), plus a small scooter for 2 adults. We are working with a financial advisor, but we also use Betterment. We hope to save enough to be able to quit anytime we want and work at part time jobs that align with our interests/hobbies and give us a little spending money. We love to travel and will definitely do that part of the year but also keep our house and spend time there when the weather is good in MN. So we would probably get a C-??

    • If you want us to scold you for having two cars, you’ve come to the wrong place. ;-) I think you definitely get points for buying your cars with cash, and bonus points for buying used! I’d give you guys way more than a C-! I might be a lenient grader, but I think just knowing what your plan is earns you a C, and actually working toward it gets you into B- territory at least. Add some smart choices, and you’re definitely looking at a B+ maybe even A-. ;-)

  33. As a freak I seem to always go the opposite direction. When I see the word “commandments” I immediately start to wonder where they came from and whether they are worthy of my following. I have an “authority” problem. Living below my means is worthy to follow. One size fits all early retirement funding targets, withdrawal rates or strategies – not so much. I see them more as Guidance to start with than Commandments to blindly follow and live by. I enjoy an automotive hobby in my early retirement where some others in the FIRE lifestyle turn in disgust. I have a retire early and often mentality and always open to new opportunities while in my retirement. If and when I decide to follow my interests I do and still consider myself retired. That’s because I only do what I want to do for as long as I want to do it. We live frugally but it is our definition of frugal.
    You are right about those who have chosen FIRE that they are already on a different less- traveled path. We are consumerist economy renegades. There should be no surprise that the renegade mindset means we all take a different view of what will work for us within our own unique and specific rules we live by. Rules based on realistic and probable calculations. We choose our own trade-offs to make this life work. Everyone’s happiness formula is different but FIRE folks share a common outcome. Our own happiness and financial freedom.

    • I love how many ways you’re diverging from even the “FIRE standard,” especially in terms of taking lots of mini retirements. I think that’s easier in some career paths than in others, but kudos to you for making it work.

  34. My hubby and I didn’t hear of FI until about a year and a half ago but it was something that immediately clicked for me. Since I’ve always been a saver, it was an easy transition but there are always going to be ways that we don’t fit the mold.
    Since we’re not high dollar earners, we had to figure out a good side hustle. Our biggest “road less traveled” is getting intentional about real estate investing. This year, my goal is to create $10k/year in rental income, and keep increasing year over year. In this way, we can put less into stocks and create multiple streams of income that are diversified.
    Real estate can definitely be scary though and we’re learning tons. My favorite quote at the moment is from TS Eliot, “If you’re not in over your head, how will you know how tall you are?”

    • What a great Eliot quote! I’m so glad you guys found the FIRE path, though it sounds like you were already on it without knowing it given your great saving habits. :-) The Charltons were able to pull off FIRE in about ten years without ever cracking six figures combined, so it definitely can be done! And real estate seems like a great way to go — we’ve dabbled a little (one rental), but wish we’d expanded before the market got hot again! Good luck in your progress toward your rental income goal!

  35. I think the way we’re implementing our plans is fairly unique and there are several ways we don’t follow the commandments. We’ve never really discussed drawing down our funds or any SWR. I don’t even consider us to be super frugal. We’re just not wasteful and in source whenever possible. Although we have lots in index funds and dividend stocks, I like trading and have a sizable amount in trading accounts. Not to mention we have 3 kids.

    Like others have mentioned, I could see myself having a series of mini retirements or working on many vastly different projects in completely different industries. Being naturally curious and opportunistic, I’m excited to see the types of things I may get involved with. For me, having the freedom to explore, take risks, and set an example for our kids is the most valuable part of FI.

    • I agree that you guys really are bushwacking your own path that’s truly unique! You have such a great mix of passive income, plus you’re moving abroad soon! It’s awesome what a broad worldview your kids will grow up with, and all the more so because they’ll get to see you flexing your curiosity and trying different things along the way!

  36. I’ll probably pull the plug before I have 25x my expenses and fill in the gaps with contract work or maybe entrepreneurial efforts. When I call it quits I definitely won’t stop working for ever. I wouldn’t mind helping out growing companies with their needs – as long as my wage is high enough :)

    • That sounds like a great way to bridge the gap without extending your full-time work any longer than necessary. And that’s a reasonable caveat, too — gotta make sure it’s worth your while! ;-)

  37. Love all these stories! This is why I love reading a variety of PF blogs; the paths and philosophies are so unique and inspiring!

  38. My road less traveled? Maxing out my 401k for the year. I was unemployed for the first few months so I had to save at a crazy rate of 35% of my paycheck. I am fortunate to have been laid off because during that time we didn’t really need my income :)

    There’s also little things that bring a smile to my face – usually it’s when someone makes fun of me for being cheap or frugal. I get made fun of having a budget and saving TOO MUCH money? Seriously. Someone also thought I was dumb for paying in cash for my car.

    I figure whenever someone says something condescending about my frugality, that I must be doing SOMETHING right! I’ll have the last laugh when I’m retired early and they’re working forever :)

    • Haha — I love your attitude to all of it, Vic! Prove those haters wrong! :-) I mean, I get the logic of taking out a car loan if you can get 0% or 1% interest, but then you probably have to pay some loan origination fees, plus have the hassle of a monthly payment and just the weight of debt… so much better not to mess with any of that and just pay cash! I remember when we bought our Subaru (which we bought new, btw — I know, cardinal PF sin, but I promise it made sense to do that because used Subarus cost only slightly less than new), I paid cash, and the guy at the dealer was floored by that. I was ready to wire money, but he said, “You can just write a check.” My reply, “Really? You’ll just take my little piece of paper and then I can leave with a brand new car????” But apparently, yes. You can write a check for a car. :-)

  39. I absolutely love your blog.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you create this web site yourself?
    Please reply back as I’m hoping to create my very own blog and would love to find out where you got this from or what
    the theme is called. Many thanks!

  40. Love it! Challenge accepted.

    There is no one true path, only our own unique journey. Reading about so many different perspectives helps us form our own.

    Blog post to follow :)

  41. I love this post and have accepted the challenge! It is so great to read how everyone is different and some of the responses gave me a new perspective on our journey and some of the decisions we’ve made. This community is what keeps me going and it’s posts like these that help reaffirm that our journey is unique and that’s ok. Thanks for sharing and inviting everyone else to participate :)

    • So glad you took the challenge! I will link your post up to this page. Absolutely your uniqueness is OK. It’s better than OK — it’s what makes your journey interesting and perfect for you. :-)

  42. I finally wrote my response to your challenge. Thank you for throwing down the gauntlet!

  43. Oh yes, I definitely agree – great motivators and company on this blog! And a couple in particular Vic @ DiC – really? saving too much huh? Let me in on that magic number would ya? :) Sometimes I wonder if people actually hear the words that come out of their mouths. Also, Harmony~ a note, I wasn’t going to share, but here you go: I have always been a good saver, but due to dancing monkeys and funny music (or certain life events,) I was in debt. I am a rebel evidently because most of the laws/commandments are not followed by me. I am no longer in my 20s or even 30s for that matter – but if anybody asks I’m 28:) Our initial goal was to be debt free by 50. We blew that away and are now hoping to be retired by 50 – or at least have the option to if we so desire. You might surprise yourself, and of course wishing you every morsel of good luck on your journey.
    Lastly, to Mr. & Ms. ONL and all of the folks who shared, where were ya’ll when I was 20? It doesn’t matter that computers were barely on the scene. It would have made life so much easier. Regardless, I’m thankful you’re here.

    • Aw, thankful you’re here too. :-) When WE were 20, we were getting ready to spend like drunken sailors for a while. So we were far from perfect ourselves. ;-) But we’re thankful we figured things out while we were still young, just not nearly as young as some!

  44. Well, five years ago, I retired early at 55. I had never seen a FIRE / retire early blog, but much of what I have read recently makes total sense, so I’m with Lady Locust! Where were you all 20 years ago? I might have been able to retire at 45! However, intuitively, we saved hard when we could, put our 2 children through college debt free, invested money to start them off on a debt free life. It would appear we did about 60% right. As for taking the challenge, we are of that lucky breed – we have workplace pensions, albeit not huge. We are not uber-frugal, but we manage to save more than 50% of our income every month. I support the idea of using free money (0% loans), as long as you pay them off and get better return for your money elsewhere. I like a warm house, but I dry my clothes outside, even in wet and windy Scotland. We travel loads, and this year we are going business/club class to see our son in New Zealand. Extravagant, but we got a good deal, and 40 hours in a plane can be dire! It is all about choices. I do have an expensive hobby – silver jewellery making, something I only discovered since retirement, so I would rather spend my money on silver and tools than clothes and make-up. My choice!! We live simply, choose to eat out rarely, cook fresh food etc.
    Now, we have a slightly different view of the same challenge, how do we live a happy, healthy fulfilling retirement, and still put some money away to help ourselves, when inflation bites, or leave some for our kids??

    • Haha — If we’d figured this out 20 years ago, we’d for sure be retired too! ;-) I love that you guys saved so much even before there were online sources sharing the value of that and the ER math! And workplace pensions… even if they are small, that has still got to feel great to have some secure income like that! I think the things you’re splurging on — travel and artistic pursuits — make total sense, and clearly bring you a lot of joy. So keep at it!

  45. ONL, Very good post. As you rightly said, every one of our journey is unique. That’s why I believe in my ‘ten factors’. To me, FI is mandatory, RE is optional. In a way, I am already on a road-less-traveled challenge where among weird things I did in my FIRE journey, one recent decision stands out: Despite being given a chance to be at the helm of a company, which many people hanker for, I chose the slower and far less paid life as “strategic advisor” even within the corporate world. Being prepared for the CEO’s job and then saying No to it when it is handed to you has puzzled everyone in my family and friends circle. It’s also ironic that I badly wanted to become a CEO (of even a small company) all my career, and when one such opportunity came on a platter, the job suddenly became far less attractive to me. Go figure! Great blog. Best wishes, TFR

    • We have definitely had a lot of “be careful what you wish for” moments in the past few years, so I can relate big time to your decision to take a strategic advisor role instead of a CEO position you’d always longed for. It’s safe to say that our “final promotion” positions we’re in now — ones we’d wanted for a long time — are not what we’d hoped or expected. I think it’s hugely admirable that you found a different path not just from what society expected of you, but from what YOU expected of you. Kudos for making a big, deliberate decision!

  46. This poem was written in jest, a joke of sorts between frost and a friend. The poem is really about regretting the choice not made. the quote does not mean what most people think it does.