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None of This Feels Real // On Big Numbers and Abstract Concepts

Over the past few years, we’ve hit a steady stream of financial milestones that have all felt like a big deal when we hit them. There was the most recent one, when we paid off our house. (I promise, I’m shutting up about it now!) ;-) Last year, we met the basic definition of financial independence. Before that, we hit various “meaningful” round numbers, bought our first (only?) rental property, and way before that, we paid off our car loan, and my credit card and student loan debt.

While it feels amazing to crank through goals at such a fast pace (seriously, how did we get so lucky to be able to do this?!), there’s also something about all of this that feels entirely…



Hard to believe


Are we the only ones who feel this way?

OurNextLife.com // None of this feels real -- I would have expected that the closer we got to FI, the more real it would all feel. But instead, as the numbers get bigger, they just feel more and more abstract.

Lifestyle Inflation and Tangible Numbers

Thinking back to early in my career, I earned barely enough to get by in the expensive city where I lived (and in truth, I lived beyond my means, subsidized by credit cards). So when I got my first raise, I was so thankful, because (I believed) I needed that extra money to survive.

When I got my second raise, and my third, the money no longer felt like survival money — thank goodness! — but I did spend it all, using it to afford things that I hadn’t indulged in before, like going to shows and going out to eat once in a while.

When those raises started to pile up year after year (still our biggest source of compound interest), I — and later we — were able to do a lot more. Not just go out to eat, but go to really nice restaurants. Travel a lot more, and stay at better places. Buy backpacking gear that didn’t feel like it was from the stone age. 

We felt those pay raises, because we spent that money. Every new dollar we earned, or most of them anyway, had a direct cause-and-effect impact on what life was like, so those dollars were tangible to us.

Related post: How We Went from Ballers to Savers, and Lived to Tell the Tale

But now they aren’t anymore. What happened?

Lifestyle Containment and Intangibility

At a certain point, we realized that we didn’t want to spend most of what we earned anymore, especially because we realized that we could have a pretty sweet life even if we saved a good portion of it. We started saving in earnest, eventually we learned about FIRE and we started saving harder, and then we developed our own FIRE plan and started saving harder still.

Since then, our spending has been fairly static year to year, and it’s even declined a bit as we’ve adjusted to our post-baller lives.

We work hard at jobs that demand a lot from us — near-constant travel for me, around-the-clock connectedness for both of us, crazy long hours for Mr. ONL — and every year we expect our pay to go up as a result. We may not need that money, but we believe we earned it and deserve it.

While we’re glad to get those raises, we can no longer draw a line between those pay raises and anything tangible in our lives. Sure, our investment accounts go up. Our mortgage balance goes down. Our cash accounts go up. That’s all super fun to track (let’s all be honest — it’s the most fun to track). But sometimes it feels like the numbers on the spreadsheet are just Monopoly money, or a video game score.

As all the numbers get bigger, they get more and more intangible.

Big, Abstract Numbers

We don’t share our numbers, so let’s just make some up. Let’s pretend we have $50 million in the bank (because obviously we do not have $50 million in the bank). We’re never going to buy something that costs $50 million, or even $25 million for that matter. We’re never going to write a $50 million check. So what does that number even mean?

Thinking about our tiny fraction of that pretend number, it may be much smaller, but it still feels the same. It’s a lot of money that we’ll never spend all at once, or even in big enough chunks to appreciate the bigness. The part of it that’s invested in the markets changes every day, so it’s not even a real number, it’s just a daily approximation.

And with our pay, we certainly don’t earn stratospheric sums, but we earn far in excess of what we need to live on, most years a little more than the last. But earning more each year doesn’t change our lives, and we’ll never spend in a year anything close to what we earn now, even if money became no object. (That’s probably a slight exaggeration. We would love to write a bunch of fat checks to charity or endow a foundation, or do something else to make a lasting impact. Ah, do-gooder pipe dreams.)

We know intellectually that big numbers mean freedom, and that they should feel like safety, security, peace of mind. But right now they’re still just numbers on a spreadsheet. Or like our score in a game we’re about to beat, which translates into nothing in real life.

Mr and Ms ONL in the snow

How many inches of snow we got? That’s a number we can feel!

“That’s Not Our Money, Right?!”

I’m always curious how others feel, but we never look at our investment balances and think, We’ve made it. Or We’re rich. (Even though, by any definition, we are.) Or We’re happier because we have this money.

On a very basic level, we’re just the same people doing what we’ve always done. We go to work every day, we do our job, we collect a paycheck and only spend part of it. And somewhere along the line these big numbers happened. But they aren’t ours, right? There’s no way we saved up that much money, or at least it doesn’t feel like we could have.

Anyone could counter back with market growth and compound interest, the power of time, 401(k) employer matches and all the rest. We understand math. But math doesn’t make it feel any more real.

The One Tangible Thing, Sort Of

The only thing that is starting to feel more real is the smallest number, the only one we want to keep shrinking:

11 months

That’s how much longer we have to work, at most. It’s definitely not fully real, but it starts to creep into our minds in those stressful work moments, when we remind ourselves: Don’t freak out about this. Just a little longer… 

But we still both panic a little at the thought of telling our bosses we’re leaving, no matter how many imaginary resignation letters I’ve written in my head over the years. So clearly it’s not that real, and maybe we’re also not mentally ready. Or maybe if we magically hit our number tomorrow, we’d have no hesitation about peacing out. I guess we’ll know when we get there.

Will It Feel Real After We Retire?

When we hit financial independence, we said a little Yay! to ourselves, but then nothing changed. When we paid off the house, we did a little dance, and then went back to living the same life. The milestones have been nice, and we’ve celebrated them all, but with no tangible change in our lives when each one has come alone, they’ve each in turn faded into abstraction.

But of course our life is about to change, in an enormous way. Retiring from our careers will be the biggest adjustment either of us have ever had to make. It will mark the end of an almost 20-year career for Mr. ONL, and the first real free time that I’ll have had since middle school.

Will any of it feel more real then? Will those numbers begin to represent something tangible?

Stay tuned!

What Feels Real for You?

Let us know — can anyone else relate? Do your numbers feel more abstract as they get bigger, or is it just us? Do you look at your balances and think, “I did that!” or does it feel a little How did I get here? like it does for us sometimes? And for those who’ve retired already, did retiring change how you view your numbers? Did what they represent change? Did your feelings about them change? We’d love to hear from all different perspectives on this stuff, so let’s chat in the comments!

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75 replies »

  1. We’re 62 weeks (all being well) from hitting FIRE and retiring from full-time wage slavery. On New Year’s Day we were able to say “Next year we’ll be retiring!”. It sounds cool and exciting, but also a bit scary now and I don’t mind admitting I’ve had the occasional ‘wobble’. I know the sums add up, although they just feel like numbers in a spreadsheet, not real money. I’ve worked full time since the age of 15 and the thought of stepping out of a well-paid full time job at the age of 54 is all a bit crazy and unreal! So for now we continue to save/invest 66% of our monthly income and live on a monthly budget that matches what we’ll have when we stop working, so the transition (from a financial point of view) should be relatively easy. I really don’t think it’ll sink in until we head to the southern coast of Spain and Portugal in our campervan in late 2018, to spend the winter travelling in sunshine.

    At the moment it feels like we’re hanging on to a speeding train but – hey – what a ride!


    • Oh, your 2018 campervan trip sounds like a dream! How wonderful. :-) And that analogy is perfect — hanging onto a speeding train. YES. That is what it feels like. Lihe the train is magically going and we’re just hanging on, but not actually doing the work to make the money grow. And we’re similar in continually checking the spreadsheets to be sure it really works. (I wonder if I’ll keep doing that after we retire?!)

  2. I am so far off what you have achieved, lol! But I will be free of my consumer debt in a couple of months, which I am very excited for. Congratulations on your success :-)

  3. My wife and I are maybe about 1 year ahead of you and I promise you it feels even weirder. I haven’t ‘worked’ for almost a year now. My wife does some bits and pieces for pin money because she likes being busy. We regularly sit and discuss how we’re going to manage and after about 30 minutes of feeling guilty as anything we come to the conclusion every time that we’re actually going to be fine. We have no financial worries ( like you , we’re not millionaires) but having worked all our lives it still feels strange not doing anything. I guess it’ll take a few years for the facts to really set in. Good luck to you.

    • Thank you! It’s great to hear your perspective, being a bit ahead of us. I imagine not working will feel strange to us, too! Keep us posted on whether it ever gets less surreal — we’re so curious! :-)

  4. It’s totally unreal to the inner kid in me that couldn’t hold onto money for anything. Now I have issues spending it! It keeps growing and I’m barely doing anything. It doesn’t even feel difficult sometimes. Seeing six figures in my savings makes me so happy but I know it’s fickle and entirely market based so I try to pretend it’s not mine in the event of a downturn.

    • I think you’re smart for keeping that mindset. Because in a certain way, it IS all Monopoly money until you decide to sell it. So don’t get too attached to those big numbers… but do celebrate them. Because you’re saving SO MUCH and it’s awesome!

  5. Our numbers aren’t that big yet – but it still feels weird to have as much as we have already given our situation a few years ago. And I’m with you on the tangible portion – I am pumped for every extra dollar we earn but it never feels different.

    Maybe the cash will feel tangible when withdrawn to fund your freedom.

    • I think the surreal feeling kicked in pretty early for us, too, and it just intensifies as numbers get bigger. It’s all a little crazy, right?! And it could definitely happen that it feel more real once we’re living off the money — we’ll let you know!

  6. Our numbers aren’t that big, but it does feel a bit like it shouldn’t be working out the way it is working out. My husband is always in awe of our Roths especially. He comes from a family where everyone spent their paychecks. They lived comfortably but no one ever taught him to save anything. So he will say all the time that we have “so much money” or “more money than he’s ever seen in his life”. And truthfully, it’s more money than I’ve ever had either. I think that’s the point ;)

    • Oh, 100% same for us! Neither of us come from fancy upbringings, so we got to the “more money than we’ve ever seen” point pretty early on in our journey! LOL But I love hearing about your husband’s sense of childlike wonder at it all! How fun that must be to witness!

  7. I feel like you read my mind whilst writing this!! It’s exactly how I feel! Me and my husband are almost a year into our FIRE journey and so still a way from achieving it but even now the savings in the bank do not feel like real money to me. I just sit there and stare at the balances sometimes trying to understand those numbers are actually money that belongs to us!! I’m sure it’ll get more surreal the further we go and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one feeling it.

    Congrats on almost getting there – I love reading stories like yours, gives me a little motivational push!

    • Yay mind meld! :-) So now you know that feeling never goes away… it only gets more intense as your numbers get bigger. Thanks for your well wishes! So glad to know our blog helps add a little motivation to your journey! :-)

  8. Congratulations on your progress! You guys have done really well and I hope you have a fulfilling retirement that is meaningful and enjoyable. There are so many great causes in this world that would be worth your time, energy and expertise when you retire. There are also so many amazing things to see if you have the time and finances to travel. I don’t comment terribly often, but enjoy following your progress! I can’t wait to make it to my very semi-retired version of retirement, where I plan to travel and participate in medical relief work. My wife also wants to finish her PhD and work in her field for a bit after we finish raising our kids.

    Reading all the FIRE blogs sometimes makes me suffer from the “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome. It helps seeing comments from people like Chausson8a who are retiring early in their 50’s. I’m on track to hit my numbers in about 4 years at 43. If I really want to hit my stretch goals, 45. That’s crazy that I’m thinking of retiring at least 20 years earlier than most, but I read so many FIRE blogs that I feel like I’m planning to retire to a nursing home compared to everyone retiring in their 30s and at 40! It’s fun to read everyone’s story, but it’s great to occasionally ground ourselves in the reality that most people can’t really afford to retire at 70 by FI criteria. We are a group of meticulous planners and math and finance geeks, but also an incredibly blessed bunch. I hope that most in our community use our powers for good and make this world a better place for those less fortunate.

  9. I’ve found most changes in life don’t feel real until you live them. It doesn’t matter how often you picture them, the reality is different. As for the numbers I also agree. One usually says your net worth buys years of not working, but what does that mean? I’m not living it so I don’t really no. The assets buy options which lowers my stress and enables me to take more risks. It’s a profound impact on my career but nothing on my home or family life. So I agree it’s a disconnect.

    • I think the lack of tangible, real life impact of a growing stash is one of the main causes of mid-accumulation-phase ennui that seems very common. FTF mentions peace of mind (from having options) as a tangible impact, but I think it’s worth taking things a step further (where possible) and actually implementing work/life changes as early as possible.

      The ONLs have a good plan for this since they will have their “leaner” pre-retirement-account-access portion of retirement instead of delaying and continuing to work until they can have a super-comfy retirement immediately.

      I recently decided to take things a step further and am planning to pursue part-time work as a way of harvesting some of my freedom as soon as possible, especially in light of recent health scares from friends and family.

      • I love your new plan! More people should follow your example, and stop waiting until they have every single penny they’ll ever need, especially if they’re still able to work gainfully. I think part-time is a great solution if that works in your industry (it *might* for Mr. ONL but definitely won’t for me), and that will get you more freedom sooner. I’m all for it!

    • Disconnect is a great way to put it. I’m so interested to know if it will all feel different when we quit and are actually living off those numbers, but even then, I don’t know if it will feel like something we did or just some magical number that showed up one day. ;-)

  10. I have this feeling of surrealness when relating to my friends who have not been so financially successful or when we are in an area of town that is clearly not so well off. I think our numbers are not that dissimilar to yours, but we live in a HCOL town where everyone has that kind of income–they just all drive two Teslas and we put the money in the bank. So I see regularly “what I’m giving up” by building up the cash.

    To me what is the most surreal is feeling like we’ve got this secret that no one else seems to understand. It is possible to be free of this crazy work yourself to death merry-go-round! That $1,500 handbag won’t make your life better, but you know what will? A big, comfy taxable account!

    • I can relate to all of this! We live in a HCOL place, too, though we’re thankful to have chosen to live in a down-to-earth neighborhood where there are a lot more Ford trucks and Subarus than Teslas! (Tell those Tesla drivers that the poor are subsidizing their roadways, since they don’t pay gas taxes.) ;-) I agree with you, though, about the “double life.” It’s so weird to spend so much time thinking about something and working toward it… and then not be able to talk about it with most people!

  11. Oh yeah, it will feel real in the middle of the day when we have a hammock strung up somewhere with a view and we’re reading a book while everyone else is at work! Lol. Or maybe I’m learning how to program Linux in the middle of the day or getting farther in our Spanish language pursuit without worrying about that work meeting coming up later in the day – blah.

    But yeah, we know how you feel. Since we started a bit over a year ago, our savings exploded and the numbers keep growing, but it does still just feel like a number and a math equation. It will feel real once real change starts to happen in our daily lives I think. Otherwise, every day still has this big chunk taken out of it work traditional work. Wish we could have started earlier to match your date!

    • It’s funny… I think you’re right about the *situation* feeling real when we can finally quit (I think I’m looking forward to no early alarms most of all!), but I wonder if the numbers themselves ever will? Add that to the list of “things we’ll learn once we get there”! And that “wish we had started earlier” feeling… I have come to believe that literally everyone feels that way. We look at people younger than us and think it, people younger than us look at people younger than them, and on down the chain. The important thing is that we’re all beating the game by retiring securely before age 65… all winners around here. :-)

  12. What I love about your blog is that you do a great job of expressing what so many of us are thinking. I agree with everything you said in this post. I’m about to hit a milestone of sorts and still can’t believe it’s real. Whenever I look at my account balances, it doesn’t seem like real money to me. Part of this is because I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed at all to save/invest money over the years and now I’m seeing the results. Comparing balances year over year is even more mind blowing to me. It’s crazy how fast it grows!

    I work in accounting and booking journal entries for $50M isn’t unusual (and also doesn’t feel like real money) so I guess it’s not strange to also be desensitized when it comes to my own finances. But it’s interesting to hear that other people feel the same way.

    • Aww, thanks, Kate! :-D I think the sacrificing point is super important, and I’m glad you raised it. If saving for ER had felt like a hardship, we probably would feel like we’d saved up our amounts, bit by bit. But because we don’t feel like we sacrificed, we don’t have that same feeling. More proof that the most satisfying accomplishments are the ones we work hardest for. Congrats on hitting your big milestone (soon)! :-)

  13. Yes I get what you’re saying. Wealth to me is a feeling and a power. It’s more than a number. All my my numbers tell me is that I can take more risks to find the real me rather than the work me. I’ll never withdraw everything at once so I don’t look at it like a giant pile of cash. But I know if I withdraw it in small sums, it allows me to take a lot of risks to pursue my real calling and purpose in life. That’s why I love to save. I’m buying the mindset where living my dreams is possible. To me, there’s no better way to lI’ve my life.

    • That stuff we DO feel. Like the peace of mind in knowing that we could both be out of job tomorrow and we’d be fine for years — we feel that, and it’s awesome. Or the knowledge that we could go buy a rental property tomorrow no problem — that’s real. So yeah, I love how you put it: buying the mindset that living your dreams is possible. You should trademark that! ;-)

  14. Hmm…I guess that I haven’t given this nearly as much thought as you have! To me, the wealth number represents days that we can live “free” – free of required full-time work. Whether we have *a specific number* is of no concern to me. For example, our lifestyle requires less than a million in net worth, so I’m okay having less than a million. I only want as much as we need.

    I can’t answer whether or not the money feels real or not because, well, I’m not exactly sure how to determine that. But what does feel real is early retirement. When you guys reached FI, you felt about the same as us. Meaning, you gave each other a high five and then went on about your day. You worked for it and saw it coming, and when you eventually accomplished the goal, it wasn’t anything truly special or surprising.

    But once you call it quits, THEN you’ll really feel it. Your lifestyle changes, and that’s almost impossible not to feel.

    • Oh I totally believe that early retirement will feel real! And you know how anxious I am to get there! ;-) I do wonder, though, if the numbers will ever feel like something we saved. Or if they’ll always just feel like these big, amorphous, abstract things… we’ll find out soon enough. ;-)

  15. It gets easier as you get used to it after a bit of time. The way I like to think about it is that I’m focusing on the income that is coming from the portfolio (in this case dividends from stocks) and keeping my spending to less than this number. I’m 43, my wife is 37 and we are just on the cusp of FI but because we have a young 3 year old daughter and are trying for another one I plan to keep working for a spell. I still for the most part enjoy my work so that’s not a sacrifice.

    But it is sure nice to be riding on the edge of FI to know that there is a wonderful safety net in place to support us for the rest of our life.

    Best wishes,


    • Amen to the peace of mind that comes from that safety net! Knowing that if we both got fired tomorrow we’d still be okay is crazy reassuring. And that’s a good way to think about it, looking at the income generated by our portfolio. I’m sure once we start spending that, it WILL feel different indeed.

  16. There are very few PF bloggers who haven’t experienced lifestyle inflation! I think it’s all about experiencing it firsthand and reining it in. I remember my first raise: the first thing I did was buy a $200 coffee machine. Argh! But eventually I used my higher income for good, paying off debt and establishing an emergency fund. Ahhh.

    Yay for only 11 months! I’m sure it feels like forever right now, but hopefully it will fly by. :) I’m set to retire in 10 years, so I’m jealous of your 11 months!

    • I bet you’ll reach your FIRE goal sooner than 10 years… those things just always seem to gather momentum and accelerate. ;-) And yeah, we’ve definitely all been there with some dumb purchase after a raise. I’ve had so many of those, I can’t even name them! ;-)

  17. I can relate. Especially before Prof SSC’s job change when we were still looking at being able to hit our FI number this year, and a comfy one in 2018. Things changed, and now we’re looking at a comfy FI around 2019. Meh, so be it. I’ll still only be 42 by then so yeah, that’s still pretty friggin’ early for pulling the plug on a career.

    As far as it feeling real, I secretly was hoping we’d both get laid off with decent packages so it would kick us out of our comfy life now and send us figuring out our Lifestyle Change. While that is extreme, we were set up comfortably enough that we could have found somewhere to live and something to do to make it work for us. I had faith in us! haha Sure, we wouldn’t be “for real FI” until way later since we wouldn’t be contributing much if any to our savings, but they’d just be growing away doing their thing and we could be doing ours.

    It’s hard to willingly walk away from continuous money coming to your account every 2 weeks. That’s why I wrote posts like,”Why fire freaks me out man” and similar ones because who does that?! Nobody leaves a 6 figure job to live off WAY less than that. Except we’re already living on WAY less than that which is why we’re so close to being able to leave said job, lol.

    2 years to go but it seems like it’s always been 2 years to go. Except I remember when it was 5 yrs and then 4 yrs, then back to 2 yrs, then 1 yr (eeep!), and now back to 2 yrs away… Funny how life changes things for you.

    • Here’s to secretly hoping to get laid off! Hahaha. I really admire how well you guys have rolled with the punches. I think I might seriously lose my mind if my timeline got longer, but I know it was for a good reason in your case, and that you guys are both reasonably happy at work, which makes a big difference. (I’m not unhappy at work — it’s just too much and not sustainable.)

  18. I definitely agree with what Kate said above, “I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed at all to save/invest money over the years and now I’m seeing the results.”

    It’s an odd feeling for sure. I’ve never thought that it was mine or wasn’t mine – it’s just a number. I’ll certainly never spend it all in one place….

    • Glad you won’t spend it all in one place! ;-) Yeah, I think the sacrifice point is an important one. Maybe if getting to this point had felt like more of a sacrifice, we’d look at the numbers and think, “Yep, we earned those.” But since it actually wasn’t that hard, it feels a lot less real.

  19. It doesn’t seem real to us either, and we haven’t shared our celebrations or milestones with our friends and family in real life. To us, it feels like we’d be rubbing it in when many of them are struggling. They can see we’re working less and live frugally, but none show any interest in our choices. So we have private high-fives and happy dances, then we get back to living our lives.
    Someday we hope to be able to help many of them, especially the kids, and we hope they’ll show more interest in being financially responsible than their parents.

    • That’s a great point you raise, that not talking about this stuff with people in our lives contributes to how surreal it all is. We’re the same as you — we don’t talk about it with many IRL people, especially relatives, though a few close ones know of course. We also don’t want to rub it in or brag, or make it sound like we’re judging their choices, but we also wish it was all easier to talk about so we could help them see what’s possible!

  20. We are still accumulating and I’m 47.5 months away from my RE date, but our stash is large enough now for me to feel that it can’t possibly all be ours. It is the size that I have associated with “rich people” my whole life. And I don’t think of me as being rich people, so that pile of slowly growing money feels a bit alien to me.

    • Haha, I get that feeling, because I sometimes think the same thing. “This is rich people money, but I’m not rich people…” Yet I don’t think of me as “rich people” ever at all.

    • “Rich” is such a loaded word that I think very few of us want to associate with it, even if it clearly applies. We’re very much in that boat — we don’t feel rich but certainly meet the criteria — so I know what you mean!

  21. To us, it is indeed difficult to grasp and appreciate the numbers we have. According to online Belgian tools, we are in the top 20 or better percent. Hard to believe… I tend to think there are a lot of people out there with close to nothing.

    One way to explain is that other wealth is more visible… A heated pool, big fat cars, real exotic holidays,… All of these can be observed in our street… That would feel real!

    • Yeah, isn’t it funny how doing it “right” (meaning: NOT spending money on the heated pool, big fat cars, etc.) makes it feel less real than doing it wrong? ;-)

  22. We can identify with a lot of what you wrote. I do almost all of the financial “stuff” in the family. My wife has come aboard the FIRE train over the last ten years, but she’s happy to let me be the conductor.

    Over the last two months, I shared with her a milestone we reached and her reaction was roughly, “It doesn’t feel like we’ve reached that.” I think it’s fair to say that it doesn’t feel real to her. It feels a little more real to me, but it is still feels weird.

    That’s one of the reasons why I am trying to open up the spending (where it makes sense) this year.

    Sometimes you have to make snow angels, right?

    • We love snow angels so much we have them in our profile pic. ;-) I understand exactly what your wife means about it not feeling like you could have reached that milestone, even though I meticulously track our accounts and have watched all the accounts get there over a number of years. It still just doesn’t feel possible on some level! ;-)

  23. Just like you, with every raise and bonus I get, I can somehow feel a small ripple effect snowball my investments up in growth. The same can be applied for inflation though.

    I’ve been trying to keep a better eye out for inflation and hopefully it won’t snowball or even grow as fast as my investments.

    • Yeah, we take relatively low inflation for granted, for sure! There have been plenty of instances in history when inflation got vastly out of hand, and that would be a worst case scenario for many retirees. Thankfully the Fed seems very focused on keeping inflation in check — let’s hope they get to keep doing their job! ;-)

  24. Surreal is a good word to describe the feeling when your assets have grown to where you can live off the investments. Switching from working/saving/investing to not working and withdrawing money from investments is a big change. It took a while to adjust. But knowing my expenses and my investments allowed me to be confident I could retire.

    I had been looking forward to retirement since I started working out of college. Early on someone taught me the magic of compound interest. Wow! That made a difference. Just saving money would never allow me to achieve financial independence. Investing 10% of my income with decent market returns over 35 years became a staggering number. Funny, sometimes it just seems like a number. But it is an important number. Using a spreadsheet to analyze expenses and investments and withdrawals over a lifetime showed that we could be successful.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Kirk! Wow, I’ve only been investing for 15 years or so — can’t imagine how much more everything would grow if we kept putting money in for another 35! Of course we hope our market growth will still outpace what we spend in retirement, but we know we’re likely at peak growth right now, given how much we’re aggressively socking away. And to your point about savings, that was an important lesson for me, and what finally made me comfortable with investing, understanding inflationary risk and how our money wouldn’t even keep level spending power.

  25. Are you sure you don’t have 50 million? That would be so cool . . . It is freaking amazing and we wonder how we did it too–some great luck, some good fortune and a lot of hard work. I understand the abstract feeling of large numbers but found the money became more real once I was living off it. The monthly transfer from Vanguard that allows me to pay my bills makes it feel real and more limited.

    • NOWHERE NEAR $50 million. :-) But that WOULD be so cool… think of how many people we could help with that money! I bet you’re right that it all will feel more real once we’re living off of it, but for now, it doesn’t even feel like it’s ours!

  26. Big numbers do feel intangible but it also depends on how you got to the big number. If it’s the result of saving, you can “ease into it” as it grows. If it’s a larger slug, you don’t have time to adjust.

    The hardest part, at least for me, has been managing the investments because the dollar amounts are so large relative to day to day life. 1% swings on a $1,000,000 portfolio is the price of a car. 3% is the price of a nicer car.

    Living off your investments feels awesome but sometimes it feels like cheating. :)

    • Oh we’ve definitely had those car-sized swings, and that’s when I get all nauseous and think, “Why do we invest in the stock market?!” Hahaha. And I believe you that it feels like cheating — a friend of mine describes what we’re doing as “beating the game.” ;-)

  27. I think one of the benefits of saving and building wealth slowly over time is it lets you get used to the idea of wealth, um, slowly. Although my lifestyle has grown some, it doesn’t compare to the income and net worth increase my family has seen the past even 5 years. So looking at the spreadsheet or personal capital account does seem a bit weird at times, because what does it all mean. I’m still driving my beat up almost 10 year old car. I do notice that although i think about money a lot, i rarely realy worry about it. Almost never worry about paying regular bills. I have the means and live so far below my means I enjoy a sense of calm that i suspect a lot of others do not. That sense of calm is very real to me.

    I’ve often wondered about asking this type of question to various people at certain levels of wealth. So, you ask the guy worth $10M what it feels like, and then compare that to the guy or gal worth $100M. Seriously, what’s the difference between being worth $25M, $50M, or $100M? What’s real to them. I guess at that point its all just big numbers and a whole lot of stuff, if you are into that.

    PS. I believe someone here commented about watching ‘minimalism’ on Netflix. I really enjoyed it. and would recommend it.

    • You put it so perfectly: “That sense of calm is very real.” So true. I think it’s quite clear that we’re years beyond our financial worries phase, and sometimes I forget what that was ever like. But you’re right that it’s an incredible gift to be in a place where we never worry about money, and anything resembling worry is just misplaced impatience about reaching our goals. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. And I’m sure you’ve seen the research that after about $75K in income, you don’t get much happier with more money. I’d say that’s borne out for us!

  28. Well , I’ve been waiting to join the club – I paid off my mortgage this morning and it feels great! It was my 50th birthday present to myself. I have no debt and hope to ramp up the savings and accelerate the retirement timeline. Thanks so much for your well thought out articles. You either cover things I have been thinking about or cover topics that I should be thinking about and can add to my list of preparatory steps. You’ve built a great community here and I thank you for your dedication to it. I’m sure here are many like me who don’t post often, but read every word. It does seem surreal sometimes that FIRE is possible. Thanks again!

    • Wohooooooo!!! Congrats on joining the mortgage-free club, and on turning 50! :-D And your note totally made my day (the actual day when you wrote this — I’m a bit slow to response this time! — and it made my day again today!). I’m so glad you find the blog useful — thanks so much for reading… and commenting! Congrats again!!!

  29. As our balance sheet continues to balance in the right direction, I’m amazed at the amount of stress that is eliminated from our lives. I underestimated the amount of angst that accompanies a low savings rate. Thank goodness we are in a position where we both have high salaries and have the luxury of choosing frugality over having to be forced in that direction. Oh and yes, the numbers seem surreal to us, as well :)

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • You raise such an important point, which is that we’re in a bit of a bubble now, having forgotten how stressful it is NOT to have money, and to be in debt or maxed out or otherwise strapped. You’re right that having enough to meet your needs and get out of debt is a huge weight off, and that’s completely tangible!

  30. I think this is the reason that paying off your mortgage was so very exciting for you guys, even though you’d probably already saved enough money to pay it off a few times by then. You can see where your money went and what you got from it – not only something big and tangible, but something with sentimental importance. The rest of your money will just be hanging out in the background, awaiting your instructions. :)

    Since we started actively pursuing FI less than a year ago, our net worth has grown by more than I would have expected and we’re already close to milestone number 2 after having hit milestone number 1 only a few months ago. My biggest concern is to not fall into complacency or entitlement, you know? What once seemed like an unfathomable number on our spreadsheet becomes old news and we can’t get to the next number fast enough. Meanwhile, most of the people we know are still (statistically speaking) in the negatives with their net worth. Everything we have is from our own hard work and discipline, but I think it’s good to remember that it’s not a given and not to be taken for granted. But then again, that makes it seem more surreal again! :)

    • While there were for sure a lot of things that went into wanting to pay off the house, you’re totally right that that goal DID feel a bit more tangible than the others. (Though, that said, owning the house doesn’t feel that different, at least so far, than partially owning it.) ;-)

      Big congrats for hitting two milestones in such quick succession! That’s awesome! And I love that you’re thinking about not getting entitled or having those milestones become no big deal. Because you’re right — all of us who are even able to consider pursuing FIRE are all kinds of lucky, and we do well remembering that. Kudos to you for keeping that in your mind! :-)

  31. I am with you on things feeling intangible. My business is young and paid me for the first time in December, but even that does not feel real. I’ve kept that money in a separate savings account so I can get a handle on taxes for it. I have not spent it and probably won’t for at least a few quarters. Then, the spending will probably just be investing anyways.

    It’s a huge milestone and still feels so very distant.