This funny thing tends to happen in the community of early retirement blogs and enthusiasts. We all say that we value freedom above all, which means the ability to shape our future to look exactly the way we want it to look, without having to answer to an employer or the man. Blogs are littered with rallying cries to freedom, possibility and bucking the trends (including ours). It’s inspiring stuff.
The funny part is what also tends to happen, something we detailed in our Road Less Traveled Challenge post: over time there has evolved the One True Path to early retirement, with its proscribed principles and edicts. But even more puzzling, given the emphasis on freedom, is the pressure that the community inadvertently puts on each of us:
Be as frugal as you can
Downsize your home, or eliminate it completely
Side hustle all you can to get to early retirement
Maximize every possible income stream
It’s a puzzling thing for a movement based on freedom to put so much pressure on all of us to conform to this standard.
And I don’t care if everything on that list is well and good. Following it – following any list that someone writes out for you, rather than you writing it out for yourself – is not freedom.
True financial freedom means getting to define every single part of your own journey to financial independence, early retirement, or whatever else you’re striving for, and it means getting to define everything that comes after that milestone, too. Even if it’s not optimal. Even if it doesn’t have the frugality stamp of approval. Even if someone else thinks you’re just dumb for it.
Which brings us to today’s topic: It’s okay to be a brat when planning for (early) retirement. We’ll confess our brattiest financial moments, and encourage you to define your own. Let’s go!
Writing this blog has truly transformed how we think about financial independence and early retirement, and it’s helped us get to several realizations, like the one that we will earn some money after we leave our careers, so we don’t need to save up every single penny we’ll ever need before we pull the plug.
But having that realization only happened because we came into this from a very resolute place, and one where I’d say we still very much are:
We don’t want to have to work in retirement, ever.
It means we’re saving more than others in our situation might save, and we’re okay with that, because having to go back to work, needing the money from work, would make it all feel less worthwhile to us, and could make us regret quitting when we do. (Note: the operative word there is having to work. We’re not opposed to work, even work for other people, but we want to decide when, where, how and why we do that. We don’t want it forced on us by circumstance.)
Plenty of folks have told us that we’re too hard-line in our thinking about this, and we don’t care, because this is our vision. Are we brats for wanting to be able to envision a future with not another penny of earned income? Maybe. But haven’t we earned the right with all this saving to be brats on a couple of things?
Being an FI Brat
I think of being a brat as doing what you’re doing for no especially good rational reason, or maybe for no reason at all except that you Feel Like It. “I want this thing to be this way, because I am the center of my universe, and I said so.”
We’d never recommend that for external life (we actually think we should all try harder to be good friends, neighbors and civic citizens), but for stuff within our own homes and our own lives, there is nothing wrong with a being a brat sometimes.
More Brattiness in Our Plan
Besides never wanting to have to work, we have some other stubborn parameters built into our plan which mean that – gasp! – we’re going to violate some of those core tenets of the FIRE movement. What’s our financial justification for going against the flow? We don’t have any!
Our justification is simply this: Because that’s what we want.
So what are those things we just want, for no good reason? Here’s a quick rundown.
I don’t want strangers in our house. A lot of early retirees and FIers rent out their homes on Airbnb, or even rent out a room while they are living there. And they pull in some healthy cash flow by being that. We say good for them. But also, yuck. I know it’s just us being weird, but we don’t especially want strangers in our house, whether or not we’re here. That’s not to say we’ll never rent it out ever, especially if we travel long term, but we will try our darnedest not to need to. And our super articulate and rational reason why we’d leave all that money on the table boils down to “Eww.”
We have high standards for a house we’d live in. Especially now that we’ve paid off our house, we are super picky about where we’d consider living. Not in terms of place (we love our mountain town and have no plans to leave), but in terms of the physical structure. We have considered downsizing and are totally open to it… if we could find essentially the perfect house, a house that we’re not convinced exists where we live. (Let’s just say the “must have” list would put any Househunters buyers to shame, though it’s filled with things like “flat driveway,” not “granite countertops.”) The inertia of not having a mortgage and not wanting to do the work of moving is strong, but more than that, we just aren’t willing to compromise on what it would take to move, no matter how good of financial opportunities we might be passing up in the meantime.
We don’t want to give up all the stuff we love that adds no empirical value. I’m writing this right now from the comfort of a lie-flat business class seat on a 12-hour flight across the biggest pond. This upgrade happened to be free (if you consider the time spent flying 125 flights last year “free”), but we actually talk about using our massive mile stash for upgrades on international flights in the future instead of stretching them farther on economy class tickets. We won’t see more of the world that way — in fact, we’ll see less of the world for the same amount of money — but we have no desire to cram ourselves into tiny coach seats when we’re talking trans-Pacific, and we can afford it with our collective miles. So we’re gonna do it.
Sometimes we just want to throw money around. This one is probably the most sacrilegious idea here, and one I hesitated to even commit to print on an FI blog. For the most part we’re good about cutting out the frivolous expenses, we’re committed DIYers who generally prefer to do things ourselves, and we don’t need much stuff to be happy. But every once in a while we want to be able to write a big check to charity, or treat a loved one to a fancy dinner out that they wouldn’t splurge on themselves, and sometimes we even just want to have a spa day. I’m not telling anyone else that you should spend on these things, but being able to splash out every once in a while makes us happy, so we have no intention of stopping after we quit later this year.
Why We Can Be Brats
Maybe this stuff I just listed sounds bratty to you, or at the very least wasteful. And you’re right. On a purely logical level, some of what we want to do or not do with our money is wasteful, if the point of life was to maximize profit and minimize losses at all costs.
But we don’t ascribe to that vision of life. We believe money is a tool to buy freedom, and it’s up to each of us to define what that freedom looks like. Ours is fairly frugal overall, with a few big, bratty exceptions.
And it’s okay because we know all of this going in. Our plan doesn’t rely on vacation rental income to let us travel. It doesn’t rely on us taking money out of our house. It has wiggle room for occasional extravagance. And are we working a little longer than we have to in an objective sense? Yep, absolutely. But it’s worth it to us, because that’s the life we want to live.
You Have Permission to Be an FI Brat, Too
All the confessions I’ve shared today are here for this purpose: to say that whatever your vision of freedom is, it’s okay! You have our permission, not that you need it, not to follow every rule, or to be a good Mustachian at the cost of your happiness.
If being frugal all the time makes you happy, awesome. Build your life plan around that. If being frugal all the time makes you miserable, awesome. Build your life plan around that instead. There is no One True Path to FI, and no one right way to live your life or spend your money.
If you’re doing the hard work to save up and reach FI, then at the very least you’ve earned the right to build some indulgences into your plan, if that’s what you crave.
Join the Confessional!
So let’s all have a big group hug/brattiness confessional. What are your big indulgences (or small ones!) that you are building into your FI plan that you don’t always feel like you can talk about in PF land? Or what are the things you wish you could do in early retirement but haven’t built into your plan because it’s not “allowed”? Well we hereby grant you permission to indulge in those things you want just because! Let’s discuss all of it in the comments!