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What Has Surprised Us Most about Pursuing Financial Independence

The way we live now feels like our “normal,” several years into our journey beyond financial independence to early retirement. But the truth is that how we live now is markedly different from how we lived before we got laser focused on our BIG goal of retiring at the end of 2020 (initially), and later on retiring at the end of 2017 (the sped up/current goal).

And I’m not just talking about our baller years of high spending on travel and restaurants (thank goodness we never got into buying expensive clothes or shoes or any of the rest… though there was a lot of wine purchased, most of which we still have).

But looking in hindsight at all the things we’ve changed along the way, and all the other things that happened as a result of focusing on a huge financial goal, there have definitely been surprises. Here are a few of them.

What has surprised us most about pursuing financial independence?

Surprises About Money

There was a time when we liked that we didn’t know what a gallon of gas cost, or what fresh salmon cost at Whole Foods. Not being price sensitive felt like proof that we had made it, that we had climbed one rung higher up the socioeconomic ladder from where we’d been born – maybe even two rungs. Now, of course, that behavior feels, if not quite crazy, at least foreign from where are heads are these days. We don’t obsess about gas prices, but we certainly know what they are. And we buy salmon maybe every few months instead of every week – and now it’s usually frozen. And there are a gajillion other things we do differently, too.

We think of it not as drastically changing our spending, but as getting more grounded in our money. We’ve always had a good handle on what was coming in, but now we balance that with a clear handle on what’s going out. If you’d asked us a few years ago how that would feel, we would have said it felt like a sacrifice, but that’s been our biggest surprise:

Spending less hasn’t felt like a sacrifice – We know we come from a position of incredible privilege in that we earn well above the median income and make plenty more than we require to get by. So we’d be able to save something even if we kept spending at a high rate. But still, if you’re used to one thing and have to adjust to another, lesser thing, it’s not a stretch to think that anyone would feel that pinch. In our case, the key to keeping it from feeling like a sacrifice has been to scale back our spending slowly, bit by bit. The only categories of spending we gave up entirely were things we didn’t value, and in most categories we just scaled back, and not all at once. Easing into a new approach to spending has made finding our new normal feel like a relative breeze.

It has happened faster than we expected – We’re definitely retiring way sooner and younger than we ever thought possible, and I know we’re not alone in this. As recently as three and a half years ago, we still thought we would need to work through 2020, not wrap things up near the end of 2017. It’s clearly a factor of underestimating market tailwinds (strong market forces have not hurt), underestimating pay increases, and sticking strong to the lifestyle stagnation that we put into place years before we began actively pursuing financial independence.

Surprises About Mindset

Maybe the money stuff is obvious. If you truly align your spending to your values, it shouldn’t be hard, and shouldn’t feel like too much of a sacrifice. And — shocking! — compound interest actually works. But here was the most mind-blowing surprise to us:

Making a total mindset switch can happen virtually in an instant — I know sometimes early retirement bloggers will say that people who spend most of what they earn are fools, but I honestly don’t believe that. We all make a calculation of value, and before, our  financial philosophy looked more like this:

People work until their 50s or 60s, and since our work is extra demanding, we deserve to do some fun travel and dining out as our reward for that hard work. That’s how we choose to spend our money. 

This still feels like a fundamentally sound approach to life, but of course it’s no longer ours. Our light bulb moment was realizing how that we could change our financial philosophy to this:

People don’t necessarily have to work until their 50s or 60s if they can save most of their paychecks for future freedom. We can still pay for some fun today, but save most of our assets for long-term fun in the near future.

Certainly many (aspiring) early retirees can relate to that mindset shift, but the most incredible thing for us was how quickly we could change from total devotion to one financial philosophy to the other. Something that we spend money on unquestioningly one day instantly become something we unquestionably never spend money on. Once we made that connection to know that we could spend our paychecks on fleeting immediate gratification, or we could invest them to give us long-term freedom and joy, there was no going back. But…

Old habits still die hard — As committed as we are to our early retirement goals, and as much as we want to watch all of our numbers get bigger, not smaller, sometimes we still revert to our old ways, mainly around things that we just know will always be high priorities for us. See that a band we love is playing nearby? The first question is always: “Are we around?” Not “How much are tickets?” So while it’s been easy to stick to not buying things that don’t add value to our lives, for things that absolutely do add value, we haven’t totally mastered the art of considering all angles, including the financial ones.

The Random Surprise

We’ve realized many more people are interested in this lifestyle – Recently, in the comments on this post, many of you revealed that you don’t share your FI plans with many people in your lives, and while we understand, it’s a shame, mostly for them. Why? Because a lot more of them than you realize might already have had similar thoughts, or at the very least, they might be susceptible to the big mindset shift. I’ve told a pretty large array of strangers our plans (many of them my seat mates on airplanes), and I’ve been consistently surprised how many of them have already given FI some thought, have already put together plans, or maybe even have already retired early, like the guy I sat next to a few weeks ago. While retiring in our 30s or 40s might still be a rare feat, thinking about this stuff sure seems to us to be a lot more broad-ranging than any of us had thought. And even in real life, we’ve gotten plenty of friends to start thinking differently about their own finances and plans, not even by pushing our philosophy on them. Simply by sharing our plans and signaling that we’re open to talk about all of it.

What Surprises Have You Encountered?

As always, we’d love to know what has surprised you most in your financial journey, whether it’s to FI or some other big goal. It doesn’t have to be anything monumental — sometimes the biggest surprises feel like complete “duh” moments in hindsight, and sometimes they’re mind-blowing. We’ll take ’em all. Let’s chat in the comments!

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107 replies »

  1. For me the “duh” moment was realising how most financial problems are linked together, and self reinforcing.

    I need to earn lots of money, to pay lots of rent, to live near the job that pays lots of money…

    Then I needed to pay high nursery/child care/school fees near my expensive house because I need to be able to manage the drop off/pickup to/from my way to my high paying job, that I need to pay those school fees.

    And so on.

    Once I worked out if I adjusted the house location the rent/mortgage reduced (a lot potentially). The school fees weren’t as high either. Now I didn’t need to earn as much… and so the cycle continued in the other direction.

    Moral of the story? We’re only as trapped as we choose to be.

    • Totally! It’s like that notion that you can make half a million dollars in a big city and feel like you’re middle class — well sure, if you assume you NEED to live in a certain place, and pay for private school and tutors and all the rest. But do you really need all that stuff? We’re both testaments that you can go to public school every day of your life, including college, and still have a pretty darn successful life. ;-)

  2. I was a bit naive, I didn’t know financial independence was a thing. I was taught the mindset of go to college, get a good job, if you get a job that pays you well, you can buy all the nice things in the world, and you do this until social security retirement age, then you depend on that for retirement. That truly is how all of my extended family members live!

    I discovered financial independence and financial freedom about 1.5 years ago and have been making strides to get our family in a position to be “free” in about 10 years when I’m 45 years old. We have high paring jobs and have become accustomed to our lifestyle. We can definitely retire now if we are able and want to live off of $30k per year but we won’t be able to do that, honestly.

    I’ve decided to start a blog to tell others about financial independence, hopefully launching this summer. Because you know what, I bet a lot of other people are like me, they’ve been trained that the only retirement age is when you start getting a social security check.

    • That’s not naive — that’s normal! That IS what we’re all taught in school and by society. It’s awesome you’ve managed to break free of that thinking and put your family on a markedly different path. Hooray! Because you’re so right — MANY people are like you, I’m sure of it. They want this info, they just don’t know it yet. :-)

  3. What has surprised me most is how getting on this path, which I originally considered a financial path, has made me examine everything in life. As you pointed out, it is a reasonable conclusion to spend everything when you see the vast majority of people doing it, but if you just stop for a second and simply ask better questions you will start to question assumptions which it quickly becomes apparent are based on…nothing. This originally financial journey for us has caused us to start to ask much bigger questions and make radical changes to how we think about diet/exercise/health, parenting, faith, where we should live, what people we want to surround ourselves with, etc. so long answer short, the biggest surprise is how much stuff we realize we just assume without questioning it and how wrong that can be.

    • I agree with “What has surprised me most is how getting on this path, which I originally considered a financial path, has made me examine everything in life.”

      That has been my experience as well. In hindsight this makes sense because money is a tool to reach dreams not the dream. By asking about how we want to live and reach our dreams money is only part of the picture.

      • Yeah, I love that way of expressing it. Same for us! I think you can see that reflected a lot in our thoughts on what to do post-ER. It’s no longer just about finding the opposite of stressful work, it’s about thinking through what will bring us true fulfillment and let us live our purpose.

    • I love this so much, EE. And same for us. It’s why we decided to leave the city for the mountains despite being years away from retirement, and it’s shifted several of our plans for the better — none of which has to do with money, at least directly. Do you guys have any news on where you’ll be moving??? You know we’re dying to hear. :-)

  4. I think the non-financial parts were the biggest surprise. The financial parts were clear on our planning spreadsheets but starting to really visualize freedom from our demanding careers at an early age (mid-40s) was the most impactful. This made saving much easier as my fantasies turned to time and enjoyable activities instead of things to buy. It’s also nice to stop thinking about how to “get ahead” through work accomplishments and additional career skills for a competitive long-term career.

    We were always good savers, but before it felt more like a “sacrifice”. Now I view saving and the time it will buy as the ultimate luxury while “wasting” money bothers me more than it used to.

    • You are not alone in feeling that surprise! The numbers are pretty straightforward, but all the rest is not. :-) And YES to wasting money. It used to feel like this awesome thing to get to waste a little (what power!), but now it makes me nuts!

  5. Just to test my theory out that most people would like to retire early, I have asked some people at work if they had enough money to live off of at their current living standard with they continue working. Some of them did say yes but others also weren’t hesitant to say no they would stop working. That told me that although these people didn’t have the money he did want to in fact move on with their lives. However, work has them stuck in a cycle.

    What’s sad is I know someone who makes $300,000 per year at my company and he does not feel like he has anywhere near enough to retire. He has even asked me how good it would feel to pay off his mortgage note??? I have to wonder how he doesn’t have enough money to pay off his mortgage note, when I do and I make about 50% less than he does.

    I suggested to my boss that he significantly increase his contributions to our 409 deferred compensation plan. He did, however he increased his contribution very little, even though I told him I’d be in a very high tax bracket if he didn’t do for more. He didn’t seem to understand or care. He is 62 so if isn’t starting to plan for retirement properly, I don’t know when he should start.

    • I can relate to your work experiences! A few years ago, I remember asking my first mentor if he/she was thinking about retirement, and was surprised to hear that that wasn’t possible anytime soon, despite HIGH earnings. It made me sad to think we’d be able to do it much sooner with lower incomes. Sigh. (But yay for us, I guess.) ;-) And all we can do is offer our perspective to folks — we can’t make them save!

    • If someone is making $300K a year and they are following the traditional financial advice of needing to be able to fund 80-120% of their final year salary (often put forward by their financial planners), they’d be looking at needing $6-9M in retirement savings assuming a 4% rule of thumb withdrawal rate. So I can easily see how a high earner could be trapped into thinking they can’t possibly retire because they “only” have one or two million, or even four million, in their retirement. They get trapped in the mindset of not really considering their spending and where they are living, etc. and won’t unless they alter their view. I will say the biggest plus I have coming from a poor background is that I know I can live reasonably well on $30-40K a year. I may not be traveling the globe in first class and five star accommodations, but I can still travel have a roof over my head, eat reasonably, and otherwise enjoy friends and family.

      • Oh amen to all of this! I wrote about that and more in “The Retirement Lie,” about how the touting of numbers discourages people from saving for many reasons, beginning with fatalism (which is what underlies your argument), but also the idea that average savings are abysmal, which tells most people they are average, then they feel comforted by that and don’t save — a total vicious cycle.

  6. I’m surprised by how simple it really is. How easy it can be we don’t overthink it. The positive feelings of empowerment and freedom. The warmth of the FIRE & personal finance community. And how I’ve not bought a new pair of shoes in over two years.

      • That’s understandable, but for me, I bike commute and that doesn’t wear out shoes. In ER I will hike a ton.

      • Ha, ha, neither. I ride to work in my work clothes, I don’t clip at all. I own a Priority 8 bicycle. It’s a fantastic commuter bicycle with fenders. Everything I need I keep at work, so occasionally I will wear a backpack to work but that’s rare. I’m only 3.5 miles away.

      • Oh nice! That sounds like a dream commute! How awesome that you get fresh air every day but are close enough that it’s not a huge, sweaty undertaking. ;-)

    • Sooooo true. The math is so simple, and with a good automated plan, it feels like almost no work at all to retire early. It’s just the waiting game. I’m so glad, too, that you feel empowered by it all, and supported by this totally kickass community. And major props for not buying any shoes! *Maybe* I could do that if I got an exception for worn-out athletic shoes. ;-)

  7. We aren’t anywhere near retiring early (cries in corner?), but I’m constantly amazed at how much I’ve changed…and how much I’m still the exact same person. We paid over $50k in debt in two years as two teachers. So you’d think we’d have to make massive changes and massive sacrifices, but I’m not sure that’s true. This post is really intriguing, and I can’t wait for your to ruminate more on this when early retirement arrives. So, so, so very excited for you!

    • I think if everyone had purpose in their career like you do, we’d all feel less of a need to retire early. So the grass is always greener. ;-) And I am super curious if your experience and ours are super common, of “sacrifices” not feeling like sacrifices — I have no idea! And not to worry — I will keep pontificating on this stuff for many years to come! ;-) Thanks as always for sharing our excitement!

  8. I love getting to evangelize to random strangers on the plane. I can’t really say what, if anything, has shocked me about this journey to financial independence. I don’t have anything real to compare it to! This is all I’ve ever known. I’ll borrow a phrase from my buddy IRL. He got a raise and bumped up his 401k contribution and was surprised at how easy it was, and how much he didn’t miss the extra money. He also said he was pleasantly shocked at how good it felt to see his savings go up….. better even than spending it on stuff!

    • Yeah, I can totally relate to all of that. I am always urging younger coworkers to set the automatic increase on their 401k contributions, so it will notch up a percent each year. Instant, invisible savings!

  9. I think what surprised us was the very concept of ER. We didn’t even have to enact major changes to set ourselves on that path–we just had to find out that was a path because we were spending under what we earned. Not that we are super close to it, and we aren’t even declaring it a goal. But the numbers say it’ll be an option down the road and that was the biggest surprise for me!

    • I bet you guys will be able to retire early sooner than you’d ever imagine, and that will be another wonderful surprise down the road! ;-) Not that you’ll HAVE to, of course, but the option will be there for you.

  10. I’d say we’ve hit the same surprising thoughts on our FI path. Spending less hasn’t felt like a sacrifice – it just took me ditching my retail therapy mindset – and it has happened sooner than we expected. Actually, it is almost in line with what we originalyl planned, but we’ve moved it sooner and later along the way. :) I think 2019-2021 might have been our original goal range, even with both of us working oil jobs and saving a lot (we were over conservative and shooting well past what we need). Then we adjusted our risk tolerance and some more lifestyle type budget cuts and boom shaved about 3-4 yrs and realized we could hit 2017. We would’ve been able to get there had Mrs. SSC not taken the teaching job, something she was mentioning last week. BUT, that job change has allowed us an amazing lifestyle change which has made our current life seem so much easier. Since we wanted a Lifestyle Change over early retirement, it’s awesome getting therre before we hit FI.

    For me though, the biggest “duh” moment is that we can live comfortably off of ~$50-$55k/yr. I don’t feel like we’re scrimping, saving, and analyzing the cost of everything and yet it still seems like not much money. Our original goal was $65k/yr and shaving that down to $50/$55k makes a big difference in your target number. Having grown up pretty poor, I was freaked out about waling away from our cushy jobs to hope we planned right and have to go back to worrying about money.

    The second biggest surprising thing for me is that I’m comfortable with walking away from work for that Lifestyle now because I’d rather take a risk and it fail and get some extra time with the kids while they’re young and still want to hang out with us than work 3-4 more years just to alleviate my “fears”. I mean, then what, I decide we need another chunk of change “just in case” and then OMY, and OMY and where does it end? I’m also surprised at how much more confident I am in myself financially and know that I can make something work out if we need extra funds. I won’t get to my earnings like I have now, but i’m ok with that and don’t think i’m above working other random jobs which opens a lot of doors for side hustles.

    After reading my comment again, Id say my overall mindset changing as much as it has around this whole thing would probably be the most surprising thing. :)

    • Yes re OMY syndrome! What I tell myself in those moments is “what if you got [insert terminal diagnosis here] in 5 years?” I definitely would have wished we’d pulled the trigger on FIRE earlier — not that we’d worked OMY. Working OMY isn’t necessarily the “safe” thing to do if you may not live long enough to enjoy your future retirement. Not trying to be morbid, but keeping it real ;-)

      • I ask myself a similar question a lot, whenever I start to feel gun-shy about quitting. The tough thing is finding the right balance — we don’t want to quit before we are prepared, but don’t want to work longer than necessary, either — but continually asking the question is great for getting clarity on our enough.

    • The anxiety about how much we can each live on makes total sense, but also is worth looking at in terms of keeping big picture perspective. The median household income in the U.S. is currently about $52,000 a year (not individual, household). And because that’s mostly straight income, that’s taxed more highly than what you’d pay on a similar amount of dividends and capital gains, so spending about the same, you come out ahead of the majority of people in the country, AND you have lower costs because you’ll no longer have to pay for day care, gas for your commute, work clothes, etc. I like to remind friends of this when they question the amount we’re going to live on, which is different from yours, but not exponentially so. Virtually everyone gets by on less than what we’ll have, so it’s crazy to think that we’re somehow “scrimping”!

  11. I’m most surprised by how free I feel by spending less. Less stuff to worry about (and clean) and more money available when certain opportunities arise. I actually feel much lighter :)

    I really wish people would share their FIRE plans with more people. When I first mentioned it to a friends a couple years ago, they looked at me like I was crazy. Now that they see that I’m sticking to my plan I can see the wheels turning and they’re starting to ask more questions. They probably figured it was a fleeting thought, and an impossible one at that. Seeing me hit certain goals and continue to progress along my journey has opened their eyes.

    It would be great if we reached a point where people realized that they have more than one option and can actually live out their dreams. Hopefully all the FIRE blogs will get us to that point!

    • Totally agree with your first point! On the point about telling friends, I’m glad you shared your experience. It makes me want to start letting more people in my inner circle and sharing our plans with them. It would definitely rock if FIRE became a more mainstream concept.

      • We’re probably going to keep encouraging more people to talk about it with others, just because there are soooo many people out there who would love to know about this, and it’s our job to spread the word.

    • I LOVE that you feel lighter! And I’m in total agreement on sharing more. We’ve seen similar things with our friends — we tend to get a ton of questions now that almost everyone outside of work knows our plans and has seen us at this for a while. When we remind people that we’re quitting this year, so many now say, “Wow, it’s been 5 years already?!” which means they were listening years back when we mentioned our “5 year plan,” though at the time we didn’t think they were. Just echoing your experience, and backing you up that it’s great to share!

  12. The big one for me is how little I missed the things I use to purchase. Quite frankly I rarely feel the want to spend money anymore. Im just not that into the things it can buy. I’d rather spend what I do on time with my family. That was not always the case.

    • If you look at the comments here, I think you’ll see you’re not alone in that! Caring less and less about things seems to be a common side effect (or direct effect?) of getting on the FI journey!

  13. I guess my biggest surprise is how much I don’t miss all the things I used to spend (read: waste) my money on. How do you start those conversations with your seatmates on planes??

    • Haha — it comes up more naturally than you might imagine, though usually only when I get upgraded, not when I’m seated in coach. Usually there’s the asking what you each do, and if someone is young and says something that feels like code for retired, I swoop in. But in terms of spreading the word, I mostly just answer the work Q with something like, “I do ______ now, but my husband and I have been saving up and are retiring at the end of the year.” And that usually starts a whole conversation because frequent biz travelers are the ones who most wish they could work less or at least have more time at home.

  14. I think for me the biggest thing is how much more I value time and flexibility. Before, I didn’t think too much of having to limit activities I enjoyed because I was focused on my job. Now, my calculation has flipped. I have to really enjoy work to have it take away from family and other things.

    • I love that flip you’ve made — what a great surprise. How fantastic that you’re now finding so much more value in the important things in life. :-)

  15. Saving money is an very easy to quantify goal. What I’ve found unsettling about early retirement is figuring out new goals and having something to look forward to. It’s more work than saving towards the number :)

    • Oh totally! That’s a huge part of why I try to talk about all the stuff beyond finances here, because it’s all way bigger and tougher to figure out than the fairly simple numbers!

  16. My biggest surprise is that i have been able to resist not purchasing things I love. When we moved across the country as part of our FIRE plans I sold my Dirtbikes. I raced MX for years as did my family but we haven’t replaced those expensive hobbies. I want to but my determination for the end goal doesn’t allow this. I guess willpower has been the surprise as I was definately one with all the stuff. Worst part I think I did a lot of it to say, hey look at my cool stuff. Isn’t this sport bike wicked, wow my new Dirtbike is fast, have you seen the cool stuff in my race trailer, I really need a motorhome to pull my trailer now….the list goes on. The amount of money I wasted boggles my mind ! I will not be that guy again and the simplicity of the outdoors has luckily filled that void which is another big part of the ability to stick with the goals for me.

    • That is a great surprise! We can relate to wanting all the outdoor stuff, though you’re making me glad that we’ve always stuck to the self-powered modes, which are probably a bit less costly (both purchase price and maintenance). For me, it was never to show stuff off, but to get as light as humanly possible. I was the first person I knew to go all-titanium with my backpacking kitchen, and we were the first couple to have a sub-3 lb single wall tent, for example. Fortunately, we still have most of that stuff (though that tent got trashed in a high altitude mishap — whoops!), so at least that money didn’t all go to waste! But yeah, same as you, we’re happy that we’ve managed to (mostly) stop buying it all!

  17. The farther down the path we go toward FI, the more I realize it’s all about crafting our lives how we want it. Which gets me impatient and I want Mr. T to quit right now. This weekend, I was all: “We’re joining the local makerspace and hanging out there every day after school.” As pretty risk-averse people, I struggle with patience to be prudent, but enough dream to actually make sure we make it happen someday. At least with an FI plan in place, if we realize we’re THAT risk averse, we’ll at least get safely to early retirement if we can’t bring ourselves to venture out before that.

    • Hanging out at the makerspace every day sounds soooo perfect! I think you should quit your jobs right now and do that! ;-) You know I totally get it — the impatience, the big dreams for your life, all of it. I think being slightly risk averse is good, because there are for sure folks out there, as you know, who are doing this all a bit too seat-of-the-pants for my comfort, and your risk aversion will ensure that you’re smart about it, whichever way you choose to go.

  18. Interesting. It seems the mindset switch was very easy for you. I think that’s probably the sticking point for a lot of people. For me, I rarely thought about splurging much or deserving expensive stuff. I live modestly even when I was making good income and it was very easy to switch my mindset from working until 60 to retire early. It wasn’t a big change for me because my lifestyle didn’t change much.

    • I think those who start out frugal (that will never be us!) do have an easier time making the mindset switch, so lucky you! ;-) I think it was just SO easy for us to see the value of saving once we could put it in terms of how many years of freedom it would buy us, and that made the shift virtually instant.

  19. One of my few regrets in life is not learning about FI sooner. I’m in my upper 40’s now, and although I have been saving for retirement, it’s never been a priority until now. The big change for me was learning that you actually could retire early! Who knew? Well, clearly you guys did.

    I think the decisions you both have made and the commitment to sharing it is invaluable to our culture. You act as an alternative to our consumptive norms and demonstrate what’s possible if you’re committed to living life differently.

    • Thanks for that nice comment, Caren! We have no plans to stop spreading the word, so appreciate your support! ;-) And try not to let the few freakishly early retiring bloggers skew your perception. You are still going to be retiring WAY earlier than most people can ever dream of, and that’s amazing. When we first started all of this, we felt late to the party, and I bet there are some folks out there who plan to retire at 35 who regret not learning about FIRE sooner. Don’t let comparison steal the joy of what you’re journeying toward. :-D

  20. Being able to understand and appreciate that the simple things in life are basically all that you need to enjoy life. For us:
    1. Hiking a new trail in the middle of summer and cooling off with a dip in the local river
    2. First tracks on an 18in powder day, howling with delight as you make those first few turns.
    3. Relaxing on the deck, dinner off the grill on a warm night in the fall. S’mores with the kids from the camp-fire for dessert
    4. Planning the next family vacation trip, excited by the unknown and the fact that a big chunk of the cost is through travel hacking
    5. Laughing at how it took us so long to put plans in place to FIRE and realize experiences like 1-4 above are what makes us happy. Put another way, “The best things in life aren’t things”.

    • Hi Mr. PIE! Nice to “see” you. ;-) And that’s a pretty wonderful surprise! You know we’re in total agreement with all of those — except that it’s hard to find a warm fall night in the mountains! I miss those. ;-)

  21. I wish I could say what my surprises were, but they go back at least 15 years now.

    I had been raised to be frugal and I was investing in mutual funds in the 9th grade. It just seemed like the smart math thing to do. For math nerds like me, compound interest was super fun. For example, I had the thought: “If I can just average 14% interest I can double my money every 5 years! Let’s see what happens if I start with $100,000… Whoa!” Of course that’s pretty unrealistic, but it is mind-blowing.

    I’m sure I was surprised by any number of things, but they’ve been a part of my thought process for so long that it has just been normal.

    As for not sharing the FI stuff as much, I think it’s mostly because people will view me as cheap and not invite me to stuff. I don’t want people to think, “We won’t invite Lazy Man to the steakhouse because it will put him in a tough position of spending money.”

    • Fellow math nerd here, but I guess I just found spending more fun than compound interest until I saw the light. ;-) That’s crazy impressive that you invested in 9th grade — wow! As for not sharing about FI, your reasoning makes sense. Do you ever try to suggest a less spendy option for something to do? If people invite us to something expensive now, we’ll often say something like, “We’d love to see you! Would you be game for a hike instead? Or we could have you over and fire up the grill?” Still saying yes but trying to redirect the energy to something less spending-focused.

      • I actually go in the other direction and overcompensate by looking for more expensive things to do.

        Everyone has kids, careers and all that nonsense taking up their time ;-), so I don’t see them often. The occasional splurge isn’t an issue. I think it’s more of an appearance of an issue.

      • Well that makes total sense to me, too! (Though maybe some of them would be relieved not to have to shell out every time they want to get together. Just an idea.) ;-)

  22. For me the bigger surprise since starting to save for my tiny house, is that I can actually do it! That probably sounds weird, but I never thought I had the capacity to stick to a financial goal like that before. Maybe I just never found the right goal until now!

    • What a wonderful surprise! I don’t think that’s weird at all. That’s why most people never even attempt to reach big financial goals, because they just seem so insurmountable.

  23. We had a similarly easy time with the mindset switch. It happened in what felt like an instant. We switched effortlessly from never, ever thinking about money to having a fleshed out plan to retire early. I believe that one factor that contributes to this sort of effortless switch is a high income. It was ‘easy’ to switch in a heartbeat when we (for the most part) felt no pinch. Everything we gave up was by choice, not by necessity and I think that that made all the difference.

    • That’s awesome that you guys flipped so quickly, too! And I absolutely agree — the mindset shift happens very easily when you have the privilege of not really sacrificing anything. Though we’ve certainly introduced the artificial pinch and keep upping the ante on that, which I highly recommend for faster saving!

  24. In November 2015, I finally realized I had been on the path for a long time but didn’t have a name for it and didn’t realize that I could walk away from full time work theoretically forever. I looked at all the numbers, calculated my annual budget (I’m not a budget person – I’m more a big picture gal), backed into my 4% rule FI number, restructured all my investments, and implemented a plan for my lagging rental property that was earning me nothing (sold in October 2016). I hit the actual number early-mid last year, put the rental property on the market, thought through the FIRE numbers in more detail and made a few more tweaks and plans like settling on a 3-3.5% rule, and then made my exit strategy public. It was a life-changing realization and then everything seemed to fall right into place once I saw everything through the new lens. I feel a little clueless. But I don’t think I’ve ever known anybody who has done something like this before and not sure I had the courage to go my own way. I really admire folks like this who seem to have figured this out sooner.

    • I don’t think you give yourself enough credit! Figuring all of this stuff out and SO QUICKLY putting a plan together and then making it all public is crazy awesome. You only found out about FIRE a year and a half ago and you’re on the cusp of pulling the plug… amazing. If anything, you get MORE credit for doing so many things right when you had no one’s example to follow. But either way, what a cool surprise! What two-years-ago-you must be thinking right now! ;-)

      • I’m in the freaking finance industry. I have an MBA. How in the heck did I not figure out that low cost vanguard index funds were the best investments over the long term until 2 years ago?! How is that possible? I did, however, save like crazy in mutual funds and stocks and max out my 401K every year, and not pay much attention to it, so I still got there though it wasn’t fully optimized until just recently. I was too busy working and living, I guess. The only thing I had been questioning for a decade was the thought that folks needed $5-$10 million or more to retire “comfortably”. I kept doing the math and wondering how I could possibly spend that much money between retirement and, you know, death. lol.

      • The reason is that 99% of the financial services industry is built to funnel you into the thinking and products that generate the most profit! ;-)

      • Oh and 2 years ago me was considering my exit strategy from working full-time in corporate america to working less than full-time for some sort of meaningful non-profit. The plan and hope was that it would be significantly less stressful and time consuming and would have better boundaries.

      • I think that would have been a great move IF you’d felt like you needed to work much longer. But given that you quickly pivoted to your escape plan, I’m glad you stuck it out in the higher paying job!

      • I was on the same time frame either way so I just went from working to a much lower paying but hopefully less stressful job, to not working at all. Boom. Life changing realization. :)

  25. Surprises for us. First, it’s easy … in our case saving ~30% per year for a whole lifetime. In our mid-50’s now. Second, time has flown by. Work deadlines have come & gone. Sabbaticals and micro-retirements keep the sanity. Don’t miss too many little league games. Third, there is no perfection. No shame, no blame. Sometimes we make and spend in line with initial learnings from YMOYL back in the 90’s. Sometimes we don’t. But almost always it is deliberate toward stuff we like. Fourth, work hasn’t been a dirty word. Sometimes it is a race to get out. Sometimes it has been fun to get back into the game. Having the option to be in or out is key. You get to choose.

    • That’s a lot of great surprises! I’m especially intrigued by your surprise that time has flown by, because our perception of time varies so much. When we can’t wait for something to happen, it seems to take forever (something tells me most FIers can relate!), but then after you’ve hit the milestone, it’s easier to look back and think it flew by. I’m sure that’s how our journey will feel once we leave work, but it has rarely felt that way while we’ve been in it. ;-)

  26. The biggest surprise for me is that so few people seem to be on the journey to FI. Most of the people I know are above average earners. The more they earn, the deeper in debit they go. When the topic of personal finance comes up, they say they will work forever. At that point, I change the subject. They would not understand where I am coming from in terms of working toward reaching FI. It would be like talking in a foreign language to them.

    • I don’t know if you meant to type debit or debt, but I kinda love that “deeper in debit” phrase. To me it says that, even if you can “afford” it, you’re still going too far in your spending. Love that. And as for the folks you’re talking to, we certainly know plenty of those, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised how many people later come back to us with questions after we plant those little seeds — so don’t give up on folks! ;-)

  27. So true! It’s like flipping a switch when you see the light and change your mindset about spending money on stuff. Now my default is “why would I buy this?” – whether it’s an iced coffee or some cute home accessory – while before it was like, “why NOT buy this?” I’ve been sticking to a clothes buying ban for over six months now and I’ve been shocked at how easy it’s been, once I adopted the “no buy” mindset.

    Also, I’m one of those people that doesn’t talk to anyone about our FIRE plans – except one or two close friends/ family members. I’m starting to question that approach though, just because I feel like so many of my friends are stuck in “mindless spending mode” but have no idea how it’s impacting their long term future/freedom. Not sure how to start bringing it up, though, and am a little worried about then being pegged as someone with tons of money…and that could get awkward fast.

    • This might be worth its own post, but I haven’t found that most people immediately leap to the “you must have a lot of money” conclusion when we start talking about how hard we’re working to be able to quit our jobs. But we also tend to frame things in terms of needing that money to last a long time and rethinking our spending to shift it into paying our expenses in future years. I also think you don’t have to tell the whole story all in one go, but just talk about how much happier you’ve become since you got mindful about your spending. That’s been a great entry point for us!

  28. I knew about early retirement but didn’t realize what financial independence is until I started the journey. The biggest surprise for me is how supported this community is.

  29. The biggest surprise to me was probably that this is achievable even without an insane income. Honestly I started looking into it only because I knew I was making a lot more than average, and started realizing: “normal people retire at 65”. I make much more money than average, so I should be able to pull the date quite a lot, if I live an average life!

    The other surprise to me, as we’re on our way, is how nagging the frugality has become to me (in a bad way). Every single decision we make now has to weigh the cost in, which we wouldn’t have done before. A lot of people say the choices become easy: “does it make you happy? If yes, then the cost does not matter”. I think this is a simplistic approach, too simplistic. Sometimes you don’t know ahead of time: for example we’re setting up a birthday party for our kid, and we have no idea if a low-key birthday party at our condo will be as enjoyable for him as a $500 event in a place where the kids can have fun in inflatable castles for 2 hours. He’s already voiced his concern that doing it in our small condo doesn’t sound like fun. 3 years ago, we wouldn’t have thought about it, and would have gone with the expensive thing, just to please him. Now we’re trying all tricks in the book to convince him that our way will probably be as much fun. It’s exhausting, and my wife still has the mindset that “the more we spend, the more fun we’ll get”, when it comes to the kids. So I can see in her eyes that it does feel like a sacrifice to her.

    • I agree that just applying the happiness question is too simplistic, and doesn’t offer calibration. This is a way easier example to navigate than your birthday party dilemma, but we often discuss how what we love about going out to eat is the restaurant experience and trying new things, but we can get that by ordering just a few appetizers or sharing an entree instead of ordering three courses each plus multiple drinks. So it’s not about giving up dining out, it’s about scaling it back while retaining what we love about it. As for a kid’s party, as a non-parent I don’t have experience with that stuff, but I have been to some fantastic parties at parks that cost next to nothing. I know the bouncy castles are popular, but I remember how much I loved water balloons as a kid, and those are cheap. If it were me throwing it, I’d be thinking about ways to get out of the house for the party without taking on all those added costs, so it feels like less of a sacrifice because it’s still special. Good luck!

  30. I was primarily surprised by how much I liked money. Before I started my own business, I used to spend a fair bit of time, hanging out with friends, going out with girls, etc (all the stuff that a young guy does). But since I’ve started my own business, I’ve just lost interest in all that. I’m focused purely on achieving success right now.

    • That’s interesting! I do think that seeing some financial success tends to make most people want more of it, and it can be pretty all-consuming. Be sure to pace yourself so you don’t burn out!

  31. I think the mindset shift was a bit slower for me. It really started to happen when we paid off all our consumer and student loan debt. The stress was so much less. But, then, I discovered MMM and the FIRE community. When I realized it was a possibility for us, it changed everything. It really helped me become more intentional about everything in my life.

    • Our journey in total was much like yours — when I got serious about paying off my debt, and then when we got serious about saving for our first place, we made some mindset shifts. But the BIG shift didn’t happen until we connected the FI dots — and that is the one that happened quickly. ;-)

  32. I have been pleasantly surprised by how much easier it is to reach a financial goal with tailwinds. I started investing in 1999 just in time for the dot com crash, and was first downsized from a job in 2006 less than a year after my first home purchase. Watching my investment values crash in the Great Recession at the same time as my house value crash at the same time as my spouse was downsized 3 times and we both had to take pay cuts and insurance hikes made it feel like we would never get anywhere. Now we are mostly cautiously optimistic after seeing solid progress over the past 4 amazing years, but maybe still watching for the other shoe to drop.

    • I still think it’s amazing that you all have been through a lot financially and yet remain resilient and positive. It’s wonderful. We’ve enjoyed those tailwinds too, but as you would probably guess, we’re assuming that not all the recent gains will stick. ;-) Here’s hoping the next drop is nothing like the Great Recession!

  33. Our surprise has been how much more we enjoy treats when they’re really treats instead of everyday indulgences.
    We make health-conscious choices that are often frugal as well, so when we splurge on ice cream after anticipating it during a long hike, we enjoy it so much more than if we indulged every day.

  34. Not to spoil the party, but anyone who didn’t know the price of a gallon of gas or wasn’t bothered by the prices at Whole Foods smacks is just another “elitist haves” who is insulated from REAL everyday life. I congratulate you on your prosperity, but the price has probably been to water down your humanity.

    • Hi Bill. I’m curious: Does it strike you as ironic that you come in and accuse us of having watered down humanity when you have just made a broad, sweeping (plus judgmental and negative) accusation toward us without knowing us or reading our story at all? Do you not think people are able to change? This post is about how we used to do things, the realizations we had, and how we changed things as a result to align our spending to our values. I’d argue that is a huge component of humanity, unlike blindly judging strangers.

  35. Hello,

    I have recently started my journey towards FI as well. I have been reading several articles in the past week regarding ER and I’d love to have the choice to pursue it too…currently working on my 4.6k in credit card debt, going to follow this up by 4.8k in student loan debt, and then work on my 16k in car loan debt.
    I am not sure how to post here, but I am currently 26, and I have the goal of being able to retire within the next 20 years, but would plan on working to 57 (30 years) so I can take my medical insurance with me when I when I do leave…



    • Hi Philip — Congrats for stumbling upon the FI movement! Given how early you’re starting, I have no doubt you can achieve your goals. And remember — it seems tough at first, but once you get some momentum behind you, things start happening more quickly! And let’s keep our fingers crossed that some better health care options arise soon so you won’t have to keep working until your late 50s just for health care!

      • It is really good healthcare…I honestly know it is one of the largest perks…I don’t think one can easily find better health insurance than available as an employee for uncle Sam…no minimum calendar deductible to meet and only $70.00dollars every 2 weeks…probably the main reason other than the pension and 401k package…

        I’m hoping to rise in grade fast enough, so I can put an extra large dent in my FI goals so I don’t have to stay working due to fear though…thanks for the support!!


  36. I have been surprised to see how well the markets are doing. I didn’t start my IRA until 1.5 years ago, but the markets have been so strong. It’s been so much more encouraging to see the results than to know abstractly that the market is doing well.

    Silly, but true.

  37. Just wanted to say I love your blog. Keep up the great work! I learned about FI a few years ago just after college. I’m lucky to have discovered it when I was young because it helped me make a lot of good decisions when I was just starting my career.

    • Thanks so much! And what a privilege to learn about FI so young! I’m sure there are many, many of us who are jealous of you for that. ;-)