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.
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!