Embracing Both DIY and the Suboptimal // PLUS The Pre-Reveal Contest!

I am 99 percent sure that I don’t need to make the case among the financial independence crowd to live a do-it-yourself (DIY) lifestyle, so not to worry — this isn’t that post. You’re already a fan of DIY. So are we. So is everybody here. Group hug!

Instead, this is about a contradiction in some of conventional wisdom that’s out there about how you achieve early retirement or [insert your fantastically gigantic financial and life goal here]. Which, in short, is this:

Part 1: We’ve all figured out that the traditional financial services industry isn’t necessarily working for us, its customers, it charges high fees that can erode the growth of our wealth, and even actively managed mutual fund managers themselves invest in passively managed index funds. Therefore, the best course is to manage our money ourselves. (DIY!)

Part 2: At the same time, we have a lot to think about: whether we trust the 4 percent rule, what withdrawal strategy to use when we’re in the spend-down phase to stretch our money the farthest, whether to use tactics like tax loss or tax gain harvesting, how best to employ the backdoor Roth conversions, whether it’s better to pay off debt like mortgages as quickly as possible or invest that money to allow it to grow, etc., etc., etc. (Optimization!)

In General, Optimal = Outsourced to a Specialist

The entire basis of the modern economy is labor specialization. In other words, that we allow some people to get really good at doing this one thing so that we don’t have to worry about it. They, in turn, can get more efficient, production goes up, prices go down and everybody wins. We do the same in whatever job we’re focused on, that person over there is busy getting awesome at their task, and across the economy as a whole, we optimize by not doing things ourselves. It’s how we can all get kale in the winter, and cars with heated seats, and iPhones and Pixels, and electricity from nuclear and solar power. None of that would be possible if we all had to build our own homes, grow or hunt our own food, procure our own sources of energy, make our own clothing and educate our own kids.

Most of us who enjoy seeing life through a DIY lens aren’t expecting to do everything ourselves. That’s madness. I, for one, have no desire to live without toilet paper, but I’m pretty sure that’s what would happen if we had to fell our own trees, grind up the wood into pulp and process it into finished paper. Thank you for your important work, paper producers of the world. I’ll never quit you.

The Suboptimal Trade-Offs of Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

Engaging in the modern economy involves a tacit acknowledgement that the optimal way is generally the non-DIY way. And when we DIY things, we usually know what we’re trading. Almost certainly it will take longer than if we pay someone else to do it. We might/probably won’t do as good a job. (The local deer ensure that I will never grow kale as perfect and pretty as what I can buy at Whole Foods.) We might fail altogether and have to pay a specialist in the end anyway. (Ask us about the time the house filled with smoke after our first attempt at DIY chimney cleaning. You can bet we called the pros after that.) And it might, in fact, not even save money. (Every dress I’ve ever sewed has definitely ended up costing more, after the pattern, fabric and thread, than if I’d bought one at Old Navy or the thrift store.)

But there’s something DIY provides that no outsourcing ever can, something that very often makes it worth all that extra effort and maybe the suboptimal outcome: Pride in doing that thing ourselves. But pride isn’t something we can quantify, which makes it a strange bedfellow for conversations about finances.

DIY, Optimization and Money

On this topic in particular — managing our own money — it’s an interesting pickle we put ourselves in. We expect to do this thing ourselves, because we believe we can do it better than the pros, or at least as well but cheaper. For reasons that have nothing to do with that pride, we believe we can both DIY our money and optimize it.

You know what I think? We can’t.

We can’t both manage our money ourselves and optimize it. But that’s okay! And moreover, we shouldn’t even really try, because that’s an impossibly high standard. So just in case you need it — and I’m not saying you do — here’s permission from me:

You do not have to optimize everything about your money to be successful at managing and growing it yourself.

Those of us who don’t work in financial services don’t have access to the analysis and data that the pros have. Most of us don’t have the economics credentials to weigh the merits of various opinions and studies about the long-range prospects of the labor markets and GDP growth. Assuming most of us have net worths somewhere south of $10 million, we can’t buy into some of the highest growth potential hedge funds and private equity holdings. I could go on. But none of this is the point. The point is that, even with our money, we shouldn’t be aiming for full optimization.

We should be aiming for good enough.

Because we do not actually need fully optimized money to make an early retirement plan work. All we really need to do is beat inflation. We can do that whether we prefer index investing or dividend investing, or house flipping, landlording or side hustling. We can do that whether we choose to pay off the mortgage on a house, invest that money instead or stay renters for life. We can succeed at retiring early even if we make some mistakes along the way, miss out on growth opportunities and make some choices because we followed our guts and not the math.

Is Optimized Money Even Possible?

Let’s take this a step farther, because there’s something I’ve learned over the past two decades of attempting to be an adult who possesses money, which is this:

Just as there’s no way to live a risk-free life, living a fully optimized life with fully optimized money is simply not possible. Every choice we make has a trade-off, almost always a negative one.

Take the 10 years I side hustled. I earned a decent supplement to our income, but it ate into my free time in a big way, and I got very little sleep in those years. Or how last year, our penultimate full-time work year, we decided to keep our heads down, work as hard as we could to maximize income and forgo most vacations to maximize our savings. Sure, we optimized our money, but we paid the price with lost sleep, lost happiness and a serious toll on our relationship. I’ve heard from others that the time they spent focusing obsessively on their finances is time they regret spending away from their young kids or spouse.

There’s never been a time when we’ve optimized our money without making an unacceptable life or health trade-off. 

And that’s why we stopped trying to optimize at all, and instead shifted our focus to embracing the suboptimal, and finding the balance that’s right for us.

Embracing the Suboptimal

Just like health isn’t something you can plug into a spreadsheet, the suboptimal life-money balance isn’t something you can quantify either. It’s something you have to feel out, based on your own weighted factors.

The key for us has been acknowledging the trade-off on the front end instead of glossing over it. Instead of saying, “Well obviously we want to make money faster so we can retire as quickly as possible,” (a completely reasonable thought to have), we now say, “We’d love to make more money faster, but what would we be trading to do that? And would it speed us along enough to be worth it?”

That’s meant that in this last year of work, we’ve made a bunch of suboptimal choices, at least from a money perspective. We took a fairly expensive trip to Japan because we needed the break in a bad way, and wanted one last international trip in which we weren’t too worried about stretching every penny — and we loved every second of it. We haven’t worked quite as hard at every turn as we could have, letting others be the first to raise their hands to take things on, knowing that our year-end (career-end!) bonuses will be smaller as a result — but not being quite as exhausted as last year has made it totally worth it. And we haven’t taken out a HELOC on our paid-off house, as many of y’all have insisted we need to do, crystalized the perfect withdrawal strategy, refinanced our rental to a 30-year loan to free up cash flow, or any of the other many things we could do to fully optimize our money. But we don’t regret a thing, because doing any of those things would have come at the cost of energy, time and mental space that we’d rather allot to other things right now. Instead, we’ve spent that time and mental capital on things like self-care, time together and creative (and definitely financially suboptimal) projects.

And that’s another big thing we’ve learned: It helps not just to accept that we can’t optimize everything, but to go the full distance and embrace the suboptimal.

Instead of beating ourselves up about not refinancing the rental house, or just resigning ourselves to the fact that our to do lists are too long and that project isn’t a big enough priority, we now try to think in terms of the positive side of the trade-off. In other words, we focus instead on what we’re keeping or gaining by not doing the optimal thing. So it’s not “Man, wish we had time to do everything we’d like to do financially. Womp womp.” It’s, “Sure, we could have refinanced the rental, but that would take so much time, and instead we got to go on three great hikes and read that book we loved.”

Speaking of Financially Suboptimal DIY Projects…

I made something that I’m excited to share with you guys, and this won’t be the only time I talk about it. But it’s the first! So hooray!

We’ve been planning for months to do a contest in advance of our big reveal to let people guess in a more official way than comments and emails where we live. And contest means prize, but we couldn’t decide on a prize that felt right for us. We didn’t want to force folks to buy things, as an Amazon or Visa giftcard would. We didn’t want to give money to invest if what the winner really needed was money to pay off debt. And then continue down the list… not everyone drinks coffee, or shops at Home Depot, or buys music on iTunes, and on and on.

And none of those things really felt like us anyway. I think (and hope) that you read Our Next Life because you get something here that’s slightly different, if only because I share our story, and that story is unique to us. I decided right from the get-go that I was never going to try to write “finance 101” content, or make clickbaity lists or insult your intelligence by telling you about the one right way to do or think about something. I wanted to get more into the gray area — that suboptimal middle — and focus on the thought processes and trade-offs instead of pretending to have the answers.

Reflecting on all of that made me realize that I only wanted to give out a contest prize if it was something I could actually make myself (DIY!), just like I make everything that shows up here. (Not including the WordPress theme code. One day!) And fortunately, I have some skillz that came in handy in this moment.

ONL-Shirt-Stencil-Cut

ONL-Shirt-Screen

ONL-Shirt-Blue-Flat

Presenting our first swag, the totally suboptimal, DIYed Our Next Life t-shirt! 

ONL-Shirt-Gray

Sure, having a factory print it would make the lines crisper and the ink less blotchy. (Hey! It’s distressed!) But by making the stencil myself, and screening every shirt myself, I know that I’m sending out something that reflects what I value, and those who receive it will know that I made it just for them. That may not be an optimized way to go about things, but it feels like the right balance for now.

This shirt isn’t for sale — yet! It’s time-consuming to print and heat-set shirts, and to ship them, but stay tuned in the new year, when we have more time on our hands, for news on how you can buy one of these. But in the meantime, you can win your very own! 

The “Where In the World Are the ONLs?!” Contest!

We’re now under a month until we share with you guys our true identities, but while we’re in this last few weeks of limbo, let’s all have some fun with it!

NOTE: THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. STAY TUNED FOR THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF WINNERS IN OCTOBER!

This is your opportunity to register your guesses — where do we live? what do we do for work? what other fun facts do you think you’ve pinned down about us? — for a chance to win the brand-spanking new, totally custom-made ONL t-shirt, before anyone else has a chance to get one!

Are we giving away just one shirt? Heck no! We’re giving away a bunch of shirts! 

Here’s how it works: We’ll randomly choose one winner in each of several different categories:

  1. Those who guess our correct state who don’t already know for sure
  2. Those who already know what state we live in but enter the contest anyway
  3. Those who correctly guess our more specific locale who don’t already know
  4. Those who correctly guess what we do for work who don’t already know
  5. Those who comment on today’s post, preferably what mountain town you would choose to move to if you had to move to the mountains, and why (but any non-spam comment counts!)
  6. Those who subscribe to the email newsletter between September 1 (retroactive) and 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on September 30, 2017. (Note: Different time zone cutoff from contest entries via the survey and comments here.)

And one non-random winner (#7) will be chosen who gives the most creative (and at least partially accurate) answer to what fun fact you’ve guessed about us without us ever having mentioned it on the blog.

That’s seven shirts! 

Entries will be accepted this week only, and will close at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, September 30, 2017. Winners in the U.S. and Canada will receive a free t-shirt and free ground shipping, and if there are winners in other countries, we’ll give you the option of receiving the free shirt but paying the difference between U.S. shipping and shipping to your location, or doing a Skype chat with us instead. Winners will be able to select from a few different t-shirt styles and colors (I’m partial to the ringer tees), and choose their size. And if you’re just not a t-shirt wearer, I can print a tote bag for you instead. Winners will be announced after our reveal, on or after October 23, 2017.

ONL-Shirt-Blue

Bonus: When we do the big reveal in a few weeks, we’re going to include a cluster map of everyone’s guesses, so the more of you who fill out the short form, the more data we’ll have for the map. 

T-shirts number 1 through 5 will be awarded based on the entry form (link disabled now that the contest is closed). T-shirt number 6 will be awarded based on subscribers to any of the email forms on the site, or by selecting yes on the last question of the contest form. And t-shirt number 7 will be awarded based on comments on this post (reminder: What mountain town would you choose to live in and why? Or any comments you have on the post itself!).

Get entering! And good luck!

(And anyone else have the Where In the World Is Carmen San Diego? theme song in your head now? I totally do.)

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133 thoughts on “Embracing Both DIY and the Suboptimal // PLUS The Pre-Reveal Contest!

  1. Ms ONL

    I 100% agree with he sub optimal goal, I would characterize it as doing enough to keep ahead of or just a little behind the annual target returns you set for your self in terms of nest egg growth.

    For example let’s say on January 1 of year X you have savings of 200,000 and your goal (no matter the method) is to end the year with 260,000. Now you could accomplish this a few ways with a combination of savings, investment returns, 401k / IRA contributions, side hustle, passive income, lottery winnings (scratch the last one). If by month 9 it looked like you would end at 255,000 you have three months to find 5,000 more if meeting your goal was critical to you. The bottom line is that I think it is a good strategy to start with an asset plan rather than a savings plan (e.g I MUST save 35% of my income)

    The best approach for me was to set an annual plan each year with the intent to pull just a few levers – not overly manage my assets, to set the year in motion to achieve the year end goal. Over the course of the year you might rebalance a few stocks, set aside some additional cash, or put off a purchase to help make the goal.

    Here is the part that makes it easy to do. If you are a decade away from FI missing a goal or blowing past a goal doesn’t matter, any ONE day in the stock market could make or break an entire years plan. So from my point of view I then looked at my multi year plan and realized that those targets get a lot easier to hit or miss and it helped me establish the discipline to not over react, not try to do it all at once, and to see it as a journey with bumps that smooth out over time.

    The result was a balanced approach to working in growing the nest egg. Now for me I made 30 years my mission so that I made it a marathon rather than a sprint and I made my number bigger than most so that after retirement I wouldn’t be in that “shelter in place mode”. By the way great comment about the TP.

    Each of us have different levers and different motivations – the one thing we could probably most agree on is that this takes time, patience, some sacrifice and the willingness to accept that some years will be good, some will be bad, but that the creation of wealth is generally driven by your ability to throw cash into the pile and for it to work for you. Once you develop a steady discipline to do that in the out years you will do that less while your money makes money for you.

    Good luck on the upcoming reveal and as always excellent post. I am 3 months out now and can’t wait

    1. Same timeline as us — so exciting! Thanks for this nice note. I especially love your point that it’s more about steadiness and discipline than about any one strategy or total optimization. And it’s interesting on the asset/total target point. We have always set total asset goals each year, more so than saving X%, and that has worked well — BUT, it has also worked largely because markets have trended up so steadily for the past several years. Half a year of gains could disappear in a day, which would make us feel that we’d failed even though we’d saved a lot. It’s an interesting trade-off to think about!

        1. Do you sell your shares and incur short and long-term capital gains taxes at every market dip?! That’s a quick way to mess up your income for health care purposes and tax purposes! We do have a strategy in place, and it’s not to freak out about every market fluctuation. ;-)

  2. When you started the article talking about DIY, I thought you were going to talk about doing your own chimney cleaning, not money management. Just when I was comfortable with the money angle, you threw the T-shirt curve – grrrr.

    I like to think I’ve been able to 90% optimize our money… maybe even 92.3%. There’s no 100% just like there’s no perfect. Even extreme couponers probably max out at 99% of optimized couponing. I look back and say, “Hey, I refinanced investment properties at market lows in 2012 and bought our primary home at market lows in 2011. We’ve maxed out our retirement accounts with an aggressive investment strategy that has made the most of the stock market run, etc.”

    The one place that I love to outsource is taxes. Ours are complex and it’s worth the peace of mind to know that I’m compliant and generally optimizing things in the right way.

    I wonder if many of the person really focused on FI ARE the specialists though. I didn’t learn about a backdoor Roth from a person down the street. I don’t even think I read it in Money Magazine for years. It was a personal finance blogger. It wasn’t Justin of Root of Good, but now that I think about it, he’s someone who seems to have money optimization at asymptotically optimal as possible.

    I don’t know if you saw this, but hedge funds didn’t do so well against index funds – http://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/030916/buffetts-bet-hedge-funds-year-eight-brka-brkb.asp. Of course it was a great time for index investing and a bad time for hedging against losses.

    1. Is that “grrrr” a positive, like “Great surprise! Good job!” or like “You suck, and I’m never reading again!”? Hahaha. And OMG — couponing! Optimizing my coupon strategy back in the day DEFINITELY came with a major trade-off in terms of time spent and sanity. It was far more optimal to give that up! ;-) And yeah, I’m definitely familiar with that hedge fund bet. Could be a select slice of history, could be that the top performing hedge funds are super secret and wouldn’t participate, or could be that indexing is better. Obviously we index, so hope it’s that! ;-)

      And what’s the mountain town you’d move to if you had to? ;-)

      1. More of a “grrr” of my mind switching back and forth between different DIY modes. As I read an article, I am mentally preparing to make comments and it is a little odd to have to throw them away near the end. I’m the last person to judge writing styles though.

        With the hedge fund thing, the actual hedge funds didn’t have to be disclosed. So as long as they’d trust and NDA with Buffett (probably a pretty safe bet), the super secret ones should have been in play. Who knows though?

        The mountain town is tough. I’d need someone to teach me how to ski. I’m not a fan of the cold outdoors. My wife likes Heavenly when we went visited back when we lived in Northern California. Seemed like the skiing was warm enough few times that I wouldn’t have minded it. I would have to go back to something in NorCal if there is something there that counts as a “mountain town.” Choosing “Mountain View” would be cheating, right?

        1. Haha. Got it. And it’s not too late to learn to ski! I learned as an adult. And yeah, there are definitely some ski places out there that don’t get so cold all the time. (And yes, Mountain View is cheating.) ;-)

    2. “he’s someone who seems to have money optimization at asymptotically optimal as possible.”

      Best compliment ever :)

      Though I’d still put my own at somewhere between 90-99% optimal depending on the day. I loath extreme couponing just because it’s not worth squeezing those last few percent of optimal-ness out of life. At some point I have things set up to be optimal enough to not worry about whether I’m 94% or 99% because everything works out fine as long as I’m 90%+ optimal.

        1. I’m 80/20 with almost everything. It’s one of the reasons why I chose to go by “Lazy Man.” I love making the big gains fast on any project. However, after the 80%, I get so bored that it becomes extremely tedious, even if it’s just in my head.

          It’s great to be able to 80/20 with some things, but there are times that I wish I had the grit to be a 99/1 person.

        2. I think that’s a pretty good way to be. Though yeah, I get wanting to go farther with a few things. Still, I think even then, it’s smart for your own self-preservation to be VERY selective about what you choose to put that level of effort into.

  3. We’d move to CO cause it’s not as expensive or cold as most other options AND we have family ties!

    Embracing the suboptimal is what Pete calls “optimism”. If you demand expertise right out of the gate, chances are you’ll be paying the handyman regularly.

  4. Alright, best ski town to live in… can I choose a non-USA ski town? If so, Banff all the way. I visited Banff in the summer and have been dying to go back ever since!

    The draw for me is the rugged mountain area that provides year round outdoor adventures. Now, I love where I live (Traverse City MI) and believe we are in God’s country up here, but Banff was a whole new level of amazing. Truly stunning lakes nestled in between the mountains with hot springs, hiking, mountain biking and river adventures to boot!

    If I have to pick a US ski town, I’ll take Copper Mountain. It isn’t flashy or fancy, but my dad ski-bummed there and I love visiting and exploring the back bowls with him :) More sentimental that anything else. And I actually like the fact that it isn’t a “luxury resort”. More just a “hey- we are here to ski” place.

    1. Non-U.S. is definitely allowed. ;-) And I can totally understand why you’d choose Banff! It’s incredible. And totally with you on preferring the non-luxury ski spots in the U.S.! ;-)

  5. If I had to pick a mountain town, it would be Lake Louise, Alberta! Mr. Tiny Ambitions worked there for a couple of years before we met and absolutely loved it. I don’t ski, but I do love hiking and just being surrounded with that much outdoors. I think it has a bigger impact on my mindset than I give it credit for!

    Can’t wait for the big reveal!

  6. The mountain town that I would pick? Mount Shasta. But so much of that is dependent on a love for the backcountry. Our modest little ski park is never crowded and feels like the snowy version of a town park. But the backcountry…it is magical. There’s skiing and hiking, and it seems like there are hundreds of lakes to choose from if you want some solitude and an alpine dip.

    The fact that you can get up any morning in the Spring and think to yourself, “hmmm…should it be skiing, kayaking, or biking? Maybe a little of each?”. That never gets old. There’s a strong sense of community and people help each other out–there are no strangers when you’re stuck on the side of the road.

    The Bay Area is less than a four hour (relatively) easy drive, and Ashland with its plays and great restaurants is a little over an hour north. The air is clean, the water is delicious, and the tourist season is not overwhelming. There is a “mountain tax” for gas and groceries, but everything else is affordable and there are workarounds for the “tax” items.

    No one ever moves to Mount Shasta to build a corporate resume or make a lot of money, but the quality of life draws people in and makes you want to stay.

  7. Hey, I’m loving the new site design! And those shirts are fierce too. :) I always think there’s a tradeoff when it comes to DIY. We can’t DIY *everything* in our lives; there’s no way I’m touching our plumbing or electrical system.

    1. Just wait until the reveal when it’ll be a full site redesign! (So far it’s just a few little tweaks.) ;-) And there’s plenty of electrical and plumbing stuff you can definitely DIY. I’ve changed plenty of outlets, and we’ve installed lights, faucets, toilets, etc. We wouldn’t try to rewire the whole house or install a new breaker box, but there’s a lot of that stuff that’s less scary than you might think!

  8. I would pick Estes Park.Our family loves our annual trips to Colorado. Its a tourist town and its crowded at times ,but we would enjoy being right next to Rocky Mountain National Park. We love the northern parts of Colorado the best!

  9. We would move to the mountains of NH – love the hiking and the proximity to home base, family, and friends and a lifetime of personal ties and bonds. We would also be able to enjoy the lake house (which we have), swim and play in the water. We’d be abel to get my niece (my brothers daughter) hopefully to visit with us on her own as she grows up….I hope, I’d love that! This is a location which helps us do most of what we want and still maintain personal / emotional ties which we do not want to give up. And we could come home to MA to do other things we enjoy and hang with friends.

    In terms of visiting I’d go back to Nepal / Himalayas area to try more serious hiking and work out and prep for that trip in the CO mountains. Side bonus is that I will get to visit family in India.

    Love this post for so many reasons….helps me to recognize and try to avoid that streak of “perfectionism”. Validates my path and choices of just do the best I can – I have chosen a balance of DIY Index funds and some managed funds through a financial expert, so that I can when the time comes (18 months?! eek!) go to him for advice about how to draw down funds and next steps. Nice to have a sounding board from someone who has the credentials, that I “jive” with, and who spends his whole time studying this stuff. Additionally someone who does not judge the fact that my spouse and I are very different and not always (almost never – I’m a long range planner and he is not) on the same page in terms of approach….but we make it work. Although I confess to feeling a bit envious of you and Mr. ONL in this regard. So that is a sub-optimal choice right there, as no doubt pooling would have made it go further! :-) But I do feel the satisfaction of independence and he does of being able to “look after his kids” – who are not kids but in their 30s! I think that is probably close to your ages, so that kind of blows my mind – you are light years apart from where they are. I guess each of us learns independence in their own way.

    I discovered your blog site a few months ago and have shared it with many like minded friends. I’m so looking forward to learning more about you guys and the big reveal! Learning a lot and love the approach of providing food for thought vs “instructions” on what to do to meet the goal! Thank you!

    1. Thanks so much for this wonderful note, Sandhya! :-D Glad you’re enjoying the blog. I think it’s smart that you have a financial planner as a part of your team — a third-party opinion is certainly a valuable thing, and you can still decide whether you wish to take his advice or not. And I’m super jealous that you’ve already visited Nepal and the Himalayas! That whole part of the world is definitely on our must-do travel list!

  10. The tradeoff between optimization/suboptimization and DIY has so many fascinating possible permutations. I think it’s a large part of why, even with the seemingly endless number of PF blogs, it’s so interesting reading everyone’s own very personal stories and choices.

    As for where I’d move for mountain towns, I’d probably say Blowing Rock, NC. My grandparents had timeshares and then a condo there for years so I’ve got a lifetime of memories of that area and driving around the Blue Ridge Parkway. I know you west coast people pick on the Appalachians for being so small compared to the Rockies, but I love them in all their supposedly puny glory! Plus I’ve never been skiing so that’s not a factor in my choice :P

    1. I completely agree about the permutations of DIY/optimization! And hey, if you don’t care about skiing and climbing, no shame preferring east coast mountains! Altitude comes with its own challenges!

  11. I’m a huge believer in “good enough”. Even in school – and much to the chagrin of my teachers (and probably parents), my good enough attitude screamed loud and clear. I never pushed myself for Straight As. I was a solid B/C student (with the occasional A, especially in a science-related subject) because that’s all I felt that I needed. Straight As wouldn’t improve my life, so I refused to put in the extra work to achieve that mark. I suppose that’s the 80/20 principle in some ways.

    I’ve kept that attitude throughout my life. Perfection is unattainable, so I do not attempt to attain it. Good enough is okay for 99% of those things we do in life. And for that 1% that might NEED to be damn close to perfect? I’ll either put in the additional effort OR I will avoid it altogether and choose another path entirely.

    This is primarily why we love Targeted Retirement accounts. Automatically diversified in index funds. More risky stocks first, then slowly transitioning over to bonds as we get closer to that “retirement” year. Works great. Doesn’t require ANY attention on our part. We live fat dumb and happy without thinking about that stuff.

    About the contest…

    Even though I know where you guys live (and drank a few beers with you good people!), I still entered the contest and honestly guessed where I *thought* you guys lived before I knew. And the question about knowing something you’ve never told us on the blog? I totally got it! I’m sure of it. ;)

    1. Look forward to seeing what you “guessed”! ;-) What’s funny is I think “good enough” would NOT have worked for me earlier in life. If I hadn’t given high school my all, I wouldn’t have gotten free excellent college, wouldn’t have the career I’ve had, and probably wouldn’t be FI and about to retire. ;-) So maybe it’s about applying “good enough” selectively. ;-)

      1. I think “good enough” is very heavily weighted on our values. I definitely spend more time and go above and beyond with those things I value. I personally didn’t place a lot of value in good grades, but that doesn’t mean good grades aren’t determining factors for other people. :)

  12. Given enough time, we could probably turn our hand to most things. Well, maybe not electrical…..YouTube will probably go down as one of the best teaching/learning environments that is FREE. Well, other than costing you gobs of time- it has a habit of sending you down rabbit holes that can be all consuming.

    Ski towns – jeez. Too many to mention. Since we keep going back to Jackson Hole, it has to be that place. Something about the town, Tetons and people has us going back for more. Since you can’t buy family size property there for less than a $1MM, we won’t be relocating there any time soon. Dang it! We’ll settle for visiting – actually need to get out there in a season that is not winter.

  13. Not much of a mountain girl – I love the ocean but I’d say Mt. Shasta if I had to pick one. Close enough but not too close to family in Oregon!

  14. I am lucky to have met you in person already so I won’t play. :p

    That’s pretty awesome you made DIY T-shirts. Going to wear them at FinCon?

    1. You should play anyway! Enter where you would have guessed before you knew. There is a whole category just for folks who already know. ;-)

  15. I was having trouble with the Google form submission. It either didn’t work, of you got about 12 responses from me. I’m the one talking about your complicated inter-library loan system from your colony on the moon. 😂
    No mountain town for me, I’m a flat-lander. I prefer the beaches and golf courses here in Florida

  16. I can’t believe your making pick a mountain town. I’ll take them all. I live Houston you know.

    We escape to the mountains every chance we get. I can’t settle on 1 so it would either be Breckenridge Colorado for the bikeable streets and trails or Estes Park for the hiking and wildlife. I was going to pick one of these as the place you live but figured you would live closer to an airport. I even went as far to see which ski resorts sell midweek passes.

    I did find out what was behind the hobbit door on your Instagram.

      1. The Moran park host told me it was an old electrical junction box. Kind of deflating Huh?
        My wife and I walked by it and I told her that I had seen that door somewhere before, then I remembered Instagram.

  17. Mountain town: Breckenridge! Love Summit County and we are so lucky to have a tiny cabin up there to escape the Austin summers and do some winter things too.

    But any mountain town would do for us! The mountains are spiritual for us. We love them. In fact heading up there next week … so if you guys happen to be in Summit (but my vote is that you are somewhere else in CO), then let us know. When we travel to other parts of the country (where each is gorgeous … including the Canadian mountains mentioned above), we always come through Colorado and say to ourselves …. “Why did we need to go any further than this?”.

    Not much more time. You guys should be so proud of yourself. Tick, tock. BTW, does the name Our Next Live make sense anymore? Now that Next is almost here?

    1. Summit County is fantastic! ;-) I can understand why you’d choose there. And we feel good about sticking with our next life, because it won’t change. We’ll just be living it instead of looking forward to it. ;-)

  18. Oh – I’ll have to enter the contest at a non-work computer that doesn’t ahve it all blocked out, lol. As far as a mountain town that I’d relocate to, I’m still partial to CO. I’d go with Dillon or closeby for my mtn town. You’ve got Keystone, A-Basin, Breckenridge all in the same valley, plus great hiking and enough wind on the lake you can do kite boarding once it freezes – so I’ve seen anyway.

    Of course I haven’t snowboarded outside of CO, so… there’s that bias coming into play as well… I have so many good memories of summers and winters spent fishing, hiking, snowshoeing, and snowboarding on those mountains that if I could afford it, I’d head back out there most likely. :)

    1. Your office blocks Google Forms?!?! Are you also using Netscape as a browser? LOL. ;-) Dillon is a great choice. Super central and convenient to a lot of other places, but not super crowded itself!

      1. OMG to be such a tech driven company and use SO much technology everywhere in its business, my company is SO behind on internet… Still way better than my last company, good ol’ megacorp, but for real we have IE 7 as our default browser and only just last year could access Chrome. However, both versions are so outdated that I can’t log into Chase from Chrome and have to use IE for that… It’s ridiculous…

        So yes, they definitely block google forms and most surveys, and some news articles get blocked, and random sites like our home builder’s site is blocked as “medium risk – Real Estate and PUP’s (potentially unwanted programs)”. So much stuff lands in that category, I’m amazed I can read blogs sometimes, lol.

  19. I haven’t found many mountain towns I didn’t like (spent many spring breaks in Summit County) but if I had to pick one mountain town I’d go with Durango. When I was in college I spent a glorious fall break there with some buddies. Laid back town. Cool downtown area. Skiing in the winter. Golf in the summer. It probably didn’t hurt that New Belgium was having their “Tour de Fat” beer festival in Durango when I was there.

    1. Durango is rad. Good choice. We found to be really interesting, by the way, when we started to get serious about moving to the mountains, was how much the cool and laid-back people in a lot of the towns would change as soon as we said we were considering moving there. They like you as long as you’re not going to stay, but they don’t want any new outsiders coming in. ;-)

      1. Ah, so they’re happy to let you hang out and spend money in town but as soon as you’re going to take up some permanent space it’s crickets and the cold shoulder. Boo.

  20. Mt favourite post from you guys over the last few months.

    Simple and honest with no BS, just how you found a path to a healthier life lately. Find what benefits you with the most ROI on your time and energy. Focus on your mental and physical health first and then decide what to give that precious attention to. As long as your goal is met why must it be perfect, we aren’t talking about just handing out participation awards here but knowing what is good enough. Keep up the great work and sharing the journey with us.

    I like the shirt, have fun with the contest. With the shirts being after the main part of this blog post I would have laughed if “suboptimal” was put under ONL in a smaller font.

    1. Thanks, bud! I really don’t think perfect exist anywhere, or fully optimized for that matter, because something that looks perfect in one area will have some huge negative tradeoff in another area.

      And as for putting suboptimal on the shirt, that sounds like a lot of stencil cutting. I’ll leave that one to you. ;-)

        1. Only problem with that — then I’d have to be an arbiter of what counts as optimal or suboptimal… no thanks! LOL

  21. Our DIY investments ended up looking like a spaghetti western… no real plot direction and too many actors. I spent 6 months getting everything consolidated and organized after I retired. I still have a couple of loose ends. I daydream about having someone manage selling for income for me, but can’t justify the expense of it. So for now, it’s good enough.

    Hubs and I periodically talk about relocation to Durango, CO. He grew up in four corners (Aztec, NM), and we love it there. Durango is a bit bigger and has more amenities than the towns in Utah, NM or Arizona. As a bonus, he has family in the area.

    1. Yeah, we are in the same boat. I would love for someone else to manage the money, but have no desire to pay for that. ;-) And Durango is a great choice! Much less crowded than the other side of the range.

  22. Oh man. I just got my “Average Joe’s Gym: Dodge, Dip, Duck, Dive and Dodge” T-Shirt from the Ben Stiller Foundation. Your T-shirt would be a really great addition to my sweet T-Shirt collection. :)

    Wait, what were you talking about? You lost me as soon as I saw the T-Shirt pic. :-P

  23. My mountain town would be Salerno. I have family there and it is gorgeous. Walk along the beach and enjoy a beer without nasty blue-laws. My Italian is sub-par, but I would be willing to work on it. My relative also has a delicious garden overlooking the valley. Highly recommend.

    1. Ooh la la! ;-) You know I’m immediately jealous that you have family there. All my European relatives are in cold, flat places. Hahaha.

      1. I prefer flat places as their ground is less likely to shake out from under me and fewer avalanches and landslides and straighter roadways.

  24. My choice for mountain town is something I think about a lot.
    I feel like I have a good perspective. I counted up my trail maps and have skied 50 different places, including 9 different states, and 5 different countries. The caveat is I haven’t lived in a mountain town for more than 1-2 weeks, so the day to day logistics of buying groceries, public schools, etc. I have less perspective on.
    I would stack them as follows:
    Pemberton (whistler)…the mountain is amazing year round, and I could get a gentleman’s farm with a cool vibe within a short drive of whistler. Whistler has the best resort skiing of anywhere i have been…and although the whistler base is contrived there are lots of great restaurants. Also, two hour drive from one of the top cities in the world (vancouver) and a great international airport make it hard to beat.
    Second would be a small town close to Big Sky, montana…probably not Bozeman, but close enough to get there. Big Sky would be a great mt. to ski as a local, and Montana is great for hunting which I like to do as well. Montana feels like you are still a bit pioneering, unlike CO. If Big Sky had more snow it would be #1.

    Other places I have visited that I would love to live for a season are Jackson hole, hakuba Japan, and chamonix, France.
    If I was on a budget I would go to Ogden, Utah and if money was no object probably Aspen.

    Our plan, once we retire, is to spend some time visiting our short list, looking at real estate, etc.

    Ultimately, though we might end up in Bellingham, WA. It is a cool smaller city with access to the water and mts..(Mt. Baker, which is small but has the best vibe and deepest snow of anywhere in North america)…so the vibe part is debatable. Bellingham is also close to Seattle, where we have a great group of friends and family.

    Fun to think about…almost as much fun as debating safe withdrawal rates!

    Great blog!

    1. What a well considered list! I will say, since you’re looking, to consider that the experience visiting a place and living in a place could be quite different. So when you’re visiting and looking, ask folks how they like living there. Not just what they answer but how they answer will tell you a lot about how open the place is to new folks moving in — a lot of mountain towns are notoriously anti-outsider, and that’s a bad vibe to move into!

  25. Something we’re looking forward to in early retirement is travelling more INSIDE the US. We typically travel to Florida or the Caribbean in the winter (we live in MN, so it’s hard to blame us for this little annual warm-up), and/or to Europe. Our dream is to live there part time one day, after our dog takes his leave of this earth (we simultaneously want him to live forever and hope he passes in a few years, hahahaha).

    So…I would have to say Castelrotto, Italy (the Dolomite region). We were there two years ago, and I felt such peace. We only tasted the beauty it had to behold, plus it’s rare that we stumble upon a western european region where English is hardly spoken (what fun! we used the 12 words of German we knew, the 9 words of Italian we knew, and filled in the rest with Spanish…and all of that was better than using English! Amazing!).

    I look forward to being able to give a US answer to this question in the near future, but more immediately, I look forward to the big reveal!

    1. The Dolotmites are HIGH on our list. So cool you already got to spend time there! And I love travel experiences like that when you have to stretch yourself outside of English. Nice work. ;-)

      1. I would pick St Anton over the Dolomites after having been to both. Of course St Anton means going over to Lech and Zurs as well as St Christoph. Can’t beat the atmosphere the of Tyrol. Worth the trip every time

  26. Many FIRE bloggers seem to believe rentals are simply a source of passive incongruity which to retire. I believe landlording is a job unless you have a full-time property manager, something frugal types probably wouldn’t even consider. Landlording is highly inconvenient – screening tenants, dealing with maintenance, something breaks, possible evictions, etc. If you’re landlording, I hesitate to call you truly retired.

    1. For all the reasons you state, our plan is to hire a property manager. We’ll be out of state and I don’t want to be bothered with all that.

    2. Oh, amen to landlording being a TON of work! (And we only have one property with the world’s best tenant!) It’s also not as cash flow positive as people seem to think, or at least not right away or automatically.

  27. If I had to move to the mountains (as if you’d have to twist my arm), I would move to Estes Park Colorado for the abundant wildlife, outdoor activities, numerous ice cream shops and the haunted Stanley Hotel. There’s so much to experience in one place. Definitely couldn’t get bored.

  28. Flagstaff, AZ…. because it’s close to Phoenix (you knew that was coming)! Seriously, though, it’s a beautiful college town with great hiking, friendly people, a little skiing, wonderful food, an observatory, most of the amenities of a big city, and it’s an easy drive to the Grand Canyon, Bearizona, Antelope Canyon, Phoenix, Vegas, and so much more.

  29. Love the contest idea! I would love to live in western Montana. It’s close to ski resorts and hiking – two of my favorite things. I love country living & really enjoyed heating our former house up north with an outdoor woodburner (best invention ever). I love the snow & cold, but my husband does not. After we leave our current location in Miami, I think we can strike a compromise by moving to the Carolinas (mountains, beaches, low cost of living & available land). Can’t wait to find out where you live! :)

    1. Thanks for entering! And so excited to share where we live soooooon. :-) I will say, though — the woodburning stove seems romantic at first, but it quickly loses the luster when used full time. Hahahaha ;-)

      1. Yeah, sometimes it was a pain running it for 7.5 months straight – especially when it was negative degrees outside! Luckily, we had a back-up propane tank to use in May & September, but the cutting of wood was year round. We’d easily use 12 chords a winter.

        1. Yikes! We’re glad to have an NG furnace, even if gas costs a fortune for us. Nice to know we don’t have to pile up that kind of a wood stockpile — and that the pipes won’t freeze if we’re out of town!

  30. It snows too much for me in the Great Lakes region I live now so I would probably be miserable in a mountain town. If I had to live in a mountain town it would have to be driving distance to both the beach and family. Let’s say Asheville, North Carolina since we have little family on the West Coast and I grew up in a small town and have no desire anymore to live far from a city. I am super excited about the t-shirt opportunity though!

    1. I learned that the snow in the midwest wasn’t actually what bothered me — it was the gray skies and damp cold. And mountain areas don’t have that problem! (At least outside of the PNW.) It’s sunnier, and drier, so the snow doesn’t bug me. But not trying to sell you on the west. ;-)

  31. Oh, my mountain town is all picked out and waiting for me. Glenwood Springs, Colorado! It’s where we’ve been going for almost 20 years and I adore it. I lived there briefly for a few years but had to move away to get some income going. I’m coming back for you soon, Doc Holliday trail, Mushroom Rock and Sunlight Mountain! It’s all in the plan. :)

  32. I grew up in the Rockies, went to college in the NE, and lived on the Front Range. Because of that, I have many different answers.

    For skiing solely, I would have a hard time beating Salt Lake City (more of a mountain city)…closer to Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.

    For my family, Durango, CO. I could show my kids the things I did when I grew up and also teach.

    Internationally: Hallstatt, Austria. There’s no skiing (that I know of), but it’s an amazing lake town that would be amazing. And the train is right there.

    1. You can always tell the skiers instantly, because we want to do the “it depends…” mountain town answer. ;-) Great choices all around!

  33. I’m from the Bozeman/Big Sky area in Montana, so I was lucky enough to live in great mountain towns growing up and into my 20’s. Also lived in Frisco, CO for 2 years. If I could live in any mountain town, it would probably be Chillan, Chile; Nelson, B.C. or Pagosa Springs, CO (Wolf Creek is my US favorite mountain… The trees! The powder! The lack of lift lines!)

    Before I met my wife, Chillan was the easy answer, but she has family in BC and CO and is worried about her lack of foreign language learning skills. It’s okay, we’re hiking Patagonia for a month for our honeymoon in Dec 2018 (married in September 2015 but decided to put off the honeymoon until our student loans were paid off). I’m hoping the trip down south will show her that there is no greater place on Earth than the Andes. 😉

    1. Can we tag along on your honeymoon?!?!? Holy crap, that sounds amazing! (And kudos for waiting until you’re debt-free to do it!) And it sure seems like any of those spots would be wonderful places to live, so it’s kind of unfair to pit them against each other. ;-)

  34. Hello,
    Leaving in France and very, very far from FI, I leave this first comment because I entered the contest (with the help of Wikipedia) and I have a lot of fun reading you (I’m not a blogger), thinking about my finances, and learning A LOT about the american culture and financial culture. Without travelling. That’s the magic of the web!

    1. … I don’t dare to give my “guess” here, because I’m not even sure it’s really a true mountain town (no time to check)…

  35. I’d say Flagstaff, AZ too. It’s a great town with good vegan food, and a beautiful setting. I’ve been thinking of your emotions post–and thought of a quotation I heard years ago that sticks with me. “All change is perceived as loss.” Even the happiest of events still has some loss within it. And given all that is changing in your lives, it makes sense that emotions would be skyrocketing all over the place. Good luck in these next months!

    1. I’ve only been to Flagstaff once (spoiler! Haha.), but I definitely made a mental note to go back there! :-) And YES! I love that quote. It’s definitely true. We’re not afraid of change — I mean, we’re actually going through with this, arent we?! — but we are definitely letting ourselves feel the full range of feelings, including the ones of loss and mourning. Thanks so much for your well wishes! :-D

  36. My mountain town choice at the age of 37 was Ridgway, Colorado. I made it a reality by age 43 and still live here 17 years later. You have Telluride in one direction, Ouray in another, and world class music all summer in Aspen. I never tire of the beauty and serenity here…

  37. I fell in love with Chamonix, France, this fall when we visited – skiing, mountaineering, climbing and hiking at all levels there. Plus there were people from everywhere there – very diverse. I wish we could have stayed longer. Probably couldn’t be a forever mountain town for me though. I also have a soft spot for the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, even upstate New York – hard to name a specific place though.

    1. Chamonix is HIGH on our list! We hope to visit in the next 2 years, though we’ll almost certainly go in the winter (for obvious reasons). ;-)

  38. I’ve lived in Florida most of my life, so to us, the mountains mean the Smokies. They’re easy to get to, have trails of all levels, and beautiful scenery. If I was to ever own a home there, it would be somewhere outside of the tourist areas, so maybe Sevierville, TN. Not a destination for your kind of skiing, but that’s okay with me since the only skiing I’ve ever done was on water!

    1. I am not trying to turn the world into skiers — it’s EXPENSIVE for day tickets, and the slopes are crowded enough as is! ;-) Hahaha. We’ve never actually been to the Smokies, but we’ll for sure get there once we have time to start traveling the U.S. more!

      1. The fall colors are worth a trip and once you’re retired you can go during the week and avoid the crowds. Don’t worry, I won’t be competing with you for a spot on the slopes! ;-)

  39. I missed the contest, but I still want to guess! So my guess is Bend/Sunriver, Oregon. That is almost two guesses in one, but they are close enough. Can’t wait to find out in a couple of weeks either way!

    1. I think those are close enough to count as one guess! ;-) Thanks for playing along — we’ll be sharing NEXT WEEK with the newsletter list and two weeks later here on the blog. ;-)

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