community

A Love Letter to the Atypical, Unfrugal Early Retirees

Last week I asked the question of whether we should go super frugal in our first year of retirement, or spend according to the normal budget we’ve allotted to each year of retirement. Aside from there being some interesting gender trends in the responses, something that jumped out at me was how many people said some variation of:

You’re obviously frugal if you got to early retirement, so just keep doing what you’re doing and don’t worry about it.

Which is probably good advice – if we were naturally frugal.

But we’re not.

We would happily spend more money than we do now. We’d travel more, travel a little nicer sometimes perhaps, we’d go out to eat more and try new cuisines every chance we got, we’d drink better wine, we’d see every great new play on Broadway (and Hamilton like five more times), but most of all we’d be more generous. We’d pay to fly friends and family to see us, like we used to. We’d take friends out to nice meals and pick up the tab. We’d donate more. We’d sponsor local kids in hard-up families and make sure they have all the things that make them feel normal, and take them out to the movies, or teach them how to ski.

I’ve heard lots of our frugal friends say things like, “I can’t imagine how we’d spend more than we do anyway.” Or, “There’s nothing else we could spend money on that would make me any happier.”

And I nod in support, because I believe them. But I have no idea what it’s like to feel that way. I can think of a few dozen things right off the top of my head that I’d do with more money.

Which is not to say that we feel like we’re missing out, or that we’re not happy with our lives. We’re thrilled with our lives. We feel crazy lucky every day. We know we’ve already had some incredible life experiences and we’re about to have so many more. But we would have no trouble spending a bigger budget. None at all.

And I know we’re not alone in this.

Financial independence blogs are places where our community pats itself on the back for how much we’re saving, how well we’re optimizing our lives and how little we need to be happy. And for the most part, I think that stuff is super inspiring. But if you’re someone like us, who’s not naturally frugal and is dead set on retiring anyway – or who has achieved early retirement anyway – some of what shows up on blogs might feel like a gentle repudiation, with a subtle message that you’re not doing early retirement “the right way.”

If you’ve ever felt that way, then today’s post is a love letter and big dose of encouragement to you. I’ve got your back.

Love Letter to the Atypical, Unfrugal Early Retirees

The Love Letter

Dear Atypical, Unfrugal (Aspiring) Early Retiree –

You may suspect secretly that you’re not cut out for early retirement, or worry that you won’t be happy living on a constrained budget. Maybe you’re like me, and have this nagging voice in your head telling you that it’s just a matter of time until you fall off the financial responsibility wagon. Call it frugal imposter syndrome – you wonder if pulling off some level of frugality is something you’ve been able to do for a time, but that can’t last forever.

Here’s the thing, though: there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not lacking in qualities that make you a great early retiree. You deserve to reach that goal as much as anyone else, and you’re equally capable. You’re just doing it a little differently.

Early retirement is about marching to the beat of a different drummer anyway, right? There’s no one right way to march. Maybe you aren’t even cut out to march. Maybe you’ve been put here to dance.

In many ways, what you are doing or have already accomplished is more impressive than it is for someone who’s naturally frugal, because you had to do some harder introspection and make some bigger changes than folks for whom saving is second-nature. After all, whose marathon finish is more impressive? Someone who’s always been a runner, or someone who’s just started running after a lifetime on the couch?

While others might be able to fall back on their natural inclinations and habits, you’ve had to create systems that help you succeed – paying yourself first, automating everything, reminding yourself over and over of your “why,” constantly tracking your spending and net worth – but all of that is paying off.

You’re not weak for using tools to keep you accountable. You’re smart.

And if you ever do fall off the wagon, you know what to do. You know yourself and know the tools you need to achieve your financial goals. So pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward. No need to feel bad. We all stumble sometimes.

And when you do reach your goal of financial independence, you’ll have earned that victory dance. You’ll know you overcame something, and the sensation will be that much sweeter. You did something that others might not have believed you could do, and you proved them wrong. Maybe you proved yourself wrong, too. It’s good to be wrong sometimes.

So no matter if saving is something that comes easily to you or if it’s something you have to work at, you are awesome. You have the courage to envision an unconventional life for yourself, and to follow the less trod and overgrown path. You’re an adventurer, a leader, a pioneer.

And don’t you dare forget that.

Love,
Tanja

Help spread the love!

Let’s all cheer each other on, frugal and unfrugal alike. So what else would you add? Are you someone who needs to hear this? Or know someone who does? What would you say to them – or to yourself? All words of encouragement welcome, so leave ‘em in the comments for everyone to read. Thank you!

Want extra Our Next Life content? Get the e-newsletter!

Onls profile6 closeweb

Subscribe to get our monthly newsletter with tons of top secret info we'll never share here on the blog. It's like a whole extra post or two a month!

No spam or slimy sales pitches ever. Unsubscribe any time -- no worries! Powered by ConvertKit

105 replies »

  1. Another, similar perspective: Treat extreme frugality and the act of retiring early like bariatric surgery, now that you’re retired and have more time (and enough money), don’t go crazy spending. Just as you wouldn’t eat everything in sight after surgery, you shouldn’t buy everything, do everything, etc. Drip it out. Enjoy it. You can do everything but don’t try to do it all in the first month. Savor every bite. :)

    Think of it less as frugality and more like a planning problem. Jam too much into a short period and it’s hard to enjoy it all.

    • I agree with Jim here. Do some of it, but not necessarily all of it.

      We’re definitely frugal, but I encouraged my wife to upgrade to the “gold” BroadwayCon pass in a couple of weeks and she super excited about all of that. I bought an expensive big television, that I saved years for.

      It sounds like it might be a better fit to donate your time (like you mentioned with teaching the kids to ski), which is something you’ll have more of now in early retirement.

      Or you could just earn more from the side gigs you’ve mentioned in the past (podcast, speaking gigs, etc.)

      • We’re already donating our time and will donate much more, but as always, you know I believe nothing replaces cash donations. Donating time doesn’t pay the staff or keep the lights on. ;-) And we feel good about our retirement budget, assuming health care doesn’t get out of control. We’re already paying more in 2018 on insurance premiums than we’d planned to (estimated higher income), but prepayed some property tax last year so it evens out. 2019 is still TBD. :-)

    • Definitely an analogy I haven’t heard or thought of before. ;-)

      I think that makes really good sense for folks who are already at the goal, though I’m wondering if it almost works in reverse during accumulation. If you aren’t frugal and feel that saving is a sacrifice, you might feel like you ALREADY had the surgery and that being strictly frugal is like saying you can’t eat anything good, even in small quantities. When of course none of us should ever feel fully deprived or we’ll never stick with it! ;-)

  2. Thanks for this Tanja. We just have to recognize that people are different and not every thing is black and white.

    For example for us, we’re frugal in some areas so we can be unfrugal in some areas.

    Basically, you can have it all, but not all at once.

  3. Love this post! So easy for others to feel it’s ‘not for them’ or that they can’t accomplish it since they’re comparing the details of how a few did it. It’s like art. Everyone can do art and are creative. The trick is to find what form of art and the ‘how’ that works for you.

  4. “…some of what shows up on blogs might feel like a gentle repudiation, with a subtle message that you’re not doing early retirement ‘the right way.'” – THIS. Thank you for acknowledging this! I absolutely agree – everyone’s journey is their own and there is no one “right way” to early retirement and lifestyle optimization!

  5. being a little “spendy” on a few things is keeping me working awhile longer. we hit our rice and beans in retirement number some time back and now we’re working on the “occasional chateauneuf du pape and lunch at commander’s palace” number. in other words, we’ve covered the need phase but the want phase is a little short still.

    glad you made it to nola at xmas time. it’s usually a nice slow season to relax in the quarter. nice photo of “touchdown jesus” at st. louis cathedral too. our friend owns the wine bar on oleans ave. where you can see that statue from the sidewalk seating. cheers to y’all.

    • I fully support pursuing the occasional CDP and Commander’s Palace number. ;-) (Mark recommends ’07 Beaucastel.) That’s what we did, too. We could have technically quit a year or so before we did, but that wouldn’t have given us the lifestyle we wanted, and the rice and beans retirement wasn’t for us (or at least not 100% of the time).

      We were in New Orleans before the Christmas and Sugar Bowl craziness — we’ve done that before, and don’t wish to repeat it! ;-)

  6. Tania

    Thanks for the support. I remember early when I started following your blog when you called me brave for mentioning that I intended to have a mortgage on the dream house (which is essentially free Money at today’s rates) and for allowing me to share my opinion that early retirement is not about living so frugally that you are essentially “sheltering in place” attempting to ride out the rest of your life trying to not outlive your money. I appreciated that your point of view is that this is whatever you make it to be. And while there definitely is a common thread through the community centered around frugality, you made it ok to think about it differently

    I realized I am not typical and that my thoughts on retiring early (52) were based on being able to have the freedom to live exactly like I did before retirement and to never have to worry about money. I realize that isn’t how most people approach this topic. I again appreciate that you support a point of view beyond the prevailing wisdom of the crowd.

    To each their own but I do think that while the race to FIRE isn’t new, there isn’t 30 years of data to prove what might and might not work. For me my number was extremely higher than most, I wanted freedom to do what I wanted and I do think there is an underestimation in the prevailing crowd of what is needed to deliver a worry free retirement. thanks for supporting FIRE in all its forms

    Phil

    • I’m so glad to support you in what you’re doing! Because it’s YOUR life and YOUR money, and who cares what a few random people on the internet have to say about it. ;-) What matters — the ONLY thing that matters — is that you feel comfortable with your numbers and math, and so there’s no wrong answer, so long as you’ve gone about your planning thoughtfully. It’s such a great point that we don’t have decades of data on this stuff, and historical data might not ultimately be relevant anyway, and so I fully respect wanting to build in some extra cushion. (That’s us, too, as you know.) And it seems you mention your age to show that you’re “late” to early retirement, but don’t be swayed by this microcosm on the internet. Only about 1% of people under 55 are retired, so you’re still EXTREMELY RARE AND EARLY by the standards of everyone in the world except for this tiny sample size here. What you are doing is awesome!

  7. Tanja,
    I like to hear the compliment. Feel good. Thank you. Having retired for almost 3 years, I try to enjoy every single day. Retiring early had been my dream for decades, and finally it became true. Do I have worries? Yes, I worry about money and health care sometimes. Life is about taking the chance. Thank you for the letter.

    • You’re welcome! ;-D And you’re so right that life is about taking chances — either taking the chance that you’ll run out of money, or that you’ll spend all your good years at work. We each have to pick one.

  8. This is awesome. I’m somewhere in between here. I’m a natural saver as I learned the value of compound interest and opportunity cost early. On the other hand, I have over a 100 ways I’d spend more money if I had extra. One day I hope to have it all and truly be the guy that could not buy anything to increase my happiness. For now, I spend on my highest priorities and invest the rest for future goals.

    • Thanks, Jason! :-) It sounds like you’ve found the ideal way to manage your own tendencies, and you certainly have an advantage in saving in being naturally inclined in that direction. I’m sure that will serve you well!

  9. I really love the frugality and natural saver mentality that we can find all over the internet. The early retirement community is far bigger than I had anticipated.
    As others here, I spend only on my top priorities, and save the rest for later.
    Also trying everyday to be a better investor, so money can work for me while I’m sleeping.

  10. Thanks for writing this. I was recently looking at my Q4 spending, which was about 3x higher than the previous month, and I found myself justifying things right away.

    When I hear people say they can spend all the money they have I wonder what their days look like. Does that mean they’re doing exactly what they want, or that they’re busy and have accepted that?

  11. Thank you for the kind letter. We’ve always felt a bit like outsiders looking in on the FIRE community for this exact reason. Frugality was a bitty muscle that we’ve worked out over the past 5 years, and it still needs ongoing attention (via tools and systems) or it will atrophy quickly. However, we’ve also learned by trying extreme frugality what is most important to us. Now and whenever we retire, we will live in a HCOL area (beach/mountains/urban centers), buy organic food, go out to eat with friends, pay for top-notch childcare, etc. We’ve given up the “race” to retirement by X age and instead have focused on monthly savings goals which has helped our not-naturally-frugal selves learn about trading this expense for that – almost making a game out it.

    Thanks again for the recognition and encouragement.

    • You’re welcome! And I mean that in both senses — I hope you DO feel welcome in the FIRE community, because you belong here, too. ;-) Those of us who aren’t naturally frugal just have to go about it a bit differently, but it sounds like you’re doing exactly that while still prioritizing the spending that’s worth it to you. Keep it up! :-)

  12. Love the post. Here is what I’m thinking – from a guy who is about to retire at age 59 so early, but nothing like most of the good folks on this and other FIRE blogs. By the way, these blogs have inspired me and have taught me a few things – such at Donor Advisory Funds :)

    Like you and Mark, I still love my job and the people that I work with – – though the travel and hours are something that are starting to take their toll. The only reason that I would work longer is to make more money to give away. Not a bad thing but not the best of reasons to keep working. I am, fortunately, past the fear of running out of money and am now excited about how I can use my time AND money to help others. I have for the most part worked the proverbial One-More-Year and have given 50% of the income to worthy causes.

    My retirement model was built upon a certain rate of return (5.5%) and inflation (2.5%). My plan is to spend any return over 5.5% on charities – above and beyond what I have budgeted in my yearly retirement budget and DAF. It seems like you may want to consider something similar – spend to your already reasonable budget but created a pool of funds above-and-beyond to make the world a bit of a better and happier place.

    • I definitely admire how focused you are on giving, and that you’ve been able to give so much! I love your idea of giving the gains above and beyond projections to charity, and I think we will do that in the long term. In the short term, though, given a much longer retirement timeline and the very real sequence of returns risks at this point in time, we don’t feel comfortable handing over any short-term overages. But that’s what the DAF is for! And if we ride out the next market correction or recession in good shape, then we’ll feel better giving more!

  13. This is a wonderful reminder that there’s no one way to do this. I’m going the frugal route out of necessity at the moment, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy spending more money if I could. I found myself nodding along with every single thing you listed out about what you’d spend money on. Especially non-cheapest-way-possible travel! I found myself on Google Flights last night looking up various routes for trips I might potentially take this year. I don’t need to fly first class, but wow would it be nice not to have to open up multiple tabs to compare multiple iterations of the same trip to determine the best combination of convenient/not too expensive!

    • Oh, amen sister! Travel is where we’d spend first, no question. Like a 14-hour trip to Asia, not having to fly that in the back of the plane? Yes please. And though I’ve definitely realized through work travel that fancy hotels offer nothing special, and I’m perfectly happy in mid-range hotels, not having to stay in the cheapest, sometimes sketchiest option is a good thing. ;-) Plus, we’d just travel MORE!

  14. I don’t consider ourselves to be naturally frugal either. We do save first, having maxed out employer retirement plan contributions now for several years. It wasn’t always so, as when we were younger, we could only contribute enough to capture the employer match. Cost of living was high relative to our income. We have never lived extravagantly. Mostly, we have been financially blessed with jobs that paid well, favorable housing market, and decades of good investment growth (Maybe JL Collins is right in The Simple Path to Wealth!). Other times, the job market necessitated living on less than two incomes, and budgeting mattered much more. As for housing, we have been fortunate to be able to sell high, and not forced to sell low due to adverse timing and economy. We generally have “done it wrong” regarding cars, several times buying new, but typically keeping them for ~10 years. We invested heavily in balanced funds so we could sleep at night, instead of cheap index funds, at least until recent years. It seems we have achieved FI almost accidentally, or in spite of some of our financial behaviors. But each of us has our own circumstances, values, goals, strengths, and weaknesses, and those lead us along different paths.

    • Your story is a lot like ours, and it’s interesting to think as well about the role that timing of economic cycles plays as well — in other words: dumb luck. Throughout our 20s, we saw home prices rise and thought we’d never be able to buy, but then 2008 happened, and we benefited twice, both with our condo in LA and our house in Tahoe. (And maybe in a smaller way on our rental preperty.) Getting to buy our forever home at the bottom of the market is perhaps our biggest stroke of luck, and absolutely allowed us to retire when we did and not a year or two or more later. While we could call that “smart,” in truth it was just lucky. (The smart part was not buying as much as the banks would have lent us!)

  15. Thank you for this post. As someone who will be retiring early in the near future, who is not generally frugal and will not need to be in retirement, I appreciated your thoughts.

    I agree with your suggestion that there is “gentle repudiation” from many in the FIRE community when they believe someone is not being as “frugal” as they deem appropriate. In many cases, I would remove the word “gentle.”

    There are a couple of other topics where I have found this to be the case:

    Charitable Giving: If the FIRE community (primarily bloggers) believe you are not giving as much as you “should,” the repudiation rises (FIRE blog topics tend to trend on the most popular bloggers’ thoughts, and donors advisory funds have been the popular topic of the day).

    Tax Minimization: If one attempts to legally minimize tax consequences, it is suggested one is a “tax evader” and is being selfish.

    Environment: Are you driving a pick up truck? Did you dare just purchase a plastic bottled water? You get the picture…

    Along with frugality, those have been the “big four FIRE blogger judgements” I have seen trending throughout the community.

    Add in a little “don’t you dare forget how privileged you are” with a dash of feminism (did they only choose me to be on this panel because I am their “token” female?) and you have most of the common “guilt trip” ticket paid for.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I believe charitable giving, responsible tax analysis, environmental protections, a recognition of privilege and feminism are all very important concepts to discuss. Perhaps as a community, it could be done with less of the gentle (harsh?) repudiation described.

    A question that Tanja and all FIRE bloggers may want to ask themselves is whether or not they could write the same “love letter” for those with differing opinions on the above topics?

    • Not a FIRE Blogger: I actually don’t think the positions you describe are under-represented at all in the FIRE blog community. There are several bloggers who write regularly about tax optimization strategies (and mock-pity those who pay “too much”), many who happily buy lowest-cost food and clothing options regardless of the social and environmental impact (and will often ridicule the idea of paying more for fair trade or organic goods), blog upon blog that never touches the idea of privilege… and the vast majority of popular FIRE bloggers are men.

      This is one of the reasons I love reading ONL, Bravely Go, Bitches Get Riches: because they are the voices speaking out on issues I care about, and they leave the Roth conversion ladders and safe withdrawal rates and drop-shipping side hustles to the current majority.

      Regardless, why would someone write a “love letter” to an opinion they disagreed with? That just seems silly. However, if you feel that non-conservationist, tax minimizing, non-feminists who don’t donate to charity need a supportive voice speaking out to make them comfortable on the Internet, I think you should consider starting your own blog in your retirement!

      • Thank you for your thoughts, Sai. I think you may have misinterpreted my comments, and recommend you read them a few more times from a non-emotional standpoint. In no way am I encouraging a “non-conservationist, tax minimizing, non-feminists who do’t donate to charity” philosophy. I am strongly encouraging bloggers to share their thoughts and opinions in these area, while at the same time trying to minimize strong judgement towards others who may have differing (not necessarily extreme) practices and opinions. Failing to do so will likely lead to a “readership” who only shares the same philosophies, similar to the unfortunate “grouping” of political ideology that is contributing to our current national division.

        • Offering this in a friendly and constructive manner: I’d recommend not accusing someone of responding emotionally when you have no way of knowing their emotional state. Calling someone’s argument emotional is a belittling tactic that creates exactly the divisions you’re talking about wanting to avoid.

      • Thanks for chiming in with this, Sai. Appreciate the love. ;-) I agree that those points of view have ample airing elsewhere, and I think that’s a big part of WHY I write about the stuff I write about so often and fervently. If it felt like the community as a whole had a social good mission, I’d have a lot less to say. Hahaha.

    • I would remove “gentle,” too, but was myself being a little gentle there. ;-)

      It’s interesting that you note those topics as trends in the community, because I would say they are just trends HERE. I’ve pushed the community hard to give more and to recognize privilege, and those did not used to be widely discussed topics. (Though hats off to Physician on FIRE for really pushing, too, on giving and the DAF, and to Liz at Frugalwoods for speaking up loudly on the privilege discussion.) And “tax optimizers” have long been in good company on Go Curry Cracker, which long predates ONL, and other sites.

      I think a difference I see in the examples you raise, and the question of an equal love letter is that frugal vs. unfrugal isn’t necessarily good vs. bad. Whereas having much and giving little in fact IS selfish, particularly if you also strive not to pay taxes. Which is not to say that anyone can’t make that choice — free country and all. But to go through life without giving back and without paying a fair share in taxes without recognizing that it’s the selfish choice is just ignorant. I say, if you’re going to be selfish, own it. WHATEVER you do in life, own it. That’s what I’d write the love letter to: owning your choices and knowing why you’re making them.

      And all of that is not to say that YOU are selfish, but just using the examples you provided in your comment. ;-)

      Also, just a P.S. on your “don’t you dare forget how privileged you are” snipe, that’s not meant to be a guilt trip, and to read it that way is to misinterpret it. It is a reminder to be grateful, which is good for your own health and happiness, and not to be a jerk in asserting that others are idiots if they can’t repeat what you’re doing. It’s simply about empathy for others.

  16. I’m so glad you’re talking about this. I’m a natural spender and have only been able to save so much due to the huge goal of FIRE. Without that, I’d definitely spend my entire paycheck! I, too, can think of so many ways to spend money that I can’t ever imagine being so frugal as to lose that. I sometimes wonder if these people have never really had an amazing meal at a restaurant or an experience that was worth the cost. And don’t get me started on charitable giving — so many things I want to give towards that it’s hard to chose on a budget. Life is for living and often those experiences cost money.

    Thanks for recognizing that there are so many ways to go about FIRE and all are welcome to the approach that works best for them. Spenders are still welcome here :)

    • Ha! I wonder that, too! Or maybe they just aren’t into food? (Equally incomprehensible to me!) ;-) But yes, EVERYONE is welcome here, regardless of your natural inclinations, and we should never as a community get so doctrinaire that we exclude people who want in.

  17. Yup to everything here. Thanks for posting this! We’re frugal in some areas but I can see so many ways to spend more and it’s so hard to pick and choose. For us, both playing and watching hockey were non-negotiable, expensive though they may be.

  18. Thank you for this. Reading some of the extreme frugalism FIRE blogs has actually made me feel guilty for not being frugal enough, even though I already have natural tendencies towards frugalism. I don’t buy a lot of material goods, but when I do buy something I will spend more to make sure it is high quality and will last. I also enjoy certain comforts, such as eating out, comfortable travel (for example, preferring direct flights and always having an ensuite bathroom), etc. And one big one is that I am not very interested in DIY! I have no interest in learning how to do my own plumbing; I would much rather pay someone to do it. The FIRE blogs often make me feel like I have to get super into DIY but I honestly do not believe that doing so would somehow bring me greater pleasure in life.

    All of which brings me to another point that isn’t discussed enough: reaching FIRE is just about figuring out how much you want to be able to spend per year, and then saving enough to reach a level where you can retire and have that much per year from investments. The actual number you want to spend per year does not have to be super-, uber-frugal! If you want to be able to spend more per year in order to live at a certain comfort level, then it just means you have to save more before you can retire. So it’s a trade-off. I understand that for some people reaching a point of saving anything at all is a challenge, but I don’t think it is helpful to pretend that the only way to do FIRE is to be an extreme frugalist.

    One reason I’ve started reading this blog (I just discovered you last month!) is because you sound more like me, not quite so much in the extreme frugalism camp and freely admitting to wanting to enjoy certain comforts and pleasures! It was the first blog I came across when I did a sweeping search a few weeks ago that didn’t make me feel worried and guilty (even though I am in a very good place and well on my way).

        • Haha, I’m reassured to hear you say that. I just read your latest post and when you wrote about the bathroom down the hall my first thought was “wow, I am never going to compromise that much on hotel rooms!” :-)

        • It’s truly not that bad! I’ve had a few hostel stays in the last year, too, and after you accept that it’s not weird, that part doesn’t feel too terrible. But not having a place to put anything is worse! ;-)

    • Hi Sarah! If you ever feel you need “permission” to take the non-frugal path to FIRE, I’ll back you up. ;-) (Not that you ever need permission. It’s your life and your money!) And yes, you are totally right — FIRE itself is just math. Living expenses times some multiplier = magic number. Somewhere along the way people got attached to certain magic numbers and certain ways of doing it, and that’s unfortunate, because it excludes some people. And on DIY, I’m with you, too, and I say that as someone who (mostly) enjoys it. We LIKE taking on many DIY projects, so we do it, but if we didn’t, we’d pay people no question. Like when the driveway needs resealing, I have no desire to handle hot tar, and we hire that out. ;-) So keep doing what you’re doing — you’re on the right path!

      • Thanks! For DIY, I am totally on board with doing the things we get enjoyment out of and paying someone to do the ones we don’t! On a very small DIY front, I just cut my own hair last night (using a $13 pair of special barbering scissors) and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be going to a salon again… (for the record, I have super long straight hair and just want to keep it trimmed more or less straight across, so it was a pretty simple cut, no fancy layering or face framing or bangs or anything!).

  19. Thank you for writing this, Tanja! I’ve been thinking about my own spending habits lately. I wouldn’t say I’m a natural spender, but I sure as heck have standards for my stuff, and that means I end up paying more. Like if I own just one belt, it better be a nice one. We also live in a HCOL place, and I feel we’re frugal for where we live–don’t live in the most expensive apartment, don’t buy a ton of stuff, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s good enough–at least comparing to other bloggers. Sometimes what I want to do is just throw it all to the wind and rent or buy that sexy apartment, and buy all the stuff, but at the end of the day, I know it would make me feel bad. So I guess what I mean to say is, even if I wasn’t saving, I would never spend all my money, anyway. I think as long as you’re spending per your values, you’re alright.

    • I love that you’re blogging because I think you represent an important part of the community that had no voice before. There is NO SHAME in wanting to buy quality and being willing to pay more for that. (And your definition of “more” is higher than most, which I think is important to show!) So please keep sharing your story! The comparison game is so insidious and we all do it sometimes, but we have to remember that comparing ourselves to bloggers means we’re only looking at this tiny, freakish slice, and not the whole rest of the world, who would consider average frugality unattainable. ;-)

  20. I always say that “frugal” means different things to different people. I believe that frugality is about spending your money wisely. That’s it. So, instead of spending my money on low quality clothing, I instead use it to buy organic ingredients for our homemade meals. I know people who have housekeepers, go on fancy vacations, and get grocery delivery – and they’re still frugal. It’s all about doing what you want with your money, but being mindful of where it’s going and if it’s supporting your life goals.

    • That’s a great way to put it, though frugality does tend to suggest saying no more often than yes to purchases, and if you say you are spending in line with what you value but you value EVERYTHING, it’s hard to argue that’s frugal. ;-)

  21. You raise a topic close to my heart.

    Many PF bloggers espouse a “f*ck the Joneses” mantra… while at the same time preaching an at times condescending, often judgemental frugal/spendthrift/“make do with less” approach.

    The thing is there are many routes to Financial Freedom, and not all of them need involve thrift store shopping, off season travel, and CostCo.

    Want to retire to the French Riviera and drive a Ferrari? You may need to earn more or wait longer, but the goal is just as valid as that of the “van life” minimalist who is content living out of their car and showering at the local gym.

    For what it is worth, my approach is if it makes you happy then it is good. Just ensure your finances and expectations are calibrated accordingly.

    • Yeah, you should see Mark in Costco… full-on toddler meltdown! ;-) Hahahaha. (We *might* rejoin Costco now that we’re retired, but I doubt if Mark will ever go with me. TOTALLY possible to retire without shopping there.)

      I have nothing to add to what you said, because I agree completely. I wonder how this conversation would be different if the person who first got famous for retiring early had just focused on the math and not on the lifestyle they used to achieve it?

  22. I’m closer to you and Mark on the spend-side than I am to the extreme frugal crowd. I probably straddle the middle somewhere. But when I spend on something that I’m passionate about or that makes me happy, I spend. Big time. I have a post in the works on this very topic so I’m glad you wrote this now.

    And a love letter could use more smoochy-talk, but that might’ve been awkward ;)

    • Hahahahaha. I thought I’d build up to the smoochy talk. Just wait for the next letter! ;-)

      And more power to you, spending big on the stuff that makes you happiest. We definitely did not sweat the pennies in Taiwan, because that is our big THING in the first half of the year, and that’s what we prioritize.

  23. This is exactly why I love your blog, everyone has different things that work for them, discovered MMM years ago but didn’t get into fire community till I found the accepting choose fi podcast, I am semi naturally frugal but I like to spend on certain thing (travel and food)

    • Awww, thanks Kelly! :-D I LOVE that you know what you prioritize (same as us, sounds like), and that you spent guiltlessly on those things. What is the point of frugality if it robs you of the things that bring you happiness?!

  24. I couldn’t agree more on wanting to spend more on travel and Wine!

    Our way to balance being frugal and indulging is to be part of the wine club at one of the local wineries near us. They throw all kinds of great, free tasting events throughout the year, and we are only obligated to buy one case a year. It’s an expense we could cut out, but we like the community of it and their wine is so yummy.

    For travel we take one big international trip a year, which is another expense we could cut out, but just doesn’t seem worth it. We do try to travel on the cheap though, to help keep costs reasonable.

  25. When I was a small child my great grandmother would read me stories from Aesops Fables. I still read these stories today as they help me remember what is important when our life gets to noisy and cluttered.

    Two of my favorites that come to mind are “The Country Mouse And The Town Mouse” and “The Miser And His Gold”.

    What this means to me is that wealth and property mean nothing without security and piece in ones life.

  26. Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. Everyone’s path will look a bit different. For example I know the FIRE community would go nuts over what I spend on clothes. But as long as I’m saving 50 % of my income and achieving my goals, I’m only accountable to myself.

    • Indeed! All that matters is that you’re happy with your plan, and that you can afford what you’re doing. (And that it aligns to your own personal values.) Don’t worry about what anyone else would say about your clothes spending. They don’t get a vote in the matter. ;-)

  27. I am one of the people who don’t need to work hard at being frugal (except for travel) and I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t like that. it would be so hard! I am not sure I could do what you have done (and many others). But we are all different.
    Just like many people aspire to FIRE, but for me I just want to be financially free and I want to keep working, I actually like it. I just want to be able to pick and choose when and where I work.

    • I hope you know all of us who aren’t naturally frugal are envious of you! ;-) It’s definitely harder to achieve FIRE if you’re not a natural saver, so you have a leg up here. And no shame in that! That’s awesome!

  28. Thanks for another fabulous post! This one is definitely one of my favorites. MMM was the first financial blog I discovered, about four years ago. I was amazed by what could be accomplished by extreme frugalism. While I will never be anywhere close to extreme I do like to read the frugal blogs for ideas and entertainment. I take what I like and apply it and leave the rest for someone else. I’ve never really felt the need to try to fit someone else’s idea of what I should or should not be or do. I guess that in itself is a blessing.

    I was wondering if you or anyone else knows of a personal finance / retirement blog written by someone who makes six figures and wears coveralls and work boots? After I get through WordPress for Dummies I may have to do it myself.

    And seriously, FinCon2018 is 8 miles from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!!!!!! Seems like a great 50th birthday present to myself even though they are both 3000 miles from where I live!

    • Thanks so much, Angie! Good for you for knowing what you’re about and not feeling unwelcome despite having different interests and tendencies than many of the loudest FIRE voices. I do NOT in fact know of a blogger with a story like yours, so maybe you DO need to start that blog. (Just beware before you start that it is a LOT of work. See if you can make a list of 30 posts you’d write before you start, to make sure there’s lots of inspiration. If you lack inspiration at the start, it’s even harder to find it later. Just saying that so you know what you’re getting yourself into.) ;-) Let me know if you do start that blog! (Also, there’s a Harry Potter world at Universal Studios Hollywood, too, just in case you don’t want to fly cross-country. But totally agree that’s a great 50th birthday present!)

  29. Haha, I feel like this post was almost written for me — I was reviewing my 2017 expenses and realized we were TOTALLY NOT frugal last year!

    Sure, we tried… and did OK in some categories, but alas we spent like kings. Good thing the market kicked ass last year!

  30. I love that you bring a different voice & perspective to the early retirement community! Even as a naturally frugal person, I find “extreme frugality” to be a misnomer, and the idea that everyone can achieve FIRE through sustained frugality a myth. It’s just not that simple. There are so many variables and diversity, and even if no one is proclaiming that as the only way, it’s easy to take that away from the conversation. So thanks for showing another way, and hope for those not born frugal!

    • Exactly! It’s like dieting… you can only cut out so many calories, same as you can only achieve so much through frugality. But you can exercise or earn on a much larger scale. Plus, as you said, not everyone can save quickly just because they’re frugal. Plenty of people are REAL FRUGAL (meaning not frugal by choice), and they still face huge obstacles. I think the value of the blog community is celebrating individual stories and differences, so I hope this post inspires a few people to do that. ;-)

  31. This is why our goal is to reach FI is 45, not 40, or 35 (though after looking at things this year it may end up being closer to 40). I’ve already cut back my hours to spend more time with our son, and we take at least a small trip every month. Worth it to get there a little slower. And yes, I can easily see how we could spend double or triple what we do now 😉

  32. You nailed it for me and my husband. We’re in a ‘mini-retirement’ right now and we’ve had to make some big life choices because frugality does not come naturally to us. We moved to a very small town from a big beautiful city and one of the reasons was we knew we would spend less there (and it would be easier to spend less). We really enjoyed city perks of sushi, spin classes and great coffee shops. It was really hard to say no or reign it in. And we’d love to give more. We just made our first 4 figure one time to one cause donation and it felt great (most of our give is smaller and monthly or annual). I would love to do more of that but getting ourselves to full retirement means sticking with these size donations for now. We also got ourselves to mini-retirement stage with some frugality but also by deciding to cash in on a very hot real estate market and move somewhere MUCH cheaper. We’ve got all that real estate equity working for us now.
    We’re so lucky to be in this position but the frugal lifestyle does not come easily to us.

    • Your big move sounds a whole lot like ours! Though our small place isn’t cheap by any means, we’re naturally inclined to spend less in Tahoe than we were in LA. And good for you for amping up your giving! That’s so awesome! And as long as you have good systems to keep you accountable on your spending, there’s no reason you can’t thrive in early retirement as folks who aren’t naturally frugal.

  33. Thank you for writing this! As a musical theatre (Hamilton is the dream!) Disney loving person, often I feel the FIRE imposter syndrome very strongly. To me it’s about choices and priorities. If I intentionally choose to shell out money for some experiences I value, I want to do it without feeling too guilty.

    • I get the imposter thing, but you are definitely NOT one! You can love things that cost money and still do all of this, your timeline will just be based on your own priorities. And please please please please find a way to see Hamilton! It’s sooooooooo worth it!

  34. I just wanted to touch briefly on one thing from this post. Helping others does not need to be via money. I find it is much more rewarding to give of yourself, your time and your skills to others than money. It is actually a whole lot harder I find than a hand over of money but I find it much more rewarding. Trail building, bottle drives, environmental stewardship, business associations, community events, charity support and the list goes on.

    On the frugal, it has been very hard to change my ways and stick to them. I miss the freedom that constant paycheques allowed me to not worry about what I was spending on. I didn’t have much savings but I sure had fun but if I had it to do over again I would stick to the path of saving as much as possible and working at being sensibly frugal.

    • Absolutely true that it doesn’t HAVE to be with money, though many causes can’t operate without it. I LOVE that you devote so much time and energy to trail crews and other events, and admire you spreading the word about it. But I’m going to keep encouraging folks to give money, whenever they’re able, too. ;-)

      And yeah, totally feel you on the difficulty of sticking to frugality all the time. And I hate when folks act like it should be easy. It’s like any good decision you have to make over and over, every day. It might get easier as it becomes more of a habit, but not always. Like, I’d rather eat ice cream and pizza every meal, but I know that gets me further from my goals than if I eat kale and black beans. ;-) But I’m still tempted!

  35. Awwww, Tanja, I love you too sister! I was immediately drawn to you as my favorite FIRE blogger because after just lurking at MMM for a while, I came here and saw that I didn’t have to haul my groceries in a bike trailer (uphill both ways?) to be part of this community. Although I am a little harsh on myself and think of you every time I turn up the thermostat (“T&M can hack it, why can’t you?”) but other than that– I feel like we are kindred spirits on this FIRE path. Also, I make more $ than most so it’s easier for me to save than others and I feel that pang of guilt sometimes (especially listening to Kara on TFC sometimes– oooh, I just want to send that girl some $$!) You give me the comfortable place to be at peace with where I am on the journey.

    • Uh oh, so you’re not going to like my next post about hauling groceries in a bike trailer! ;-) Hahaha. Just kidding. Thanks for your sweet note! And please don’t let our thermostat setting guilt you — that’s literally our ONE frugal thing, and it’s mostly just because I’m stubborn, not because we are super virtuous. (Also, sometimes it really is too cold and we turn it up for a little while.) And yeah, I do understand the guilt for earning more (I want to keep buying Kara new podcasting gear but hold back because she’s a kick-ass grown woman and doesn’t need my help). But your last line pretty much made my month. I’m so happy to know that ONL has given you a place to find some peace with your own path. Keep it up! You’re awesome! :-D

  36. With you 100%! I have the same reaction when people say they can’t imagine spending more. I respect it it and I support them, but I don’t know that I would ever feel that way. Could always do with more (and/or nicer) travel and more generosity.

    • I know! I kinda of actually want to drill them, like, “Really? You wouldn’t like to go to more concerts? Or dance performances? Or meals at your favorite restaurant? Or trips to Paris? Or to South America to climb in Patagonia?” Etc etc etc. ;-)

  37. I definitely like nice things. It took me so long after I was out of poverty to feel comfortable buying something just because I wanted it or needed it. Once I got over that hurdle, there has been some see-sawing, but I definitely don’t want to end life frugally if I can help it. Finding the systems that work for me while letting me feel like I’m living well is still a work in progress, but I am excited to see how that will look.

  38. Dear Tanja, live the life of your dreams! Enjoy Taiwan – exploring new cuisines over there won’t set you back too much either – and take it step by step. You gotta save some exciting stuff for later. So, enjoy day by day and explore this wonderful world step by step since now you’ve got the time and ressources to do so. Live long and prosper! Matt

  39. Ah! Thank you for this post. As a natural spendthrift / frugal imposter I’ve found myself wondering whether I could ever get to a point where frugality is second nature. Like you I can think of more things to spend money on even though I’m learning how to be happy spending less. This is a nice motivation to keep soldiering on. And keep asking why I’m doing it and to not beat myself up when I inevitably slip up. Thank you.

  40. This is mostly me though I never had to hide money from myself. :) I absolutely LOVE picking up the tab at a bar with a bunch of friends (especially when the have no idea) and so enjoy eating out and my grocery bill *could* be much lower if I was more frugal. And then my snowboard habit. And my travel choices… Don’t get me started on those. :) And I live 1 mile from the ocean in San Diego. Salud!

  41. I too was forced into early retirement but didnt really save a lot. Fortunately I did get a pension and can keep my health insurance. (Most expensive expense). For those extra I want I enter Sweepstakes, local radio station to win trips and pay for entertainment. I’m just starting my blog. Feel free to check it out. I will give some tips on winning ( as soon as I figure out Word Press).

Comments are where the magic happens! Let's chat!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.