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.
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.
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!