Since we retired a year and a half ago, Mark and I have done a whole bunch of different things, some of them big and important, some of them small and meaningless.
I wrote a book I’m proud of… and I built a sweeeeeeet house for my Sims.
We’ve traveled to new-to-us countries and revisited ones we’ve been to before… and we’ve rewatched the entire series of The Office and plowed through such high-brow shows as Nailed It and World of Dance.
We’ve each spent a lot of time doing work for the local nonprofits we head up… and we’ve dramatically deepened the butt-shaped grooves in our couch.
Because as much as I talk about the importance of purpose and meaning in early retirement, you don’t have to do meaningful things all the time. Sometimes you feel like devoting a huge portion of your time to the stuff that fills up your soul, and sometimes you just want to do nothing but watch Game of Thrones for a month.
Having the freedom to devote a large share of my waking hours to catching up on a TV show just in time for the finale is an amazing thing, as Paula Pant put so well here:
Valar dohaeris, Paula.
I don’t regret spending the last month essentially watching TV, or at least watching it in the hours when it was dark enough outside to actually see Game of Thrones on the TV. What I love is that doing that was a choice.
And it was a choice I got to make about how to spend a big chunk of time without thinking about money at all.
In a perfect world, that’s how it would be for all of us all the time. Of course, that’s not reality. But by pursuing early retirement, many of us are seeking the freedom to make our choices that way: free from the constraints of money.
Unfortunately — and this is the subject of today’s post — when we’re saving for early retirement, we often do the exact opposite of this and put money not only in the equation, but as the most important factor. And that can be a big mistake.
Quick reminder that I have a free event this Thursday in DC. All the details for that event and upcoming events in LA, SF, Sacramento and Reno in this post, and in the blog sidebar.
A handful of years ago, when we were in the thick of saving for early retirement, some good friends got married in Italy. It was like something out of a movie: they rented out an entire mountaintop medieval village, and guests stayed in old apartments in that village, with festivities in the town square.
We were invited, but we didn’t go.
Why not? Because of the cost. A cost that we could have easily afforded, given that we were in our peak earning years at the time, but that we decided we’d rather save than spend.
And now, looking back, I regret that decision. I’ve regretted it for a long time.
Not just because the setting sounds so incredible, and because I’m also a huge geek for all things medieval (a big part of why we spent last November in the south of France), but because we missed out on being there for our friends, all in the name of not spending what is, in the grand scheme of things, a fairly insignificant sum of money. Would taking that trip have set us back from achieving early retirement? Not really. But did not taking it mean we missed out on a big life event, which we’ll regret possibly forever? It sure did.
Every Saturday I host a Q&A on Instagram stories (you can follow here if you don’t already), and the question I’ve gotten the most is: If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently?
I always answer the same way: I’d go slower. I’d enjoy life more while saving, and not put off most of the fun until later. Because the truth is that I feel like parts of my life passed me by in those years when we were so focused on saving, and put money ahead of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
I’ve written plenty of times before about enjoying the journey more, and focusing not just on the future, but today too, but those focus on the more intangible and metaphysical aspects like simply paying attention and appreciating the present.
Related post: living for today — and tomorrow
What I’m talking about today is a lot more concrete: I wish we’d spent more money while we were accumulating our savings.
And: I wish we’d thought less about money when deciding what to prioritize while we were saving.
It would be easy to overdo those things, of course. It’s a slippery slope from “It’s okay to spend a little more” to full on “Treat yo’self,” and I’m certainly not talking about spending on every possible thing you might enjoy if your goal is to save quickly. It’s about balance, as with everything. But unfortunately, we didn’t get that balance right, and we thought about money too much, life too little.
There were some things I did right: I flew Chicago to see the Rolling Stones with my dad (those tickets were not cheap), and later flew with him to Las Vegas to see Elton John, knowing we wouldn’t have those opportunities forever. But we passed on the chance to see David Bowie, thinking we’d have more time, and then we didn’t. Did those flights and tickets cost money that I could have saved for early retirement instead? Of course they did. But those are wonderful memories for both me and my dad, and they were worth every penny. I wish I’d kept sight of that when passing on the things I now regret passing on.
When I look back at our full journey, the things I regret are almost never instances when I spent money. They’re instances when I didn’t.
Sure, I bought more shoes than I should have in my early and mid-20s, and I only broke even with my net worth about 11 years ago, thanks to some overspending and debt. But because those were mistakes I made when I earned relatively little, in my entry level period and the few years thereafter, those mistakes were all pretty small and (obviously) didn’t doom me to a negative financial future. They were entirely possible to overcome. But the mistakes I made while saving, and the life experiences I passed on, are things I can’t overcome because I can’t go back and replicate that time. It’s simply lost.
I’m sharing this in hopes that those still saving will take a broader perspective on life and remember that it’s good to save, but it’s also good to live your life, to really live it. Don’t let your life pass you by just because you have a big financial goal.
Remember what that goal is about in the first place: living the life of your choosing.
If your goal is to choose what makes you happy and do things that align to that, then do that now. Don’t wait until later. If you’re passing on most things you’d truly love to do now, all in service of some future goal that isn’t guaranteed, what’s the point?
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Categories: we've learned