I love going out to eat. It costs good money, but I still love it. Every minute of it. Being in a restaurant environment is fun and energizing. After all, most people who are dining out are having a good time. I love spending time around those who are happy.
And, it’s one of those things that, if you were to strictly follow the advice of personal finance experts, should be removed from your budget – regardless of how much happiness it brings you. You’re done. Cut off. If you want to retire early, you need to save money.
And, saving money means that you cannot go out to eat.
I’m here to tell you that the conventional advice dished out to the population about saving money misses a critical component to what makes life, well…life!
Who am I to Pick Apart Conventional Money Advice
My wife and I retired from full-time work at 35 and 33, respectively, and travel the United States in our 30’ Airstream travel trailer. We know what it’s like to take control of money, save hard and achieve something truly amazing.
And, we didn’t follow the conventional advice that gets mindlessly regurgitated in our society, preached on blogs and printed in “free guides”, PDF downloads and money seminars.
If you want to retire early (or achieve any money goal), read this.
Buy Whatever You Want
As a child, my dad always used to tell me that I could have anything that I wanted. That’s right, anything. The sky is the limit. If you want it bad enough, the large majority of us who live in the first world can attain it. If you want it, then earn it.
There was a catch, though.
My dad’s quote didn’t stop there. He used to say, “You can have anything you want, but not everything you want”.
It’s one of those concepts that strike dead-center about life and how we spend our money. For most of us, it’s impossible to have everything. Instead, we should prioritize what we want the most, then focus on achieving that thing – whatever it is. It’s about priorities.
This Includes the Things That we Buy.
If it means enough to you, there isn’t anything in this world (within reason, of course!) that we should consider “off-limits”, even if our goal is to quit the rat race and retire early.
After all, it’s this freedom that makes life worth living. The ability to control our money by picking and choosing the things on which we spend is the magic of choice.
Don’t let anybody take that away from you.
But just like in my dad’s quote, there’s a catch here too. Naturally, this is a two-way street. We can’t just spend money on anything and everything. Most of us try to do that, but that’s also why the great majority of people feel like they never have enough.
And, why total consumer debt in this country has hit $4 trillion.
To Retire Early, Understand Your Money Priorities
Here is the punchline in all of this: Buy whatever you want. If it makes you happy, then there’s nothing wrong with spending your hard-earned money on it.
However, you need to understand something super duper important.
Understand that each and every dollar that you spend on discretionary items (like restaurants, for example) represents a potential delay in your money goals. In early retirement.
For example, if you’re spending $10,000 a year on restaurants (something that I easily used to do in a previous life), after 10 years, you’re down $100,000 (plus compound interest if that money were invested in the stock market instead).
How Many Years of Retirement Does $100,000 Mean in Your Life?
For my wife and me, it was between two and three years of living expenses. In other words, by going out to eat as much as I used to, that spending delayed my retirement plans by at least two years, but probably more. Those restaurants were keeping me working a job that I didn’t like for years beyond when I could have retired.
For some, that spending may have been worth it. If it is, that’s fine!
For us, though, that spending wasn’t worth it. The risk/reward simply didn’t add up. I wanted to retire more than I wanted to go out to eat. And, we made the conscious choice to reduce our spending on restaurants, but we didn’t eliminate it.
We still go out to eat. Yup, we are total rule-breakers.
I don’t care what the latest expert says about restaurant spending. This spending brings me genuine happiness and the elimination of that expense is out of the question.
For you, it might be your collection of tools. Or your Tesla. Heck, I used to work with a guy who collected $10,000 Rolex watches. While I thought that was insane spending, he obviously didn’t. It brought happiness to his life, so who am I (or any so-called “expert”) to question that?
Don’t let early retirement box you into stupid corners.
I’m Not Here to Judge You, But YOU Should Be
I am about to give you the magic sauce that makes early retirement possible for so many of us who live in first world countries. Here’s a hint: it’s not about “saving money” or clipping coupons. Or cutting out those morning lattes or brown bagging it instead of going out for lunch with your coworkers. Or ordering water instead of soda at Chilis.
Those things get thrown around because they are easy. But, they also completely remove one of the most important elements that make life worth living: happiness.
Early retirement is about two things:
- Understanding what makes you happy, and
- Reprioritizing your spending so it focuses on those things
But wait? What if eeeeeeverything makes you happy?
The problem is too many of us spend money on things that don’t make us happy, though we tell ourselves that they do. We do this all the time. I did, too.
I used to drive around in a supercharged Corvette – easily the loudest and fastest car on most roads. Also, I rode a Yamaha R1 sportbike and paid $150 / month in insurance alone. And I lived in a big house in the suburbs and spent money on virtually anything that I wanted.
Do They Really Make You Happy
But, those things didn’t make me happy even though I assumed they did.
I remember it like it was yesterday. One Saturday morning, I walked out into my garage (in that very house in the suburbs). I reached up to punch the garage door opener, but suddenly, I froze.
I just stood there.
Instead of opening the garage, I looked around at what was in it. On the left was my brand new Cadillac CTS. On the right was my arctic white Corvette convertible. In the middle sat my racing motorcycle. I looked at those “toys”…the things that I thought made me happy.
And rather than smiling at everything I had, that morning was the first time I finally admitted to myself that all those things, while offering some level of superficial fun, provided no real happiness.
I thought they did. I told myself that they did.
But something was missing in my life. Still missing. Even with all these things in my garage – things that should make me happy, there was a void within me.
The things that I was spending money on were a distraction from my career. Even with a relatively high salary, I didn’t like where my life was doing.
The money was there, but something much more important was missing. More…fundamental.
Early Retirement is About Reprioritizing Your Spending Habits
As a 38-year-old, I’ve been retired for three years. In those years, I learned a lot about myself and what makes me happy. And more importantly, I learned about those things that don’t.
And, funding your source of happiness is one of the most fundamental freedoms that we have living in a “free” world. The freedom to travel. The freedom to explore. There’s an entire world available and ready for us.
Our job is to re-prioritize our spending so we’re spending money on important things. Things that make us truly, genuinely, unequivocally happy.
Early retirement isn’t just about saving money and investing. Yes, those elements are crucial in our ability to amass enough wealth on which to retire.
But, early retirement should not feel like a sacrifice as we’re going through our life; a sacrifice to our happiness. The traditional advice of simply “not spending” is superficial and surface-level.
And, it misses on the most important piece of the puzzle that, when missing, produces a gaping void that is very tough to fill.
The Bottom Line
Here is the bottom line to early retirement:
- If spending money on that is a source of happiness, don’t let experts talk you out of it even if it means that you might not retire quite as quickly
- Early retirement is about maximizing happiness and re-prioritizing your spending rather than simply “not spending money”
- People from all walks of life retire early and achieve amazing goals; but, only those of us who discover our true source of happiness live a genuinely happy life
If your goal is to retire early (or achieve any other major money goal), don’t think of your job as figuring out “what to cut”. Instead, your job is to reprioritize your spending so it more directly focuses on what makes you happy in life. Truly happy.
But, keep in mind that the things that you believe are making you happy may not be. That happened to me. It happens to a lot of people. Self-reflection is critical.
Understand what’s important to you and don’t cut out that spending. Instead, focus your spending on those things. I bet you’ll be a happier person because of it.
This article was contributed by guest blogger Steve Adcock.
Steve is a 37-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence at ThinkSaveRetire.com. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels with the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.