It’s true. We all know how to reach financial independence and retire early. We all know that saving more than we spend will result in a rapid and consistent increase in our net worth. Thankfully for those of us who suck at math (including me), the equation is simple.
Don’t over-complicate this stuff, folks.
What’s this personal finance advice that we already know?
We know that dropping $50,000 on a brand new car when we’re 25 and earning $60k a year is a one-way street to a long career working stressful jobs just to maintain our lifestyles.
But, so many of us do it anyway.
I was close to doing just that, by the way. I dropped half of my first year’s salary right out of college to buy a 1999 Corvette Convertible.
We know that our $5,000 vacations every year are murdering our chances at calling it quits early and living a different life. A life of happiness and, well, maybe a little satisfaction. But again, we still do it.
We know credit card debt destroys our life. We know huge homes require time-consuming cleaning, expensive utilities, and monstrous mortgages. We know that living an hour away from work adds hundreds of hours to our grind every year, maneuvering through mountains of traffic and getting pissed at the guy in front of us who toooootally let that dude in who just cut in line (we’ve all been there!).
This isn’t rocket science.
We don’t need yet another listicle article offering more ways to save money. Coupons. Cook at home. Rent a movie instead of going to the theater. Drink water instead of soda or alcohol at restaurants. Yada, yada, yada.
We know this shit, folks.
The only difference that matters
Here’s the bottom line: We were all brought up differently.
Some of us had a wonderful childhood while others didn’t. Some of us went to college while others didn’t. We all make different amounts of money. Come from all sorts of walks of life. Exposed to different things. Biased perceptions. Whatever, you get the idea.
All these differences mean we won’t achieve financial independence and/or early retirement at the same time. We can’t compare ourselves to others. Just because Johnny retired at 32 doesn’t mean the guy or gal who retired at 42 is any “less smart”. We’re all different.
And the only difference that truly matters in the question of FIRE is Determination.
In other words, how badly do you want it? We know how to get there. We know the things we need to start (or stop) doing in order to achieve our goals. The only real question that needs to be answered is how determined we are to achieve those goals.
Are we willing to curb lifestyle inflation to retire early?
Are we willing to cut our $1,000 / month restaurant budget down to $100? Take a “Staycation” instead of that yearly money hemorrhaging “I deserve it” trip to the Bahamas? Drive a perfectly functional $5,000 car instead of a $50,000 [probably-German] auto?
If the answer is no, that’s okay. Truly, it is. I am not here to criticize your spending choices. Spend your money however you see fit. Have at it, and have fun.
But, if you have a dream of financial independence and early retirement – and you aren’t determined enough to say “Yes” to those questions, then YOU KNOW that you’ll never reach your goal. And, you also know why.
You aren’t determined enough to make it happen. No blog post will ever change your mind.
What does early retirement NOT require?
Resist the temptation to give yourself excuses why you can’t retire. Though it takes time, FIRE isn’t hard.
Early retirement does NOT require:
- Expert-level knowledge of the stock market. Believe it or not, I know very little about this thing we call the stock market. I don’t pick and choose stocks. Instead, I maxed out my company-sponsored 401k (back when I used to work) and Roth IRA. Also, I invested in a Targeted Retirement brokerage account through Vanguard. I didn’t think too much about it. Just did it. I also track our money picture using Personal Capital, which makes monitoring our financial life dirt easy.
- Living a picture-perfect lifestyle. None of us are perfect. Early retirement isn’t about doing everything RIGHT. We all make mistakes, and that is okay. Keep trying.
- Being a “smart cookie” – I don’t know much about the market. In fact, I pay very little attention to it. I’m not a math whiz. As a child, I suffered from a learning disability. Throughout school, I was a solid B/C student squeaking by the best I could. Take it from me: You don’t need to be an AP-type student (Advanced Placement in U.S. schools) to set and achieve your financial goals.
- A high paying job. Those who make a ton of cash CAN retire earlier than those who make considerably less. However, that doesn’t mean they will. It also doesn’t mean that one needs a high paying job to retire early. Folks retire early every day who earned a variety of different salaries while in the workforce. Don’t let your salary prevent you from even trying.
- Any form of magic. Early retirement takes time, but it only requires basic knowledge of the stock market and compound interest. The bigger qualifier is…you guessed it – determination. If you want it bad enough, it will happen. Maybe not at 35. Maybe not at 45. Focus and make it happen.
Excuses are a dime-a-dozen. Don’t give yourself a reason why you can’t. Figure out how you can. I used incredibly basic strategies to retire early. My wife and I saved as much as we could, sold everything we owned and bought an RV. Now, we travel the country for a living – happily retired.
We were determined.
This article was originally published in September of 2017 but has been updated using the Revise and Republish content strategy.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.