The key to retiring early is managing your lifestyle while you are young. This includes resisting the temptation to spend money on things that you don’t truly need (did someone say big screen TV?) and investing every penny that you can into your future self. Every dollar you spend now is money that cannot be spent later.
One of the best ways to keep yourself in check is to simply live like you’re poor. In theory, this is easy – simply don’t spend $200 every month on cable or satellite television, or expensive cell phone plans (do you really NEED that new iPhone 6?), or that $250 purse. You get the idea. Live like you can’t afford what you want, and only buy what you need.
The tough part is being honest with yourself about the difference between want and need. You might want a car, but you probably don’t NEED a Mercedes. It is the “I can afford it” line of thinking that keeps so many Americans working well into their 50s and 60s.
I am sure that we’ve all heard the phrase, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. That statement applies very well to living like you are poor. Just because you think that you can afford a Mercedes does not mean you should buy one. I can probably afford a $1m house, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sink my retirement into it.
Live like you’re poor and feel like you’re rich
The simple things go a long way in this life. The ability to flush the toilet and watch your filth simply disappear is a simple thing that many spots on the globe don’t have the luxury of. Running water, a warm bed and ways to communicate with virtually anyone are all simple things in life that most Americans – me included – take for granted.
Appreciating the simple things in life is the way to feel like you’re rich. Take a moment and reflect on your life and the things that you have. The things…all those things, those objects that you once felt you needed. Are those the simple things in life that you cannot do without? Probably not. You have so much, but yet, you never feel like you’re truly “rich”.
You don’t feel like you’re rich because you keep wanting more…and more, and more. The more one has, the more one wants. It’s natural human behavior. We want what we can’t have, but when we do have, we want even more.
It’s a wicked cycle.
If you can break free from the want and appreciate what you have, then you instantly graduate from the childish “gimme” attitude and ascend into a more lofty goal – happiness. Things bring temporary happiness, but like we’ve seen more than most of us would care to admit, wealth does not necessarily equate to being happy. In many ways, wealth kills happiness.
It kills it dead in its tracks.
What if I told you that the poorer you feel, the richer you become? The instant you shed the need for stuff, you begin a journey down a path that is damn near amazing. No more worrying about what your neighbor is driving. Nor more jealousy over that friend of yours who lives on the beach and has a jet ski. No more wondering if you will ever be able to retire “in this economy”.
Because if life is important enough, people will find a way to hone in on what truly matters in life, happiness. Once happiness is found, riches literally pour in. Your retirement age decreases and you begin wondering why you spend all that money on stuff that you thought would make you happy.
Steve is a 37-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.