I seriously held my tongue so hard that it started to bleed. I just sat at the table sporting a half “Totally man, I understand” smile on my face just to keep things happy and jovial during the lunch. But inside, I was like, “What the crap?”
I just wanted to slap him across the face. And then once again in case he’s one of those “hard learners”.
Here’s the story. I had lunch with a friend of mine the other week who happened to be visiting from out of town (Virginia). We hadn’t seen each other in several years and it was time to catch up. And what better time to catch up than over lunch? I like lunch. So far, everything’s cool.
We sat down at the table and started in with the customary small talk, same course of questioning asked at virtually all similar social engagements.
Standard stuff, like:
“How have you been?”
“How are the kids?”
Then, talk of retirement came up, and this is when things started to get real. I had mentioned to him before about our goals of early retirement. He mentioned something about travel, and I chimed in with “We’ll be doing quite a bit of travel in the next couple years”.
He quickly picked up on what I was saying. “Retiring, eh?”
“Yep”, I responded. Then, the shot heard ’round the world.
“I wish that I had a plan that I could keep. I stopped contributing to my 401k at work“.
Immediately, the “holy f-ing crap” sensor rang loud and clear in my head. What do you mean “stopped contributing”? This is your f-ing retirement! Is this guy serious?
Composed and from well behind a thick cloak of cool, I responded, “Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
“I have too much shit to pay for. Our hobbies are expensive”.
He went on to detail the true nature of the insanity that he just hoisted upon me while I mentally processed the gravity of the situation. He didn’t seem too shaken up by it, either.
This guy is literally never going to retire.
Here we have a grown-ass-man with a family, a home owner who is fully employed making GOOD money (yes, I know around what he makes). The guy is perfectly capable of making sound decisions, and he has – I’ve personally witnessed this. He’s not stupid.
He’s not stupid, but he is single-handedly sentencing himself AND his wife to the torture of full time work for years longer than what would otherwise be necessary. It hurt to hear this. Seriously hurt.
And for what? Hobbies? All that discretionary spending, all that shit he buys to forget about the job that he hates? Screw the traditional definition of insanity. This…this has got to be the true meaning of the word. To treat your future self this bad for the sake of your present self?
He is a car guy. No, not a “car guy” like I was who once drove a supercharged Corvette ’cause I like speed. He is a genuine car guy and has many of them – so many, in fact, that he rents garage space outside of his home to store his cars. The monthly cost for that garage? Close to $1k.
That is nearly $12,000 a year down the drain to store a bunch of cars and car parts. And that doesn’t include the parts he replaces and the ticky-tack equipment that adds up into something much larger. A new wrench here. A replaced engine lift there. New tires, new spark plugs, new windshield, new this…new that.
Every day after work, he is there – sometimes with his wife, messing around with those cars, installing stuff, moving crap around, whatever. The garage is about 20 miles from his home and he drives there in a 15 MPG vehicle. Phew.
It’s a hobby. We all have hobbies. But, should we let our hobbies yank retirement out from underneath us? Should we willingly allow them to give our future’s the royal F-U?
Sometimes it seems like retirement is that crappy printer from the Office Space movie, and our hobbies are Peter, Michael and Samir beating the shit out of it.
You might as well just kick your future self right in the crotch. Twice. And your present self, too.
Granted, there may be legitimate reasons to avoid contributing to your 401k, but I know for a fact that’s not what’s causing this insane decision to blow off his retirement. In fact, he admitted it.
His expenses are too high.
He has too much crap to pay for. Too much stuff. Gas guzzling vehicles. Hobbies. Restaurants.
But yet, he also hates his job. He wants to retire. He, like so many others, truly wants the autonomy to control every facet of his life. He does not want to be controlled by his wallet.
The problem? It’s too easy to have wants. We all have wants.
The real issue is he’s using money to forget about life. His position in this world has evidently made it worth while to fund an extravagant lifestyle to forget not only about life, but about his financial situation, his success, his job, his family.
And it’s sad.
It probably seems like I’m just using this post to crap on my friend. And in a way, I suppose it comes across that way. But the funny thing is we tend not to devote attention to a lost cause, or a one-off, or something that is so unimportant that it is not worth the time to write about.
The larger issue is how closely he represents so many Americans today. Most of us want a bright future for ourselves. We want control over our lives. We crave autonomy.
But, how many of us actively strive towards those goals with the choices that we make?
I can’t help but think about the situation that I am in.
That lunch makes me appreciate what my wife and I are doing. But more than that, it makes me appreciate you people – all of my readers, my Twitter followers, everyone who has ever offered encouragement and commented on my writing.
Seriously, each and every one of you is a breath of fresh air – not just because you’re budgeting or saving money. Honestly, it’s more than that. It’s much more.
I like surrounding myself with people who care about their future and are disciplined enough to make substantial changes in their lifestyle because they recognize the power that these decisions have over their future selves. The ability to prioritize our future selves is an amazing trait that far too few people possess.
Every time I read a new comment, I’m heartened to be a part of this wonderful community.
That lunch made me realize how powerful our decisions can be, and how lucky I am to be in the position to contribute and benefit from an outstanding group of people.
And no, I did not lecture my friend on saving money. He is an adult and is capable of making his own decisions. He has every opportunity to turn his life around – once he wants it bad enough.
Once he does, I’ll be there for him in every way that I can.
Thank you for reading. Truly, thank you.
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.