YOLO, or You Only Live Once, is one of those phrases that can mean practically anything. It can refer to spending a ton of money while we are young under the guise of “we might die tomorrow”, or it can mean what I personally believe: We only have a single life to live, so let’s not spend it cooped up in an office.
Financial independence is your freedom to choose. When I think about life as a limited and finite collection of days, weeks, months and years that make up our existence, choices — enabled through financial independence, is the best damn YOLO benefit that money can buy.
Ultimate YOLO: Finance Independence
Traditionally, YOLO means something like “Life is too short, and I wanna have some fun now.” Or, maybe it goes something like “Life’s short, so you might as well live a little”. However it is said, the underlying point remains pretty clear: don’t delay your ability to spend some serious cash.
After all, you only live once.
And you know what? I completely agree. I am 100% behind the idea that life is too short and, well, let’s have some fun before it is too late, shall we? Got it, I’m there.
After all, working until you are 60 or older does not sound like much fun to me. But, the traditional definition of YOLO isn’t the only definition.
There are two different schools of thought inherent in this conversation:
You only live once, so we might as well spend money now to enjoy our lives because we never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We’d hate to spend our lives saving and sacrificing each and every day, then get killed or contract a serious illness before we’re able to enjoy it. What a waste, right?
Understandable, I get it. Then, there’s the position I support:
You only live once, so we might as well sacrifice some of our younger years during the accumulation phase so we can spend more of our lives with the freedom of choice.
Work until you are 60 because we took those $10,000 vacations, drove expensive cars and lived in nice houses, or work until you’re 40 or 50 and then enjoy the next 40 or 50 years of your life on a permanent vacation.
Instant gratification, or delayed gratification?
A question is begging to be asked: if we only live once (and for most of us, that’s true!), why are so many of us willfully sentencing themselves to decades of additional work during the most productive and capable years of our lives under the principle that “something might happen to us tomorrow, so we might as well enjoy ourselves today”?
We can enjoy ourselves AND choose freedom
One of my favorite things about financial independence is the number of different ways that we can achieve it. There is not just one way. For my wife and I, we sold 90% of our possessions, as well as both of our homes, and moved into a 200 square foot Airstream travel trailer.
But, that doesn’t mean YOU need to do that. Living in a space this small isn’t for everyone. Our primary job as functioning human beings is to choose the way of life that makes the most sense to us.
For my wife and I, that meant a few different things:
Prioritize our future selves over our present selves – When we both worked full-time jobs, we brought in around $250,000, combined. These were incredibly good salaries, and we also lived in one of the lowest cost-of-living cities in the country (Tucson, AZ). We could have lived a traditional YOLO life by spending money on expensive dinners, nice vacations and a big house with views of the surrounding mountains – such as Mount Lemmon that towers into the sky to the North of Tucson. But, we didn’t.
Sell damn near everything we have and retire early – Contrary to popular belief, our high salaries didn’t just hand us early retirement on a silver platter. Not only did we work hard (and smart) for the chance to retire early, we also sold the vast majority of our possessions in order to make this work. This included both of our homes. We now live full-time in a 200 square foot Airstream travel trailer that we’ve named Charlie.
Travel the country and see everything – Our post-retirement lifestyle revolves around full-time travel. This Airstream is our permanent home, and we use it to travel the country and see everything that there is to see in our beautiful country. There’s a ton out there, and sadly, most Americans don’t get to see what’s right here in our own backyard. Using our definition of YOLO, we are traveling while we are still young, active and healthy and making the most out of the most active and productive years of our life by seeing and experiencing as much as we possibly can.
We’re young. We’re active. And best of all, we are healthy. What better time to spend our lives outside of an office than now?
To us, You Only Live Once means taking full advantage of doing as much as we can, when we can. We’re striking while the iron is hot, so to speak.
Early retirement is the beginning, not the end
It is too easy to view early retirement as the culmination of productivity and “work”. It’s not…well, at least it doesn’t have to be. Ignore the obtuse narrative recited by lifers that retirement is the end. It’s not.
Early retirement is the reward after completing the accumulation phase of our life. It means that the work requirement has been lifted. We now enjoy the freedom to live our lives the way we see fit – with or without work. Your opportunities for work and productivity don’t stop. And I’m not talking about hobbies, here. I’m referring to legit work. Enjoyable work.
In early retirement, opportunities expand. Without a full-time job monopolizing our precious (and limited) brain power, we’re now able to take note of our environment and make better decisions about what makes us happy. Opportunities are all over the place. For work. For happiness. Whatever. You make the call. The world is your freaking oyster.
You meet people who need help with a part of their business that you happen to know well. Your friend needs a web site designed for his mountain biking club. You had an idea for a service that matches people up with pet hamsters based on its personality that you never pursued working full-time. Genius.
The point is: Early retirement opens our world to opportunity. Those things that our minds never allowed us to consider now become possible. That’s right, start that hamster business.
It’s a wonderful feeling.
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.