One of the more interesting aspects of early retirement and financial independence is when the concept goes mainstream online. The comments that these articles get are typically very, very negative through traditional media outlets, and I think that it demonstrates so vividly how tough it is for many among us to consider another way of life.
Case in point: In mid November, my retirement renaissance article got picked up by Business Insider (hat tip to Rockstar Finance for the first re-publish). Business Insider often does publish personal finance material, but they are far from an early retirement resource. The publication is well read among the general population.
The article describes my transition from a fairly big spender to an aggressive saver with a goal of retiring at 35 in pursuit of a life of freedom and choice. I mentioned that I no longer care about spending eight to 10 hours a day confined to an office and prefer to live life on my terms. I’m not following the traditional society-approved path in life. Neither are those like me.
I have chosen a very different path in life, and naturally, the comments reflected that. Those who dare walk in a different direction from society’s traditions must be sticking their fingers in the eyes of everybody else…I guess.
I think my favorite comment was this: “So basically this man lives a quasi destitute life in the present so that he can “retire” at 35?”
Destitute. Is this truly what Americans believe a life of maximum saving and a freedom of choice truly means? Destitute?
Let’s take a look at my life of destitution, shall we? My wife and I have never been more happy or healthy. We cook incredibly tasty vegetable-heavy meals packed with nutrients and energy and are both avid fitness types who consider our bodies to be our most prized possessions. I am literally filled with energy every day, and I have difficulty taking days off from the gym because of it.
We often enjoy lounging poolside in our backyard with a glass of wine in hand, occasionally giving pets to our two adorably cute rescued dogs. Our home, which is way too big for us, gives us more than enough shelter from the elements, heat in the wintertime and air conditioning in the summer. That’s right, a climate-controlled dwelling! Oh, the painful destitute!
We watch a nice 46″ flat panel Sony Bravia television every night while we eat dinner. We are total suckers for programs like House Hunters, Fixer Upper, Beachfront Bargain Hunt, Departures, etc.
Hot water is instantly available with a quick turn of a knob. Our bio waste is flushed out of sight with the press of a lever. Hot showers every night. Clean clothes every day.
My wife drives a Cadillac and I am on a motorcycle. We travel in complete comfort everywhere we go. We use multiple computers to stay in contact with our friends and family using lightning fast Internet access that connects right up to our home.
Every night we lay our heads down in our gigantic king sized bed happy, relaxed and comfortable. Truly, every night.
We don’t “sacrifice” anything, either. We don’t have expensive high definition TV service, nor do we pay for unlimited everything cell phone plans. In fact, I use the cheapest Android device offered by Verizon, which supports phone calls, texting and social media access just like the most expensive Apple iPhone.
None of these things are sacrifices to us. Access to ESPN does not make our lives better. Driving expensive European cars does not bring purpose into our lives.
Truthfully, it is not that we (or anyone else like us) are living in “quasi destitute”. The issue is much more basic – we have chosen a much different way of life than the majority. In contrast to American traditions, we avoid the costly acquisition of stuff to fund our goals of freedom.
What accounts for mainstream ER negativity?
Granted, I haven’t done “official” research on this question, but over the course of living on my own for the past 15 years, I have picked up a thing or two about how people operate, and especially what drives this kind of negativity at those who resist conventional wisdom.
Sometimes, it’s legitimate – As I’ve written about before, early retirement isn’t for everyone (though I would argue that Financial Independence should be). I do not believe that early retirement is in everyone’s best interest, nor do I think every person needs to pursue it. After all, jobs do give many people a purpose in life. For me, my job has been more of a distraction than a fountain of purpose.
Of course, the accumulation of things plays a huge factor in the length of many careers. Those who insist on having the latest and greatest cell phone, or an expensive television package, big house, nice car or a gold watch NEED their jobs to fund a lifestyle of consumption. I did this too. Our society plays to our most basic emotions in life, pitting our desire to be “happy” with our need to fit in with the crowd. Marketers are experts at fiddling with our emotional strings.
But, even when early retirement is not the end goal, chalking this lifestyle up to something akin to destitute of life is neither accurate nor particularly intelligent. In fact, it is an emotional response to one’s own ignorance. There is nothing easier than bad mouthing a topic that we probably don’t understand much about.
Other times, it’s jealously / defensiveness – Let’s face it, there are a lot of people who would love to retire early but, for whatever reason, they either can’t or won’t. The Internet is one of the easiest and non-confrontational mechanisms to spout off about topics like early retirement, especially in articles written by those who are actually doing it.
I admit that I was guilty of this at one point in my life. While I typically didn’t take the time to submit negative comments, I did tell myself, “Man, I’d hate to live like that” in an attempt to feel better about the choices that I had made in my life. But in truth, there is no getting around the fact that I wanted to experience that feeling of control and freedom in my life. I just didn’t know how.
After all, let’s not forget that this article simply describes my journey from spender to saver. It is not some “I am retiring early, and YOU can too!” nonsense. It wasn’t written to be a “lesson” to the mainstream, nor was it a how-to. My journey, simple as that. But, when you question the status quo in America, defensiveness runs rampant, and articles like this can be interpreted as though the author is preaching to them. Believe me, I am not.
If anyone wants to live a more traditional life and work until 65 or later, that’s just wonderful. Have fun! I judge you not.
Maybe they are just contrarian – These are people who disagree with pretty much everything. It does not matter what position you take, contrarians will disagree. Then again, I might be a contrarian due to my insistence that conventional wisdom about life and money just doesn’t work for me.
If a contrarian wishes to criticize our decision to retire early, that’s cool. Whatever makes them happy!
Early retirement is catching steam!
Despite a few negative nellies, I have received a ton of positive feedback and beautiful words of encouragement from this article – even those who first read about my story on Business Insider, the emails that I have received on this topic are incredibly positive and supportive. Many are looking for advice on how to achieve something similar. These are awesome people!
The truth is conventional wisdom is losing steam. As corporate America continues to take a slice out of our freedom and lifeblood as human beings, alternative lifestyles are becoming more and more popular. Many are realizing that the traditional path through life may not offer the happiness that people expect, nor the end that people want.
It sure as hell didn’t for me.
I remember the day where I asked myself a very important question: “What’s all this stuff actually FOR?” Once I realized that I couldn’t answer that question, I knew a change needed to be made.
My name is Steve and I am retiring next year – “destitute of life” not included.
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.