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“Early Retirement Extreme” Turns Conventional Retirement Doctrine on its Head
Jacob Lund Fisher is the real deal when it comes to living the FIRE lifestyle and he got there sooner than later. After working for five years, saving 75% of his income while gainfully employed, he unhitched his wagon (or in his case, his RV) from the working world and hasn’t looked back. In this book, he shares how he woke up to the idea of early retirement, how he executed his plan and how he manages his life on the equivalent of what a typical middle class family pays in yearly mortgage interest.
Think you need to work until you’re in your fifth, sixth or even seventh decade of life? Think you need to get into debt to live a happy and successful life? Think you know what you really need to be happy and healthy? This book challenges each one of these and other conventional beliefs, as has the blog by the same name for some time now: EarlyRetirementExtreme.com.
It does so by putting a spotlight on our need:
- For continuous physical and mental challenge
- To better understand what we truly value
- To reevaluate what we say we “need”
#1. Continuous Physical and Mental Challenge
To quote Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, “get busy living or get busy dying”. The vast majority of us don’t do much of anything, other than tend to the same narrow set of responsibilities at work and to the same predictable pattern outside of work hours. We’re commuting, shopping, eating out and vegging in front of the TV, doped up on sugar, alcohol and/or whatever else we use as a numbing agent.
Jacob suggests there’s another way to not only live, but to feel really alive, and that’s to challenge our minds and bodies on a regular basis, both of which make us healthier and happier. Instead of outsourcing anything and everything to convenient and costly options, his suggestion is DIY, including:
- Living closer to work to be able to participate in some sort of active commute (and possibly ditching the car)
- Participating in high intensity interval training to increase our strength, stamina and resilience
- Dressing in accordance with the weather to reduce the need to control the environment with excessive use of heating and cooling
- Eating more basic foods prepared and consumed at home
- Doing hard things that forever expand our comfort zone and our understanding of our own personal limits (or lack thereof)
- Learning new things by building, managing and maintaining your own “stuff” and activities
- Learning new things by actively seeking out new experiences
[Y]ou can always lose your tools, but skills stay with you. (pg. 115)
#2. A Better Understanding of Value
We think we know what the word “value” means but the author challenges this idea. In his view, any form of education is indoctrination (not necessarily in a negative sense). This reality behooves us to question whether the indoctrination we’ve received is in our best interest or in the best interest of the system in which we live. If we find it’s the latter, the answer is to challenge everything we take for granted in our day-to-day lives, including whether:
- We want to live where, and how, we live
- Full-time employment is the best option
- White collar jobs really are the right type of jobs to pursue
- Our current career path is right (or still right) for us
- Debt should be a part of managing our day-to-day life
- Saving the traditional 10% is all we want to do or whether we can save more to increase our options when “life happens”
- We want to outsource our lives to strangers (schooling, meals, entertainment, personal grooming, maintenance & repair, personal finance)
- We need to spend time consuming television programming to relax or whether investing that same time learning and creating could be more enjoyable and leave us feeling better, and better off in the end
[T]he total cost of stuff is much larger than its initial sticker price…it’s not the things themselves that are the problem; it is their side effects! (pg. 117)
The answers are not necessarily “no” but the point is that we should at least ask ourselves these questions. After all, regular bouts of introspection is never a bad thing because it’s the only way we can ensure we’re still moving in the right direction.
#3. There is No Such Thing as “Need”
I can see how this last point would seem particularly extreme. In Jacob’s view, there’s no such thing as an immediate need that can’t be explained away, other than air and water. We don’t have to live in a cold climate. We don’t have to have certain types of clothing. We don’t have to eat certain kinds of food (allergic reactions aside). When we get real about what we literally couldn’t live without, a lot of the material becomes, well, immaterial. This is not to say that we should do without, but it does give us pause. And so it should.
There are no such things as needs and wants…Needs and wants are different in degree, not in kind. (pg. 97)
As suggested in the book “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown, 90% of what we do (and I’d argue what we own) is not needed, or in some cases not even wanted. By asking ourselves why we feel we need something, we can wake up to what really matters to our personal and professional fulfillment. We can start to identify what stuff we own or do because that’s just what we’re supposed to have, do and care about, as dictated by our relative position in society.
In the same vein, the author invites us to consider the ROI of owning our car(s), the square footage we live in and the stuff that shares the space with us. When we consider how much of our work efforts goes towards these elements of our lifestyle, they can quickly feel like more of a burden than an asset, in every sense of the word:
- Cheap products don’t last and often can’t be repaired
- New products depreciate more quickly than do used items
- Larger square footage costs more time and money (furnishings, maintenance & repair, cleaning, heating & cooling, taxes, mortgage/money tied up in a non-income-producing asset)
- Junk takes up square footage and owning less junk we don’t use or value can mean having the same amount of living space in a smaller home
- Leisure goods that don’t get used regularly take up unnecessary space and should be rented as opposed to owned
- Cars can eat up a quarter of a year’s time spent on work activities (commute time, car payment, fuel, insurance, maintenance & repair)
The benefits are clear: up to a point, the less we own, the freer we feel and the more flexibility we gain in how we manage our lives. This isn’t minimalism for minimalism’s sake. It’s the ultimate in optimizing the ROI of every dollar we spend because that dollar represents opportunity cost in the form of free time to do with as we please.
If your gut tells you there has to be a way to exit the rat race sooner than conventional wisdom might suggest, this is the book for you.
Other suggested books of this type: “Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, “Plenitude” by Juliet B. Schor, “The Moneyless Man” by Mark Boyle, “How to Be Free” by Tom Hodgkinson, “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” by Harry Browne and “Happy Money” by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton
“Early Retirement Extreme” also touches on the following themes:
Books on stuff and status through the ages: “Status Anxiety” by Alain de Botton
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