Note from J.D.
Last October, I had a chance to read an advance copy of Grant Sabatier's new book, Financial Freedom, which was just released this morning. I liked it. I loved parts of it. In fact, the second chapter of Financial Freedom inspired my article about how time is more valuable than money.
Today, I'm pleased to present a (heavily edited) excerpt from that second chapter. Here's Sabatier on why time is more valuable than money -- and why you can and should retire early. (Links and photos are from me. Everything else is from the book. Note, however, I've heavily edited this chapter in order to abridge it and to make it more readable in blog format.)
If some ninety-year-old rich dude offered you $100 million to trade places with him, would you do it? Of course not. Why? Because time is more valuable than money.
The average person has approximately 25,000 days to live in their adult life. If you’re reading this, you likely need to trade your time for money in order to live a life that is safe, healthy, and happy. But if you didn’t have to work to make money, you’d be able to spend that time however you wanted.
No one cares about your time as much as you do. People will try to take your time and fill it up with meetings and calls and more meetings. But it’s your time. Your only time. Financial Freedom is designed to help you make the most of it. Make money buy time.
My goal is to help you retire as early as possible. When I say retire, I don’t mean that you'll never work again, only that you’ll have enough money so that you never have to work again. This is complete financial freedom — the ability to do whatever you want with your time.
Traditional Retirement Advice Doesn't Work
I don’t ever plan to retire in the traditional sense of the word, but you could say that I’m “retired” now because I have enough money and freedom to spend my time doing whatever I want. I no longer have to work for money, but I still enjoy making money, and it’s attached to many of the things I enjoy doing. I love working and challenging myself and hopefully always will, so checking out to a life of leisure just isn’t my vibe.
If you want to “retire” sooner rather than later, you need to rethink everything you’ve been taught about retirement and probably most of what you’ve been taught about money. As a society, we have collectively adopted one approach to retiring: get a job, set aside a certain portion of your income in a 401(k) or other retirement account, and in 40+ years you’ll have enough money saved that you can stop working for good.
This approach is designed to get you to retire in your sixties or seventies, which explains why pretty much every advertisement about retirement shows silver-haired grandmas and grandpas (typically on a golf course or walking along the beach).
There are three major problems with this approach:
- It doesn’t work for most people.
- You end up spending the most valuable years of your life working for money.
- It’s not designed to help you “retire” as quickly as possible.
The first major problem with traditional retirement advice is that even if you follow it perfectly (and most people usually don’t), you still might not have enough to live on when you are in your sixties.
The popular advice to save 5% to 10% of your income isn't enough. You should be saving as much money as early and often as you can. If you want to be sure you'll be able to retire at 65, you need to start (and keep) saving at least 20% of your income from the age of 30.
Here’s how big a difference it makes.
It's been two years since I last looked at my overall financial situation to determine whether I have the resources to meet my goals. In those two years, much has changed.
I sold my condo and bought a home in the country. I repurchased Get Rich Slowly. I invested in not one but three other businesses. The stock market has bounced around, I've begun part-time work at the family business, and I've made many other minor adjustments to my daily life.
With all of these fluctuations, I'm naturally left to wonder: Am I still financially independent?
As I've mentioned many times, financial freedom exists along a continuum. For the sake of this article, I'm discussing the fifth stage of FI, the point at which investment income supports standard of living.
At the end of 2016, I was FI (but only just). What about at the end of 2018? Do I still have enough saved to fund my future indefinitely? Let's find out.
When J.D. decided to spend three weeks in Europe with his family, he asked a few people if they'd be interested in contributing articles during his absence. He even asked me!
My name is Scott Rieckens, and I'm new to the world of smart money management. I'm new to the world of financial independence and early retirement. I'm new, but I've totally immersed myself in it. I've immersed myself so much, in fact, that I've spent the past eighteen months creating a feature film about FIRE. (FIRE is the clumsy abbreviation for "financial independence/retire early". Basically, the FIRE movement is all about saving big so that you can choose to live however you want.)
"You've been in a unique position over the past year," J.D. said when I asked him what I should write about. "You've had amazing access to a variety of people who think and write and teach about financial independence and early retirement. You've been able to hear what they think and say in private as well as public. What about sharing your biggest takeaways from this experience?"
Perfect! I can dish out everyone's dirty laundry and avoid posting those embarrassing stories on my own site. It's a win-win for me, really. J.D. is such a sucker.
You ready? Let's go behind the scenes of the early retirement movement. Here are five things I learned while filming Playing with Fire.
Lesson #1: The FIRE Movement is Polarizing
When I started down the rabbit hole of early retirement blogs and podcasts, I was swept up in the euphoria that many others have experienced: "Holy moley, I'm going to retire in less than ten years!"
Coming from fifteen years of a spendy, financially-illiterate lifestyle, this was a huge revelation that gave me hope, joy, excitement, and...butterflies. Imagine the control over your life! Imagine the freedom! Think of all the ideas I will chase, the whims I can explore! Think of what this means for my family!
Somehow, though, I missed the blog post or podcast episode that explained just how difficult it can be to live within the FIRE framework while the people around you wonder what the hell you're talking about.
- "But I like my job."
- "That sort of lifestyle sounds terrible."
- "Are you joining a cult?"
These reactions dampened my enthusiasm. Nobody had warned me that there might be people who thought we were crazy for pursuing financial freedom.
Now, as FIRE is spreading through the mass media, there's been push-back from unexpected corners. Financial guru Suze Orman says she hates the FIRE movement. The comments on articles and interviews around the web are often negative -- even hateful.
I wasn't expecting that. How can something so positive be viewed with so much negativity?
Since starting our project, the number-one thing we hear from early retirement folks is: "I really hope this film makes it easier to share FIRE with my friends and family. Every time it comes up, things get weird and my already-socially-anxious-self gets all clammy."
I can say unequivocally that we have the same hopes.
Our society's relationship with money seems completely broken. When the best-selling vehicles are full-sized $60,000 trucks, yet 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, it seems the general population is managing money at a fifth-grade level. (And again, that used to be me before I found FIRE.)
We've got a lot of work ahead of us.
My name is Zach, and I write at Four Pillar Freedom, where I tend to tackle financial topics through data visualization. While J.D. is on vacation, I offered to explore one of his favorite topics: the effects of saving rate versus investment returns.
Albert Einstein supposedly once said that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.But does data actually support this claim?
In this post, I explore the nature of compound interest, how long it takes to become an important factor in wealth accumulation, and whether or not it actually matters much for people who hope to achieve financial independence in a relatively short time.
What matters more: your saving rate or your investment returns?
Accumulating Wealth in the Early Years
Suppose your goal is to achieve a net worth of $1 million. If you invest $10,000 every year and earn a 7% annual return on your investments -- which is a reasonable assumption for long-term stock market returns -- you'll accumulate $1 million in about 30.7 years.
The chart below shows exactly how long it would take to reach every $100,000 net worth milestone, using the assumptions of a $10,000 annual investment earning a 7% annual return:
Notice how each $100,000 net worth milestone takes less time to reach than the last. In fact, it's mind-boggling to see that it will take youlongerto go from $0 to $100,000 than it will to go from $600,000 to $1 million:
The first $100,000 takes the longest to save because you don't receive much help from investment returns early on. The time it takes you to go from $0 to $100,000 is mostly dependent on the gap between your income and your spending.
Howdy. My name is Michael Robinson. While J.D. is visiting Europe with his cousins, I volunteered to share how my wife and I have leveraged the power of geographic arbitrage to pursue our dreams -- and to build our wealth.
Geographic arbitrage means taking advantage of the differences in prices between various locations. You earn money in a stronger economy (San Francisco, maybe, or the U.S. in general) and spend it in a weaker economy (South Dakota or Ecuador, for instance).
Geographic arbitrage is a powerful tactic worth considering if you want to increase your saving rate so that you can better pursue your financial goals. Several times over the course of our lives together so far, my wife and I have managed to unwittingly stumble upon the benefits of geographic arbitrage.
More and more, I'm meeting people who want to know how to retire early. There's been a lot of buzz in the media lately about early retirement, and that's led folks to wonder how much money they would need to quit their jobs -- or if early retirement is even something they should consider.
Why retire early? Well, for most people a job is a necessary evil. We work because we have to. Early retirement gives us the flexibility to choose how we spend our time, whether that entails sitting on the beach drinking margaritas or it leads to new work that provides meaning and fulfillment.
Lots of us dream of leaving the workplace in our forties or fifties instead of sticking it out until age 65 -- but we keep working to support the lifestyles to which we've become accustomed. We like our iPhones and Playstations and Priuses, so we surrender to the idea that we'll have fifty-year careers.
Still, there are a surprising number of folks who manage to retire young. In fact, the 2018 EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey found that 35% of retirees left the workforce before they turned 60. (Previous surveys have shown that 18% of people retire by age 55.)
These folks aren't lucky lottery winners, and most didn't have high-paying careers. In general, those who manage to retire early have opted to live with less when they're younger so they can obtain financial freedom before they're too old to enjoy it.
Early retirement is a fantastic goal, but it can be tough to achieve. Three major obstacles stand in your way:
- You have less time to earn money. If you start working at 20 and retire at 65, you have 45 income-producing years. But if you retire at 45, you only have 25 income-producing years.
- You spend more time living on your savings. Life expectancy for the average American is nearly 80 years. If you retire at 65, your savings will probably have to last only ten to twenty years; if you retire at 45, your savings may need to support you for thirty or forty years.
- You don't enjoy traditional retirement benefits. If you retire young, you can't access Social Security or Medicare for several years -- or decades. You also face penalties if you choose to access your retirement accounts before you reaching minimum age requirements. (I'm experiencing issues with this gap already!)
In short, early retirees have less time to make money, and that money has to last them longer. Even if you stay healthy and the economy cooperates, that's asking a lot.
That's not to say you shouldn't plan to retire early -- it's a laudable goal, one that I encourage here at Get Rich Slowly -- but if you're serious about doing so, you need to be diligent. You need to have a plan. And you need to understand the numbers.
Let's take a look at the basics of how to retire early — and why you might want to do so.
It's a GRS tradition! Each year on Halloween, I publish a story about planning for death. Usually these are general articles about estate planning. This year's story is personal.
When my best friend died in 2009, one of my biggest regrets was that I hadn't made time to travel with him.
Sparky had previously asked me to join him on trips to Burning Man (in 1996) and southeast Asia (in 1998) and Mexico (in 2003). I'd declined each invitation, in part because I was deep in debt but also because I thought there'd be plenty of time to do that sort of thing in the future.
Turns out, there wasn't plenty of time to do that sort of thing in the future.
After Sparky died, I resolved to make the most of opportunities like this. Being in a better financial position helped. Having ample savings gives me the flexibility to join friends on short adventures or to explore the U.S. by RV for fifteen months without money worries. (Yes, I realize that's a fortunate position to be in.)
Here's an example. In 2012, my cousin Duane asked me to join him for a three-week trip to Turkey. Remembering my vow after Sparky's death (and remembering the power of yes), I agreed. That trip to Turkey is one of the highlights of my life so far. I'm glad I did it. It was worth every penny.
The Best Laid Plans
Early in 2017, Duane contacted me. "This fall will be the five-year anniversary of our trip to Turkey," he said. "Want to have another big adventure?"
"Sure!" I said. So, we started planning.
We bought books, watched videos, and browsed websites. We invited Kim to join us. Over the course of several months, our plans crystalized. We'd fly to Paris, rent a car, then spend three or four weeks driving around France and Spain and Portugal, enjoying festivals, experiencing the grape harvest, and exploring ruins. (Duane loves ruins!)
In June of last year, I sent Duane an email. "I'm going to buy plane tickets tomorrow. Do you want me to buy yours?"
"Hold up," he responded. "We need to talk." He called me on the phone.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"Well, J.D., it's like this," he said. "I have cancer. I've been having problems with my throat for a few months, but I thought that was because of indigestion or something. It's not indigestion. I have throat cancer."
Sometimes I hit the jackpot in my quest to find old material about retirement and early retirement. Last week, for instance, I was reading Early Retirement Dude's history of the financial independence movement when he mentioned a Life magazine photo essay about early retirement from February 1957. Say what?
Within minutes, I was reading the article via Google Books. Within an hour, I had ordered not just that issue of Life but three others with retirement articles. Within days, the magazines were on my doorstep. I'm telling you: We live in the future!
While browsing Oregon's best used bookstore earlier this year, I stumbled on a 1989 book called How to Retire Young by Edward M. Tauber. Tauber retired at the age of 43 from a tenured full professorship as Professor of Marketing at the University of Southern California. He's written a number of marketing textbooks, but this was his first (and only?) foray into the realm of personal finance.
How to Retire Young is one of the oldest books I've found on the subject of early retirement. It's fun to see how much of the modern financial independence movement is foreshadowed in the book's pages.
It's also fun to see how closely How to Retire Young adheres to my own "get rich slowly" philosophy. "Much [financial advice] is oriented toward the quick buck," writes Tauber, "taking paths that often have a low probability. In short, you might as well play the lottery."
Tauber has a different philosophy. He urges readers to "take the high road". He wants them to follow the path with the greatest odds of success, even if that path might not lead to quick wins. He also cautions that "there's no best way for everyone", just as I say "do what works for you". There are certainly best practices and mathematically optimal options, but there aren't any right options.
You Can Retire Young
Tauber's premise is that many people can retire early -- if they plan and remain dedicated to the plan. He writes:
"If you want to retire early, there are no magic formulas. It requires hard work to make money and requires smart work to learn how to invest on a pretax basis. If you invested 15 to 20 years in school to learn how to make money, why not spend a little effort to plan how to capitalize on your earning power to be able to enjoy it for a third of your life on your terms in early retirement?"
"Think of life has having three periods: schooling, working, and savoring," he says. Most folks spend the first 20 to 25 years of life in school, work for 40 to 50 years, then leave what's left for "savoring". He suggests shifting our perspective. "Why not plan life in three equal installments?" he asks. Spend 25 years in school, work for 25 years, then savor another 25 years -- or more.
The issue, as you know, is that there are trade-offs. The opportunity cost of retiring young is the stuff you could have had (and the things you could have done) during your working years. "Early retirement is like anything else that you can purchase," Tauber writes. You probably won't have as much discretionary income while you're saving or when you retire, but you will have the time to enjoy what you do have."
Tauber says the reason most people don't retire early is they don't think it's possible. More than that, they're not willing to wait to spend their money. They want to spend it now. They're working hard, earning money, and they feel like they deserve to indulge themselves.
What's more, the average person "cannot visualize the possibility that [work] might slow or stop". People fall victim to the forever fallacy. As a result, they get trapped in what Tauber calls the work-spend cycle.
When you want everything now, you get it now -- but that means exactly what it implies: having it now, not later. "It's a prescription for a lifetime of work and spend," Tauber warns. It's also a prescription for living on less when you're older. If you want money now and later, you have to plan for it. You have to want it badly or it won't happen. And "if you want to retire early, you have to do it yourself, using the system to your best advantage."
I'll admit it: There are times that I think everything that needs to be said about personal finance has been said already, that all of the information is out there just waiting for people to find it. The problem is solved.
Perhaps this is technically true, but now and then -- as this morning -- I'm reminded that teaching people about money is a never-ending process. There aren't a lot of new topics to write about, that's true (this is something that even famous professional financial journalists grouse about in private), but there are tons of new people to reach, people who have never been exposed to these ideas. And, more importantly, there's a constant stream of new misinformation polluting the pool of smart advice. (Sometimes this misinformation is well-meaning; sometimes it's not.)
Here's an example. This morning, I read a piece at Slate by Felix Salmon called "The Millionaire's Mortgage". Salmon's argument is simple: "Paying off your house is saving for retirement."
Now, I don't necessarily disagree with this basic premise. I too believe that money you pay toward your mortgage principle is, in effect, money you've saved, just as if you'd put it in the bank or invested in a mutual fund. Many financial advisers say the same thing: Money you put toward debt reduction is the same as money you've invested. (Obviously, they're not exactly the same but they're close enough.)
So, yes, paying off your home is saving for retirement. Or, more precisely, it's building your net worth.
But aside from a sound basic premise, the rest of Salmon's article boils down to bullshit.