Live and Let Live


When I share my early retirement goal with other people (outside of the blog), I generally receive some variation of the following response:

“That’s not possible. You have to live on rice and beans to make that happen.”

Feel free to replace “you have to live on rice and beans” with any other creative phrase intended to emphasize the poverty one must apparently live in to reach early retirement. Some examples might include “you have to live in a shack”, “you have to make $200,000 a year or more”, “you have to win the lottery”, etc.

I’ve heard it all.

The Impossibility of Early Retirement

Most recently I was told about the impossibility of early retirement by one of my brother’s friends. He happened to be at our house bragging about his impressive ability to snag a $50,000 truck from a local dealership for the low price of only $38,000. 

“My dad taught me how to negotiate. It just runs in the family blood, I guess”, he humbly explained.

He began to ask me about my career plans: when I would buy a home and a new car since I had a full time job now. As we talked, somehow the concept of early retirement was brought up, to which my brother’s friend responded:

“Sorry to burst your bubble, but I really don’t think that’s possible. I know guys who make $200,000 a year and they’ll still have to work until they’re 65. It’s just the way it is now.”

It’s just the way it is now?

I didn’t even know where to begin. Should I tell him about the idea of the hedonic treadmill, the plague of consumerism, or the mindless spending phenomenon? Or should I start with the power of compound interest, the simple math behind early retirement, or the power of a side hustle? Should I mention the power of intentional living and how it can single-handedly transform your spending patterns and the way you live? 

Where should I begin?

I ended up trying to explain the math behind the 4% rule and how you simply needed to accrue 25 times your annual spending to retire. But the more I tried, the more he seemed to shake his head. It was like trying to stop the tide from rolling in with a sand castle. I couldn’t change his way of thinking.

The Impossibility of Changing Human Behavior

When I used to encounter people who were completely bewildered by the idea of early retirement, I would always attempt to get on my financial pulpit and preach about the joy of conquering money and living a life of freedom. I genuinely wanted to share this massive life hack with people.

But over time I realized that if the idea of financial independence was completely foreign to someone, it was unlikely that I’d be able to convince them of it’s merits through one simple conversation.

Early retirement is simply a concept that people must warm up to on their own.

There is very little I can say to convince people to start living differently, especially if everything I say completely contradicts the lifestyle they’re currently living. More often than not, people simply get offended when I talk about early retirement.

This has led to an important realization I have finally had:

It’s okay for other people to think early retirement is a ridiculous idea.

It’s not my job to convert people from mindless spenders to happy savers. To think that I could undo years upon years of living a consumer-oriented lifestyle through a single conversation is naive. It’s unrealistic.

Of course I want people to discover the joy of intentional living, of living a meaningful life with less stuff, of the possibility of acquiring wealth simply by having the right mindset. I would love if I could convince everyone I know of the possibility of financial independence. But it’s difficult to change human behavior. People are simply set in their ways. And that’s okay.

Sooner or later most people eventually realize they must get a grip on their finances. But it’s not my job to go out and find these people. When people are ready, they look for help, advice, recommendations, and wisdom. 

The best I can do is simply share what I have found to make me happy and let people decide on their own terms whether or not they agree. People will only change their behavior once they have convinced themselves that it is in their best interest to do so.

I would never wish for an outsider to convince me that I need to change my habits, so why should I try to convince others they need to change? The more I focus on myself and the less I try to tell other people how to live, the happier we both are. Live and let live.

I strongly suggest using free financial tools like Personal Capital to track your net worth, spending habits, and cash flow to help keep an eye on your money. The more you track your finances, the better you get at growing your wealth!

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16 Replies to “Live and Let Live”

  1. Ughhhhh. I hate when people pull this crap. I like how people either accuse you of lying or being a total idiot when you try to say debt freedom / FIRE is possible. Ugh ugh ugh. I’m totally okay if people don’t agree with FIRE, but I really hate when conversations turn negative and nasty. I’ve had people straight-up tell me I’m lying to them and start yelling at me–all for me saying I could pay off my mortgage in five years. I don’t really care what they do with their money, but they certainly seem to care about mine, and that’s just not cool. Sigh.

    1. I can relate – people don’t always respond well when it comes to talking about finances. That’s why I’ve learned is often best to hold financial opinions and thoughts to yourself – it makes everyone more content. If people come to me seeking financial advice I’m more than happy to help, but I no longer go out of my way to discuss FIRE with people.

  2. Great post, Zach! I hope that someday your brother’s friend and all of his friends will discover your blog and see that we all have the power to create our own version of “the way it is now”.
    In the meantime, enjoy being a good example through the way that you live your life. Your happiness won’t go un-noticed!

  3. It’s funny how almost everyone who learns about the principles behind FIRE go through a similar process of wanting to tell everyone they know about it once they figure it out. And inevitably the outcome is the same: headshaking naysayers who will refuse to work through the math and just throw out grandiose fear mongering support statements like “wait until you get sick, then you’ll be sorry”, “the stock market is a casino”, “you’ll be bored”, “life changes and you’ll be sorry you didn’t keep working”, and yada-yada. We all know the bumper sticker statements. I guess blindly consuming while you work a job you hate for most of your life is a lower risk life strategy for most people.

    Here’s one that is kind of fun to use in these conversations. Edit the dollar numbers to the person/area in question, but you’ll get the point. When someone like your brother’s friends goes off on the $200k rant, ask him if he knows anyone who lives off $70k. When he says yes, ask him if that person also struggles to get by. Again he will likely confirm. Then ask him if he knows anyone in the same area who makes say $50k a year. Again, he’ll likely confirm. Then ask him what the person struggling to make $50k a year thinks when he hears the person making $70k complaining. Then ask him what he thinks the person making $70k thinks when they hear the person making $200k complaining. Then suggest perhaps each of those people “struggle” because of the choices they made and that if a person making $50k per year can do it then the other two should be doing just fine.

    I did this with my father after a similar initial conversation. He actually admitted I raised a good point. I doubt most people will make a similar admission, but throws their absurd logic back at them and they’ll fumble trying to respond.

    1. HBFI, that technique of using various annual incomes to illustrate the idea of saving money is an awesome idea, I’ll have to remember that. I agree with you, I think many people who discover FIRE go through this similar process – it’s human nature. We discover something incredible and we have a strong desire to share it with others. But people are only willing to accept advice when they’re ready for it. Most people close themselves off to financial truths until they’re in a situation where they MUST understand finance – once they reach a position of overwhelming debt, lose a job with no emergency fund, etc.

      In general I have found that it’s so much more satisfying to live a life that makes sense to me and let others live and think how they’d like as well. Pushing my ideas onto someone, no matter how beneficial or helpful they may be, is generally a recipe for disaster.

  4. Haha – in these conversations I like to start with the 4% rule as well. 🙂 Why is it so easy for people to buy into “they’ll still have to work until they’re 65. It’s just the way it is now” when you are showing a clear picture of an alternative option? Is it too good to believe? Are we the crazy ones? Maybe. But being the same and doing the same has never been part of my DNA. I would caution a guess that most FI people (or those pursuing it) are also missing that “follow the leader” gene. In this community everyone has a similar goal in mind but many are coming at it from different angles. Working more, saving more, side hustling. We aren’t sitting on our laurels waiting for the next 30 years to pass before we can enjoy our lives. Perhaps what you said to this friend might take a while to sink in…and in a few years it will be ever apparent how right you were. Until then, keep spreading the word and eventually you will come across another crazy person like ourselves. One who is caught up in the life that everyone else is living and desperately searching for the escape latch. To that person, your words will immediately sink in.

    1. I think you’re right – most people seem to simply think it’s too good to be true. I like to think back to The Minimalists and how they were able to share the joys of minimalism with those closest to them – they didn’t come right out and try to convince people to be Minimalists, they just practiced minimalism and over time people would approach them and ask “why they were so damn happy”, which gave them the perfect opportunity to talk about minimalism. I’d like to follow a similar path – just focus on my own finances and when I finally do hit my savings goal and achieve early retirement, it’s far more likely that people will be willing to hear me out 🙂

  5. It’s definitely tempting to rush out and tell everyone about all of the great financial stuff that we know, but you’re right – people have to be ready for change.
    I drop subtle comments 😉 even with my husband, who has always been horrendous with money/jealous of the Joneses….has now started making comments like ‘I love that car, but they have probably got in debt for it’ – sloooowly but surely I’m getting through to him!

    1. Haha that’s hilarious, good for you for dropping subtle comments – I think that’s a better approach than attempting to change his perspective of money in a single conversation 🙂 before you know it he’ll wake up one day with a sudden desire to make spreadsheets to track your expenses…

  6. It’s definitely OK to let others think that retiring early is ridiculous. When a guy is bragging about a bargain on a truck he got for $38K there’s no impacting his rational mind. He’s all ego.

    We’re so much more comfortable with looking like the poor millionaires next door. When people complain to us, we say with fake empathy, “I know, it’s so tough out there”.

    1. Mrs. Groovy, I think that tactic of using fake empathy is hilarious…I’ll have to remember that. I agree though, I find that the road to financial independence is much easier and less stressful when I happily travel along the road without trying to drag others with me 🙂

  7. I was going fishing with a buddy last week. I realized that his brand new bass boat he was pulling plus the brand new truck we were riding in together cost him about $100,000. My boat, in my garage at home and my used truck cost a total of about $30,000. We are both early retired, but only a little early since we are both about 60 and my net worth is about twice what his is. I’ll leave millions to my kids someday, him, I’m worried if he’ll run out of money at the rate he is spending. Its just amazing how differently people see things. I see my little fishing boat and used Toyota truck as luxuries, he sees them as grossly inferior.

    1. Steve, cheers to you for reaching early retirement as well as planning on leaving such a significant sum of money to your kids some day, that’s incredible. To your point, some people simply take for granted what they have. I would much rather have a used truck and boat worth $30,000 that I actually cherish and enjoy as opposed to a truck and boat worth $100,000 that I take for granted. The best way to find joy in what we already have is to practice gratitude. Someone can have a ridiculously expensive truck and boat, but if they aren’t grateful for it, they still won’t find happiness in it.

      I also like to consider material possessions in terms of how much VALUE they bring. It seems that your truck and boat are capable of doing the same thing as your friends truck and boat: they both allow you to go fishing, so essentially they both bring you the same value.

  8. I used to enthusiastically share the concept of FIRE with family, friends, and co-workers, but most seemed to believe it was impossible to retire before the age of 100. Now that we’ve stopped working at ages 53 and 50, we get more questions about how we’re able to live without a job. So, I guess most earthlings won’t believe it’s possible to FIRE until they see you doing it. Even then, most will instantly rattle of a thousand reasons they could never do.

    As I write about FIRE, I always keep in mind how important my ideas will be to a small percentage of my readers. It will literally change their life for the better. By revealing our FIRE models, we (FIRE bloggers) are providing some readers with a path to freedom. It would have been nice to have a FIRE mentor in my youth.
    Instead, I made a ton of financial mistakes and wandered without a financial vision for decades.

    Keep spreading your message because it will help someone escape the hamster-wheel-of-debt. Great post. Ed

    1. Ed, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my struggles to convey the idea of FIRE to others. I couldn’t agree more with what you said – people will always find a way to come up with more excuses to outweigh all the benefits of FIRE. Financial independence is really a mind game more than anything else, so if people make up in their mind that it’s impossible to attain, there’s very little we can say to change their minds. But I’ve realized that’s OK, as long as we’re content with our own path to financial independence, that’s all that matters. If people are open to our message, that’s just an added bonus. Thanks for the encouraging words!

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