I’m On a Spending Diet


When someone resolves to become fit, and they declare to their friends that they are going to go on a diet, what is our response? If you’re like me, you enthusiastically encourage them, and are filled with a sense of respect for that person, knowing how hard it is to lose weight and get in shape. You also know that when that person succeeds, they’ll feel better about themselves and live a healthier life.

When someone says that they’re going to run a marathon, even though they’re just off the couch, do we tell the person that it’s impossible, and that nobody could possibly run that far?  No!  Of course we don’t!

The reason we respond in these ways is that we have a frame of reference that allows us to believe that these things, while difficult, are ultimately possible.  Unfortunately, when it comes to early retirement, it’s far beyond even the most extreme of sports– people can accept if we decide to run a marathon, complete an Ironman, or lose 100 pounds. When we say that we’re going to save enough to retire by 40, though, that’s just a bridge too far.  It’s no wonder, really.  A 2014 survey by Wells Fargo found that 31% of people don’t believe they’ll have enough to survive on even at a “normal” retirement age.  19% had no retirement savings whatsoever.

To be fair, most of my friends are too kind to contradict me when our dream of early retirement comes up. Every once in a while, though, someone will challenge me on our plan.  How could I possibly save enough for another 30, 40, or even 50 years of living?  I’m never offended by that– I welcome it!  It’s actually kind of fun to preach the gospel of early retirement to doubters. Not everyone will buy in, but when you see someone start to perform the mental calculus of their own path to freedom, and the little light goes on in their eyes, it’s pretty rewarding.

It’s like this:  The first commandment of early retirement is not “thou shalt save more.”  It’s “thou shalt spend less.”

That may sound like a silly distinction, but excess money doesn’t come from nowhere– you have to start by carving it out of the money you make.  You have to go on a spending diet.  In modern society, that’s pretty tough!  We’re conditioned not just to desire luxury products, we’re conditioned to believe we deserve them!

The best way to overcome this thinking isn’t to resist it entirely, but rather to subvert it and use it to your advantage.  You know what?  I do deserve luxury. I deserve the very best.  I’ve just learned to stop thinking that clothes, electronics, cars, or big houses are the very best things money can buy.

No, the very best thing of all is freedom.  The freedom to choose what to do with every minute of every day for the rest of my life is pretty much the most badass luxury good in the world, and every dollar I invest takes me tiny step closer to affording it.  I have ultimate freedom on layaway, and I am making payments every month to make it mine.  Whether we’re naturally gifted when it comes to saving or just off the couch, early retirement is a goal that, like running a marathon, is achieved one mile at a time, one dollar at a time, one paycheck at a time.

So, from now on, when I tell people about The Dream, maybe I won’t start by telling them I’m saving a ton towards retirement.  Maybe I’ll start by saying, “So I’m on this diet…”

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