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How much of your life are you selling off?

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Note: This is a long post (3000 words) but it can easily save you years of your life, so take a lemonade break halfway through if you have to.

When I was a TV-watching child in the 1980s I’d see a lot of commercials for something called “Freedom 55.” It was a financial planning service, offered by a life insurance company, but at the time I didn’t know what any of those things were. I knew what retirement was though. I also knew that companies in commercials always try to make themselves sound as good as possible. So the message I took from those commercials was that age 55 was an ideal age to retire, a few years earlier than the norm.

That stuck in my mind as a pretty universal benchmark, throughout my gradeschool life and working life, and it was steadily reinforced by how the working adults around me talked about retirement. It was something for old people.

I pictured the typical career-fueled life as settling out into three distinct phases: pre-work, work, and post-work.

Pre-work lasts about 16-23 years, while you live off of your parents, student loans, or both.

Work, the longest phase, lasts about 40 years. During this time you earn an increasing amount, and so as you soldier on through these four decades, you can afford an increasingly rewarding lifestyle.

Once you are in this phase you also begin to save some of your income for the next phase. The gold standard benchmark here, culture taught me, was 10%. Save 10% of your income for retirement, beginning as early on in the work phase as is feasible for you, and you’re cruising. Almost everyone recognized this benchmark too, yet almost everyone described it as being hard to do. I found it hard. 

[A word on cultures: Raptitude is read in over a hundred countries, but it is written by a sole Canadian who is highly exposed to the culture of the United States. So cultural norms referred to in this post will reflect the US and Canada more accurately than they do other countries.]

At least in my area of the planet, everyone seems to mostly have the same idea of what they can expect to save and when they can expect to retire. The average American or Canadian worker retires at about age 63, and this number is rising.

Some people really do love the work part of the work phase but it’s probably safe to say the great majority prefer its evenings and weekends. We like to be able to decide what to do with our lives. Those of us with jobs have arranged to sell off large parts of our lives (8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for decades) to employers, in exchange for money that we can use to build a life that makes us happy. Life is precious — the only thing we care about really — and finite, so most of us would like to sell off as little of it as possible.

For most people, the post-work phase marks the first time they can do what they like with their days without the approval of a parent or an employer. The post-work phase is typically shorter than the work phase. If average life span is a little shy of 80, the typical post-work phase is less than twenty years, and by the time it begins, the worker’s body can’t do what it used to do.

A good way to be unusual

Through a happy accident, I’ve recently discovered a movement of people who are finishing the clock-punching phases of their lives far earlier than the status quo. I had no idea what was possible for people willing to deviate from the norm.

If the “very good” benchmark is 55, then 50 is truly fantastic, and 45 must be bordering on impossible. After all, to retire at 45, you must save enough money in a 20-25 year career to pay for your living expenses for the next 35 years — as long as you don’t live past 80.

Yet normal people with middle-class salaries are retiring at 45, or 40, or even 30.

Tim Stobbs is on pace to retire at 45. One of his readers, “Dave”, retired at 40.

Mr and Mrs Money Mustache retired at 30.

Jacob Lund Fisker reached financial independence at 30 — after a five-year career making a mid-five-figures salary.

When you retire that early, you’re shrinking the work phase in order to lengthen the post-work phase, which means you have less time to earn the retirement fund, and more years of living expenses to pay for. If you retire at thirty, you need enough money to live on for fifty or more years.

This is why early retirees advocate reaching financial independence — saving enough that you can live off the interest alone without touching the nest egg itself — before you shut off your career income. This means you can live to be 200 if you like, but you’ll need to save more than a twenty-year burn-off fund.

Realistically though, most people who retire that early are going to have some kind of additional income during the post-career phase anyway. If you’re done your career at 35, you’re still in your prime physically. You need to put your energy somewhere, and there’s no reason not to put it somewhere that makes money, like maintaining rental properties, building a small business, writing books or working part-time at something you love.

But that still leaves a lot that has to be put away in the mean time.

How do they save that much?

They observe the relationship between their happiness and their spending, and they stop wasting their income on things that don’t return much happiness.

They also make a point of becoming financially literate, which means they understand (for example) that a single $20-a-week habit can add a year or two to the work phase of your life.

When you compare the amount of happiness we actually derive from our unnecessary spending habits to the amount of happiness that can be derived from years of paid-for freedom (not to mention a clear and secure financial position the whole way there), most of those consumer habits come to appear glaringly absurd.

Basically, the main difference between the ER (early retirement) crowd and regular working people is that they strive to be rational with their money, in terms of what it actually does for their quality of life.

Most people’s financial decisions are driven by what the people around them decide — which, in this culture, typically ranges from thoughtless to completely backwards — and conscious thought about the getting the best deal on happiness doesn’t enter the picture. Would you rather have five all-expenses-paid years off to spend with your family, learn a language or build a business — or drive a big car instead of a small car? It’s shockingly normal for people to choose the latter, because they have no idea that they’re making that choice at all.

The long-term effects of a single financial decision

The biggest re-calibration for me has been the shift in what it means to be able to “afford” something. In my culture, to be able to afford something seems to mean, “to be able to acquire physical possession of that thing in a socially acceptable way” — if you have to steal it or take out a payday loan in order to buy it, you can’t afford it. But to borrow money from a bank to buy a car, rather than saving the money first, is normal.

My first car was $15,000 and I only had enough money to put $1,000 down on it. As far as I was concerned, I could “afford it” because the payments didn’t put me in the red.

The car is getting old and has been paid off for years now, but my next vehicular decision will be much more rational. A contractor at work asked me why I drive a little Civic — it’s normal in my industry to buy a full-sized pickup truck once you can “afford” it, because we work on construction sites and it’s just altogether more manly and awesome to be able to drive over curbs onto muddy new developments than it is to park your hatchback on the nearest pavement and walk.

I can imagine a few other benefits. You also get to spin your tires angrily, you get to sit up high, you can haul snowmobiles and other expensive toys out to the lake, if expensive toys are your thing. But all of these minor thrills seem pretty frivolous for my life, plus you have to help people move all the time. Still, those advantages may be worth more to others.

But how much more? The extra monetary cost is astounding. When you’re saving to retire at some point, as all workers are, any unnecessary costs should be seen as being sucked from your retirement fund (along with years of corresponding investment gains) which is tantamount to adding to the length of time you have to spend working.

The difference between a new, loaded half-ton and the small car I would otherwise buy is about $35,000, in terms of purchase price. Plus financing. On top of that, conservatively, another $50 a week for gas (and that’s at today’s prices) for the life of the vehicle. Then more expensive insurance, tires, oil changes and repair costs.

If that money was socked away in investments instead, after only ten or twelve years it could easily make a hundred thousand-dollar difference, which at my level of living expenses would allow me to take four years off work.

That enormous increase in freedom represents the fruits of only one financial decision. Imagine if you applied this kind of clarity and rationality to every area of spending in your life, and invested the savings for long-term.

The most important number

The math might seem murky, but there’s really one main factor that determines how long you must work until you reach financial independence, and that’s the percentage of your take-home income that you invest for retirement.

Aside from that percentage, it doesn’t even matter what your income is, and here’s why: your saving percentage indicates both how much of your money you can save, and how much you can’t — which is how much you need for your annual living expenses. The proportion between the two determines how much paid-for time off you can buy with each year’s savings, regardless of income.

Example. If you take home $40,000, and you save 50% of that, it means you’ve learned to live happily on $20,000 a year. This means for each year you work, you put away the other 20k — enough to live for a year without working.

If you save 75% of your income, it means you’ve cut your living expenses to a lean $10,000 a year, and every year you have enough left over to live on for three years. You invest this 30k, and after a decade or so it’s grown into almost five years of living expenses. Plus, in each of those years you’re putting away three more years of living expenses. You won’t have to work for long.

Obviously by saving more, your retirement stash grows much faster, but each saved dollar goes so much further, because you need far fewer of them to pay for your living expenses. Add in compound interest, and you are creating some enormous personal leverage every single time you can cut costs in your life.

Think about it this way: if you decide to live without your daily Starbucks, not only do your savings grow that much faster, but you need to save less overall, because your retirement fund no longer needs to include a thirty-years’ supply of Starbucks.

On the other end of the savings scale the leverage is very low. If you save 10% of your 40k income then it means you insist on spending $36,000 a year on your lifestyle, which means it takes nine years of saving to pay for one year of living without a job. Your nest egg will grow far more slowly, but worse, it will need to be huge compared to your apparent ability to save.

This works the same with any income. A Wall-Streeter who nets 1 million annually and saves 10% will still have to build that money pile for 50 years in order to retire indefinitely, because he’s accustomed to spending most of a million dollars every year on boat parties and restaurants.

So, Wall-Streeter or Wal-Marter, if you save 10% of your income you will need to work for 50 years to have enough to live off the returns, all other factors being the same. If you save 55%, you’ll only need 15 years (these lengths of time are starting from a net worth of zero.) If you save 80%, it’s five and a half years. There are some factors that can stretch these numbers a bit left or right, but the general principle always holds.

Mr. Money Mustache did a great rundown on this elegant mathematical phenomenon. If the idea of financial independence interests you at all, read this post.

Having a higher income ought to make it easier for you to raise your savings percentage, but Parkinson’s Law often whittles it down again. As we get pay increases, we tend to reward ourselves with more expenses, instead of rewarding ourselves with more years of freedom and autonomy. Because I always expected to have more stuff next year than I do now, I had just as much trouble saving 10% when I was making 25k as I did when I was making 50k. This year I’m on pace to save 50% of my take-home, and as my income goes up I want that to go up too.

The two big rebuttals

Over and over, in discussions on the topic of early retirement you see two major objections:

1) I can’t possibly save anything in my circumstances!

I realize that there is a whole galaxy of different financial situations out there, including those of people who are unemployable due to disability or illness, or are otherwise totally dependent on others financially. Obviously talk about how to allocate your income isn’t relevant to you if you never expect to have an income.

But everyone else out there in the workforce, whether they’re high-income or low-income, debt-free or underwater, still makes decisions every day regarding where to allocate their money. The financial philosophy that leads well-positioned savers towards early retirement is the same road that leads people out of consumer debt, they’re just farther along it.

Early Retirement Extreme is a fantastic place to start if you’re in a low-leverage situation because it shows you what is possible even with a very low income. Most career people wouldn’t have to make anywhere near the spending cuts Jacob did to get his working obligations over with in five years. In his left sidebar is a 21-day crash course on how a person can adopt a lifestyle that saves $500 a month even on a minimum wage income.

Whether you must first put your monthly surpluses towards debt, or whether you can start investing it right away, you are still getting ahead of where you would have been.

2) But I would rather enjoy my life than deny myself everything I want!

From reading angry internet threads between ER people and their critics, it seems that most of the objections stem from one common Western fallacy: that for you to be as happy as you currently are, you need to spend as much as you currently do.

As these threads unfold, it becomes clearer that the root of the critic’s fear is always that they will end up less happy as a result of giving up certain luxuries. Every early retiree I’ve read about says sacrificing their expensive habits made them happier almost immediately (sometimes there is an adjustment period), and quickly pays dividends in other ways: switching to a bike commute saves thousands while making you fit and spry; selling the boat creates an instant windfall, and a load of invisible stress evaporates; limiting yourself to one drink (most of the time) means no taxis and no hangovers, and teaches you how overrated alcohol is as a fun-maker.

I am way happier already. In the three months since I’ve been smarter about my spending, I’ve saved three months’ worth of living expenses, which has an immediate stress-reducing effect. I could get laid off or fired and have plenty of time to figure out what to do, so there’s much less day-to-day stress about my job performance, which has actually led to an effortless improvement in job performance. I have a sense of control over my life that I’ve never felt before. These intangible dividends are immediate, and they don’t cost a cent because the money is still mine.

Critics of the ER movement seem to believe that saving a large proportion of your income means you live a life of sacrifice and deprivation. I had always regarded saving like that too — that saving means you are denying yourself happiness now so that you can have a little more of it later. This is the heart of the Western Consumer Fallacy: that happiness comes from spending, and therefore less happiness comes from less spending. So far there’s nothing I miss. I am worlds happier. Right now. I have no envy when I see people in fancy cars and clothes, rather the opposite, because those luxuries represent to me what they’ve given up, not what I’ve given up.

Sacrifice is a misleading word, because life is all trade-offs. A sacrifice implies that there is a gain somewhere, a reason to do it, but the word mainly connotes a loss. To say something is a sacrifice is to have tunnel vision on what is being given up, and misunderstand or forget what is being gained.

Do I feel deprived getting into my old Civic when I know I could be getting into a big awesome truck? Definitely not, even though I would admit that if it cost the same (both to me and to the planet) I would prefer the truck. But the personal cost is devastating: four years of work, which amounts to more than 1,000 days of doing what someone else tells me to do. The time I feel most deprived is when I wake up and remember that it’s Monday, and that my day will not be mine today.


If this topic interests you, browse the websites linked in this article, particularly earlyretirementextreme.com and mrmoneymustache.com. Canadians will find Free at 45 especially useful because they don’t have to translate terms like 401k and Roth IRA into Canadian. Brave New Life is also great. Read these blogs, explore their archives. Get a sense of the mentality and how to apply it into your own situation. Also check out Reddit’s Financial Independence forum. If the math is intimidating, check out /r/personalfinance, although you can expect a more mainstream outlook there on the subject of retirement age and savings rate.

Photo by Carsten Schertzer

Garrett April 28, 2013 at 11:11 pm

What’s difficult is investing ethically. I don’t care to contribute to the likes of Bank of America or the mining industry. My conscience won’t allow it.

Actually, the very idea of money (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqvKjsIxT_8) turning into more money (i.e., interest) is shady business.

I only drink water (from the tap), drive a very economical car, don’t have a TV, etc. My wife and I could probably spend a bit less on food, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my health (we eat a lot of organic food).

Vilx- April 29, 2013 at 2:28 am

Yeah, I’m a bit unsure about the money-making-money thing too. The average income-per-person in the world in 2012 was about $1000/month (depends on how you calculate it). So if your income was above that, that means that somewhere someone had to earn less. Also, if you stash enough money and live off the dividends without working at all, that means that someone else is doing all the work for you. It’s nice that our system allows this, but ethically… I just don’t know… Maybe I’m reasoning along the wrong lines here. I’ve never really understood ethics or economics. :P

Parnell April 29, 2013 at 7:48 am

“So if your income was above that, that means that somewhere someone had to earn less.”

It’s seductive to say that, but basic economics is *much* more complicated than that; brush up on basic economics.

“Also, if you stash enough money and live off the dividends without working at all, that means that someone else is doing all the work for you. It’s nice that our system allows this, but ethically… I just don’t know.”

So, you have a chunk of money that someone is willing to take and generate more money with so they can take a cut and increase your chunk – and that’s “unethical”? No one is being forced to do anything; the desire for more is driving the person or organization to [do something] with your hard earned money because YOU get more and THEY get a cut of what is made.

Don’t forget that savings accounts are just stupid if you’re trying to make “money” by stashing it there.

Most people don’t realize this, but money should be working; it’s the ultimate form of agnostic labor – it’s abstract enough that it can be applied anywhere and people want it so they are willing to use it to make more of it.

Whether you are an investor investing in a startup, the stock market, oil fields, or insurance policies – your money should be working, and working VERY hard.

My primary beef with “frugal bloggers” is that their prime focus is on how to save and reduce spending instead of focusing on how you can spend a lot but intelligently – so your money is working for you. You’ll notice Mr. Money Mustache finally figured that bit out by paying off the house then renting it out; that, to me though, is far more difficult than many other strategies people tackle.

Vilx- April 29, 2013 at 9:13 am

“So, you have a chunk of money that someone is willing to take and generate more money with so they can take a cut and increase your chunk – and that’s “unethical”?” OK, if you put it that way, it kinda makes sense. Thanks! :)

Justin G. May 2, 2013 at 6:03 pm

“So, you have a chunk of money that someone is willing to take and generate more money with so they can take a cut and increase your chunk – and that’s “unethical”?”

Before I say anything, I have to state that I don’t believe investing is wrong at all, but you should be perfectly honest about what it actually happening.

It is nice to phrase things that way, but remove the abstraction of money and see what is really going on. You receive goods and services, which other people must work to produce, for which you do nothing in return. You have the privilege of receiving money because you had it in the first place.

Only an economy with a great deal of surplus can tolerate an indolent, non-productive rentier class. This is why so many societies in the past banned the practice of lending at interest. If the best way to make money is to have money, it necessarily lends itself to further and further concentration.

Now, onto the actual personal ethics of investment, rather than ethics of an economic system. I think it is perfectly acceptable to live off investment income. The economy we live in is built around the principle, so to participate in our society you can’t really avoid interest. Also, if you are using the time freed by your investments to enrich your family and community, it is obviously a net positive.

Realize, however, that if everybody truly lived the “mustachian” lifestyle of frugality and rational expenditure, our entire economy would have to be restructured. It wouldn’t be possible to live off investment, and we would have to transition to a zero-growth model (in other word, lending interest would also disappear as the means to create new money). To me that sounds fantastic.

When viewed from this angle, investing in a poisonous economy in order to bring beauty and fun into the world is using the tools of a toxic system against itself. The ultimate subterfuge.

Still, be honest with yourself about when investing actually means. You ARE living off the labor of others, because in the concrete world, away from abstractions like money, concrete work must be done to get you the goods and services you consume.

Nick May 30, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Justin, G – You are missing one fundamental aspect of investing – You had to work to achieve the money you are investing. Thus, you are living off of your work. Also, investing is not easy, it takes as much or more productivity to do it successfully as the money you originally achieved. Finally, those poor people doing concrete work are getting paid for what they are doing. Thus, the system can help everyone.

kiwano April 29, 2013 at 2:56 pm

About 3 and a half years ago, I bought a composting toilet for $1k. I live on a sailboat, in Canada, all year, so before getting the composting toilet, I had to spend $400 each year to pay someone to drive up to my dock with a honey truck, and pump the sewage out of my holding tank. Because that $400 expense became completely unnecessary once I got the composting toilet, that purchase is basically a capital investment with a 40% rate of return. I suppose the ethical dimension pops up in that I’m depriving the honey truck company of $400 each year, but I’m not sure how strong an argument one can make that it’s unethical to stop demanding that other people handle raw sewage.

Now I can’t save that money a second time by buying another composting toilet, but suppose I have a neighbour who sees what I’ve done and wants a toilet, but can’t afford it. Is it unethical to loan him the money that he needs to make the same change, even supposing interest rates were at 10%? I mean I guess we’re really taking it out on the poor honey truck company, but…

I think what I’m saying is that it’s not at all necessary to invest in ventures that make more stuff and try to create demand for them. It’s also entirely possible to invest in ventures whose value proposition is basically “we’ll make you not need to spend money on this other thing anymore” (just look at a lof of the solar panel installation operations), and help others on their way to independence too.

David April 29, 2013 at 6:55 am

I’m not trying to be snarky, but Googling “ethical investing” would be a great start. There are always people out there who have the same concerns, and have written about it. The internet is so great for that.

If you believe accepting interest is fundamentally wrong, then you will have a difficult time in this world if you plan to use money at all, but there are people who do it.

Many people have moral reservations about certain social effects of their jobs — pollution, consumerism. Saving helps them to a point where they have the time to do work that is rewarding and fulfilling, without worrying about what it pays.

Vilx- April 29, 2013 at 9:15 am

Parnell already clarified the point about investing to me. But, yeah, I hadn’t googled about it yet (*hides head in shame*)

Garrett April 29, 2013 at 10:30 am

I have Googled “ethical investing,” and there really aren’t that many options if you have a strong conscience.

Money is debt (again, I refer you to the YouTube video I linked in my last post). Money is a social construct with no intrinsic value and a history few understand. The common myth is that humans lived in a world of bartering and along came money to simplify matters. Well, that’s backward. Money’s origins are linked to great violence. Read “Debt” by David Graeber.

Garrett April 29, 2013 at 10:41 am

Just to be clear, I do very much advocate simple living (if for no other reason than the fact that we’re on a finite planet with an economy that’s based on a finite resource–oil). Consumption here in the US is outrageous. Another short video worth watching is The Story of Stuff.

But when people are denied that which has intrinsic value (food, clean water, etc.) because they lack that which does not, and when you come to understand what money really is and how it came into being, the whole concept of money turning into more money can give one pause.

Edward May 6, 2013 at 11:46 am

This whole, “You’ve been diligent and saved money therefore you’re hurting other people” argument must go away immediately. Like, now! I’ve seen it cropping up on sites all over the Net and it makes no sense whatsoever.

Brittan April 28, 2013 at 11:26 pm

I like the perspective you offer here, of thinking of money saved as years towards retirement. I’ve been caught up in thinking similarly about my money–I recently narrowly avoided an expensive dental procedure, and told my dentist I was relieved because the cost of that procedure made up 15% of the money I still owe on my car.

At the same time though, I do have to say that I find the obsession with saving money somewhat problematic. I’m not going to ascribe to that argument that people “deserve happiness by spending money right this second!” but I do think that the Western obsession with consumerism goes both ways. I visited the Extreme Early Retirement website and while the lifestyle changes its author made were impressive, they’re *definitely* extreme (like living without air conditioning–I get the “well, people did it 100 years ago!” argument, but 100 years ago women like myself weren’t balancing long hours of work and school, dependent on a night of sleep that didn’t take place in unbearable 93F Florida heat, resulting not only in poor sleep but also delirious dreams… what a rough summer. Ahem). Anyway, some life changes would just *not* make people happy no matter how much debt it reduced in their lives, and asserting that people should make sacrifices anyway because they’ll be so much happier when they realize how much they’re saving and how much sooner they’ll retire just doesn’t ring true to me. I’m sure the Extreme Retirement guy is super happy, but something about encouraging others to sit at home, alone, eating lentils every night seems depressing to me (because I’ve done it too, in an effort to save money, and it sucks).

It boils down to opportunity costs. While rationally, one would maybe assume that people would do everything in their power to retire earlier and reduce debt, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting emotions dictate some purchases. It’s part of being human and it’s the driving force behind the study of behavioral economics. Humans are social creatures, and while it’s totally possible I think to be a much smarter saver than your peers, cutting oneself off almost entirely from food and entertainment during young adulthood just doesn’t seem worth it (again, my opinion, and I guess I’m speaking more about the ER blog here than your entry–sorry!).

Anyway, tl;dr, I can get behind helping people to re-conceptualize their spending and what it’s going towards. I would also agree that “fancy cars and clothes” are, for the most part (or at least to me), inconsequential luxuries that probably aren’t worth it. But I find it hard to buy the “one-size fits all” approach to sacrifice and saving. It’s sort of like food–too much is bad for your health, as is too little, but ultimately the health ramifications are just symptoms of a mental obsession, which while on the surface may suggest absolute rationality and control is itself inherently controlling.

Vilx- April 29, 2013 at 2:35 am

Hehe, I’ve lived without AC for my entire life and never had a problem with it! XD OK, so for the past 8 years (since I’ve entered the workforce) there is an AC unit at my workplace, so I’m not totally without it. Coincidentally, the summer heat in the last few summers has become more unbearable than before. I wonder…

So I think it does all really depend on the perspective.

Here’s one thing I’ve figured out – I too am being relatively frugal because of necessity. And, yes, it sucks. But talking to other people who do it as a choice I realize there is a difference. Two differences, actually. First is that I don’t have a backup, so I’m stressed. I’m saving to make ends meet, because I don’t have any savings. I’m in a tight spot, I don’t have any room to maneuver. If something goes wrong… I’m screwed (OK, so I have relatives, etc, so not that bad, but anyway). That is the larger half of why “saving sucks” at this point – the constant stress. The smaller half is that when you’ve started to save by choice, that means that you’ve already got all the big necessities down. You don’t have a bed that threatens to fall apart and a fridge that is two sizes to small. Large purchases that you keep putting off for months and months because you cannot afford them. That sucks too.

So, in other words – it’s harder to save by necessity than by choice.

David April 29, 2013 at 7:02 am

“Struggling to make ends meet” is often a result of paying too much for things. The blogs I mentioned are loaded with ideas for getting the essentials done for less than is normal or even for free. If you have absolutely done everything, and cannot possibly live on less, then all you can do is find ways to raise your income, which is not impossible either.

About the “stress” of saving. I used to think of saving as just an additional expense, when I felt I already had too many. I thought it would make things feel even tighter. But it has the opposite effect. Once you get that 3-month emergency fund in the bank you suddenly have this breathing room, and you realize you have a lot more leverage than you thought. It changes how you feel about money and your financial situation.

Vilx- April 29, 2013 at 9:19 am

I know. :) I found MMM’s blog & forum after you mentioned him a few weeks earlier in your Great Summary Post. I did some asking of questions there and things are a bit clearer now.

David April 29, 2013 at 6:58 am

Well I definitely don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all plan either. I cited Early Retirement Extreme because it is at one extreme end of the spending/saving spectrum. Most North Americans are at the other extreme — spending everything and saving nothing. I do think the ERE end is fundamentally healthier than the other end, but most people would probably be happiest somewhere in between.

greg April 29, 2013 at 12:28 am

I read through all of ERE voraciously and then took the punt over to MMM when Jacob went back to work as a quant:


And MMM later referred me here. I myself ascribe to such ideals, and have found them to be immensely satisfying as well as complimentary to things such as the mindfulness advocated around these parts. It is definitely true in my case that financial security helps me focus on more meaningful things.

And mindfulness — as well as harsh Austrian economists pounding me on the head — help me simply accept the drastic changes in the world that could crush my financial dreams instantly.

@Brittan –

I feel that this falls quite clearly into what is asserted as a more nuanced issue above, and specifically into the exact case of using “sacrifice” as it manifests itself in the standard lexicon:

“asserting that people should make sacrifices anyway because they’ll be so much happier when they realize how much they’re saving and how much sooner they’ll retire just doesn’t ring true to me.”

As someone well on to financial independence by 30, I must still admit I feel material pulls and cannot deny the benefits of spending. However, I am taking the personal position that the freedom secured by providing for my basic needs trumps such feelings. But I do not give myself cognitive dissonance by attempting to deny some clearly undeniable emotions, but rather feel I can responsibly consume as I see fit later … albeit with more security than everybody else at such a consumption level.

That said, my change in lifestyle has definitely changed my fundamental reward tradeoff calculus as mentioned in the raptitude post and in exactly the same way: I now make decisions based on returns of happiness of each additional unit of money spent.

To quote “canon”, the ERE post starts the final paragraph with “One size doesn’t fit all”.

I find it interesting you should make this analogy:

“It’s sort of like food–too much is bad for your health, as is too little, but ultimately the health ramifications are just symptoms of a mental obsession”

Given the state of much of the Western world with respect to obesity, I would say there is a very strong analogy to a slight bit of asceticism.

David April 29, 2013 at 7:07 am

> I myself ascribe to such ideals, and have found them to be immensely satisfying as well as complimentary to things such as the mindfulness advocated around these parts.

This is one aspect I wanted to get into but the post was already way too long. Saving money makes it so much easier to live in the moment and not constantly be drawn into the future, because (for example) you have room each pay period for things to happen — you aren’t constantly having to connect this pay period and the next one in your head. Worries about money shrink quickly as your watch your savings outrun your bills.

You also learn that happiness isn’t going to come with more stuff, so the stuff you have becomes strikingly wonderful and helpful. The day-to-day mindset transforms into a more spacious and abundant place.

Frank the Dane April 29, 2013 at 1:23 am

I fully agree with David and MMM. The great thing about ERE is that is attainable for everyone. That is a beautiful thought. Better yet, you stop thinking like a victim. No more shady big business conspiracies revolving around keeping you powerless.
Greg, you mentioned food and obesity. To anyone struggling with weight issues i highly recommend marksdailyapple.com.
Throw in some intermittent fasting and you will be on the fast track. Start with a 24 hour “trial Fast”, and dont worry, it is nowhere near as bad as some people claims. I have lost 42 pounds over the last 3,5 months. A little deprivation to achieve bigger gains, how can that be a bad thing?
Best wishes to all of you.

David April 29, 2013 at 7:11 am

That’s what’s so inspiring about ERE. It shows you that you have financial power even in situations where you’re not supposed to (i.e. minimum wage income). You have enough room to make enough room to make more room.

jo April 29, 2013 at 2:12 am

It’s not available to everybody. Once you are responsible for someone else which basically includes most mothers, your opportunities for income equality, savings, work opportunities, are dependent on a whole family unit. More of the work on the planet is done by women, and for average of 75% of male pay (US 2011).Added to that, females bear the burden of the unpaid work as well. I assume most of the people who are striving to retire early have no interest in creating a family or have cut and dried lines about when their responsibility ends. Obsession with money making is a male thing because they obviously have more time to actually think about it while the women just get down and get things done. Dis- satisfaction with life work choices is what makes men think that the day belongs to somebody else. A change of attitude to being alive every day and being able to eat to live and sleep under cover might help you to live more in the present. If you choose not to regenerate then maybe you could help to ease the burden of someone who works as hard as you do to make the things you acquire but doesn’t get a fraction of the pay you do and probably works in horrific conditions. After all your retirement plan doesn’t mean a thing if the asteroid hits you. We are all one planet but so out of balance.

David April 29, 2013 at 7:21 am

Pay inequity between men and women is a legitimate issue, but I’m not sure how you figure early retirement is a cause of that. You seem to be conflating sexism in society with personal finance for some reason.

The “obsession with moneymaking” is due to the high rates of consumption in society. Early retirees need less and consume less. How would working more and wasting more be better for families?

Many early retirees have families or want families. They would rather have more time to spend with their loved ones than drive luxury vehicles. I think this makes sense, don’t you? Mr Money Mustache and his family live very well on 25k a year.

It’s a very old fashioned notion that only women engage in unpaid parenting and homemaking work. In any case, spending less of your income on useless amenities only frees up time and money for raising children, if that’s what you want to do.

lilacorchid April 30, 2013 at 11:15 am

Hey Jo. I’m a woman and a regular over at ERE and to some extent MMM. I’m also a mother. Because of reading Jacob’s blog and book, I was able to turn my 1 year mat leave into 18 months without me trying to find a part time job to make ends meet during the six months I had no income. My husband also took over a month off unpaid when our child was born just to be with us. Contrast that with my friend who can’t even take a few days unpaid when his child is born.

It’s too bad more women (and men) don’t try to learn about money. Money is just a tool like any other, be it a broom or a wrench, that helps you get what you want in life.

Butcher April 29, 2013 at 2:31 am

The Ant and the Grasshopper

In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”

“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”

“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “We have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil.

When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger – while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for days of need.

Short stories that most of us had forgotten, but should be cherished. Please stop watching television folks.

David April 29, 2013 at 7:27 am

I feel way better being an ant.

But I think it’s important to point out that society tells us that being an ant means saving 10%-15% of your income. We learn that that’s the high end of things. But today there is a retirement crisis in America as companies shrink pensions through bankruptcy restructuring. So there are people in their fifties who thought they were the ants, and are finding out that they are actually only as prepared for the winter as slightly less careless grasshoppers.

Mike April 29, 2013 at 3:37 am

Brother, you speak to me. My lord, I’m developing a savings plan after reading that.

David April 29, 2013 at 7:27 am

Good to hear brother!

Rainer April 29, 2013 at 3:54 am

This seems a little oversimplified to me – in this whole article the word “inflation” does not come up once. And how is this “living off the interest” part going to work if interest is smaller than inflation (we have between 2 and 3% inflation but only 0,25 to 3% interest right now – in most countries of Europe anyway) – so I don’t see how the numbers are supposed to add up. And then there is always the possibility that the government takes your money to pay its depts – see what’s going on in Cyprus. Can’t happen in good old America? Wanna bet your future on it?

Don’t get me wrong – I like the idea of being mindful about the money you spend – but handing it over to someone in the hope that it will still be there 30 years from now seems a little naive. Just look what’s going on in the world these days.

Instead I’d advocate to build yourself a home that’s self sufficient (energy-wise) and learn how to grow your own food etc. – that’s money well spent. Taking it to the bank or investing it on the market? Not that much.


David April 29, 2013 at 7:35 am

Inflation is worked into all calculations of future gains by subtracting 3% from the expected annual return. For long-term investments, most ERs recommend investing mostly in index funds that follow the market. Crashes happen, and that’s why people diversify. But long term, the effect of crashes is mitigated. Markets do return from crashes, and you were buying the whole time, including when the market was down.

We have a tendency to project what is happening now in the news across the rest of our lives, as if a particular market crisis is a permanent condition of the world now. There are people who believe the Cyprus fiasco was the first wave of a permanent global financial catastrophe that will destroy us all, but I’m not one of those people. If you are, then of course you should be self-sufficient, live off the grid, and start investing in guns and toilet paper.

> Instead I’d advocate to build yourself a home that’s self sufficient (energy-wise) and learn how to grow your own food etc. – that’s money well spent. Taking it to the bank or investing it on the market?

This doesn’t have to be something that’s done “instead”. Growing your own food is an excellent way to cut bills and reduce your dependence on markets.

BeatTheSeasons April 29, 2013 at 3:54 am

Excellent summary of the ER/FI movement.

Yet another way to think about wasteful spending is to work out how much it would cost to fund that habit forever, and how long you’d need to work to build up the ‘pot’ and ‘live off the interest’ of that pot.

E.g if you spend $100/month on eating out in restaurants then that’s $1,200/year. So to fund that out of your retirement savings income you’d need a pot of, say, $1,200 x 25 = $30,000.

(The reason behind this math is that it’s generally reckoned that 4% is the ‘safe withdrawl’ limit i.e. if you withdraw 4% per year then the remaining capital keeps pace with inflation, and 4% of $30,000 is $1,200).

So how many years will it take you to save that ‘extra’ $30,000 to fund your necessary eating in restaurants habit? How many years sooner could you stop work if you found you could cope on fewer restaurant meals?

I do this calculation all the time – every time I think I ‘need’ to keep buying certain things regularly. You can apply it to haircuts, clothes budgets, grocery shopping, cellphone plans, anything that is a recurring cost.

David April 29, 2013 at 7:39 am

This is one of the most powerful ways of thinking I’ve discovered while reading ERE. The cost of our habits is tremendous when we see them in terms of the cost to our whole lives. Your method makes it very simple — annual cost of the habit times 25 equals the additional amount needed for savings.

BeatTheSeasons April 29, 2013 at 3:58 am

If I might be so bold as to add a second post.

There is a third big rebuttal, which is also the most stupid. Some people claim they don’t even want to retire early because they would be bored at home with nothing to do every day. I’ve even met people who have reached retirement age, given up work, and then come back again!

Of all the millions of things they could do with their time, all they can imagine is continuing to turn up at the same place they work now to carry out the same unfulfilling duties…

David April 29, 2013 at 7:41 am

Yes! I can’t believe how many people say that. To me the point of getting a career over with is so you can do the work you actually want to do, without having to worry about what it pays. I guess we normally think retirement is for the old and frail, when we can’t expect to have the energy to finally write that novel or open that flower shop.

DiscoveredJoys April 29, 2013 at 4:05 am

I took early retirement just before I turned 55. I was offered a modest pay-off to go early, then waited a couple of years to start drawing an actuarial reduced pension. The pay-off covered the small remaining mortgage on the house (we’d made a point of reducing it previously) and I bought ‘the company car’ for a reasonable price as it was over 3 years old. I still have that car.

Two points: Yes there was a little luck involved – but I had worked from around 35 with an idea that I would retire at 55 if possible. I chose to stick with the firm that offered me a ‘final salary pension’ (now rarely available in the UK). I worked for promotions. We didn’t stint ourselves, but we took mostly cheaper holidays, with only a few abroad. We didn’t rush out and buy the latest gadgets, but when we bought something (like a fridge or washing machine) we bought good quality and made it last. Credit card bills were settled in full every month. We didn’t buy the most expensive house we could afford. In summary we lived with the aim of early retirement in mind.

Secondly, when you are young and starting a family money is tight. Saving is tricky, although you can avoid extravagant purchases. But once the kids grow up saving becomes much easier. Once you have completed your major purchases, saving becomes easier.

And the cherry on the top is that once you don’t have to commute every day and you don’t have to buy new work clothes frequently, your daily expenses drop immediately making your savings stretch further.

Come on in, the water’s lovely.

David April 29, 2013 at 2:20 pm

>Secondly, when you are young and starting a family money is tight. Saving is tricky, although you can avoid extravagant purchases. But once the kids grow up saving becomes much easier. Once you have completed your major purchases, saving becomes easier.

Cost of living naturally goes down for parents once they don’t need daycare or diapers or babysitters anymore, but I think people should always be saving something. Children or not, it’s so easy to convince yourself that now is not the time to be saving. Choices are still made every day about where to allocate money, savings can always be made.

Not only that, but the earlier savings are made, the more valuable they are. If you put away $100 a day before you retire, it’s worth $100 the day you retire. If you had put it in thirty years before you retire, it can be worth $400 that same day.

greg April 29, 2013 at 8:50 pm

“Secondly, when you are young and starting a family money is tight. ”

If you dig into MMM’s history-focused posts, you’ll see his motivation was to become financially independent specifically to spend quality time with any kids. So he exclaims that raising a family is great motivation, and dislike the extreme stress of not having two stay-at-home parents.


“And the cherry on the top is that once you don’t have to commute”

One big thing advocated in MMM is ditching the commute. I did it, and absolutely love both the extra investment capital, productive time now spent reading on the bus, and all the long-gone worry and danger that comes with operating and maintaining motor vehicles.


“They brushed off the potential commute, saying ‘Oh, 40 minutes, that’s not too bad.’ … After 10 years, multiplied across two cars since they have different work schedules, this decision would cost them about $125,000 in wealth … and 1.3 working years worth of time, EACH, spent risking their lives daily behind the wheel. That’s EVERY ten years”

Maia April 29, 2013 at 4:16 am

Hi thanks for the post David, I read MMM thanks to your recommendation a few weeks back and think it’s a great approach and has led me to start saving more. Will check out ERE as well.
I think not wasting money on stuff you don’t need is a great, however you also need to not become too tight and worry about everything, as this can stop you from socialising especially.
A happy medium is the key I think. I also believe that if you are generous towards others financially or otherwise then your generosity will be repaid, so it’s important to still give and not become too miserly in the effort to save as much as possible.

David April 29, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I find worry has decreased for me. It’s less difficult to not buy things because indulgent purchases appeal to me so much less now.

It’s really impossible to know what’s best until you’ve tried it I guess. What intrigues me so much about the extreme saver end (like ERE) is that he says he has vastly expanded his comfort zones (by living without air conditioning for example) and vastly expanded his skillset. I think taking on that kind of challenge makes for a highly resilient and powerful person, who is more capable of being happy than someone who cannot live without certain luxuries. Check out Jacob’s (short) manifesto if you haven’t already:


Jeremy @ Go Curry Cracker! April 29, 2013 at 4:22 am

This is definitely the most beautiful summary of financial rationality I’ve read. Very nicely done

My wife and I did exactly this, and are now retired in our 30’s, traveling full time. For most of my career I was saving 50%+ and then had a couple years of saving 80%+ before pulling the plug. What is incredible is that despite the savings rate, we were still living in the lap of luxury… organic food, centrally located apartment, lots of quality outdoor time. We just biked and walked instead of owning a car, lived in a 1930’s era building that was just the right size instead of buying a big house, and made lots of great food at home. We thought of it as living a 1950’s lifestyle on 2010 income. Considering a 1950’s lifestyle is heaven compared to the lives of the wealthiest and most powerful Kings of Europe a few hundred years ago, it’s hard not to be happy

David April 29, 2013 at 2:35 pm

>We thought of it as living a 1950′s lifestyle on 2010 income. Considering a 1950′s lifestyle is heaven compared to the lives of the wealthiest and most powerful Kings of Europe a few hundred years ago, it’s hard not to be happy

I love this way of thinking.

I forget on which blog I read this, but it really moved me — if you have the most basic of needs covered (food, shelter, basic utilities) then you already have most of the happiness money can buy, and it doesn’t take much money to buy those things. On top of that, everything is a luxury.

One of my favorite gratitude exercises is to pretend I’m a prehistoric human who just woke up in this apartment with all these amazing tools and advantages. It recalibrates my gratitude from my society-influenced assessment of how lucky I am, to one based on the physical facts of my situation, if that makes sense.

greg April 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm

“We thought of it as living a 1950′s lifestyle on 2010 income” — funny you should mention that. It’s exactly one of my favorite analogies:

“if the productivity measures have any meaning, the average worker could have a 29-hour workweek if he were satisfied with producing as much as a 40-hour worker as recently as 1990 … Interestingly, as an article on labor history notes, shorter hours were assumed to be a natural consequence of increased productivity in the US until the 1930’s, appearing in the platforms of all major parties”


Mira D April 29, 2013 at 4:35 am

Trent’s The Simple Dollar is also very good.

David April 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I’ll check him out, thanks Mira.

Nitya April 29, 2013 at 4:56 am

We approached our life-long saving stagegy a little differently, but it worked for us. From the time we were first married, we saved my entire income. This lasted for the whole period that I worked full time. When I reduced my hours during the time the kids were growing up, we suspended this procedure, however those initial gains really set us up for life.

Perhaps there is a cultural difference between Australia and North America, but I think we represent most Australians by not using a clothes dryer unless it’s raining, or is really necessary, and we only use AC when absolutely needed. We wouldn’t think of using it as a matter of course. Almost everyone owns AC and a clothes dryer, however we are made to feel really guilty about using excessive amounts of energy.

David April 29, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Yes, I remember the dryer-guilt in Australia. The outrage over water-wasters is even stronger.

Cam April 29, 2013 at 5:23 am

The whole thing is based on a system of passionless work. If your work is important to you, retirement is no longer relevant.

Diane April 29, 2013 at 10:37 am

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. ~ Chateaubriand

David April 29, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Yes, and I think the point of early retirement is to have a chance to get to do the kind of work you want without having to worry about how much it pays. The reality is most people do the highest-paying work they can get without major lifestyle chances (like living on an oil rig) and so it is rare for people to truly love their jobs.

Cam April 30, 2013 at 6:54 pm

It still seems to me like a game of chase. “Then, when I’ve finally reached that thing, then I can be happy.”

David April 30, 2013 at 7:15 pm

As I mentioned, I have become much happier now. My days are easier, work is easier, I am less compelled by expensive habits and self-control is easier. Reaching financial independence is surely a gratifying milestone, but my happiness isn’t reserved for that time. People saving for early retirement report immediate increases in feelings of autonomy and security. It feels great just to be on a trajectory that represents the control I have taken over the terms of my financial and professional life. But don’t take my word for it.

Cam May 1, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I am glad you’re happy David. I know it feels good to find the right thing, finally.

Joe C April 29, 2013 at 6:22 am

Thanks for this David – thought-provoking as ever. I’ll be looking at my spending in more detail. A couple of questions:

i) I know you’re a keen traveller, and you’ve plenty of places you’d like to visit. Given that, for all one can be frugal, travel costs money, how does this fit into your plan? Are you planning to travel less, or deferring it until retirement, or does your reduced spending still include travel? Or some combination of these.

ii) I don’t know what your investment plans are, but how comfortable would you be ethically with being part of a ‘rentier’ class, i.e. someone who makes money off other people’s work, for instance by renting property. It’s not a loaded question and I’m making no judgement – just interested.

Thanks again,

David April 29, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Good questions.

1) Travel does not have to be expensive. Three years ago I spent nine months traveling exotic and expensive countries and ended up spending less per month than I would have back at home, including flights — and that was before I had any frugal sense whatsoever. I could do it again for half that easily. If you travel in the typical consumer way (ten-day trips with resorts and restaurants) then you pay way more and in my opinion get less out of it.

Also, I’m beginning to earn some location-independent income and passive income, which means I can travel and earn at the same time.

2) I don’t think of it in terms of different classes, just different strategies. Earning income from your assets is making money off your own work. Assets have to be worked for.

Nathan May 5, 2013 at 10:05 am

If you follow Adam Smith’s distinctions, a landlord makes “rent” from the property, but “wages” from the labor spent managing it. Similarly, letting another make good use of one’s “stock” (e.g. capital) to generate income is preferable to sticking it under the mattress. All the large and small investors provide the means for businesses to invest, employ other people, and increase the overall wealth of society. On it’s own, being a “capitalist,” even just a small one, is not unethical. As in most things, it’s how you do it that can be unethical.
It would be nice if we could all invest money in our own small businesses, but the reality is most businesses today are much larger and the majority of employees cannot own their own… they must work for and invest a small portion of their wages in others’.

Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce April 29, 2013 at 7:11 am

I would add to this, but you really said it all here! There is also something “in-between”, which is what I ended up doing (I quit my job recently!)…massive debt payoff, selling off of stuff, downsizing, then…not retiring, but only doing work I love. Like…only that I love. I have said “no” so much to new work that I am beside myself! For quasi-workaholics like me, this was a great middle ground (note: I am a musician, so workaholic musicians have fun). Love your blog!

David April 29, 2013 at 3:02 pm

There are a million options, and as BNL says below, the important lesson here is just that. I’m aiming at something in-between too, and my goal is to end the phase of my life where I do work I don’t love.

Dragline April 29, 2013 at 7:51 am

Good summary and nice write-up. The commenters are correct that Jacob and MMM are probably more “extreme” than most people would want to be in terms of how quickly they reached financial independence. But that’s not really the point. The point is that you don’t have to “play by the rules” of working 40+ years at the same job and consuming lots of stuff at the same rate as everyone else if you don’t want to. But you’ll need to make some very conscious choices about what is really valuable to you personally — and I am talking about examining every single thing you do and buy, identifying the alternatives and deciding whether it is worth it.

To me — and at this juncture in US cultural history, what this really represent is a movement against the Baby Boomer values of careerism (life’s value is only or primarily found through one’s job) and consumerism (the person who accumulates the most toys wins). Many young Gen-X and Gen-Y people are looking for alternatives to this mindset. Jacob and MMM present an alternative many are beginning to find palatable, because its doable, sustainable and more likely to result in personal happiness than what we see happening to the Baby Boomers as they hit their late 50s and 60s with lifetimes of careerism and little meaningful to show for it.

But its also very old and reflects core values that were present both in ancient times and near the time of the founding of the United States. It’s no accident that many followers of these ideas look to the ancient Stoics and the Autobiography of Ben Franklin as touchstones.

Here’s the way I’ve expressed to Jacob and MMM in the past and the way I see these movements (with my apologies to the original source):

“To everything there is a season, and the new season of frugality is just dawning.

“People will come MMM. They’ll come to MMM for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up at your website not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. For it is money they have and peace they lack. The memories and stories of frugal beginnings and ancestors will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come MMM. The one constant through all the years, MMM, has been frugality and self-reliance. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But the old ideas of frugality and self-reliance have marked the time. The values are part of our past, MMM. They remind of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will keep coming MMM. People will most definitely keep coming.””

David April 29, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Well said, Dragline. I feel lucky to have been born when I was.

Stasia April 29, 2013 at 7:54 am

It’s also important to consider just how unpleasant the job is that you’re trying to save up to retire from. I spent 10 years at a job that paid pretty well and I was able to save about 1/3 of my income. But the job was unbearably stressful and in an industry I felt was unethical, and I hated every minute of it. Mercifully, I was laid off from that job, and got another one that paid much less but that I didn’t dread going to every morning. Now I’m using what I saved for retirement to go back to college to start a new career doing something useful and interesting. I don’t expect to retire until I’m 70, if ever. But that first job might have killed me by the time I was 50, and then what use would my savings have been?

I just started reading your blog recently and I love it! Keep it up!

David April 29, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Oh yes. What you feel like when you wake up has a huge effect on your quality of life, and your feelings towards your job have everything to do with it. Quality of life is all money is good for so taking a pay cut to wake up to something you don’t dread puts you ahead anyway.

cj April 29, 2013 at 8:02 am

We began on a saving/spend less journey about a year ago. By the end of this year,we will have one debt left to pay. This has been liberating and eliminated much anxiety. We make the same money, but it is spent on what matters or saved.

Your article was fun to read and very helpful. Mr Money Mustache is a laugh riot too. weonlydothisonce.com is another fantastic ER site.

David April 30, 2013 at 6:49 am

The drop in anxiety is almost reason enough to start saving. I had had a low-level worry about money pretty much since I started my first job, and it’s totally gone now because I know I’m making good decisions finally. I’ll check out weonlydothisonce.com

Stefanie April 29, 2013 at 8:18 am

I think this is a very enlightening post and I should probably amp up my savings to a greater number than what they currently are. I live a pretty basic life style and I’m just starting to really budget now. Over time as I understand where my money is going I think I will be able to cut down. However, there’s a quality of life aspect. For example, I live on my own. I find living with other people stresses me out. As well social interaction is key for me so that’s why I go out to dinner quite a bit. That being said, I do want to cut down on that aspect. Anyway, interesting post- I will some of this in mind.

David April 30, 2013 at 6:52 am

There are things worth paying for, and for me not having a roommate is one of them. I could cut my rent in half easily, but having someone else’s mess in front of my all the time isn’t worth it.

Social interaction is important to everyone, but restaurants aren’t the only way to do that. I’m finding there are more inexpensive ways to do everything.

steph in berkeley April 29, 2013 at 8:40 am

Thank you for the reminder about living on what matters, and the encouragement to save for myself. So important and so overlooked.

Christine April 29, 2013 at 9:03 am

Oh, how I wish I had read this 20 years ago! That having been said, better late than never. Thanks very much, David, for reminding us to think!

BNL April 29, 2013 at 10:01 am

Hi David,

Just wanted to stop by and say hi. I’d never read your blog before, but found it when you linked to me in the footnotes of this post. Anyways, I’ve read a few articles now and I’m hooked. You’re general attitude is the type I like to surround myself with.

Regarding the ER/FI topic, I think the most important point of all of this is the simple awareness of your options. Some people retire at 30 with no kids, others do it with kids. Personally, I’m retiring in a few months at 35 with 2 kids. Many people I talk to are targeting 40, 45, and 50. The point is that there’s a template most people follow – but it’s not a required template. Most people simply don’t realize it.

By the way, you didn’t mention the book “Your Money or Your Life” but if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. It’s the same concept as the ERE/MMM movement, but all bound up in a nice portable package at your local library. That book changed my life for the (way) better.

nrhatch April 29, 2013 at 11:12 am

As I scrolled the comments, I was waiting for someone to mention “Your Money or Your Life.”

I read it for the first time 15+ years ago (along with “Simplify Your Life” by Elaine St. James). Two books that opened my eyes and changed my life.

Aah . . . that’s better!

David April 30, 2013 at 6:57 am

Hi BNL. I’m glad I found your blog and I’m glad you’re liking Raptitude.

The difference in how I felt about my options a year ago and how I feel about them now is incredible, even though all that’s changed is what I’ve learned about personal finance.

Your Money or Your Life has been recommended to me quite a few times in these comments and in emails. It’s time to read it.

Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce April 29, 2013 at 10:17 am

Compounding always makes for astounding comparisons in situations. Thanks for the great insight.

David April 30, 2013 at 6:58 am

The most powerful force in the universe!

DebbieT April 29, 2013 at 11:14 am

Some good points, but some holes in the theory/philosophy. The author needs to take into account people with (a number of) children and also a (large) mortgage. In retirement years, you will no longer have (so much) financial responsibility for children and (hopefully) no monthly mortgage payment. That said, we’d also like to spend our money enjoying these years with our children while they’re still young (such as family vacations – not eating out and buying expensive clothes for them). Our relationship and memories with our children are far more important to us than future travels.

David April 30, 2013 at 7:01 am

Early retirees have children, mortgages and take vacations too. Why would that change anything about the general philosophy?

rjack (Mr. Asset Allocation) April 29, 2013 at 12:32 pm

It’s good to read about another ER convert.

I only wish that Mr. Money Mustache and ERE had been around years ago which would have helped me retire earlier. As it is, I retired early at age 52 which is only a little early, but retirement is awesome!!!

David April 30, 2013 at 7:02 am


I also wish I’d discovered this kind of thinking earlier, but at the same time I’m glad I found it now rather than later. Enjoy your retirement.

Tim Stobbs April 29, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Excellent summary post on the issue…I’ve been writing on it ER for six years and I doubt I could do better. Thanks so much for the mention.

I think one of the major issues for people to understand ER is that fact each person will get there in their own way. MMM, ERE or Free at 45 are all different, while parts are similar they don’t have the same choices. So in reality there isn’t one way to get to ER, but rather thousands of choices on thousands of issues which gives you millions of paths. So the ‘save 10%’ seems easy in comparsion to look at your entire life and ask are you happy with your spending? Every coffee, shirt, DVD has to be questioned and ask “does this make sense for me?” It isn’t easy, but the results can be amazing.

Good luck to everyone on finding your path.


David April 30, 2013 at 7:08 am

Hi Tim. That’s why I wanted to cite a number of blogs, because a lot of people might find the approach taken by one blogger to be unworkable, but if they check out a few then they will see the broader mentality and be better able to picture ER or FI in their own lives.

Diane April 29, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I do my best to save for retirement as much as possible. Been socking away about 35% of my pre-tax salary for a long time now. I could do better though.

One problem I have with the whole early retirement thing is that the work world punishes people who do not participate. So if for some reason you retired very early you would pretty much be checking out of the employment world, at least that part of it that pays well. Even if you could somehow manage to stay current on your skills in your industry, that you were able to walk away for a decade or even just a couple of years makes them very suspicious of hiring you again. Even a lot of low-wage jobs will be suspicious and less likely to hire you. So if you don’t have any entrepreneurship qualities it’s probably best to hang in there longer.

My other problem is that you have to put a lot of faith in this whole investing thing. I have difficulty trusting that any of the money I’ve put there is still going to be there when it comes time for me to use it. The infinite growth thing isn’t realistic and I fear we are coming close to its end. Computer trading has made a mockery of actual investing. More trades are done by computer algorithms than real people nowadays. The whole system seems pretty rigged against the common man if you ask me.

So in addition to saving your money, which you might never actually see, I think it’s really important to learn how to live frugally. Learn how to get your needs met without money so you don’t really need so much of it when the time comes. The time might come before you have all the money you need.

greg April 29, 2013 at 9:06 pm

“My other problem is that you have to put a lot of faith in this whole investing thing. I have difficulty trusting that any of the money I’ve put there is still going to be there when it comes time for me to use it.”

I’m still investing despite that concern not fully going away. However, given the options (especially the very real possibility of inflation destroying savings at the whim of The Public and politicians) I’d say there’s not much of a choice left.

If you look at the data, the risk of losing purchasing power is actually **higher** for time horizons > 20 years with bonds, which are in turn better than cash. Equities and real assets (businesses, etc.) have been the maintainers and growers of principal.

And if things don’t keep growing, don’t you want in while it’s still going?

I feel simply letting go and being mindful of immediate reality is a good way to battle this feeling:

“I have difficulty trusting that any of the money I’ve put there is still going to be there when it comes time for me to use it.”

Did you see what happened recently in Cyprus? Governments simply decided to confiscate people’s money to pay for others’ fiscal profligacy. And I’m sure you’ve heard about hyper-inflation, and have seen first-hand the collapse of entire industries.

There’s no getting around such harsh realities.

David April 30, 2013 at 7:14 am

The world is definitely set up for people living the norm. I think most people are happy to get away from their industries, but you’re right, returning could be difficult if you take a lot of time off. The point is to never return though, right?

Regarding the security of investing, there are a lot of opinions about that. I think the turmoil of the last five years is temporary, but some think it is the leading edge of global collapse. It’s not a bad time to experiment with self sufficiency though (growing food, making things yourself.)

Kenneth April 29, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I’m a bad Boomer. Way overspent, saved less than zero for many years (went into DEBT). So I’m 63 and still working, but have greatly reduced my monthly spend, and now retirement seems possible. I read Raptitude and MMM. MMM resonates strongest with me regarding financial sanity. I’m so glad David and MMM were “introduced”. MMM made the front page of the Washington Post this past weekend, check it out. His movement is gaining traction, and the fiscal sanity he preaches may spread far and wide especially in the developed nations of Earth. I brown bagged my lunch today, as always. I took a walkabout and went past some pricy sidewalk cafes, load of people dropping lots of money. I wish them well, but I like brownbagging and walking about as a better option.

David April 30, 2013 at 7:16 am

I’m glad I was introduced to MMM too. Life has changed quickly.

I do feel an increased sense of peace between me and people whom I see spending a lot of money. I used to be envious, but now it makes me feel good about my financial position, and I don’t hold anything against them.

Debbie B. April 29, 2013 at 9:15 pm

My savings spree went into effect back in September 2012. In that time I’ve paid off $5,000 in debt and have $1,000 more before I’m debt free. I’ve also put away $4,000 in savings. My savings has been at 50% and I’m managing that even with a 15% cut in pay that started 3 weeks ago. One site I didn’t see mentioned yet was Gail Vaz-Oxlade. Her blog is common sense and fits in well with MMM. Btw… MMM led me to Raptitude.

I’m planning on starting my own business in quilting within the next month. I already have all of the equipment I need and I’ll be working evenings and weekends and gradually replacing my day job with the quilting. I know I can’t replace my full income but once I have more savings behind me I’ll be able to live on the quilting because I’m constantly decreasing my cost of living. Yes, I’m much happier “Living More With Less”.

David April 30, 2013 at 7:18 am

I’ll check out GVO. She’s Canadian too, which is a bonus for me.

arhcamt April 30, 2013 at 7:44 am

thanks a lot for posting this, david! i found a lot of insights and references that would be of benefit in my quest to retire early. i used to struggle with saving too until i decided to just see it as another spending. i tried saving 10% of my monthly earnings at first and i experimented by increasing it by 10% the next month and so on. now i’m at 50% and i noticed the quality of my day-to-day life is not actually that different. it makes me eager to reevaluate what kind of unnecessary expenses i’ve been keeping my whole life.

Candy "The Gypsy Nurse" April 30, 2013 at 9:30 am

Wonderful article! I recently (about 2 years ago) got to a point in my life where I am debt free and I love it. The stress level is so much less in my life and I find that I don’t miss those ‘things’ that I was spending all of my money on previously.

Alyssa May 1, 2013 at 11:19 am

You know this actually reminds me of a phenomenon I have noticed in my own expenditures recently. As a college student, I was able to live off a budget of about $1200 a month (this included an $800 rent). I always was careful in my expenditures, my biggest expense after rent was gas for my SUV, so my personal expenses came out next to nothing. I grocery shopped once a week and lived off of $20 a week for food. And I never felt deprived.

Then when I graduated and secured myself a biotech job with a solid income, my expenses doubled. And I mean my personal expenses. I got a smaller car which reduced my gas expense 75% and my rent dropped $250 a month so it was my personal expenses that increased. It’s as if I forgot everything I used to know about living frugally!

I’m going back to school in July so I’m going to have to get in touch with that side of me again!

Garrett May 1, 2013 at 10:06 pm

It’s tough to imagine a person not sacrificing their health if they’re only spending $20/week on food.

Miss Britt May 3, 2013 at 8:15 am

I consider myself a good saver, but I’m not saving for retirement. My goal is to love what I do so that I don’t have to retire, but I’m still thinking that there is a lot of wisdom in this post.

Anita May 3, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I am self-employed. I chose to turn my hobby into my profession, even though my university degree would qualify me for a much higher paying job. I love what I do and it actually seems I’m going to do this for a few more decades – it’s my choice and since my schedule rather depends on me and my decisions I don’t feel deprived of anything. I have never thought that this would seem odd to other people. I might write my PhD sometimes – we’ll see. My spending habits are a bit pecular as I usually only spent on either business, family or living quality (I rather eat well and pay whatever it costs than bad – even if latter means cheap). I think each one needs to figure out what “quality of life” means for oneself and then keep living like that happily. I don’t feel deprived by not owning fashion clothes or the newest technology and so on. I also rather backpack and stay somewhere in cheep hotels than book a 5-star-holiday (yuk). But I do “slip” occasionally/rarely, which just makes me appreciate the things more than others.
But: I have realized that I am more comfortable with my husbands views of “50€ are nothing” than before. I’m not quite agreeing with that as I do remember from student times that 50€ were quite a bit back then. But am getting there and fighting against it. I have started to put money away and it amazes me sometimes how the cash accumulates there rather quickly. We are paying off the debts on the house at the moment and we are putting something away so it will be faster. Deliberately not selling a flat we own and rent out to pay off the house – it’s a decision which will hopefully help our financial standing in the future/retirement.

I find some things missing in this post regarding saving. Inflation is not mentioned for example – and that’s rather increasing. I don’t mean just the inflation of money, but the inflation of prizes for everyday necessities (food, hygiene, …).
The other thing – and I’m surprised that people don’t seem to understand this – if you give your money to the banks you don’t own it anymore! See Cyprus: Not sure if you’ve followed this: for example: there was a man who saved up 1 mio Euros in the banks for his retirement only to have it taken away from him and left with 100k a few months ago.
So there should be more emphasis on investment rather than keeping chash somewhere and living on the interest. Then again: it should involve “secure” investments …

David May 3, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Hi Anita. Sounds like you’ve got a pretty rational financial philosophy.

Regarding inflation, all the calculations I referred to in this post assume an average of 3% inflation, which is deducted from the average annual return. As far as I know this is the standard method of accounting for inflation and I’m so used to doing it already that I guess I never mentioned it. Inflation of money is based on the cost of necessities. In the long-term, inflation rates in both the US and the Eurozone have been going down if anything as far as I can gather.

I don’t really see a distinction between interest income and dividend income, or for that matter rental income or other passive income. It’s all the same idea: buying income-generating assets. It’s all investment. As for the security of investments, there is always going to be risk. The debacle in Cyprus is a tragedy, and it’s up to each person to assess the risk of that happening where they live. Those who are especially worried about total collapse might consider investing in tangible assets like commodities, real estate, or their own businesses, or else they can bank on apocalyptic conditions happening, and invest in guns, canned food and barbed wire. There is no absolute security. No matter what you invest in, you could get hit by a truck tomorrow!

Freedom | Rethinking the Dream May 6, 2013 at 11:03 am

It took me a long time to learn these lessons. I used to live right up to my means with nothing left over. I used Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover to work myself out of debt. More recently my wife and I started looking at the direction our life was headed. When we looked around at the stuff we had, we saw a house that was sucking up all our time and money.

Long story short, we decided to sell our 4 bedroom 2 bath house and go back to renting a small apartment. It has been a life changing experience and has freed up a huge amount of time and money.

Sometimes it takes some major life changes to get back on track, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.

Diogo May 7, 2013 at 6:11 pm


Your website is certainly among The best I’ve come across. I’m on a similar journey and your posts are truly inspiring and thoughtful. Thanks a million!

In regards to retirement, I also love Tim Ferris’ approach of mini retirements. These are long term vacations of 6 months or more that can be planned along one’s path to explore different countries, cultures and the inner self. Life is about exploring and we shouldn’t wait until the energy and drive is gone to then retire – it makes no sense!

Of course, we can always find meaningful and fulfilling work (I have that luck) but the constant need to “earn a living” and stick to the 9-5 schedule drains a lot of energy and availability to engage in other activities – be it learn new skills, spend more time with the family or meditate…

I read somewhere that richness can be measured by the amount of time we can stay without having to sell the most precious thing there is: Time.

Rings true to me…

All the best!

Matthew Bailey May 8, 2013 at 10:06 pm

I totally think the same way. I grew up in a city where everyone makes $100K +. Seriously. Even 18 year olds with no education. Its where all the oil comes from in Canada. Although I should of did it for a couple years, I knew it might suck me into the spending that everyone was doing. So I left.

Now I could care less about expensive cars. Big homes. etc.

But I do care about life-changing travel. I allocate most of my money for that. For the price of a cheap civic, I can travel one entire year all around the world. 20+ flights, accommodation, food, scuba diving, everything.

Or I could travel 2-3 years living more cheaply in beach huts, enjoying life.

Now I work from a computer but at this point, I dont make heaps. But its growing and my lifestyle stays the same. Any extra money is saved because I dont need it or re-invested. At the same time, I realize we want to have a family soon so that will require some planning, but contrary to popular belief, kids dont have to be expensive.

Let the good times roll!

David May 8, 2013 at 10:28 pm

That’s really interesting. I was just checking website stats on Google Analytics and noticed quite a few visitors from Ft Mac. I immediately thought of 25 year olds driving $50,000 trucks and wondered what they thought of this post.

Alberto May 9, 2013 at 7:19 am

Hello everybody, I wanna say the text is very interesting and definitely worth a reading. But in case somebody LIKES HIS JOB, all this is completely pointless. Maybe the biggest mistake is not our consumism, but the decisions we make before our work phase.

Take care!!

David May 10, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Finding a job you would do for free is certainly ideal, but if we’re being honest, very few people find that kind of working situation. But even in that fabled situation, financial independence is definitely not pointless. The job may not always be there, or your health may not always be there. Your values may change, you may wish to support others who can’t support themselves, or you might just want to be able to take a day off when you feel like it. No matter how much you like the job, if you don’t have extra living expenses saved, you are bound to continue to work. You are not free.

reneelussi May 16, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I say this is greedy. Money is spent for a reason. Money is spent to keep the economy rolling. Imagine if everyone took the early retirement plan then what?

David May 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Nothing is a bigger threat to the economy’s long-term viability than the unsustainable pace of mindless consumption in the western world. Mindless consumption is greed. The marketing forces that tell you you’re being unamerican or greedy if you don’t keep spending all your money on short-term pleasures are themselves driven by greed. You are free to keep listening to them.

Garrett May 17, 2013 at 9:43 pm

The economy as we know it is not viable in the long run. Sustainable economic growth is not possible, of course, on a finite planet. The economy is based on a finite source, oil. And alternative fuels are in no position to replace oil.

The global recession or depression or whatever one wishes to call it is not a mere blip. In all likelihood, it’s the new normal.

But I don’t find that to be a gloomy forecast. We (the collective “we”) need to live differently, and that’s okay. It’ll be much easier for those who choose/prepare to live differently than for those who are forced to do so. So, yes, putting an end to mindless consumerism would be a smart move.

thepotatohead May 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Hey David,

Actually just linked through to your site from MMM. You guys definitely have the right view point. Why am I wasting my own very limited resource (time) working for someone else when there are so many other things I want to do with life. Been reading MMM since the beginning of the year and have been trying to change my habits. Hoping to get around a 50% savings rate within the next year/year and a half. Wish I had discovered this stuff 4 years ago when I started working. Hope to become a regular here.

Monkey Master June 10, 2013 at 6:50 am

I totally agree with you. And it may be not for everyone but I can’t wait to retire early! There are so many things to do in life rather than work for a salary. I’m planning to jump the ship in 2 years time, after I turn 35.

My idea is really to move from a “work-life balance” to an “income-life balance” (http://www.monkeyism.com/income-life-balance/). All it takes is an understanding of how much we actually need to live off.

I personally think that the key to saving money is not to follow a list of “how-to” but rather to approach it with the proper philosophy: What do I save money for? Why do I need to spend that much money on a particular item?

Trish Rempen July 11, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Well done. A good, clear, simple summary. And spot-on.

I own a business, started it from the ground up 25 years ago. Soon, my youngest will be out of college, debt free, and I’ll join the rest of you Long-Term-Slow Travel types. That was my goal.
I constantly try to get my employees to understand the concept of Financial Independence. The idea that every time they buy the big truck, the latte or the pedicure, they are making a choice that has a price. And that price is their time and energy. I would like to see every one of them not need to work for me – or anyone else – any more.

Hope you don’t mind if I read this post in our next Staff Meeting.
Trish in NM

Anonymous July 17, 2013 at 3:11 am

Excellent confident analytical vision designed for details
and can anticipate complications before these people take place.

Miroslav August 18, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I have been naturally inclined to think about money like this ever since I started to pay it any attention. I never formed any actual idea, a plan of how much to save, what to invest in, etc. It was just an idea lingering there for later use(I’m on college now, and jobless, so no real income), and a subconscious voice that nagged every time I bought something I thought of as overpriced and unnecessary. It also gave me little guilt trips whenever I bought a vending machine coffee of food. Oh, and I also had those “63 years, 10%” benchmarks sitting on some dusty shelf of my long-time memory.

But this article gave that suspicion a shape, a clear form, a direction. No longer is it a vague “I don’t like parting with so much money in exchange for this particular thing, this is needless spending” sensation, now it’s a conscious “I’m not buying that, I’m saving for early retirement.” decision. If it wasn’t for this article, who knows, maybe I would have been gradually peer pressured to let go and spend for the same junk as my imaginary future colleagues and friends, even though my gut would be saying “no”, with those old benchmarks reminding me that I’m doing okay in saving a tenth of all my money so that I can retire somewhere in my sixties. Thanks, David!

www.youtube.com August 19, 2013 at 5:16 am

Hence, when they’d like to buy an asset like a place or an auto, it becomes very hard to source good funding. Besides, problems won’t go away
if you ignore them. After all, doesn’t it make sense to get some money back after spending a long day shopping.

financial advise September 14, 2013 at 11:59 am

Magnificent website. Plenty of helpful information here.
I’m sending it to some buddies ans also sharing in delicious.
And naturally, thanks in your sweat!

Edith October 3, 2013 at 10:04 pm

This post is amazing, however, I just read it and am already in trouble. I spend 25 dollars a month to buy food for 6 stray cats that live in a public garden. I already neutered them (which cost me around $250 dollars, but was a one-time payment) and I plan on being their benefactor for the rest of their lives, which can last for, let’s say, 10 years. The numbers don’t lie: I would have to work for 2.5 years to keep maintaining these cats for the rest of their lives. I already buy the cheapest cat food in bulk available. How can I justify to myself working this long for cats that aren’t even mine? But I don’t feel I have the heart to stop doing it. Not all decisions involve Starbucks lattes and gasoline for a SUV. For some, there are moral implications that come from this information… difficult ones.

Rob in Munich November 4, 2013 at 3:26 pm

“Saving money makes it so much easier to live in the moment and not constantly be drawn into the future, because you have room each pay period for things to happen — you aren’t constantly having to connect this pay period and the next one in your head. Worries about money shrink quickly as your watch your savings outrun your bill”

Wow glad I read the comments, budgeting for us has been akin to dieting, can’t do this, too expensive, overshot the budget etc. But this really flips the whole budget thing on it’s head. Creating space is a hugely positive reinforcing message.

So instead of saying to the wife , we can’t afford it because we got a huge ballon payment coming, I’ll say I’m working to create loads of space free so we can stress free afford that thingy you want next year.

Takes a negative a creates a postive


Jack Mabry February 28, 2014 at 4:05 pm

I retired when I was 37. To me, working for a company is the same as being a prostitute. You’re selling them your body, for “x” amount of time, for “x” amount of money. Whenever I thought about it, it sickened me. I decided that living on very little was far better. Luckily, at the time I was in computers, and making quite a bit of money. So, I saved a nice nest egg, and retired. That was more than 30 years ago, and I’ve never regretted my decision. If I had been married, and had children, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it at such an early age. But, I still would have done it, just later on in life. Life is short, live it the the way you want to. Not the way some company wants you to. I guarantee it will bring you a peace, and a sense of freedom, that no amount of material things will ever bring you.

A regular reader of your blog May 24, 2014 at 12:18 am

I have gained much from regularly reading your blog. Not least among them was to get to the ERE and MMM websites. From your blogroll, not this article : this one I just read just now.

So, a quick thank-you post/comment to express my gratitude.

Cheers, and keep blogging!

tennis resorts June 20, 2014 at 3:05 am

Do you have any video of that? I’d care to find out
some additional information.

Michael June 27, 2014 at 3:47 pm

This reminds me of a quote from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha:

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

“That’s everything?”

“I believe, that’s everything!”

“And what’s the use of that? For example, the fasting– what is it
good for?”

“It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the
smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn’t
learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this
day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would
force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows
no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow
hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This, sir, is what
fasting is good for.”

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