a Lie the Truth
Back at SoftwareCompany, I’ve returned to a 40ish hour work-week. In the evenings, I pursue my own interests, and during the day, I remain focused and productive. I’m not happy, but neither am I unhappy; without the travel and on-call, the job suddenly feels tolerable. In fact, I’m coming around to the idea that it’s a good trade in most respects. They pay me a decent salary — 70K — and I’m now stashing a good portion of it aside for my eventual freedom.
Knowing I’m now working towards something (Financial Independence) gives me a newfound sense of optimism and energy.
It doesn’t take long before my coworkers pick up on my change in mood. I’m cracking goofy jokes more often and feeling looser. They also wonder why I’m bringing my lunch in to the office most days.
I was young, and stupid, and honest, and stupid, and did I say stupid yet? I told them the whole plan. I didn’t think of it as FIRE at the time. Instead I framed it as saving so that you could have a rest-of-your-life sabbatical if you so chose.
There I was, out at lunch with my six closest coworkers — people who I generally considered to be perfectly functional friends — and I laid it out. If you save 50% of what you earn, and invest it in the market, you’ll retire in 20 years, absolute tops. Maybe 15. If you manage to invest more, you’ll cut additional years off your working years. Very simple.
Two girls, four guys. Remember, these are people I liked. They’re bright and curious. Still, I can only call their reactions skeptical, at best. A few samples:
“I have 20K in student loans so I can’t do it.”
“I have 5K/mo in living expenses, can barely get by right now.”
“Twenty years is way too long to wait… I’ll be 45!”
“Might be possible for some people, but not if you’re living in the city like we are.”
I explained that I cut my own costs of living drastically and that the big things were keeping housing costs lower, not going out as much, and eating at home. Also not having a car helped a lot. This prompted a new set of responses.
“I can’t live without a car.”
“What’s the point of doing this if you have to live like a hermit?”
“I don’t know how to cook.”
“Don’t you feel deprived?”
Over the course of a few more lunches (which I brown-bagged, of course) I was able to explain the whole thing in sufficient detail so that they were convinced it was not only possible, but achievable without major sacrifices in quality of life. I pointed out that since I’d cut my own expenses, I was actually both healthier and happier, and everyone agreed that I did seem to be doing a lot better.
Still, not one of these people made any lifestyle changes. Not one.
It wasn’t long before everyone in the office knew about my plan. I didn’t tell anyone other than those six friends, but when it comes to something like this, news gets around.
Two older guys in the sales department took particular pleasure in ribbing me when they caught me in the hallway. A sampling:
“Hey there, <livingafi>, you countin’ the days down to retirement yet?”
“Glad to see someone at this company has the world all figured out.”
“What do you want to retire from, exactly, anyways? Are you saying this isn’t good enough for you?”
“Have fun eating your PB&J at your desk today, flyboy. Try not to think of me having beers at The Round Table.”
The comments honestly didn’t bother me, but I did learn something. Telling your plans to a couple of people in the office is just like telling them all.
I even got some genuinely concerned folks coming around to make sure I was okay. In hushed, soft tones, they’d ask a different set of questions.
“”Why don’t you just find a job you love instead of staying in one you hate and living in misery because you’re not spending money?”
“You’re not depressed or anything, are you? If you ever need to talk, let me know.”
And so on. It’s a hard thing for most people to understand.
When I told him that it was all about savings rates and reducing spending, he instantly understood the logic of it. What he didn’t understand was how I could possibly do it in fifteen to twenty years. I explained that it hinged on my spending rate. If I could get it down to perhaps 25K a year, then I might need as little as 500K banked. (At the time I didn’t know anything about the 4% rule – I was just sort of making numbers up.)
He threw his head back and laughed in my face. Told me 500K was nothing. Hell, he had 500K, just about, but it didn’t do him any good because 500K isn’t life changing money. This was the first time I’d heard this phrase, and I had to ask him to explain it a bit.
Life changing money is money that actually allows you to like, change your life. Quit your job forever. Buy whatever you want to buy. Stop worrying about the day to day.
I asked him what he thought life changing money really was.
I’d say about two million for a single guy. Three and a half for married. Four if you have kids.
I insisted I was going to do it with under a million. He laughed again, sort of the way that a parent laughs at a child who says they want to grow up to be a bird. So cute, so eager, and so dumb.
To his credit, he was supportive. Wished me the best of luck. Asked me to periodically check in with him to let him know how the quest for freedom is going. Yep, Special Debugger 007 was genuinely curious and good-natured about the whole thing. He just didn’t believe that it was ultimately possible.
Anachronistic Note: Fast forward to today and I’m hitting my objective. I’ll be retiring with about 650 in paper assets, a spend a tad under 20K/yr, and a paid off house worth another 125-150.
Mr. Data heard the news, too. I know he did, because he made one and only one comment about it, ever.
You know that going back to on-call duty would increase your income. And that income will help you reach your early retirement plans even sooner.
I said no thanks. But honestly I appreciated the fact that he didn’t make any bigger deal out of it.
One thing about Mr. Data. I could always count on him to be just about the numbers. For all I knew, he was a closet saver himself, and had his own plans to pull the plug on this game. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
My major takeaway from all of this drama was that, one way or another, basically everyone is interested in the idea of early retirement. Most people don’t think it’s possible, and some might even give you a hard time about your plans, but everyone’s got an opinion.
Still, I made the decision to keep the FIRE part of me private at all future employers. It makes things too messy when people know you’re constantly dreaming about being somewhere other than work.
Prisoners don’t like cellmates who think they’re about to break free.