All the rusted signs we ignore throughout our lives,
Choosing the shiny ones instead.
–Thumbing my Way, Pearl Jam
Whoah, last week was interesting. If you’ve been paying close attention, you know that I made my goal*,**:
And here is the proof:
What did I do to celebrate? I took the family out to Dairy Queen for a treat. And let me tell you, I went off the deep end. No little cone or mini-sundae for me. As soon as I laid eyes on the Triple Chocolate Brownie, my lizard brain took over and all willpower flew out the window. I scarfed it down with reckless abandon. This resulted in a painful case of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia***.
Now that we got that big money goal out of the way, you’re probably expecting me to say something profound, important and moving. I too expected that I’d have something profound, important and moving to say. My brain had other plans:
- Me: That was a fun ride, wasn’t it?
- Brain: Whatever.
- Me: Whatever? Really? We just made our life’s financial goal and you have nothing to say?
- Brain: Nope. I’m coming up empty.
- Me: Really? What the hell am I supposed to write then? The main point of this blog is financial independence. This is huge. Now that we’ve accomplished it, you shut up? I usually can’t turn you off!
- Brain: Sorry dude. I’ve got nothing. Also, I need food. Can we get another one of those chocolate brownie things at Dairy Queen?
- Me: No.
Perhaps it hasn’t hit me yet. Or maybe something else is going on. While I have the money part figured out, maybe I know deep down that I still need to work on the “life” part which is far more important. Money is nothing more than a tool to live right. Money is easy. Living right is hard.
So, Mr. Brain couldn’t come with anything profound, but I have a couple thoughts anyway.
Broke college kid (spaghetti!!!)
Very little in my life has changed or will ever change. As I type this at 5am on Saturday morning, my “to do” list for the day includes:
- Change the oil on the Element
- Cut hair in the garage with the trusty Wahl shaver
- Clean all of the damn diet Mountain Dew cans out of my damn office
- Go to Home Depot with the Mrs. to get supplies for our final remodeling project
- Play Contract Bridge with friends tonight
The lifestyle of a typical millionaire isn’t private jets and caviar. I am typical and my life is not exciting. No new car shopping. No visit to a mall seeking out crap to buy. No weekend in Aspen. Boooooorrrrrrring. (Mrs. 1500 note: Speak for yourself. I’ve got some shopping to do…)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I’m content with my life as it is now. The idea of more stuff actually grates on me. More stuff == more time to take care of the stuff. No thank you. I have enough to do already. I need every minute.
I still feel like the same guy I was in college where all of my food and spending money came from a job that paid me less than $40/week. Of course, my quality of life is a little better than it was then. I no longer eat spaghetti 5 days/week.
And I really did eat spaghetti constantly in college. It was easy and cheap. I still remember the day I didn’t have to eat it anymore. Let’s take a little trip in the Wayback Machine.
Everyone remembers certain days in their lives. If you’re around 40, I’ll bet you remember where you were when:
- The Challenger exploded: I was in the 5th grade. My principal knocked on the classroom door and told my teacher that they needed to talk in the hallway. A minute later, my teacher came back in tears. After she regained her composure, she blurted out, “The Challenger exploded.” The scene chills my spine to this day.
- Kurt Cobain killed himself: I had just got back from a university class and my roommate told me that the lead singer of Nirvana was dead. We didn’t like each other, so I thought he was just screwing with me.
- 9/11 happened: I was at work when a scared and agitated co-worker told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. So what I thought. Some yahoo had crashed his Cessna into a building, no big deal. CNN.com was down, but when I finally got through, my eyes nearly popped out of my head as I realized the horror of it all.
And then, there was the grocery store… I had just been paid for the first time from my first real job after college. It was for two weeks of work and came out to about $1,200. After depositing the check, the first thing I did was go to a grocery store and buy ground beef. Because a pound of meat was about $3, this was something I never purchased in college. It was a glorious day that I still remember well.
So, here I am 17 years later and some stuff has changed:
- I can buy meat whenever I want to (although I don’t that often as vegetables are better for my body than animal flesh)
- My beer expenses have grown as Keystone Light has given way to fancy microbrews
However, the important stuff has stayed the same:
- That 2003 Honda Element now has 160,000 miles on it. Since it runs fine, there is no need to replace it.
- I still enjoy hard work. I mow my own lawn and fix stuff myself when it breaks.
At the core, I value efficiency and simplicity. In some cases, it may seem like I do things to save money, but that’s not the case. For example, it would take me far longer to go to Supercuts or Jiffy Lube than it takes me to cut hair and change oil myself. Time is everything. A side benefit is saving money.
The best joys in life are still the simple things; a bike ride on a warm day, listening to live music while laying in the grass on a summer evening, having two completely free hours to spend with a great book, walking around town with the kids and writing right here on this blog. It’s trite, but true; the best things aren’t things at all.
But, am I a fraud?
What made FI possible for me, plain and simple, is fear and insecurity. We weren’t poor growing up, but at times, not far from it. Until fairly recently, I’ve been terrified of not having money. I used to have nightmares about it.
The question that I ask myself is this:
If I had grown up under better circumstances, would I still have good money habits?
I have no idea. I’ve always enjoyed hard work. I got nothing but As in university, graduating magna cum laude in Biology and Chemistry. However, there are plenty of other hard workers who spend every cent that comes in and then some.
The folks who impress me most are those who grew up normally, but still somehow came to the conclusion that a simple and frugal life is the way to go. The Frugalwoods and Mr. Money Mustache come to mind.
I suppose that I should stop thinking about all of this as it doesn’t matter anymore. Even if the motivation is different, the result is the same. And my nightmares are gone now. I’m a different and better person. That pile of money equals security and time.
Where do we go now?
I’ve been thinking about my life a lot lately. The thought I’ve had is that I’ve been living on a superhighway, pedal to the metal for the past 20 years. I’ve had no time to even look sideways. All too frequently, I’ve pushed the speed limit with bad results. It’s time to slow down.
I have no idea what an average day will be like for me in a year. One thing I know for sure is that it will be anything but average. I hope the rest of my days hold the same. It’s so much more interesting to have an open and unplanned road ahead instead of hours behind computer screens, selling my time away, serving someone else.
It’s time to get off that superhighway and start meandering down the country roads. There is so much to see and do. Besides, those shiny signs are boring and repetitious. The old rusty ones have character and stories to tell.
All the rusted signs we ignore throughout our lives,
Choosing the shiny ones instead.
I turned my back, now there’s no turning back.
No matter how cold the winter, there’s a springtime ahead.
*My goal isn’t to have $1,120,000 at the end of 1500 days, but at any time before the day count was up. Why? It all goes back to the 4% Rule. Remember that our little friend, Mr. 4%, is nothing more than the most conservative safe withdrawal rate. So, if I were to quit my job now, I could spend about $44,000 in my first year of retirement. I’d stick very close to that number too because market valuations are ambitious. Let’s say that Mr. Market caught a cold tomorrow and my portfolio dropped down to $800,000. No big deal. This would mean I’d be safer stretching my spending a little north of 4%.
**Careful readers also may have noticed that I moved the goalposts once. My original goal was $1,000,000. I later changed it to $1,000,000 and no debt. This new goal required me to either pay off my house or increase my money pile enough to cover my mortgage debt.
When I started the blog, we were living in a neighborhood we hated and in the process of selling our home. We will be in our current home for at least the next 12 years, so my numbers are on firm footing now. As of my April mortgage statement, we have a little under $120,000 to go on the mortgage. So, to consider myself FI, I’d need $1,119,840.81:
***Who ever said you don’t learn anything here on 1500 Days???
****Go get yourself one of those brownie things at DQ. It is delicious. Just watch out for that sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia…
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