The Greatest Life Hack of All

Writing doesn’t come easily. Here is how it usually works:

  1. Inspiration!: I come up with a very basic idea for a post. Most of the time, the spark arrives comes when I’m doing something completely unrelated to the blog. I record the idea in a notebook so that I don’t forget it. I spend a lot of time seeking inspiration.
  2. Start writing: When I’m back in front of the Macbook, I start translating my notes into a post. It’s at this time that I usually realize there isn’t enough substance to the initial idea. I rarely complete a post on the first try.
  3. Find the missing pieces: I think about the rough idea when I’m walking, driving and ahem, in the bathroom. Sometimes, I find the missing pieces in a random conversation or observation when going about my daily routine. As more words come, I modify and revise. I spend a lot of time here.
  4. Revise infinitely: I repeat step 3 over and over. I’ve revised a post 100 times. This process can take hours, days, months or even years. There are posts I started in 2013 that I still work on occasionally.
  5. Publish: When I feel the post is passable (Note: not done, it’s never really done), I schedule a time to publish.

While the process may sound laborious, I enjoy it. Writing forces my mind to go to places it has never gone before. I love the challenge.

And sometimes, I’ll come up with a missing piece after the post is published that seems so obvious, I can’t believe I didn’t think about it when I was composing. Last week’s post about life hacks was one of those times.

I’m a Big Dummy

When I was writing about life hacks, I tried to come up with examples from my own life. The ones I wrote about were weak, but passable. I was frustrated, but scheduled the post anyway and went to bed.

After the post went live, lots of life hacks started magically floating into my head. I was mad at myself for not thinking of them:

  • Clothes: I wear almost the same thing every day so I don’t have to think about getting dressed. I’m not wearing the same shirt, just an identical copy of it. This keeps life simple. Why didn’t I think of this?
  • Electric bike: I move around town faster on my custom electric bike than when I’m in a car. It’s an awesome substitute for burning dinosaur juice.
  • Creativity: Walking is an incredible tool to get the neurons firing. I take walks daily. How did I forget this?

And then something else occurred to me. It was big and completely obvious:

You’ve been writing about the best life hack of all since 2013,  financial independence /early retirement (FIER)! Why didn’t you think of that one Big Dummy?

I looked down, shook my head, sighed and uttered a colorful metaphor.


A FIERy Life is a Good Life

The purpose of a life hack is to live more efficiently. When we optimize, we conserve precious resources. And by resources, I mean money and time. Time is far more important. We can make more money, but time isn’t so easy. This is how I felt working full-time:

FIER, which is nothing more than an aggregate of smaller life hacks, is the ultimate optimization of time and money.

Live frugally and with a small footprint to save money:

Maximize income and optimize investments to generate more money:

The final step is using that surplus money to buy freedom. With some hard work and money wizardry, it’s not difficult to exit the workforce long before 50.

Some of the benefits of FIER are obvious. Who wants to sit around in a cube for 40 hours per week, decade after decade?

However, there is another, often overlooked component to FIER. This is the efficient life that becomes possible when you have the luxury of time freedom. Never forget the life hacks that FIER enables:

  • No crowds: Have you ever been to Home Depot on a Saturday morning in spring? It sucks because half of the world is there. If you don’t have a job, go there on Tuesday at 10am instead. ***crickets***
  • Slow travel: My vacations as a full-time employee were one-week blurs of chaos. We ran from place to place trying to cram too many activities in. Forced fun is not relaxing or enjoyable. If you don’t have a job to worry about, why not immerse yourself in a place for a month and really explore? At the same time, enjoy the view and feel free to sit around and do nothing for an afternoon.
  • One car or no car: No need to have two vehicles just so one spouse can go to work and the other can haul the kids around. Keep one. Or none. And don’t forget to ask for a low mileage discount on insurance since you won’t be driving that much.
  • Geographic freedom: Isn’t it nice not having to live in Big City for work? You don’t have to live in the middle of nowhere, but one of the greatest benefits of FIER is that you’re not geographically confined. Hell, I like the idea of jumping in an RV and living wherever I want.


The Greatest Life Hack of All

Mrs. 1500 and I don’t always agree. We argue over pizza toppings, the thermostat setting and her aversion to putting gas in the car (“Why is the gas light always on after you’ve driven the car??!!!”). She also didn’t agree with me when I told her about this post, quickly declaring:

Early retirement isn’t a life hack.

I disagree. A FIERy life is an optimized life. We optimize money so that we can optimize time. And never forget that the underlying hack and goal is always happiness. At the core, a FIERy life is a happy life. FIER is the greatest life hack of them all.

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52 Responses to The Greatest Life Hack of All

  1. I agree with your perspective Mr. 1500 (sorry Mrs. 1500) – early retirement and the activities that lead up to it are an awesome life hack. Instead of spending your time and money on the hedonistic treadmill, running faster and faster but never really getting anywhere- you can hack your life and achieve freedom. It’s not a short term hack, and it’s not always easy, but you can transform your life through small everyday actions.

  2. I’m with you Mr. 1500!!! Anything that can create more time in the end is a life hack. Even if it takes years and years to finally yield fruit. I look at them as compound dividend life hacks. At first it may not make a difference but over time the compound interest on that time will yield something that you really desire like FIRE.
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…Are People Who Retire Early Selfish?My Profile

  3. Beth says:

    Sorry, but I’m with Mrs. 1500 on this one 😉 I’ve always liked this definition: “strategy is thinking clearly and acting deliberating” – which is precisely what good personal finance is all about.

    I see FIRE/FIER at the strategy or goal level (depending on how you look at it), with “life hacks” as tactics that support the strategy or goal.

    Maybe I’m mincing words, but “retire early” (my over-arching goal) lives at a higher level than “automate my investment contributions” (tactic or “life hack”).

    Make sense?

    • Yep, I see your point. However, I still see it my way! 🙂 FIER gives us back our lives, so it’s a life hack on a massive scale. I’m sticking with it because I’m stubborn!
      Mr. 1500 Days recently posted…The Greatest Life Hack of AllMy Profile

      • Well Mr. Stubborn 1500 I have to agree with Beth and the Mrs. on this one, even though I totally agree with your perspective as well. Like how I really committed to that one ;)? Honestly though I think I see this as FIRE is the end of the game and while it is a strategy/goal, it takes a lot of different processes to achieve that goal. It may be the Lean/Six Sigma in me, but I truly believe that you have to have different things that attribute to it before you can say it’s a life hack so it’s ultimately the result and not the hack itself.

  4. Cool perspective, Mr. 1500! An optimized and efficient life is a fun one! And probably the best one at that too!

    Would you ever post a before and after of a post? To see how drastic a change can be after hundreds of revisions?
    Smart Provisions recently posted…Net Worth Report: February 2017 EditionMy Profile

  5. I agree financial independence is a life hack. As for the post, the missing items led to more discussion, so not necessarily a bad thing. If you covered every possible life hack what would there be to discuss?
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…Getting Others to Change their Mind through Active ListeningMy Profile

  6. Matthew in Michigan says:

    Great post, I can totally relate to the low fuel light in the spouse’s car haha!
    And about the electric bike, I’ve always been a bike geek, I need to seriously look into getting one/converting one like you did. I live a little ways from our town, and I ride mine now into town but there are some pretty serious hill’s and electric assist would make my trip a wee bit more enjoyable.

    • I LOVE my electric. The main thing it does is get me out of the car more by eliminating excuses. I can haul ass on the electric, so the “I don’t have time” excuse is now dead.

  7. I agree with you 1500. When you’ve reached financial independence you can do things on your terms. You’re no longer locked up for 8-10 hours a day. And your writing process is very similar to mine. Random ideas strike me during the day that I think would be good for a post. I keep them listed on my phone so I don’t forget them. For most of them, it takes me a lot more time thinking about the topic to get enough meat for a post. But it’s always nice to have that one that just flows on the first time.
    Go Finance Yourself! recently posted…Step Aside Helicopter Parents, You’re Only Hurting Your KidsMy Profile

  8. Mr. SSC says:

    Dude, early retirement is one of the ultimate life hacks. Plus, anyone can do it! It’s not like a life hack that requires start up capital, knowing how to code (I’d be screwed on that one) or some other niche knowledge, it is just living below your means and then saving/investing the rest.

    In Mrs. 1500’s defense, noone should be handing out awards just because you live at or below your means – that’s basic good finance in practice.

    It’s the best way to optimize my life I’ve come across so far. Mainly because it doesn’t start when I “early retire” or hit financial independence, it started when I wanted to get a life that is more like your last graphic than the second one. How to get more time with family and create more happiness – FIER baby! Since that happened, everything has been optimized towards achieving more time and more happiness.
    Mr. SSC recently posted…Retiring Early Creates a Perspective Shift at WorkMy Profile

  9. I think I’m with you on this one. Financial independence is just more of a macro level life hack, where our minds generally jump to micro level life hacks. Financial independence is a hack towards a happier life. Or I suppose it could be considered a meta life hack, in that it helps you optimize other areas of your life, like slow travel and avoiding crowds which you mentioned.

    Either way, I can get behind calling FI a life hack.
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life recently posted…Want to Get More Done? Go Back to Sleep.My Profile

  10. Interesting thoughts! I’d like to hear more of Mrs. 1500’s view …

    I’ve tried to reflect on what creates the best environment for happiness, and I lean toward self-determination theory, which is basically being, doing, and connecting. Being your authentic self, Doing quality work / meeting personal potential, and Connecting with others (relationships). If you’re fulfilled in those 3 areas, you are probably very happy.

    Time and Money help free a person up to do what they want, but I don’t think I’d draw the circles like that because they don’t automatically result in happiness. I know people with all the time and money in the world who are miserable, and I know people with no time and no money who are happy and fulfilled. I think it’s how you use your time and money that matters. Perhaps you would say the same thing, just thinking out loud here and not trying to misrepresent your chart! –R
    Rich @ recently posted…Monthly Money Check: How Rich Spends $2,000 On Food — February 2017My Profile

  11. “We optimize money so that we can optimize time” – I think this quote encapsulates the whole idea behind financial independence and early retirement. Optimizing finances isn’t an end goal in itself, it’s merely a means to an end, which is a freedom filled life. F.I. is the biggest life hack in my eyes as well. Neat post 🙂

  12. Stafford says:

    This is quality Monday morning reading. Nice post! I’m with you in that I think reaching FI is absolutely a life hack. Its amazing to me as I go through my own FI journey how even the smallest life hacks eventually make huge/positive changes in my life.

    • Thanks Stafford! Yeah, small inputs can have massive ramifications later on. Imagine if the captain of the Titanic had moved the wheel a quarter turn just a mile earlier…

  13. I’m with you. I think most people aren’t even aware that early retirement is possible, or think of it as someone who just doesn’t want to work or like work, but it’s so much more than that. Plus you need to be smart about how you spend if you reach ER, because there is in theory a lot of life to live after that. It’s not like you just stop working and play golf or sail away into the sunset.

  14. Chad Carson says:

    I’m not getting in the middle of Mr. and Mrs. 1500 on this one. You’re both smart, wonderful people. Did I walk the fence well enough? Ha.

    Whatever FIRE is – I love it! And if calling it a hack gets some people to do it more, awesome. If another blogger wants to call it a big picture strategy and people resonate with that – love that too.

    I think the most important hack you talked about were those creative idea hacks you get sitting on a toilet. That seems to come up a lot around here. Is that the secret super power that makes this blog hum?

  15. Joe says:

    I guess ER is a life hack. It’s a state of mind that’s very elusive. Most people just can’t contemplate the less work & less money lifestyle. That’s not the way we were raised. Young people just don’t value time very much.

  16. Brian says:

    I’m with the Mr. on this one. A huge life hack. Most people haven’t even heard of the concept. When I mention to people it a deer in the headlight moment. Their like there’s another way? It’s all about changing you way of thinking toward you money, and they way others have done things before you.
    Brian recently posted…Net Worth Update: February 2017My Profile

  17. Mrs. BITA says:

    One hack to rule them all, One hack to find them,
    One hack to bring them all, and in happiness bind them.

    In other words, I agree with you. FIRE is the One True Hack.
    Mrs. BITA recently posted…What is in your Happiness Portfolio?My Profile

  18. “FIER, which is nothing more than an aggregate of smaller life hacks, is the ultimate optimization of time and money.” I have to agree with this statement 100%.

    I’m so happy I happened upon this life hack many years ago and actually tried to do it. I’m still many years away from FIER, but my life is so much better, and less stressful because of it.

    • “I’m so happy I happened upon this life hack many years ago and actually tried to do it.”

      I know, right? I’m so much happier now and so thankful for this life. It’s been an incredible journey.

  19. Well, I can definitely relate to that writing process Carl. No post is *ever* done.

    Maybe it’s just the perfectionist in me…but I eventually have to tell myself “stop” and just publish it.

    FIER is kind of like that. I’m always looking for things to optimize and new tricks to gain those tiny advantages. I also experimenting *a lot* to see if trying something new leads to a new optimizations. Sometimes they fail, but sometimes they do work out.

    Would I have time for all that if I wasn’t FIER? Probably not. I wouldn’t have the time to mess with it. So is FIER a giant life hack? Hell yes — because it enables so many other life hacks to be possible (like shopping at HD on a tuesday morning)
    Mr. Tako @ Mr. Tako Escapes recently posted…Travel Hacking Our 2017 VacationMy Profile

  20. Jason says:

    I could see FIER as a life hack and probably the biggest one. I mean the whole point of hacking, it seems in any form, is to get ahead of the game in some way and turn something on its head. Don’t you do that when you come FIER? Seems to me you do.

  21. Anony-mouse says:

    Just wanted to follow up with my comment on your “what would you do if you weren’t afraid” article- I wrote that I would start working part-time and that I was afraid to ask because of the possible blow-back. Today I asked for a two week sabbatical and to start working part time, four hours each afternoon M-F. My heart is still beating out of my chest, but I did it! I’ll let ya know how it goes.

  22. So, this post kind of has to get picked up by LifeHacker, right?

  23. Since you mentioned the electric bike: some of us (meaning me!) are interested in a little write up. Something along the lines of : 6 months of using an electric bike. impact on mobility, time, how does the equipment hold up …

    • Hey, good idea! The short answer is that it’s held up really well! The only issue is a creaking sound at the crank. I either need to tighten something up or take it apart and lube it. I’ll provide a full update though.

  24. I’ve only been at this blogging thing for 4 months but can completely relate to your comments about blog post creation, especially the part where after posting you say, “Oh, I should have said x, y and z.”

    And I am sorry to say, Mrs. 1500 is wrong on this one. FIRE is absoluately the ultimate life hack. 🙂

  25. TinaP says:

    I tried composting the last couple of years and have been half of semi successful I would say. I work on it in phases – all in and then forget about it for awhile. BUT. Guess what? Check out this awesomeness. My city is starting a curbside compost program! Along with our weekly trash cart and bi weekly recycle cart, we will now have a weekly compost cart! The city picks it up and does the work and the best part…..anyone who participates can get the resulting compost for free! I know most people will naturally throw at least their lawn stuff in there if not food scraps and those people will most likely not take advantage of using the compost which means there should be an abundance of it available. I’ve said for at least 10 years I would like to start a small garden…..maybe this will get me going to actually do it in the next 1o years! No – not a life hack, but some fun information to your opening on composting 🙂

  26. Kim says:

    I just found your blog and read this post. At first I truly believed it was about the process of reading and I was like, “I thought I was the only one!” lol Clearly, though, the point of the post was the FIER hack. I never thought of it as being a hack. I’m in “nodding my head, think about it” contemplation stage, which means it resonated with me. Thanks for the great post!

  27. Agreed. 🙂 I think the ultimate life hack is having the freedom to do anything you damn well please. I think the issue is that FIRE is hard to achieve if you’ve ever bought into the mainstream ideas of debt/consumption (and most of us have in some form). Since it’s hard, people don’t want to do it, think it’s weird, or give up.

    Even though we haven’t achieved FIRE and have probably another ten years to go until FIRE, it’s been the best decision we’ve ever made. We’ve paid off SO MUCH debt and have money freedom for the first time in our lives. We financed a kitchen remodel with cash. We have an actual savings account with REAL MONEY in it. We have fun and we’re happier than we’ve ever been.

    Even if you haven’t reached FIRE yet, the road there is just as fulfilling.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…What’s the Weirdest Thing You’ve Done To Save Money?My Profile

  28. Mrs. Groovy says:

    I’m on your side. FIER is the ultimate life hack for sure. It’s funny but since we retired sometimes we feel like nothing has changed and other times we feel like everything has changed. We’re still doing many things we enjoyed doing when we were working, just more so, and on our own schedule. Sunday nights are still the best, knowing we don’t have to report to anyone on Monday.
    Mrs. Groovy recently posted…A Groovy Book Review: High School Money HacksMy Profile

  29. Team CF says:

    Well, in that case we are hacking our way to even more happiness! Life can be so good sometimes 🙂
    Team CF recently posted…February 2017 Dividend UpdateMy Profile

  30. I love the term “dinosaur juice”! I like to say that we are ‘fossil fools’. 🙂
    Primal Prosperity recently posted…From Cubicle to CoffinMy Profile

  31. Have to say I agree with you here, sorry Mrs 1500!

    As you say it is in reality a huge bunch of smaller hacks but it all adds up to one huge and monumental life hack.

    Finally sorry to be picky but FIER? come on man it’s FIRE and you know it ;op


  32. Ed69 says:

    I can get behind FIER as a life hack. Since the standard of practice is to retire at 65 and ride off into the sunset then it is a life hack to retire early. Same as to spend the original asking price on travel vs. travel hacking and getting your flight for jumping through some hoops and earning airline miles.

    One of my goals is the ‘slow travel’ I want to take my time and do what I want, when I want, when I go on vacation. At early retirement, it won’t be a vacation, it will be a way of life. I have seen or heard from too many friends at work state how they are going on vacation to where ever and each day is scheduled out from when they get up to how long they have in the bathroom, meals, transportation, etc. etc. Uggh, that sounds more like work to me….

  33. Mrs.Wow says:

    Hack or not, the bottom line is optimization and efficiency. Spending less time doing things we have to do and more time doing what we want… like drinking beer with an inflatable dinosaur!

  34. One of my goals is the ‘slow travel’ I want to take my time and do what I want, when I want, when I go on vacation. At early retirement, it won’t be a vacation, it will be a way of life. I have seen or heard from too many friends at work state how they are going on vacation to where ever and each day is scheduled out from when they get up to how long they have in the bathroom, meals, transportation, etc. etc. Uggh, that sounds more like work to me….

    • Holy cow, this is one of the coolest things I’ve read in a while: “it won’t be a vacation, it will be a way of life”

      That is beautiful! I love how that puts travel in a completely different context. Really cool. Best of luck!

      • Ed69 says:

        Weird, the second half of my comment reposted under this 7 days later. I hope I haven’t been hacked 😉

  35. davidhai says:

    I think that time does not come back so make the most of it to make our lives more enjoyable.Thanks!

  36. Amber tree says:

    For the first time, our travel plan will be slow travel. I like the approach: “At the same time, enjoy the view and feel free to sit around and do nothing for an afternoon.”

    Kinda like the comment from cong above… We are not yet FI, so, the start and end date are planned.

    And then you finish the post with the best conclusion of all: “And never forget that the underlying hack and goal is always happiness”. I came to that conclusion as well. Reaching FI is only an enabler for that. When I can increase the happiness in life at a cost (read delay FI) then I will do. And I have done already a few times in the past.

  37. DVLXX says:

    I’m with you. I think most people aren’t even aware that early retirement is possible, or think of it as someone who just doesn’t want to work or like work, but it’s so much more than that. Plus you need to be smart about how you spend if you reach ER, because there is in theory a lot of life to live after that. It’s not like you just stop working and play golf or sail away into the sunset.

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