As a young buck from the tail end of Generation Y I’m just beginning to shed that aura of invincibility that seems to follow you around until your mid-twenties. This has been leading me to some uncomfortable insights and realizations. The latest revelation that I will not live forever, and that old age quickly creeps up on you, came while I was recently in a retirement an old folks home “retirement community”. Most of the time when young people tell stories about seeing a retirement community, the reaction is not exactly positive. My experience actually wasn’t that bad. The inhabitants looked to be fairly happy, the staff seemed upbeat, and there was plenty of space and activities for all levels of mobility and interactive capacity. The only thing I couldn’t shake from a personal finance perspective was the question in my head, “I wonder how they earned, saved, invested, and spent money over their lifetimes, and if they would change anything knowing this is how things would end up?”
Savings vs Spending
Now it is obviously impossible to know the future. There are individuals out there that would advocate for spending every cent as soon as you get it because you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I’m not going to jump to that extreme, but sometimes us personal finance-types do spend a little too much time crunching numbers on compound interest spreadsheets, and get somewhat removed from reality. Realistically, personal finance should be about using the resources available to you in order to get as much enjoyment out of them as possible. If clipping coupons, staying out of debt, using the right credit card, and/or investing in the right asset class helps you do this, then great. Those are great tools to have in your financial tool belt, but let’s not forget that they are a means to an end and not the end goal itself (at least not for me).
My Financial Tool Belt
My family medical history isn’t exactly superb. We have the whole spectrum of life-shortening genes from cancer to diabetes. Now there are clearly many lifestyle choices I can make to counter these genetic burdens, but the facts of the matter show that as a large man (6’2, 240), with a fairly poor genetic structure, the odds are against me beating the averages. While this might sound a little macabre, there is a method to the madness.
Seeing people at the end of their life cycle slaps you in the face with a big reality check. What goals do you want to pursue in your life, and how are your personal finance decisions helping you get there? In my specific case, I hope to retire early with a decent income, no debt, and some great travelling opportunities. As a teacher (with a partner who is in her final year of school to become a teacher herself) my financial tool belt is pretty well stocked, but it doesn’t have the vast array of resources that some might possess. The question becomes how to most efficiently utilize these resources in order to maximize the time I have enjoying my goals.
In order to apply this new philosophy I asked myself a few questions. Is owning a large house (along with the large mortgage) something I will get a corresponding amount of pleasure out of? No.
Will owning vehicles that I can show off, drive fast in, or brag about going to allow me to experience an amount of happiness similar to retiring a year early? No. The answers to these questions are totally personal, and there it’s definitely not one-size-fits-all. If you really love driving aggressive, fast sports cars, then hey, your answer is likely to be “yes” and that’s cool too! Just as long as you’re using your making that conscious choice.
After realizing I won’t live forever, I still dig the whole idea of delayed gratification, I just don’t want to delay it as long as I used to! Compound interest charts look spectacular if you allow your investments to grow tax-free for 40 years. They still look pretty good, if you give them 30 years to grow, but they start to lose a little lustre once you trim more and more years off of your timeline. The problem is that experiencing financial independence at 45 looks a lot sweeter than at 65! So how do we rectify this imbalance? It’s still a work in progress for me, but I’m starting to think that I may not need to supplement my teacher’s pension as much as I once thought. When I really looked at how much income I need to be happy, I realized this whole minimalism movement has a lot going for it.
What Do I Want My Future To Look Like?
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With two teacher’s pensions in the same house once we hit 55, I know that we could easily live the lifestyle we want. Now I want to know if we could do it at 45. The idea of a semi-retirement makes a lot of sense to me. We have very simple tastes, and want to live rural our entire lives. Huge variables like the decision to have children are still up in the air (although right now we are leaning towards becoming DINKs – Double Income No Kids), so there are many things that could still change, but I think the goals is possible and worth exploring. By giving up a few of the “social status symbols” that most people can’t wait to pursue, and working to diversify and increase my income through side gigs in my twenties and thirties, I think “Freedom 45” is a realistic goal. That might mean teaching part time in an exotic location like Thailand (what a great option right?), or it might mean throwing myself into volunteer work. Who knows.
The only final conclusions I was able to take from a day amongst my elders was that they were once young and bulletproof too, and that it’s likely none of them would have said they regret getting out of the rat race too early! Priorities and plans may shift and adapt, but don’t become so obsessed with immediate gratification, or building a huge nest egg at the expense of your happiness in life. Figure out what really makes you happy and is important to you, and ignore all that other noise we’re surrounded by everyday! Of course hearing too much noise is one problem most of the people in the retirement community didn’t seem to have…
Teacher Man is a co-owner and writer for My University Money as well as Young and Thrifty. Together they provide saving advice for Generation Y and try to get you through school debt free.
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