I choose the title, because oddly, these two often stand in opposition. One should think that the freedom to spend one’s time as one wishes would be admirable or at least a widely supported goal. However, it is very often the case that early retirement is a sin which is only “forgivable” if one is also a millionaire; this for a young person under 40 is only possible by either winning the birth lottery or the IPO lottery—the latter of course being somewhat less of a lottery. Somehow it is the idea of spending less that is offensive to some people. So what is one to do?
Here’s what I have done.
Off the blog, I am a fairly private person in the sense that I do not volunteer information; I will gladly talk your ear off if and only if you ask the right questions. Hence, tactically, I have not discussed my financial status or goals with very many people. I think direct goals were only known by SO, later DW, and eventually my parents. I also think that they were quite unknown to colleagues and friends. In that sense, I was living two lives. In my “public” life, I would and will participate in what I consider money-wasting activities such as eating out for someone’s birthday celebration or for the after-seminar dinner. I would also go to museums, etc. However, I would and will never make a habit of getting, what I would consider poor value. For instance, to avoid eating company lunch, I would go cycling instead, or I would play hockey. These were plausible and understandable excuses as far as the lunch-“eaters” were concerned: I was hanging out with the lunch-“cyclists”. I was not trying to get out of spending $200 a month in the cafeteria. For me, even if it had been $5 per month or $0, I would still have gone for the sports. However, it did reveal another difference, namely that of financial “class”, if you can call it that.
I remember our group leader once asking if we, the peons, thought our salary was high enough to get by. I let the others, who were struggling with their car loans, food expenses, and mortgages do the talking. No point in mentioning that I was saving 80% of my paychecks. That is not what he was asking.
Some clues inevitably slipped by, when I was overheard discussing capital gains tax strategies with my boss or giving investment advice, unofficially, of course, or market commentary. In general though, if you’re pursuing ERE you find yourself in a funny situation, where you can sympathize but not empathize. People worried about getting laid off. No, that doesn’t concern me a lot (I had two other sources of income that could cover my expenses already). Mortgage payments rising? I would offer some thoughts on the fed. Saving 15% in your 401k? Well, good for you. I was not about to stir up the hornet’s nest of middle class values, because by those metric, 15% is quite good. Got a new car? That’s a nice car. Check out my bike, it’s a nice bike, yes? I actually escaped my career quite gracefully by changing into a new one. I did not mention that the new position came with no salary—I think it would have been too great of a shock to the system. That’s that need to know basis again. Most were surprised that I even had other interests developed to a level of being hirable.
I have never had friends, where the friendship revolved around consumerism like doing things that required spending large sums of money drinking or partying. Here, they would occasionally discuss their home equity, and I would occasionally discuss my stock market portfolio. I would always discuss it in percentages. Nobody knew the raw numbers. I have found when divulging the raw numbers that people do not understand: Why don’t you spend some of all that money you have—you could easily afford … But the fact is, I can’t. I need that money to be invested and generate an income. I am wealthier than most people, but I am not rich by far. The idea than money can be used to generate more money is not easily explained to anyone with an ingrained earn-to-spend mentality.
I have found that the visible signs of a simpler lifestyle are admired, mostly at a distance: “That’s great you do that, but I could never do it”. I have, however, observed on multiple occasions that people pick up one of my habits once I explain it to them. But it is never about the money.
The greatest amounts of skirmishes has been with … have a guess … birthday presents. It is really hard for a minimalist to appreciate thoughtless gifts. Thoughtless is actually the wrong word. I’m sure some thought went into the purchase, but it was not minimalist thought and so whenever I get a well-intended gift, I also get a problem. This is obviously hard to appreciate. I have tried to explain this for half a decade now and have only recently met with some success. If you must, give me some money, but please realize that unless you hand me $10000, it is probably not going to register compared to my daily portfolio fluctuations. Therefore I urge you to NOT give me anything. If you really want to give me something, get me something that is hard or takes time to get but cost very little. Unfortunately, this is not the standard of gift-giving. I probably come across as an ungrateful bastard, but I’m simply trying to find mutually beneficial deal on a [stupid] tradition, eh?
Finally, there’s the issue of living together with another person. I think it is extremely rare to find two people who agree on everything and who are identically similar. I am too independent minded to be employable in the long run, whereas DW foresees her working at least until she’s 50. I am also more of a minimalist than DW. I’m the extreme one. DW is the more normal one. To live together, we have to agree on certain things, like not signing up for debt, or me stopping my career. (Fortunately, it is quite clear to everybody that my nest egg exists to generate money as a small-time capitalist and not to be spent.) For other things, whereas it would be nice to agree on them, like where to squeeze a tube of toothpaste, whether to have a TV, or own a car for that matter, it is not a crucial issue.
Actually, given that I have reached some level of blogging popularity, the fact that I strongly advocate not owning a car, and yet we have a car, is also worth discussing. Maybe some of you will see me as a hypocrite, which apparently is the largest possible sin anyone can commit in a postmodern world of relativism. So be it, I’m not a perfect expression of my ideals.
I think the thing to take away from this is to think extreme ideas, but also try, I would almost say, to “protect” the immediate world from the “fire”. Be diplomatic. How is the saying: Tread lightly, but carry a big stick? I would say, Tread lightly and own a big stick, but don’t carry it around.