One of the most common objection consumers have to extreme early retirement is that it’s impossible to enjoy life on a low budget and therefore not worthwhile. That spending 75% of the best daylight hours working 9-5 so they can afford to “live a little” for the next 40 years is a better strategy.

I’ve heard many of these objections and they all boil down to statements like this (which I lifted off the comment thread of a single article about extreme early retirement)


  • “…shouldn’t wait for tomorrow, but have fun now”
  • “…can’t afford little luxuries”
  • “…don’t want to live in austerity”
  • “…doesn’t enjoy good food”
  • “…going to be missing out on concerts, games, toys…”
  • “…can’t buy nice gifts”
  • “…should live for the moment and don’t count on an uncertain future”
  • “…can’t buy a collection of nice shoes and purses”
  • “…never leaves the house”
  • “…has no life”

This pattern of objections is repeatable. It happens every single time. In general, if you ask the average consumer what enjoying life is all about, it distills to the following trifecta: buying tickets, going to restaurants, and shopping.

That’s it. Those three things are all there is to enjoying life. The uninformed opinion is that if you don’t have these these three things in your life, your life sucks. I know, because that’s what I used to think. And it’s also what consumers keep bringing up.

Ever wonder why that might be?

It’s true too! But only insofar that you’re unaware of any alternatives to buying tickets, going to restaurants, and shopping.

When I first started saving massive amounts of money by reducing my spending, I had no replacements. Now, if you have no other known way to enjoy life than pulling out your credit card to buy something, then having cut up your credit card is going to suck. By not spending, you just lost the only way you know how to have fun.

What to do?

Well, once “your eyes are opened”—after some investigative effort on your part which is as easy as clicking on a link these days, you’ll find that there are tons of things to do. Especially once your time is fully liberated. All you have to do is learn about them.

Here’s a list of things I did after retiring from my career at 33.

Work:
Quit a career that I didn’t enjoy.
Started a new career that I do enjoy.

Sports:
Placed 1st and 2nd in 2010 in two bay regatta series on a J/105 (35′ yacht) [was out on the water racing almost every week]
On the winning team of the city’s roller hockey league four seasons in a row (center forward)
Various bike rides (3 centuries) around the east bay. Also a grind up Mt Diablo.
3 years of Japanese swordsmanship (three times per week).
Clean&Press 2×70 kettlebells.

Skills/hobbies:
Bike repair
Furniture making
Gardening
Ham radio
Book publishing
Investing

Profitable projects/business/second income:
Freelance editing
Book selling
Nonprofit startup founding

Writings:
The ERE book + another one.
The ERE blog/wiki
Various magazine articles

Readings:
Lots

Adventures:
Lived in an RV (I consider that an adventure. Not an austerity measure.)
Ocean racing
Dinghy sailing on the local lakes and estuaries
Mountain biking in the hills of the east bay
Road biking around the east bay
Long distance running (only 13 miles, but self supported in 90F)
A trip to Yellowstone and Nevada desert
A road/tent camping trip to Portland, OR and back again
A road trip across the country.

It might surprise you just how little money I spent on all this. But it was not a lot. It was less than what the average household spends on furniture per year.

This is just my list. My idea of fun is mainly mastering various skills (intellectual, technical, and sports) and creating big projects. Other people have other ideas of what fun is. The point is, you can almost always find a low/no-cost way to have fun no matter what your interests are. Do you want to travel? You could move to South America for a few months and live there ERE style for $300/month. Here are some other examples from other people pursuing ERE.

So let’s compare that list to the rather expensive entertainment budget of the average consumer


  • Buying tickets to see a 4 hour long game.
  • Eating a steak at a restaurant
  • Shopping

… for 40 years … maybe interspersed with a trip to Disneyland or some other country. That’s okay if you enjoy that. But there are also many other things to do. What I’m saying is that not spending money is not limiting.

However!

It does take some time to figure out what to do without spending money and how to do it. This typically takes 6-12 months. I, therefore, also want to warn any neophyte that this period probably IS going to frustrating and suck and feel like you’re not living. It’s also going to take some effort. If you’re not spending money in order for other people to make your life fun by serving you steak and playing baseball in front of you, you have to make it fun yourself. This is a skill that most people lack having spent most of their waking hours in a largely uninspiring job. However, I’m quite confident that everybody is capable of figuring that out if they put their mind to it.