When I first discovered the online financial independence/early retirement community a few years back, I was captivated. It’s an alluring proposition: grow your income and learn to live on less, and you can stop working in as little as 5-10 years. I immediately reduced my spending dramatically, poring over my credit card statements looking for every opportunity to cut back.
But, you know what? This whole early retirement thing is a crock. After a couple years of scraping by and minimizing my spending, I started realizing that all those Yahoo! commenters are on to something: sure, you can live a “quasi destitute life just to ‘retire’ at 35,” as one wise individual told Steve at Think Save Retire, but you’ll obviously be leading a miserable existence.
Forget it! At the beginning of the year, I made my New Year’s resolution: for one year, I was going to live like a true rock star. Screw all this nonsense about savings rate targets and “spending less than you earn.” I was going to actually enjoy myself, for once.
2015 has passed, and it was truly was the year that I lived and partied like a multimillionaire. Here are just a few highlights from the year I threw frugality to the wind:
- Rang in the New Year with crab legs and bottles of champagne
- Flew to California for a luxurious ski weekend in Tahoe
- Met a college friend in Portland, Oregon, for a weekend full of craft beer and gourmet dining
- Vacationed in New York City with two of my best friends
- Hosted a lavish Super Bowl party
- Spent a weekend touring Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley wine country
- Attended a dozen concerts, including securing the best seats in the house for a symphony show with one of my favorite musicians
- Hosted numerous friends from around the country, enjoying some of the best food and entertainment in the city
- Took a week-long vacation to one of the country’s premier ski resorts
- Ate and drank at some of the finest restaurants and bars in the Pacific Northwest
- Enjoyed pre-game on-field access at a Major League Soccer match
- Flew to San Francisco 6+ times and enjoyed evenings out with friends and all my favorite burrito joints
- Vacationed at a remote cabin on the water in rural Kitsap County, Washington
- Danced on a boat cruise along the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon
- Spent summer weekends drinking mimosas and swimming at the beach
- Partied in Las Vegas until 5 o’clock in the morning
- Celebrated a family member’s anniversary with a private retreat at a New Mexico winery
- Vacationed for friends’ weddings in California, Michigan, and Wisconsin
- Traveled to Chicago on a whim for an afternoon to enjoy deep dish pizza and a walk down Michigan Avenue
- Celebrated my birthday in style with dinner at my favorite restaurant, cocktails at an upscale bar, and dessert at a world-class bakery
- Camped in some of the most pristine natural forest land in the U.S. multiple summer weekends
- Took my parents to the U.S. Open professional golf tournament
- Attended a friend’s bachelor party weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, including renting a beach house and kayaking around Charleston Harbor
- Spent another long weekend in New York City, complete with Midtown Manhattan hotel, fancy brunches, New York pizza, and brewery-hopping around Brooklyn and Queens
- Flew to the Midwest and met friends for drinks and sushi
- Attended the National Women’s Soccer League championship game with second-row seats
- Vacationed in Ireland for three weeks for a wedding, Christmas, and New Year’s
Wow, what a year! All you frugal weirdos can keep your rice and beans and your lonely nights at home. THIS is living.
Sadly, the year has come to a close, and it’s time for me to reconcile the bank statements and evaluate my spending for the year. With all that extravagant living, I’m sure it’s going to be ugly. Drumroll, please.
In 2015, my total spending was…
If that’s not evidence that you can live a laughably luxurious life without spending a ton of money, I don’t know what is. I have plenty of advantages, of course – I have a flexible job, I don’t have kids, I don’t have debt payments, I don’t have health problems… the list goes on. But I know plenty of people in my situation who can’t even save 10% of their incomes, let alone 50% or more.
It all comes down to the most basic rule of frugal living: Optimize spending on things you value; eliminate spending on things you don’t. If it’s not apparent from my list, I value a few things above all others:
- Time with friends and family
- Great food and drink
- The great outdoors
I’m willing to spend money on all of these, but I optimize whenever possible. For all the U.S. travel I did in 2015, for example, I spent less than $500 on airfare and less than $200 on lodging – made possible by a combination of airline miles, hotel points, credit card travel hacking, and planning vacations around business travel.
For everything else, I strive to eliminate as much spending as possible. In spite of my rock star lifestyle, you’ll note the absence of a variety of things I do not value:
- A big, expensive house
- A new car in the driveway
- Cable or satellite TV
- New electronics
- New clothes
- Gym membership
- Pretty much anything else not in the prior list
In 2016, I think we’ll plan to continue living like rock stars … all while living out of a 20-year-old minivan! Hey, it might not be MTV Cribs material, but it couldn’t be more aligned with the things we value most.
Happy New Year!