My best advice for new FI/ER-seekers

If you’ve just discovered the financial independence/early retirement movement and you’re thinking about joining it, I’d like to offer you the single most important piece of advice I know.

It’s not just a numbers game.

Yes, FI/ER is a cool idea. After almost thirteen years of of early retirement I can tell you from personal experience that attaining financial freedom and getting out of the workforce is one of the top three life-changing moments I’ve had (behind getting married and having a daughter.)

And you can do it. FI/ER within your grasp. However, you need to understand that there’s a very, very serious side to the decision. It ain’t all kittens and orgasms.

I recently read a 2013 Gallup poll that said:

Just 30 percent of employees are engaged and inspired at work, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, which surveyed more than 150,000 full- and part-time workers during 2012. That’s up from 28 percent in 2010. The rest … not so much. A little more than half of workers (52 percent) have a perpetual case of the Mondays—they’re present, but not particularly excited about their job.

So, yeah, half or more of the workforce would like to escape employment. Give the open office environment, the six-figure student debt, the nickel-and-diming, the uncompensated hours, the multi-year unpaid internships…who wouldn’t like to shuck all that bullshit and get their freedom back, right?

I give out a lot of advice on this blog, and I joke around about it, but what’s constantly in the back of my mind is: if I tell someone to do this, that, and the other thing, and that’s the guaranteed path to FI/ER, I could inadvertently cause irreparable harm.

Imagine a scenario where a guy who’s twenty-three discovers FI/ER and immediately jumps down the rabbit hole. But in his initial excitement he discovers that he and his girlfriend are incompatible when it comes to the spending/saving balance, and during an ensuing fight over money they break up.

And then after a few months of FI/ER pursuit he finds himself to be terribly lonely, and realizes his now ex-girlfriend was the center of his world, but she’s since moved on. So he goes out and gets drunk and crashes his car into a telephone pole on the way home.

Ok, that’s a worst-case scenario; grim hyperbole to illustrate a point…which is that committing to FI/ER is an enormous lifestyle change; one you may well be factoring into all your decisions. Who you hang out it, what you do, where you live, etc.

Are you comfortable with that tradeoff?

In short: if you focus on FI/ER to the exclusion of all else it’s possible to wreck things that are crucial to your mental and even physical well-being. So please please please do some heavy thinking about that before you even start working on the numbers.

Because–and again, I stress this–it’s not just a numbers game. You’ll literally be casting off your old life for the sake of entering a new one. It’s not a decision to undertake lightly.

And that’s my best advice.

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit or email

12 thoughts

  1. Quite true. I’ve found myself doing things I never would have done pre-FIRE life. It’s a complete mind shift and lifestyle shift, but oh man, I wouldn’t go back to my old ways for anything. 🙂 You can’t trade the feeling of accomplishment and security for all the fun toys in the world.

  2. I’ve just gotten started around 2 years ago, luckily together with my SO. So won’t be crashing into trees… I took a while before I fully understood the meaning of being financial independent, and the further we got the more our views on life, people and our values changed. As Mrs. Picky Pincher says, I wouldn’t turn it back either.

    I’m not there yet for a long time, but I’ve also encountered the negative feeling of feeling stuck in my current (working) life more and more. Which isn’t something I had anticipated on. This advice is something that is quite meaningful and sometimes easy to overlook.

  3. I jumped on the bandwagon a little over a year ago. I changed a lot about how I consume and definitely how I think about spending. However, my wife is completely not on board. She likes to spend money. She feels that it is her right to spend how she wants since she works and earns. While I can see her side of it, I am the one who hates to work and wants to get out while I am young(ish) and she loves her job. Even if I were to retire, she would want to keep working. Since I do not have her full support, my individual FI/RE journey has become more of just moderately spending less and saving a bit more as a household. While that is excellent, it will not get me to where I want to be any time soon.

    I must point out though that there is NO danger of this harming our marriage in any way. She will always be more important to me than anything and I would give up the pursuit of FI/RE in an instant if I saw it bearing down on our relationship.

    1. >She will always be more important to me than anything and I would give up the pursuit of FI/RE in an instant if I saw it bearing down on our relationship.

      Great perspective. “How do I get my SO on board?” sounds so one-sided. “How & what do we get on board together?” is a much better way to put it.

    2. My situation is similar. Wife is more spendy than me because she works hard and “deserves it”. I’m the one that is all gung-ho about reaching FI so I’m more conservative with my spending. She’s on board with both of us retiring soon-ish, but she’s not the one driving the FI bus. I have financial goals, deadlines, etc but to her it’s fine if we take a few detours along the way.

      It’s all good though. We’ll get there together.

        1. Right now it’s more spendy that a nice meal, but that’s okay because I know that level of spending will go down in a few months.

  4. ERD –

    Damn… wow… just very very good to see this perspective. I can see signs of it as well in my life and I need to reign a few things in. Very good post. Still stunned that I needed to read this and how much it just impacted me!


    1. Scary thing, isn’t it? I look back on my own pursuit of FI/ER and I can think of at least a couple of wonderful things I missed out on. Still, the prize at the end was nice. 🙂

  5. You mean everyone who reads blogs and takes advice isn’t well-adjusted, social, and considering things in context? Gasp! No, seriously, probably a good caveat/reminder/kick in the butt for a lot of folks…it’s easy to get *too* passionate about finances. My wife reminds me sometimes, because she doesn’t enjoy talking about finances nearly as much as I do, even though I’m extremely blessed that we are very much on the same page about finances and future goals.

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