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 http://EarlyRetirementDude.com or email EarlyRetirementDude@gmail.com.

17 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!

    -Lanny

    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.

  6. Interesting perspective. And yes, a bit hyperbolic. But on the grand scale of “potentially destructive philosophies” I think most of us would rank FI/RE pretty low (compared to say, Socialism, Nihilism, Wokeism … YMMV … we all have different ideas about where the boogedy man is actually hiding).

    Also of note, there are seemingly very strong parallels to “the FI movement” and say, “Disaster Preparedness” and even “Evangelical Christianity” (or pick your faith belief cluster of choice). Notions of “being aware / awake,” “understanding True Reality,” “escaping the Matrix” … seem pervasive with all of these belief systems / philosophies / lifestyles.

    Full disclosure, I actually AM an aforementioned Christian and sometimes feel guilty that I find it easier to broach the “FI conversation” with people than to “spread the good news.” Makes me feel hypocritical and like my priorities are all wrong. I mean, what good is it to be “financially free” if you are at risk of “losing your soul?”

    But yeah, from a legal / ethical due diligence perspective …. implying that your blog posts “are for entertainment purposes only” might be a good idea.

    1. Oh, great googly-moogly. Christianity isn’t a potentially destructive philosophy?

      Fuck. I’m so angry that my hands are shaking. I was raised by fundamentalist evangelical Christians and am still dealing with the trauma and people who believe that having “the truth” entitles them to do or say whatever they want to anybody–especially the brainwashing of children and the desecration of cultures and the committing of genocide–can fuck right off.

      I’ll label my blog posts “for entertainment purposes only” on the same day that “from a legal / ethical due diligence perspective” the Bible gets labeled “cult manual.” Until then? Ain’t gonna happen.

      Edit: OK. I was gonna leave it there, but when my best friend shot himself in the face with a twelve-gauge, I was at his memorial service at a Southern Baptist church and the Christian shaman giving the blessing or benediction or whatever the fuck he thought it was, attempted to reassure the mourning audience with some astounding mental gymnastics along the lines of, “God takes great pity on the sick and afflicted. Only a sick person would commit suicide. Chris committed suicide. God will therefore take great pity on Chris. Maybe even enough pity to spare him from the eternity of torture that he, and the rest of us, so richly deserve.”

      I was gearing up to charge the stage and kick the motherfucker’s ass when a friend who was there with me saw what was happening and put his hand on my arm and told me this wasn’t the time or place.

      1. I apologize for causing anger or offence. That was not my intent. I attempted to illustrate my own particular hierarchy of “destructive -isms” while leaving the door open to interpretation that others might have differing ideas (but that most of us would probably not lump FI/RE into the “bad category,” but hey, I could be wrong).

        I am sorry that you suffered trauma at the hands of “Missionary work gone horribly wrong” (or however we might want to call it). But just like I refuse the assumption that “All cis-gender heteronormative white males are evil representatives of the patriarchy” … I also refuse to label all those who might call themselves “Christian” (or even “Catholic”) with same caricatured brush.

        I agree with your response re: the bizarre “suicide sermon.” I might have had a similar response. I’ve had several people close to me die that way.

        Again, I meant no offence or disrespect. It’s your Blog, your House, your Show. Feel free to delete my comments or whatever if it makes you feel better.

        1. Nah, not gonna delete your comments…despite the fact that I’m seething, this is morphing into a productive discussion, and I appreciate the “soft answer turneth away wrath” approach.

          With that said, I’ve seen over and over again in my life that Christians only start considering the consequences of their actions after the damage is done. Logic dictates that the commandment to spread the good news requires Christians to judge the conduct of others against an absolute moral standard, and to intervene when they find that conduct falling short, in the name of love. But when obeying the commandment to bear witness causes harm, that’s when forgiveness is sought, even though discretion would’ve prevented the harm in the first place.

          So as far as judgment and bearing witness: you say you feel guilty for starting conversations about FIRE more readily than conversations about Jesus. Why are you judging yourself so harshly when the “judge not lest ye be judged” ethic enjoins you from judging in the first place? You assume a burden where no obligation exists. You swim in water without perceiving it. Forgive yourself for being imperfect, man, and lay that guilt down and move on. I guarantee you you’ll feel so much better.

          1. First, I’d like to thank you for your tolerance and (at least partial?) forgiveness.

            Your point about “only caring about people’s feelings AFTER the misdeed is done” is well-taken, but I honestly don’t feel I could have reasonably foreseen your response to my post. I think we can both agree that almost ANY philosophy or set of beliefs could be “abused” or “extremified” (not really a word, I know) such that very bad things happen. It’s a bit of a childish argument that some people play, but if we wanted to “count the number of deaths” (as if that is any kind of reasonable metric for evaluating systems of beliefs), it could be easily argued that in the 20th century alone, various flavors of Socialism have been the most detrimental. This would admittedly still be pretty soft praise of Christianity by comparison, even if you concede the above point.

            By your description of your own background, I take it that you are well aware that we (Christians) are admonished “not to add offence to the Gospel.” Of course, this implies that the Gospel itself can be thought of as “inherently offensive.” Given that the writing makes strong truth claims, and given the Law of Non-Contradiction (contradictory propositions cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time so saying “Jesus is the Real God” and “There is No God” cannot both be true, although they could both be wrong) and that we live in a post-modernist milieu (in which absolute truth itself is in question), many people are understandably offended by a “one road to Heaven” doctrine.

            As for feeling guilty about myself, the imperatives as a follower of Christ are to bring glory to His name, to fulfill the Great Commission, and to live a transformed life. To love one’s neighbor as oneself, and to love God more than anything. (Basically, Luke 10:27)

            As for “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” the context for this is in reference to Pharisee-like behavior wherein we compare our virtues to others, and view ourselves as superior (ironically, very similar to what is called “virtue-signalling behavior” today). I was doing the opposite. I was admitting that I fall short of an impossible-to-follow standard, that I can do nothing without God.

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