When I was thirty-two and still four years out from early retirement, I did some math I shouldn’t’ve and realized I had roughly a thousand workdays left before I could quit.
I felt sick. We owned a sailboat at the time—yeah, yeah, I get that I was sandbagging myself—and I wanted more than anything else to collect my passport, cash a big check, stock the boat with food and booze, slip the mooring lines, ghost out of the harbor, and leave my old life behind, forever.
At some point during your accumulation phase I guarantee you’ll feel the same way. You’ll take stock of your progress towards financial independence and early retirement and feel terrible about the slowness of it. You’ll truly understand the famous quote from Fight Club…“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”
Maybe you’ve already been there; maybe you’re there now. Whatever the case, I’d like to share with you a few simple ways to avoid despair, regaining your positivity, and taking each step on that long slow road with your head held high.
If you obsessively check your stocks, stop. Just stop.
The number one cause of angst on the road to financial independence and early retirement is checking your stocks and seeing how impossibly far away that magic number seems. Trust me: the momentary dopamine hit isn’t worth it.
You’re up $821 today and you’re on top of the world. Sweet, that’s a week’s take-home pay! But you’re down $3,284 tomorrow and it’s the worst day you’ve ever had. Damn, man…I just lost an entire month of my life!
In that direction madness lies. During my accumulation phase I suffered through the bursting of two bubbles: dot com and housing. The dot com bubble cost me tens of thousands in paper gains; the housing bubble hundreds of thousands. You want to talk about the early retirement blues?
What I forgot was that the 4% rule is only notional.
It’s in the nature of saving for financial independence and early retirement that you peg your hopes to a particular number. “$1.6 million,” you tell yourself, “will kick out $64,000 a year. That’s how much I need to live on; therefore $1.6 million is my magic number.”
But since you can’t control stock market returns, the short-term pseudo-random walk in the value of your portfolio is mere noise, and frequently painful noise at that. So why do you torture yourself by constantly refreshing your account balances? You’re literally accomplishing NOTHING when you do so.
When you feel that urge, watch a YouTube video on how to replace a bad O2 sensor in your Camry. Solve a calculus problem. Fill in a couple of squares in a Sudoku. Do ten sit-ups. Stand up and stretch your calves. Call your mom and tell her you love her. In short, do something productive…even if just for a minute or two.
Indulge in an eentsy bit of schadenfreude.
Being committed to financial independence and early retirement requires certain levels of financial education and prudence and discipline that, sadly, are no longer ordinary.
The biggest sign of our national…well, let’s call it a “financial health crisis”…has to be the dearth of tax-advantaged retirement savings. You can find many studies to this effect, but here’s a snappy infographic from a 2016 study by GoBankingRates.com:
I’m not suggesting you gloat over these statistics—far from it. I do think, however, that it’s healthy to recognize the position you’re in. This is an old saw, but even if you fail to reach financial independence and/or early retirement, working towards it will still likely whip you into much better financial shape than your peers. That’s worth celebrating! So when you feel down, googling a few statistics can keep you moving along.
Seek support from the financial independence / early retirement communities.
First off: we’re in this thing together. If you need cheering up you can always leave me a comment anywhere on this blog and I’ll do my best to help you feel better.
There’s a “pay it forward” aspect to that, but I think anybody who’s truly committed to reaching early retirement ought to be willing to commiserate and empathize because, again, we’ve all been there. It’s a long hot road, there are heaps of skeletons by the wayside, and at times you’ll swear the oasis is a mirage.
A great thing to do at such times is reach out to members of the various forums and groups dedicated to our movement. Personally, I’m a big fan of Reddit’s financial independence sub. With as of this writing over 283,000 subscribers, you WILL find kindred souls there. If not, google “early retirement forum” and you’ll find plenty of others.
Another tried-and-true strategy. Simple yet powerful.
If you’ve ever undertaken a deprivation diet you know how food cravings can destroy your resolve. Many dietitians recommend occasional “cheat meals” to keep those cravings at bay.
When it comes to saving for financial independence and early retirement, I agree with the method. Occasional splurges are helpful in staying on track. Go out for a nice dinner, treat your kid to an amusement park, get that new pair of shoes, etc.
You can take this idea even further by splurging on things that are helpful to your financial plans. For instance, I’m a DIY guy through-and-through. I therefore like to splurge on nice tools. They make working easier and more pleasant, they last longer, and—quite frankly—I’m a gear nut and they get me off.
My latest splurge was a higher-end Makita cordless drill. It was maybe sixty bucks more than a comparable model would’ve been from Harbor Freight, but I have a lot of confidence in this tool. I expect to get twenty years and thousands of bucks’ worth of DIY out of it.
Consider mood-elevating supplements.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that people are amphibians because they inhabit two worlds: one physical, the other spiritual.
Sure, I can get behind that. I’m a strong believer that “caring for yourself in body and spirit” means exactly that: body AND spirit. That said, I’m not a religious guy. I take the word “spirit” to be a signifier of mental well-being.
It’s a sad fact that not everybody has time for a regular exercise regimen. It’s usually possible, however, for people to give themselves a boost by taking naturally-sourced over-the-counter mood-elevating supplements.
Mind you, I’m not a doctor. This isn’t medical advice. I’m suggesting you do some research and decide whether these supplements might be right for you.
Now: I’m not speaking of woo-woo stuff, but specific compounds that are scientifically proven to be serotonin co-factors…i.e., building blocks of a neurotransmitter the deficiency of which is closely correlated to depression. Each of these compounds is also known to carry other health benefits.
I imagine you’re familiar with them, but just in case…
First, a B-vitamin complex with emphasis on B5 (pantothenic acid) and B9 (folic acid).
B5: Apart from being a serotonin co-factor, signs of vitamin B5 deficiency include poor immune function, chronic low energy, poor digestion, and irritability. Where do you get B5? From a healthy diet. Do you have time in your day to eat a healthy diet? Maybe not.
B9: Again, signs of deficiency include problems guaranteed to crush your mood: irritability, loss of appetite (there’s that healthy diet problem again), and decreased stress response. Not what you want during your morning commute.
Second: fish oil, a rich source of omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Fish oil, besides being a serotonin booster:
- Is FDA-approved for managing unhealthy triglyceride levels.
- Assists the body in weight loss.
- Helps maintain joint health.
- Slows cognitive decline.
- Increases the effectiveness of cancer drugs.
- Etc., etc.
It’s good stuff. I take five grams a day. Caveat: look into a molecularly-distilled fish oil to avoid mercury. Also, I use Now Lemon Fish Oil simply for its flavor. Very little fishiness at all.
OK: there you have them. I hope these five tips help you avoid the financial independence / early retirement blues. And again, if you need support you can always leave me a comment.