The Life You’ve Always Wanted?

We all have our ideas of what the “perfect life” would be like but often the images in our mind are a far cry from the reality we are living.  If you were able to travel back in time and ask a younger version of yourself if this is the future they’d choose for themselves, what would their answer be?  Twenty years ago, could you have envisioned the life you have today?  Is it everything you’d imagined or have your dreams evaporated into thin air?

Chances are, the life you are living today is nothing like the life you expected to have.  You sold your ideals for a dollar bill.  Why?  “Because that’s just what adults do.” We have to make a living to pay the bills.  There’s food to buy and television to watch.  How are we supposed to save the world when we’re up to our eyeballs in debt?  The mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself, is it?

“It is what it is.” There’s no time for dreams.  Dreams don’t pay the bills or put food on the table.  Our younger selves didn’t understand what it meant to be adults.  We have obligations now and we’ve built our lives around some idea of what it means to be a “responsible adult” in today’s world.  What we ended up with is a career that steals our time and energy, a mortgage that drains our income and debt from all the Stuff we bought to furnish and decorate our home.  We have many thousands of dollars in Student Loans and a couple of cars to pay for.  Oh yeah, and the credit cards…

It looks like being an adult isn’t all that we’ve been led to believe.  All of our lives we’ve been told that adults are “responsible”, implying that it’s somehow more virtuous to fall in line and follow the leader than it is to follow our youthful ambitions.  The “responsible” thing to do is find a job, get married and have children, buy a house and a couple of cars, then keep your nose to the grindstone until it’s finally time to retire.  When that day does come, we hope that our health will last long enough to enjoy the life of our dreams; the life we’ve been waiting our whole life to live.

And what has it all amounted to?  A garage full of Stuff we never really needed in the first place, kids that seem to resent our very existence unless we’re buying them something, a spouse that we barely seem to know anymore and a huge house we aren’t able to enjoy because we are at the office earning a paycheck to pay the mortgage.

Sure, we have all the Stuff we could ever imagine.  We drive nice cars and wear nice clothes.  Our home is decorated like a magazine cover and on the weekends we are able to relax with a cold beer in the backyard.  On the surface things seem wonderful.  A little deeper though and things don’t look as good anymore.

What are we sacrificing to create this image of the “perfect” life?  Our time, our energy, our sanity?  If the average person starts working fresh out of college at the age of 22 and retires at 67, that’s 45 years of life sold for a dollar bill.  We’re trading our life to fill our garage with junk, for a heap of metal to take us to a job so that we can pay for that same heap of metal.

What if there were a different way?  What if you didn’t have to spend your entire life working?  Would you do it?  If you knew that in 10 years you could be financially able to walk away from your job with enough money to pay for all your expenses, would you have the ambition to make it happen?

There is a way, it is possible!  The only problem – of course there’s a problem – is that to get there, you have to minimize your spending and save.  “But that’s Un-American!” Our entire lives we’ve been told to “get out there and boost the economy.”  After the attacks on September 11 we were told to go shopping as a way to stand up against terrorism.  Does that mean we’re supporting terrorism by saving money?  Of course not!

What I’m talking about isn’t a new concept.  It isn’t impossible.  It’s been done before and it’ll be done again.  And not just by a few outliers but by many thousands of people.  Will you be one of them???

What’s the secret?

Live Frugally: Cut your expenses to the bone.  Anything that doesn’t offer real value to your life is out.  That might mean going without a contracted cell phone, cable television, TiVo or Netflix.  Find alternatives or other ways to occupy your time.  It may seem impossible now but you can live without these things.

Get Out of Debt: You can’t be financially independent when you’re in debt.  Get out, get out, get out! By adopting a frugal lifestyle, the extra money you’re able to save can be applied towards eliminating your debt.  After you’ve saved up enough money to cover six months of living expenses, every penny should be thrown at your debt.

Save: Once you’ve paid off the last of your debt it’s time to save like never before.  It may take you a few years, maybe even ten or 15, to save enough money to become financially independent but that’s better than 45 years!

Invest: This is where the magic is!  With the money you’ve saved, you can invest it into conservative investment vehicles which will pay you interest in fixed intervals over a specific length of time.  If you’ve saved and invested enough, this interest will cover all of your monthly expenses.  Now your money is working for you, not the other way around!

If you’d like to learn more about the process outlined above, I recommend checking out the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.

10 thoughts on “The Life You’ve Always Wanted?

  1. I love your enthusiasm and passion for saving money and living the way that you do. I am living my dream and it is pretty much the kind of life you are attacking. I remember wanting to be a young mom from the time that I was very little. I love my life and would not trade it for the world. I love being an adult and still get a thrill out of the fact that I get to choose what I get to do with my life. I do not care much for material things but the few nicer material things that I do have I enjoy and they were worth every penny to me. They are not status symbols but things that enhance my life and bring joy to my family and I. I think that living frugally and living life to the fullest is different for every person. I love my job and throughly enjoy attending college in hopes of obtaining a job I will enjoy even more.

    Do you really think you can retire after 10 years of working? I have heard something like people our age need to save a million dollars in order to retire (at retirement age) comfortably. What kind of career are you going into that makes you so confident in this? If you choose to have children retiring in the midst of raising them would seem to be very difficult financially. I would love to retire in 10 years but I would enjoy retirement so much more if I was financially secure enough to spend the rest of my life doing what i want without much reguards for a budget. I’m not attacking…………….. I am just curious.

    • @Katie: I’m not trying to attack anyone’s personal choice of how they want to live their life. If something makes you happy, who am I to tell you it is wrong? There ARE many people who complain about the way their life has “turned out” and claim that their life is out of their control, that somehow they are a victim of cirmcumstance. I don’t buy that way of thinking. I think we all have the capacity to have a full and meaningful life, pursuing exactly whatever it is that makes life special to each of us. If, for you, that is family, that’s great! I’ve chosen to not have children, at least for the time being, and while it might seem like I’m attacking people with kids as somehow making a judgement error, don’t take it personally. Who I’m speaking to are those who feel like children are the shackles that limit their lives.

      As for retiring in 10 years…it’s possible. It just takes dedication, diligent savings, practical investment strategies, living minimally and frugally and continuing to maintain a lifestyle with low expenses so that the dividends on your investments will cover your expenses. As for needing a million dollars to retire? Says who? Everyone’s lifestyle is different and each situation is unique to the individual. If you can save enough money at an interest rate which can cover your living expenses, what’s the point of a million dollars? Maybe you won’t be able to travel the world, but you won’t need to work or worry about paying the bills. I really recommend checking out the book Your Money or Your Life that I mentioned in the article. It’s a great read and thought-provoking.

  2. I will have to check out the book. How do you plan to retire in 10 years? I would imagine that retiring that early will severely limit your ability to travel. What about health care? Sorry…….. I’m being a total debby downer. I agree that it is all about lifestyle but even the most minimalist people may need health care at some time. How would you pay for that if you retired after 10 years? I don’t get it……. if you make $40,000 a year for 10 years that leaves you with $400,000 (mind you, this is w/o taxes) and if you are EXTREMELY minamalist and live off of only $10,000 a year that leaves you with 40 years of money……………… ok, possibly doable but you may very well out live that not to mention all the incidentials that can come up in 40 years……… Is this your plan? I can only fathom retiring after 10 years if you made a TON of money………… what would you do with all that free time? Yes, my job can be a pain some days but I honestly love it and would not stay home if I could. Please enlighten me.

    • It really depends on your level of income to determine a timeframe for retirement. The more you make, the sooner it can happen. It isn’t about living off of the principle, it is about living off of the interest. Depending on the rate you are able to lock in, it may take more or less principle to cover your cost of living.

      Is it my plan to retire in 10 years? I don’t really have a timeframe for retirement right now since I’m actually quite happy doing what I’m doing and have plans for life outside of earning money. My income for the next few years will probably be incredibly minimal so saving for retirement will be challenging.

      The points you mention are valid and I’m not sure how to answer your questions. Expenses will come up but I guess if you’ve planned properly and built an emergency fund, then that would cover any incidental expenses. As for health insurance, maybe with the new health care program this will no longer be such a large expense. We’ll see.

      If you love your job and it provides enjoyment, why leave? I’m not saying this is for everyone but I do think it is possible for anyone who wants it. And about investments, there are conservative investment options out there that will protect your capital and provide dividents.

  3. I see that you are recommending investment but what do you do after your investments go belly up 20 years into your early retirement?

  4. So, focusing only on idea #4: investing. This whole topic seems to be great in theory but is very light on the details. What kind of investments are you talking about? Exactly how much money invested do you think it would take for you to live off the interest? Are these risky investments? Are these your average CD’s? Because I’ve had those and they would require hundreds of thousands of dollars just to live off… unless it’s a long term investment of a smaller amount, which would negate the whole 10 year plan.

    You admitted that it could take 10 years -incidental free- just to save enough money to invest. Are these returns & investments going to be taxed annually? Are we paying a broker here? Give me some details! I can see this as being a good way to make a couple thousand a year safely, but that’s about it.

    If it takes several years to get out of debt, a decade and a half to save and some more years to see returns that you can actually withdraw without penalty…how is this any different than working for 30+years that people are already doing?

    • An entire book has been written about this exact subject and should be able to answer all of your questions…check out Your Money or Your Life, there is a link to it in the article. The markets do fluctuate and finding a good deal on an investment today is hard but no doubt, in time, rates will rise again, making this entire process much easier.

      By my own calculations, I would have to save around $400,000 at approximately 4% APR in order to cover my living expenses (you can do the math if you want to figure out how much my expenses are). That will take at least, at the very minimum, 10 years of investing in a perfect world.

      I would argue that your 30 years of work is being generous considering as how many people begin working before they graduate high school until the day they retire. We’ll be conservative and call that 44 years. Even if it takes twice as long as my estimated, and highly ambitious, 10 years, it still beats the heck out of 44 years of being a slave to the labor force. I’m not saying that once you reach a point where your investments can cover your living expenses you should drop out of the game altogether. You would have much more freedom to take career risks, maybe to earn more money, or go back to school, start your own business, pursue a hobby or just go fishing. At that point, it would be up to you what you want out of your life and you would be in a financial situation which would allow you to make those decisions much easier.

      I wish I had the ambition, yes, I’m lazy, to go into all the investment details, but as I suggested, check out the book from the library, read it and decide if it’s useful and valid in your own personal situation. To me, even IF I don’t quite make it, at least I’ll be way better off at the end than I was at the beginning.

  5. I was afraid you were going to go all crazy about that book again. I still haven’t clicked the link but I did one better. Last night I watched the 1985 classic, Wall Street. I am pretty sure I learned everything there is to know about investing. Step 1: Grease back hair. Step 2: Insider Trading. Step 3: Profit.

    I’d say more, and perhaps even be serious, but I am being forced to upload some pictures now.

    Good Day.

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