How to Retire in Your 30s With $1 Million in the Bank

The very good headline of this New York Times article on the FIRE—financial independence retire early—movement. 

As a minimalist and student of Stoicism, I’ve been intrigued by and read lots about this movement. I’ve even locked horns with the movement’s most popular spokesperson. Steven Kurutz does a nice job explaining the phenomenon. And he provides lots of good links for readers who want to dig deeper.

There’s lots to admire about FIRE folks, but too many of the movement’s advocates  wrongly assume anyone can save $1m and retire in their 30’s. They argue on their numerous blogs that people can do it if they only follow their steps which start with securing a high paying job usually in engineering or computer software. To which Kurutz writes:

“They are. . . benefiting from an lengthy bull run in the stock market and, in some cases, the privilege of class, race, gender and background. It’s difficult to retire at 40 if you work a minimum-wage job, say, or have crushing student-loan debt, or did not have the same opportunities as others because you grew up poor in a crime-ridden neighborhood.”

Those two sentences will not go unchallenged by the FIRE orthodoxy. Probably skimping on humanities and social science courses in college, FIRE zealots tend to overlook the fact that the US economy is not a level playing field. Their counter arguments will not be convincing. It’s their blindspot. 

It’s okay that they have a blindspot, because there’s a lot to admire about the movement, including the practitioners’ disciplined saving, their rejection of mindless consumerism, their emphasis on family, and their determined nonconformity especially in creating non-work identities.

 

 

 

Of Coupon Codes and Meaning in Life

Karl Marx believed history was shaped by an overarching dialectic—an enduring conflict between the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production and the proletariat who were stuck selling their labor to the capitalist class. I have my own overarching dialectic that I believe shapes family life, religious communities, municipalities, and even nation-states—an enduring conflict between our material and spiritual selves.

In the simplest terms, it’s a battle between our preoccupation with consumer goods that make our lives more convenient and comfortable versus prioritizing family, friends, those in need, and the ethical stewardship our finite natural resources.

My material self routinely gets the better of my spiritual self. I spend too much time shopping online and I recently I purchased an iPhone 6+ and a new car. But I suspect I’m different than a lot of consumers because I’m keenly aware of the battle that rages inside me. I also live well below my means and know my phone and car, as nice as they are, can’t hold a candle to the joy and meaning my wife, family, friends, students, and writing provide.

How ironic that this time of year is marked by numerous sacred religious traditions and we’re more susceptible than ever to mindless materialism. Consumerism trumps contemplation. This manifests itself in many ways, stampeding store customers have to be the most jarring (the increased popularity of online shopping appears to be dampening that phenomenon).

This weekend in Seattle, The Gap and a few other stores were having a “50% off everything in the store” sale. Which got me thinking about a grand experiment in which all of downtown Seattle businesses had simultaneous “100% off everything in the store” sales. Their motto might be, “This stuff was really ill-conceived and is poorly made, ugly, and of no real use, so please, please take it off our hands.” Tens of thousands would jump in their cars and speed downtown, park haphazardly, and run towards the stores with eyes ablaze.

Free man, free! Nevermind that they’d have no real need for the stuff falling out of their overfilled shopping carts. Free man! Nevermind that they wouldn’t have enough room in their dresser drawers, closets, or garages for the stuff. Free! Nevermind that the stuff wouldn’t fill those empty spaces in their lives created by superficial or strained relationships with others.

My spiritual self has convinced my material self to sit out the mania this December. Join me. Help me tilt the balance from the material to the spiritual.