The correlation between consumerism and early retirement: Thoughts of a recent early retiree


Things we buy becomes an item someone may not even want...

Will Rogers:  “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”

My wife and I are recent early retirees as of August 2020 at age of 51 and 48.  We sold our home of 14 years at the end of August.  Before closing our home on August 24th, we literally went through hell to get rid of our belongings as we weren’t moving to another house or rental.  Instead, we were going to live like nomads, traveling to various locations for a month (or more) around the eastern part of the US, and to spend time with our family.

Between the time our home was put up for sale in early July and closing, we spent 5 rough weeks trimming our stuff.  I will say this was one of the most challenging periods my wife and I went through together...

Even before deciding to retire early, the idea of downsizing or minimalism always appealed to us.  We got hooked on TV show ‘Tiny House Nation’.  The thought of getting rid of stuff was fascinating.  Whereas every one we knew were buying stuff constantly (us included at the time), here were people who were downsizing to roughly 10-20% of their belongings in a short period of time.  We wondered whether we can do it ourselves!

Our culture is predicated on consumer spending.  In fact, it’s nearly 70% of US economy.  When I was growing up (in the 80’s), the gadgets we needed to buy were things like gaming consoles (Atari, Nintendo,    etc.), Sony Walkmans, Air Jordan sneakers, and latest fad clothing (baggy pants, Triple Fat Goose coats, Don Johnson sports jackets - Google that!).

Although I was fortunate to have an Atari system, I didn’t have any of the ones mentioned above.  My family wasn’t well off, and I didn’t want to burden our parents.  I realized at a young age that our family did not come from money.  This in turn made me grow up faster than some of my friends, who did have Sony Walkmans, latest fad sneakers, and clothing.  

These days, the gadgets to have are smartphones, tablets, Alexa, digital homes, fad sneakers, gaming consoles, destination vacations (because an Instagrammer just went there), and etc.  As you can see, some things change, but the idea of buying things never changes...

Before coming to the realization that this mindless consumption was not healthy, we were living like most people.  Holidays would be spent buying gifts for us and for our family.  Every January was a dark and depressing period...Our credit card bills would come due, and they would be around $2000-$3000.  We struggled to pay these bills on time...We didn’t think much of it, as most people we knew were doing the same thing...

I guess slowly but surely, the show, along with my two most influential FIRE (financial independence retire early) movement savants, Mr. Money Moustache and Early Retirement Extreme, had an impact on how we viewed consumerism.  Instead of mindlessly going to malls to consume stuff and eat on weekends, we started to seriously reconsider alternative to 24/7 rampant consumption.  We started to buy less stuff over time.  We stopped going to malls mindlessly.  We also started to do more take out, rather than eat at restaurants on weekends.  

All in all, the end result was these changes helped us tremendously in our quest for early retirement.  We started to see more money left over in our checking account.  We would then put away more money into our retirement accounts.  By thinking minimalism and much less consumerism, the snowball effect kicked in with our finances.  (Have money to invest more, get to our goal of early retirement quicker.)

The five weeks we spent downsizing our stuff we had accrued over the years, were incredibly humbling.  We didn’t realize how much we had in every nook and cranny of our home’s rooms/closets/basement.  We realized how much we had spent on these things and we were depressed and angry!  Depressed that had we not bought so much stuff, we would have been retired earlier.  Angry that we allowed ourselves to buy so many things which we couldn’t sell for the most part.

We got rid of most things by practically giving them away.  Furniture we had spent thousands on to fill up each room was sold for hundreds.  Books, DVD’s and CD’s were donated for the most part.  Countless items which we thought were cute and thought necessary were not.  I mean, how many coffee mugs, wine glasses, etc., do you really need?  

We promised we would never spend mindlessly.  We were glad we were downsizing now at our age, rather than doing this at 65 years old.  Just imagine how much harder doing this would be...Besides the mental drain on downsizing, there’s also the physical drain to downsizing.  We were absolutely drained at the end of each day.  There would be countless going back and forth to figure out what items can be gotten rid of vs keep with us.  Why should I keep my toys when my wife had to get rid of her toys?  There were compromises to be made on thousands of items...

One lesson we got out of all this is this:  Think twice before buying anything.  Only buy things that are needed and not because they are wanted.  Figuring out needs vs wants is something we still work on every day.  Sometimes when I go past a beer section, I want to get a 12 pack of Sam Adams.  I will treat myself once in a while, but it wouldn’t be every time I go shopping... I struggle with food and drinks, which is my weakness!  I am working on getting better...Nobody’s perfect.  Just know everyone does struggle with something.  The important thing is to prepare for it by setting a budget for the item(s).  

I truly believe everyone needs to find a balance in life.  If you pig out on a meal, go light on your next meal.  If you splurged on Sam Adams, skip for awhile.  If you spent too much during Christmas, then don’t spend the next month, and on and on and on...Don’t go all ‘Spartan’ and not spend on anything.  Like someone on a diet, if you deprive yourself too much, you’ll fail eventually.  Understand you have a plan to mitigate these situations.  Setting aside money in your budget to prepare for whatever it is you want to buy is the best way.  For me it’s Sam Adams.  For you, it will be something else.

There is an unmistakable correlation between consumerism and early retirement.  Usually, those that figured out how to live a life without the mindless consumption will retire earlier than those that didn’t.  By not spending on things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress someone we don’t even like, anyone can retire earlier than initially thought possible.

Below please check out my tips to get to early (or earlier) retirement.

Tips for consuming less!

  • Always think before you buy:  Get in the habit of thinking things through.  If you think you’ll need to buy something, wait a day or two before buying it.  In many cases, the urge to buy will be gone. Consider need vs want.  Remember this is something you work on everyday to get better.
  • Don’t go to malls / shopping centers:  Go ONLY if there’s something you need to buy.  Don’t go there (like we did for years) just because...The more you go, the more things you’re going to buy...
  • Don’t get overly excited during the holidays!  There’s something about the holidays...Christmas used to put us in a festive mood to want to buy for us and for family.  Who could resist Christmas carols at malls during holidays?  We were suckers for getting in the mood to consume...Sales everywhere, Black Fridays, after Christmas sales, after New Year’s Day sales, etc.  Try as hard as you can to not be swayed...Avoiding the malls is one sure way to do that!
  • Ignore pressure from family:  Our family, especially during the holidays, seemed to be expecting grand gifts for everybody.  We felt pressured at times to make them happy.  Guess what?  We weren’t happy.  Not after spending over $2000 and not knowing how or when we were paying that off.  Be firm and do not waver.  Your financial goal is more important than appeasing your family’s wants!  
  • Need to fit in:  The more you feel the need to ‘fit in’, the less chance you’ll have to retire early.  If you buy the latest smartphones, gadgets, coats, accessories, cars, etc., to be like your friends (or fill in the blank), your chance to retire early will diminish.  Be happy with who you are and with what you have.  Be comfortable in your own shoes.  Chart your own path.  

  • Have discipline:  Discipline is necessary in your path to early retirement.  It comes in handy in these and many other situations:  to stay the course to keep to your budget, to not buy the latest gadgets, to not book your trip to the latest /popular Instagram destinations, etc.  
  • Understand the difference between needs versus wants:  The quicker you can figure this out the better.  Although this is something I still struggle with from time to time, keep at it.  Need is shelter, water, food.  Anything outside of that is probably want.  

I truly hope someone out there can benefit from these tips.  Thank you all for reading!

Jake
Wandering Money Pig 



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