Do What You Got To Do

I heard this great quote from Denzel Washington:  “Do what you got to do so you can do what you want to do”.

He told this to his kids to get them to do their homework before going out to play.

When you look at folks who have mastered their money, they do this.  They do the tough stuff so they can do the fun stuff.

Debt makes it too easy to bypass the “got to do” but–beware–it completely derails the “want to do”.

If I had to say there was one thing that allowed me to retire early, it was that we built a lifestyle that didn’t required debt.  We’ve been debt free since I was 40 and have not had any consumer debt (car, credit card, furniture etc.) since I was 24.

It is difficult to create your dream future when you are still paying for your past. But rather small sacrifices, made consistently will eventually allow you to reach your dreams.

How did we do it?

We didn’t spend money on crap we didn’t care about. We were very intentional about our spending or as Mr. Ms. Liz says, “we beat spending decisions to death”.

You have to be a bit different from those around you. If your life’s goal is to fit in, this part will be really tough. I wrote about my struggles in The Math is the Easy Part.

You have to find your balance between living for now and living for later.

There are a whole bunch of things we just didn’t do because we valued savings more than those experiences and things. I wrote about some specifics in Little Decisions Help You Reach Your Dreams.

If you have any consumer debt (credit cards, furniture etc.), do whatever you need to do to get out of it. Get an extra job and cut your expenses until you’re living on rice and beans. Put all of your extra money towards your debt.

The math says the Debt Avalanche method is the best way to pay off debt. But the best way is really the one that works for you. Just pick one: Debt Avalanche, Debt Snowball or Debt Bonfire.

Create goals within your goals and celebrate your success. Say you have $10,000 to pay off, celebrate when you get to $9,000 then $8,000 and so on.

Follow my 12 steps to a Kick A$$ Life. It takes you from your first emergency fund to debt payoff to retirement savings and investing.

I want you to save for your dream. Even if you’re not exactly sure what your dream is, save for it. I didn’t know I wanted to retire early until I really, really, really wanted to retire. Thankfully, I had saved for it.

Do what you got to do so you can do what you want to do.

Photo credit: Our fabulous tour guide on my iPhone in Lower Antelope Canyon near Page, AZ

We’ve Become Early Retirement Evangelists

Have you ever had someone show up at your door and try to sell you something? I’m not talking about a neighborhood kid raising money for something–I’m totally OK with that. I’m talking an adult who wants to sell you on their religion, their cleaning product or their home improvement services. Annoying huh?!

But now, I want to walk door to door and tell people how great early retirement is. Can you imagine how that conversation would play out?!

Ok, I’m not going to walk door to door. When we get a little in our liquor, we do try to get all of our friends to join us on this early retirement adventure. Mr. Ms. Liz especially. “Why are you working?” “You don’t have to work, right?”

It reminds me of conversations I’ve had to have about why we don’t/won’t/didn’t have children. Half hour conversations about our decision process and then they still assume we weren’t able.  BTW I don’t know if we were able . . . because we never tried.

Decisions like early retirement or family composition become foundations for our lives.

And interrogating people about why they work when they don’t have to or why they don’t have children is like asking people why they do or don’t believe in God. It chips away at the foundation of their lives.

But I think we’re just trying to communicate how kick a$$ fun it is to not work. Yep, it’s really fun. So occasionally we do some chipping.

Our biggest limitation in retirement has been our love of our normal lives. This is why we haven’t embarked on an epic trip or bought a camper. We love our normal, everyday lives and the people we get to hang out with. We don’t have a strong desire to leave either.

I no longer define my success by my salary, my company’s success, or my leadership role. I define success by the amount of joy I have in my life. The joy in my friendships, the joy in keeping active, the joy in improving my Pickleball game, and the joy in connecting with people through this blog.

Sometimes, I wish we would have done it earlier.

We could have been more frugal. We could have skipped the new cars, the stupid big home, the vacation home, boat and some expensive hobbies and travels.

I could have been better at chasing money–taking jobs I would have enjoyed less but for more money.

We could have retired as soon as we reached 25x our annual spend. Depending completely on the math behind the 4% rule.

Other times, I think we did it just right.

Life is about balancing living for now versus living for later. We could have been super frugal, erring on the side of living for later and not made it to later. We’ve both lost people far too early and know all too well that there are no guarantees.

I also think about how increased frugality would have affected our friendships. Traveling, camping and boating deepened them. I don’t have a biological sister but I have three sisters from other misters. Would we be as close if we hadn’t survived sand storms, medical emergencies, and wine shortages? Oh, and that time we forgot to bring the camp grill . . . and the stove? Thankfully, I’ll never know. But I do know beef tenderloin is quite delicious when cooked over a fire on a marshmallow skewer.

In my mind, chasing money isn’t a race worth winning. I got out of accounting for a few years in my mid-twenties and hated it. My happiest day was when my bank statement would arrive and I could reconcile it. Not lying, I’m such a dork. So moving from accounting to another role would have made me miserable. No amount of money is worth misery.

I’m a worrier and a planner. If I had retired with just barely the resources I needed, I would spend my retirement worrying about money. We waited until we had saved over 30 times our cushy retirement budget. And we have fallback plans for our fallback plans. I worry about money not at all. I budget it, I track it, I forecast it but I don’t worry about it.

And although this may seem unnecessary, it was important to me to leave my staff and my company in good hands. I spent 17 years there, my colleagues and employees were like family. When I did leave, I left them with someone more capable than me. I set her up for success the best that I could and she was more than ready.

So if we show up at your door and try to convince you to join us on this early retirement journey, please be kind. It really just means we’d like to hang out more and we want you to experience your best life. And for us, we found our best life when we retired.

What Can You Control?

When Mr. Ms. Liz takes me on a particular grueling mountain bike ride, my mantra is: “What can I control? Speed and Attitude.” Because once I’ve committed to a ride, that’s truly all I can control.

The same mantra works when thinking about our investments and our financial goals.

Last week was terrible for the stock market. The S&P 500 went down 3.7% to 2,762. People . . . are . . . freaking . . . out.

The last time the S&P closed close to 2,762 was way back in January on the 11th. What were we doing on January 11th? Celebrating. Yes, celebrating that the S&P 500 was up 3.5% for the year.

So this same result, separated by two and a half weeks produces a completely different reaction. Freaking out . . . or celebration. Interesting huh?!

I’m writing this on the morning of February 5th, the S&P 500 is up 3.3% for the year. If the market continued at this pace, we’ll finish the year 34% ahead. I’m not suggesting that would happen, but if it did, we’d all be patting ourselves on the back for what brilliant investment strategists we are.

But, instead we are freaking out. And who knows, it may continue to plummet and turn into a true bear market. If you read last week’s post, you know I’m staying the course. Continuing to invest aggressively for a retiree.

How do I sleep at night? Not great, thanks for asking but my poor sleep habits aren’t due to concern over my investments. My cash cushion helps me sleep. 15% of my invested assets are sitting in CD’s and cash. That 15% represents 7 years of my current spending. This is my dry powder if the market tanks.

I laid out my drawdown plan in this post: How I’ll Fund My Retirement. I intend to live on that cash when the market drops 10% from it’s all time high and replenish it when the market returns to the high. With this cash, I won’t have to sell when the market is low. Because you don’t really lose anything unless you sell.

This cash cushion reduces my speed but improves my attitude. And, yes, with the market performing as it has since I retired, I would have been way better off to be fully invested. I just did the calculation and it made me a bit sick to my stomach–two more years of expenses would have been covered. But the stress wouldn’t have been worth it.

So how are you feeling? Are you freaking out? If you truly are, this may be a good time to reassess your risk tolerance. That’s just a fancy way to say maybe you have too much in the stock market. Because if it scares you too much, you’re likely to do something unwise. Like sell your investments when they are down and then you really lose.

Do a quick gut check. Take the total amount you have invested in stocks and stock mutual funds and multiply it by 35%. That’s how much you’d lose in a typical bear market. Could you keep on keeping on? Or would you sell?

If you’d sell, you have too much in the stock market. Google risk tolerance questionnaire and look for one from Vanguard or Charles Schwab. Answer the questions and it will suggest a more appropriate asset allocation for you.

I have to admit, the thought of losing 35% makes me sick.

But I wouldn’t have to change how I live. I’m sure I’d cut some expenses. Just like I did when we were in the great recession though our earnings weren’t impacted much. A bit less eating out, a bit less traveling, more careful shopping etc.

And I know I wouldn’t sell. Because I’ve been through it before. Here’s the chart for my entire investing history–1990 to today:

S and P my history

You can barely see the blip that was last week. I’ll stay invested because I’m convinced the market always goes up. Over the long term, it always has.

All I can control is speed and attitude.

Did you do the 35% downturn calculation? How did it make you feel? Do you need to change anything so you can sleep at night? Tell me about it in the comments!

I was going to update this after Monday’s continued sell off but the answer remains the same. I’m keeping on keeping on. If you’re freaking out, do the gut check and take a risk tolerance quiz. If it gives you a recommendation significantly different from where you sit today, start working out how you can get your investments to align better with your risk tolerance. Seek out a real expert–a fee only financial planner who meets the fiduciary standard. You don’t want to lose sleep over your investment allocation.


Investing is risky, this reflects my opinion and is for entertainment purposes only.  Proceed with caution, do your research and seek professional advice if necessary.

Photo credit: Mr. Ms. Liz in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, AZ