The Math Is the Easy Part

Achieving financial independence is hard in spite of the math being surprisingly easy.

Here’s the math: 

Mr. Money Mustache tells the shockingly simple math behind early retirement much better than I can.

Save 5% of your take home pay and you’ll need to work 66 years; save 20% and you’ll need to work 37 years; save 50% and you’ll need to work 17 years; save 70% and you’ll need to work 8.5 years.  Yep just 8.5 years.

This is a bit simplistic–but close.

I have my retirement mapped out in mind numbing detail.  And you should too.

But for the smarty pants readers of this blog, it’s not too hard, right?

But here’s what’s hard: 

If you want to reach financial independence, you have to be different.  You can’t spend money on things that don’t feed your soul.  And your soul needs to have a reasonable appetite.

I spent most of my life trying to fit in, trying to be like everyone else. 

Because I didn’t come out of childhood with a rock solid self esteem.  I’m not sure why–I had two parents who loved me and did their best for me. I did well in school.  I was reasonably attractive–if you overlook that awkward stage.  I had a few good friends and lots of acquaintances.

But I didn’t have what the other kids had.  And somehow that affected me more than it should have.  Other girls could wear their brother’s hand me down clothes and still appear to have a great self esteem.  Not me.

So when I made my first money–I mean my very first money busing tables at a Mexican restaurant at 13.  I had a friend take me clothes shopping.  And I spent all $150 of it so I could fit in.  And $150 was a ton of money in the late 70’s.

And when I was getting ready to start my first real job at 22, I bought a brand spanking new Toyota Celica.  I was about to earn $22,500 a year and I bought a car for $14,101.

I had no down payment for that car.  So I got two loans–a 12 month loan for the down payment I should have had plus a five year loan for the rest of the car.

In that first year, my car payment was $431 a month.  My take home pay was $1,278.  34% of my income went to that car payment.

Because I wanted to be cool and look successful.  Oh and it was cool–I loved that car.  And the future Mr. Ms. Liz took notice of that cool car–it may be what prompted him to ask me out.

But that big a$$ car payment bugged the crap out of me and that was the start of me making different decisions.

I still have my greenbar budget sheet from 1986 where I mapped out how I could pay extra on that down payment loan.  I paid that twelve month loan off in five months.

Then I started putting an extra $100 a month towards the five year loan.  It was paid off in a little over three years.  And that was my first and last real car payment.  To be fair, I had a payment for my next car–a Lexus but the loan was 0% with the Bank of Mr. Ms. Liz so it doesn’t count . . . right?

And a funny thing happened.  I started to enjoy being a bit different from those who surrounded me. 

By my late 20’s, I was tracking my spending and net worth on Quicken.  I was proud of what I had invested rather than what I wore or drove.  Even though no one else really knew.

I had no debt other than that Bank of Mr. Ms. Liz car payment and our mortgage.  By my early 40’s, I had no debt.

My savings rate went from 20% to over 70% of my take home pay.  And my net worth grew until it could easily support my retirement.

So now I’m different again.

I’m on the pickleball court with my new old friends while people my age are in the office.

I’m a snowbird, migrating to the desert for the winter while people my age are griping about their winter commutes.

I’m the girl who doesn’t worry about money . . . at all.  Because I have plenty for the experiences and things that feed my soul.  For my soul has a reasonable appetite.

Does your soul have a reasonable appetite?

Author: Ms. Liz

A CPA, I retired at 51 and I am helping people create their fantastic futures!

28 thoughts on “The Math Is the Easy Part”

  1. Dear Ms. Liz, I am a long time fan of your blog, but never before a commenter. I love this post! You are right, the math is the easy part! Adjusting your own head (soul 🙂 ) is the hardest part.

    For me, the hardest part are the sideways glance you start to get from your friends and family when you suggest cutting out some previously enjoyed activities. To be sure people are looking out for you. They don’t want something to be wrong. But this well intentioned care turns into peer pressure against saying no. I think that is probably the toughest part of embarking on this route.

    1. Wow HM, you may be my first “fan”! Such a nice comment to wake up to this morning–thank you!

      You are so right–on the beginning of this path, it can feel lonely and like you’re missing out on a bunch of fun stuff. I found it easier to be really open with my friends and family about what I could and couldn’t afford. Some friends peeled off for sure but others jumped on with me. It definitely got easier as time went by. Hate to link to an article in a reply comment but this may give you some ideas that help.

      We spend our lives searching for authentic relationships and being on the path to financial independence is a huge part of who we are–sharing it with others is part of us being authentic. Plus there’s been some discussion on twitter about how we would feel if a friend was on this path and didn’t share it with us. I’m not above being jealous–I’d be more than a bit jealous if a close friend left me behind. A surprising benefit of this blog is the real conversations we’re having when people find out about it.

      So how to feel less lonely and less judged? I suggest being more open with friends and family and being part of the FIRE community that is with you on this ride. It looks to me like you’re doing it right!

      1. We spend our lives searching for authentic relationships and being on the path to financial independence is a huge part of who we are–sharing it with others is part of us being authentic.

        I couldn’t have said it better. What a great perspective! Thank you so much for writing this. I’m always afraid people will worry that we don’t have money if we opt out of things b/c for a long time we didn’t b/c of all of our debt. Now we opt out for different reasons.

        1. You’re so right, being on this path is a huge part of who we are. It’s tough to find the right balance between being authentic and protecting your professional opportunities. Unfortunately I missed out on a promotion because my boss knew “I wouldn’t be there much longer”. After that, I wished I had been more stealth.

          I know exactly how you feel about choosing to not do certain things. I stopped saying I couldn’t afford something and started saying things weren’t in my budget. It felt more empowering. Another great benefit of retirement is being more open about all of these choices.

          Thanks for your kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed my post!

  2. This post warmed my soul. Ms. Liz you are so right (of course)! If you want to be different you have to well– BE different. The math is easy, committing to those changes is what will make the difference. It seems that my office mates want to eat out for lunch like 9 days a week, but I am fine with my bowl of homemade soup- mmmmmm good. I have saved a lot of money by cutting down on my dining out.

    1. HH Nothing warms a soul better than homemade soup and nice comments like this! We have to keep our hearts focused on our end goals while we slurp our soup–better both for our net worth and our waistline.

  3. Congratulations, and thanks for being an inspiration. I’m looking forward to learning how to play “pickleball” myself.

    Still having a hard time convincing Mrs. 39 months that we can chuck it and “live like nobody else” – but we will get there.

    Just celebrated 32 months till financial independence!

    Keep up the blogging

    1. Thanks for your kind words Mr. 39!

      I’m fortunate that I didn’t need to convince Mr., we had spreadsheet wars trying to come up with the optimal long term plan. He won and I use his version now :). It would be super scary if you were relying on your spouse to dig into the numbers so be patient with Mrs!

      32 months will be here before you know it, I’d suggest you look into Pickleball now. USAPA.org lists locations and times. It’s a great, frugal sport and fills a lot of our social needs.

      Start dipping your toe into things now that you plan to do in retirement and the transition will be easier. So fun, can’t wait for you to experience it!

  4. Nice post and love your examples. I too once bought a nice sportscar in a sad and vein attempt at hubris and vanity. It was at least used and not too expensive, but I still took a loan which was very stupid.

    But in the end to get to early retirement, you definitely have to eschew certain things that ‘normal’ people spend on. Congrats to you!

    1. Sometimes I think if we were all “perfect” from day 1 we’d be dull and the world would be pretty boring. I feel like some of these bad decisions made me who I am and gave me lessons I needed to learn. Few of us can learn those lessons without experiencing the pain. So don’t beat yourself up but focus on what you learned, how you’ve changed and how well prepared you are for a great future.

      I love how each of us in the FI/RE community can reach our end goal in such different ways. Super frugal with a really early retirement or a bit less frugal and later retirement. We retired later than many in the early retirement crowd but found a balance between living for now and living for the future that worked for us. I wouldn’t change much if I could go back–probably wouldn’t even change that big car payment.

      Thanks for your comment and for stopping by AF!

  5. Would love to know how you detach your emotion towards the things by just looking at the debt figures. I never get myself into debt because I am fearful of being “have-not”, not able to do crucial things that I need to do but I always wonder, what if I daringly live. I don’t need to pay the debt when I am gone? :p

    1. Debt can be a great thing if it allows you to invest in yourself. Student loans that allow you to work in a highly compensated field, a reasonable mortgage that allows you to create a stable and fulfilling life or a business loan that allows you to create a stream of income.

      I wish I could say I come to my financial decisions from a place of abundance but I do not. I have more of a scarcity mindset so having debt is a stress trigger for me. Much as I would like to say–who cares, I can’t take the debt with me, that would be too stressful for me. Not that I haven’t imagined filling out all of those credit card offers at one time and chartering a jet to the tropics!

      Thanks for your comment Lyn.

  6. Awesome post Liz. I found to improve self esteem, I had to do esteemable things. Saving 70% of your salary will definitely build esteeem. I save 50% and that is way more than anyone I know. It is funny how when you are a kid, it is cool to fit in, but as adults the successful people are the ones who stand apart from the herd.

    1. I think I look to the outside world too much for validation of my self esteem. So my high savings rate that no one knew about except me and Mr. didn’t do it for me. I think it was built more by success in the workplace and building meaningful relationships with my tribe–people who are super fun and successful. If these amazing people want to hang out with me, I must be worthy.

      Thanks for your kind words Dave and for stopping by!

  7. I remember going to the mall with my friends in the 70s and buying musk oil or makeup for $2. Spending $150 at that time would have been HUGE.

    Great piece, Liz. All of it is easy on paper, in our thoughts, and in our conversations. But doing it is the hard part. You’ve mastered it and now you don’t worry about money. Your soul has a reasonable appetite. That’s a brilliant way of putting it (and a fantastic title for another post).

    You probably listen to Stacking Benjamins but if you missed Monday’s episode with Patrice Washington, check it out. And also check out her website, patricewashington.com. She’s all about how money isn’t the issue — purpose is. She’s got a new podcast too.

    1. Just when I thought this morning couldn’t get any better, I get a comment from the Groovy’s! Wow, thank you for your kind words!

      I do listen to SB but haven’t listened to Patrice’s episode yet. Thanks for the hot tip! Gosh if it were just about the math we’d all be retiring early with ease. Glad you like the soul with a reasonable appetite 🙂

  8. I agree that the math is simple. The behavior can be tough to manage.
    I never had a fixed savings rate but it was probably around a third of gross. A lot of that was actually reinvestment of dividends so it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. Nevertheless, it is similar to saving 1/2 of net so I was able to reach FI in 17 years.

    1. Congratulations on hitting FI so quickly WD!

      We don’t have a standard way to calculate savings rates in the FI/RE blogging world. I calculate contributions to savings/investments/retirement accounts etc. divided by income net of taxes. I don’t take any investment gains or dividends into the calculation as I’ve seen some do. Using the net of tax number calculates my savings rate reflecting what is true, spendable income.

      I wish there were an easy button on the behavior piece so more folks could experience the benefits of FI–whether they wish to retire early or not. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. Wow. I just found your site through Rockstar Finance and resonate with your philosophy SO much. So much of personal finance is mindset – the math is the easy part! THanks for sharing your wisdom and I look forward to reading more from you in the future!

  10. Great quote from this article – one which will resonate with all trying to achieve FI: “I was proud of what I had invested rather than what I wore or drove. Even though no one else really knew.”

    1. Thanks Greg! It’s tough to be satisfied with stealth achievements, especially when our culture looks to define us by our stuff. One of the really rewarding parts of being retired early is that those achievements aren’t so secret anymore–especially since I write about them!

      Thank you so much for your nice comment!

  11. Loved the post! I have been saving at least 10% toward retirement since I was 28 but didn’t get serious about paying off debt until this year. Will be done in April (yeah!). One question: what is pickleball? 🙂

    1. Thank you Jenny! Good for you for saving 10% from such a young age! I’m sooo excited for your debt free date in April–congratulations! It will feel amazing.

      I used to say pickleball was tennis for old people but we’re seeing more young people enjoy the sport. It is played on a court just smaller than a tennis court with a paddle similar to a table tennis paddle and a wiffle ball. You typically play doubles (two players on each team). Pickleball fills much of my social and exercise needs–surprising given that my tennis coach told my brother I was hopeless when I was a kid. Check out usapa.org for information on the sport and where it is played near you. Let me know if you try it!

      1. How interesting! But wiffle balls are so frustrating in that their trajectory is unpredictable (to me anyway). Will be on the lookout for it to give it a try.

        1. Yes, they bounce weird at times and the good players can add spin which makes it tricky. But, they move slower than other balls and they don’t hurt much if you get hit 🙂

    1. Congratulations on reaching FI BAM! There’s a ton to be proud of with that achievement!

      I wish I could say I didn’t care what people think of me but I’m still working on that. I think people are thinking of themselves far more than we think–there’s little bandwidth left to think of us.

      Thanks for stopping by and for your comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *