You CAN Break the “Rules” and Still Get Here

Being retired early is like a really good chocolate cake. Once you’ve experienced it, you want everyone you care about to enjoy it too.

I’ve been writing so much about budgets lately, my readers are probably saying “enough!”. But I truly believe I reached financial independence because I budgeted and tracked my net worth. When people want to get their financial act together, I suggest they start with a budget. It’s one of my rules.

But you CAN successfully reach financial independence in spite of breaking almost all of the “rules” of personal finance.

I’ve spent a ton of time reading FI/RE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) blogs since I Googled “Can I Retire Yet?” after a particularly trying day at work. There are hundreds of these blogs but most of them were saying this:

Get or stay out of debt
Live on less than you make
Invest the difference

BAM! – simple right? There are a bunch of ways to do this and each of the bloggers (now including me!) are trying to help you by sharing their path to FI/RE with you.

There are fewer paths than you would think:

There’s the Earn More! Crowd
There’s the Spend Less! Crowd

There’s the Budget/Track/Monitor Crowd
There’s the Pay Yourself First Crowd

There’s the Super Frugal Retire In Your 30’s Crowd
There’s the Less Frugal Retire in Your 50’s, 60’s or whenever Crowd

Though the crowds take different approaches, they use many of the same “rules” to get there. I achieved financial independence in spite of breaking many of these “rules”.

Rule #1. Budget and track your expenses.

You know this is a rule I followed to the extreme. We not only budgeted and tracked our expenses but also our net worth. Setting those net worth targets helped me keep my eye on the prize and, of course, I think everyone should do this.

But there are many people who reach financial independence without ever following a budget:

The Frugalwoods don’t budget, they just try to spend $0
Paula at AffordAnything doesn’t budget, she pays herself first
Tanja at OurNextLife just created her first budget for year 1 of her retirement

So if you hate budgeting, move as much money as you can to investment accounts and live on what’s in your checking account. When your checking account is empty, you’re done. Open the pantry and figure out what to make for dinner.

Rule #2. Rent – home ownership doesn’t make financial sense. Real estate barely keeps up with inflation yet carries a lot of market risk and additional expense. Paula writes about this on and she’s right.

But I broke that one and the growth in our home values was a huge contributor to our financial independence. I enjoy the stability that comes with owning my home, I wouldn’t want that huge part of my life to be controlled by someone else.

Decide whether you need roots or wings. if you need roots then home ownership may be right for you, if you need wings then maybe not.

We’re such rule breakers, we even bought a second home–gasp! But we bought it during the downturn when we were certain we wouldn’t lose money. It would have been a better financial decision to rent. But I love being part of this community and we wouldn’t have achieved that by renting–noticing a roots theme here?

Rule #3. If you buy a home, buy the least expensive and smallest home you can stand.  This will keep your costs down and you won’t be trying to keep up with fancy neighbors.

We broke that one, we built a stupid big house that we love. And we’re fortunate that, like us, some of our neighbors aren’t as fancy as their homes. We just shake our heads at the ones who are.

Rule #4. Buy used cars and drive them until they’re almost dead. Let someone else take the hit for depreciation when that car is driven off the lot.

We broke that one most of the time. We bought new cars but drove them close to 10 years. We were rescued from our errant ways with company owned cars in our later working years.

Rule #5. Hustle, hustle, hustle. Figure out a way to make extra income in addition to your regular job.

I did some bookkeeping on the side in my twenties but when my responsibilities grew, I had neither the time nor the desire for a side hustle.

If you can side hustle without affecting your success at your primary job, then hustle away. If your hustle will affect your earnings or performance in your real job, I’d skip it.

Rule #6. Minimize debt. The only debt you should carry is mortgage debt and only because interest rates are so low.

We followed this rule to the extreme. No consumer debt since my mid 20’s; no debt at all since 40.

So you can get away with breaking some “rules” and still achieve FI/RE.

It may take you longer and you may need a higher income but you can get there.

You need to find the path that works for you. If it is super frugal, retire in your 30’s that’s fine. If it looks like our “buy that boat”, “buy that second home” and retire in your 50’s or 60’s that’s fine too.

Find your balance between living for now and living for later. Then go bravely down your path.

Oh, and here’s that amazing chocolate cake recipe I want to share with everyone I care about. Add a bit of Grand Marnier to the frosting and it’s extra good, YUM!

Photo Credit: our friend Alan in Camp Hale just above Red Cliff, Colorado.

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Author: Ms. Liz

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

10 thoughts on “You CAN Break the “Rules” and Still Get Here”

  1. Nice post Liz 🙂 It seems to me you broke ALL the rules, not just some of the rules 🙂 You are right though, and its ultimately about how comfortable you are with your path. Most people would find the Mr. Money Mustache approach downright miserable (not saying he’s wrong). You might need a bigger income to live the life you want and to retire early. You might want to enjoy your weekends. But as long as spending < income, you are creating freedom – at your own pace.

    1. Ha! I definitely broke many of them. Oh, I also broke the 4% rule, forgot that one. We didn’t retire until we were well beyond that. I worked longer than I had to because of all of this crazy rule breaking–at least 51 seems old in this space.

      But I don’t think I was ready to retire earlier than I did. I hadn’t figured out how I would fill my time while all my friends were working. I mostly enjoyed my job, so it didn’t seem like a huge hardship to keep at it. Now that I’ve been retired a year and a half, I’m having so much fun I wish I’d retired sooner. But who knew?!

      Thanks for stopping by HM! We’re getting ready to embark on a bathroom remodel–it’s amazing what you can learn on Youtube!

      1. 51? Girl you are but a child compared to the true oldster around here, which is unfortunately me. I did just like you, worked much longer than needed because, I didn’t know any better? Hey, Liz, I’m just thrilled to know there is someone else over 50 around here besides me! I feel the same as you did about working longer, it was strangely right for me also. But life is so much better now!

        1. It’s good to be the child!

          I tend to not second guess my choices. Even things that look like mistakes in the mirror all worked to get me where I am today. I’m just so damn happy to be here, I must have made the “right” choices.

          Thanks for stopping by and highlighting my youth 🙂

    1. It’s great to be in the company of other rule breakers who are still getting where they want to go!

      We’ll both get there at our speed and on our terms and, hopefully, enjoy the ride!

      Thanks for stopping by Busy Mom!

  2. Great post Liz! I always like reading about how people still hit goals even when going against the common advice, it makes it feel more doable.

    I used to take budgeting really seriously but have eased up on that a bit. I still keep an eye on my spending but I’ve become comfortable with how much money I can spend and don’t need to track every penny.

    I also bought my current car new (7 years ago), and I don’t regret it. It’s done me well and still has low mileage so I’m sure I’ll get at least a few more years out of it.

    1. I’m glad my story makes this feel more doable for you!

      Some of these things delayed my retirement but I feel like I wasn’t ready to retire much earlier anyway.

      Budgeting and tracking are such ingrained habits, I don’t think I could let them go. It seems crazy to type that but it’s true. My name is Liz and I’m a budget and trackaholic. Crazy huh?! Oh well, there are worse addictions.

      Anyway, glad to find a kindred spirit on this path–thanks for stopping by and for your nice comment!

  3. hell, i think we’ve broken every rule multiple times, but between the 2 of us we did enough on the good side of the ledger to get here in about 10-12 years without feeling deprived in any way. i really think you get into trouble as a “serial renovator” when you’re a homeowner, especially when you’re upgrading stuff when there’s nothing wrong with it. even being a mediocre investor for awhile is better than not investing at all and buying that new 50k luxury auto and replacing it every 3 years.

    liz, i think back to when my friends and i were all relatively poor in our 20’s and what a good time we had with hardly a care in the world. it wasn’t too bad and when you realize that you can take on some risk once you’ve been down there and the world didn’t end.

    1. That’s such a great point you raise Freddy–our happiness isn’t determined as much by our stuff as we think.

      When I was trying to figure out whether I could retire, I came up with a bunch of fallback plans. The worst scenario was selling the big house and living full time in our little, two bedroom desert home. I don’t think that would decrease my happiness at all–it would actually simplify my life a lot. Of course with the stock market run up since I retired, it’s not likely I’ll have to revert to that plan but thanks for the reminder that I’d still have a really great life!

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