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I Don’t Understand the Early Retirement Extreme Movement


My blog has seemed to morph over time. In the beginning, I posted just about my debt with a sprinkling of my ‘knowledge’ as a Director of Financial Planning/Estate Planning Attorney, however, I have become more and more honest and turned it into a true blog – a manifestation of my inner thoughts.  Some of my thoughts are about topics that I don’t “get” but other people just seem to accept.  In the past I have shared (often with angry comments back) that I don’t completely understand personal finance blogging, I don’t understand people who refuse to change, I don’t understand why people just accept teacher’s complaints, I don’t get why people just buy term and invest the difference, and I also don’t understand when people proclaim they don’t want to be wealthy.   There are other examples sprinkled throughout the site.

I have been questioning whether to create this post but then a couple of nights ago, I figured why the hell not! I will let you know upfront that the post was hard to write for me. It was difficult because my feelings on the subject were hard to express since I really can’t understand the lifestyle. I will say upfront I am not judging, but rather, expressing my complete lack of understanding of the style.  My site is about my goal to reach a net worth of millions upon millions, not spending as little as possible to survive.

Why I Don’t Understand Early Retirement Extreme Movement

I read proclaimed author, Jacob Lund Fisker’s site, Early Retirement Extreme, every day. Why?  Maybe it is because he expresses his lifestyle with such conviction, maybe it is because he is an engaging human being, or maybe because he is clearly smarter than I am.   However, unlike most of his large readership, I only agree with about 22%  of what he says, and of that 22%, I will only act on about 2.5% of it.  Jacob chooses to live on $7,000/yr and I just don’t get it; hell, my honeymoon to Greece cost more than that 2 years ago.

First I want to put my consumerism wants and habits right up front:

  • I want a nice, and I think to a certain extent I need a nice car.
  • I’d love a nice house one day, and when I say nice I mean larger than average.
  • The Wife and my Cell phone and internet bills (when combined) are about 20% of Jacob’s total yearly budget.
  • I love going out to eat.
  • I have been known to have a few beers…scotches…vodkas…etc.

I don’t want to spend time talking about the above “stuff” because those are personal choices that I am sure most of his readers won’t understand/care about.  There is one specific topic that I really don’t see how could possibly fit into the Extreme Retirement Lifestyle. If Jacob is nice enough maybe I’ll tackle those wants over at his blog.

Children and Early Extreme Retirement

If you choose to have a child you are subjecting them to your life decisions (I am expecting my first child in ~2 months).  I am not questioning the love and morals of the child I am talking about the pure logistics of adding a child to your extreme lifestyle.   For purposes of organization, I’ll break the child’s life into a few major timeframes.

I have zero experience with paying for a child so I can’t really discuss it too much, but I do know that yesterday was my future son’s baby shower.  The amount of stuff I received was shocking and it all seemed like it had a purpose.  A couple hundred for a stroller “system”…a lot more than that for the baby furniture…a few pack plays…lord knows how many “onesies.” Were all the items I received today necessary? Nope, but they sure do seem important.

Then the child goes to grade school and high school.  Having to go to school every day living your extreme styles with children that just won’t understand may put them in an odd social situation. Not only may other children not understand, but more importantly, your kids may not agree with your decisions. There is that time before he or she starts working but still needs money to socialize.  Then comes college, and helping out a semi-adult.  If you ask most parents a huge goal for them seems to be to provide their children with more opportunities than they had.  But living the ERE lifestyle it seems like you are basically saying, “you are 18…you know my choices you are on your own now.” Not a bad thing, and I am not judging it is just something I don’t understand.

Growing up, my parents provided for me very well and I knew they would sacrifice almost anything for me.  But the extreme retirement lifestyle almost seems to be the opposite.  It seems that parents of this lifestyle are saying I am willing to sacrifice almost anything not to work.

Are you involved in the movement?



  1. Hmm… good post! I think the allure of early retirement (even extreme) is just “not working for the man” anymore. Most of the examples I have read about are of people who aren’t retired in the traditional sense – they are still bringing in income, although it is not from a typical 9-5 job.

    That I can understand – the freedom is amazing. I would rather live on less and not work then live paycheck to paycheck with more than I need.

    That said, I want what I want and I would not give up those things to be “retired”. I want vacations, I want to go out to eat, I want to purchase the things that I need without worrying about the bank account. I’m sure what I need/want is different than what others need/want (obviously way different than the $7000/year guy).

    Does he seriously do that with kids though? Adding kids to the mix is a whole new story – how on earth?! You don’t need to spend a fortune on children, but you need a decent amount for the basics at least. I wouldn’t subject them to “extreme retirement”, but I guess to each his own.

    • “That I can understand – the freedom is amazing. I would rather live on less and not work then live paycheck to paycheck with more than I need.

      That said, I want what I want and I would not give up those things to be “retired”. I want vacations, I want to go out to eat, I want to purchase the things that I need without worrying about the bank account.”

      I feel the EXACT same way. I want freedom but at what cost?

  2. To each their own. The recession really ravaged a lot of people, and we have to feel for many who are doing the best they can with what they got.

    And of course, you DO know the Secret to Early Retirement right?

  3. Interesting post. I think it is fair that you don’t get it. A lot of people don’t. My wife and I live on a bit more than Jacob does, but we are still pretty simple. That said, going down your list of wants, we don’t desire any of those things. It’s really more of a perspective. It’s not that we don’t want to work, in fact, we want to work very hard and are willing to work very hard to reach our goal. And once we have “enough”, we plan to still work, albeit not in the corporate world, rather in our dream job setting….a bike shop and a book store, respectively!

    I can’t speak to kids, since I don’t have any, but I don’t think anyone who follows this lifestyle is subjecting their kids to anything terrible. If anything, they are teaching their kids to be resourceful and efficient. I would argue that in the time period we are in now, that is an important lesson. But again, I don’t have kids, so I can’t really speak to that.

    Anyways, I think your post is honest and open. My last post talks about how my wife and I are looked at differently because we don’t spend money. We are supposedly “brainwashed”. I tend to disagree, but it is funny how family and friends look at our choices and question what is wrong with us. I think it is important not to judge and try to understand everyone…as I think you are trying to do in your post.

    To each their own!

  4. I agree with you. But, in fairness, I think the part of the blog name ‘Extreme’ lets you know that his works and ideas aren’t going to be mainstream. I read the blog daily as well but more of curiosity than anything. While I admire the ability to save and sacrifice and all that, it’s not something that I desire.

    Lately, I’ve been pretty close to unsubscribing ERE, more so because the blog has been more focused on ‘Look at the new forums’ and ‘Look at my new book’ and less on the day to day stories that first made it interesting to me.

  5. I’m sorry for being unclear…the goal is not to own a small business…it is to work part time at a bike shop and book store, then spend the balance of our time cycling, hiking and volunteering. So the goal is a simple low stress life.

    It really comes down to needs vs wants. Your need is something I would consider a want. But that is a highly personal decision to determine what your needs vs wants are.

    I actually did read your last post and meant to email you about it! It actually spurred some decisions in me that I have been putting off for awhile…so thanks for that!

  6. I also read a ton of blogs that I disagree with quite often (*cough*FS*cough*).

    I love the idea of early retirement. If you can make enough and live frugally, you should be able to retire before your friends.

    The extreme part is what worries me. I’d love to get there without having to give on the things in life that make you really happy.

  7. It’s all about priorities.

    I hate cars; they’re a negative. People living without cars tend be healthier, have smaller waistlines, etc.

    I too would like a nicer house, but when I say nice, I mean better built, faster to clean, easier to maintain; definitely not larger. I plan to build my own. Timber framed. It would be a cool thing to do.

    I just spent $130 on a brassbacked hand saw which cuts wood like butter. How does that compare to your saw budget? On the other hand, I don’t own a cell phone—this way people can’t call me which is good because I hate talking on the phone. Priorities 😉

    I *hate* eating out. I like food, but it’s more convenient to eat at home: faster, better (we can cook), no waiters and no noise.

    I drink single malt scotch. I particular like Islay’s. I usually pay $30-50 per bottle.

    Yes, I do think about my bank account; but I never think about what would happen if I lost my job.

    The biggest reason for pursuing extreme early retirement is—you guessed it priorities—we want to do things that are interesting to us. Things that aren’t possible in a standard 30 year long career. Doing things take precedence over owning things. In general, people who pursue early retirement are self-driven. They don’t expect people telling them what to do. In fact, if someone says they want to retire early yet they can’t tell me what they want to do once they hit it, I usually tell them to keep working. People aren’t running away from their jobs. They’re running towards something better.

    WRT children, it is generally agreed upon (at least between my readers, many of whom have children; I don’t—it’s just not my thing) that

    1) Children cost as much or as little as you can afford.
    2) You can either spend money or time on them. Those who are too busy to spend the time work and outsource raising their kids (day care, organized activities, toys, …) . Those with more time do it themselves.

    @Money Beagle – Not to worry. All this book brouhaha will blow over soon. Ironically, that really is what my day to day life currently looks like.

    • Jacob thanks for coming on over here. I don’t think you’ve ever commented. BTW it took me a min to figure out what “WRT” was an acronym for (pun intended). Couple thoughts:
      – I have never tried Islays but I promise it is the next bottle I buy
      – I saw once a year at Christmas when I cut down a tree so I don’t have a saw budget

      I completely agree with the majority of your readers that say children cost as much or as little as you can afford, but my question to those readers (not you since you have chosen not to have them) is where they draw the line as to sacrificing for their children vs. sacrificing the early retirement lifestyle?

      The second point would probably be insulting to those who get insulted easily. Just because you aren’t into that lifestyle doesn’t mean you can’t spend quality time with them.

      The priorities aspect thing is interesting and deserves a more full response rather than just a comment reply. Notwithstanding a crude response would be something along the lines of:
      – it probably has to do with enjoying the current technologicial advances of today balanced with my desire to be financially free. If I don’t buy that $500 tv how much sooner can I retire? A week? So I would trade a week of work for the 7 years the tv will last me.

  8. It is perhaps quite fortunate that the things that make me really happy like martial arts, yacht racing (as long as you don’t own the boat!), reading books, investment research, fixing bikes, and blogging, don’t cost a lot of money and in fact in many cases can’t be bought with money.

    If I derived my happiness from buying Maybachs, McMansions, flat screen TVs, and $20 steaks, I’d be $crewed 🙂

    • I have find out Martial Arts to be VERY expensive. I used to do Krav Maga and it was $125/month…looked into BJJ and that was $180 at Matt Serra’s Gym (ex-UFC Champ just happens to live a few towns over)…currently looking to study some sort of martial art but finding them to be just too expensive as far as hobbies go for me.

      • It truly is very, very expensive. I was raised on martial arts over the course of more than a decade and I truly don’t want to even ask how much my parents ended up spending for it all back then.

      • You must be able to appreciate the irony of not wanting to retire because you want a nice car and a big house yet find MA too expensive. Whereas I am retired and don’t find it too expensive because I don’t have the big house nor the nice ride 😉

        • No irony. It is not that I can’t afford it actually the wife keeps telling me to sign up for it. It is just not high enough on my priorities to pay $1,800/yr for Krav Maga or more for the BJJ.

          • Appreciating extreme early retirement is similar. It’s simply that a big house, a nice car, etc. is not high enough on my priorities to pay a lifetime of work for them. I say lifetime because those are a lot more expensive than MA classes.

  9. I’m a little bit extreme. The name of my site kind of emphasizes that. But I’m kind of extreme in both ways.

    -I’m fairly minimalist. I don’t particularly even need to try to be, because I simply dislike most material possessions. I prefer very simple things and very simple experiences, with a few luxuries thrown in here and there. It’s mostly not about the money. I’m not all that intense though; I have all the basic belongings of most people, just less, and of course I don’t want my views to interfere with the people in my life that they will affect.

    -On the other hand, I’m actively choosing to build as much wealth as possible. I plan to be a multimillionaire one day. In the meantime, I’m working to at least build financial independence so that my job is optional rather than necessary.

    • I will almost certainly become a millionaire and likely a multimillionaire (multi only takes 2, right?) simply due compound returns on the excess money of my safety margin.

      This would not be from actively trying.

  10. I understand people who want to spend $7,000 a year and save the rest, but I would never be one of those people. I’d rather enjoy myself for my entire life than hate my life for 20 years just to retire early.

    Plus, I really don’t know if I could see myself enjoying retirement before 50. There’s a lot to be said for enjoying your job and showing up to work being productive every day.

  11. I have to be honest, I don’t get the extreme lifestyle either. It’s not something I would ever, ever want to do. I’d rather enjoy my WHOLE life then just the second half of it.

  12. Mr. BFS and I talk about this off an on. We are willing to give up some stuff in order to not work, but there are other luxuries we will gladly work for to keep.

    We are aiming to save enough my age 52 to be able to live the life we have now through passive income alone…we could probably make that goal even earlier if we cut back, but we like what we have.

    We like cable and DVR, we like eating out once or twice a week, we like having a housekeeper come by every 2 weeks, and we like the house at 72 degrees every night. I’m willing to work to have those things.

    Now, if you told me that I could quit my job tomorrow if I just sacrifice my cell phone, I’d be retired in a heartbeat – it’s all about priorities and what a person values. So I guess I am not the target audience for early retirement extreme…

  13. I buy into the early extreme movement a little bit. Like you, there are still things that I enjoy having and am willing to spend money on (like a house). I would prefer not raising my kids in a tent!

    What is comes down to for me is not wasting money. If I make a purchase and can use the item and get it’s true value, then it is worth the money. However, if I don’t make use of the item, then I think that is where the issue comes in.

    Great Post!

    • Being smart with cash is a whole different world than living off of $7K a year.

      I am a huge fan of your site by the way

  14. As you can tell by my name, I am very interested in this topic and headed right over to Jacob’s site and subscribed.
    We live a pretty simple lifestyle, but we definitely spend a lot more than 7k/year.
    When I say retire, I mean retiring from the corporate world. I will still find some way to bring in minimal income.
    The biggest obstacle for me right now is the upcoming baby! I will write about this soon.
    I think it is ok for kids to live a frugal lifestyle, it will help them to save when they grow up. We never had much money when I was a kid and the habit helped me to never carry credit card debt.

  15. Interesting post and interesting comments. I perceive early retirement as – I can do what I really enjoy doing. Not working for someone else but for myself. Thoughtful post.

    • Working for yourself is not where Jacob is at though. For him (I hope I am not putting words in his mouth) it is the choice to work, i.e. if you want to take off fro 3 months it just doesn’t matter

  16. It’s all about moderation, man.

    Good post! I agree with you.. I definitely don’t see how I would be able to work on $7000 a year. It would pay off in the end though (when one is retired early).

    Congrats on the baby! Babies are expensive (maybe you can save money by buying those cloth diapers??) but I’m sure worth it.

    • Babies are freaking expensive! We hooked up the babies room – it looks freaking fantastic! But the furniture was RIDICULOUS.

      We looked into the cloth diapers and I don’t think we are going to go that route. The starter set is not cheap at all, but there is a cross over…finding it is a little “dirty”

  17. That is true babies are expensive every move needs money, a monthly check up, milk, diapers, vitamins and everything that concerns your child. I guess money is the no.1 basic needs of people that’s why either I can sacrifice everything but not my work, this is my bread and butter and an early retirement is just not great as of this time.

  18. Evan, I feel like you about Jacob’s blog. It’s good to get another perspective even though that lifestyle is not for me.

    It makes me think about where I might simplify our living standards. So, know that not every one of ERE’s readers buy in all the way.

  19. Having watched SDXB (Semi-Demi-Exboyfriend) thrive on what you and I would consider starvation wages after he retired into what he calls “bumhood,”” I sure can’t criticize Jacob. In fact, SDXB has never looked back and never regretting stepping off the treadmill. ERE’s remark, above, “doing things take precedence over owning things,” applies 100% to SDXB. At 70 he still lives well, and amazingly, the older he gets the more joyful he seems to be. He’s presently in love with a delightful lady, traveling the world with her, and generally having a great time.

    It should be added that, though he does not have cable TV and though he earned a reporter’s salary (i.e., not much!) while he worked, he does have a cell phone, he paid for his house in cash, and he pays for his cars in cash.

    On the other hand, despite his coaxing, I’ve never been able to bring myself to live on under $24,000 a year. I think it’s a cast of mind.

    A friend who quit his newspaper job to freelance told me he would never have done so were it not for his wife’s healthy income as an oncology nurse (he sent her to school and so felt entitled to take up freelancing). We had a mutual friend who was living from grant to grant as a moderately successful fiction writer, in a coldwater cabin with no electric. As my reporter pal remarked, “there’s a certain standard of living I feel I need to have.”

  20. I spent some time going over Jacob’s 21 days makeover and saw right away it won’t work for us. We can’t live like that. We just have to work a bit longer so we can have a moderate lifestyle. I made my retirebyforty manifesto on my About blog page. Check it out. I hope it’s ok to put a link here.

    • Of course you can put your manifesto in here, but I’ll let you know right now if you don’t follow through I’ll call you out!

  21. I don’t get it either, but to each their own.

    Having a child? You can kiss Early Retirement Extreme good bye!

    I also think people can save too much. After all you never know when you’ll get hit by the proverbial bus. No one on their deathbed will state, I wish saved more. Consume (in moderation), save (in moderation), live and have fun in life!

  22. I definitely want to get out of the rat race, but I don’t think that extreme frugality is the way to do for me personally. I don’t need to consume too much, but a middle class lifestyle + getting out of the rat race is the sweet spot for me. I will sacrifice a bit to be able to pay off my debt faster and save more, but I think that one doesn’t need to go to Jacob’s extreme if they don’t want to. Jacob simply shows that that kind of lifestyle is very achievable for those who want that, and you don’t need to be a slave to your own consumerism.

    • “middle class lifestyle + getting out of the rat race”

      The obvious question is what do you consider middle class? Nice car but not German? McMansion? Vacations but not nutty ones?

      • Exactly. Unless you have the salary to afford it and still save significantly at the same time. I’m perfectly fine without the McMansion, with a Japanese car instead of a German car, and with backpacker style vacations (in fact, I enjoy those ones more, but maybe when I’m older I’ll change my mind. :))

  23. I grew up in an extremely frugal household that would make Jacob look like a complete hedonist. Yes, it’s possible to raise kids that way as my parent’s raised 8 of us like that.

    I’ve lived on about the same income as Jacob does raising a kid by myself and it’s definitely do-able. You just have to use your imagination and creativity. I must say though that going through lean times with them both means that they’re not very materialistic now when we don’t have to be.

    I’d say that the ERE “concept” is pretty scalable too though and that’s how it should be. I followed somewhat the same path on a more lavish scale (still saving 75% but on a bigger salary) and ended up at the same place of being able to fund a frugal retirement. My choice though is to work some months out of the year or work part-time in order to pay for the extras that I really want. But there’s always the assurance that I don’t actually HAVE to work to survive and that sense of freedom is really quite priceless.

  24. I’m coming a little late to the discussion, I know, but can’t resist the opportunity to puy my two cents in (one cent if you’re extreme!).

    I took a very traditional route to financial independence — I earned an inflatin-adjusted lifetime annuity with lifetime healthcare; I have income from savings (no stock market–guaranteed income in the form of a short and long term CD ladder) and rental real estate as the “more-risk for more but not guaranteed return” portion of my portfolio.

    But while I was working towards the income side I also managed the expense side — no debt, no mortgage but I am married and we have a daughter. My wife had never worked until recently when she became a substitute teacher and her income is hers to do with as she pleases.

    Our total monthly spending is about 40% of income and therein is the Occam’s Razor of Financial Independence: Figure out how much income you need to finance YOUR CHOSEN LIFESTYLE then put a plan together to get there ON YOUR TIMETABLE.

    Those two components are likely to be a little different for each of us but there is no right or wrong.

    Some people would say our lifestyle is too much and some would say it is too little but in the Goldilocks Model, it’s just right FOR US.

    IT FITS US and that is what matters, not what others think–WHAT YOU THINK. If Jacob is OK with Jacob then more power to him!

    The title of his blog and the concept of “retirement” is what throws many people off. Most people want simply to escape the rat race THEY DO NOT SEEK TO RETIRE.

    Retire is something that people of a certain age do. What most people dream of is achieving some measure of financial independence to reclaim some of their life from the constraints of the 40 hour workweek.

    But to achieve that end, you do not need to scrimp and save and live in a tent for twenty years–it is much easier than that and most of us could live the same life and still enjoy a four-day weekend every week for the rest of our life.

    Was that more than two cents worth? Sorry!


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