Guilty pleasures

We all have some guilty pleasures. The movie, that everyone hates, but that you secretly enjoy watching over and over. The song, that you would never admit to your friends to have it on your playlist, but that you just have to listen to every now and then. The fast-food burger, that everyone know is not only bad for your health but also bad for your waist, but that you crave for after every work-out.

For someone who wants to retire early, guilty pleasures are even more of a concern. Because they include any not necessary spendings. Drinks or food on the go, online-shopping, giving into promotions and special offers, simple home improvements or even just that monthly Netflix charge, can quickly start feeling like a guilty pleasure. Because you know, that every Euro spent, is a Euro which does not make it into your savings or investment account, and thus will ultimately delay your dream of early retirement from becoming true.

But here is the thing. Being overly strict with yourself, can prove to be a counter-productive strategy.

The strategy to early retirement is actually simple: Spend less than you earn, save and invest what is left at the end of the month, and repeat the process until you hit your target. When it comes to determine how much one should save every month, the easiest answer is therefore of course: As much as possible. The more and the faster you safe and invest, the earlier you can retire.

Some financial planners or advisers might tell you to start by setting up smaller targets, like 10% of your monthly income. You might have already guessed it: This won’t work for an early retirement plan. Saving 10% a month might work well for a social security top-up-plan. But for early retirement and to escape the rat race, you need to get really aggressive and put as much as you can, as soon as you can to work. The power of compound interest, dividend and stock-price growth can only truly unfold it’s beautiful wings when it has enough time to do so, thus every delay, every wasted Euro and every wasted day does count and can have a significant impact, no matter how small.

You might hear or read stories about people who go as far as to save up 50% of their monthly income. While it may sound crazy, it’s definitely not impossible. The only real question is, how much you truly want it.

The yo-yo effect

However, no matter how determined you are, you are also a human. Humans have a soul, feelings and needs, that often go beyond rationale. Not surprisingly, while it can happen that following a super-strict regiment will get you to a saving percentage that will make your jaw drop, there is a high chance that you get either tired, annoyed or over-confident and without even noticing, snap back to your previous spending habits. Very similar to the famous yo-yo effect, as we know it from people who are trying to lose weight.

It’s not just about saving more – it’s a fundamental lifestyle change

I would say that reaching this goal of a 50% savings rate is definitely achievable, and it is actually something to really strive for. But you don’t need it from day one.

Your financial planner might be not wrong after all, and starting with 10% while learning about investments, understanding your spending habits and learning how to budget, track and adjust your money matters is actually probably a very good idea. This way you may lay the track for a step by step approach to adjust yourself and to slowly start shifting into sustainable changes to your lifestyle.

I have detailed budgets since 2014, and my savings rates looked like this:

  • 2014: 37,32%
  • 2015: 36,06%
  • 2016: 18,10%
  • 2017: 31,16%
  • 2018: 35,56% (expected)

My daughter was born by the end of 2015, so the majority of the initial baby-costs and family related matters kicked in a little later on in 2016. And of course I also needed to bring her and my wife to Europe so my parents will see their first granddaughter, so this was another factor and a few thousand Euros spent. But other than that, I got pretty hooked up between 31-38% year on year. While these numbers are not bad, they are for me a little bit frustrating to look at, especially since my salary has also grown during that time – significantly.  In 2018, I am earning almost 3 times what I was earning in 2014. This means, that I should be able to actually save significantly more.

Well, that’s not how life works and different circumstances required adjustments. Getting married, having a daughter and starting a family life definitely had a large impact on my overall lifestyle and spending habits. Also, it took me quite a while to bring my wife back from the dark side (of spending habits) and to get her aligned with me on our financial targets as individuals and as a family. This should start bearing fruits by 2019 and I think I am going to break through the 40% barrier by that time.

No regrets

But having said all that, you should not think that I would regret any of the Euros that didn’t make it into my investment account yet. Having a wonderful, understanding and supportive wife and a beautiful little daughter makes my days on earth truly worthwhile and I wouldn’t want to exchange any moment we had together for any of those “lost” amounts. It was actually absolutely not a loss of whatsoever, but probably one of the best investments I have actually done.

So my point in all of this is: Don’t hang up yourself if you don’t hit your magical savings and investment numbers immediately. Keep it up as your target and try your best to work towards it, but don’t forget that you still got a life to live. Living frugally is only enjoyable when you set your priorities right and allow yourself to enjoy the moments that truly matter. Even if they do cost some money sometimes.

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