The Contented Life

New Year’s Eve is upon us, and millions of New Years’ Resolutions are being drawn up all around. I’m sure a good number of those resolutions involve succeeding in our careers. I’m also sure that millions of these resolutions, even if we never admit it out loud, are really all about fattening our wallets.

Hence why I found the following article so refreshing & timely. It’s about a once-regular-Joe, who retired with his wife & kid at age 30.

The full article is a great read, but to summarize how this feat is even possible: He worked as an engineer for about a decade, lived frugally, and saved up a few hundred thousand dollars. He invested his entire savings into a rental house, and stock market index funds, which generate annual returns of around $35,000. Soon after he hit 30, he quit his job and moved together with his family, to a small town in Colorado. Now, they spend their days hiking through nature, biking, cooking & pursuing hobbies like carpentry.

Some pearls of wisdom:

“There’s a compelling logical, psychological and philosophical case for why living a simpler, less materialistic life makes us happier as humans.Far from being a sacrifice, spending less and saving more is actually an incredible life-boosting experience.”

“Instead of thinking of “savings,” think of “investments.” You invest every bit of spare money you can get your hands on, as soon as you can. Like little green employees, each dollar bill needs to be kept at work for you at all times.

Back in the day, I would just empty out my bank account after each paycheck and distribute it into my investments of choice: Vanguard’s S&P 500 index fund, their small-cap value index fund, a bit went into paying off my mortgage early as well.

More advanced investors should read a book or two on investing and asset allocation. And people interested in being a landlord should consider owning a rental house or two (but only in a city with affordable house prices, which yield a good price-to-rent ratio).”

“According to me, retirement means you no longer have to work for money. You then proceed to do whatever you like, without regard for whether or not it earns you money.

I try to promote the idea that rewarding, meaningful work is an important part of retirement for many of us. If you don’t allow work as part of “retirement,” many people say, “I’m never going to retire, because I like working.” And they use that as an excuse to always spend everything they earn, which leaves them job-dependent and addicted to high consumption for life.

Regardless of what you do, it’s better if you don’t need the money.”

“Embrace challenge and shun convenience for its own sake. Ask, “Will this really make me happier in the long run?” about all life decisions. Realize that happiness comes from accomplishment and personal growth, rather than from luxury products. Seek out voluntary discomfort as a way to become stronger, rather than running from it. Develop a healthy sense of self-mockery, and acknowledge that you are a wimp in many ways right now (and only by acknowledging it can you improve). Practice optimism. And of course, ride a bike.”

“A habit of biking instead of driving can keep you lively and fit into your 80s while saving you hundreds of thousands of dollars as well.”

I don’t agree with everything in the article. For example, having a long career doesn’t have to be a bad thing, if you’ve found one that you really enjoy. I personally really enjoy the work that I do & the company that I work for, and would prefer to work 40-hours/week as opposed to quitting entirely.

However, given the culture of consumerism & materialism that is so pervasive in our society, the ideas that this man preaches and lives by are a breath of fresh air. Far too many of us spend too much time at the office, doing work we don’t enjoy, for the sake of bonuses that we blow on material goods that become outdated & under-appreciated within a few months.

We convince ourselves that life is rat race, but seldom pause to ask ourselves why we have to continue running it. We’ve allowed the advertisers & marketing geniuses to convince us that life is all about buying the newest iPhone & the biggest flat screen TV. If we simply closed our eyes for ten minutes & asked ourselves what we really want out of life, you just might surprise yourself.

A life of tranquil, peace & serenity is out there. We just need to reach for it. Happy new year, and may 2014 help you find what you’re looking for.

Related links:
His blog where he discusses his retired & relaxed lifestyle
The Lifestyle of Warren Buffett, 2nd richest man in the world
People’s tendency to accumulate more wealth than they actually need
An ex-Wall Street banker discussing society’s “Money Addiction”


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