Last week I had the pleasure of enjoying dinner with a good friend that I haven’t seen in more than 15 years. Michael and I were long-ago colleagues at a now distant MegaCorp and I have always enjoyed his perspective on life, family, and happiness. This is a guy who does a great job prioritizing all three and not letting work, money, and business get too much more in the way than they need to.
We met at an outdoor pub – a beautiful brick-floored, historic, Irish place – on a sunny, 80 degree day. I have come to notice that I spend almost half of my waking hours outdoors lately – enjoying activities in the fresh air and amazing weather. We live in Minnesota, so we tend to savor every nice day in the spring, summer & fall. I am writing this post outside right now – just after mowing the lawn.
One of the things Michael and I talked about is that we all have different budgets when it comes to early retirement. This determines both when we retire and the lifestyle we are able to bankroll when we are in retirement. As we tipped back a frosty brew, I commented that I have truly found that regardless of your budget, the best things in life really are free – and regardless of whether you are a office worker, plumber, waitress, or health care worker – we can all find a happy retirement without Rockefeller bank accounts. And, increasingly – I find that enjoyment outdoors and in free or very low-cost activities.
It was an observation I noted a few weeks ago on the EarlyRetirement.org forums when someone asked early retirees if they spent more or less time outdoors since they had retired. The answers ran about 9-to-1 in favor of spending more time outside. I answered in the affirmative, too – and if you knew me, you would know I’m not known to be the most outdoorsy kind of guy. For years, I avoided the heat and sun of summer and would rather catch a movie, head to a museum, or even hang out in a nice air-conditioned bookstore on a hot day.
I’ve now found that many of the activities I am filling my second childhood with are outside: I golf a couple times a month, play tennis two times a week, I’m in a softball league, and recently started up playing disc golf. While we quit our boat club, last night we were invited out on the beautiful St. Cross river on a boat with some friends, I’ve gone to a couple afternoon MN Twins games (first place!) this season, and have always loved eating in outdoor restaurants. My son and I have been exploring metro parks this summer – one park visit or walk around one of our area lakes each week. Even at home, I’ve spent less time in front of the TV than I have out on our shady porch – listening to the radio and reading, surfing the web, or planning our next travel.
Almost none of these activities costs any serious money. Most of them are free or cost very little. Tennis courts and parks are free to the public and only require a new $1.97 can of tennis balls now and then. Weekday greens frees are much more affordable than on the weekends, and the same is true for a trip to the ballpark. Our summer long softball league only cost $50 for the whole season (~20 games) and we each bring our own beer for tailgating after the game. This past Friday night, my wife and son and I went to a cool downtown park for a groovy Jazz Fest that featured a number of different stages and affordable food trucks you could eat at. It is no wonder that overall we are spending much LESS in retirement than we budgeted for.
We’ve been blessed to have been in a situation to have saved up enough money for some very nice trips, concerts, and other events in early retirement, too – but, I wouldn’t say that these luxuries are essential to our FIRE escape. What we’ve found to be most valuable in early retirement is just having the daily sense of freedom and autonomy that come from being financially independent. My friend Michael and I talked about the age-old FIRE question of do you retire when you have hit your financial goal or your calendar goal – and I would recommend (and he is planning) to retire on a set date – and make the money fit what is needed. I have every confidence that that approach won’t impact your sense of fun or freedom!
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