The Best Things In Life Are Free (and Outdoors)

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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!

Image Credit: © MrFireStation.com; Innsbruck, Austria

6 thoughts on “The Best Things In Life Are Free (and Outdoors)

  1. My fondest memories growing up are of the outdoor excursions with my family. Mr. Adventure Rich and I are now trying to bring this to our son. We have made a conscious effort to spend more time outside, pursuing adventures ranging from a walk in the garden to paddling down a river to get a pizza. Its been a blast!

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    • That’s great! I’m not much of an outdoorsy guy (nor is my son), but he was in Boy Scouts and we camped 100+ nights in his way to Eagle.

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  2. Great seeing you Eric! Loved catching up and reminiscing. Post is spot on. I think the world/financial services industry convinces us we need more $$ to “retire happy” than we actually need. Yes, it would be terrific to have millions in the retirement coffers, but don’t give up your 50s and 60s for a few dollars more. At some point, time and health are more precious than dollars.

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  3. I am seven weeks into early retirement now, and I absolutely agree with your assessment. Like you, my wife and I are spending the vast majority of our days outdoors playing tennis, kayaking, hiking, biking, and working in the yard. It will be interesting to see how the winter goes when those options aren’t as readily available, but we have a few trips planned further south over the coldest months too keep us busy. Luckily living in the mid-Atlantic area even the winters are fairly tolerable. (But I think I can manage it! Either way it’s waaaaay better than driving to Mega-Corp every day!) I enjoy your blog, thanks for keeping them coming.

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    • Thanks so much, Thom – I’m reading your comment today sitting on our screened porch on a sunny 80 degree day. Many neighbors are home for Independence Day, but for some today is a work day. Yikes.

      I think you will find that each season has its own diversions and enjoyments. Even in the peak of winter (in cold MN), there was lots to do and a vacation to someplace warm can be part of the fun!

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