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Happiness loves company, too: an FI/ER parable

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[We’re in the California Deserts this week to visit Mrs. RB40’s families. Summer isn’t the best time to visit the deserts (so hot!), but we got some family stuff to take care of. We’ll just have to get things done in the morning and hang out at the pool in the afternoon. The Joshua Tree National Park is on our itinerary, but we probably won’t stay long. 

Today, Early Retirement Dude is helping out with a fun story. FI is really awesome, but happiness is even better. Read how his friend found happiness.]

Happiness loves company, too: An FI/ER Parable

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I was famous, or rather “famous,” when I was twenty-three. From 1991 to 1993–my business school days–I was a disc jockey for two local radio stations: the big classic rock one and the dinky college alternative one. Good times. Work all day, party all night.

When you’re a DJ you get recognized around town. People want to shake your hand and buy you a beer. You do live broadcasts from bars and get free concert tickets and go backstage and they give you the rock-star treatment. It’s heady.

But I was indoctrinated into the birth-school-work-death cycle, as so many of us have been. And I found my first job to be a severe culture shock. I’d been conditioned to think of having a corporate job as “normal,” so after graduating I left my rock-n-roll lifestyle and joined the workforce…whereupon, although I was making scads more in salary, I was immediately miserable and started planning my escape.

You grok me? Being ill-suited to corporate careerism? Going nuts one slow day at a time, for money? Regretting, maybe, that you sold your dreams for less than they were worth?

Some of us find salvation in the pursuit of FI/ER. Others…well, let me introduce you to my friend Serrano.


During my DJ days I moved in the same circles with a bunch of local musicians who were my age. Serrano was among the best of them. (I leave you to guess why everybody called him Serrano, but you’ll figure it out.)

Serrano was the drummer for a grunge band. And he was GOOD. I’d never seen or heard a drummer like him, and as a DJ I’d seen plenty. Serrano was talented…great-looking…had a shock of curly black hair…and we all wanted to strangle him for it.

But halfway through his senior year Serrano knocked up his girlfriend. They had a quickie wedding by an evergreen-shaded creek in a nearby national park. I was one of his groomsmen.

Naturally Serrano was dejected about what had happened–mourning his old life and learning how to breathe in his new one–but before we get into the “Kids ruin FI/ER” debate, know that he and his girlfriend were genuinely in love and the two of them had always wanted a big family. So they’d gotten it: even if too early. Twins. Serrano and his wife had twins.

Serrano, being a straight-up guy, took a full-time job in his major–which this being prior to the internet was some kind of mainframe network development I’d never heard of. He tried to keep his band going for a while, but what with all his new responsibilities he just couldn’t hack it.


Fast-forward twenty-five years of high times and low. Today the twins and Serrano’s other two kids are grown and gone, but Serrano and his wife are still happily married. I asked him one time about where his head at is with respect to his drummer days, and he says he doesn’t regret a thing.

But…

In December of 2015 Serrano got laid off from Comcast (hereinafter “Satan.”) Satan had some kind of shortfall in his quarterly numbers, so he took up his brimstone hay-fork and prodded Serrano’s sales-support IT department into that eternal hell of laying everybody off and making them reapply on their own jobs.

Serrano didn’t get his job back. Naturally the layoff/reapplication process included a cut in head count, and Satan filled Serrano’s seat with an employee who was younger and less skilled than he was, yet senior to him and better connected politically.

Serrano was devastated. He had to interview all across the country, find another job, sell his house, pack up his wife and her mother, and split town.

But here’s the serendipitous thing. I didn’t know Serrano was shooting for this until after it happened, but he found a job running the various library systems for the Athens campus of the University of Georgia…which, if you didn’t know, is an epicenter of the college music scene. It was a pay cut, OK, but there was this one particular side benefit.

He called me a couple of months later. “Dude, get this…me and these four guys are playing a gig together and I want you to come down.”

“No way,” I said.

“Yeah, man. I mean…it’s a wedding and all, but it’s a couple of tattoo artists. They’re cool. A gig, dude. I can’t even tell you how good it feels.”

Right the frig on, I thought. “I’ll be there,” I promised.

And I was. Serrano was a little rusty on the skins, but by God, his joy filled the ballroom.


We got caught up over a few IPAs, and me being me, we talked a while about finances. He’s got your standard retirement plan. No pension but puts some money in the university’s 403(b) every year, which he’ll be eligible to draw from in twelve or so years. House is almost paid off and they’ve got some savings. Looking like he’ll get to draw Social Security. And he’s got one other thing going for him: given that he and his wife have four kids, they won’t lack for food or shelter in their old age.

Serrano will never be financially independent or early retired. But so what? He snuck up on an old source of happiness, seized it, and jammed it back into his life.

And isn’t that a potential we all have? We make our choices but we never relinquish the freedom to change our minds. Happiness is out there waiting for us, we can find it, and in fact it wants to be found. Maybe not in FI/ER, but hell…most of us will never be ace drummers, either. Many paths, one goal.


The Early Retirement Dude tunneled out of the workforce in 2005 after a twelve-year corporate career in financial services. He did it the old-fashioned way: hustled, saved money, and put it to work for him. Since making his escape he’s done pretty much whatever he wanted, but now the rum is gone (why is the rum always gone?) and he’s fallen back on running, bicycle touring, hanging out with old friends, and trying his best to be a good father and husband. He does, however, occasionally step on his naughty bits. Visit EarlyRetirementDude.com for his insights into all things early retirement, including his award-winning history of the financial independence movement.

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{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Lazy Man and Money July 13, 2017, 3:09 am

    Excellent story. I kept waiting for the FIRE part and liked the alternative ending.

    Sounds like Serrano has “enough” when it comes to money, so love the focus on the more important stuff.

  • Mrs. Adventure Rich July 13, 2017, 4:12 am

    Awesome story, I really like how the focus here is happiness. Ultimately, the happy guy working until he is 67 beats out the miserable early retiree every time. Thank you for sharing!

  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance July 13, 2017, 4:47 am

    Aww this is such a cute and meaningful story. Thank you so much for sharing! I know having kids can really put a strain on a marriage, but I’m glad Serrano and his wife are happily married after all though years.

    Doing what we love is indeed important. I can’t picture myself getting rich one day and wondering if I should have pursued my passion along the way despite the dip in my net worth.

  • Erik @ Hippies de Land Rover July 13, 2017, 4:50 am

    Awsome!! very well written and very accurate!
    I totally agree, “Serrano will never be financially independent or early retired. But so what? ”
    Exactly!!.. but so what!!?
    “He snuck up on an old source of happiness, seized it, and jammed it back into his life.”

    That’s what really matters! at the end, it’s about doing what you enjoy doing without worrying about money. That’s why FI/ER buys your time back, but.. if you’re already doing what you love.. so what!?

    Cheers!
    Erik

  • Physician on FIRE July 13, 2017, 5:12 am

    Fun story, and I’m glad to hear Serrano found his way back on the sticks. It would be even more fun to learn that he no longer needed the job after Satan cast him aside, but alas…

    Speaking of serendipity, I serendipitously hosted a guest post today on how having kids can “blow up” your early retirement plans: http://www.physicianonfire.com/kids/

    But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

  • FullTimeFinance July 13, 2017, 6:18 am

    There is more then one possible path through life. It sounds like your friend found the path that makes him happy. We can all be so lucky.

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher July 13, 2017, 6:22 am

    Oh wow, what a ride! Isn’t it funny how life can be circular like that? 🙂 We never see the end journey when we’re going through our daily lives, but it’s funny to look back on some things and seeing where you turn out. 🙂

  • Mike Drak July 13, 2017, 6:28 am

    Loved the story. Reconnecting with what you love doing is what we all should aim for. I’m really starting to believe in this serendipity, law of attraction, karma thing because I’m experiencing it firsthand right now. Funny how life works.

  • Ty Roberts July 13, 2017, 6:39 am

    “…mourning his old life and learning how to breathe in his new one.” That’s the best line I’ve read in two months.

    Learning how to breath life back into your life is the skeleton key of happiness.

    Great story, ER Dude!

    • Early Retirement Dude July 13, 2017, 9:39 am

      Thanks! Out of curiosity:

      >That’s the best line I’ve read in two months.

      What was the one you read two months ago?

      • Ty Roberts July 13, 2017, 5:59 pm

        Didn’t actually have a specific line in mind. Was just trying to convey that it jumped out at me like nothing else has in quite a while.

  • Budget on a Stick July 13, 2017, 7:00 am

    Never really thought about the middle ground between “normal” (sky high debt and no savings) and FI/RE.

    In the end it’s about enjoying the journey. Thank you! ?

  • Counting Quarters July 13, 2017, 8:24 am

    My parents are very much in a similar situation. They neither drastically saved or spent lavishly. They always kept a balance. We didn’t go on big vacations every year, but we did every few. They are retired now and keeping things simple. Traveling when they want, and relaxing poolside.

  • Good story.

    Everyone has to live their own life, and work towards their own goals. People value all sorts of things, so its difficult to put your goals onto their lives. Sounds like your friend was a success.

  • Mr. Tako July 13, 2017, 9:35 am

    Great story ERD! I think this illustrates one of the main advantages of FI — the ability to choose the work you want, not just the one that pays the most.

    After years of working the “for the money” jobs, I’m now free to take any work that I want! It’s pretty awesome!

  • Early Retirement Dude July 13, 2017, 9:55 am

    Funny how nobody has yet guessed the meaning of the nickname “Serrano.”

    • retirebyforty July 13, 2017, 4:31 pm

      I have no idea. Did he play for the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

    • Mike in NH July 17, 2017, 7:12 am

      My boy Pedro from Major League? It’s very bad to drink Jobu’s rum…

  • Brad - MaximizeYourMoney.com July 13, 2017, 10:16 am

    Great story! (BTW, our daughter is a senior at UGA – Go Dawgs!)

  • Al July 13, 2017, 10:32 am

    Good article, better reminder. So glad that you are taking time for vacation, family, and yourself. Although visiting in-laws can be stressful but it keeps Mrs. happy.

    “Life is about choices and either you happen to life or life happens to you.”

    This is the reason I have always myself and encourage others to move forward, just keep moving forward. Get over the complaining, get over the fairness, get over yourself, just move forward.

  • Dividend Diplomats July 13, 2017, 4:09 pm

    Solid article and has a different twist to it. You can realize how lucky and happy you are with the things in your current life and if you don’t have an FI/ER – then make it the best situation possible doing something that brings you more happiness. “WINNING” here.

    -Lanny

  • Tim Kim @ Tub of Cash July 13, 2017, 4:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing Joe. Sometimes that’s all it is. Most people won’t have a decent retirement, let alone get to FIRE. But enjoying life in the moment. Not throwing at all the stuff that bring some satisfaction to our lives. It’s what makes life worth living, I think. It’s a good reminder for us in the community to enjoy the journey to FIRE (or even after FIRE), rather than just the end goal.

  • Angela July 13, 2017, 7:53 pm

    This is an awesome story. I think sometimes we get so focused on the FIRE part of life we forget to ask ourselves if it’s actually what we want. Especially for those of us who are 10-15 years out (or more) from reaching that goal, I think it’s really important to make sure to enjoy the time in between. I cut back my work hours to 80% to spend extra time with my son, and while that definitely pushes back my FI date, I’m enjoying each week a lot more for it. That being said, it’s a different story if just a couple of years of hard core focus gets you there ?

  • Dave in Sunny FL July 14, 2017, 10:46 am

    Loved the post. I also read the author’s linked piece on the history of the FI/ER movement. I wanted to mention one slight omission that was part of my own experience. In the very early 1990s, brokerage commissions remained high, and there was a bias in favor of buying and selling stocks in “round lots” of 100. The DRIP movement allowed my wife and I (as well as many others who didn’t have brokerage accounts) to begin investing slowly and regularly in a number of blue-chip companies, while avoiding the friction of high brokerage expenses. DRIPs are now as cumbersome and out of step as the old investment clubs, but they did have their place, back in the day. They provided a great source of financial security, which was outside of those restricted-access retirement plans. Thanks for writing!

  • Anil July 15, 2017, 7:14 am

    Thanks ERD for sharing this cool story!

    Joe – why in the desert at this time of the year? You should invite your in-law to Oregon, summers in Oregon are the most beautiful time of the year. In fact, Oregon summers are probably one of the best seasons anywhere in the country. There is so much to do and see in such nice sunny days.

    • retirebyforty July 15, 2017, 7:31 am

      We have some family stuff to take care of. Mrs. RB40 parents also don’t like to travel. They prefer to stay home. The Pacific Northwest is really awesome in the summer.

  • Dividend Diplomats July 15, 2017, 7:55 am

    Love the story – Serrano is making the best of the situation. We always talk about FI/RE and early retirement in the pursuit of happiness and doing what we want. While that may not be possible, I have to envy Serrano and how the ending of his career and working life will be in a setting that he loves and will get enjoyment out of. Everyone deserves to be happy and life is too short to work for the Satans of the world.

    Thanks for sharing the story!

    Bert

  • Great Indian Retiree July 15, 2017, 6:53 pm

    Great article!
    Enjoyed the writing style and the down to earth approach.
    FI/ER goes a long way in buying flexibility in needed pursue things that matter or that give us joy. Will certainly the ERD website a visit.

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