It’s Good to Be a Little Obsessed with Early Retirement

Are You Obsessed with Early Retirement?

A little obsession is good because it drives us to accomplish something. I was obsessed with getting my engineering degree when I was in college because my parents worked hard to send me there. Many kids were there to have fun, but I just wanted to get through it. Fun was a distant secondary objective. Mrs. RB40 was an obsession – she went off to Peace Corps for 3 years after college and I was obsessed with winning her back. (BTW, it worked out despite what everyone said. We’re still married after 21 years.) Blogging and early retirement were a big obsession for a while, too. I routinely stayed up until 1 am when I was working full time so I could publish a blog post regularly. It was difficult, but I pushed through it.

There were many more trivial obsessions like video games and my ukulele collection. I think a little obsession is fine as long as it doesn’t take over your life completely. This applies to early retirement, too. There are times when it is good to be obsessed with early retirement. However, you have to be smart about it over the long haul.

Obsessing with Early Retirement

Early retirement is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you save 50% of your income, it’d probably take 16 years to retire early. It’s just not good to be obsessive about something for that long. Being overly obsessive about early retirement can be a detriment to your health, relationships, and social life. You have to pace yourself when you’re chasing FIRE. It is impossible to sprint the whole way. You’ll burn yourself out if you try. However, there are two crucial spots where it pays to be obsessive.

When you first learn about early retirement aka FIRE

There are many reactions when people learn about early retirement.

  1. Indifference – It’s not for me.
  2. Disbelief – This is a scam.
  3. Obsessive convert – Wow, maybe I can do this.
  4. Shocked – Does this 4% rule thing really work?
  5. etc…

This is the right time to get obsessive. Most people drift through life without a financial purpose. They make money and spend it just as fast. We’ve been taught that everyone should work until they’re 65. Then they retire to a life of ease. That’s the regular view of work in most developed countries.

We were moderately frugal before I learned about early retirement around 2008. We made good income and we didn’t spend frivolously. However, there was still a lot of wastage. We had cable TV, two cars, a house in the suburbs that was way too big for us, ate out whenever we wanted, took exotic international vacations, purchased stuff without thinking too much about it, and went out often. We lived within our means, but it was a pretty typical lifestyle.

In 2008, we already maxed out our 401k contributions and Roth IRA. That was much more than most people ever did so I thought it was enough. I could have kept working at Intel and then retire 20 years later. It’d still be early retirement because I’d be 55 in 2028. We could stay on the company health insurance plan and perhaps have a little pension income. Anyway, we thought we were doing well financially and then I learned about early retirement.

The Discovery Phase

I got excited after I discovered early retirement because it was clear to me that FIRE was within reach. We’ve been saving and investing for over 10 years so our foundation was solid. I could retire way sooner than 55 if we streamlined our expenses. I got obsessive and reduced our spending as much as I could. This boosted our saving rates and shortened my FIRE timeline even more. I didn’t have to wait for the company to okay my retirement. I could do it on my own. It was a good thing too because my job satisfaction plunged as the Great Recession dragged on.

Mrs. RB40 got on board with reducing expenses because she already was frugal. She never liked spending money so it was a relatively easy transition for her. We still lived a comfortable lifestyle. We just removed the stuff that wasn’t that important to us. International trips were still a priority for us because we enjoyed traveling. However, we reduced expenses in all other areas. We ate out less, shared one car, and moved to a smaller home. There were plenty of free and cheap entertainment options in Portland so we still enjoyed a good life.

The Autopilot Phase

Once we streamlined our expenses, I got less obsessed with early retirement. There wasn’t much more I could do to reduce expenses after the initial frenzy. I looked for opportunities to create more income, but that was a long process. We got raises at work, invested in dividend stocks, purchased rental properties, and I started blogging. All these passive income streams took time to build.

Once you get through the initial discovery phase, then you need to dial down your obsession a bit and put it on autopilot. The early retirement journey is a long slog. You have got to be able to enjoy life in the meanwhile. The most important things are to stay healthy and maintain a good relationship with your partner.

Health – You can’t compromise on health because you won’t be able to enjoy your money if you’re not healthy. It probably will cost more money in the long run if you put wealth before health. Luckily, being frugal is mostly good for your health. For example, we cook at home very often which is much healthier than eating out.

Relationship – The other big concern is maintaining a good relationship with your spouse. Building wealth is much easier if a couple works as a team. Luckily, Mrs. RB40 was already frugal so it wasn’t a big change for her. Also, we didn’t cut out everything that costs money. We still go out occasionally and see a show once in a while. It’s all about finding a good balance.

This autopilot phase can last for years. You have to enjoy life while you’re in this phase. Don’t drive your partner away by cutting back too much at once. If your partner isn’t naturally frugal, then you might need to take it slow and keep chipping away. Also, it’s not healthy to stay in a job you hate for too long. This is a long stretch so you need to do something you can tolerate. It’s a good idea to find a better job instead of working somewhere you don’t like. You’ve got to save some energy for the final stretch.

The End Game

The end game phase is equivalent to the last mile of a marathon. The finish line is close, but you’re not there yet. At this point, you have to put your head down and push through the pain. That’s how I felt during my last year on the job. By then, I hated going to work. The stressful job caused a lot of mental and physical anguish that last year. I was miserable, but I didn’t want to make any changes. I guess I could have looked for a better job, but I was so close to the finish line. My mantra was “stay the course” at that point. I became obsessed with early retirement and went over my spreadsheet every day. Life was not fun, but thankfully, it was only a short time. It worked for me so I think it’s okay to be obsessed during this final stretch.

Early Retirement Obsession Chart

Check out this chart I made.

This is what I think your obsession with early retirement should look like.

  • When you don’t know about early retirement, you don’t care about it.
  • In the discovery phase, your obsession spikes. This is when you put your financial house in order and set up a plan to retire early.  
  • Once you’ve got your finances on autopilot, you should dial it back. After all, this phase can take many years.
  • Near the finish line, it’s okay to be obsessed again because you want to get it over with. Whatever you’ve done so far is working so keep it up over this final stretch. Put your head down and push through those obstacles if you need to. I wish you better luck than I had, though. It’d be nice to cruise through the finish line instead of struggling to the end.
  • After early retirement, you can relax a little and enjoy life more.

Pace Yourself

Whew, this post ran a little long. My point is it could take years to achieve financial independence and retire early. It’s good to be obsessive in your first and final phases of the journey. But you probably shouldn’t be too obsessive during the long middle phase. Your health and relationship with your partner need to come first. FIRE is a great goal to have, but don’t let it take over your life completely.

Where are you in your early retirement journey? Are you obsessed with it?

Image by William van Wingerden

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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73 thoughts on “It’s Good to Be a Little Obsessed with Early Retirement”

  1. Well said Joe and I agree. Once I discovered FIRE, Mr. Money Moustache and other blogs, I got quite obsessed for a while but was enjoying it. I was also working in IT at a place I had been tolerating for many years and wasnt happy. I really questioned my habits, expenses and values. I cut out a lot of wasteful things and got my expenses in check. I think its a good exercise to go through but not totally sustainable long term in a lot of ways. I try to screen my spending and purchases but dont sweat the small stuff so much now. During the middle phase like you said, its really not healthy to obsess over every dollar for 10 or 20 years. I think for most people, just cutting out the wasteful junk spending can do wonders for your finances and you can still end up having most things you want.

    Reply
  2. I’m definitely in the initial frenzy phase right now… but auto-pilot adjacent :)..i like that you said your wife didn’t like spending money so the transition was easy…I can relate…that’s kind of where I am… i guess more accurately i don’t like spending money that i worked hard to earn… now if for some reason i had access to free money… i wonder if the story would be different 😕

    Reply
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      Reply
  3. Joe,

    Great post! I can relate to this post very much. I have found myself to be an extremist when it comes to being frugal and becoming financially independent. I have a system in place that automates an extremely large percentage of my income into savings. My goal is to retire early.

    However, in doing so, I have found that I have had to say no a lot. I say no to a lot of my friends due to my extreme savings goals. The fact that a large amount of my friends are not concerned with saving money makes the situation even more extreme.

    However, at this point, I will continue to max out my retirement accounts and save money utilizing low cost index funds. I am looking to get into real estate soon to supercharge my efforts. However, I need to save more cash.

    -James

    Reply
  4. Excellent post and great reminder to let go of the obsession a little and enjoy the race more. My FIRE journey is slightly different because I am perusing fire through real estate investing. Though I am definitely in the auto-pilot stage now that I know how to make a wise cash-flowing rental real estate purchase I have to go through multiple spurts of obsession to make a good buy on each of my next rentals. I usually coast in the auto-pilot mode while I save up my down payment for my next rental and once I get it then I have to get hyper obsessed again with that next purchase and spend every day scouring the various markets to find the right property. Once secured, rehabbed if needed (though I mostly only buy turn key now) and rented with a competent property management company, then I go back onto auto-pilot mode until I am ready to do it again. Rinse and repeat multiple times and watch my cash flow grow each time. I actually reached FI 1.5 years ago at age 33 doing this but have pushed out my RE at least 2 more years until I can figure out how to streamline the business that I own, which is residential real estate sales in Portland, OR. For now my goal is to step down to 32 hours/week this year and 20 or less next year before going full RE. Seeing that we are both in Portland, I would love to buy you lunch one of these days if you are every up for that! I am all about iron sharpening iron!

    Reply
  5. HA HA. I love your FIRE Obsession chart! I’d say it’s pretty accurate. You start off obsessed in the beginning, then go to auto-pilot, then become obsessed again as you get closer. It’s like this with other projects too. They’re always fun in the beginning (because of the excitement and “new-ness”, but in the middle is where it gets hard and lots of people run out of steam to push through the obstacles. And just when you’re about to succeed, it becomes fun again. So better to enjoy the process rather than only anticipate the ending.

    Reply
  6. I can’t say I started the road to FI with the thought of early retirement. I just never felt comfortable spending my salary. I saw too many people as I grew up lose careers they thought would take them to retirement. Industries disappear, jobs outsourced, plants closed, pensions taken away. I never trusted my employer to take care of me.
    The first ten years out of college I was barely making it, working two jobs. Then my pay finally started going up, but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to spend it. I just saved and saved, paid off mortgages and saved more. Friends laughed as I lived in less affluent areas, drove simpler and older cars, took rustic hippy vacations instead of Disney cruises. That hurt at times, but made me more inner directed. I really think you’ve got to be inner directed to resist the constant mantra of consumerism, which in the end doesn’t give my lasting happiness anyway. I’m not cheap. I tip well – waiters, delivery drivers, contractors. I have a nice new kitchen and carpet and car. But needless spending is an empty way to live.
    Now, while I am still working, I don’t need the next promotion or raise. I don’t have to play the game and have dinners with work people I don’t like, I don’t have to sacrifice morals to meet unrealistic sales goals. I never learned to golf – a sport I don’t enjoy. I’m free to leave when I want, which I think will be later this year.
    It’s sure been a long road to get here. I never had a set number in mind or a set age to be when I could quit. I just tried to have fun doing things other people weren’t interested in doing. Buying property no one liked, going places no one was going yet for vacation, quitting jobs people thought I was stupid to quit. But I’m so glad I’m where I am today.

    Reply
    • I think you’re right about the inner drive. You have to be able to ignore a lot of the traditional behavior patterns.
      You did it your own way and didn’t try to play other people’s game. That’s the best way. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  7. Absolutely love the post! Definitely think the balance thing is most important.

    I plan on obsessing over student loan debt to pay it off, then reward myself with something like a trip.

    I then look forward to instead of only maxing out retirement accounts, I’ll be obsessed with building my brokerage ones instead. Once hitting milestones, rewards will come.

    Eventually, that last day will hit and there will be no more work, a blog, and any other passions I enjoy 🙂

    PS > I may throw some real estate in as well 😀

    Reply
  8. I was obsessed with FIRE. That faded. Now I am obsessed with post FIRE. What do I do now that I have enough? The struggle to define life’s true meaning once money is no longer an issue, is an unexpected pleasure and stress.

    Reply
  9. This is an excellent article. I discovered FIRE last year, and I was obsessed with it, I read a lot, listened to podcasts such as Choose FI but now things are in auto mode, and hence I don’t read every article out there and also am less obsessed with my spreadsheets. The good thing is that I have figured out my road ahead and it gives me a lot of clarity. However, I have moved onto related other interests like reading books and blogging.
    Loved your article on phases of obsessions with FIRE. I was able to relate to it.

    Reply
  10. Joe, early retirement is definitely a good thing to be obsessed about. And you have the rest of your life to develop other obsessions (lol)!

    I’m at the point you were in your job, but unfortunately not close to retirement and it’s time to make a switch!

    Reply
  11. Hey Joe!

    When I discovered about the “FIRE” community about a year ago, my reaction was: “omgosh… THIS IS POSSIBLE!” I had no idea what “FIRE” was. My fiance and I were just living a typical life without putting much thought into it. We worked, got promotions, saved and invested, and spent a bit more than we should’ve because we thought life was good. We thought we were financially stable but when I learned about this personal finance community, I got a bit obsessed because everything you guys talk about is so intriguing to me.

    As a result, that’s why I recently started my blog. Now, I realize that it’s possible for me to do things that I like if I were financially independent. This is what motivates me to pursue FI. I know it will take time, but I try not to obsess over it as much as I did when I first discovered it. I have to admit that I’m starting to become more stable now. I want to have fun while pursuing this journey 🙂

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

    Reply
  12. I’ve always been a frugal person, but I can’t say I really got obsessed with financial independence until my work was at its worst.

    Some people might say “change jobs”, but I didn’t want to have to go through proving myself at a new company every couple years. I just wanted out.

    So yeah, I guess I was a little obsessed, but in total it took me 15 years.

    Reply
    • That’s the same for me too. I changed job before and it helped for a few years. The malaise returned, though. I knew I had to get out and stay out.
      15 years is really good. It took us 16 years to get to leanFIRE. Now, we’re more comfortable.

      Reply
  13. On the health note, I would love to see the blood pressure differences of someone when they were working at a job they hate and after early retirement. Early retirement itself HAS to be so good for your health. I know when I was working some days it felt like it was going to send me through the roof.

    Reply
    • My blood pressure got a little better. Not a huge amount. Youth goes a long way to compensate for additional stress. I think blood pressure spiked much more when I was working. Now, I’m sure it is much stabler over the days and weeks.

      Reply
  14. Great article Joe one that resonated deeply with me. You shouldn’t defer happiness during your pursuit of FI, you need to stop and smell the flowers once in a while. You reminded me of when I was in my corporate job looking at my pension statements on a daily basis trying to figure out the earliest that I could bail. I wasted a lot of time and energy doing that!

    Reply
  15. Your financial independence is a journey, not a destination.

    I was obsessed with early retirement when I started my journey a little over a decade ago.
    Now that I am financially independent, I do not really feel any differently.

    I agree with you that you have to pace yourself on that journey. I have enjoyed my journey so far. I do look forward to my future journey, because I want my life has to be diverse and focus on things that are different than finances.

    Reply
  16. Cool, chart Joe! My path looks similar, but when I was a teen obsessing about early retirement I didn’t know what FIRE meant…heh. You are right about this being a marathon. The final push getting out of my 9-5 was a bit painful, but well worth it. I’m having fun with this next phase of leveling up.

    Reply
  17. It’s like you wrote this about me! 😉

    I’ve been pretty obsessed about reaching FIRE for a while now. We’re a little less than a couple years out now and that’s taken center stage in my life.

    For a while, I started nickel and diming, but then I realized that’s stupid. So I’ve started to try to focus on enjoying the moment more. Like you said, once you have everything automated and in place, it’s just a waiting game.

    — Jim

    Reply
  18. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like any FIRE folks actually live off their investments, but off their blogging income and other side hustles. This is completely admirable, but not what I had envisioned for my life after FIRE. I don’t have a side hustle or multiple streams of income, just some investments. It seems like the goal gets further and further away.

    Reply
  19. Very good point. Health is the top priority, then wealth. This echos what Suze Orman says: “People first, then money, then things.” I was obsessed with paying off the mortgage, and it took me 10 long years. Early retirement was always my dream. Thanks to the bull market, finally the dream came true 3 years ago. “Pace yourself” is a very good idea, and enjoy the journey.

    Reply
    • The plan didn’t share their requirements. I think it just said if you don’t have much in your retirement account, then they will pay out some pension. That’s somewhat ridiculous. Or maybe I misread/misremember this.

      Reply
  20. I completely agree with this breakdown. I think you can generally do anything for a year, but if you stay obsessive for longer than that, other (good) things in your life are going to give. We’re likely 10+ years our from FI, and we could obviously shorten that timeline quite a bit if I went back to work full time / we cut out our vacations, but life is pretty darn good at this point in the journey. No need to sprint our 30s (and our son’s pre school years) away.

    Reply
  21. I think I am only slightly obsessive at this point and steering towards auto-pilot. I’ve done my spreadsheets and made the projections. At this point it is finding any extra money and throwing it into a bucket.

    Reply
  22. Ever since finding the early retirement community last year, I have been slightly obsessive about lowering my expenses. I think now I am just starting to enter the auto pilot phase where my expenses are hovering at a comfortable level for me.

    Some days I feel a little burnt out as I still have many years of saving/investing. But on a positive note, I know that what I’m doing with my finances now will set me up for success in the future. No matter what the future brings!

    Reply
  23. Well said! My obsession currently has me constantly thinking of ways to bring the FI date sooner too. Should I plan to work part time? Move again? Sell a car?

    Sometimes I miss the days when I just was excited to see a movie or read a new book and that’s what I thought about all week. Now I constantly have a spreadsheet in my head. Hopefully one day soon saving becomes natural and I just get back to enjoying the ride.

    Reply
    • Good luck! It’s fun to optimize everything in the discovery phase. I’m sure you’ll step back a bit soon. You have to enjoy life too. There are plenty of things to enjoy that aren’t expensive.

      Reply
  24. Thanks for sharing your obsessions with us hehe. I too have been obsessed with many things in my life, such as good grades, foreign languages, and blogging. I

    t was just a phase. I prefer more balance in my life. I have never been obsessed with Mr. FAF though 😀

    Reply
    • Blogging was a huge obsession for me at the beginning. I spent so much time on it.
      Actually, I only got really obsessed with getting Mrs. RB40 back during the last part of her deployment. Before that, we gave each other some space. I finally realized I have to get her back after a couple of years.

      Reply
  25. I pretty much rediscovered it last year and so I’m still in the beginning stages. This year will be our first maxing 401(k)’s. We have taken some steps to keep our spending and everything in line, but overall we live a pretty typical lifestyle.

    We’re not ultra frugal or anything – the craziest thing we do right now is share one car. It sucks on some days, and we’ll end up getting a second car. A two year run of one car, though, has really helped us save a ton of money and get on our feet right after our marriage and house. We’d be in rough shape if we’d bought another vehicle sooner.

    Reply
    • Great! It sounds like you’ve done most of the streamlining already.
      Sharing one car is fine for us because we have public transportation. It’d be a lot more difficult if we lived at our old house in the burb.

      Reply
    • Can I get a bit more info? How long have you been obsessed with FIRE? Are there any adverse effects?
      My health deteriorated during my last year at work. It was just too much stress. Relationship was okay, but it’s much better now.

      Reply
  26. Two things have become more obvious to me with each passing day– you don’t get any of them back, and, you don’t know which one may be your last. Obsession is a double-edged sword. You need a bit of it to propel yourself forward but you don’t want to be so single-minded that you miss out on life during the ride.

    Reply
    • Really wise words. It’s great to push hard and achieve worthwhile goals, but tomorrow is not guaranteed. I remember hearing about a well-known newscaster who retired at the top of his game and profession in his 60s and looked forward to a very comfortable retirement. Within just a few months he was fighting cancer. There’s nothing wrong with achieving goals, but you don’t want to sacrifice today for an uncertain tomorrow, either.

      Reply
  27. We are heading into the autopilot phase now, but have quite a few years a head of us. I agree that, while I’m not sure if we will “actually” retire early, the goal of FI or a fully funded lifestyle change has radically changed our lives and helps us to focus in on what is important to us 🙂

    Reply
  28. Great post! You make some excellent points.

    I’m definitely in the discovery phase where I learned about FIRE less than a year ago, but went full convert only a couple months ago.

    It’s really become an obsession of mine and now thinking of ways to get there faster with side hustles/passive income has consumed me.

    Like you said, while it’s very good to have this mindset to set me up for the long run, at some point in the near future I’ve gotta step off the gas pedal and go on autopilot otherwise it’s just not going to end up well for anyone.

    Reply
  29. Oh haha I was going to comment on the uke too! Is it hard? They’re around $120 online and super cute. I’m a little tempted to get one 🙂

    We are right in between discovery & auto pilot. My job is build and grow income streams in my spare time (easy). Jared is to bring home the bacon that makes everything possible from roof to food (much more stress). I think that’s a good balance for us.

    I don’t see myself retiring without relocating though. I’m obsessed with the list of needs I’m looking for, for my imaginary FIRE home. And it’s getting ridiculous. I’m looking into the imaginary school districts!!! Halp!

    Reply
    • The uke is probably easiest string instrument to learn. $120 is pretty good. I wouldn’t go much cheaper than $100. Do some research and see what’s a good beginner ukulele. I haven’t shopped for a long time.
      You guys are doing very well. Great job!
      Relocating might be a good choice for you. Seattle area is so expensive now. Where would you go?

      Reply
      • My friend knows uke, she might be able to teach me hehe.

        I really like the history and beauty of St. Louis but we probably will stay in Washington state. Preferably near the Portland border haha so we get the best of both Washington and Oregon = dream 🙂

        Reply
  30. Hands up here, I am minorly obsessed….but now I’m in the autopilot phase, automating everything the money just does it magic and I concentrate on enjoying life today.

    Reply
  31. Good morning Joe!

    This post is a nice reminder about being balanced in life. We all need to push hard (obsess) at times and then dial it back at times, so that overall we can lead a healthy lifestyle that matches what we want overall. It also reminds us that during the autopilot phase, we need to still maintain a level of spending that we are content with, in order to balance the desire for FIRE and the need to enjoy “the now”.

    For example, that’s a good point about the gym membership. I’m a volunteer coach on a “back to basics” money management course, and exactly that point came up this week. For some people, it’s a “want” because they don’t really use it or get lots of exercise through other means. For others like yourself, it’s a “need” because without it there IS no other exercise!

    In my case, thankfully I enjoy my work. So while we are continuing to push towards FIRE, the immediate pain is far less severe than it could be, which allows us to keep focused and balanced through our autopilot phase.

    (FYI – Like Accidental FIRE, your chart isn’t coming up for me either.)

    Reply
    • Exactly, we have to figure out the priorities. I don’t mind paying for gym membership because I go regularly. Being cheap in this case isn’t good for my health. For other people, it might make more sense to buy a nice bike or something that will get them out consistently.
      It’s great that your autopilot phase is going well. Hopefully, you can just cruise into early retirement.

      Reply
  32. Didn’t know you played the ukulele Joe, I’m a guitar player – we should jam! Some obsessions are indeed good, especially when they’re related to good finances or good health. Since I’m FI and semi-retired, I’m just staying obsessed with exercise and trying to be happy.

    And btw your chart isn’t coming up for me.

    Reply
    • I’m not very good with my ukuleles. I could play a tab, but I can’t jam. Unfortunately, it seems like my brain can’t process the sound and follow other musicians at the same time.
      I think it’s great that you enjoy exercise. That’s a great obsession. I fixed the chart so hopefully you can see it now.

      Reply

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