It’s a tremendous luxury to have the option not to work. Absolutely worth the past decade or so of forgoing the typical consumer trappings of new cars, boats, motorcycles, high-end apartments, $5 coffees, pricey monthly cable/phone packages and luxury travel that my co-workers always seemed to have and would try to coax/pressure me into buying. It’s not like I haven’t been able to enjoy most of those things either, I just had to be smart about it.
I was fortunate enough to be making a high income for a few of my working years. And I think, in almost any field where that’s the case, a frugal person finds themselves surrounded by people who have set their lifestyle based upon whatever their income happens to be, which means most of my co-workers were living pretty high on the hog whereas I was still living a lifestyle that, from the outside, looked more akin to that of a broke college student.
Instead of the new car, I’d buy a small sedan in need of repairs that had been neglected. Then spend a couple of weekends replacing gaskets, putting in a new starter, or exhaust, or brake line. Then I’d give it a good detailing inside and out, grind off and resin over a few rust spots, touch up the paint and put on a coat of wax. Sure, my car would be 10 years older than everyone else’s, but it would be reliable, in good shape and cost me $20k or $30k less than if I had to finance and insure something new. I’ve also gone several years with no car at all during times when I was able to live close enough to school or work to walk or take public transit.
Instead of buying a new high-end motorcycle for $10k-$20k and putting another few thousand dollars of chrome and add-ons into it, I had two bikes over the past decade or so that I picked up through craigslist and ebay. Small, efficient bikes that paid for themselves through their fuel savings and low-maintenance costs, since I would use them in lieu of a car as much as possible.
Housing is one area where I may have gone overboard. Instead of working and paying rent, I took one year off to loaf around while I lived in a tent. In order to get the best deals on apartments I have cumulatively spent a couple of months couch surfing while I waited on leases to start, or staying in my parents’ spare room for a month or two at a time while I transitioned to a new place. And I’ve lived in apartments with neighbors who aren’t exactly the most successful members of society.
I think I’ve been to a Starbucks maybe six times in my life. – Always dragged in by a friend. Instead I got some well-made thermoses when I first started working and I still use them a couple of times a week. It’s a little more difficult to have to remember to prepare a hot drink before starting the day, but the savings add up so fast, it’s worth it.
I’ve never had a cable tv subscription. Not that there isn’t some tv I like, I just download/stream it, or watch it OTA. I have been pretty wasteful with my cell phone plan. I spend about $30/month. I could get an old smartphone, use prepaid minutes, and make most my calls over wifi, but I haven’t, yet.
Most of my travel has been via bicycle and motorcycle camping. I did a lot of domestic flying when I was first in college. And I had a long trip to China, but that was actually income-producing since I taught English while I was abroad. But I’ve managed to avoid the one week resort stays in the Caribbean that many of my co-workers would make twice yearly.
I never found a way to cheaply own a boat. They can be had second-hand cheaply enough, but the dock/mooring fees or requirements of owning a vehicle large enough to tow it are what kept me out of it. The best I could do was to be a member of a sailing club for a couple of years that allowed me to use a boat whenever I liked. I also have a canoe I built when I was in high school that I still take out from time to time, I keep it out in the woods out behind my parents’ place. Now that I’ve purchased my FI though, I may loosen up the purse strings in the next few years and find myself an affordable vehicle with some towing capacity.
So I’d say, apart from housing, the quality of life I’ve experienced has been just about equal to the quality of life of most of the people I was surrounded by, but at a fraction of the price.
I mean, is riding a $20k Harley that much better than riding a $2k, second-hand cruiser? I suppose if the reason you’re riding around is to look cool and be loud (and indeed, that is precisely the goal of a lot of riders), then the Harley might be a better experience. But if you’re riding in order to save gas, hug some corners, and feel the wind in your face, well, you spend most of the time looking forward at the road, not down at the bike. And secondly, maybe it is better, but is it 10 times better?
Same thing with a car. The point of me owning a car is to get from point A to point B, not to use it as a hint to others about my level of income/credit-rating.
So I don’t think the cost of financial independence, for me, as far as forgoing purchases and comforts, was really all that great. There’s lots of talk in the early retirement world about delayed gratification, but I didn’t really delay all that much, I just went about things differently. It just required being willing to learn some skills and get my hands dirty.
The real sacrifice I made was working harder than I otherwise would have. If FIRE wasn’t my goal, there’s no way I would have worked as much overtime, or gone to school full-time while simultaneously working full-time. And rather than bouncing around cheap apartments so that I could keep my housing costs and commute to a minimum, I probably would have mortgaged a house so that I could have some land to work.
But the comfort and security of FI was well worth what, for me, was a small sacrifice.