The Cost Of FI

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.


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  1. Posted March 3, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink


    Like you, I find the comments about the sacrificing made to reach FI a bit odd. Never felt that way to me.

    FI is simply one of the many things money can buy. Since it was so important to me I loved “spending” (investing) my money on it.

    If ever there was something worth buying used, it’s motorcycles. Seems lots of people buy one and a year later it’s on Craig’s List with less than 1000 miles and deeply discounted.

    In 2007 I bought an ’06 Triumph Bonniville for $5800. This is a bike that sells new for around 9k. 232 miles on it. Seems the guy dropped it, standing still, and got scared.

    In 2010 I bought my current ’06 Triumph Scrambler. These are tough to find so it took me a month or so. This one had just under 10K miles on it and I bought it for $3750. I put new tires on it, fixed a couple of oil leaks (proving it’s a genuine Triumph) and changed the oil. Pushing 15k now and no worries.

    I find older bikes with some earned patina far more interesting. Judging from the bystander comments when my bike is parked next to my pals’ Harleys and 20K BMWs, I’m not alone.

  2. Posted March 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    regarding motorbikes, I probably should have left this link:

    imbedded in it are a couple of cool videos worth the time of anybody who rides.

  3. Posted March 5, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    Motorcycling is pretty great. I sold my last bike about 3 years ago now and haven’t ridden since. Mostly because I’ve been able to keep my driving needs so low lately that I couldn’t justify buying another one.

    Once I get a couple more rental properties setup and I’m ready to loosen up the purse strings I’ll probably start looking around for one again, just for fun. I like the Triumph’s retro styling, Royal Enfield’s too. Though I’ve also thought it would be fun to have a street-legal dirt bike. I use to love ATV-ing when I was a kid.

  4. Posted March 5, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I’ve loved both my Triumphs and highly recommend them if the retro thing appeals. In fact, if something happened to my Scrambler I’d go buy another without a second thought.

    They have also been around long enough now that there is a good used supply.

    I love the RE’s look but they are a bit small for my size. They are also pretty rare around here it seems.

    What did you ride before?

  5. Posted March 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Two Hondas. A Rebel, and then some sport bike they made in 1989 called the ‘Interceptor’. The RE’s are hard to find in New England, but not impossible.

    I took the Rebel from about 1,200 miles on the odometer to just over 50k in about two and a half years.

  6. Posted March 6, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    hondas are great bikes.

    I used to have a Shadow 750. These things are dead reliable, cheap to run and there are tons on Craig’s for short money. There is a guy installing a new roof in my neighborhood who rides his thru the salt and crap everyday.

    Be sure to let us know if you get the RE, or any other bike.

  7. Posted March 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m also with you on the used bikes. I ride an 07 Vulcan 900 that I picked up for $3K and maintain for well under $500 a year including gas, insurance, and routine maintenance (oil, brakes, tires, etc).

    The funny thing about this bike is that the previous owner took off the Kawasaki logo on the gas tank, and most people can’t even tell it’s not a Harley. I thought about putting a Harley logo on it just for fun, but figured it might get me beat up. :)

    I’m also with you on your perspective of FI and sacrifice. I’ve *never* felt like I sacrificed anything that was important to me on my way to FI. In fact, the few times I did splurge on fancy trips or products, I ended up somewhere I didn’t enjoy, or with something I didn’t want.

  8. Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    the Vulcan is much like the Shadow. another great, unpretentious bike for short money.

    Harley riders don’t have much of a sense of humor by and large. too much ego tied up in their image and ride. but since they are mostly dentists these days, I would;t worry to much about pissing them off.

    the only reason not to put the Harley logo on you bike is that, well, then people would think you are riding a Harley. :)

    Hope it’s OK we’ve kinda turned this into a motorbike conversation?

  9. Posted March 10, 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    I’m where you were a couple of years ago, making a higher income and living like a student. Its been a gradual process of chaning my perspective, but as jlcollinsnh said, I find “spending” on producing assets much more pleasing than spending on mindless consumption, which is what I use to do. I don’t feel deprived, I feel liberated.