May 01, 2014

Now or Later

Credit: Stuart Miles
Over the course of your life, a certain amount of money is going to pass through your hands. Obviously you could make this amount be larger or smaller based on how long you decide to work, but regardless, someone should be able to say “X” number of dollars went through your hands after you’re dead and gone. What that means (if you go into a financial vacuum and put investment returns and cash flow strategy on the sidelines) is you are going to have a finite amount of money to spend during your days on this earth. I’m not trying to be morbid, but I am trying to point out that if you are only going to have a finite amount of money, you can choose to spend more now or you can choose to spend more later - you can’t do both. This now or later concept plays a huge role in saving for retirement - especially in saving for early retirement!

In order to retire early, you need to:
  • Live within your means - I know I go on and on about this, but it really is one of the keys to long-term financial success. Simply stated, if you want to be in a position to retire early, you need to be make progress almost every two-week pay period, not break even, and certainly not lose ground. You need to spend less than you make and you need to save the surplus, invest the surplus, or pay down debt with the surplus. It’s okay if you don’t make financial progress every once in a while when your spouse has an unplanned surgery, your car has an unplanned blowout, or your very favorite sports team makes an unplanned appearance in the playoffs and you decide to attend, but that must be the exception, not the rule. If you can’t always get the new shoes, go bar hopping every Friday night, or go golfing every weekend with the guys and make financial progress, then don’t! I guess you can get the shoes, bar hop, and golf if you really really want to, but please remember, if you choose now versus later, you are hurting later.
  • Annihilate your fixed expenses - Sorry for the strong wording, but sometimes words such as reduce, pay down, or extinguish don’t have quite enough “oomph” to them. Fixed expenses are all around us. They can be phone bills, television plans, HOA fees, gym memberships, minimum credit card payments, car payments, and mortgage payments. If you want to be in a position to retire early, you need to wage war on fixed expenses. Sure, there’s not a lot that can be done about some fixed expenses such as HOA fees and phone bills, but you can try to cut back on some "fixed" expenses like an under-enjoyed cable package or a neglected gym membership (better yet, keep the gym membership and go exercise instead of watching television). As for credit cards, I always say pay them off entirely, live within your means, and don’t abuse them again unless it’s truly an emergency. Consider putting extra principal every month towards any student loans, car loans, or mortgages, so you can pay them off more quickly and reduce your interest expense. Fewer fixed expenses means you will need less income in retirement to support your lifestyle, so you could probably retire sooner and with fewer assets.
  • As good things happen, live below your means - With any luck and a decent strategy in place, good things should eventually happen to you financially. Maybe your company will do really well and you’ll get a nice bonus, maybe you’ll receive a surprise check in the mail from your sweet great aunt in Kentucky’s executor, or maybe a bull market will cause your investments to really soar for a few years. When this happens, stick with your strategy and do as my late grandfather often said and “keep on keeping on.” Just because you are making more money or have more assets doesn’t mean you have to act like it! Keep yourself grounded and keep telling yourself that what you are experiencing is financial progress and momentum towards your goal of not having to work. All I’m saying is why get a Mercedes if your Toyota is still doing fine? Why go to the Caribbean when you could have a better time in the Gulf of Mexico? If you want to retire early, I’d keep those champagne tastes in check, and stick with your beer budget!

Next week we’ll continue the How to Retire Early Series by taking a look at why you need to save and invest sooner rather than later and what you should do with those savings and investments so you can start strong and finish even stronger.



  1. AnonymousMay 01, 2014

    This is so true Tom, but hard to practice. I have always used the mantra "Pay now, Play Later." You can play now and pay later, but either way you have to pay and often times the longer you wait the more it costs.

  2. I love your mantra! Pay now, play later, or play now and pay later. I know I'm trying to pay now (and play a little now), so I can play a lot later!