Why So Cheap?

So a question I haven’t addressed in this blog is, “Why be so cheap?” To borrow a line from then-Governor Bill Clinton, Mr. Tisdale and I often find ourselves the poorest people in the room. Most of our friends earn at least twice what we do. But because Mr. Tisdale and I embrace a modest (or cheap) lifestyle, our household income is adequate and comfortable.

If Mr. Tisdale and I wanted, we could buy a new car with cash. We could have a bigger house with a bigger yard. We could upgrade our furniture. We could have the latest electronics. We could go out to dinner more than once a month. We could get season tickets to the ballet, opera, the theater, etc. We could shop for clothes more than once every two years. Hell, we could even have cable TV if we chose. But we don’t.

Why? For the simple reason that we have other things in mind for our future.

What does our ideal future look like? I envision neither one of us having to work for someone else. Being able to set our own schedules. To decide how to spend our energy and time. To spend a year traveling the world before we come back to Louisville and figure out “Plan B.” To be, basically, “retired” by the time we are 45. (That’s in two years.)

Mr. Tisdale has already achieved this. He has been “retired” for almost 15 years. By that I don’t mean that Mr. Tisdale doesn’t work. He works every day, as an artist and as our home gardner, chef, dog walker and errand-runner. But he hasn’t had a 9-5 job since around 2001.

Ever since I was in my 20s, I dreamed about having a similar, self-directed lifestyle. Back then, Mr. Tisdale and I assumed that I would quit by age 35 to help him with his art business. But that didn’t work out. Art shows became fewer and fewer, and the money wasn’t enough to sustain us, especially when we still had a mortgage to pay.

So I kept working, with the longterm goal of quitting as soon as it was economically feasible. I saved as much as I could toward my employer’s 401K retirement plan, typically putting away 25% of my salary. Mr. Tisdale was making enough in the early days that he could make extra house payments.

About a year-and-a-half ago, we made our last payment on the house, paying off the loan in 12 years.  No longer slaves to a mortgage, I now have a bigger chunk of my salary that we can save. By maintaining a modest lifestyle, we’re saving half my salary (60% toward retirement, 40% towards savings).

And now, I can finally see the end of the tunnel. Today I wrote down my last day at work on my electronic calendar: January 31, 2017.

I’m a big believer in visualizing what you want. Once you know your goal, you have something to work toward. My goal is to quit in 20 months. That’s tangible. In just 20 more more months, I’ll no longer have to work full-time for someone else.

Our plan is to have enough money saved by then that we can travel the world for 12 months and have enough funds in the bank that we can live another 12 months after that without having to work. That gives us two years to figure out what’s next. Two years to figure out how to never work a full-time job again.

Some of our friends think we’re crazy. How can a couple in their mid 40s “retire” so early?

But to me it’s clear as day. Save as much as you can. For as long as you can. Forego temporal pleasures (nice furniture, bigger house, eating out, new cars, etc.) and gain something much more valuable: the freedom and time to think, to create, to live.

Just 20 more months. We can do this.


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