So You’re Late to the Party

late start to financial independence

If you are not a raging extrovert you are familiar with the uncomfortable feeling of arriving late to a party. If feels as if everyone turns to look at you and you quail under the weight of so many eyes sizing you up. Everyone is also a few drinks ahead and you are consumed with a sense of urgency to play catch up. Conversations are already in full flow and you have to work hard to successfully insert yourself into the group.

It felt a little bit like that when I first stumbled upon the movement we so fondly call FIRE (financial independence and/or retire early). I was a couple of months shy of my 38th birthday at the time. After I got done pinching myself to make sure that this was a Real Thing, I laid out a plan that would usher us to the finish line post-haste. Once the initial euphoria wore off, I could not help but bemoan the fact that I had come to the financial independence party so late in my life.

 

Perhaps, like me, you are a late bloomer. Perhaps, like me, you are tempted to cry about all those wasted years. Perhaps, like me, you regret the fact that you disrespected the Great God Compounding in your youth, when He was at His most powerful.

Perhaps all you want to do is climb into that warm tub of self-pity and bathe yourself with tears of regret. Before you do so, consider the case that I am going to make today:

 

Getting a late start to financial independence and early retirement is not all bad. There are certain advantages to being late to the party. Stick with me and I promise you will feel a tad better by the time we are done.

 

You Set Yourself Up For Success

When I was in my twenties I didn’t realize that there was a cheat code called FIRE that could be applied to Life. I assumed that if one’s mouth was bereft of a silver spoon at birth, then one simply had no choice but to work for a solid forty years. Given this seemingly unshakeable reality, I did what seemed like the only sensible thing to do: I decided to be good at what I do.

I firmly believe that not knowing that I had an out helped me focus on my career in those formative years in a way that set me up for success and gave me the ability to bring home a large paycheck in my 30s. There may be personality types out there who could be ambitious at work even if they knew their exit was coming up, but I’m not one of them. I needed to be able to give my job my all in order to be good at it, so I am glad that that Siren called financial independence was not whispering in my ear.

Consider this: only the top 5% or so of employees at my company were offered the opportunity to relocate to the U.S. office every year. Immigrating here has been a huge boost to my ability to save, and I would not have had that chance if I had not established a reputation for myself at work.

 

You Take Risks

late start to financial independence
I took risks, though none quite this crazy

 

When I first started working I had 3 job offers to choose from. I didn’t choose the one that was the highest paying because I felt that the company making me the second best offer was the one where I stood to learn the most in the long term. My second job was at a teeny startup in Mumbai. There were less than ten employees when I joined them. I effectively took a (small) pay cut to go to them because it meant that I had to move out of home and to a very expensive city.

I took financial risks when I was younger, because my finances were not the primary motivator behind my decisions. I made decisions based on my interest and how much a company had to teach me, based on inspiration and wild dreams of changing the world, based on a sense of adventure. While some of these moves were not the best financial moves, they were the source of much learning and growth. I made some fantastic friends in those years. I became a better programmer. The risks I took paid off in ways that had nothing to do with money.

Now, with financial independence around the corner, money is close to the top of the list when we make any major life decisions. I am very unlikely to make a move that doesn’t benefit us financially, and so I am glad that I already had an opportunity to be young and foolish, and to benefit from that.

 

You Made Memories

I wasn’t focussed on saving and growing my bank account, but I did spend those years doing a very good job of growing my pile of experiences. Now, in my prime earning years, it is far easier for me to do both – pay for experiences that enrich my life and save large chunks towards financial independence. Back then when I made that much less money, I would have had to choose. I would probably have made more sensible choices, but I may have lived less fully as a result.

Instead, though I remained a financial ninny, I did rack up a bunch of life XP. I went to concerts, tried out a variety of cuisines and traveled extensively through India and abroad. I do regret some of the money I spent on stuff over those years, but I have never regretted an experience that gave me a memory that I will be able to look back on and warm myself by when I am 85.

Also, I didn’t make those memories in isolation. I made them with friends. Doing those things together, having those experiences together, helped us bond and gave me a group of folks that I can turn to now when the going gets tough. I know that they will never let me down.

 

Are You Good With Delayed Gratification?

I am not. I have to put off Christmas shopping until the last possible moment because as soon as I buy someone a gift I just have to give it to them. Amazon Prime shipping feels slow as molasses to me. I may have many strengths but delaying gratification isn’t one of them. I suck big turkey eggs at delaying gratification. Imagine then the torture of having to delay the gratification of early retirement by a decade or two.

The big positive of setting off on the path to financial independence at the ripe old age of 38 is that I only have to wait 4 short years (3.5 now!) to get to the finish line. That beats the pants off a fifteen to twenty year marathon. In fifteen years, someone as weak-willed as I would have numerous opportunities to fall off the wagon with a great big thump.

My Glass is Half Full, and Yours Should Be Too

My life has been good thus far, and to cry over my spilt finances is disrespectful to all those years that have made me Me.

I am late to this party, but I’m working the room with my glass half full. Join me, and let’s party till we FIRE.

<

20 thoughts on “So You’re Late to the Party”

  1. This is a big topic in my mastermind and comes up at least once per session. I always argue that we were blissfully ignorant and had an awesome time because of it! If I found FI in my 20s, I would have made myself crazy missing out on bars and restaurants with my friends (and perhaps a few wildly innapropriate boyfriends) to instead stay home and rub my dimes together hoping the friction would produce more.

    Also. I would have been preparing for a life that would likely change drastically. Marriage, kids, homes…all things you do in your 20s and early 30s. How do you base a FIRE life around variables you don’t know or haven’t considered? At 24 I was buying properties I thought would fund my retirement. At 30 I was getting married and buying a house I thought I wanted. 4 years later the properties, house, and husband were all gone! All this to say that I found FIRE exactly when I was supposed to. After all my life drama and when I was better prepared to make and follow a plan.

    1. “instead stay home and rub my dimes together hoping the friction would produce more.” Hahahahahahaha. I’m glad I wasn’t too sensible in my 20s. I would have been richer, and I would have far fewer stories to tell.

      Your point about preparing for a life that would change drastically is spot on. Some folks find their soulmates practically the second they set foot into adulthood, and they live happily ever after. For some of us however, our lives in our 30s bears little to no resembles to the decade that went before.

  2. We are late to the party as well, kinda like you, 38 when we discovered FIRE.

    And i gets worse: we take decisions that harm us financially like joining a startup as employee nr 1. Why? For the challenge, the wide opportunities and the impact of my effort on the company. And because i could. I know my numbers…

    1. Employee number 1 eh? There could be quite a payout coming your way. I shall prepare myself to turn an unbecoming shade of green while you bathe in your millions. Seriously though, good for you – both that you were able to take that risk, and that you were willing to do so. Working at an early stage startup can be incredibly rewarding.

      1. From a purpose point of view for sure…. The money part depends on a lot!
        When you behave, I will invite you to the money pool for a party😎

        While I wait for that to happen, I will work my a## off.

  3. 52 years young here. I think I re-invent myself about every single decade. 🙂 I’ve been late to ALL the parties! I was on the ten year (fully self funded) plan for my B.S. – graduated and became a nurse at 30 due to early and totally unplanned mommy hood. I chose to work 8 years before I felt ready to get the M.S. (again fully self funded) so I was nearly 40 when I became a Nurse Practitioner. Now, at 53, I’ve done so much and discarded so many paths that I started down “once upon a time”, I absolutely KNOW what fits and what doesn’t. This zigzag roadmap of mine has show me what’s possible and clarified what isn’t and it’s helped me define myself and know myself really well. It’s brought me a whole lotta peace of mind and I am pretty darn sure that those parts will help me really appreciate FIRE freedom.

    So far, I’ve owned a few too many too large homes, bought too many “un-sensible shoes” (read:stilletos and pointy toe shoes that I gladly GAVE away), eaten a whole lotta really crazy expensive meals out at fancy pants restaurants, bought a a few closets full of inappropriate trendy clothing, bought silly “for the fun of it” cars but I HAVE LEARNED SO VERY VERY MUCH about myself! So, Terminally Tardy…yeah, that’s definitely me, but I’m so much wiser for all these experiences. All those roads I’ve traveled to get here have given me the wisdom to know that this path is TRUE. All because I took my time and tried on all those other lives and personas. What my future heaven will look like is still a little up in the air. One thing is for certain though, trading my most valuable resource (TIME) for money is definitely NOT in the plan. 7/1/2021 or bust!

    1. Loved this comment, BucketBabe. You’ve lived well, and with heart. Your life sounds the opposite of bland. And you make the most excellent point that it is only through all that living that you end up figuring out who you really are.

      I know what you mean about evil pointy shoes – I wore altogether too many in my youth. 2021 is the year I’m targeting too. Race you there!

  4. I haven’t even joined the party yet and I’m choosing not to feel bad about it. I spent ages 17-32 doing an accelerated climb up the work ladder because I was fairly certain my rate of physical deterioration was going to mean I’d be too crippled to work by 30-35. I’m here and still managing to cope so I won’t give up the gift of these years being laser focused on work and money and ignoring my family.

    My parents had to, it was survival, but I’m still sad that I have exactly two memories of my parents having fun and relaxing. One was for a cousin’s wedding and I’m not sure I’ll ever be at peace with the fact that it wasn’t at mine because Mom died not that long after, too young.

    I can’t make that same mistake of losing sight of how fleeting these days are with our family, in pursuit of the grand goal of FIRE, even if it is “for” JuggerBaby’s sake as much as my own.

    We’ll arrive at the party when it’s time for us to do so.

    1. Two memories! That is sad – how hard they must have had to work, and how easy we have it in comparison to them. I’m so sorry you didn’t have your mom at your wedding. I now feel bad that I was impatient with my mum the last time she called – our time with them is fleeting, and I will regret my harshness a few years from now.

      Yay for you beating out your expected rate of physical deterioration. JuggerBaby is lucky to have a mother with a spine of steel, whether or not she is FIREd. Come to the party when you are good and ready. I’ll save a seat for you.

  5. You’ve captured why I’m so freakin’ jealous of people who discover FIRE late in life. Sure I have all these years of compounding, but I look at my career as that annoying thing between now and freedom, and I’m starting the journey on a wussy low income.

    Mr. FIRE is six years older and those extra career focused years means he makes double what I do – going to be much easier for him to FIRE.

    Sure, I’ll get out younger, but I won’t every have those crazy impulsive youthful spending sprees

    1. Let us agree to sit in our own front yards and each grumble about how the other has the greener grass : )

  6. Oh man, can I relate! I had the whole FIRE awakening at the ripe ol’ age of 35.5 years, only 6 months ago. Since then I have been immersing myself in the many FIRE-related blogs and trying my best to make up for lost time. It’s very easy to occasionally fall back into a self-pity party and lament how very different things would be if only… but, as a number of others have pointed out, things happen when they should. I’ve been lucky in my life in a great many ways, so best to concentrate on that! I am doing my best now to focus on eventually becoming financially independent, and enjoying the ride as much as possible along the way.

    Big fan of your writing style, and congrats on your achievements!

    1. You 35.5 year old young ‘un. Get off my lawn! You’ve got it right – just enjoy the ride from here on out, and hopefully you are at or approaching your peak earning years, which should make the ride relatively short.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your very kind words – much appreciated.

  7. It’s mighty impressive that you can get there in 4 short years, despite getting to the party late! 🙂 Mr. ThreeYear and I were late to the party and slow savers, so it’s taking us longer. But I agree, those financial mistakes involving travel in our “formative” years are now happy memories, and we definitely wouldn’t have taken the same trips if we were trying to get to FI.

    1. I don’t know about impressive – we’re definitely fortunate. We can save a lot because we make a lot. Our making a lot is less a function of what we ‘deserve’ and more a function of the price the free market has decided is appropriate for our professions at this time. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your misspent youth as much as I did : )

  8. We are on the conservative side of the fence and hoping to not regret it! We never went on a real honeymoon and never went on vacation other than home to India. We’ve taken some short trips 3-4 days but never longer than that. I have intense fear that something bad will happen to us which will somehow not let us slow travel. Lets hope we both get to our destinations healthy and ready to live it up!

    1. That is some serious discipline right there! I can’t imagine not taking regular longish vacations. I understand the basis for your fear, and I have my fingers and toes crossed for you. I’m sure you’re going to get to the finish line healthy and whole and then all these sacrifices will pay off mightily.

  9. I definitely got to the party late. Took my time in undergrad, worked a different career for 6 yrs before going back to grad school. The main reason I stayed in that job was the fact I spent so much time on jobsites up in the Rocky Mountains. Grand Valley, Vail Valley, Breckenridge Valley, even the foothills were nice to work outside in. It was a great mix of office and outdoor time. Plus, I got paid for it. Since I didn’t have a family to come home to, when the day was over, I’d scoot off to the nearest creek and fly fish until dusk. Sigh…

    Of course then there was all the irresponsible stuff that went along with those earlier days of my youth. Cashing out a 401k just because, subsidizing my lifestyle (going out and eating out) with student loans and credit cards, and more, but that lifestyle sure produced some great memories!

    I met Mrs. SSC when we were both interning for megacorp at the ripe old age of 30. 🙂 She found FIRE about 2-3 yrs after that and well you know it took me a while to come around to it, but fortunately that didn’t stop her from saving in the meantime. Whew! I know my life would’ve been different if I’d been more career focused. I’d probably have stayed at the engineering job and be making 2/3 less money, I wouldn’t have met Mrs. SSC, and I wouldn’t have nearly as many fun stories I’m sure. Realistically, I couldn’t afford to do more than half of the things I did, lol. It was fun, and better late to the party than never.

    1. Your 6 year short first career sounds like a dream, your cashing out of your 401k for giggles sounds like a nightmare : )

      Ha, another similarity! I was 30 when I met Mr. BITA (well a few weeks shy of my 31st birthday, but technically still 30), and we met at a megacorp too – I was asked to interview him. Sounds like you bumped into Mrs. SSC at just the right time in your lives – young enough for her to be able to undo your financial mistakes and put you on a solid footing for FIRE, but old enough that you had plenty of good stories under your belt.

Leave a Reply