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
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.