This past Friday I came upon an article in Yahoo Finance about one of my favorite bloggers, the Mad Fientist. The article, in a very ham-fisted way, tried to explain how the Mad Fientist (aka, Brandon) achieved financial independence at age 34. And because the article failed to address much of the math and logic behind financial independence, many commenters were understandably hostile to Brandon’s story.
“This is a B S article,” wrote Earl. “No info at all about his previous job and income. Where did he invest to keep up with inflation. What does his wife contribute. Does he have cars etc. And how could he possibly afford hea[l]th insurance and or drugs if needed.”
“Cost of property tax and healthcare will prevent you from retiring,” wrote James. “You are meant to be a slave till you die.”
“Yep another retired blogger who gets compensated for ads on his website,” wrote Dick. “On top of that his wife is working and they keep there [sic] finances mostly separate. So mostly separate means she supports him. What a bunch of garbage.”
Not all commenters, of course, were hostile to Brandon’s story. Some exacted high praise upon his accomplishments. Others, though, while conceding the veracity of Brandon’s story, were turned off by the extreme frugality they assumed he practiced.
Rcon, for instance, wrote the following:
“My grandmother lived in a 500-sq ft shack. Wouldn’t use, or let anyone in her house, use more than five sheets of toilet paper. She never went anywhere; never did anything. When she died, her kids squabbled over the $400,000 that she left in the bank. She was a miserable #$%$ her entire life, but she loved her zeroes.”
Dan M averred that he’s “sick and tired of these articles about these 20 and 30 year old idiots who ‘retired’ because the[y] lived like bums for 10 years and never had kids.”
And, finally, a commenter—named Brandon as well—had this to say:
“If ‘Brandon’ would have died at 33, he would have looked like the biggest idiot on the planet.”
The I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think Fund
The commenters who jumped all over Brandon and accused him of being a fraud are wrong. But given how poorly the article explained Brandon’s story and the concept of financial independence, the vitriol is understandable.
The commenters who suggested that financial independence isn’t worth the sacrifice of “extreme” frugality are also wrong. Brandon and his wife haven’t spent the past ten years dumpster diving for food and living in a van by the river. Their modest lifestyle only looks “extreme” because we’ve been conditioned to equate adequate with deprivation. Driving a twelve year old Corolla and living in an 1100-square-foot home with all the standard utilities and appliances, for instance, is not the stuff of abject poverty. If you want to see real squalor, check out a Brazilian favela or a South African shanty town.
The commenters who brought up the fickleness of death, however, do have a point.
Most of us are going to live into our 80s or 90s. But some of us won’t. My very good friend’s brother passed away this year at 57. Mrs. Groovy’s cousin died suddenly of a heart attack a few weeks ago. He was 53. The quarterback on my high school football team and my roommate in college died twelve years ago after a long struggle with cancer. He was 43.
So having a tragically short life is within the realm of possibility.
My point here is not to be morose. But nature or fate could conspire against you. Wouldn’t it make sense then to hedge your bets a little and be occasionally wanton with your hard-earned money?
I think the answer to this is a resounding “yes.” And if you agree with me, you need to start an I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund. Here’s how it would work.
1. Get a big jar.
2. Fill it with spare change and dollars.
3. Once it’s filled, empty its contents and spend every last penny on something completely frivolous. Go buy a 55-inch flat screen TV, have dinner at a fancy restaurant, blow it all on a weekend at a luxury resort—anything that makes your heart go pitter-patter.
4. Start the process of filling the jar with spare change and dollars again.
That’s it. The I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund strikes me as a fitting compromise between your desire to save for tomorrow and your desire to “live” for today. The trick is to get a jar that’s big enough to hold a sizable amount of spare change and requires at least two years to fill. The jar pictured below is twenty-inches high and takes Mrs. Groovy and me about three years to fill. On average, our I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund nets us about a thousand dollars.
The I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund is not without its downside. Counting and depositing the dollars is easy enough. Counting and depositing the coins is beyond dreary, and it’s something Mrs. Groovy and I refuse to do. To get around this logistical roadblock, we use the Coinstar machine at the local Food Lion. But this presents its own drawbacks as well. Walking into Food Lion with a large jar of change is embarrassing as hell. And Coinstar clips you for about ten percent of your tally.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. What do you think? Is my I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund a fun and painless way to turbo-charge your happiness on your way to financial independence? Or is it a glorified piggy bank that fails miserably to address the risk of an early death? I’d love to hear your thoughts.