We wheeled our bags of tropical attire out to the car on a frosty early February morning, surrounded by our neighbors drearily scraping the ice from their windshields to head off to the traffic jams in the Dunkin’/Starbucks drive-thru and highways, then another day on the job.
Maybe some of you enjoy your jobs. Lots of those folks did too, once upon a time. Things change as you get older. Circumstances change–takeovers/buyouts cause new, less employee-friendly more profit-centric management. Or maybe a new manager that operates the same way. You get tired over time, maybe health issues you never imagined or expected rise up. Employees that got a respite from going to work during covid are now being forced back on-site.
In more civilized countries, workers get the summer off to enjoy at least a part of every year with their families. They don’t work relentlessly long hours like we do here in the USA. Sure, that work ethic, forced upon us by the ever-growing lust for profits, has made us a great country. But at what cost to the individual? To happiness? We’re certainly not one of the happiest countries, in fact, mostly due to this one thing, well down the list when it comes to developed countries. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no commie. I’m all for capitalism, as long as there’s competition to keep it in check (a growing problem these days with corporate consolidation), and the dignity of the worker/individual kept in mind. Companies used to focus on employees. Then it pivoted to customers only, employees be damned. Now even the customers are being thrown under the bus in favor of executive compensation and share buybacks as the focus. Great for shareholders, so be one! Invest! Bad for those working their way up, or just starting out.
Ms. Emancipare and I are now toward the tail-end of our winter respite in Siesta Key, Florida. We’re playing and working (because we’re in that rare group that loves what we do). The retirement planning and FIRE (financial independence/retire early) nerd in me can’t help but survey the new surroundings and chat people up.
The resort we chose has an eclectic mix of permanent residents, snowbirds, and short-term vacationers. Also, a wide variety of fifth-wheel, travel trailer, and class A, B, and C RVs that ran the gamut from luxury-class to barely there, and many permanent double-wide modular type homes. Residents: All ages.
I ignored the traditional elderly retirees and first zeroed in on the folks who had pickup trucks parked in front of their haul-behind RVs, because they were obviously still working to some extent. They all had the same story–work up north during spring/summer/fall, save, and come south to relax and rejuvenate for the winter. They were home schooling kids or taking advantage of the new virtual opportunities and infrastructure that came with covid (so, there was a silver lining of sorts?). Back in the day, and I guess still to this day, many of this group would have just tacked the snowplow on the front of the truck and hoped for snow to pay the bills through winter. They’re their own bosses. And you can be your own boss too, if you begin working toward it, step by step, starting now. It’s not that hard.
This is a great example of the kind of financial independence and quality of life that financial responsibility brings, and you don’t have to wait until you’re a blue-hair geriatric to take advantage of it. Life is short. Show your kids the rewards of being different, of not getting sucked into the status-oriented consumer black hole that bombards us and them 24/7 with billion-dollar marketing campaigns to borrow, spend, borrow, spend.
The white-collar group here in Siesta Key seems to spend their afternoons pool-side with laptops open, keeping an eye on the kids, and hustling inside the clubhouse for quiet during phone calls. Oh wait, this is me, right this very moment! There is an early morning, large group of active adults in the pool doing aquacise to the song YMCA, which I was never a fan of (the song, not the exercise). They’re having a ball. Some of the dudes are over at the bar, enjoying coffee (or latte!!) talking sports and golf on this Thursday morning.
People spend their days whizzing around on golf carts, skateboards, electric bikes or just walking from one activity to another. The arts center bustles with activity, the outdoor shuffleboard, bocce, and pickleball courts are busy. Bands tune up poolside during the day and evenings. People soak in the multiple hot tubs and kibitz about their former lives. They wonder why everyone else is still scraping their windows in the dregs of winter up north. They know, though. Bills. Debt. Living above your means. In the evenings, they all sit idly on their porches, sipping wine and beer, chatting, playing cards, relaxing in the fresh night air lit by tiki torches. Signs adorn the front of each site attesting to the state they hail from, with slogans like ‘Joe and Kathy Jones, Livin’ the Life…’ Everyone says hello with a smile. I mean, every.single.person you encounter.
At the beach, I could easily pick the locals/snowbirds out from the vacationers. Their beach gear was well-worn, the manner more at-ease, relaxed, toes in the sand, novels in hand, in the way of a Jimmy Buffet song. Each day they came early, set up, dialed in the tunes, ate and drank from well-stocked coolers, and leisurely packed up toward sunset. I talked to some of the younger/middle-aged ones. Some were FIRE without even knowing what it was. Most aren’t wealthy! They said they had grown up in a blue-collar family where they learned to be frugal and cut expenses with many of the consumer hacks we teach. I spied from the parking lot as they headed home, likely to the proverbial beach town shanty, in beater vehicles that looked like they had cool names like ‘Ol’ Bessie’. They clearly value freedom and lifestyle over ‘things.’
Look–we’ve had the tables flipped on us from earlier (but recent!) generations when middle-class families could send one spouse off to work, and the other would take care of the kids and things at home, and have a good life, work 9-5 M-F, and retire with a pension and dignity after working most of their lives. We had a better society then, in many aspects. Now, due to runaway corporate greed and executive compensation that hasn’t been equally matched by employee wages, we’ve created a stressful hamster-wheel, soylent green, matrix life with employees as burned out replaceable widgets. Hunger games for the raise or promotion, or maybe just to keep your job. From 1978 to 2021, CEO pay rose by 1,460% while the worker’s wages went up just 18%.
How do we fight back, and fight the machine? Here’s how. Disavow debt. It’s the enemy, it’s the chain that keeps you shackled to this life. Do without some of the extra stuff now, extra quality, so you can have a free and likely longer life–certainly a more enjoyable one. Maybe get to actually know your kids and grandkids better. Set a better example or they’ll end up just like you. Save. Learn the basics of simple, inexpensive investing. Be intimately familiar with where your money is going every month. Each dollar of it! Have a side hustle geared around your hobbies and interests. Most importantly, have a plan. Avoid complex, expensive, risky financial traps like expensive advisors, or ones that will just try to sell you “products” like annuities or some ugly form of permanent life insurance. Most importantly, have a plan. Use fantastic, inexpensive tools like Pralana Retirement Calculator (higher precision) or New Retirement (lower precision). We teach all of that. It’s not that hard, especially when you get into a groove. There are endless resources, but be careful, because there’s a lot of noise and bad information. I’m working on a guidebook to all aspects of the journey, called Kiss Your Money Hello (and Financial Stress Goodbye).
Also, we’re now in a cycle where workers have leverage. There’s a worker shortage. Take control. BS on that garbage that you can’t take a vacation in your first year on the job. Make it a non-starter. Employers are now embracing phased retirement in order to retain those close to retirement (young or old). Work just a few days a week, or take a month or three off each year. It’s amazing what you can do when you have no debt and are actually living well within your means!
Getting back to Siesta Key, is the car payment worth not being a part of this life? Is the everyday $7 latte ($3k/year, $60,000 after ten years at an average S&P 500 12% rate of return!) worth it, rather than home brew in a tumbler and packing lunch?
Maybe you think it’s not possible for you, or would take too long. Bull. I’ve seen and helped folks who were close to bankruptcy and/or foreclosure dig out and turn their lives completely around within a year or two. Sometimes it takes hard-core negotiating tactics with collectors or anyone you owe money to. It can be done, and it’s being done every day by people just like you. Money Coach Group specializes in this kind of financial coaching, and they can get you there as well. Maybe you’re about to retire or already retired and don’t think this kind of lifestyle is possible. I bet it is, and we at Emancipare do the kind of analysis/planning to show you it is, or if not, what changes to make to make it so.
The weather sure is lovely on this beautiful, sunny warm February morning. I’ve got to go now–it’s Siesta (Key Beach) time. See you here next year?