Eliminating the Excuse
Excuses. You know those dirty white lies we tell ourselves. The ones that do us absolutely no good, but allow us to sleep easy just to delay some inevitable situation and maybe even make it worse. Our culture loves excuses. It loves preparing us with the ammo to explain to others why we failed, why we didn’t have a fair chance, and why no one could possibly understand our specific situation. When it comes to my dream of retiring early I don’t even need to produce my own excuses. Almost every person I share this goal with gives me a Letterman style top 10 on the reasons I will fail. I come to them with numbers and facts only to be met with some hypothetical or “yea but” response. Then the small portion of people who do believe in my dream quickly turn to block me from helping them because their life is so different. Then dwindle it down even further to those who believe in me and want to do it themselves and you are left with the most common excuse of them all..“I’m going to do that later.” Financial planning often gets kicked down the road because there isn’t enough time, it’s too complicated, or you’re at a moment in life you don’t want to feel constricted financially. I totally understand all these excuses and am guilty of using similar one in aspects of my life like fitness and continuing education. However, there is a major difference in the consequences of waiting to lose winter weight and waiting to build up that retirement nest. Waiting is literally the biggest no-no when preparing for retirement. Doubling your pay won’t be as powerful as doubling the time you have spent investing. So the time to start is now. I love all the numbers, historical data, complicated theory, and all the things that scare most people away from starting, but all you really need to start financial planning is a mindset. The mindset is this: squeeze the most out of each day and each dollar.
I’m currently taking this mindset to the fullest extent in Adelaide, Australia. Yes, I do get some unique opportunities, but hear me out. Don’t let the specific circumstances get in the way of the message. I was provided free travel and an allowance for meals which may not be normal for most people, but ask yourself what your trip would have looked like if we swapped places? Why not go out and eat for every meal? It’s paid for and your hotel is surrounded by good restaurants. Why not take the $205 bus tour? You are making enough money to afford it. There’s extra money coming in and surely you wouldn’t want to miss out on life just to be cheap. That dialogue is the most common mindset I run into. There are only two options apparently, to either enjoy life while blowing money or miss out on everything while being cheap. What if there was a door number three that let you have the money and the fun?
“ANNNND BEHIND DOOR NUMBER THREE!” – Cheesy announcer voice. Here I will explain the option I hope you’ll consider. Australia can be a little more expensive for dining and drinking out on the town. On average I’d say you are going to spend $18 (for this article everything will be U.S. Dollars). Compare that to the $12 meals which are common in the States. A beer will probably run you $7.50 instead of $4. Because of this price discrepancy, per diem (our food allowance) is generally higher here. This can create an even bigger opportunity for savings.
On this trip I really wanted to avoid the “Dear God I have gained 10 lbs on this trip” moment that we all often run into after a long trip. My body is normally so ready for some simple and healthy homemade food when I get home, so I only went out to eat if we found something unique or had a large group going. Since I already tried out all the heavy hitters on Yelp back in March, I only ate out once during my first two weeks. Instead I took advantage of my little hotel kitchen and fed myself for $33.35 a week eating grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, seafood pastas, fajitas, eggs in a basket, and more.
So, no, I didn’t torture myself eating ramen noodles. I didn’t pack on the weight from constantly eating out. And I fed myself weekly for about the same money as eating one decent dinner with a glass of wine. I was given a unique opportunity with this trip, but most people might not have taken advantage of it. Food has been covered, but what about experiences? I would never tell someone to miss a memorable experience just to shave dollars, but there are normally some creative things you can do to have the best of both worlds.
Adelaide is in southern Australia and apparently it gets a similar rep to the south in the United States. People you meet ask what in the world are you going to do for an entire month, like it’s some ghost town. I actually really enjoy the quaintness of Adelaide. The population is big enough for events and good food, but isn’t so large that it's impossible to drive around and I never felt overwhelmed. Added bonus, it has a great AFL venue.
At first it seems like the only tourism options are bus tours to Kangaroo Island or to the nearby wine regions. These cost around $205 each and are incredibly structured with only small amounts of time at each location. I really didn’t like the sound of an expensive tourist trap and was looking for something a little more unique. I started digging around and found some amazing national parks I really wanted to see. Even my co-workers who’ve lived in Adelaide their entire lives haven’t been to some of them. I really wanted to camp, but unfortunately my camping gear was half way across the world, so I had to do what I do best… ask questions.
Curiosity has always been one of my better tools. I’m not usually the smartest person in the room and I don’t have any special talents, but as an engineer I feel like simply asking questions is where I become useful. It’s walking into a situation people have seen a thousand times and inquiring until you hit something new. Everything should have a reason or a purpose. Or maybe you don’t even have a clue what your options are, but chances are if you ask enough questions you’ll get pointed in the right direction.
First step, ask the internet aka Google about this amazing looking spot I found. Admission for the park and a camping site was $18—less than a tenth of the normal tourist options. Next, I asked some of the local people we’re working with and loaned out a great little one man tent and a sleeping bag. The best part: The tent is called a swag. However, the most valuable item I borrowed was the local’s knowledge about the region. This trip was turning out to sound like the perfect trip, amazing scenery, a good workout, and a method to meet interesting locals, all while spending a fraction of the cost. This is exactly the kind of maximization I’m always looking for! You might be saying in your head, “Yea everything worked out this time but you got lucky.” I’m met with this response fairly frequently. This is always hard to defend because obviously I can never recreate a specific event in my life and expect someone else to have the exact same experience. It’s interesting though, the negative view that people have on plans because plans so often change.
“Life Happens,” said everyone, ever. That’s the quote that I always get. Why try to have a dream of retiring early when life, which apparently is some enigma out to ruin everyone’s life, swoops in and crushes all hope? No matter how much reasoning I try to use, how conservative I am with estimates, or how many safety nets I explain to people the response is still “Yea… but life happens.” Ok, so life happens. And of course your life is different than mine, but again as important as plans are, the mindset is equally important especially when “life happens.” Just like a sailboat can sail into the wind or be stopped in its tracks by it. Life is going to throw you some unfortunate circumstances, but it’s up to you to harness it or let it be a roadblock for you. It is often said that coaches earn their paycheck during the end of the game when things are most critical and it’s up to them to make the most out of an undesirable situation. When plans have been blown up and a new way is needed. Even my little Adelaide camping trip was a perfect example of some of these little twists and turns.
The original plan was to make the five hour drive, set up camp, and make the journey to and from St. Mary’s peak before dark. I knew exactly what route I had to take and what times I needed to begin in order to finish but then life happened. As I went to set my tent up, I quickly realized that I had forgotten my tent stakes and rope to give the tent the structure it needed. I found some on sale at the campsite, but naturally I refused to purchase the 100 meter role of polyurethane rope for $20. I’d either figure something out later or sleep with the tent on my face.
Onto the main attraction, the hike, which I had trouble with from the beginning. Because of my start time I really needed to take the 6 hour version of the hike and not the 9 hour version. I knew I needed to take the “direct” trail instead of the “loop” trail, but the signs referred to the two options as “inside” and “outside”. I chose the inside option because...well it sounded right. I quickly realized 3 miles later that I was indeed on the wrong path. I hustled and made the summit in just over 3 hours.
At this point I really wanted to find the shorter path home because I had exhausted myself making up the distance. Luckily a nice trio of hikers let me tag along with them so I could find the route. I mentioned my bad luck so far on the trip and one of the hikers gave me a piece of elastic string for the tent. This really turned my day around. By following the short path back, I made it to the campsite a couple hours before dark. With my new elastic band and some twigs, I rigged the tent up. Sitting down in my little clown car of a rental, I looked over the guide information on the area.
Suddenly, I got a peck on the tent window from a lady who invited me over to her and her husband Neville’s campsite for a glass of wine. They witnessed my struggles with the tent—probably figured I needed glass of wine. Both were civil engineers who have traveled the world camping. We shared stories for two hours and they told me about camping near Venice, Italy and caravaning through the outback in Australia. It was really a great experience.
Looking back on it, I could have easily turned around when I realized I was on the wrong path that morning—just settled and given up. No pictures, sleeping with a tent on face and probably a chip on my shoulder. Instead I kept going. Perseverance served me well because I had an awesome turn of events. Looking for alternatives instead of giving up, that was key to the success of this trip.
Even on the way home I had some unplanned troubles because I lost sight of my gas gauge until it was almost too late. When I finally came upon a city, which happened to have Australia’s longest wooden pier, I was met with the realization that they did not have a gas station. However, they did have an awesome little food truck called the little orange van on the foreshore. They had great fish and chips. The batter was a bit sweeter like a cousin to funnel cake. You can even check them out on Facebook. I didn’t get fuel here but I got some great food and some easy directions to the nearest gas station that got me home just fine.
Alternative, maximize, improvise, and tradeoff are some of the best words to summarize the mindset I’ve been mentioning. Of course you want great food, great health, and amazing experiences, but in order to have all these great things while saving money you may have to get creative. Your life is different than mine. You probably have hurdles I don’t have, but you may also have opportunities or ideas I never came across.
Retiring young doesn’t have to be some outlandish dream or something reserved for the wealthy. I promise, this lifestyle doesn’t require massive amounts of education, you won’t live like you’re homeless, and you won’t be expected to miss out on life. My main takeaways I want you to get from this article is that you don’t need a Phd level education on the stock market or a six figure job to meet that next financial goal you have.What you will need is the right mindset. The mindset to maximize every day and every dollar, to find a way even when your plans fall apart, and to second guess what’s normal. Stop being paralyzed by your financial situation and start to entertain the idea of retiring in your early 40’s or (insert dream here). It’s easy to tell someone why you can’t, but it can be a lot of fun to prove them wrong.
- Spent four weeks in Adelaide, Australia
- Visited an amazing national park and other great hikes ($7.50)
- Camped in the outback ($11.25)
- Attended a top level pro sporting event (Australian Football) ($30)
- Attended a surprisingly entertaining wrestling event ($15)
- Ate good food
- Gained no weight
- Cooked for myself 81/84 meals
- Spent an average of $1.65 per meal ($127.10)
- Had three great meals and drinks with friends ($60.63)
- Explored Southern Australia without the compromise for a total of $251.48