Sacrifices related to retiring early

I had the interview with Brian Bienkowski of lately.  One question Brian asked was: “How did you retire early, you must have made sacrifices?”

A good question.  It gives me a new perspective to look back at my journey.  What sacrifices did I make in order to retire early?

No fancy clothes or handbags:

Several years ago, a friend of mine came to visit me.  She was from Beijing.  She asked if there was any Coach store close by.  I had no clue what Coach was.  The coach for a sports team?  She laughed about my ignorance.

The brand of clothes or handbags doesn’t matter to me.  Is it a sacrifice for not owning the name brand?  No, not in my case.  Even if I had tons of money today, I would wear the same clothes, and use the same handbag.  To me, handbag is just a bag to put my junk in.

Have not traveled much:

This might be a real sacrifice.

There are still many places in US and China I have not visited yet.  In terms of international travels, compared with my friends, I’m far behind.  I have visited some countries, but not that many.

Do I like to see those places?  Yes, absolutely.

Am I very anxious to see the world right now?  No.  I got plenty of time to travel in the near future (I hope).

Why wait?  There are two reasons:

First is the money concern. I don’t like to follow a tour group, as it’s too rigid, too rushing, with much less privacy.  Living in a hostel is not working for me.  I love food.  Enjoying the great food is one of my top travel purposes.  That means some decent amount of money is required, in order to travel slowly and (relatively) comfortably.

During those wealth accumulation years, I chose to spend less on travel.  Retiring early was my priority.

There is an old Chinese saying:  “Don’t try to pick up the sesame while losing the watermelon.”  It says priority matters.

In my case, retiring early was my watermelon.  Travel was like the sesame scattered on the streets.  It’s nice to have both, if the hands are not full.  But, if the resource (like money) is limited, and I can’t have both, I would rather choose retiring early than travel.

Now I’m retired.  Money is still a concern in some way.  A big question is the uncertainty of the health insurance.  I like to be cautious on spending.  Just make sure I’m prepared no matter what happens tomorrow.

When time is right, definitely I’ll start traveling a little bit more.

Another reason I didn’t travel much is: I’m a homebody. Sometimes I might like to travel.  But many times I love staying at home.

Even a 5-star hotel can’t beat the home.  I joked to my friends that, my home is the 6-star hotel.  This is so called: “Golden nest, silver nest, not as good as my own clay nest.”

No fancy car:

This is my definition of a fancy car: a brand new car that costs at least $35K.

My car is a regular Japanese one, the one a thief could steal and drive around easily without causing any attention.

What I need is a reliable car, not a fancy one.  I usually keep driving the same car for at least 130K miles.

During my last job as an engineer, quite a lot of my coworkers had better and fancier cars.  One guy was saying that, his car loan payment was higher than his monthly mortgage.

I don’t feel it’s really a sacrifice to me.  A fancy car is something that is nice to have.  But, I’m totally happy staying with the regular Japanese model for the rest of my life.

No fancy house:

Central Ohio is a place with low cost of living.  Luckily, that was the big driver that made my early retirement possible.  Thank you, Ohio, I love you.

If a house costs more than $350K, that’s a fancy house to me.

When I bought my first house, it was a stretch financially, mainly because I had worked for only one year and a half.  But the house price was way below the fancy standard.

Many years later, I sold the first house, and bought the 2nd one.  Price wise, the 2nd house was much lower than the 1st one.  A downsize to me.

The amenities of the two houses are similar.  The big difference is the school district.  The school for the 1st house is great, and the school for the 2nd house is so-so.  As our kids were already adults, school district was not an issue.

Another thing is that, I became more realistic when buying the 2nd house.  An old house is perfectly fine, as long as it’s in a good neighborhood, and suits our needs.

Is it a real sacrifice for not owning a fancy house?  Not necessarily.  I need a comfortable place to live for sure.  But I don’t need a big mansion with 3000 to 4000 square feet.

Plus that would be a big hassle to maintain.  I would be too frugal to ask for the professional cleaning service.  Cleaning that big house myself?  Thank you, no, that’s not my hobby.  I’m too lazy to do that.  I would rather spend that time enjoying a book.

Do I feel bad my house or car don’t look that flashy as the Joneses?  No, I don’t feel bad at all.  When my friends come to visit, some may not be impressed by the house or the car I have.  Hey, that’s totally fine.  It’s not my plan to impress anyone either.


Of the four things I listed above, only one is a real sacrifice: travel.  The other three are just what I did differently from some of my peers.  I’m probably a gal who is wired weirdly, and doesn’t care much about material stuff.

Overall, I don’t feel I sacrificed or gave up too much in order to retire early.  The retirement journey was not a deprived one.  Instead, it’s a pleasant (sometimes boring) journey.  It is very rewarding at the end.

Questions to you:

  • If you are already retired, what sacrifices did you make if any?
  • If someone plans to retire early, do you think sacrifices are needed? If yes, what sacrifices?

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14 Responses

  1. Hi Helen, I see things very much the same as you. After my early 30’s, I felt very little desire for expensive travel, cars, houses or clothes. I never felt like we were sacrificing. In fact we were working so hard there was barely time or energy to enjoy that stuff. We’d like to travel more in the future too. Downsize our home. More of a lock and leave situation and explore a bit more of the US and world. At this point good health is all we need and that is never guaranteed. Tom

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Tom, I totally agree: “good health is all we need and that is never guaranteed”. As I aged forward (or downward), material stuff became less attractive. It’s very interesting to see, when people are in their 30s or 40s, they keep upsizing the house. But they may not have much time to enjoy it. I like your idea of Lock and Leave. A simple life is a good one.

  2. KeninNZ says:

    I didn’t make any sacrifices, (that’s way too strong a word) just choices.
    I chose and still choose to spend less than $150 a year on ordinary clothes, to drive a 2005 car (and will keep driving it as long as it does the job I want it to).
    My personal financial journey has been the preference to buy ‘time’ as opposed to possessions. To buy that time for the rest of my days meant buying investments which would keep buying me that time.
    Having that time mean that I’ve been able to be a fully involved hands on Dad for the last 15 years.
    As a sports coach said in a conference I was at there’s no sacrifice for sport, just choice. Sacrifice is fire fighters going into the Twin Towers on 9-11.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      KeninNZ, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thought. Choice is definitely a better word. Instead of getting the material stuff, you chose to get the precious time. It’s great to hear you are able to be a fully involved hands on Dad. That’s many parents’ dream, but they can’t afford it due to the jobs. Yeah, it’s everyone’s choice. Priority matters.

  3. GYM says:

    I like to sacrifice (to a degree). Maybe for clothing and cars but I still like my travel. Wow, housing for over $350,000! There are very few apartments available (1 bedroom) for under $350,000 right now in Vancouver, maybe a handful on the realty websites.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi GYM, yeah, it looks you enjoy travel a lot. That’s cool you are able to travel while still being able to achieve your financial goals. Great job in keeping the travel expenses low!

      Compared to the house market in Vancouver, Ohio is very affordable. With $100K, you can get a two-bedroom condo in a nice area, with 2.5 baths, one car garage, and finished basement. That would be a great place for a starter family.

  4. Hi Helen – isn’t it funny (and a bit sad!) how what another person thinks is a sacrifice, is not really a sacrifice to us.

    Big, shiny and expensive has become the new normal and anything less is seen as a sacrifice.

    I used to care what people thought about me so would buy to impress. As soon as I flicked that switch where I didn’t care, I stopped buying ‘fancy’ and couldn’t be happier. To an outsider looking in I can see how it may look like a sacrifice but it really isn’t. It is just me living with just enough to meet my wants and needs, and nothing more.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Very good point. When I was in my 20s, I used to care about how others judged me. Many times, I was just following the herd, which was not great. After coming to US, gradually I became more an individual, with my own likes and dislikes. I focused on what really matters to me, and ignored those bells and whistles. It worked pretty well. Thanks a lot for sharing your thought.

  5. Caroline says:

    I never cared much about fancy stuff at all, so none of it seems like a sacrifice to me. Once in a while I will buy myself something really nice if I think it is worth it to me. I don’t know if I would want to make “sacrifices” but more likely different choices. Certain things I care about like travel and enjoying life experiences and I am willing to pay a price for it (reasonable), other things are just “things”. I think we get wiser as we get older too (some of us:)).

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Caroline, that’s true we become wiser over time, and some of the things won’t matter that much anymore. It comes down to the choices. Some may want to have everything, and that could get them deep in debt, and lose the focus.

  6. Everyone has to decide what sacrifices to make in order to reach their goals. For me it has been keeping transportation costs low. Overall I have had a frugal mindset to life. However, as our income has increased I have made sure to increase our lifestyle.

    This is usually not advised by those in the FIRE community. I think that life should not be a uphill battle until the day you can “retire”though. So now that I am hitting all of my goals each year we grow our income we grow our savings & our slush fund. The slush fund lets us travel, dine out, and afford the expensive life experiences that mean something to us!

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Thanks a lot for sharing your thought. It’s great to keep the transportation cost low. Yeah, it’s a game of gain and loss. In order to gain something, we have to give up something else a little bit.

      It’s cool you are hitting all your goals. That requires quite an effort and discipline. Not many people have goals clearly set, not mentioning achieving them. They just go wherever life takes them. There is only one month left before their kids starting college, and some parents are still trying to figure out how to pay for the kids’ tuition for the fall. Quite a struggle.

  7. Brenda says:

    Hi Helen, Glad to have discovered your blog. Totally agree it’s all about priorities and not being a slave to fashion or commercialism. I never felt like I was making sacrifices. I have a lovely house with a beautiful yard and love where I live (Williamsburg VA). Keep on writing! Let me know if you are interested in writing a guest post for my blog.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Brenda, thank you for stopping by, and sharing your thought. Yeah, priority matters a lot, especially when the resources are limited. That’s great you got a lovely house and a nice yard. A yard definitely brings a lot of joys, privacy, and I love it. Have a great summer at the yard! I’ll contact you through email about the guest post.

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