I like to think that most people who managed to make it to the early retirement finish line are a bit weird. Sure, sometimes you get folks who got $200K salaries right away based on their mad coding skillz, and then retired within a decade, but then there are those of us who played on a slightly higher difficulty level, worked longer, and picked up some odd but fun habits along the way. (And hey, if you’re a high-paid coder – kudos to you. The world needs more autodidacts who can help others learn too.)
I would be lying if I said I’m not a bit eccentric, and I seldom lie. It would be quite easy to invent this imaginary, hyper-successful persona that has a butler/intern, a pet falcon, 10 different recycling cans, a private jet, and very rich night life. It would be easy, but it would be false, and it’d make me just as bad as all the Instagram influencers out there. (If you’re not aware, there’s a company with an actual photo set that makes you look like you’re flying in a private jet. Oh brave new world that has such selfies in it…)
….but I digress. I want to describe the lean-FIRE lifestyle fully and honestly, and that – by definition – includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Or at least highly eccentric.) The things I do work perfectly fine for me because they fit my personal philosophy and my inherent laziness. Or, I suppose, you could call it extreme energy-efficiency. If you haven’t read Heinlein’s short story “The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail,” I can’t recommend it highly enough.
And so, without much further ado:
I almost never buy new books. I get them as e-book downloads from my library instead. Well, from several libraries in towns where I used to live… Writers still get paid by libraries (literally anything is better than pirating), my ongoing checkouts of library books helps those libraries show that they have lots of readers, and I get to enjoy so much more fun literature (both fiction and nonfiction) without paying a penny. (I used to be a book hoarder; it broke my heart when I had to leave over a thousand books in that Reno basement when I moved to Vegas. Since then, I’ve kept only a few dozen.) I make exceptions for highly anticipated books like the final Expanse book, but that’s about it.
I eat pasta with ketchup. It’s horrifying, I know. I used to have an Italian-Canadian landlady who legitimately thought I was a monster for doing that. Heh. In the end, it’s the same active ingredient as pasta sauce, and it lasts way longer. You can get a bottle of ketchup for $4, and it’ll last you years. Or you can spend the same money on a jar of pasta sauce, and you’ll have to eat the whole thing within a week of opening it. That turns your random pasta impulse into an obligation to have it once or twice within a week. I like groceries that don’t send me on shameful guilt trips.
My freezer is a cryogenic chamber. When it comes to waste, it’s the organic stuff that degrades fast and stinks the place up. (Once you get fruit flies, you might as well leave for two weeks to starve them out: the little dudes are persistent!) So, if the choice is to take out the trash every couple of days or consolidate it… You see where I’m going with that, right? I dump the tea bags, banana peels, fruit leftovers, and all the other organic stuff in a plastic bag that lives in the freezer. (I like to think that it saves garbage bags in addition to saving me time.) When my recycling bag gets too full and/or the organic bag in the freezer gets too big, I take them out – that’s typically once a month or so. Of course, that works best if you live solo. Cooking for a large family generates way too many leftovers to stash away this way.
I stopped getting haircuts because of covid. At first, it was a matter of necessity, since I was hiding out with my immuno-compromised girlfriend. Risking covid exposure just to get your hair cut? Hard pass. Then, as we drifted apart and I continued with my year of working from home, it continued to be a covid precaution (I didn’t get my vaccines till April 2021, and I had to drive to Ohio to get them), but also a natural experiment, to see what would actually happen. I’d tried growing my hair out when I was 18, and ended up with a genuine afro, which looked hilarious but also sabotaged my freshman year of college. The end result, about 21 months after my last haircut, is pretty interesting: it’s shoulder-length now, I’ve found the combination of conditioner/product that mostly makes it stay down, and I kind of dig this look. This also saves me ~$20 and an hour or so of my time each month. Compound that over several decades and now you’re talking real savings! (I’m only half-joking.)
I loathe laundry. Mere words cannot describe how much I used to hate dedicating either an entire evening or part of my hard-earned weekend just to wash and dry my clothes and sheets. Gradually, over time, I stockpiled a pretty impressive wardrobe while buying it on sale. If you spend $25 on an outfit (and assuming you can wear the same pants a few days in a row), and if it buys you an entire extra day without having to do laundry, isn’t that worthwhile? Assuming it lasts 100 washes before it falls apart, you’re paying just 20 cents per day to delay that ridiculous chore. Stockpile enough clothes (and sheets – I’m not a barbarian), and you can go a couple of months without doing laundry. I’ve never understood the folks who wash their clothes every single week… If you’re one of them, I hope you take my advice and start doing it at least every other week, eh? And as always, I recognize my privilege as someone with no kids: if you have kiddos, then unfortunately this hack will not work for you.
I walk places. I already wrote about my car-free lifestyle, but there’s more to it. I’m not as uber-frugal as some of the outliers on finance forums, so no, I don’t pick up soda cans and scrap metal. (Though apparently there’s good money in that!) Instead, I just take a little urban hike and get some exercise, fresh air, and sightseeing if my destination is less than an hour’s walk away. It’s not that I’m ideologically opposed to spending a few bucks on a bus ticket, but given my infinite free time, the question changes from “should I walk to save money?” to “why spend money when I enjoy walking?” As with many other things, this advice works because my free time is essentially infinite now (I figure I have about 40-50 years left ahead of me), and because my health allows me to go on such long walks. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to go on impromptu urban hikes. Ditto for the privilege of living in a pedestrian-friendly city like Quebec City. This advice would not work in, say, Las Vegas or Fort Worth.
I turn grocery-shopping into a game. You might have guessed by now that I’m not a fan of basic upkeep chores that take up a significant portion of my time. (Incidentally, my Seattle condo kind of fell apart during the 2.5 years I lived there. Heh.) Popping by a grocery store every other day (or even every three or four days) would be my idea of hell. To remedy that, I’ve gamified the process. I stock up on healthy food that lasts a while (so apples and oranges as opposed to bananas) and then try to see how long I can go until I run out of groceries and it’s time to resupply. So far, I average about nine days: meat and wine last me the first three or four days (wine, much like pasta sauce, also goes bad pretty fast), and after that it’s cereal, omelets, rice with veggies, and one indulgence day, which currently consists of frozen pizza. (Not the healthiest food, but hey, just three per month is almost negligible.)
I did a cost-benefit analysis before getting a pet. At first, it was a matter of practicality: I moved a lot, sometimes I left on long business trips, etc. I also enjoyed either long vacations or a lot of shorter ones. None of that would work well with keeping a cat or a dog. Now that I’ve actually set up a permanent home base in Quebec City, I started thinking… A lot of my restrictions are still similar. I may not travel much right now (damn you, covid) but I look forward to becoming a snowbird in a couple of years, and spending up to six months away from home. Traveling with a pet would be complicated (and stressful on the animal), and giving them up for months at a time also wouldn’t be fair. I’d love to have a dog, but I’m far too nomadic…
That leaves fish and reptiles. I have a relative that has a pet snake, but that seems a little too cold-blooded for me, which leaves fish! They’re much easier to take care of, don’t require animal sacrifices, don’t stink the place up, and they’re fun and mobile enough to make a real-life screensaver. There are time-delayed feeders for shorter trips, and I can always give them to a fellow fishhead if I leave town for several months. Obvious disclaimer – if your living situation is uncertain (moving between cities, etc), maybe skip this tip: moving with an aquarium is a huge logistical challenge, or so I heard.
There are probably other weird tips and tricks from my life I haven’t thought of, but these are the main ones. To some, they may seem as bizarre or comedic as Vork’s lifestyle from Felicia Day’s debut show, The Guild (I love both that show and that character.) Nonetheless, this works for me, and it weaves nicely into my overall life philosophy of low-key efficiency.
What about you? Intrigued? Horrified? Inexplicably fascinated? Eager to share your own weird tips and tricks? Leave me a comment and share your thoughts!