Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Do It While You're Young

Once you get old, you won't be physically able to do a lot of things.   So why wait until your are old?

One negative reaction I get to this blog is the lash-out response that one should "enjoy life" by purchasing things, and if you just save up your money, what is the point?  After all, when you are old and grey, you won't be able to do much, right?

There is a nugget of truth to this and also a lot of denial.   What the people who are making this argument are saying, is that it is OK to get heavily into debt to have a lot of nice things and then work 60 hours a week to pay for them.   It really makes no sense, as you never get a chance to enjoy these things, or indeed, get more than 50 miles from where you live, as you are now tethered to a job to pay for it all.

But it is true that as you get older, you will be able to do less and less.   So it makes sense, if you want to see the world and do things, to do it while you are young.   Traveling around the country in an RV at age 70 and watching television in all 50 States really makes no sense.  You are not "seeing America" nor are you really doing anything other than existing and consuming a lot of money.

I related before about my young friends who hitch-hiked around the world - twice - before they got married.   What they did was live frugally, worked hard, and banked their paychecks.   They traveled modestly and stayed in cheap places like hostels and whatnot.   But they got to see the world at an age where long hikes and whatnot were still physically possible.  And not only that, when they got back home, they still had enough money in the bank to make a down payment on a house.

It was no secret how they did it.  They didn't have cable television.  They weren't glued to a smart phone 24 hours a day.  They drove an older Toyota they bought for $3000 and kept for many years.   They didn't spend a lot of money on restaurant meals and clothes and "shopping" and whatnot.   They set their priorities and then set out to achieve their goals.   

And the kicker is, neither had a very high-paying job.  One worked for a charity and the other in retail.

When they took off to see the world, some told them they were foolish to squander all that money and to "give up" on good jobs and lose their place in line in terms of promotions and advancement.   The folks who live the job mentality thought they were insane!   After all, you have to "play the game" and wait for your promotion so you can trade-in your Chevy for a Pontiac, right?   You have to work your way up the ladder of success, right?

Well, wrong.   The are now living overseas, happily, and have professional jobs that pay far more than they made when they were young.  And they have a happy healthy family.   And they got to do what they wanted to do in life, while young, which is great.

Sadly, many others, including their friends, felt that such a course in life was impossible.   They had "commitments" in the form of car loans and mortgages and cable television payments.  They had a nagging credit card debt that needed to be paid off.  They couldn't just pack up and leave, right?   And when they got back, they'd lose all that seniority at work!

In short, most of their friends were chained to the hamster wheel of debt, and were running as fast as they could, just to stay in place.   I know I was, to some extent.  At the time, we had a fairly expensive lifestyle, a lot of debt, a nagging credit card balance, and "obligations" that prevented us from just packing up and going.

Sure, we did travel to Japan a couple of times, but always associated with business.  And we took an RV tour around America - in a month - seeing the USA through a windshield.  But we were tied down with obligations.  And most of those obligations, if not all, were self-imposed.

Today, we take off in our RV for months at a time, and are looking forward to traveling more, while we are still somewhat young.   But it is hard, even in your 50's to do this, as it is a lot of work and stress to travel.   We can't kayak and ride as far as we used to.   We can't hike as far as we did when younger.  But at least we can do some things, still.

Being financially independent - "owning yourself" - is not just some retirement goal, but a way of life.   If you decide to chain yourself to a series of cable television, car lease, and cell phone payments, remember that it is a choice in life, not a mandate.   The "man" isn't keeping you down so much as you are selling yourself to him.

And if the idea of hitch-hiking around the world appeals to you - or starting your own business, or taking a sabbatical to write the great American novel or start a garage band or whatever - then go for it.   Make a plan, figure out how to make it happen, and then do it.   Sure, it may seem that your "obligations" are preventing you from doing what you want to.   But think long and hard about who made those obligations - you or others?   Odds are, it was you who signed that contract, loan agreement or whatever, that now binds you to a desk.

Do it while you're young.  All the oldsters we meet say the same thing.   They enjoy traveling and seeing different things, but only wished they had done so while they were more ambulatory.