Many Paths Lead to Financial Freedom

Mr. Money Mustache is a forty-something retiree [retired at 30 I believe] who blogs about how everyone can live a frugal yet fulfilling – or Badass as he states – life of leisure. I first heard about him and his blog soon after I started blogging a couple of years ago and he is regularly mentioned in the personal finance blogging world.

On his About page, he notes, “My wife and I studied engineering and computer science in Canada, then worked in standard tech-industry cubicle jobs in various locations throughout the late ’90s and early 2000s. Then we retired from real work way back in 2005 in order to start a family. This was achieved not through luck or amazing skill, but simply by living a lifestyle about 50% less expensive than most of our peers and investing the surplus in very boring conservative Vanguard index funds and a rental house or two.”

Embracing Frugality

He – and his feat of retiring at 30ish – were recently brought to my attention again while surfing the net and stumbling across a Business Insider article. The article noted that Mr. and Mrs. Money Mustache didn’t win the lottery or inherit a fortune at the time of their retirement. In fact, their household income was a comfortable, but not necessarily enormous, $134,000 a year. Today, 11 years after retiring, although he’s earning about $400,000 a year via his blog, he and his family spend just $24,000 annually on expenses.

Path 1


A good friend of mine, someone I consider something of a financial mentor and whose opinion – particularly as it relates to financial matters – I value greatly, would be considered wealthy by most. While I don’t know his exact household income nor his net worth, we have talked enough and shared enough personal information to know that his (and his wife’s) household income exceeds $250,000 annually and his net worth is likely in excess of $2M.

Saving Early

This is an individual that has been financially savvy for 30+ years (he and his wife are in their mid-50s), started saving at an early age and made great decisions with respect to his education, training and careers (plural as he is retired active duty military, like myself, and is currently working in a second career).  I have no doubt that he could absolutely retire comfortably today and probably could have 10 – 15 years ago. However, while his wife is eyeing a retirement date in the near future, he currently has no plans to leave the workforce.

Path 2

On a recent Well Kept Wallet podcast, I listened to the story of Chad Carson, an individual that molded himself into an entrepreneur and plans to retire within the next year, at age 37. His chosen path? Flipping houses and rental properties.

Check out the podcast [after you finish here, my friend] to learn more about Chad and his chosen path:

How to Become Financially Independent by Age 37 with Chad Carson [Well Kept Wallet]

Path 3

My own situation – and values – dictate that the wife and I will be working until we are 60. Some of the factors that have contributed to my unique situation?

  • Financial ignorance in my 20s
  • Early marriage and children
  • Credit card debt in my 20s to mid-30s
  • Divorced at 35
  • Retired from active duty (Army) at 38
  • Focused on education and earned graduate degree (MBA) later (age 40) in working career

Add to those my desire to live very comfortably now. Three examples. A few years ago I spent $14,000 to travel with my parents and wife (then girlfriend) on an Alaskan tour and cruise. We – my wife and the friends I referenced earlier – are currently planning a trip to Machu Picchu next year. In fact, we are having dinner with them on Friday to start nailing down specifics, including dates. And finally, later this year I will be buying my wife a luxury SUV, most likely an Audi Q5, for her birthday.

While retiring at 30-something, 40-something or really at any time before 60 sounds intriguing, it isn’t in the cards for me and the wife. In addition to the factors noted above, the most significant factor is that both the wife and I currently are working for an employer whose defined benefit plan requires that we work until age 60.  Could we make it if we retired earlier? Probably. We have another source of income – my active duty pension – and a fair amount of money in savings/investments outside of retirement accounts. However, we have concluded that we are not prepared to become hardcore frugalists and we should stay the course with our current careers, invest regularly in our retirement accounts, and retire at 60.

Pension Power

The good news is that at 60 we project we won’t even need the money in our retirement accounts. We should be positioned to live a very comfortable life on the three employment pensions and our Social Security pensions, which we plan to start taking sometime after age 65.

The bad news, if you want to view it as such, is that we have to work until 60. Again, because of some choices/actions we made, or failed to make, in our 20s and 30s, and some factors that were out of our control; and the choices we make today with respect to lifestyle.

Path 4

I have no idea if Mr. Money Mustache or Chad Carson would have spent that kind of money to go to Alaska, spend the money it will take to hike Machu Picchu or buy their significant other a luxury vehicle. My guess is that a lot of the personal finance bloggers out there, particularly the hardcore frugal people (frugalists? Frugalers?) would not.

There is no one correct approach to retirement planning nor a singular destination. Moreover, we all inherit advantages/disadvantages that make a given path easier/harder, make choices (often bad, or less than ideal, earlier in life), have different lifestyle values and learn about the importance of being financially savvy at different points in our lives. The key is to start making better decisions once you do get clued into how to more effectively manage money and realize that financial freedom is really about proper planning and managing your finances in such a way to exponentially increase your options and give you choices. Ideally you will adopt practices and philosophies learned from others (e.g. magazines, blogs, family, friends, etc.) and fashion them into your own approach and plan.

Final Thoughts

Don’t waste your time trying to exactly replicate what someone else is doing; embrace and work with the factors (e.g. inherited pros/cons, education, marital status, age, goals, etc.) that define, and are unique, to you. Have no doubt that there are many, many paths that lead to what constitutes financial freedom, a satisfying life, and a satisfying retirement.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. For us (my husband and myself), we are looking to be able to retire between the ages of 57 and 60. We are 42 now. If I had been more aware of money, debt and retirement (or FI) sooner…well things may have been different. I truly do enjoy reading MMM–his humor cracks me up. We choose not to make the necessary changes to reach total “badassity”, but we also do not say it cannot be done. Great post. Thanks!

    • The basic arc of your retirement plan sounds similar to ours. While I don’t necessarily beat myself up for not being more enlightened at a very early age, it certainly would have been nice to have been on the financial independence path a few years earlier. But hey, the wife and I are living a pretty stupendous life and as I gaze into the future, it looks pretty sweet. Thanks for stopping by and best of luck, my friend.

  2. Nice post, James. Thanks for sharing your path. Funny how our different paths seem to end up at the same place: Financial Independence! We all hit bumps in the road along the way, but keeping at it is the key.


    • Indeed. Though the challenges will be unique and the paths varied for each individual [or individual couple] self-education, comprehensive planning and execution will lead to financial independence.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your voice to the conversation, my friend.

  3. Good stuff, you already know I lean more to the “luxury in moderation” approach than living-of-ramen-noodles approach. I also don’t see the point of making $400,000 and still living off of 24K. It certainly shows dedication, I give him that.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that many of us “Financial Amateurs” talk about early retirement. The earlier the more impressive. Sure, many of us would love to quit our jobs but then again many are quite content or even love what they do. My father-in- law is in his 80s and still loves the work he does. Retirement would kill him (if old age doesn’t).

    I retired almost 2 years ago at the age of 43 and even though we manage to make ends meet, I’m not enjoying the much-more-strict budget we have to live on today. I miss the days of walking by the Apple store and impulsively picking up the latest iPad.

    Planning for early retirement is great and there are many paths but make sure you are okay with the sacrifices it takes to get there and the possible sacrifices you need to make to stay there.

    • So many great points. With respect to Mr. Money Mustache spending $24,000 on living expenses, I took that to mean that is the amount they spend on necessities (e.g. food, gas, electricity, car insurance, etc.). Presumably, they spend more (- on vacations, a dinner out occasionally, etc. – annually. I absolutely get your point, however. If he is earning $400,000 a year on the blog and is still locked into some super frugal mindset, that would seem a little odd. As I have noted in other posts, there has to be balance.

      Like your father-in-law, the friend I mention (path 2) absolutely loves the work he does and as far as I know, retirement isn’t anywhere on his radar.

      “Planning for early retirement is great and there are many paths but make sure you are okay with the sacrifices it takes to get there and the possible sacrifices you need to make to stay there.”
      Indeed. That says a lot.

  4. Completely agree James. I believe knowing yourself (and what you want out of life) is paramount to happiness/success. To borrow an expression from ole Jim Rogers, we all must “swim our own races.” As you and Brian discussed above, one of my favorite things about this blogging community is how we all share our ideas and stories. That way, in addition to mix/matching our own approaches, we can encourage each other onward.

    I hope you are having a great week!


    • Great expression from Jim Rogers and I absolutely agree. Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

  5. That’s what’s really great about the community and the ideas that are shared. There is no cookie cutter model to obtaining your goals. It’s all about YOUR goals, YOUR values, and how you want to achieve them.

    • “There is no cookie cutter model to obtaining your goals.” Indeed. While some of the practices and philosophies of others can be adopted, each of our approaches – and results – will be different. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation, my friend.

      • That’s why I read some many blogs. Love borrowing little bits of information I can use on my journey.

  6. Great post. I think the educated financial person will have the foresight to see the ripple effect of the decisions they make now . Me and my wife started saving later in life (lack of education), but with our noses to the grindstone we have secured a path to a comfortable retirement at 62. That said, talk to anybody that will listen about financially planning for the future.

    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, my friend. It is harder, and you certainly travel a different path, when you start later; however, that does not preclude you from enjoying a satisfying retirement.

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