So for those of you who are new here, I’m not exactly a fan of the whole retiring super early thing. I think that the people who would rather take it easy at 35 than do something they’re passionate about are a special kind of silly. I fully applaud their goals to accumulate all of the money. I just don’t agree with the slacking off part that immediately follows.
Saying that, I’m still relatively interested in the notion of financial independence. I like the idea of getting there, mostly as a safety net. What’s the point of spending all this time on our finances if the goal isn’t security?
And every time I write one of these anti-retire-early posts, I get accusations that I don’t understand the notion of early retirement. Because hey, what better way to deflect valid criticisms than to claim the person making them has things all wrong?
So I decided I’d read THE GOOD BOOK. No, not the Bible, dummy. I had some time to kill on a plane recently, so I decided I’d read Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker. This is my review.
I think I’ll separate out this review into stuff I liked and stuff I didn’t like, followed by a conclusion. Groundbreaking concept, I know.
Let’s start with the bad stuff.
I’m not sure how familiar you guys are with Fisker, but if you’re a personal finance aficionado, chances are you’ve at least heard of his website, which has the same title as the book. And to be frank, he’s kind of a dick. He’s smarter than most of the people reading, and he knows it. There’s not a whole lot of humility in the book, and Fisker couldn’t give two craps if you’re entertained. Thus, the whole thing reads like a textbook.
Early Retirement Extreme is split into two halves. The first half is all about the psychological aspect of early retirement. You not only have to want to retire early, but you have to know the intimate details of why you want it. Luckily for the people who don’t spend as much time thinking as Fisker does, he’s got you covered. Does he ever. The first hundred or so pages drag because of this.
Fisker spends a lot of time discussing what a so-called renaissance man spends time doing. It’s not enough to learn about something like programming, because Fisker wants you do understand everything from how to build a PC to knowing how a hard drive works. As in, how to assemble one. Essentially, only a man who knows a bit about a lot of different subjects is fit for an early retirement, because he doesn’t have to depend on others to repair his computer or unplug his sink.
(Aside: he’s also obsessed with egg boilers. He mentions how wasteful they are about every 20th page. He really needed an editor [naturally, he edited the book himself] to eliminate stuff like that)
Fisker has a very clear picture of what the ideal early retiree should look like. I find that to be very interesting, especially considering the types of comebacks you typically hear from that crowd. (Think “personal finance is personal”, but about early retirement) There aren’t many of them who take Fisker’s opinion on becoming a proper renaissance man seriously.
Finally, after many pages of Fisker explaining exactly why his version of spending $10,000 per year is more noble than everyone else’s habits, we get to the good part of the book.
Fisker spends much of Early Retirement Extreme pointing out how he’s not going to give many “how-to tips” or anything like that. Other blogs do that, and he’s above that. Which I can at least respect.
And yet, the parts of the book when he explains exactly what he does and how he accomplishes it are by far the most interesting parts. It’s full of useful suggestions like shopping around sales at the grocery store instead of making a meal plan, and not owning stuff you’ll only use once or twice a year. There are also good tips on how to cut your housing costs down to practically nothing and the importance of learning to cook cheaply.
Fisker’s ability to cut costs was oddly inspiring, and by the end of the book I was searching for ways to cut the fat out of my spending. I think most people who read it would probably agree.
I awaited the investing section of the book in great interest. It was also a disappointment.
Fisker presents the same math I’ve seen a million times, stating that if you can save say 50% of your income, you only have to work every second year. If you can save 80% you only have to work every fifth year, and so on. If you can maintain a savings rate that high for a while, you can retire early.
Fisker makes many comments about how he’s a successful investor and how he can easily figure out what’s a good investment or what isn’t, but that’s about it. The details are sorely lacking. He plays around a lot with return simulators and withdrawal schedules without telling people how to invest in the first place. His advice on investing can be boiled down into a few sentences that are no more complex than you’d see on the average frugality blog. And yet, he proclaims himself an expert.
I liked the part where he told us about the things he actually did. The philosophy stuff got old fast, and so did his holier than thou attitude on why his way of life was better than ours. The part on investing was also woefully incomplete.
I’ll give it 2.5/5. You’ll probably like Early Retirement Extreme if you think early retirement is going to make all of your non-sexual dreams come true, but I’m going to need something better to be won over.