165 comments

The Quitting Lawyer and the Despondent Millionaire

dam_creek

Little MM and I bought absolutely nothing (as usual) today, instead making an ambitious pebble dam in the creek all morning. Our perspective? Best way to spend a Saturday.

When it comes right down to it, this blog is really just here to change your perspective on things.

The exact same world can seem like an evil or beautiful place, based purely on how you choose to think about it. And paradoxically enough, changing the perspective (and thus the behavior) of enough people can even change the physical reality of the world for the better. That makes “just changing your perspective” into a pretty powerful tool.

My biggest secret to wealth is realizing just how little money it really takes to lead an extremely rich life. But the biggest battle I face in sharing it is the different perspective that is programmed into the modern rich-world consumer: the perspective that simplicity is deprivation, change is scary, and effort is something best paved over with convenience.

So this weekend, I thought we might review a pair of remarkable stories from readers about their own perspectives on their lives. In the first, a rich man wakes up to realize he has been sitting in a jail cell that was unlocked years ago. In the second, the awakening is yet to happen.

Dear MMM,

Love your inspiring blog, especially the January 29th piece on the insecure rich professor.  I have a similar cautionary tale and you may use any of it (without my name).

Without realizing it, I have been financially independent for well over a decade and have now stupidly accumulated too much wealth, with way too many investable assets, zero debt and frugal spending habits.

How in the hell did I allow this to happen, you might ask.  Simple:  I foolishly listened to the voices of financial professionals, the financial media, and other useful idiots of the consumer/industrial complex. They discourage you from thinking on your own, but luckily, I finally woke up.

In the coming months, I will happily walk away from an extremely profitable and successful career just because it no longer interests me and I am tired of working only to pad my portfolio.

I am looking forward to my new great life, and hope this little message gives someone else the courage to escape from their self imposed bondage.

Pretty bold and happy moves, right? I offer the Quitting Laywer my heartiest congratulations. His perspective changed, and suddenly he was able to set himself free. Hopefully we can get this next man to feel the same way:

Hey Mr. Money Mustache,

I am a 50 soon to be 51 year old guy from Georgia.

At this point I have about $650k in cash, IRA Roll Overs, Roth, and outside of IRA holdings in stocks.

There is another $122K in cash, and I also own two houses free and clear.
I live in one and the other was inherited from my parents. I am fixing it up now to rent. I have never earned more than $95k from all combined jobs and sources of income.

So my total net worth is around 1.1 or 1.2 Million at this point. My wife has about 150K of savings in 401k roll over accounts.

However, I have been in and out of jobs for about the last ten years. I had a good steady job before for 20 years. Now however I cant seem to find anything.

Needless to say this has caused a lot of friction in my wife’s family. My brother in law is a very successful builder who lives in a million dollar plus home and has a very plush lifestyle which I am not used to or frankly even remotely able to provide. Plus he’s not even 40 yet. He got the business from his dad. I was adopted and we never had much money at all. My house of course is only worth about 150K on a good day. I wear thrift shop clothes and in general am invisible when it comes to others. No one seems to have any respect or consideration for me because I don’t appear to have a lot of money.

Unfortunately I have become the black sheep of my family due to this unemployment scene and the object of a lot of criticism.

I was wondering if you thought I was on the right track? I feel like I have done the right things but frankly I am so worried every day that I will not ever be able to work again that I fear I may lose it all or my wife might leave. I lost my parents and have no other family so I am really worried about this.

Maybe you can offer me some tips on coping with folks who don’t understand that I am thrifty and not just a loser who wears used clothes and has no job or career anymore?

Thank you very much for your webpage and the articles and posts. Some days it keeps me sane.

Sincerely,
Despondent

Dear Despondent (Millionaire),

I should first start with Congratulations! From a financial sense, you have done extremely well for yourself, putting yourself at the very top of a very tall pyramid even by US standards. With any reasonable management of that wealth, you and your wife are financially set for life, and any days of work for the rest of your life should be considered purely for the fun of it.

As a quick review, your $772,000 in stock assets can be invested in index funds to generate a relatively safe 4% withdrawal rate for the rest of your life (dividends plus a small amount of capital gains selling each year or even a managed payout fund), providing your first $31,000 of annual income. On top of that, your rental house will yield perhaps $10,000 more per year. Within the next fifteen years, you’ll also start seeing social security and medicare benefits to further pad your income and lower health insurance costs. Unless your living expenses are higher than $41,000 per year (which I would be surprised to hear, given your second mortgage-free home and your ability to save this much so far), you are more than set – for life!

But it’s time to begin an even bigger job, of changing your perspective on yourself and your life. The phrases you used to describe your own situation are the hallmarks of low self-esteem. “I can’t seem to find any work”. “I am unable to provide this lifestyle for my wife”. “Nobody seems to have any respect for me because I don’t appear to have a lot of money”.

Your story really jolted me awake, because in reality, our situations are similar, and yet our perspectives are completely different. We have similar levels of savings. I also haven’t worked much in the last eight years. I too might eventually run out of money if I suddenly moved into a $1M+ house to “provide a certain lifestyle for my wife”. And I wear old clothes most of the time, often building things in an old plaid shirt and ripped jeans that have been repaired with duct tape.

But yet somehow I am extremely happy about this turn of events! So excited that I started this blog to trumpet out the joy of a slightly-less-materialistic life to the entire world, which has turned into an entire movement. Millions of people are reading about it now, and they are excited about the lifestyle – our lifestyle – yours and mine! 

It’s often difficult to get a job if you feel down on yourself or desperate for work. But if you don’t need a job, your options are wide open. You can create your own work, by doing what you love. For me, this has resulted in additional unnecessary money and even some job offers. But even if this had not happened, it wouldn’t matter, because money is not the issue for either of us. Meaningful work is a great thing, but you don’t need to go chasing after a traditional job to find it these days.

And people don’t deliver or withhold respect based on your clothing or other manufactured accessories. They unconsciously sense something much deeper – your self respect – and that is what determines your social ranking when you enter a new scene. The readers all around you here are saying “you’re doing just fine, so enjoy it!” I respect you, and you are very worthy of your own respect too, starting right now.

As for the critics: Due to this website, I am sure I get more public criticism than you do, and yet for me it is a big part of the fun. It means real mental comfort zones are being stretched. Meanwhile in my real life, nobody has ever told me to get nicer clothes or find myself a job. You too can learn to ignore and mock misguided critics, while learning from the more thoughtful ones. But more likely, you’ll find they change their tune once you start living your own life with the amount of poise you deserve.

That’s the thing about perspective: in reality, it’s everything. And given this new power over everything, are you willing to consider the possibility that you, too, might have more control than you previously assumed?

 

  • Konrad May 13, 2013, 2:56 pm

    I think it was Dante who wrote: “Follow your own path. Let people talk.”

    And from Shakepeare: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

    Congratulations, Despondent Millionaire. You have accomplished something special that >99% of people on the planet have not done.

    Reply
  • Tom May 13, 2013, 3:06 pm

    I am 49 years old. I have lived in a 300 sq ft studio apartment for over 10 years. I drive a used Honda Civic. Compared with many of my peers, some might say I live like kind of a loser.

    On the other hand, by living frugally, especially by living in a small space, I have amassed a $2 million portfolio and retired in my mid-40s. Though my home may be smaller than others’, I own it outright and, since I live in a big east coast city, I could easily sell it and buy a nice townhouse anywhere else in the country with cash.

    I can relate to some of Despondent Millionaire’s feelings about not living up to other people’s expectations or standards. In a way this is because we do not carry our net worth on a big sign for others to see, so they don’t get us.

    So they think we are Clark Kent, but we know we are really Superman. Oh well.

    Reply
  • frugalscholar May 13, 2013, 3:57 pm

    Re line from Paradise Lost above: That’s said by Satan and–though there is an element of truth in what he says–he’s wrong.

    Reply
    • Jamesq May 13, 2013, 10:15 pm

      And the line from Shakespeare is spoken by Polonius, who the other characters view as a windbag and “tedious old fool”.

      Reply
  • thepotatohead May 13, 2013, 10:13 pm

    Despondent,

    With over a million dollars of assets no one can call you a failure. You should be proud of what you have accomplished. While other people are slaving to achieve some ever changing standard, you can say eff the joneses and live a happy retired life. Now you just need to get the wife on the same page.

    Reply
  • The Despondent Millionaire May 14, 2013, 5:17 am

    I am the Despondent Millionaire.

    Thanks very kindly for all the comments and the advice from MMM.

    Working hard to adapt my mindset. With the help of this blog and all the like minded folks here I am sure it will be successful. Your kind words and inspiring advice have helped a lot.

    Thanks again to MMM who took his valuable time to write back to me and offer encouragement. You are a gentleman and a bright spot for all of us on this journey.

    Thanks again and best of luck to everyone working toward their goals.

    Reply
    • Kenoryn May 14, 2013, 7:46 pm

      Despondent,

      Here’s an idea for you: retire as soon as you feel comfortable (once your rental house is rented?) – declare yourself officially retired, or call yourself a landlord if you don’t want that title, but either way stop worrying about/looking for work – draft up a plan in writing with your budget and your income to show that your expenses are covered and you’re doing just fine. Then you’ll have some numbers to use if other people question what you’re doing. Discuss the plan with your wife and make sure you’re on the same page – find out what her concerns might be, if any, and figure out how the two of you can address them. Then, with your newfound free time and peace of mind, dedicate some of your time (aside from all the other fun and interesting things you’ll be learning and doing now that you’re free) to making improvements to your own house. This will give you the satisfaction of a job well done, construction skills if you don’t already have them, which are a useful side-income skill, additional equity in your house (and of course, use Craigslist/Kijiji and recycled materials to do it with minimal materials cost!) and give you a nicer place to live that you can feel proud of because you accomplished it yourself. Perhaps there are projects you and your wife could work on together, particularly if she’s not currently working.

      Reply
  • Tom May 14, 2013, 6:14 am

    I went to a grad school alumni event last night. In the course of talking to people, whenever they asked “And what do YOU do?”, I casually mentioned that I was retired. I am 49 years old and look a little younger than that. To a person, everyone I talked with seemed impressed with me, curious about my retirement, and a little envious. Some of them had very impressive-sounding jobs themselves including cosmetic surgeon and electrical engineer, and yet they seemed as intrigued with me as I was with them.

    I almost always get positive reactions from new people I meet when I tell them I am retired. On the other hand, sometimes old friends or colleagues and family members are negative.

    Reply
  • Vanna May 14, 2013, 9:47 am

    Personally, I get (a little) sick enjoyment from seeing people take a false view of my life. I think it is human nature for people to worry about or judge things they don’t understand. But, is it my job to make them understand me? No!

    I don’t know why Despondent has not established self respect. But I’m so glad for this post; so at least, WE ARE ALL HERE to give him a hug and a kick in the pants. A change in perspective is definately in order. Hopefully he will find the courage to release himself from the hold he allows others to have on him. I wish for his joy, freedom and sense of worth. He also needs to know that even though he has done his due diligence to become FI, it is not his money that makes him worthy of respect.

    Reply
  • Grant May 14, 2013, 10:01 am

    Not to ruin the party, but as a close-to millionaire myself who years ago suffered through a divorce that set me back a few years in my financial planning, I feel like I should share my POV.

    If Despondent Millionaire’s wife is not on board and they decide to split up, it is possible that she could take 50% of his nest egg with her. He may also be responsible for maintenance/alimony. In which case he will no longer be in striking distance of FI. Not a pretty picture.

    Marriage can be a great boon for FIRE if both partners have the same objectives, especially if both partners are contributing in the accumulation phase . If not then the divorce proceedings will reveal personal finance aspects of marriage that were never considered in the early days of the relationship.

    Just sayin. YMMV.

    Reply
  • woodpecker May 14, 2013, 1:25 pm

    Hey MMM!
    Great post. Its really so much up to everybody himself how he sees the world – but tragically many people do not seem to understand that.

    And I also love the reminders of the simple pleasures in life (like building a dam with your kid). Things that have so little to do with money and yet bring so much joy!

    Keep on rocking!

    Woodpecker
    http://www.gooddaytolive.net

    Reply
  • slp May 14, 2013, 2:05 pm

    MMM and readers,
    Great article first off. I appreciate it, even though I’m nowhere near this phase of life.

    So what do I do now?
    I’ve been reading for a while and have been living my version of mustachianism for a while. -Bike to work, fix old things and sell them, cheap housing, car paid for that usually sits etc.
    I graduated college in December 2012 with a German degree. Needless to say, there aren’t many jobs needing my skills at the moment. I took a job at a tech company leading corporate and client trainings for their software. My wife is still in school and works part-time. When she finishes, we both will have completed Master’s degrees without accruing debt.
    My salary is 28k per year. Right now, we save about 50% of that. We have around 30k in liquid assets. In the future, I’d obviously like to buy a house, but I also have no 401K or investments for retirement.
    This brings me back to my opening question. So what do I do now? Should I save for a down payment on a house or should I invest some and save most? Any suggestions are appreciated.

    Reply
    • Melissa May 14, 2013, 4:35 pm

      This is a great question and a perplexing one with which many people struggle! I would suggest you put this on the forum for several people’s input. People will have lots of good questions to help you on your quest. I’ve found in the end it depends on your comfort level. Maybe you will decide to do both–invest and save at a desirable split you choose. I do hope that if you have a 401K and a company match, that you will consider beginning to take advantage of it, if only to the level at which your company matches funds. You sound like you have a handle on debt, good job there. Try the forum and see how it goes!

      Reply
  • John@MoneyPrinciple May 14, 2013, 3:04 pm

    Spot on advice MMM. But the world is far too full of the ne’er sayers who want to take you down. The deposndent millionaire has indeed done very well and can hold his head high! And the lawyer has seen the light. What else do we need?

    Reply
  • Frugal in DC May 14, 2013, 5:45 pm

    From the 13th/14th century badasses Rumi and Hafez:

    One of the marvels of the world
    is the sight of a soul sitting in prison
    with the key in its hand.
    Covered with dust,
    with a cleansing waterfall an inch away.
    –Rumi

    **********

    The small man
    Builds cages for everyone
    He
    Knows.
    While the sage,
    Who has to duck his head
    When the moon is low,
    Keeps dropping keys all night long
    For the
    Beautiful
    Rowdy
    Prisoners.
    –Hafez

    Reply
  • Robert G. Freedom May 15, 2013, 3:33 pm

    When it comes to the brothers-in-law issue, if the (false) perception is really getting to me, I will just get it out of the way by having an asset contest. I let him show his first. Then I pull mine out, but only just enough to win. That shuts him up fast enough and I never worry again what he thinks about my torn jeans.

    Reply
  • Ann May 15, 2013, 8:30 pm

    My parents are 68 and 66. Their portfolio is worth at least a couple of million, plus they make more money on their rental land than they spend. Yet my father can’t retire (he’s tried several times), and my mom is subbing and being an online mentor. Their identity is too tied up in their occupation to quit. Any advice on how to help them transition to not working?

    Reply
    • lentilman May 21, 2013, 9:15 pm

      Meh, I think the point of FI is doing what they want.

      It sounds like that’s what they are doing.

      If they wanted to quit they would.

      Reply
  • JDB May 21, 2013, 10:36 am

    It’s one thing to give the finger to “people” (friends, acquaintances, etc), but your family is HARD. I have had a lot of independence practice from my close-knit family but they are often holding their breath and raising their eyebrows. My parents live with me and my husband, and they are constantly comparing our lifestyle with my middle-class consumer sister (ie. I should get a dog walker, a housekeeper, ivy league child care, new furniture (which I have never bought), new clothes… oh the suffocation!) At which point I walk away. But geesh, until I found this blog I was starting to bend after the years of incessant buzzing in my ears. Now hubby and I are back on track. I think in order to live this badass lifestyle you need to frequently flex the middle finger and don’t be afraid to lovingly point it at your family. Family loves you for who you are, not who they want you to be… and if challenged they will admit they only want the best for you. But only you know what is best for you!

    MMM, wanted to thank you for the blog and pooling such a cool community. Your comments have helped but I really get more good suggestions for my specific situation from the comments to the blogs. Still working my way through from the first post, it is slow reading if you read all the comments! But so far I have cancelled my $200 a month cell plan and am down to $35 a month for me and hubby, stopped my lavish lady treatments (and ordered an epilator due to the comments in the blog), working google talk to replace my landline, working to reduce my insurance costs, changed my fancy road bike to a commuter bike (lots of great blog comments on how to best do that!), and last month was a super saver month and saved an additional $2.5K over and above my normal savings. Working towards beating that each month. Thank you for the inspiration and good reading and good community. Hubby and I couldn’t be happier with our changes and we feel more free since I can’t tell you when! Cheers!

    Reply
  • Dave June 20, 2013, 8:25 pm

    Despondant, Read Money For Life by Steve Vernon (mentioned in an earlier MMM post). You have so many options you don’t know it. Set a goal to visit the seven natural wonders of the world with your wife. Make her life and yours an adventure. Get a Facebook page and upload a few pictures everywhere you go. Eventually, everyone around you will realize the genius that is in the family who realized it is about collecting experiences and relationships and NOT about collecting things. You have to love this blog MMM!!!

    Reply
  • Frank July 30, 2013, 1:26 pm

    OK I got to stop reading this blog cus I’m about to walk out of the office right now and never come back!..:)

    Reply
  • Jimbo November 15, 2013, 11:53 am

    Having the courage to step away from the rat race does not come easy…often it is just a matter of sematics though…when the threshold of financial freedom has been reached no longer are you unemployed your retired…thanks MMM for the service you provide.

    Reply

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