The Jet Fuel of Early Retirement

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As part of our 90 Day Frugality Challenge, I’ve been reading two different books that have been what I call, “The jet fuel of early retirement”. I’ve felt a personal transformation because the topics in the book have helped me spend less money AND feel happier.

Not only feeling happier, but also feeling closer to who I am really am as a person. I’ll share with you the ideas and I hope you’ll walk away like I am, with a new appreciation for a lost way of thinking.

The topic of each book is on Stoicism, which I would describe as a lost art form for dealing with the stress of media and entertainment being available everywhere. As I recently learned, Rome lived through a time similar to ours.

It is actually SCARY how similar it was back then.

Seneca, the author of one of the two books I’m reading, describes a great mighty empire at its peak. He describes how the wealth of generations of Romans has now brought in more luxuries than the new generations can consume. Weekends and even weeknights are filled with exciting entertainment. In those days it involved the theatre, public festivals, gladiatorial games, and feasts.

Seneca’s concern in many ways was that people were becoming too reliant on these, “new forms of entertainment,” and that we needed to get back in touch with a more simple life.

We needed to shed away the excess forms of luxuries to reach a natural, more authentic state of happiness. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 🙂

Enter Stoicism. The greeks founded this philosophy hundreds of years prior to the life of Seneca, but it was not until Seneca’s time that Stoicism would become an extremely relatable form of living.

Prior the Seneca’s letters being read by Roman emperors, generals, tradesmen and statesmen, prior to all of that, Stoicism was seen as a lofty, out-of-touch view of reality.

Stoicism, as one of the books alludes to, was viewed as a discipline reached by a 25 year old man who is now 55 years old. He practices Stoicism but is unable to explain the pivotal shifts he made 30 years ago to arrive there.

The common misconception then (and now) is that Stoicism related to feeling apathetic, or rather, showing no emotions or concern for things happening to us. This misconception makes Stoicism feel robotic and out of touch.

We humans are animals at the end of the day, and we all are driven by emotions and primal instincts. I, for one, have an unexplainable urge to eat ice cream as of late, and no amount of logical thinking seems to persuade me otherwise.

In reality, stoicism is the art of not letting the outside environment get to us.

At our core, we have all the essential ingredients to be happy and live a fulfilling life. Living in the first world means many of the absolute essentials to life are covered and we only fret about not being able to afford a larger house or a fancier car.

We often seem to overcloud our inner judgment and create new levels of stress where there was no stress to begin with.

I wish I could go on about the lessons I learned but instead I’ll focus on my main takeaway so far and that is:

Practice Poverty

Sometimes, you need to read the message straight from the book, as opposed to having it retold. Seneca does a masterful job of explaining why we need to, “Start cultivating a relationship with poverty.”

Letters from a Stoic - Cultivating Poverty

This allows us to achieve two tasks simultaneously.

First, we no longer will fear losing our status because we will experience what that loss would lead to. We can practice this art, as Seneca suggests, by dining on only rice and beans for several days. I’ve followed this practice a few times now during our frugality challenge and I will admit, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

This type of assurance can embolden us to take greater risks. If we see our happiness stays the same, then we might be less inclined to take the higher paying job at the expense of the job we really want. I know for myself, I’ve started to question other luxuries in my life that might not actually be contributing to my overall happiness, despite what I may have thought before.

Second, we can begin to appreciate more of what we do have. The wealthiest dead man is in the same boat as the poorest dead man. Let’s not let money or assets make us lose sight of our most precious resource — time.

I hope these lessons can shed some light on why I see Stoicism as the modern day jet fuel for early retirement. By stripping away layers of the matrix, we can find a greater clarity on what brings meaning to our lives.

Do you hold any personal beliefs or philosophies that help you with personal finance? Have you tried getting by with the bare minimum where provisions are concerned if only for a short time to see what it’s like?


P.S. Here’s a link to the first book, Meditations by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The second book is really a collection of letters called Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.

9 comments… add one
  • Jay Nov 28, 2016, 6:49 am

    I’m delighted to hear your positive reviews of Seneca. I just picked up “On the Shortness of Life” and am really eager to start digging into it. Thanks for this intro to stoicism!

    • Distilled Dollar Nov 29, 2016, 6:51 am

      I’m glad to hear you picked up one his works! Let me know what you think when you’re done! 🙂

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher Nov 28, 2016, 10:24 am

    I really identified with the book “Siddhartha.” While it’s not necessarily a stoic piece of writing, it helped me to let go of earthly concerns. You can create as many barriers to convenience and take on as many saving challenges as you want, but true change won’t come until you shift your attitude towards life (and money).

    • Distilled Dollar Nov 29, 2016, 6:49 am

      Siddhartha was a great book! I recall having to read that book and Of Mice and Men during one summer in high school. When we walked back into school our teacher took a poll over who liked what book more. Oddly enough, I was one of maybe two or three that voted for Siddhartha out of my class of ~25.

      I’ve since gone back and reread the book. Thanks for bringing it up!

  • Full Time Finance Nov 28, 2016, 7:14 pm

    My financial philosophy is mostly based on my learnings from my career. I’ve spent much of my career in some sort of process improvement using six sigma and lean. Thus you’ll see my focus is on finding what you truly value and cutting out the rest. You need stoicism to do that as society definitely has different values then any one individual.

    • Distilled Dollar Nov 29, 2016, 6:53 am

      I’m finding the path towards wealth includes a lot more reduction than it does addition. The less clutter, then the more time and energy that can be put to use for productive items.

  • Ryan @ Just Another Dollar Mar 1, 2017, 1:26 pm

    I also enjoy gaining perspective from philosophy, psychology, and even older personal finance books. It helps me to see that no matter how much some people want to believe “it’s never been this bad” or “times are different now”, it really is still the same world it was.

    On my own philosophy regarding personal finance; I hold to the belief that a simple life brings me the most enjoyment. We’ve cut out most of our media subscriptions and try to spend more of our free time reading and in conversation. Not only does this save us about $100/month, we have a stronger relationship because of it.

    • Distilled Dollar Mar 2, 2017, 7:37 am

      Agreed 100% that people tend to over exaggerate the changes we see today. Everyone loves to mentioned the next best thing, but there is plenty of wisdom to be found in books/ideas from hundreds of years ago. Some things just don’t change!

  • kindoflost Mar 8, 2017, 6:48 pm

    This is lifestyle inflation at a multi-generational scale… we always want more

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