We baby boomers have acquired a reputation for altering anything we touch. We are often described as a consumer market to be tapped into by those wanting to profit from our seemingly endless appetites for consumption. Whether it's sports, attempts to stay young, housing choices, or health care, we make our presence known by the dollars we spend. And the advertisers know this. "Having it all" has become a mantra of our age group, and it's one we have worn with pride. We show off our wealth in all of the accepted avenues.
Some, however, have found that "having it all" has developed into a sort of golden noose that keeps them stuck working and paying bills with no end in sight. The American middle class is one of the most affluent groups of people ever, yet the goalposts marking our satisfaction level keep moving, and instead of having a sense of fulfillment, many feel discontented.
Some of us, because of our spending choices, have not saved enough to retire and maintain the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed.
Or so we think.
Why not pare down a consumer-based manner of living and choose simplicity instead? Opting for an uncomplicated life doesn't mean hardship or lack. More accurately, it reflects the efficiency of a well-oiled machine.
If you are hooked on synthetic glamour or subscribe to the notion that owning items gives confirmation of self-worth, this movement to simplification can be an especially tough transition for you. If you are feeling uneasy about the size of your paycheck when you compare it with the expansion of your cravings, why not reconsider the unnecessary stress that these desires are placing on your life? How many more clothes can you squeeze into your closet? Do you really need 200 TV stations? Can you get by with one car rather than two?
You've got too much stuff!
For those of us considering our financial independence, maybe settling for the basics is an attractive option. We can focus on gaining more satisfaction out of our lives, instead of buying more things. It's true -- our culture pressures us to consume. Madison Avenue is very good at separating you from your wallet. Everything from our cereal boxes in the morning to the evening movie we watch on our flat-screen TVs all shout out to us of things we "need to have."
You're better than that. Accepting that there may be retirement tradeoffs is a realistic approach, and it's one worth analyzing. Adding the ingredient of being flexible in your future choices could pay dividends in your current life as well.
Be a revolutionary and take control
Let's face it, America: You're swimming in a sea of debt. Some of you can stay afloat, but you're so far offshore, it's hopeless.
Or is it?
For the next 30 days, record where you spend every penny. No cheating. No saying "Oh, that coffee doesn't count." Then take a hard look at where your month's income has gone. If you can get into this habit every day, you'll soon understand how easily you're being manipulated into buying unnecessary stuff, and you will start thinking twice about those new shoes or golf clubs. This one habit can bring your dream of retirement closer to you by years.
So you want to be a millionaire?
We have good friends who have not owned a vehicle for 25 years. Go ahead -- do the math. We figure they have saved $200,000 over this period, plus the money they've made by investing it.
The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that car-ownership costs are the second-largest household expense in the United States. In fact, people in the average household spend almost as much on their cars as they do on food and health care combined for their entire family -- about $600 per month.
Our friends invested that $600 every month for those 25 years, and at a 10% rate of return, they now have $796,000 -- not quite a million, but they retired early and well.
Stuff, which ultimately gives little meaning to life, is a sinkhole on your road to financial independence. It's time to straighten this out.
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In 1991, Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired from their brokerage and restaurant businesses to a life of international travel. Visit their website atRetireEarlyLifestyle.com, and check out their new CD book, The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.