Before jumping into my thoughts on gaining financial independence, we have some earnings news worth mentioning. Last night, Yahoo! (Nasdaq) unveiled its second quarter financial results, which crushed expectations with $270 million in revenue -- far above the $238 million consensus estimate that Wall Street was so worried Yahoo! might miss. Fool News has all the details: Yahoo! Continues to Dominate Web. Next Monday, Matt will analyze the quarter from a Rule Maker perspective and offer thoughts on the conference call.

On to today's report. The more I learn about spending, saving, and investing, the more surprised I am that I didn't learn these concepts at an earlier age.

I spent 20 years getting educated at some wonderful schools. I was extremely fortunate. From those experiences, I've made great friends and learned from some of the very best teachers, guides, advisors, and communicators anywhere. And the most important lessons I learned from all my schooling were to be self-critical and to never stop learning.

Yet as wonderful as my "formal" education was, throughout it I never encountered a rudimentary class on spending, saving, and investing.

I learned how to apply the Pythagorean Theorem. I wrote iambic pentameter, laughingly translated Catullus from Latin to English, and read every single one of Emily Dickinson's more than 1700 published poems, twice (no kidding). I watched history unfold. Attila the Hun died of a nose bleed. King George III fell from mindfulness to madness. Frederick Douglass counseled Abraham Lincoln through the Civil War. Orville Wright rode a bi-plane 120 feet off Kill Devil Hill in North Carolina.

And through it, I kept reading. I studied -- and not always with great success -- biology, trigonometry, Russian history, generative syntax, the Inquisition, oceanography, Irish sociology, the Socratic method, human sexuality, medieval poetry, bioethics, 20th century American foreign policy, Shakespeare, Montana's economy, climatology, Chicago-style jazz, impressionism, rat psychology, Latin, and the life's works of Isaac Bashevis Singer.

I could go on, and you could to. All of these topics studied, all of these subjects learned, too much of the memories forgotten -- yet never a required course in the importance of savings, the role of currency, the pursuit of prosperity, the power of economic opportunity, and the benefits of financial independence in our lives. Simple truths all, and easily prepared for simple, Foolish minds.

My disbelief at this hit me again profoundly this week when I sat down in the woods of Western Massachusetts and read the #2 bestseller on Soapbox.com. It's a 23-page report published by Rob Bennett entitled "The Secrets of Retiring Early." Now, I don't agree with every one of his conclusions (that wouldn't really be Foolish). But the elegant simplicity of his ideas throughout warms the heart and startles the brain. I thought I'd share a few of his conclusions tonight that I very much believe:

  1. A century ago, the average American worker expected to work until death. It's only since World War II that workers entertained the idea of retiring at age 65. Yet that thinking's already behind the times. Given productivity advances, the average American should now expect to retire earlier, possibly much earlier, than 65. But only if we take the time to plan for it.

  2. We are living through the greatest prosperity in American history. But because we're, on the whole, disappointingly poor at planning finances for our future, many of us are seeing delays in our financial independence of five, ten, or twenty years. For some, the delay never ends.

  3. Starting today matters. The miracle of compounding, the enemy of time lost, and the power of motivation make a dollar saved tomorrow morning worth an order of magnitude more than a dollar saved in 20 years.

  4. The concept of retiring early does not mean racing to quit the workforce in order to sit at home watching Benny Hill re-runs, watching flies die in bunches on the windowsill. Bennett's definition of retirement means "financial independence." The independence to go part-time, if you please, or to switch careers, or to visit your kids whenever you choose. In other words, no matter how much you love your job, naturally, you should love your financial independence equally (nay, more). They need not be competing forces.

  5. And finally, he explains that financial independence is widely available in America. He provides stories of lower-income employees retiring years, even decades, early because of planning and action. And Bennett himself 'fesses up that "at age 35, I had no savings beyond the amount I used for the down payment on a house. I did not even contribute to my employer's 401(k) plan, forsaking the employer match on employee contributions." Yet on May 20, 2000, he announced his early retirement into self-employment.
Why weren't these and other notions of saving and investing taught to us in our youth -- when the concepts were most valuable? I suspect for no other reason than our collective ignorance about compounding returns and the role of a dollar bill in a capitalist democracy. I know that in my lifetime this will change. And I think reports like this one, and books like Your Money or Your Life, should be required reading for anyone seeking a high-school diploma (and for all of us who sought them, too).

I know, for a few, this will make my report sound like an infomercial. So be it. Here's a link to Rob Bennett's Soapbox and the reviews of his report. It's priced $10, and as always, carries our requisite 100% money-back guarantee if you don't like it. I did.

Finally, whether you purchase the report or not, cruise on over to Rob Bennett's (Hocus1) Soapbox message folder, read his free sample writings there, and ask questions. I see solid personal financial thinking matched up with Rule Maker investing as a very powerful duo. By building a plan of attack, taking action, and having fun, you can reap rewards that will make the Cicero and the quadratic equations and the 19th century French literature that much sweeter.

Tom Gardner, Fool