--------------------- How many folks managed (or plan to) retire early without any drop in living standards and how many did (or would) willingly live more modest lifestyles in order to retire early?
This is a very tough question for me. "Living standards" encompasses so much. As part of my early retirement, I moved to a colder climate. Winters are tougher in Michigan, but summers are more pleasant. I like to spend time doing strenuous activities outdoors. In Virginia, 5 months of the year were too hot for that. In Michigan, it's more like 5 weeks. We don't have air conditioning now, but we only would have used it for about three weeks this summer (which was unusually warm).
We had a nice big showplace colonial style dream house in Virginia. We built it that way to fit in with the local market and I considered it to be a reward to come home to that house every workday, but it was a want and not a need. My new house is a smaller ranch style house surrounded by trees and natural beauty. I used to joke that I could shoot skeet in the master bathroom in the Virginia home; I could barely swing a shotgun in the only full bathroom in the Michigan home (the second partial BR is also the laundry room). I spend much more time at home now and despite the fact that it is smaller, any time spent here is far nicer than any time spent in "cubeville" at corporate HQ.
I used to buy Starbucks coffee in whole beans and grind my own. Now I drink Folgers and save the Starbucks for special occasions, but I used to drink my coffee black during my one hour morning commute and now I drink it sweet and creamy after my 5 second commute to my comfy chair by the picture window where I watch the local wildlife until I feel like doing something else.
I used to go wine tasting a couple of times per year. That's not as easy now and the Michigan wine region needs about 10 more years before the vines will be mature enough to produce really good grapes. So my wines are cheaper and the variety isn't as good, but I still plan to stock up on better wine when I visit friends in VA. At the least, I'll visit Total Beverage in Chantilly.
I'm keeping a few older vehicles running by doing my own maintenance. My wife's car is still professionally maintained because we use that on our road trips. While I was working, I put 23K miles/year on my car, so it was maintained by pros. Now I put less than 5K miles/year on my two vehicles and I enjoy working on my truck and car.
So on balance, I would say that the things I did to reduce expenses did not decrease quality of life. I live a more modest lifestyle and feel much better about it. I have no need to reward myself for long commutes and hours spent in cubeville, so I don't. I've shed most of the "prestige" mentality of being a highly paid professional. I dress up a little when I go into town, but that's mainly because the work I do around home is very tough on clothes (cedar sap, chainsaw oil and severe physical torture) and I wear my "work" clothes until they become functionally irrelevant.
If somehow my net worth suddenly increased by $1M, I don't think I would buy another house, but I might add air conditioning to this one sooner (I want to go through another summer before I decide whether it's worthwhile). I wouldn't switch to Starbucks all the time, because my life doesn't revolve around my morning cup anymore. I would drink finer wine and might travel more. I don't think I would ever buy another new car, but I might buy a newer used car. I would pay less attention to the market, but I'm doing less of that now anyway. I would still look like a pauper while working around the property.
How many folks managed (or plan to) retire early without any drop in living standards and how many did (or would) willingly live more modest lifestyles in order to retire early?