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“They sure grow up fast, don’t they?”
“The older you get, the faster time flies.”
“You can’t slow down time, so treasure your days because they’ll be gone before you know it.”
We’ve all heard these thoughts, often from the parents of grown children. If you’re part of the older and wiser population, you may have even spoken similar words yourself. And if you’re younger, you may have felt fear well up in your heart as your elders dropped this bit of Bummer Wisdom upon you. The Inevitability of Life Racing By.
But your fear is unfounded.
Because somehow, I seem to have stumbled upon a workaround to the problem of life being too short, and instead I find myself existing in a different universe of Vampire-like perpetual renewal and the feeling of youth. While other parents of almost-thirteen-year-olds claim the time has gone by in a flash, I feel I’ve had my own son for at least 30 years.
And those same thirteen years since I retired from real work have also been packed with an almost inconceivable variety of experience. Adventures in business, travel, relationships, weddings, funerals, adventures, injuries, growth, definitely at least the recommended minimum dose of pain, but a much bigger amount of joy.
Reflecting back on it all always leaves me shaking my head in a smiling disbelief and muttering at least one involuntary “Holy Shit.” I feel like I have lived an entire human lifetime, or maybe even more than one, in just the years since I hung up the keyboard and walked out of that cubicle.
I look at this strange development with great gratitude. After all, if we are going to assign any purpose to our lives, it’s probably something like “Make the most of the time you are here, and try to do some good while you’re at it.”
So if I feel like I’ve already had a spectacular amount of time and Made the Most of It, you can imagine how lucky I feel to still have so many more decades worth of it potentially still in the tank!
What do you think could be going on here?
As it turns out, I am not the first one to wonder this. And there is some real science that connects a Mustachian Early Retirement to a life that feels much longer and more full, even before we get into the reasons you will probably literally live quite a bit longer as well. The key to this is in the way we perceive the passage of time.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon the work of the modern-day Indiana Jones neuroscientist/author/adventurer David Eagleman, immediately developed a Man Crush and started working my way through his books and interviews. It was exactly what I was looking for at the time: a bigger picture on why our brains behave the way they do in many different realms of being alive: emotions, decision making, happiness, and of course our perception of time.
Like many people who were born with an engineering side to their brains, I sometimes feel like I’m standing with half my body outside of the human species, observing with Vulcan-like amusement how crazy we all are, and the other half firmly inside it, being whipped around by all the same joyful and tumultuous and passionate and irrational emotions as everyone else. So it can be very satisfying to try to put it all together, by embracing all that humanity but also understanding it from a bigger perspective. Books like Eagleman’s are a lot of fun and useful in that regard.
So by reading books like Incognito and The Brain (along with this interesting profile on him in the New Yorker), I was able to learn a lot more about the nuts and bolts of my own existence as a creature, which I find is a very useful antidote to prevent me from taking myself and my moods too seriously as a person. And it also helps me get the most of the gigantic arc of a human lifespan with all of its details, without getting too hung up on whether I’m “doing it right” or fussing about our inevitable mortality.
That compact but powerful brain of yours is more than just your thinking appliance. It’s your entire world, because it controls every bit of your interaction with the world, plus the way you feel about it. And one of its trickiest roles is in sucking up and storing every experience you ever have, and filing those experiences away so that you can recall the most important ones, all while leaving you able to focus on immediate tasks without becoming completely batty from this ever-growing pool of past experiences.
So the brain uses a few tricks in order to keep you sane. And the best way to sum up its approach to things is this:
To focus on the novel and important-seeming things, and mostly ignore everything else.
We’ve already covered the remarkable subject of human habits, where we learned that our brains tend to click us into little autopilot routines whenever possible to avoid the strain of puzzling consciously through every single moment, of every single day.
So an average person might go through routines like …
- “get out of bed”
- “make some coffee and breakfast”
- “get dressed up and drive to work”
… in an almost unconscious fashion.
Habits like these are convenient, but they can also compromise your full enjoyment of life. Because when you are running on autopilot, you are not forming nearly as many meaningful memories. And if you do it long enough, your brain will also start clumping entire phases of your life into individual thoughts:
- “my childhood”
- “high school”
- “the college years”
- “those years I worked in Des Moines as a fertilizer salesman”
- “the baby-raising years”
- “my 25 year career as a Middle Manager in Megacorp”
- “my golf-and-TV retirement to a Florida condo”
If you look back at your own phases so far, which ones do you remember being the longest and most vibrant?
For most of us, it ends up being the ages from about 6 through 21, because these were the times of greatest change, learning, and new firsts in life. Then as we get older, we lock ourselves into family and work routines, including the most time-compressing of all: a multi-decade period of having the same house and the same career. The years go by, but significant new experiences become more and more rare.
Mustachianism (even if you are a long way from early retirement) is thus the perfect antidote to this, because I am always encouraging you to try new things and maintain an eye towards constant optimization.
With practice, you will let go of your natural fear of failure, and start thinking of everything as an opportunity for an experiment. Or as the great Bob Ross would put it, “There are no mistakes in life, just happy accidents.”
Although you will be fighting the very core of your Human nature with this activity, it’s a fight worth picking, because you are immediately rewarded with a life that is wealthier, more satisfying, more interesting, and one that feels much longer.
To put this philosophy into practice immediately, all you need to do is start throwing some changes into your daily routine. A few ideas ranging from beginner to expert:
- Take a different route to work than you usually do, and a different route home. Pay attention to the new experiences you have on this journey.
- Shop at a different grocery store and get ingredients that you don’t usually get, in order to eat different meals than usual.
- Try breaking your usual morning routine by going out for a short walk before you have your breakfast and sit down for work. (I happened to do this today, and it led to me feeling great, and my walk turned into a run, and the added energy from that led me to sit down with inspiration to write this very article for you.)
- Find a way to meet a new person every week, or at least every month. People are the most powerful gateway to new memories and a longer, richer life.
- Switch roles in your company, or switch to a new job.
- Remove TV, news and social media from your daily routine or limit them each to five minutes per day. Then when you feel the inevitable pull to check in, use this as a “keystone habit” to grab your paper to-do list and start working on something from the list – even if it’s just ten push-ups, or picking up an old-fashioned paper book you are working through.
- Move to a new apartment or house that is closer to work and to worthwhile amenities like public parks and waterfronts.
- Start your own small business and begin building it up, embracing change and setbacks until you find something that is truly rewarding.
All of these things will shake up your life for the better, and they will restart the flow of new memories, waking your brain back up and extending your time of really being alive.
For my part, life keeps getting more varied with each passing year, and time keeps getting slower and slower. Here’s to you and I clinking our glasses together in the distant future, after several more centuries of the joyful Vampire-style youth that is early retirement.
In the Comments: what have your experiences been, with periods of your life where time has flown by, and others where your memories are particularly rich and detailed? And if you’re an early retiree, what has your experience been with the flow of time since you pulled the plug?
Selected quotes from the NY article that I liked:
“Clocks offer at best a convenient fiction, he says. They imply that time ticks steadily, predictably forward, when our experience shows that it often does the opposite: it stretches and compresses, skips a beat and doubles back.”
“When something is new or more emotional, the amygdala seems to kick into overdrive, recording every last detail of the experience. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”
Don’t get too excited, this isn’t a real blog post. But there were enough things worth sharing that I thought it would be worth sending a little mid-month Hello.
Life has been busy around here, drunkenly walking that fine line between the zones of
“Exciting and stimulating and action packed!”
“Way too much overflowing action, how do we turn off this firehose?!”
It’s one of the core Tenets of Mustachianism that too much of a good thing can become a not-so-good thing, so I have been working on stepping back and focusing on the smaller and more personal things with the people who are close to me, even if it means turning down bigger, “important” sounding things out there in the world.
If you are an overdriven and success-oriented career person, you can take the same lesson: your PERFORMANCE out there on the business stage is a lot less important to the world than you imagine it is, so now is a great time to lean back and take a few breaths and turn down that extra work assignment so you can spend Saturday just digging in the sand at the playground with your kids.
Okay, so with that take-it-easy warning aside, here are a few things that have been keeping my local gang and I busy recently:
1: We have expanded the MMM HQ
Some adventurous friends decided to dive in with me and team up to buy out the other side* of the building that houses my little coworking space in downtown Longmont. As a result, we have now quadrupled our interior space and are looking for new members!
In the spirit of adventure and growing the community from the current 50-ish to a new goal of two hundred, we are no longer limiting it to people who live right in Longmont – you can be the judge if it’s worth $52 per month to be part of our growing entrepreneurial gang.
You can join here immediately if you are super confident,
2: I started a YouTube channel with my son!
Over the long holiday season, my 12-year-old son and I were spending a lot of time together. He has become a prolific music composer and video editor and posts something to his own channel almost every day. So he often ribs me about my own neglected MMM YouTube channel, with just a few halfhearted construction videos I had thrown up to illustrate certain things as part of blog posts.
Long story short, we just turned on the camera and started recording some Question and Answer shit and putting it up there, learning as we go. So far, it’s a “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper” situation, but I hope to get him to come out from behind the camera one of these days too, at least for a cameo.
The result, our first six figuring-it-out-episodes, is here and we definitely plan to do more:
It has been a lot of fun so far, and an incredible bonding experience for the two of us, to be working on something difficult together. I’m even paying him for his work and we will also split any resulting revenue from YouTube (currently a not-too-bad thirty bucks in the first month!), as I think this is a great way for a kid to learn more about money.
3: I’m part of The FI Summit
One of the members of my coworking space is an enterprising dude named Sean Merron, who also runs a podcast called 2 Frugal Dudes. Over the past year I’ve come to respect his work, so when he invited me along with some other very genuine financial independence writers to join a little online course they are running in March, I was happy to accept. I am going in as a newcomer to such an experience, so it’s an experiment.
The event takes place live on March 5-7, with course material and replays available afterwards.
You can join us (and read all about it) at https://fisummit.2frugaldudes.com/ and get 10% off with their coupon code MMM.
4: Mustachians are Uniting
This isn’t just a website or even a ‘movement’ anymore. There are real-life friends, and potlucks, hikes, local and international trips, and even romances going on out there and I have had great fun watching them all develop over the past few years. A few ways you can get involved in real life:
Camp Mustache was the original meetup – About sixty people in a beautiful rented lodge in the rainforest outsid of Seattle. Five years running now, it is small and well established, so it always sells out much quicker than any resonable person could be expected to buy tickets. It is the only event I’ve attended every year. But it set the stage for its international cousin …
Camp Mustache Toronto is a similar but more Maple-flavored event, also in a lakeside natural area far enough from the concrete jungle that it feels like a genuine camp. This year’s event is in September. But Camp Mustaches are just the start of it all.
Camp Fi is a more ambitious string of events, spawned by an unstoppably friendly and optimistic guy named Stephen who liked Camp Mustache so much that he decided to adopt the principles and take it from coast to coast. They have run something like a dozen already, and there are more coming up on the calendar.
The NoCo Mustachians Meetup Group is a 400-strong club of fun and FI seekers in my own area. There is a nice, sociable overlap between members of MMM-HQ and this larger group, so they often use our building to host their larger events.
The ChooseFI Meetups: if my hobby of “Financial Independence Guru” were an actual business, I would never tell you about this, because these guys would be my toughest competition. Growing from nothing to hundreds of thousands of followers in just the last few years, I have heard about more Choose FI meetups than Mustachian ones in recent times, and some existing MMM groups have even been so bold as to rename themselves from my silly (but more fun) terminology to adopt some version of the more bland and sensible “FI” branding.
Fine, have it your way, FI people – your ability to get together and have fun in the real world is way more important than appeasing Mr. Money Mustache’s ego, so I encourage you to get out there and enjoy it all.
And with that batch of suggestions, the clouds have suddenly cleared up outside my own window, so I am going to fold up this laptop and head out on the town myself.
Have a great week!
*People familiar with the project may be asking “What about the Mud and Madder soap and handcrafted shop that was there before this?”
The answer is that the ladies who owned that side decided to close up their retail experiment and return to the more efficient model of online Etsy-style sales. They offered to sell me their side, so I gladly brought in three new friends to become partners in the newly expanded coworking venture.
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Yesterday, Kim and I joined my cousins for an afternoon trip to the Oregon Coast. Our aim was to harvest a bounty of clams. We came home with zero. We managed, however, to harvest a bounty of mussels. Plus, the dog had fun.
My cousin Duane carpooled with us to and from the beach. We rode in Kim’s car: a 1997 Honda Accord that’s showing signs of its age.
“It’s a little warm in here,” Duane said about ten minutes into our drive. “Would you mind turning down the heat?”
“Well, I can’t turn down the air,” Kim said. “It’s stuck on high. But I can turn down the temperature.” She laughed as she demonstrated that the knob for the air volume has broken off at the post. The vents now permanently blow at full force.
“This car is falling to pieces,” I said. “Literally.” As if to prove my point, a bit of molding fell from a roof handle. I picked it up and wedged it back into place.
“I like my car,” Kim said. “I have an emotional attachment to it. But I’ve come to the realization that it’s time to start searching for something else.”
More and more, it looks like our vehicles have reached the end of the road.
The End of the Road
Kim bought her car 22 years ago at a model-year closeout sale. It’s lived with her in Minnesota, Arizona, California, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. In that time, the Accord has logged nearly 250,000 miles and never given her any major problems.
For a decade, I’ve been driving the 2004 Mini Cooper I bought as my first exercise in saving after I paid off my debt. In the ten years I’ve had it, I’ve put 90,000 miles on my Mini (bringing its total mileage to 150,000). We even took the Mini with us on our 15-month cross-country RV adventure!
Until the past couple of years, the Mini was trouble-free. During the RV trip, however, the fuel pump died. Then, when we got home, I funneled about $4000 into several repairs over a twelve-month span.
This winter, the Mini developed another problem: The sunroof began to leak (and in a big way). This isn’t good during rainy Oregon winters. In fact, it basically means my little yellow friend is unusable until things dry out.
Meanwhile, the old reliable Accord has developed an oil leak. The leak is dripping onto the fan belt. Our mechanic says Kim’s car needs about $1500 in repairs. That’s not too bad, but it’s more than the car is worth. Plus, we suspect that’s just a small taste of what’s to come.
Because I could see the writing on the wall — and because we need something to haul Big Stuff at our country cottage — I picked up a 1993 Toyota pickup at the end of 2018. I love it. (Seriously, I do. I just bought Taylor Swift’s latest album on cassette so that I can make use of the tape deck, which makes it even more fun.)
But the truck is a stop-gap measure. Kim and I feel like it’s time to pick up a newer, more reliable vehicle. Neither of us relishes this idea, but that’s where we are. Last August, I asked you folks which new car I should buy. You offered a lot of great suggestions. But by purchasing a used pickup, I’ve put my own car dilemma on hold — for a time, at least. Kim’s situation, however, seems pressing.
I found it surprisingly difficult to decide whether or not I should buy a 1993 pickup with 211,000 miles on it. The previous owner is a friend and colleague. I trust him. He says the truck runs great. And, so far, it does. But it’s 25 years old! I worry.
I paid $1900 for the truck. How many miles and/or how much time do I want to get out of it before I consider I got my money’s worth? I’m not sure. I paid $15,000 for the Mini and have driven it for ten years (and 90,000 miles). That’s roughly $1500 per year and 17 cents per mile. Using these numbers as guidelines, I guess I hope that the truck will last a year or two, or that it’ll get me 10,000 to 12,000 miles.
On the other hand, I just bought brand-new 45,000-mile tires for the truck, so maybe I’m hoping it’ll last me for several years!
Kim’s Car-Buying Priorities
Before the Accord started showing its age, Kim’s plan had been to sell the car to a couple of young women we know. They’re in the process of getting their driver licenses and will soon be looking for a cheap car. We thought the Accord was perfect! Now, though, we’re not so sure. Is it really fair to sell them a car knowing it needs $1500+ in repairs? (Maybe we should just give them the car and tell them about its issues?)
Regardless what happens with her current car, we both agree that it’s time to accelerate her timeline for buying a new vehicle.
“What are your priorities for a new car,” I asked last week.
“Well, I want something that fits our lifestyle,” she said. “Apparently, we take the dog everywhere, although I doubt they make dog-specific cars. I want something that lets us haul the kayaks and the bikes. I want to be able to make long road trips comfortably. Ideally, I’d buy an electric car or a hybrid.”
“Anything else?” I asked.
“I want heated seats,” she said. “And a place to put my sunglasses and chapstick.” (If Kim could only take one thing with her to a desert island, it’d be chapstick.)
“Because our cars are so old, any reasonably new vehicle is going to seem like a massive upgrade,” I said. I’ve spent approximately thirty days in rental cars over the past year. They all seem like they’re from the future. (And my friend’s $150,000 Mercedes S550 I rode in last spring? Totally the Enterprise 1701-D!)
“What’s your budget?” I asked.
“I have $16,000 in a targeted saving account specifically for a new car. If I sell my motorcycle, that would probably give me about $5000 more. So, I guess I’m looking at somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000.”
Preparing to Buy a New Car
Between us, Kim and I own three vehicles. Their average age is 21 years and their average value is maybe $1750 each. Obviously, we’re not car people. We place no value in having the latest, greatest vehicle. Neither one of us is looking forward to the car-buying process. It sounds like an ordeal, not something fun.
Fortunately, we know better than to visit dealers until we’re absolutely ready to purchase. (And truthfully, Kim is more inclined to buy a used vehicle from a private party.)
Kim had planned to put off buying a new car until sometime this summer. Now we suspect we’ll have to make the move sooner rather than later.
To that end, she’s started doing research. She asked her Facebook friends for their recommendations. I polled the people who subscribe to the weekly GRS newsletter (and received some terrific response!). Kim has been reading about different cars online. And soon — maybe next week — the annual Consumer Reports car-buying issue will land in our mailbox.
Over the past thirteen years here at Get Rich Slowly, I’ve shared many articles about the car-buying process. Here are some of the most useful:
- How to find a good used car at a fair price.
- How one GRS reader bought a new car.
- The inner workings of a car dealership — and how to use them to your advantage.
- A guide to certified pre-owned vehicle programs.
It’ll be interesting to see which car Kim chooses and how we end up buying it. Deep down, I know she longs for a Tesla Model 3 but at $35,000+, they’re far outside her budget. I suspect she’ll end up with a Subaru Outback or something similar.
Maybe the next time we take Duane to the coast to dig clams, we’ll ride in comfort…and actually catch some clams.
As I was writing this article, Duane phoned me. “Can you pick me up and take me to my oncologist appointment?” he asked. “My car just died.” I spent the next three hours helping him get things sorted.
My post about our dying cars was delayed by Duane’s own dying car.
“Maybe I should buy Bob a new car,” Duane said as we waited for the tow truck to arrive. It was a morbid joke. Duane has terminal cancer. Bob is his brother. If Duane were to buy a new car, he wouldn’t have it long. It’d soon get passed along to his Bob. This adds wrinkles to his own vehicle dilemma.
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