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Personal Finance FAQ

Sometimes, It’s OK to be Greedy

Remember, Scrooge, time is short, and, then, suddenly, you’re not there.
–Jacob Marley, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (#aff)

Picking when to retire is a balancing act.

You don’t want to retire too early and then have to live a life at a much lower standard than you expected or have to go back to work.

You also don’t want to work too long and overshoot the mark once you’ve hit your target number.

At least, that’s the basic calculus that most people go through.

I did have an investor criticize me for choosing to retire (even though there were two people replacing me) because I wasn’t greedy enough.

That was despite the fact that I maintained a significant stake in the company, thereby giving me quite the vested interest in how the company performed after I retired. I’d left equity in the first company I sold, and that turned out fine. So, by all measurements, I still wanted to do well financially.

However, there was another measurement of value that I have always contemplated: time.

Every day, life gets shorter.

When my wife and I were talking on the 20th anniversary of the day we met (and the day before we retired), she reminded me that when we’d met, I’d said that I wanted to retire by age 40.

OK. I didn’t make that claim when we first met. I wasn’t that bold. I’m sure I told her much later, like on the second or third date.

My civilian professional life was a series of decisions with the aim to get to retirement as quickly as possible.

That’s why I chose entrepreneurship. 7 times. I was swinging for the fences with startups.

The reason wasn’t because I wanted to be rolling in money so that I could sing “I’m on a boat!” (you can look that up if you don’t get the reference, but do it when you’re not at work or in front of the kids)

Sure, had I won the lottery, I would not have complained. But my wife and I did not choose the path that we took because we were trying to use a bank account as a measuring stick of our worth, value, or scoreboard for how we did against everyone else.

We were racing against the clock.

I lived in Germany when I was in the Army. I have the travel bug. I like hiking. I like being outdoors. I like being active. I like camping. Actually, my wife was the one who got me into camping. I used to view camping as akin to being in the field in the Army until she taught me the joys of car camping.

We’re not going to be able to follow those dreams forever. Eventually, our bodies will wear down to the point where we can no longer pursue those interests and have to pursue more sedentary ones (come on, robots!).

Having the time and the freedom to pursue the things we enjoy is what we’re greedy for. Yes, we needed enough money to be able to buy that time, but beyond that, it was excess. Every month spent overshooting the financial target was a month that we couldn’t regain.

Yes, we may wind up shortening our lifespans by 3 months by choosing not to work until we are 67, but we knew exactly why we were making the money choices we were.

I’m extremely greedy, and I’m OK with that. I won’t measure my greediness by the amount of stuff I can purchase or keep score based on a bank account size. We got off the ride in our mid-40s, and while I can’t say that we’ll never look back, I’m pretty sure most of our time will be spent in the present from now on, rather than looking forward to some future, distant goal just so we could accumulate a bunch of stuff that we can’t take with us when we die. Money may be fungible, but time is not fungible.

By

Jason Hull, CFP®, was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business.

You can read more about him in the About Page.

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