Does comfort stunt growth?

Does Comfort Stunt Growth?

Remember Nick over at The Money Mine? The one who just wrote that awesome Roth IRA Challenge post about money tips for couples? Last week, he issued a challenge:

For those of you who have already taken control of their finances and decided to pursue Financial Independence or to Retire Early, what was your trigger? What gave you the initial motivation to get your finances in order and have a long term financial goal?

In June of 2015 Mr.T’s company started threatening layoffs in earnest. In that moment, we reflected back on our year of unemployment. Though we hated the stress of being unemployed with a new baby and we really didn’t love freeloading my parents’ beach house because we felt like we had failed at independence, we missed those days. We missed raising our baby together. We missed the creative projects we pursued. We missed the freedom of time and location we enjoyed. 

We started asking ourselves: What do we really want to do? Why didn’t we do it in 2009 when we had nothing? Our perfect day would be very similar to Our Next Life’s. A day that involves doing good, having fun with our family, and creating would be the perfect day. In our year of unemployment, most days fit this “perfect day” profile. (Add in the beach, and it was quite a life!)

So what were we lacking? Why didn’t we forgo traditional employment in 2009?

Two reasons:

  1. Confidence – We were fresh out of college (I was still working on my Masters thesis!) and we hadn’t proven ourselves. We didn’t know what we were capable of (we still don’t!). We didn’t feel confident enough to buck to trend and try doing something for ourselves.
  2. Money – We graduated college with some savings and, thanks to our unemployment game, we finished our 10 months of unemployment without eating into our savings. Our savings wasn’t much (though we felt rich out of college!). I don’t remember exactly how much we had, but it was between $10,000-20,000. We proved that we could make enough money to live on without touching that money, but we did have free housing and utilities which helped tremendously. We had a baby. The responsibility of providing for that child weighed on us tremendously.

In the end, Mr.T got a regular job and we moved to Alaska. We don’t regret this decision. We love Alaska. And Mr.T’s job has spoiled us with vacation time. But we got comfortable. We stagnated. 

Thankfully, Mr.T did not lose his job last summer. Instead, I upped his retirement contributions by $250/paycheck and then we sat down and formulated our plan to retire early.

BUT WHAT NOW?

Mr. T and I have since started saving more money than we ever have and paying down our mortgage as fast as possible. And we’re comfortable. Remember how we’re early retirement frauds? Remember how we have 3 potential plans outlined (plus a million ideas that aren’t even outlined)?

We’ve arbitrarily picked 2022. But we’re not committing to Mr.T staying at his job that long. He wants to venture out and find a market for his work.

We find ourselves stuck. We’re making amazing progress forward on our financial goals. But we’re comfortable. Our comfort level keeps us from taking risks. Why doesn’t Mr.T quit tomorrow? Because he doesn’t have to. It’s easier to stay. And it’s incredibly difficult for us to carve out time in our comfortable lives to make a real plan toward jumping out on our own in a level of discomfort.

What are we lacking?

  1. Confidence – Just like in 2009, we don’t trust ourselves to just go whole hog and make something happen that can support us. And because we’re not being forced into it, we’re having a harder time setting ourselves up to be entrepreneurs like we want to be.
  2. Money – Our investments recently crossed the six figure mark, but that’s not enough to fund us indefinitely. We’re not committing to working our current jobs until we’re entirely financially independent, but we want to be comfortable in our departure and not have to be too stressed about funding ourselves immediately.

EVERYTHING COMES DOWN TO COMFORT:

If you want to retire early, you need to give up the comfortable lifestyle of spending all the money you have. The more uncomfortable you’re willing to get, the faster you’ll get there.

If you want to make major life changes, something needs to change. And that’s uncomfortable.

If you lose your job, you’re forced into an uncomfortable position and you have to figure out how to work your way out of it. (Maybe these are the lucky ones.)

It took a threat of discomfort for us to come up with an actual plan for our finances that didn’t involve working until 65.

What does your comfort level keep you from doing?

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22 Comments

  1. This is a really important point. Comfort and complacency kill progress. We definitely have to constantly watch ourselves from falling off the wagon, say, by realizing that we’re almost there at the FIRE goal and now we can go crazy again and go shopping, right? Just one more time, right? Wrong. One thing that helps us is my job in finance. One round of layoffs after another. We’re one big stock market crash (macro risk) or some mishap at the firm (micro risk) away from losing the job, so that helps distilling discipline.

    • MaggieBanks

      Mr. T’s company has threatened layoffs again this year. But we’re pretty comfortable sitting pretty. What if he never lost his job? We would have to actually make a decision as to when to leave. That might be tough if we’re not going to wait until we hit a specific FI number.

  2. We are a conservative pair, both Mr and Mrs PIE. And we take comfort from being conservative. Honestly, we could cut the cord now and probably be fine. Note the word probably. Most folks would use the word “actually” !! Our date is set in summer of 2018 as we will have generated a portfolio with another two years of very aggressive saving that will allow a low withdrawal rate relative to our expenses. It also more importantly coincides with a more comfortable transition for the small PIEs. Their comfort is our comfort.

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s so great that you’re that far along and can make those choices. I guess this early in the game, I worry I’m taking up too much of my kids’ lives working toward FI that won’t happen until they leave!

  3. Hey, Maggie. I feel like such a wimp. Mrs. Groovy and I surpassed the Mustachean Threshold a while ago, but we still pegged our retirement date to my mini-pension starting in October of this year. So, yes, I would say comfort is the enemy of boldness. But I don’t know if this concern really applies to you. Don’t forget, like Mr. PIE, you and Mr. T have small Northern Expenditures to deal with. And when there are kiddie-poos involved, it’s best to be deliberate. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • MaggieBanks

      “Deliberate” is such a good word. We don’t want to be reckless. But we also don’t want to stagnate. Also, I quote Home Alone: “kids are resilient!” 🙂

      • Hear, hear. The kids are indeed resilient. I think it is Mr. PIE who is not so resilient!
        Seriously, you know what it is like being a parent and that balance where we hold on at times and shove them out into the yard next. I think it will take me a lifetime to figure that all out.

  4. TheMoneyMine

    I like your story (and your shower of compliments, thanks 🙂 ) I’ll add a link to your post!

    I’m a huge believe that comfort does indeed stunt growth and before it was made popular by a pop singer, Nietzsche also agreed “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I can totally relate to that!

    • MaggieBanks

      Since you mentioned the song, that’ll be stuck in my head ALL DAY! 🙂

  5. I love your honesty within this post. I hope to be as brave as you and your husband one day and make these promises. I think giving up comfort is a huge part of early retirement, but isn’t it worth it for the amount of benefits you’ll receive?

    • MaggieBanks

      Don’t call us brave yet. We haven’t jumped into uncomfortable realms yet! And retirement is absolutely worth the discomfort. The question is whether having time NOW with our kids is worth the discomfort of leaving comfortable work and then having to figure out how to eventually retire. 🙂

  6. “The more uncomfortable you’re willing to get, the faster you’ll get there.”

    YES! We are working very hard right now, to the point that we’re uncomfortable. I see my friends leisurely wasting away every weekend drinking on boats or vacationing. We will have plenty of time for relaxation, in just a few short years, as long as we keep hustling for the time being. An extraordinary life isn’t going to come from just a minimal amount of effort.

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree. And at this point, I like the IDEA of getting more uncomfortable, but it’s so hard to jump in from comfortable. Debt is naturally a bit uncomfortable.

  7. This is so true. Choosing to leave a steady income is scary and exciting and a lot of work. The results can be amazing, but often having the choice made for you is just the kick in the pants you need.

    • MaggieBanks

      Maybe we’ll face that eventually. But for now, we’re pretty comfortable. 🙂

  8. We have recently taken some big gulps of realisation that we’ve got to get a little uncomfortable for the next few years to really make the biggest impact on our financial goals.

    We are already frugal, we are already saving.. we have a strict budget.. but if we truly want to get ahead we have to take those extra opportunities that come along (meaning working longer hours, busy weekends, taking on further education for future pay rises..).

    Tristan and I are nowhere near our early retirement age, but we realise if we work the hardest NOW it will compound the most and give us the most leverage we could possibly have, we would be kicking ourselves in the years down the line that we didn’t get a little uncomfortable in our younger years for the biggest impact long-term. Kind of reminds me of how people say “there is never a perfect time to have children”, there is also never a perfect time to get outside your comfort zone, but sitting on the edge of it, always wondering and hesitating to dip your toe in the water will probably drive you crazy eventually (and you’ll regret that you didn’t do it sooner).

    Jasmin

    • MaggieBanks

      I always say, financial independence is a sprint followed by a rest on a moving sidewalk! 🙂 It’s all about the sprint at the beginning to compound into greatness!

  9. a woman

    there is a balance between spends and savings, and this depends of the healthy of financial life and emotional life. Less we spend, less we save. Less we spend – the money that might need in the independence day is less. So it is important to find the minimum financial to make us happy and relaxed.

    I prefer to have a confortable path to the independence day, and to live quite similar to the live after and to see if I am ready or not.

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree with you. Since our kids are young, we definitely want to enjoy this time now and staying comfortable is part of that decision. 🙂

  10. D’oh! Wish I’d read this before writing today’s post about comfort zones! I DO think being comfortable can stunt our growth, but so can being stressed out to the max — the ideal is somewhere in the middle, but of course that’s easier to talk about than it is to achieve! And what’s interesting is that we’ve never felt uncomfortable, at least not really, in saving for ER. As we get better at it and find more ways to optimize, we just create new definitions of comfort. I think if we’d gone from our peak spending to now in one step, it would have felt jarring. But we made it gradual, so it never felt crazy.

    • MaggieBanks

      No, your post was apt. We obviously are staying within our comfort zones for the time being and we’re all about people justifying that decision for us. 🙂

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