The Bell on the Fishing Pole: Living in the Present

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One morning while we were in Hawaii during Christmas time, Mr. T and I left our sleeping kids in the care of my parents and took a walk out onto a rocky point to watch the sunrise. It was still pretty dark when we arrived, so we sat and watched the waves crash against the rocks. As we sat, we saw a group of fishermen getting ready to fish off the point. They spent about twenty minutes setting up their poles, baiting them, and casting out the lines. Then, they tied bells to the poles and walked away. I watched them leave the poles behind, get out some food, and start visiting with each other. I’m used to Alaskan fishing, which is very hands-on, so it surprised me when they walked away. And I kept staring at the bells.

Bell on the fishing pole

As I thought about those fishermen, I realized what a great analogy it was for our journey to financial independence. Several lessons became clear as the sun rose:

  • Set it up and leave it alone: There is a heavy emphasis on automation in your finances. This is the prime example of why. Those fishermen set up their fishing lines to catch fish and then they could walk away. When you automate your savings, you don’t have to fish hands-on. You can set it up so you never see the money and you don’t miss it and then you can walk away and worry about other things.
  • Enjoy Yourself: After the lines were cast, these three guys got out a feast and had a big picnic. They were laughing and eating, and hanging out in their shorts and sandals on a beautiful day watching a beautiful sunrise. If they had been so caught up in fishing, they would have missed out. This is the constant struggle with doing something as aggressive as retiring early with kids. We need to cast out our lines, but we need to leave them alone so we can actually focus on what’s most important: relationships (and food!).
  • Get up early: Both literally and figuratively, this is an important lesson. These guys were not lazy. They were out before the sun was up and they were hustling to set up their lines. The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. If we wake up at the last possible minute, we start the day rushed and behind.
  • Cast Your Line: Mr. T and I were also up early and sitting on the very same point. But we were unprepared and did not cast out a line. Even though we were in the exact same place at the exact same time, we had 0% chance of catching fish because we didn’t cast a line. If you don’t try, you won’t catch. In finances, you should dream big and you should try things you want to do even if you don’t think you’ll catch anything. You have no chance if you don’t cast your line.

Early retirement is kind of like having a baby: When you decide you want it, you want it RIGHT NOW, but you have to wait. When I was ready to have a baby, I wasn’t ready to have a baby in nine months. I was ready to bring home that baby right then. When I decided we should retire early, I wanted to be done that day. But instead, there were/are YEARS before we get there. But with my first baby, after I had suffered through nine months of pregnancy (hard work!), I appreciated that baby so much more than if I had just been able to pick one up on a whim. Early retirement will feel great. But knowing that we worked hard and sacrificed will make early retirement feel even better. Hard work is satisfying.

Early retirement requires planning, saving, and giving up some things now for that future freedom. But there is also a balance required between planning for the future and obsessing over the future to the detriment of the present. Having kids drives this point home more clearly. Penny, my oldest, is seven. When we hit early retirement, she’ll be 14. The difference between a 7 year old and a 14 year old is the difference between wanting to be an author/artist/scientist and wanting to date 2022’s equivalent of Justin Bieber. I want to be there for that transition. I want to give her opportunities while she is still open to them. I just asked her this week if she had an opportunity to go to school in another country next year where she doesn’t know anyone or stay at her current school, which she would choose. She said: “Another country! Definitely! I could always make new friends.” It will be interesting to see how that answer changes. And hopefully we’re not too late when we’re ready.

Everything is a trade-off between time now and time later. We’re in a constant struggle between hurrying to retirement and enjoying our time together now. Mr. T has decided to keep his current job even though it doesn’t pay as well because it gives him 6 weeks of vacation and that’s a trade-off worthwhile to us now. We’ve chosen to have two cars despite the costs because it gives us more time together now. On the other hand, we’ve chosen to stay in our small house with our girls sharing a small room because we would rather have opportunities in the future rather than live in a bigger house now. In our race to financial independence, it’s important that we tie our bells on our fishing poles and leave the line alone to enjoy what’s happening now. 

Bell on the fishing pole


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January 2016 Plan Update


  1. Oh man…that last sentence. That’s an attention grabber! Maggie, this is a wonderful analogy. You are incredibly observant in your surroundings! Most people on vacation are fairly caught up in indulging that they may not see the routines, the cultures, the actions of locals. Your 4 bullet points are spot on, and when you can focus on those core four elements it makes your future financial goals a lot more attainable. 🙂 But you make a fantastic point that enjoying what’s happening now is just as important as planning for the future. Let time take it’s course. Along with fishing – we all know at times we may think we’re ready to catch that fish, but suddenly we lose it. With preparation, living in the moment, and focus it’s okay if that happens. With the dedication, the next fish that comes along will be a success!

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh boy do we ever know about losing fish – it’s even more dramatic with a big net… you’re hauling the net in and the salmon jumps. Mr. T has flooded his waders more than once diving in after a fish that got away! But there is always another fish once we get dried off and try again. Great point!

  2. It’s easy to get in the “want it now mode.” Especially with early retirement, and even more so when you blog about it week in and week out. 🙂 We’ve definitely got it in set it and forget it mode though, and that helps because you can just look in occasionally and say, “Yep, it’s still doing what it’s supposed to.” and then go back to your life.
    The kids add an extra element to our ER plans and wants, but I’m excited about getting to have the energy to do more stuff and the drive to do more stuff with them. I find it difficult now because there is a lack of energy building inertia to get things going. After a long day/long week it’s difficult to overcome that lazy/rest factor and go do something with them. It will be very much appreciated when the ER days get here, especially after the years of slogging it out with Houston traffic, heat, and everything else. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes, that freedom will be wonderful. Our goal is to figure out how to create some of that wonderful now for our kids despite the busy schedules and the lack of motivation to do so! It’s tough, but I never regret it. And if I get in the habit now, think how awesome things will be when we have all the time to do whatever we want!

      • I totally agree. We decided we would do at least 1 out of the box weekend activity with the kids on our Friday off weekends. Go to NASA, Galveston, Moody Gardens, the Arboretum, nearby State Parks, etc… With the cooler weather we’ve been able to have more fires on the weekends too. It’s been working well so far, and I’ve even been falling asleep before 9pm on the weekends now too…. I’m a night person, so that’s real early for me.

  3. Wow, fantastic analogy. Your point about your children is striking, too: seven years is really not long at all, but the difference between a seven-year-old and a fourteen-year-old is enormous. I don’t have kids myself, but I can see this in my opportunity to spend time with my parents, too: there’s a huge difference between being 66 and 73… or perhaps even more striking, 73 and 80. A good reminder to not put off enjoying time with the important people in our lives!

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes, we’re in the time in our lives where 7 years isn’t long at all – but in the younger set and the older set, it’s a world of difference! I would love to pause time on my 7-year-old because she’s so kind and curious and thoughtful. I don’t want to miss out on this time!

  4. Interesting analogy between bell fishing and financial independence. I think my favorite lesson is about getting up early. I love sleeping (who doesn’t?) and it is usually a heculean task getting out of bed at 6am, when the first of many alarms go off. I eventually manage to drag myself out after 45 minutes, if I’m lucky. If I wake up a few minutes minute later, my entire morning routine threatens to fall apart and it’s not a fun feeling. I know people who get up at 5am to go to the gym, or wake up at 4am to study, before their kids wake up at 7am. That’s real productive behavior.

    • MaggieBanks

      It is VERY hard for me to get up early as well. I’m terrible at it. But I’m getting better. I get up, meditate, read for a bit, do one minute of jumping jacks, and then get to work on what I want. It helps getting things moving in the morning on my terms instead of my kids! 🙂

  5. Love the analogy! It’s true personal finance does have a lot of hurry up and wait to it, but the pay off it so worth it! 🙂

  6. So simple and so profound. 🙂 Love it. I wish I had happened to see this type of fishing when I was in Hawaii, but I guess I didn’t get up early enough, lol.
    I’m in a weird place where I still actually enjoy paying attention to my money — probably because it’s a new thing for me, relatively speaking. But I do find that I’m starting to set up systems for myself (like auto-deposits and that sort of thing), so I suppose that process is starting to take place organically a little bit.

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh, I’m definitely one to play around with spreadsheets and money. I don’t totally leave it alone. And even our Roth-IRAs aren’t automatic… we pay those in big lump sums… so I do have to keep track of that, which I enjoy. But sometimes I get too caught up in it that I need to step back and focus on what’s in front of me.

  7. Oh your post so resonated with me, I have a 7 year old too and similar to you I wanted the baby now once I’d decided I wanted it. Even though we still have a few more years to go than you guys, I actually feel really happy just knowing that I have specific plan. The trade offs are always something I think about (probably too much!) eg I work part time now to have more time with the kids, but we only have 1 car and live in the suburbs. I like to think about ‘stacking’ my values, goals and habits so I get multiple benefits eg using the local library and reading with my kids saves money, is quality time together and is learning for us all (hitting 3 values with one habit).

    • MaggieBanks

      I love the library! And I’m glad you’re on a similar journey. I really like my 7-year-old right now and am worried about when the “attitude” hits! It’s a constant struggle wondering if you’re doing everything in the right order!

  8. What a great object lesson and metaphor! My grandfather was the most dedicated fisherman I’ve ever known, but even he would catch a lot of his fish on lines on buoys (I wish I knew the actual name for them!). His view was: he enjoyed the actual fishing, but didn’t want to have to catch all his fish the hard way, so created systems that worked for him. And just like the guys you saw, he was always up before dawn to go set out his lines.

    As for your timeline, I still think you’re going to get there faster than seven years, but I’m generally optimistic about these things. 🙂 Especially if you ask for another raise or two in that time!

    Hope you guys had a great weekend! xoxo

    • MaggieBanks

      We’re more accustomed to catching 22 fish in an hour and calling it for the day. 🙂 Maybe that will be the case on our journey to FIRE, but I sort of doubt Alaskan fishing is a good analogy because of that! And yes, I’m excited to see where we can actually get and how fast! Every month things change and get more and more exciting!

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