There have been several popular releases in the “early retirement” genre recently, but I found this book hidden amongst the personal finance books at a local library. It was written in 1992, which made me a little skeptical as to its relevancy today. Great books can hold up to the test of time (Your Money or Your Life), but some are “dated” only one year after their release. I found Kiss the Rat Race Good-Bye to be in the category of those books which still have inspiring, relevant personal finance information many years after their initial release. Let’s dive in with a detailed review.
A Look Inside Kiss the Rat Race Good-Bye
Chapter 1: Here Today…Where Tomorrow?
Are you one of those people who put their dreams on hold to pursue a “safe” career? I wrote about this myself a while back, and I think at some level we all are guilty of doing this at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, it isn’t a realistic expectation that everyone in the world can realize self-actualization in their careers from the very start. For most of us, work involves toiling away at the daily grind to pay necessary life expenses, provide for our families, and save for a rainy day. However, at some point we should all aspire to break free from the rat race and do what it is we believe we were put here to do. If you personally believe you were put on this earth to sit in an office nine hours a day and create reports on widget production then congratulations – you probably won’t have a hard time realizing your ultimate dreams. For the rest of us financial independence comes with the promise of blazing our own trail, setting our own schedules, and doing work we love.
Chapter 2: Life Begins at…
This was by far one of the book’s best chapters. Author Elizabeth Lewin establishes the ground work for creating different kinds of goals: short-term goals, medium-term goals, long-term goals, lifestyle goals, and financial goals. Each type of goal has a different time line associated with it, but each is establish through the same methodical approach described by Lewin in Chapter 2. If you need to brush up on your goal-setting or finishing skills this is a great section for you.
Chapter 3: Up Your Assets
As I mentioned in my 7-Day Turnaround series, the first step of determining direction with any new plan is to establish a starting point. Lewin describes in Kiss the Rat Race Good-Bye her ideas for “gathering the data.” This involves taking inventory of all important financial accounts related to your assets and liabilities, and Lewin includes a handy checklist for recording this inventory. After identifying each type of account as an asset or liability you can put together your personal balance sheet, a task Lewin suggests readers do at least once a year.
Chapter 4: You Can Design Your Life-Style
The most significant thing keeping most of us from retiring early is the lifestyles we have chosen. By saddling ourselves with debt, expensive mortgages, car loans and student loans, the idea of retiring early is a pipe dream. After all, we’ll need to work fifteen years just to pay this stuff off and get back to zero! Lewin makes the point in this chapter that is the lifestyle you choose that has the most impact on whether or not you will be able to make an early exit from the rat race. There are some great tips in this section on setting up a budget, monitoring your cash flow and quite a few money-saving tips as well.
Chapter 5: Managing Your Debt
The opening sentence of this chapter is, “Buy now, pay later.” Might as well be the mantra of the average credit card user. Some are responsible and paying for it “later” means when the bill arrives. Others take “later” to mean some point in the future after interest and fees have doubled the initial cost of that single item bought years earlier. Lewin presents an eye-opening statistic on debt levels at the time this book was written.
When the Diner’s Club card was started in 1950, the total outstanding consumer debt (excluding home mortgages) of the American consumer stood at $21.5 billion. Forty years later, the figure had reached $750 billion.
Now that’s a sobering statistic! Obviously this amount of debt is disproportionate to the population growth during this period, so something else has to account for the staggering increase in American’s debt loads. That “something” is spending. We have bought and swiped ourselves into a financial hole that many will never dig out from. Nothing can derail your plan for an early retirement like amassing large amounts of debt.
The next ten chapters covered many of the same topics you will find other personal finance books. I have consolidated their review here not because there is nothing remarkable, but in the interest of time (mine and yours), and because these are fairly standard sections in any book about money. Of course, this book introduces all the concepts with an added sense of urgency since the ultimate goal is to get us out of the rat race within the next decade or two. Topics covered include social security, corporate pension plans, company and other tax-deferred plans, saving and investing, mutual funds, investing for college, insurance, estate planning, and record keeping.
Chapter 17: Putting It All Together: Real-life Scenarios for Kissing the Rat Race Good-Bye
The final chapter of Kiss the Rat Race Good-Bye was an inspiring summary of the plans detailed in previous chapters. The last chapter provided some real-life scenarios of people who had managed to reach their goals of financial independence in ten to fifteen years. It’s always nice to hear of others who manage to break free from the rat race. It makes the very idea a little more believable to those of us who have a hard time imagining what life would be like without doing the corporate shuffle five days a week. I recommend this book for anyone not doing the work they love, or hoping to step away from the rat race to pursue a more fulfilling calling free from financial concerns.