The following guest post is from Mr. Money Mustache (check out his blog by the same name, MrMoneyMustache.com). More about him immediately following the article.
I have a far-out idea to share with the next generation of the American middle class.
Right now, I’m speaking specifically to the young people who are finishing up a college degree, perhaps in a promising field, and starting to get interviews for jobs with salaries they could only dream of just a few years earlier. The Adult World lies exciting and vast before you, and the Opportunities are unlimited!
At this point, let’s imagine you just dive in and start playing it by ear. You work hard at the new job, buy a new car, rent an apartment, enjoy restaurants and vacations, and may even save towards the downpayment on your first house.
There is usually a student loan still kicking around, and then a car loan, and maybe even some credit card debt that pokes its head in at some point. Meanwhile your new career advances quickly and within a few years you’ve almost doubled your new graduate salary – perhaps you are now making $60-100k or more.
Eventually, you might pair up and move in with your true love, so that you are now sharing one nice place. Maybe it’s even your very own home. Now you’re about 30, and you are one of the lucky households with an income of well over $100,000 per year! But you’ve still got two student loans, two car loans, assorted other debts, and when you add everything up, you still have a net worth of less than zero.
You are thinking of starting a family, but something doesn’t feel right about your financial security. How did you work so hard for almost ten years and still end up having less than zero dollars? At this point, you turn to the Wise World of Financial Bloggers to see how to clean up your act. And you begin the long slog to get out of debt, just as your expensive first baby is born…
But since this surprisingly realistic example is still just fictional, let’s stop and rewind it back to the beginning. What if the college student or recent graduate could receive the life-changing advice of one of us Thirtysomething financial bloggers, and use it to their advantage? What knowledge could the wise blogger impart?
Here’s what I would say:
“Hey young fella (or lass). It’s me, Mr. Money Mustache. Congratulations on entering the fantastic world of Real Work!
But before you take off running, take a look over here on the side of the grand hallway we’re standing in. There’s a little doorway that most people don’t even notice, called Real Wealth. If you take that particular door, you have the opportunity to become quite rich by the time you’re in your early 30s… right around the time the rest of your friends are just realizing they must have done something wrong because they are still recovering from debt!
In fact, the situation through this door is so good, that you can even quit work entirely in order to spend time with your future children, and for the remaining 70 years of your life, work will be an enjoyable and optional part-time affair of pursuing your true passions in life. Sound good?”
As the New Graduate, you would probably be pretty excited to go through that door. It would put you on the path to True Early Retirement. Instead of spending all your money, I’d advise you to live on about $15 to $25 grand of take-home pay per year, and if you pair up into a couple, the number would become $20-$35k.
The rest – and I mean ALL the rest, regardless of how much you earn, goes into your early retirement fund. Maximum contributions to the 401k, and to Roth IRAs, and then beyond that to more low-churn growth investments that don’t generate taxable gains. Maybe even a rental house or two if you really want to be on the Bullet Train plan.
A plan like this may sound quite tricky if you’re currently stuck in the American Ultraconsumer mindset. But as someone who followed this exact path myself, I can tell you it is absolutely enjoyable, fun, and even still quite luxurious. I still owned houses and reliable cars and a nice bike, and did a reasonable amount of restaurant eating and travel through the whole process.
The only difference between me and my indebted thirtysomething peers is that I was much more careful about considering each purchase to avoid wasteful ones, and I was adamant about never borrowing for anything other than a house. And I married a woman who was willing to live the same fun lifestyle to reach the early retirement goal together.
The ultimate reward for us came with the birth of our baby boy in 2006. We had already retired from our real jobs and could share the joy and pain (OK, mostly pain for the first few months) of parenthood together, with none of the compromised career-juggling lifestyle that defines our country.
We actually do enjoy working, and still do a small and non-mandatory bit each week to bring in extra savings and interact with other adults. But taking the entire pressure of finance out of your life so early on, so that you can enjoy the next SIX DECADES focusing on more worthwhile things, is a worthwhile thing to shoot for as a new graduate.
So which door will you choose, Next Generation of the Middle Class? Will it be more of the same old same old, or do you want to try it the Mr. Money Mustache way?
Mr. Money Mustache is a 36-year-old married man with a 5-year old son living near Boulder, Colorado. He discovered frugality early on in his career as a software engineer and as a result was able to enter an early retirement at about age 30. He started writing the Mr. Money Mustache blog earlier this year after realizing that many people were now earning higher salaries than he and his wife had earned in their careers, yet were still enduring financial hardships every day which were interfering with their goals of raising their children.