There Are No Shortcuts
Well known FIRE blogger, Financial Samurai had a pretty pessimistic post about what he sees as the future failure of the FIRE movement. FIRE stands for financial independence/retire early. Very early. I like to write about this, I love the idea of financial independence but think retiring early, actually retiring at a very young age, is a terrible idea. Of course there are success stories with it but FIRE, with the emphasis on early retirement, provides very little margin for error, could result in less intellectual engagement (bad for aging) and all but removes the option for falling back on Social Security. If someone retires at 35, they'll have enough "credits" to get something but it will be insignificant.
If FIRE is implemented as more of a self-employed, multiple streams of income, always hustling but owning your own time strategy, I am all for that. True FIRE has always struck me as a short cut and short cuts, aka taking the easy route without paying your dues has a risk of turning out poorly.
Financial Samurai seems to acknowledge his good luck with retiring in 2009 just as an eight or nine year bull market was starting and he seems skeptical that people starting out on FIRE in the last year or two will get the same tailwind that he had.
This all dovetails with my increasing interest in health and fitness as it relates to successful aging. I have long contended that part of the motivation for FIRE is the belief that we will be frail or infirm in our 60's or even our 50's. I think a lot of the FIRE aspirants who are today 30 or 35 cannot envision being strong and able bodied at 60 and so are desperate to pursue their idea of fun now, thinking it won't be available to them at 60. Certainly people in their 50's and 60's can be infirm and very old biologically but that is often the product of behaviors related to lack of effective exercise and consuming too much sugar.
Not exercising is the easiest thing in the world and a form of a short cut. Everyone knows they should exercise but plenty do not. I've told countless stories about my former neighbor with a backhoe as a model for remaining able bodied to an advanced age. A couple of years ago, he and his wife were downsizing and had furniture to donate to my wife's animal rescue for their annual rummage sale. He was 87 at the time and he and I loaded the truck together. 87. Coincidentally, the Backhoes just sent us a picture in the mail and at 89 still has lean muscle mass and looks able bodied. In fact he is.
If you avoid shortcuts, meaning you exercise effectively, then your odds for an outcome akin to Mr. Backhoe's go up dramatically. Part of that outcome also involves remaining intellectually engaged with at least one endeavor, hopefully more than one. The right behaviors (diet and exercise) can make you biologically younger, follow me on Twitter to see my retweets of this sort of research. You just need to put the work in without shortcuts.
A couple of weeks ago we had our annual it's too hot week. We have one week a year here that is too hot, the rest of the warmer months are very moderate. We have an old air-conditioner on wheels that is shaped like a mini-fridge. My father in law picked it up at a garage sale a while back for five or ten bucks and it sill cranks. It is insanely heavy, it might weigh 80 pounds. We keep it upstairs in our shed. When we need it, I need to carry it down the stairs, across the yard and into the house. Keeping it in the shed keeps it out of the way for the 51 weeks we don't need it. Today I took it back out to the shed, across the yard and up the stairs. At some point I will not be able to carry it down the stairs across the yard and into the house. At 54, I can still do it. I am sure some who are 44 could not do this task just as I am sure some who are 64 could. I am sure some who are 74 could, note there is a guy at my gym or what used to be my gym who is 79 and can decline bench 500 pounds. This is an extremely mundane example from everyday life where things are much easier being able to do what I need to without having to get help, store this monstrosity in the middle of our living room or shell out for central air. We all have examples like this in our lives and life is much easier when we are able to do them ourselves.
In what I think is a related item, a woman on Twitter whom I've never heard of with hundreds of thousands of followers Tweeted "men with muscles? no thanks. we no longer have a need for it. as a society we’ve outgrown it. moved on. evolved." Her being right or wrong is far less important to me than the asymmetric benefit to having lean muscle mass and functional strength. Body composition and functional strength are key elements to successful aging. There is no downside to being lean and strong, only upside. It's easy at 40 to not put the work in which means you might pay for that shortcut dearly at 50 or 60 or some other age. Fortunately, the body is very forgiving. Yes, starting to lift weights at 60 will be more difficult than starting at 30 or 40 or 50 but 60 is not too late to make meaningful improvements. 70 is not too late either, the body is very forgiving (repeated for emphasis), you just need to start.
Asymmetric risk is an important investment concept too with Bitcoin being an easy example. It might go to a bazillion or zero, very little downside to owning a little, again it could go to zero, it's just an example of asymmetry.
Finally, any time I talk about successful aging, I have two things in mind. One is as we've already discussed, being able bodied enough to do the things you want to do as well as the things you need to do. The other is that when you've taken care of yourself, the odds are very good you won't need prescriptions for chronic maladies. Lifting weights and cutting sugar can reverse many/all chronic maladies (no absolutes but it is quite common). Your financial life will be easier/better not spending hundreds a month on prescriptions.