It will probably not shock you to learn that growing up, I didn’t care much about supermodels. Of course they were attractive, but eyeing a magazine cover in the grocery store checkout line is about as close as I got to knowing anything about them. I could put a name with a face, but that’s about it. I was not into fashion then and not much has changed with age. As such, I only know two things about Kate Moss. The first is that she was extremely skinny. So skinny that even the President of the United States decided to comment on it. (This was back when it meant something for a President to address an issue, unlike the verbal diarrhea we’re subjected to on a near-daily basis now.)
Bill Clinton didn’t name Kate Moss specifically, but he did speak publicly in 1996 about the look that Kate and some of her fellow supermodels were sporting that had been dubbed Heroin Chic. He claimed that the emaciated features of the models being chosen in recent fashion campaigns glorified drugs and “made heroin addiction seem glamorous and sexy and cool.” And I’m sure he was right. It was very popular at that time. But of course, no matter how much the President and others decried the latest fashion trend, models with love handles were not getting the choice gigs and the big checks. That was still reserved for the addict-looking ones.
This brings me to the second thing I know about Kate Moss. She is quoted as having the motto in life that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot lately. Don’t worry, I’m not about to start a juice cleanse diet. It’s not the literal meaning that keeps bouncing around in my head, but the idea behind it. She’s basically defining her values with this one sentence. Being skinny is better than anything else. Sure, that pint of ice cream, slice of pizza, or eggs benedict with extra hollandaise sauce might be absolutely delicious, but it comes with the pain of having to work off all of those extra calories. That moment of bliss is not worth the hours of pain to reverse it.
I have a similar outlook about spending money. In the same way Kate thinks that decadent food is not worth the extra calories, I think a luxury car, fancy living space, or dinner at a high end restaurant is not worth all the extra hours of
pain work needed to pay for it. This mindset has been relatively easy to cultivate because my desire to leave the cubicle has always been pretty strong. The enticing pull of early retirement is way more persuasive than spending money on something that provides no added utility.
My dilemma is that while defining luxury in my working life is easy, defining luxury in my retired life is a lot more challenging. Of course I’m not tempted to waste money on fancy 5 star resorts with a concierge and 24 hour room service. But I’m also not going to skip the best attractions just because they cost money. One of the main reasons to travel is to see what the world has to offer, but there’s a balance that needs to be struck. I don’t have the wealth to just open my wallet to every opportunity presented. I have a prospective budget of $36k/yr but it’s nearly impossible to know if we will be happy with that level of spending. I’m pretty certain we can stick to the budget, but what if we become bored? What if we feel like we’re missing out? What if we would’ve been happier working until we had an extra $5k or $10k to spend each year?
There’s a prevalent condition in early retirement circles called One More Year syndrome. It’s common enough that you can simply use the acronym OMY and people will know exactly what you’re talking about. For the uninitiated, it simply means extending your working career for one extra year in order to pad your retirement nest egg a little bit more. Well, hopefully only one extra year. Some people have been known to succumb to OMY syndrome multiple years in a row. And it’s completely understandable. It’s part of human nature. It’s hard to leave your known situation for the unknown. After working for so many years, the act of work becomes routine and it’s difficult to disrupt that for an uncertain future. No one wants to go through the act of quitting only to discover that they need more money. It’s easy to dwell on the worst case scenario and envision how more money would help, especially if you’re earning the most you ever have.
Considering that it’s nearly impossible to know if my planned spending amount is a good choice, OMY is tempting. If I was staying in the same place I’ve been living, it would be a lot easier to estimate my expenses. I have been tracking them for years, so there’s a lot of data available to plan from. But never having traveled the world before, I’m going in mostly blind. Of course I have done my research and come up with expected costs as relayed by others, but I have no first hand experience. Even the travel that I do now is not a great proxy, because I know my vacation time is limited so I eat out more, drink more, switch locations more, and pay more for short term accommodations. After all, I’m attempting to cram in as much fun as possible before I have to head back to work.
Still the question remains. What level of luxury is worth working for? As a nomadic retiree, my luxury is not a fancy car or a designer watch. My luxury is spending summers in Western Europe, choosing an extravagant rental, or visiting hard to reach places like the Galapagos Islands. And I certainly hope to experience all of that, within reason. It would be extremely easy, especially on a budget that some people might think of as a little too sparse, to succumb to OMY for extra luxury. After all, the whole point of retiring is to be able to enjoy yourself, right?
There’s no correct answer to the quandary of how much is enough. Many different spending levels are possible and it’s always going to be a personal decision. As such, what I need to do is define my values. So let this be my Kate Moss value statement: extra luxury is not worth delaying freedom. Gaining complete control over my time is the most important thing. Living in an upscale rental or spending every summer in Europe is not.
I’m sure I will be living the good life no matter where I travel and expensive places are not necessarily better. The world is full of awesome destinations and many of them are ridiculously cheap. Paying more for luxury often works against you as it ends up distancing you from the local experience. Instead, you receive the cookie cutter tourist experience and that’s not something I’m interested in. So while it’s easy to look at my portfolio and think that it’s a bit too skinny and needs to eat a metaphorical sandwich, the pain is not worth it. To me it’s lean and attractive, just like those supermodels.