Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme Method

Early Retirement Extreme is a blog by Jacob Lund Fisker, a man who decided to radically reduce his expenses so that he could retire — even on his ordinary salary and without any freakish windfalls — in his early thirties.

He’s spending about ⅓–½ of what I do, and living in roughly the same area, so I might be able to learn some frugality tips from him. At first glance, his rent is much lower (he lives in an RV), his health insurance is much lower (I’m going to look into a better plan, though I already do the HDHP/HSA thing, so this might just be because of my more-expensive age cohort), and he pays about ¼ what I do for food (I’m sure I could do better here, but this is also an area where I very deliberately indulge).

Much of his story sounds very familiar to me, though Jacob got into this lifestyle through a finely-tuned sense of rational self-interest, rather than backing in to it accidentally via conscientious objection to taxpaying like I did. Here’s some of his thinking on the subject:

There are essentially two premises to ERE.

The first premise is that financial independence is much more easily obtained by finding ways to reduce monetary expenditure than by finding ways to increase monetary income. For 80% of all people it is much easier to reduce their expenses by a factor 10 compared to increasing their income by a factor 10. Only the poorest and the richest can easily increase their income.

The second premise is one can easily live a happy life on much less than is commonly assumed. In fact the difference is sometimes extreme. In a consumer society, the standard measure of utility is money. If it’s twice as expensive, it must be twice as good, right? Wrong! This misconception originates from consumerism where on the poor end of the scale you eat $3 mashed potato powder bought at a quickie-mart, and at the high end of the scale you buy one small scoop of superbly crafted mashed potatoes on a large plate for $25 at a classy restaurant. However, if you make your own mashed potatoes, you can buy a 10lbs sack of potatoes for $1 at the farmer’s market during potato season — or grow them yourself — and make a meal that is only limited by your own skill level; after a few months of practice that is probably at least 80% as good as the chef and easily much better than the pre-processed powder. And, yes, out of potato season, you either clamp them or don’t eat potatoes and eat something else that’s in season and therefore inexpensive.

What follows from these premises is that for those who are willing and able, it is often possible to reduce expenses significantly by doing things differently, more in tune with the natural flows of resources so to speak, rather than doing more or less of the normal way and expecting instant gratification without considering the short- and long-term costs.

If you put these together: Spend less, save more, then you can reach the point where your investment income covers your expenses much much faster than what is commonly assumed.

Following those ideas it is possible to retire in 3–8 years on a normal income, hence this is why this blog is named early retirement extreme.

The Friends’ Review included a report from the London Yearly Meeting’s Meeting for Sufferings on concerning the case of some non-Quaker conscientious objectors in Jersey:

The case of two young men who suffered imprisonment in Jersey on account of their conscientious refusal to bear arms (to which brief allusion has already been made in the Friends’ Review) came up again… It appears that, by the law of the Channel Islands, all males between the ages of sixteen and sixty are required to serve in the militia, exemption being only allowed for ministers of religion, for members of the Society of Friends, for those engaged in education, and some others. The father of these two young men, Edward Voisin, — though in no way connected with the Society of Friends — has long felt conscientious scruples against bearing arms. Nevertheless he himself served in the militia for some thirteen years, until in he felt that he could do so no longer, and that it was his duty plainly to testify by declining to serve any further. He has since that time been several times summoned, and fines have been imposed upon him, but have never been actually enforced.

his oldest son [Albert] attained the age of sixteen, and was (in usual course) required to enter the militia. Being a minor, his father answered for him, that he could not conscientiously bear arms. The matter seems to have been allowed to drop after a while; but about the beginning of , the second son being now seventeen, a renewed effort was made to get the brothers to serve. Upon their refusal, fines of twenty shillings and seven shillings and sixpence were imposed; but neither they nor their father felt easy to pay these fines, and therefore the two youths were committed to prison for four days. Their father says that they were placed in separate cells, with stone floors, without firing, without sheets, with the most coarse and meagre diet, and (although it was freezing outside) their warm clothing was exchanged for prison garb, and blankets were allowed to them only at night. On Sunday they were “exercised” in company with a lot of criminals, the exercise consisting in a walk of about half an hour in single file around the grave of a man who was executed for murder!

It appears that these young men are threatened with longer terms of imprisonment if they persist in their disobedience to the law of their country.

In listening to this most interesting case, Friends were filled with sympathy for these young men, and admiration of their fortitude in submitting to actual persecution for the sake of those principles that we hold so dear. The meeting became once more — what it used constantly to be in the first century of our Society’s existence — a “Meeting for Sufferings.” It was concluded to forward, if possible, through the Home Secretary, a petition to the Lieutenant-Governor of Jersey, requesting him to grant exemption to these youths, who have given such convincing proof that their refusal to bear arms proceeds from conscientious motives.

You can read the full Report of the Committee on the imprisonment of A[lbert] and E[rnest] Voisin in Jersey, for conscientiously refusing to serve in the Militia, presented to the Meeting for Sufferings, 3rd of Ninth Month, 1886 at Google Books. It includes the gracefully-worded letter that Edward Voisin wrote to the commander of his militia regiment when he became a conscientious objector, and also this note:

Considerable dissatisfaction with the Militia law exists in the island, especially amongst the working classes, but there are also many who uphold it, or at least readily acquiesce in it. A League for the abolition of the law was formed some time past, many of whose members object not only on political but on religious grounds to serve in the Militia. Several of these declared their readiness to go to prison rather than serve, but only one of them, the President of the League, submitted to imprisonment, rather than pay the fine, and his courage failed him before he had been in prison two hours, so that he paid the fine and was released next morning.

The Voisins later did decide to join the Society of Friends.