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Book: Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Fisker
Old 10-16-2010, 10:38 AM   #1
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Book: Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Fisker

I’d never heard of Jacob Fisker until a few weeks ago (here thanks), but after reading his blog archives I was anxious to read his brand new book (fortunate timing for me). I was predisposed to like the book. Just finished the book this morning and I’m still formulating my review. I’d say it’s a challenging but good niche book that could have so easily appealed to a broader audience. Nevertheless, this will probably be 5-Star read for those who already subscribe to LBYM, FI and/or RE, presumably most at ER.org, ‘preaching to the choir.’ It's a somewhat difficult read, but I would highly recommend the book to this audience. It would never appeal to the mainstream unconscious consumers among us and wasn’t meant to, but why the author knowingly chose not to appeal to and help aspiring disciples much more I don’t understand. I think the book leaves them hungry but unable to achieve the results the book itself inspires. The hunger is evidently supposed to provide the motivation.

The subtitle is “a philosophical and practical guide to financial independence.” IMO it covers the philosophical in great detail, but it’s deliberately pretty thin on practical. The author states repeatedly that this won’t be a rote ‘how to’ book – great, I’d rather learn how to fish than to have the author give me a fish. It bears a resemblance to Your Money or Your Life (and I’d pay dearly for a modern update of that book), but that book provided a better balance of philosophical/concepts, practices and results whereas Early Retirement Extreme largely omits practices. There is no question Mr. Fisker would be capable of writing the more complete and therefore better book IMHO.

To liken it to a cookbook, he describes techniques and ingredients in great detail (which is indeed valuable) and then says you’re now capable of cooking anything you want. I don’t want a book with 500 recipes, but a well chosen recipe or two might help me learn to get those results for myself more effectively. I’m left to make a lot of (costly) mistakes on my way to the perfect stew. He says there are other books for that…yes, but why not tie it all together somewhat?

Chapters 1 & 2 and the Epilogue were great IMO, I loved the Plato's Cave metaphor. Chapters 3 thru 5 mixed at times confusing stream of consciousness writing (better editing might have helped) laced with bondafide a-ha moments. Chapters 6 & 7 were just too thin for my tastes – even for a sympathetic reader.

In the end it was a worthwhile read, mixing a-ha moments with others where I felt unnecessarily underserved. There will be others for other readers, I’ll share one of each:

Not necessarily the best example, but one I could find again easily, where more would have been most helpful.
“I’m set for life and I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, within reason, as long as I don’t fall into any consumer traps. Having about 20 diversified streams of income from different investments, I never worry about being unemployed and not having a job.”
I wouldn’t have expected all 20, and we all know dividends & real estate rental income. But providing some insight into so many options for income streams would have been most helpful for the reader to explore. Not one is even named or explained specifically that I could find.

An a-ha moment for me? It’s probably been stated here before and I should have figured it out myself, but this may finally set me free.
“If more people spent five years saving money and learning how to live efficiently on their investments instead of spending five years to become plumbers or MBAs and zero years on living efficiently, and therefore working the rest of their lives, financial freedom might not seem so scary. For those who are still unsure, consider that the worst thing that can happen to me, compared to someone who works for a living, is that I have to go back to work and do what they have been doing all along.”
Wow (for me at least)! And there were several other a-ha moments - wonderful.

When all is said and done, I suspect the author achieved what he set out to. I just don't understand why he chose not to cast a little wider net...but maybe I will come to understand in time.
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Old 10-16-2010, 12:37 PM   #2
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Thanks for the review. I found Jacob's blog only after I was well on my way to ER.

Would you recommend the book for people who are already ER'd and know how to live within their means?

Edited to add:
Having just read my "within their means" phrase above, I realize that it is a significant change in mindset that needs to be made after ER. You no longer have to live Below your means, since you don't have to save; but you do have to live Within your means so you don't blow your plan. Some have posted about their experiences making that change.
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Old 10-16-2010, 12:42 PM   #3
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Thanks for the heads up Midpack. I'll advise my public library to add it to their collection and probably be the first one on the waiting list when it arrives.

Sounds like an interesting read.
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Old 10-16-2010, 01:48 PM   #4
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Due to popular demand, I (the author) am actually contemplating a popularization. I've asked my blog readers what their thoughts are and they are divided on the subject---see the paragraph beginning with "Third" in my response why.

There are a few reasons for not casting a wider net.

First, in order to reach a broader group, the content must necessarily by shallower. That's what YMOYL did. While Dominguez did retire in 5 years, YMOYL doesn't make a big deal out of it. I love YMOYL, but in my opinion it isn't very deep. YMOYL is the college degree in simple living and financial independence. ERE is the graduate degree.

Example:
The Pareto (80/20) principle (very popular in lifestyle books) is a simplification of the logistic principle (which is described in YMOYL) which again is a simplification of the maximum power principle (which is in my book).

The point of ERE (the book) was to go on where YMOYL left off. Several people have commented that ERE shouldn't be the first book that someone who's playing around with the ideas of extreme early retirement should read---more like the second or third. I agree.

Second it shouldn't be the first book that anyone messing around with these concepts should read. It's abstract and presumes that people are already well-versed in the concepts. If we use the definitions of section 4.3 it assumes that people are roughly at the journeyman level, that is, they know the technical details. They have perhaps so far relied on compiling lists and picking up the few that works for them but are now ready to move on and understand the principles and put their own lists together. As far as I remember YMOYL had some lists, but no discussion of why those lists worked. So there are hundreds of personal finance books with lists in them and I didn't feel like repeating lists. I do see your point, but I don't think including more examples (in my opinion chapter 6, which is almost a third of the book, is an example of the principles in chapters 4 and 5---chapter 2 is explained by the principles in chapter 3) would have helped much.

Third, the difficulty level of the book is by some (partially by me as well) believed to serve as a barrier of entry. Retiring extremely early requires a high level of persistence and knowledge insofar that one can not simply follow along with every one else or expect to be able to find solutions by asking one's neighbor or shop assistant. It's a bit like the "must be this tall to enter" which here becomes "must be able to understand the book to be able to pull it off".
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Old 10-16-2010, 02:02 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by walkinwood View Post
Would you recommend the book for people who are already ER'd and know how to live within their means?
As I stated in my initial post, "this will probably be 5-Star read for those who already subscribe to LBYM, FI and/or RE, presumably most at" this site. Some will learn more than others but I would highly recommend the book to this audience. Living even more efficiently and making more conscious spending choices can only help throughout life including retirement.

I see the author has now posted, and I can appreciate his POV. It is a very good book, not meant for a novice, and it was worth the purchase price many times over IMO. I will refer to and re-read it one day, and undoubtedly get new insights when I do.

I'm 56 and I could not begin to write this book. The author appears to be about half my age, and the insights are astonishing for his age. If I knew at his age, what he clearly knows, it would have served me incredibly well. Fortunately Your Money or Your Life did help me back then though, but Mr. Fisker is light years ahead of his age.

In my first post I meant to include, at the end of the book the author listed 72 books for "Further Reading." Many of them are among my top 10 favorite books of all time, so I look forward to reading many from his list. Beyond that, I won't repeat myself...
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Old 10-16-2010, 04:57 PM   #6
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I put the "further reading" list online.

PS: Thanks for the nice words. I just turned 35.
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Old 10-16-2010, 05:19 PM   #7
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PS: Thanks for the nice words. I just turned 35.
Pretty brave posting here. Many of us are not used to getting advice from young uns
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Old 10-17-2010, 04:35 AM   #8
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I believe that television, advertising and the subsequent peer pressure (or envy) has driven (or led) Americans to the extreme on consumer oriented lifestyle (wants and expectations)... as opposed to needs.

This topic means different things to different people and to varying degrees. But I must admit, it never really occurred to me to FIRE before 55 until I was about 45. For a couple of reasons.


  1. I was doing well in my career and enjoyed it at the time.
  2. I had a certain lifestyle in mind. Certain US system related concerns kept me going down the path of work. One of the biggest concerns was health care cost and the risk of Illness locking DW and I out of the health care system.
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Old 10-17-2010, 04:55 PM   #9
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Once my Kindle arrives in the mail, ERE will be my first download... I suspect the book will confirm that yes, I could "retire" right now at 38. I'm having trouble deciding whether or not I will be retired, or rather a "kept man", because like Jacob my wife actually likes working, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
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Old 03-24-2012, 09:03 AM   #10
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Thought I'd revive this thread as I just finished reading Early Retirement Extreme. As the earlier posts noted, it is a tough slog to get through, but well worth the time & effort if you're looking to ER.

For me, I enjoyed the part where Jacob explains buying items in terms of how many additional hours that means you will have to work in order to afford the item. For example, if you break your monthly income down into an hourly rate, let's say you make $5K/mo, work an avg of 20 work days/mo, at an avg work day of 10 hrs (sorry, I just don't see many true 8-hr work days), then you effectively make $25/hr. So, if you want to go buy that new Ford F-150 truck (I currently live in TX...they're everywhere around here) for $43,000...you should realize that new truck will cost you 1,720/hrs of work just to purchase it, that's 172 additional work days (approx 9 mos) on top of what you already have to work just to meet daily living expenses. Eye opening to me!

Then there's the lengthy discussion about becoming a Renaissance Man...rediscovering how to be a multi-talanted, multi-skilled, all around handy man. Learn how to do things for your self. Of particular interest to me was Fisker's comment about the only difference between you and a professional is the first time you do something, it will take you 5X longer than the professional, but after that, the difference curve diminishes rapidly. He's right...I loved it! We have "dumbed ourselves down" to be very specialized...we need a professional plumber, we need to hire a professional carpenter, you need an investment professional, you need to take your car to a professional mechanic, etc, etc. He explains how our great grandparents did not have this luxury to hire "professionals"...they became their own professionals! Made me think of stories of my Dad...he and my Uncle built our family's very first house in NJ back in the 50's. My Dad was a TV repairman for RCA back then and my Uncle was an airline pilot!! Hence, I've been researching a lot of DIY projects to do when I ER next year. I joked with my wife that my first 9 mos of retirement will be spent finishing our third floor attic into a bonus room...and the next 3 mos will be spent ripping it all out and doing it over the correct way! :-)

I also enjoyed his advice on saving 80% of your income for 5 yrs and that will set you up for ER/give you ER potential. I wish I had used that mindset years ago, but my family is now currently living off around 55% of my income and banking the rest for a house down payment. Gotta say, it's pretty exciting watching the account balance grow each month!

So, overall, a very useful book to help me think about retirement, but concur that I would not make it the first book as it is a little tough in sections.
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Old 03-24-2012, 09:10 AM   #11
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Were you bothered at all about Fisker's 'do as I say, not as I do' issue?

Early Retirement TOO Extreme? Jacob Fisker unRetires
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Old 03-24-2012, 09:22 AM   #12
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Nah, didn't really stop me from absorbing the ideas. I view this like the Rich Dad series of books...not a specific how-to-step-by-step book, but they're more how-to-think-about type of books. For me, I only started this ER journey about a year ago and have rapidly gone from thinking I have to get a "real job" after the military to now realizing that if I change my thinking about ER living, then we're actually in a better position than I previously thought. I've had to do a lot of reading to help me make this mental shift and that's where I found a lot of insight from Early Retirement Extreme, Work Less Live More, and Nord's book The Military Guide to Financial Independence & Retirement. I'm now looking for my next read on ER...any recommendations?
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Old 03-24-2012, 09:41 AM   #13
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I'm now looking for my next read on ER...any recommendations?
Looking at your reading list, I think it's time you shifted your ER reading focus a bit. How about "Sh!t My Dad Says" for a change of pace?
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Old 03-24-2012, 01:40 PM   #14
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I used "Early Retirement Extreme" principles to get to the cusp of retiring, but the changeover to the income from investing is more interesting and challenging. Everyone writes on how to get there, not on what to do when you are there to stay there.

Except for giving up my car, 35 mpg is as close as I'm getting .
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Old 03-24-2012, 09:23 PM   #15
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I'm now looking for my next read on ER...any recommendations?
Here's four of them, in priority order.

Book review: 1001 Things to Love About Military Life | Military Retirement & Financial Independence
Book report: Dilemmas of Family Wealth | Military Retirement & Financial Independence
Book review: Your Retirement Quest | Military Retirement & Financial Independence
Book Review: Liz Weston’s “The 10 Commandments of Money” | Military Retirement & Financial Independence

Your ER level of knowledge might already be past the last two, but they're an interesting read. Liz Weston's is particularly good for teens & young adults.
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Old 03-25-2012, 09:12 AM   #16
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Were you bothered at all about Fisker's 'do as I say, not as I do' issue?

Early Retirement TOO Extreme? Jacob Fisker unRetires
That's not really MY issue. That's an issue of not separating the message from the messenger and not looking at the ideas [in the book] objectively.

I suspect it's also an issue of having different preconceived notions of what the word "retirement" means to different people, but lets rather NOT open THAT can of semantic words.

In the book's introduction I even mention, and I quote: "Do you want to start a business? Being financially independent you can take risks with your time to focus on projects which donít require an immediate payout to justify your effort. If successful, working for yourself can be more remunerative than working for others, because you receive the full benefit of your efforts. The biggest cost of a startup is often the salary you need to pay yourself to live. Not having to pay this out of company funds allows you to invest the money back into the company. In addition, you can focus all your effort on the company instead of working other jobs to support
yourself."

I still do what I've been doing since 2000 being frugal and DIY self-reliant and spending roughly $7000/year getting the same things (as far as I can tell) that normal consumers spend $28000/year on. That's 11 years going now. Warren Buffett is a billionaire, yet he still lives in the same house and until recently drove the same Lincoln Towncar with a license plate that said "THRIFTY". Why should he start spending his billions living in a castle if it doesn't jive with his personality?

I have never asked or demanded that people fit into a particular mold whether it comes to whatever concept of retirement they hold, whether they should work charity or give their surplus money to charity, etc. In fact I left it very open-ended in the book. The book will make you FI and give you a solid foundation to what you want (make a deliberate choice) without being dependent on a job (or much else for that matter).

I'm positively sure that if people are well-informed and able to think for themselves, and they have the means to what they want, they don't need me to tell them what to do.

In particular, they probably don't want anyone to tell them what to do. And they're not looking for anyone to follow and copy.
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Old 03-25-2012, 09:26 AM   #17
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Jacob, shouldn't you correct your sig line to add "RTW@3x" to "FI@30, RE@33."?
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Old 03-25-2012, 09:56 AM   #18
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Given that numbers is hard, I fear that adding one more might only increase the confusion ...
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Old 03-25-2012, 09:58 AM   #19
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...sigh...
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Old 03-25-2012, 12:14 PM   #20
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That's not really MY issue. That's an issue of not separating the message from the messenger and not looking at the ideas [in the book] objectively.

I suspect it's also an issue of having different preconceived notions of what the word "retirement" means to different people, but lets rather NOT open THAT can of semantic words.

I still do what I've been doing since 2000 being frugal and DIY self-reliant and spending roughly $7000/year getting the same things (as far as I can tell) that normal consumers spend $28000/year on. That's 11 years going now.

I have never asked or demanded that people fit into a particular mold whether it comes to whatever concept of retirement they hold, whether they should work charity or give their surplus money to charity, etc. In fact I left it very open-ended in the book. The book will make you FI and give you a solid foundation to what you want (make a deliberate choice) without being dependent on a job (or much else for that matter).

I'm positively sure that if people are well-informed and able to think for themselves, and they have the means to what they want, they don't need me to tell them what to do.

In particular, they probably don't want anyone to tell them what to do. And they're not looking for anyone to follow and copy.
I'm glad that you're willing to continue the discussion. It's an interesting problem. Even if people are too polite to say it, two of the words they're thinking could be "credibility" and "hypocrite". Another word could be "disclosure".

You've set yourself up as someone who figured out how to retire early, and you've achieved a goal that most can only dream of.

Your posts and your book are very authoritative, and in some ways nurturing & encouraging. But in many other ways you adopt a tone of stern taskmaster. You're not necessarily a drill sergeant barking out orders, but there's a definite hint of martial-arts instructor-- people who can't muster the self-determination are somehow "wussypants". In other words you frequently build up the ERE lifestyle by tearing down other lifestyles.

But readers want to know more before they embark on the considerable self-sacrifice needed to reach such a goal. What if ERE didn't really work? What if it worked, but turned out to be too hard to sustain? What if it worked, and it's sustainable, but somehow not worth the effort? What if even you couldn't be responsible for your own entertainment? Those all sound like topics that could be blogged at least quarterly. Maybe they should even be categories of posts.

Maybe one of the issues is accepting paid employment. If it's such a compelling and fascinating problem, then why is a salary necessary? Should no salary be accepted at all? Should it all be donated to charity? Does the problem have to be tackled by joining a team motivated by their own visions of filthy lucre, or could it have been done on your own?

I don't have the answers either. I think that society expects labor to be rewarded, even if it's just with baked goods. Payment is the social lubricant that encourages people to ask for help in reducing their electric bill or fixing their leaky faucets, which saves limited resources and hypothetically helps us both out. My spouse has felt coerced into accepting a salary for volunteer work because the CEO says "We pay the other volunteers for doing this, and if we didn't pay you then they'd lose out on this good deal too." We donate the salary back to the organization and we actually lose money after paying FICA & taxes. But some readers will still say "Oh, yeah, he's the guy who doesn't work and lives off his wife's salary."

I knew that I couldn't get people to contribute to a book project if I was keeping the money. I also knew that I'd have no credibility for selling a book that said "I retired early. Gimme $15 and I'll show you how it works!" I also knew that saying "a portion of the profits..." is just weasel words. It has to be "I wrote this book to share knowledge, and I'm losing money on it. Your purchase pays to spread the word and to help others." Perhaps, like baked goods, paying for the book is another way to show that it has value.

I think that it's probably better to frequently share the ambivalence inherent in any lifestyle requiring such a commitment. It's probably better to be less challenging and more encouraging. It's probably better to discuss these issues well in advance instead of making abrupt changes of direction.

You made your decision to return to paid employment for all the right reasons-- for you, anyway. What concerns your readers is that you could have made the decision for all the wrong reasons, and it's hard to tell the difference.

Maybe it's time for a blog update and a more introspective examination of the issues. I think I've been through most of the rotation of your older blog posts.
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