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Don’t forget your can opener

Why do you want to escape the rat race?

Believe it or not, Monevator is a blog about securing financial freedom.

Originally it was focused on retiring early, but during a sabbatical I discovered I missed doing good work for money, provided it was on my own terms.

Nowadays I think I’ll always do something, even into my old age – and even if I don’t really need the money.

I enjoy half of what I do a lot, and I’d enjoy it even more if it was optional. I also suspect there are social and health benefits to staying engaged with the economy – provided you like what you’re doing.

(Hate your job? Quit today).

But you might want out of the game altogether. I hope our articles can help you either way.

I’m perfectly agnostic about how you plan to use your financial freedom.

I imagine most readers want more time back, or an income stream to support other ambitions. Or maybe you do want to retire very early, or perhaps you want to downsize with security, or travel, or write novels, or breed rare goats.

Do you want to make a million? You can stick around, too.

Perhaps you want the financial freedom to sell ice-creams on a beach in Bali on the minimum wage while living the higher-rolling lifestyle back at home, funded out of your savings and investments.

Material goals aren’t my cup of tea, but each to his or her own.

Looking to the end game

I began with ‘believe it or not’ because Monevator’s ultimate motivation – securing financial freedom – gets lost day-to-day in the minutia of our posts about everything from passive investing and global trackers to retirement income and investor psychology.

Some blogs are good at keeping their message up-front, which is handy for newcomers. Maybe I need to try harder, but there’s so much else to talk about – especially for UK investors and spare room entrepreneurs. We don’t have as many options to choose from as our US brethren.

Yet the danger is Monevator looks like a site about making money for it’s own sake. And that’s a danger that can affect your own investing, too.

Here’s a fairy tale to explain what I mean.

A very pessimistic person – the type you find writing comments in CAPITALS on Web forums – decides to prepare for the breakdown of civilisation.

He sells his portfolio, his house, his car, and even his iPad, which he rightly suspects won’t be much use when he’s hiding in a cave from cannibals.

Just before money becomes entirely useless, however, he spends his last savings on the usual post-society breakdown survival kit:

  • Gold coins
  • A shotgun
  • 5,000 cans of beans

A few months on, and society does collapse – just as our doomster predicted.

You might think he’s sitting pretty. And he would be, except for one vital oversight.

He forgot to buy a can opener!

Financial freedom and you

I hope you think of me in the endless dark nights after the fall of the West. Toast me as you tuck into your beans. Hold aloft your remembered can open.

Of course this isn’t really a post about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world of tinned food and bad breath.

Rather, it’s a reminder that you need to think about your own financial can opener.

If you don’t know what it is, then you could end up surrounded by pots of money and no clue how to use it – or even how you got there.

  • What are you investing for?
  • What is your plan to achieve financial freedom?
  • How will you know when you’ve achieved your goals?
  • What have you forgotten?

Remember Curt, the tin can millionaire who made a fortune scrounging for pennies but who lived like a tramp?

Perhaps he had found his can opener. Maybe the freedom of knowing he had money enabled him to live free of material concerns.

Lots of people condemned him. But was he so different from a Zen master who forsakes worldly cares, or the flower children of the 1960s? History salutes them as visionaries.

Then again, maybe Curt didn’t know what he wanted the money for.

Maybe he wasted his life collecting tin cans when he would have been happier island hopping in the Philippines, or teaching French in Africa, or painting in the Swiss Alps, instead of just stashing his cash in a vault beneath them.

I think that’s why people reacted so negatively to Curt’s story. He could have done anything, but it seems he chose to do nothing.

The world is full of opportunity, and pitfalls too. Don’t hoard assets for a future that may never come, or that you don’t want anyway. Don’t let anyone tell you the reason you’re seeking financial freedom isn’t the ‘right’ one.

Know where you’re going. And don’t forget your can opener.

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{ 27 comments… add one }
  • 1 ermine April 30, 2010, 3:40 pm

    I love the variety and diversity here, and the UK viewpoint of course! Too many PF blogs end up bogged down in the small stuff of clipping coupons, so keep the philosophy and the wit coming as well as the informative posts!

    It’s all to easy to get lost in the noise of details, and every so often it’s good to get that wake-up call, what exactly is it that we’re doing all of this for? It was sobering when a colleague died of a heart attack in his 50s, despite being a fit hill-walker. You story of your Dad is also one to focus the mind on that all-important subject. Living with intent is sometimes hard with all the distraction of everyday life.

  • 2 FinEngr April 30, 2010, 5:05 pm


    Stupendous article! *getting tired of the same hackneyed openers 😉

    “I enjoy half of what I do a lot, and I’d enjoy it even more if it was optional.” Many bloggers, myself included, don’t seem like they ever want to retire – but have the flexibility to pursue whatever they wish without the stress of financial burdens.

    Ice cream in Bali? I had a 6′-7″ friend who planned to sell hot dogs in Nicaragua. Whatever he didn’t sell, he could eat!

  • 3 Financial Samurai April 30, 2010, 6:33 pm

    Hey! Didn’t realize your blog was about securing financial freedom! I thought it was more about bashing bankers and other folks who make too much money and taxing them to oblivion!! 🙂

    Good to hear mate. Are you ready to make some more money from your site? Wait until you see what we have in store for The Yakezie by August!


  • 4 RetirementInvestingToday April 30, 2010, 6:33 pm

    Great post as always TI.

    I’m certainly pushing for ‘retiring early’. I’m probably also almost getting to the point of the ‘retire very early’ methodology (although not as extreme as Jacob) by regularly saving over 60% of my salary.

    My definition of retirement is however very different from those around me that I regularly come into contact with. You touched on it in the post and it is that ‘work becomes optional’. To me that is one of the most liberating feelings I can imagine today.

  • 5 The Investor April 30, 2010, 7:29 pm

    @Sam – I have no problem with people making lots of money, but yes, too much money is a problem. What’s ‘too much money’? If they’re making it because they operate a cartel, because they hold taxpayers to ransom, and because they net of a small percentage of trillions while consistently letting down their customers and indeed the whole economy, just like bankers do – that’s earning too much money. Tax, tax, and tax again.

    If Walmart acted like the banks have, millions of Americans would be dead of food poisoning. If Quantas acted like the banks, planes would be falling from the sky. If Microsoft acted like a bank, its software would always be crashing and – er, hang on I’ll stop there. 😉

    Basically, people don’t understand banking and so have allowed them to cream off ever more of the economic pie each year. Even now they don’t realize the Emporer has no clothes.

    People are shocked that Goldman has been acting like a double-glazing salesman. I’m not shocked because I understand these people, and the reason I think the SEC hasn’t got a case is because there’s nothing new to it. That’s what bankers do.

    Ah, nice rant, thanks for the opportunity…

    Yeah, I’ve heard rumors of some new Yakezie initiatives, but I can’t get into the group so don’t know the detail. Looking forward to it, been great fun so far! 🙂

  • 6 The Investor April 30, 2010, 7:33 pm

    @Ermine – Thanks for the generous words, and I’m touched you’ve remembered about my dad. You’re right, his situation is a touchstone for me.

    @FinEngr – Did your friend succeed? That’s the sort of thing I mean – there’s so many things I’d happily try for a year or two if I didn’t care about money. I’d love to work in a zoo or a public aquarium, for instance. I can easily imagine doing that 3 days a week and being one of the star employees, but not if I had to do it for money.

    @RIT – 60% is very good. As you know, ultra early requirement takes saving hard to do all the heavy lifting. I hope to find a balance on my way to financial freedom.

  • 7 FinEngr May 3, 2010, 4:57 am

    Can’t say either way because he never tried.

    What’s your specialty? Tiger whisperer? Bet that’s in high demand. You could always look into it as a volunteer option with the option of transitioning into a full-time gig.

  • 8 The Investor May 4, 2010, 9:14 pm

    @FinEngr – My speciality/poison/passion is expensive seawater aquariums, as outlined in my ten money mistakes post. I have considered doing something part time (in London Zoo you actually have pay to be a volunteer, however. Lots of people want to work with animals…)

  • 9 The Investor May 4, 2010, 9:24 pm

    @Budgeting – I think that angle is actually quite powerful. It’s more motivating to budget/save/kill debt if it’s for something positive, rather than just ‘because you should’. Good luck with it. 🙂

  • 10 Matt June 9, 2010, 12:39 am

    investor… i thought you where in your mid thirties! thats not old lol?

  • 11 The Investor June 9, 2010, 10:15 am

    Well recalled! I am indeed in my mid (er, to late) 30s. This means I straddle the generations under discussion here, I’d argue.

    Any older is old…our stories all end the same way. 😉

  • 12 david stuart August 19, 2012, 5:24 pm

    as i hit 50 this year—its a huge wake-up call.

    being single gives me more options
    smaller flat ect

    im finding heathwise–a few things—-nerve damage/arthritus right arm.

    enough money for central heating full on/restaurants/cafes

  • 13 PC May 9, 2017, 6:12 pm

    Love it couldn’t agree more with your philosophy.

  • 14 Mr optimistic May 9, 2017, 6:52 pm

    Now you tell me……

  • 15 weenie May 9, 2017, 9:27 pm

    There’s no other website like Monevator so “Keep on keeping on…”

    In the process of providing quality articles and links to help readers improve their investments or achieve their financial freedom, I hope the Monevator team are all able to do likewise!

  • 16 TwentytoWealthy May 9, 2017, 9:33 pm

    I also find material goals aren’t for me, my views, knowledge, wants and priorities change frequently so I find it doesn’t help me to be so fixed on a particular figure which is 25 x my expenses when as a 22 year old who knows how I’ll want to spend my days in 20 years time and what my expenses will be; of course I have a ballpark figure in the back of my mind but it is not fixed and no doubt will change over the years.

    I try to think of limiting my expenses to only what I value and the necessary, save/invest the rest which will hopefully see me as financially prepared as possible to have the option later in life to do what I want to not what I have to, whatever that maybe!

    As others have said a nice reminder to try and live intentionally.

  • 17 Fireplanter May 9, 2017, 10:45 pm

    A year and a little after I started my FI, I am still trying to find my can opener… I think I would know more about it as time passes but no reason to not start stocking up the can of beans. It is very easy to get lost hoarding the cans of beans and forget about the can opener. If fact I think it is almost crucial to keep looking for that can opener because that is precisely the reason you are stocking up the cans anyway. And perhaps like Tin Can Curt, the can opener you find on your journey is that you, here and now, already have what you need to be happy and satisfied. A journey of self discovery. As always, baby steps.


  • 18 P May 9, 2017, 11:08 pm

    “Don’t horde assets”

  • 19 Mr optimistic May 10, 2017, 12:26 am

    You have to have a desire, a purpose. Money helps everything but isn’t a source of joy or fulfillment. Why would you want to ‘retire’. Is there nothing you can offer, nothing you can do ? If your children die before you is the balance in your account sufficient consolation?

  • 20 The Investor May 10, 2017, 12:47 pm

    @P — Perhaps I am warning against Ghenghis Khan-ism? (Um, thanks. I am hoping that was a typo I introduced when I updated the piece and added new links, rather than that it has been there for seven years! 🙂 )

    @all — Cheers for thoughts. For some reason this can opener metaphor really strikes a chord with me — maybe it’s having seen other people achieve financial freedom or retirement and seeming a bit aimless. What’s going to unlock it / open up the next chapter? Good to know in advance if you can.

  • 21 Hannah May 10, 2017, 12:51 pm

    Thanks TI, that was an enjoyable read. I must say that I like the breadth of articles that are available on the site, covering topics from the hardcore intricacies of investing to more philosophical concepts. I started reading Monevator to get my education in sensible passive investing, and I find these sorts of posts are good to keep my motivation up.

  • 22 hosimpson May 10, 2017, 5:18 pm

    As soon as work becomes optional I’ll be taking the option to not work. End of story.
    Knowing with certainty that I should never again have to go through another 2008-style cull, survive endless nonsensical consultation meetings so that my superiors can give an appearance of “due process” as they’re weeding out those of my peers who have at any point annoyed them, suffer resentment from some (former) work friends as if it’s my fault that they’re going and I’m not, while trying to put up a decent show of unconcern for the sake of the junior staff … yeah, that’s a can opener enough for me.
    Incidentally, I believe that, provided I reach FI with most of my wits and all four limbs + a functioning spinal cord intact, and given a wet patch and some wind, I should be able to pass my time tolerably well. And frankly, I don’t really care if that fits within the definition of useful human endeavour.

  • 23 theFIREstarter May 10, 2017, 5:32 pm

    I won’t just not forget my can opener I’ll bring along a full on Swiss army knife!

    So much to do once FI! And I agree with you that a lot of it involved hard (and hopefully fulfilling) work.

    Love these posts just as much as the informative ones, keep em coming 😉

  • 24 William III May 12, 2017, 10:13 am

    You could stop working to escape those ridiculous maxims espoused in the Vaynerchuk article that came through in the weekend readings the other day, and get a grip on what really matters in life. See also https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/gary-vaynerchuk-has-given-the-worst-piece-of-career-advice-in-history-xnzlrpkkq (“The worst piece of career advice in history: ditch your loser friends”)

  • 25 The Investor May 12, 2017, 10:40 am

    @William III — It wasn’t a Vaynerchuk article in Weekend Reading that expressed those maxims, it was a different author offering essentially that same tidbit of advice (among many other suggestions).

    It’s interesting to me how hostile people are to that particular point.

    I can clearly see in my own life people who by example are / have been a negative force and those who are / have been effortlessly positive. I’m pretty sure a cautious audit and reboot of my friends list would theoretically be good for me overall, although as I said the last time someone brought it up I’m far too sentimental to actually ditch any longstanding friends much on this basis.

    Is everyone aware, for example, that obesity and depression are both effectively contagious? E.g.

    A recent study assessed incoming college students’ outlook and thinking style before they moved in with their randomly assigned roommates and repeated the assessments three months into the semester, and another six months later. They found that students who did not have a negative thinking style but roomed with a person who did, often ‘caught’ their roommate’s negative outlook and had twice as many symptoms of depression at the six month mark.

    “People were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased a person’s chances of becoming obese by 57 percent. There was no effect when a neighbor gained or lost weight, however, and family members had less influence than friends.”

    These are obviously bigger outliers than say a friend who likes to pop to the pub early on Fridays and might tempt you away and disrupt you from your plans to DOMINATE or whatever the Vaynerchuk meme du jour is, but peer influence is always important in my opinion.

    So I disagree the advice is ridiculous. Nor is it likely (I can’t read behind the paywall) the worst career advice ever.

    For what it’s worth, I moved in and lived with a depressed friend for several years because I was worried about them — not saying that for plaudits, just to say I understand there’s more to life and you might not want to follow this sort of advice for wider reasons.

    But personally I wouldn’t dismiss it, or be oblivious to the impact of association.

  • 26 William III May 12, 2017, 1:26 pm

    @TI: Sorry, I thought it was referencing the same article. The main points from the Times article are (you can sign up with a fake email if you’d like to read for yourself):
    – dumping “loser” mates is a daft idea [because] people and relationships are not data points or values that can be averaged out;
    – worldly success or failure is largely irrelevant to friendship because […] we need mates to help with things other than work; and
    – being friends with successful people can be damaging for your self-esteem and morale.

    He also quotes this article: http://www.thebookoflife.org/why-old-friends/ which I thought is good on the topic.

    Your point stands, however! Perhaps it’s not ridiculous career advice but, indeed, the very best advice for getting to the top in the money making industries. After all, there is a relatively high share of sociopaths in these parts of the economy and they will efficiently cull out whatever is a drag on their way up.

    Unfortunately, on my way up in the world of commerce, I am handicapped by a different value system. My approach to friendship is captured well by Seneca in one of his letters to Lucilius: “Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul.” (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Moral_letters_to_Lucilius/Letter_3).

    As such, I am putting myself at a great risk of contracting depression and obesity through social channels. But, does that not make me a vituous citizen? As Adam Smith puts it in his Theory of Moral Sentiment, it is the very process of mutual emotional adjustment that gives rise to virtue in society. Out of my ten or so close friends, if I were to ditch my bipolar, burnt-out and obese friends (4 of them), and replace them with more rising stars, I might myself become more inspired and energised to reach the top in commerce. The friends I ditched may take a marginally deeper dive in their vicious cycle – perhaps not a material change. But if everyone were to do this perpetually, society would collapse for a lack of empathy and virtue. So ditching ‘loser’ friends and commoditising a social network for personal gain doesn’t sit well on my moral compass.

  • 27 Adriana @MoneyJourney May 15, 2017, 10:32 am

    This was a refreshing read 🙂

    I don’t plan to breed weird rare animals (the goat analogy made me laugh, thanks for that!) but aim for financial independence to be able to enjoy the 1 life we have.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a job and a 9 to 5 lifestyle, but lately I keep thinking about how much more life has to offer and I’m missing it!

    That’s what financial freedom means to me, the ability to enjoy one day at a time, instead of living for the weekends.

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