A few years ago Nelson Smith at the, sadly defunct, Financial Uproar posted a pretty funny review of Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Fisker called “I Read Early Retirement Extreme So You Don’t Have To”. I read this book myself, and never wrote up my thoughts on the book, so I figured it’d be worth adding my $0.02 to his review.
The book came out of Jacob Fisker’s blog of the same name. In many ways, the book was a collection and refinement of the ideas he discussed on the blog, so while it certainly isn’t a collection of posts, avid readers will find much of the material has already been covered on his blog. That being said, if you’ve read the entirety of someone’s blogging, it’s probably worth buying their book for any tidbits that aren’t on their site.
Jacob was one of the trailblazers of a new form of early retirement. Charles Long, Joe Dominguez, and Dolly Freed all proceeded him, but Jacob was one of the first examples of an analytical approach to early retirement which incorporated a more mathematical perspective. The current “thought leader” in this space is Mr. Money Mustache, who Jacob anointed as his heir apparently when wrapping up his ERE blog. Mr. Money Mustache has his own review of this book.
While Nelson finds the math connecting savings rate with time to retirement tedious. I first encountered this at ERE and found it an interesting and useful perspective, but perhaps it’s played out. I went through this with my wife and, at a later date, one of her co-workers and both found it interesting and useful.
Nelson is irritated by the book’s continual reiteration about using less specialized tools instead of more specialized tools with egg boilers being the penultimate example of what Jacob loathes. I found this an interesting idea, that I’ve discussed with people a number of times since reading the book, so I clearly wasn’t as bothered by it.
Nelson hit the nail on the head that the “investing” part of this book is basically non-existent. Jacob makes some bold claims about possible investment returns. If accurate, his investing approach would disprove the current thinking in economics that, net of cost, no one can consistently beat the market average. Given that Jacob doesn’t provide any details or evidence, my feeling is that these claims show a blind spot in Jacob’s thinking.
As Nelson details, there’s quite a bit of this book that seems to expect readers to live the way Jacob does. For example, when he grudgingly eats at a restaurant, he orders a burger because it saves him mental energy trying to understand the menu and know what to expect. Is this an important idea to adopt in order to retire early? I don’t think so. I’ve had friends make similar complaints about recent editions of Your Money or Your Life. I’m about as open-minded as it’s possible to be and wasn’t bothered by this in either book, but I can understand how it would turn off readers.
The thing that bothered me the most about the book was just how definite and concrete Jacob was about EVERYTHING. There was never any uncertainty, nothing is ever relative, and there are no shades of grey. One of the dichotomies in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is perceiving vs. judging. Jacob is clearly a strong judge and I’m a strong perceiver, so I just chalked up being irritated by this to this difference. Nelson characterized this as Jacob being “kind of a dick”, which was my impression as well.
Jacob has a very academic style of writing, with extensive citations. This is great when pointing to traditional sources. He doesn’t provide as many citations to other blogs where I imagine he developed some of these ideas. There were a couple of places where things he wrote strongly reminded me of things I’d written on my old blog, which he used to frequent.
I think, despite some problems, there’s a lot of worthwhile stuff in this book. If you’re at all interested in FIRE (financial independence and early retirement), I think you owe it to yourself to digest this book and try to tease out any ideas that you may not already be familiar with.
I was irritated by elements of the book, as Nelson was, so be prepared for that if you decide to read it.