Buying a Lifestyle

I’ve been trying to unplug more this week at the beach. So instead of curling up in bed and watching Netflix for an hour before bed, I headed out for a walk down the beach. On the Washington coast the dense forest pushes right up against the ocean. There was nice path through the towering trees that comes to a bench overlooking the water. I sat and read for about an hour as the sun started to set. I was in awe of the beauty and magic of this place.

rv camping in early retirement

And a crazy thought came into my mind. It’s Sunday night! I’ve worked a lot of jobs over the years. At some point, in all of those jobs, a creeping sense of dread seeped into Sunday night. A sinking feeling. A mix of anxiety, stress and overwhelm.

But here I was, in the most beautiful setting, reading this amazing book, SO excited about wanting to “get to work” on all the things I was reading. I marveled at how much had changed over the last 18 month since we left our 9-5 jobs.

pop up camper early retirement

After I got back to our pop up camper, Mr. Montana and I sat outside on the picnic table and watched the last of the sunset over the water. I thought, “I couldn’t imagine being more happy than I am right now.”

Our camping neighbor has a 5th wheel, which, if purchased used, would cost about $65,000. Our pop-up was $4,000.

Nice things are nice. They are convenient and comfortable. But nice things can’t give you something you don’t already posses.

Purchases can only enhance what is already there.

Marketing would like us to believe we can buy the whole package. The stillness, the joy, the happiness in our hearts, a close knit family, a fulfilling marriage, an exciting idea, time away to reflect and dream, work and hobbies that give purpose but, no. You really are only buying an expensive camper, all those essential things, are not included.

And we want to believe it because buying stuff is simply easier. And faster.

It takes time, commitment and LOTS of effort to have those other things.

You can’t call it in.

Being available and attentive to our kids to develop a close, meaningful connection.
A deep, fulfilling marriage.
Moving towards the work you feel most called to do and witnessing the impact it’s making.
Contentment, joy, purpose.
A lifestyle that meets your basic needs while respecting your bigger goals.

There are no short cuts. And you can’t put in on a credit card.

Marketing is trying to sell us a lifestyle.

Buy a great soaking tub, and you will have the time to soak in a hot bubble bath and read books in the evening. 

Renovate your kitchen with a big island, and there will be big dinner parties with everyone gathered in the kitchen, sipping wine and eating good cheese. 

Buy a home with a sun room, and you will finally be able to read the Sunday paper, and drink coffee and have great conversations with your partner. 

But all you get is a bigger tub, shiner kitchen and extra room in your house.


Want to hear something really depressing? You do? Oh, good.

Becoming financially independent, only gets you financial independence.

Bummer, right?

The bigger things, the more important things can’t be paid for. And you can’t call them in.

Just like material purchases,

financial freedom only enhances what you already posses. 



But you can start now. They take time, intention, focus and effort, but not a lot of money.

Financial Independence makes life bigger. Whatever you already posses, you get more of that. Which is great, if we have cultivated a rich and meaningful life. But that takes time and intention.

Health, gratitude, meaningful connections with partners, kids, family and friends, hobbies that provide flow, work that creates impact, and joy.

If you have those, a little financial freedom will go a long way. Even in a pop-up camper.


For conversation:

Have you spent time on the Washington or Oregon coast? I don’t know if it’s the towering cedar trees or salty breeze, but it soothes the soul.

Have you know folks who figure out the money piece but not the bigger the life stuff?

Any thoughts on buying an item verses trying to buy the lifestyle promise that marketers sell?

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44 thoughts on “Buying a Lifestyle

  1. This post is spot on. When I was first introduced to FI, I thought it was all about sitting on a beach, traveling the world, or “quitting life”. Far from it! It is about the freedom to take full advantage of the passions and gifts we have. But as you so aptly describe, this doesn’t just come naturally, we need to foster the lifestyle we long for, the activities we love, the habits we want, and the passions we want to pursue.

    It is amazing how many times I see something and think “if I had X, Y and Z would naturally follow!” (If I have that yoga mat, a daily practice will just appear, right???). And I’ll admit I’ve fallen in this trap before (why do I still have that kitchen spiralizer that I have used once…?). I now try to find myself in several situations where I could actually use an item before buying it so that I can confirm it is more on the need vs want side of the spectrum.

    Thank you for the great post!

    • If a yoga mat would give me a daily practice, I would buy 20. =) But that is a great example! A nice thing can make what we already possess better, easier, or more convenient. But that’s it. We have to already possess it. For people who hate most things about their life, FI will just makes life bigger. Whatever you have, you get more of that. Which is great, if we have cultivated a rich and meaningful life. But that takes time and intention. Thanks for the great comment!

  2. Marketing is trying to sell things that people don’t need. Marketing is trying to make people believe that people NEED or HAVE TO have this product.

    I’ve caught myself many-many times thinking “Hey, if I buy this new awesome and expensive laptop, I would be able to write more, code more and so on” But at some point of my life it hit me, this simple phrase

    “If you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.”

    I don’t need stuff to make my lifestyle better. Or even worse, I don’t need stuff to set my lifestyle. I can chose my lifestyle without being told what I need to/have to buy.

    Family, kids, friends, freedom – no marketers or stuff can give your that, but you.

  3. It’s so true how marketing would like to sell you happiness with a lifestyle. I think everyone should do a moratorium once in a while from TV, magazines, FaceBook, and any place that is trying to sell a lifestyle with products. Then see how much more peaceful you feel with what you already have. How blessed you are to be experiencing life to the fullest right now!

    Isn’t the “Sunday Night Bliss Club” amazing?

    • “Sunday Night Bliss Club”! Ah, love it! The other thing that has been great is not feeling stressed on vacation, not worrying about work piling up, or a full inbox. Actually really happy here, and really happy at the idea of getting back home and digging into a big reno. Just like the Sunday night stress, I use to get end of vacation stress. Like, “Why do we have to go back?” And being so overwhelmed by what was waiting for me back home. To be happy here, resting, and happy there in a project is such a gift.

  4. We’ve spent a little time in Northern California and Seattle, but hope to spend a lot more time along the stretch in between in the coming years.

    Marketing is all about convincing us we want to buy things we don’t need. The less you expose yourself to media, the less you can be affected by it. Unfortunately, it’s everywhere (including my site!).


    • I’m not really against buying things. I might even buy a $65,000 camper one day. =) But sometimes we just hope that we can get the whole lifestyle by spending some cash. And it’s just not the case. Unless you really love and enjoy the people you are camping/rving with, a nice camper can’t give you that. Actually it would make it painfully apparent how unfulfilling your relationships really are, and very quickly.

  5. Marketers are very good at their job. It seems like we live in a culture where people always assume the lifestyle comes with the product. We get all kinds of advertising for epic vacations, but my favorite place to be is in the mountains in New Hampshire. Far cheaper than anything that would be advertised, but also far more attuned with nature and removed from daily stress.

    • Ah, the lifestyle always comes with the product. If only it were that easy. =) If I could just buy nicer counter tops and dinner parties would magically happen, I’m sold! It takes time to build those friendships, carve out margin in your schedule, put time and effort into entertaining, ect. And the truth of the matter is if it never happened before, it won’t happen after. Before might have been hot dogs on the BBQ, so a better kitchen makes it easier and nicer. But there again, it only add to what we already have. =)

  6. Marketers are great at doing their jobs! I used to get sucked into buying the lifestyle! Then one day it occurred to me – they are doing their JOB! Their job does not take into account my finances, if I have money in savings or if I”m living paycheck to paycheck. I’m pretty sure that when the bill comes do for a purchase that I thought would promise a better lifestyle – that the advertising execs won’t be there to pay my bill for me. 🙂

    I love the evening you described having before bed that night – the walk, the reading, the excitement to get things done that you’re reading about!

    • Your post about shortcuts reminds me of when I heard about an actress (I wanna say Demi Moore?) shooting a film in a remote location who was so committed to working out that if she had a 5 AM call time, she’d get up at 3 AM to get her workout in and a run before reporting to the set. I remember thinking, “Wow. No amount of trainers advising her will do the workout for her. She chooses to do the workout and work hard at it. That strong body she has is a result of hard work!” It taught me that no one can do the work for me – no one can transfer some of my paycheck to savings for me or make me choose to not buy the small things so I have money later on for what really matters!

      • That is a great point! Good equipment, tools or knowledge is really helpful (and I fully support spending money on that kind of stuff) but at the end of the day you have to show up and do the work. Buying a treadmill does not a runners body make. =) It’s kind of like when I mentor people with their money or blog writing, it’s helpful and might feel life changing, but that is only if they show up and do the work. But I’m also a bit strict about it. If they don’t actually want to do the work, and expect some magic to happen just because they spent money, well, we have a different conversation. I don’t want to waste their time and sure as heck aren’t willing to waste mine. =)

  7. With this quotes, I am afraid you are spot on!
    — Becoming financially independent, only gets you financial independence.
    –The bigger things, the more important things can’t be paid for. And you can’t call them in.

    The longer I am on my way to FI, the more I realise that money is not the only deciding factor. It is an enabler. And the good news: it can enable a lot of things early on… slowly, I start to shift my attitude to finding pleasure in the little things.

    The blessing of just enjoying the evening and the view should not be limited to Sundays only. Why not enjoy it every day. When you can be stress free and you have an impact, than it is always nice to look forward to that.

    Enjoy the holiday, be it one week or one year!

    • You are right that money is one piece of the pie. I think that is why statistically, most people become depressed after retiring. They figured out the money, but not the other important things in life. Bu the more we practice those other things, before or after FI, the happier we become. Then when our schedule and life opens up, the good stuff just has more room. =)

  8. “Becoming financially independent, only gets you financial independence.” This is spot on! It’s so important to remember this. Being involved in the personal finance community, we read a ton about FI and almost everyone has it as “the goal” (including me). But, we aren’t going to magically be more happy, healthy, grateful, or connected to others when we hit FI (though you’re right, it could be enhanced!). It’s a fine balance and it’s important to remember what’s most important in our lives each and every day.

    Looks like an amazing camping trip! Have a wonderful time! 🙂

    • I think by leaving the 9-5, it gives space for the rest of our life to finally expand. Which is awesome, if our life outside of the 9-5 is awesome. I think that is why people actually fear leaving their job. It’s the only source of joy, fulfillment and meaning they have. And the most functional relationships. If life outside of the 9-5 is kind of crappy, that only gets bigger without a job there to fill the gap. Buying an awesome camper isn’t going to be the magic ticket if you don’t have those other necessary things in place already. But with enough time and effort people can square away the important stuff as they figure out the dollars and cents. =)

  9. Loved this post! Excellent article. Sometimes it’s hard to see past all the marketing campaigns and beautiful people wearing expenses clothes and driving nice cars. Once I figured out that money can’t buy me something that’ll make me happy, the happier I became!

    • Yup! Nice stuff is a great supplement but you have to already own the happiness. (Or be willing to put in the work for the happiness!) For example, I really like marriage retreats, but just buying the ticket doesn’t create a strong, vibrant relationship. You gotta show up and do the work. =)

  10. This so great. First, that you blog on vacation. (I have one coming up and am uncertain how to handle it.) Second, the PHOTOS! Wow. Great! But mostly, I whole-heartedly agree. I’m new to the personal finance community but I worry how determined and laser-point focused some are about FIRE (new acronym to me) or just the FI bit. My take is aligns with your holistic view. I’m still in a lot of debt but I’m a million times happier than I was a year ago. My financial situation has improved, yes, but that’s not why I’m happier. Anyway, thanks for this. It’s very reinforcing to me.

    • I have a new litmus test for any “work” I take on. I have to be passionate enough about it, love it enough and believe in it enough that I WANT to do it on vacation. All the stuff on my plate right now, I love that much. I normally “work” 3 hours a day, but scaled it back to 2 hours a day for the trip. It’s a great mix honestly. Mr. Montana takes the kids on a little adventure each day and I get to write, or do a mentoring call. In some weird way, my work is also my “me time”. I actually want to tackle even more work while I’m here just because it’s so beautiful and inspiring! A day with 10 hour of being fully engaged and present with my kids, 2 hours of writing and mentoring, and 2 hours of walking/thinking/reading is just about perfect!

  11. I’m so glad you and your family are enjoying your vacation. The PNW has some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (though I think AZ and Utah are right up there too).

    We try to rent or borrow the most basic level of equipment we need to participate in the actions to which we aspire. Some of those actions stick and we end up purchasing our own gear, and some don’t. When they don’t stick, we’re so glad that we don’t have piles of expensive debris to drag us down as we move on to new goals.

    • Renting gear is such a good idea! We do the same for tools. I didn’t want to buy a wet saw for cutting tile before I actually tried setting tile. That might have been a one time event. =)

  12. Love your photos, especially the smiles!

    Mr. G and I love the OR coast and have had some wonderful soul-soothing experiences there. Some favorite places: Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout, Indian Beach at Ecola State Park, Beverly Beach and Oceanside. The combination of huge trees, impressive rock formations, and peaceful stretches of near-empty beach is truly magical.

    So great that you and the family got to spend some vacation time on the NW coast! If you ever end up in the Portland area let me know!

    • Yes, I totally will. I usually give a heads up in our weekly email if we are on the road so we can meet up with folks. We are thinking about a big west coast trip for next summer. Or August if we can get our poo in a pile with this upcoming reno. =)

      • This August? Will definitely keep an eye on your emails. Would be great to meet you in person.
        If all goes according to plan, we’ll be starting our big bike tour next June and will probably be going through MT late summer/early fall.
        So if we don’t connect this summer, maybe we’ll see you in your neighborhood next year.
        Good luck with the reno and associated poo. :o)

  13. I love Washington and Oregon! We loved finding all the little hidden towns with their awesome festivals. Everything is kind of damp and magical, like you’ll turn a corner and find fairies 🙂 Have you been clam digging? That’s really fun and I bet the kids would get a kick out of it especially if they like seafood!
    I can say that I don’t know many people in real life who have the money part figured out. Parents seem to be struggling still and I suspect my husband and I are in better shape than some. We mostly keep quiet, particularly to siblings and cousins.

    • There is some sort of magic between the mossy towering forest and rocky intense coastline. I LOVE it. =) And it’s weird to talk about money in real life. =/ I love talking money, but honestly don’t do it much with family. There is too much shame, guilt, or other big feelings all mixed together for most people. Thank goodness for blogs! =)

  14. Jillian, we LOVE the Pacific NW coast, and spent one vacation going from Seattle down to Oregon on the coast. Great memories. We’ll repeat it again after we FIRE, at a slower pace (sorry, we may have one of those 5th wheels….but we respect those in pop-ups!). Love your stuff. Curious, what book were you reading on the beach??

    • Oh, I have nothing against nice campers! Shoot, one day we might buy one and RV full time. =) Just with the realization that we bring every good thing that matters with us already with or without the camper. =) And the book, it’s GOOD. You were quick on the draw last time with my book recommendation. So this time I’m getting your address BEFORE telling you the title. =) You will not out, Amazon Prime me Fritz. =)

  15. We live in wine country in Northern California and my plan is to take my family (son, wife and dog) all up and down this cost. I want to buy a pop up camper (16 footer) so I can get into any camp site.

    Marketing is brutal and once you are awoken to it, it is like Neo in the Matrix…all of a sudden everything seems fake. Luckily I am not longer influenced by the marketers. Enjoy your trip!

    • I love our pop up. Plus we can pull it with our mini van. It’s a bit bigger when pulled out with a king sized bed on each side and the dinning table slides out. But we are trying to fit 7 people and a dog. 🙂 I am thinking about doing a big west coast trip next summer. Maybe we can find a camping meeting spot?!

  16. I live on the “Eastside” of Seattle, specifically Issaquah, which got its start as a rough and tumble 19th century mining town. In fact, I live in the newer, fancier “New Urbanism” section of the city built right on top of the old mines. Our community spans the western slope of a plateau and for that most of us enjoy breathtaking sunsets over the Olympic range, at least during the dry summer months! Those with deeper pockets will see not just the Olympic range, but the skyline of Seattle (including the Space Needle!), Bellevue and Lake Washington. The Eastern side of my condo, which faces the steep slope nonetheless also has its enduring qualities… we have bunnies, hummingbirds (year round), robins, varied thrush, chipmunks, deer and bobcats. Bears will wander in from time to time as well. Though the New Urbanist designers crafted elaborately adorned walking paths within the neighborhood we also have trailheads that branch off into the old growth forest, full of sword ferns and streams, hemlocks, alders and cedar. Life fills every nook and cranny. Covers every surface. When the hostilities of humanity overwhelm, you know you only need to go as far as the corner and disappear into the trees.

    The first time we came upon the community we literally shed tears. It was everything we could have hoped for in a place to work and raise our children. We have never taken it for granted… but many around us seem to. The one truly disappointing feature about our neighborhood is the relentless and offending conspicuous consumption of the affluent. Luxury cars, luxury remodels, luxury clothing, luxury habits..

    I am very different than my neighbors. They have a Range Rover and a BMW convertible. I have a 7 year old Ford Fiesta and an electric bike. They have house cleaners and dog walkers. I am a dog walker. They have two or three gym memberships. I practice yoga in my closet. They have weekly date nights and girls nights. I use budget bytes and prepare all our meals at home. They have mortgages on 2nd homes on the islands. I am mortgage free. They are spend an annual $100k on their lifestyle. I am saving $100k.

    Isolation in paradise.

    I don’t have a single friend and I’ve been here for six years.

    You might be tempted to believe I’ve got issues (we all have issues), but I made many friends, and quickly, as we breezed our way through several midwestern college towns. It’s not me, it’s them! 🙂

    Oddly, it’s kind of okay and it’s more a curiosity than a concern. When you are so in love as I am.. with nature.. you just want to spend time with your lover.

    I go hug trees.

    • That sounds like a great spot! It’s great when you can find high paying jobs and nature close together. We love the Flathead valley in Montana but jobs that pay over 100k are rare! Thanks for the comment!

  17. I just found your blog and been going through the archives high-fiving you with a resounding yes! There’s such support and inspiration from the PF community that I do not get from my immediate circle of family, friends, and neighborhood. Thank you for all you’ve written, and the comments that provide extra insight. It has me pondering about starting my own blog to chronicle my beginning into FI.
    I’m at the very beginning of my journey into straightening out my finances and possessions, and its overwhelming! I’m starting with my closet which in itself is a varied collection of promised lifestyles. I realized I have more outfits for my ‘ideal self’ (who’s impeccably dressed down to make-up and jewelry), than the ‘actual self’ (who wears the few same active wear pieces… 5%of my wardrobe). Take for example high heel shoes; Perhaps it’s years of gender conditioning and marketing that has me thinking that it’s feminine to be able to gracefully glide in high heels (I personally know a few women that can be in them all day long!); perhaps it’s that my hubby has mentioned early in our relationship that high heels are ‘so attractive’ …that comment stayed with me for decades).
    Reality check – I am crippled in high heels! Having a bunion on my foot, if i spend even 30 min in high heels, I can’t walk straight and limp for a few days. Yet I keep a few pair of high heels in my closet. Why? Because giving them up seems like I’m giving up on the promise of the sexual appeal of high heels, of the lifestyle of being the type of dressed up and put together woman that has important places to go and exciting things to do. Giving up most of my dress up clothes and shoes seems like I’m giving up on my ‘best self’ image. Like I’m not living up to this potential that society sets up for us with images of women that can, and thus are doing it right and have their life ‘balanced.’
    Cleaning out a closet is more than just getting rid of stuff… it’s proving to be an exercise in redefining my identity, current role in my life, admitting to bad purchase decisions, and letting go of and in some instances mourning my past roles. This goes so deep psychologically, even existentially I dare say. And the sexy high heel shoes still sit on my closet floor with a glint of promise reflecting off their gold studs.

    • Thanks! I love the blog high fives. =) I did a post last Spring about our efforts to become more minimalist and all the metal challenges I ran into. So much of what you are going through with the clothes. =) There were some things SO hard to give up. Old ideas of who we thought we would become, or who we used to be. Old dreams that just don’t fit right now, or maybe ever. But I gotta say, getting rid of that stuff was so FREEING. It really felt like the emotional baggage left with the stuff.

  18. Yep, yep yep. FIRE can make you happier. It can’t make you happy. FIRE is a multiplier, and multiplying anything by zero still results in a big fat, sad, lonely zero.

  19. I agree wholeheartedly with your philosophy. Especially about target advertising. They want you to believe that by getting into debt with them, that your lifestyle will magically be improved. Not so! What good is having a new soaking tub you are driven into the loony bin worrying about where the next payment will come from? Your pop-up camper sounds lovely, especially if you are by a private beach where you can read for an hour!

    • The beach there was amazing. So quite and beautiful. Even though the campground was full, there was rarely more than 1 or 2 other groups on a mile+ stretch of beach.

  20. We road tripped to Cannon Beach, Oregon last summer and it was amazing. I love that part of the country – the trees are incredible and everything just feels so lush and full of life.

    They always say that money only amplifies your strongest qualities (the good and the bad) – you’re absolutely right that financial independence isn’t going to suddenly give you this magical life if you haven’t set a good baseline first. That’s part of why we’ve shifted our focus this year on living with more intention in the here and now and pursuing financial freedom as a longer-term goal.

    • I think what you guys are doing is incredible! Creating that baseline is SO important, because then you have something to build on. I think it’s easy to see financial freedom as an all or nothing proposal. But it’s a sliding scale. And sometimes just having more financial freedom makes all the difference. Enough to create more time, more options, a more flexible schedule. Then being able to pick the work that you really enjoy and fits the rest of your life.