Thrashing the Early Retirement Threshold

I’ve start­ing lis­ten­ing to a lot more pod­casts and audio books now that I’m dri­ving 5+ hours to see my boyfriend. It’s more pro­duc­tive and just about as enter­tain­ing as doing car-eoke. (But way eas­i­er on my voice!)

These pod­casts and audio books aren’t just for enter­tain­ment, though. I want­ed to put the time to good use. So far, I’ve lis­tened to a book on start­ing side hus­tles while employed full-time, and The Revi­sion­ist His­to­ry pod­cast by Mal­colm Glad­well. It’s a fan­tas­tic pod­cast but Episode 3 “The Big Man Can’t Shoot” real­ly stood out to me.

If you go lis­ten to it, it’s about one of the best play­ers in the NBA.…. who was TERRIBLE at shoot­ing free throws.

You ask your­self: “Gwen, why do I care about an NBA bas­ket­ball play­er and why are we talk­ing about him on a blog ded­i­cat­ed to Finan­cial Inde­pen­dence?”

I’m glad you asked!

Glad­well talks about Chamberlain’s best game ever, the one in 1962 where he scored 100 points in a sin­gle, mul­ti-record break­ing game. This game is notable for many rea­sons, but the one I’m inter­est­ed in (and fits in with this arti­cle) is he set the record for num­ber of free throws made, which is incred­i­ble because he was wide­ly regard­ed as a bad free throw shoot­er. So how did a guy who sucks at mak­ing free throws set the record?

He changed the way he threw. He went from the typ­i­cal free throw posi­tion to the under­hand­ed granny shot. So if you know incred­i­bly lit­tle about the NBA like me, you might assume he went on to set the num­ber of free throws made- a record that still stands today.

Well, you’d be wrong. After that game, he went back to the oth­er method and con­tin­ued to suck at free throws.

Why’d he change and throw away the chance to break tons of records? Because peo­ple made fun of him for throw­ing granny style and he thought he looked ridicu­lous.

In fact, it’s so ridicu­lous that only one oth­er NBA play­er has ever thrown that way. Since 1962!! His name? John Cena. Ha! Gotcha. It’s actu­al­ly a guy named Rick Bar­ry. He end­ed his career with a .900 free throw shots made aver­age! That’s insane!

So obvi­ous­ly, it’s a great method that no one uses despite it pro­duc­ing fan­tas­tic results.

Does that sound famil­iar?

Finan­cial inde­pen­dence and retir­ing ear­ly are also things that pro­duce fan­tas­tic results but very few peo­ple work towards them.

Why is that?

Because it goes against the col­lec­tive behav­ior of soci­ety.

It goes against the what?”

There’s this guy, a soci­ol­o­gist named Mark Gra­novet­ter, who wrote a whole paper, “Thresh­old Mod­el of Col­lec­tive Behav­iour”, on why peo­ple do or don’t do things. Going back to the Mal­colm Gladwell’s pod­cast, he says:

Now, what does Gra­novet­ter mean by that word, “thresh­old”? A belief is an inter­nal thing. It’s a posi­tion we’ve tak­en in our head or in our heart. But unlike beliefs, thresh­olds are exter­nal. They’re about peer pres­sure. Your thresh­old is the num­ber of peo­ple who have to do some­thing before you join in. Gra­novet­ter makes two cru­cial argu­ments. The first is that thresh­olds and beliefs some­times over­lap. But a lot of the time, they don’t. When your teenage son is dri­ving 100 miles an hour at mid­night with three of his friends in your Toy­ota Cam­ry, it’s not because he believes that dri­ving 100 miles per hour is a good idea. In that moment, his beliefs are irrel­e­vant. His behav­iour is guid­ed by his thresh­old.”

You can have a high thresh­old, or a low thresh­old. Some­one with a low thresh­old is like­ly to keep the sta­tus quo of soci­ety. They’re prob­a­bly not going to change.

Some­one with a high thresh­old is going to do their own thing, hang what soci­ety thinks. They will be the ones to incite change. They are the first domi­no.

The first domi­no doesn’t have any pres­sure against it to fall over. No oth­er domi­no makes it fall over. It does need some­thing to push it over, but our intre­pid domi­no does that of it’s own accord.

The FIRE world is rife with exam­ples of peo­ple lead­ing the way to ear­ly retire­ment. Vic­ki Robins, Jacob Lund Fisker, JD Roth, Mr. Mon­ey Mus­tache, JL Collins, the Mad Fien­tist and more are some of the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Each one of these first domi­noes forged a path for oth­ers to fol­low. They had high thresh­olds, and by shar­ing their meth­ods got the rest of us to raise our thresh­olds and join them.

I orig­i­nal­ly got into the FIRE com­mu­ni­ty by read­ing Mr. Mon­ey Mustache’s blog. I would’ve dis­missed ear­ly retire­ment as impos­si­ble or only for the über wealthy, but here he was doing it! My thresh­old was raised after I saw him doing it.

Anoth­er exam­ple would be Paula at Afford Any­thing. She has a high thresh­old for real estate. By writ­ing about it and talk­ing to me dur­ing the first Chau­tauqua I attend­ed, she con­vinced me to invest in real estate. She raised my thresh­old. I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have got­ten into rental real estate invest­ing with­out her encour­age­ment and sup­port.

I was able raise someone’s thresh­old on attend­ing a meet­up. She saw me doing it and decid­ed to go, where with­out me she prob­a­bly would’ve tak­en a lot longer to go.

All the rest of us in the FIRE world are encour­ag­ing oth­ers to raise their thresh­old and con­sid­er ear­ly retire­ment. The more of us that write and talk about it, the more it becomes main­stream and makes it seem less ‘crazy’. It’s easy to dis­miss ear­ly retire­ment as a fan­ta­sy until you actu­al­ly see peo­ple doing it.

Of course, whether peo­ple are con­vinced of your method depends on a num­ber of social fac­tors. I am very influ­en­tial to peo­ple younger than me because I have time and expe­ri­ence on them. When I talk about ear­ly retire­ment to peo­ple old­er than me the recep­tion is decid­ed­ly less pos­i­tive. I ran out of fin­gers a long time ago to count the num­ber of peo­ple who pat me on the head and go, “that’s a nice dream dear, but wait until you expe­ri­ence some life and then it won’t be so pos­si­ble.” Peo­ple are also much more like­ly to be recep­tive to my mes­sage if they like me as a per­son. That’s why Rick Bar­ry didn’t con­vince any­one to throw granny style. Peo­ple didn’t like him, so of course they’re not going to lis­ten to what he had to say. That’s also why I was unable to sway my grumpy cowork­er as she straight up didn’t like me.

This doesn’t apply to just ear­ly retire­ment and free throw shoot­ing. Nope. It’s all over the place once you start to look for it.

Going for the 4th down in NFL games.
Women vot­ing.
Legal­iz­ing med­ical and recre­ation­al mar­i­jua­na.

The FIRE com­mu­ni­ty needs as many peo­ple talk­ing about it as pos­si­ble. You may nev­er know some­one is think­ing about doing it if you don’t speak up and talk to oth­ers about it. I have a feel­ing we only need a few more domi­noes to make this lifestyle spread to the mass­es!

Speak­ing of talk­ing to oth­er peo­ple about FIRE, my friend J and I start­ed a pod­cast all about Finan­cial Inde­pen­dence. We have a vari­ety of guests on to talk about their side hus­tles and dif­fer­ent paths to FIRE. Give us a lis­ten!

How has your FIRE evan­ge­lism gone? Any par­tic­u­lar­ly great hor­ror or suc­cess sto­ries? Sound off in the com­ments below! 


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52 thoughts on “Thrashing the Early Retirement Threshold

  1. I’ve actu­al­ly had some good suc­cess in evan­ge­liz­ing FIRE.

    Most of my co-work­ers know about my plans and I’ve earned the rep­u­ta­tion as the go-to per­son for any­thing mon­ey relat­ed (tax­es, retire­ment accounts, invest­ing, cred­it cards / trav­el hack­ing, gen­er­al fru­gal­i­ty, etc.).

    The ones I talk to most are com­ing around to pur­su­ing FIRE itself. They are start­ing to max out their 401ks and IRAs and are start­ing to real­ize the ben­e­fits of an increased sav­ings rate and invest­ment seed mon­ey. I can only hope that they don’t get too dis­cour­aged when the inevitable mar­ket decline final­ly comes (not say­ing one is immi­nent, but his­tor­i­cal­ly speak­ing we are over­due!).

  2. Gwen, great anal­o­gy, and true. For­tu­nate­ly, those of us in the FIRE Com­mu­ni­ty don’t care quite as much about what oth­er peo­ple think, and are com­fort­able shoot­ing under­hand as long as we score those points. FIRE does seem to be a grow­ing trend, and it’s reward­ing to be on the lead­ing edge.

    • I think this is the first time I’ve been on the lead­ing edge of any­thing! I am lov­ing it! Thanks for com­ment­ing, Fritz!

  3. I ran out of fin­gers a long time ago to count the num­ber of peo­ple who pat me on the head ”
    This just means you need to start count­ing in bina­ry. You can count up to 1023 with your two hands =)

    I used to talk about this stuff a lot more, but it just made my life a lot sim­pler when I stopped for a while. Like you said too many peo­ple just brush this off as impos­si­ble.

    I do talk about it some­times these days, but I am far more selec­tive in who I talk to.

    • I once evan­ge­lized an entire flight to the guy seat­ed next to me. (It was only a 3 hour flight.) He seemed inter­est­ed and I just so hap­pened to have an extra copy of JL Collins’ book with me to give to him! Hope­ful­ly I made a dif­fer­ence there.

    • I think you can only get to 511 (you need a 20 fin­ger so the tenth fin­ger only gets you up to 29).

      Regard­less, if any­one wants to pat me on the head I’ll show ‘em 132 and walk away.

    • Oh yeah, we’re total­ly weirdos. Easy to for­get that fact when a vast major­i­ty of my social­iz­ing is done with those in the FIRE com­mu­ni­ty!

      Car-eoke is the best. Great enter­tain­ment on car rides!

    • Exact­ly. Most of us in FIRE com­mu­ni­ty suf­fer from “selec­tion bias”. We hang around too much in like-mind­ed web­sites and forums, so we need to occa­sion­al­ly remind our­selves this is NOT “nor­mal” as far as larg­er soci­ety is con­cerned. So, I fol­low a dip­stick approach to shar­ing my knowl­edge on achiev­ing FI – I tai­lor the advice to the “dip­stick” lev­el of peo­ple I talk to.
      Ten Fac­to­r­i­al Rocks recent­ly post­ed…Four Real Estate Invest­ment Strate­gies for New InvestorsMy Profile

  4. Granny free throws are awe­some. My dad showed me that.

    As far as evan­ge­lism… I’ve spread the word and got a few folks on the train. And actu­al­ly my new boss brought it up when dis­cussing with him.

    Inter­est­ing and fun

    • I used to do granny shots in fifth grade at recess lol. It’s been a long time since those days!

      I talked about it with my manager’s man­ag­er in a skip lev­el meet­ing. Super nice guy, and as it turns out, he’s doing it too! He turned into a fab­u­lous men­tor. I nev­er would’ve bond­ed with him like that had I not spo­ken up!

    • Tbh, that was the first I’d ever heard of him. I do not fol­low bas­ket­ball in the slight­est! Thanks for read­ing!

  5. I would have no prob­lem shoot­ing free throws under­hand­ed if I got paid as much an NBA player’s salary. He def­i­nite­ly should have stuck with it. He could have made it his “thing” instead of focus­ing on try­ing to look like a badass.

    I didn’t even con­sid­er ear­ly retire­ment until I heard that oth­er peo­ple had already done it. It real­ly does help to spread the word and try to con­vince peo­ple that it’s pos­si­ble.

    p.s. The John Cena men­tion remind­ed me of this clas­sic prank call:

  6. Haha- what a sto­ry!

    We have been selec­tive with our FIRE evan­ge­liza­tion, feel­ing out the top­ic and see­ing if peo­ple are inter­est­ed in talk­ing. There area a few instances where we have had great suc­cess, get­ting folks excit­ed and sug­gest­ing blogs, books and pod­casts to them. Those are always the fun con­ver­sa­tions 🙂
    Mrs. Adven­ture Rich recent­ly post­ed…Buzzing in our Ear­buds: Our Favorite Pod­casts- Part 2My Profile

    • Like Alice in Won­der­land going down the rab­bit hole! I’ve slow­ly con­vert­ed friends by just talk­ing about it all the time. One is pay­ing off stu­dent loans, one is stock­pil­ing retire­ment funds and the oth­er is work­ing on fol­low­ing a bud­get YNAB style. I’m so proud of them!

  7. I’ve met with mixed suc­cess in dis­cussing FIRE prin­ci­ples with folks. Most just don’t believe that it is pos­si­ble because it is so out­side the nor­mal under­stand­ing of what life should be. Some fear not hav­ing any­thing to do if they didn’t come to work, and a few think it is the coolest thing they’ve ever heard of and jump right on the train. It is a fas­ci­nat­ing peek into human nature.

    • RIght!? Some­times I guess how peo­ple are going to react. Some­times I guess right.… and oth­er times I’m flat out wrong. It’s a fun game to play!

  8. No FIRE evan­ge­lism yet. I tried, and every­one nod­ded and went back to doing it their way. 🙂 I might give it anoth­er shot once I am clos­er to FI/RE / already FIREd.

    Great con­nec­tion between the granny throws and rest of real life — so true! The worst part is that we prob­a­bly do some of it sub­con­scious­ly.

  9. When I’m dri­ving to & from work, I lis­ten to the Mad Fientist’s pod­casts. I like his style because he let’s his guest do most of the talk­ing. I’ve lis­tened to oth­er FIRE type of pod­casts and the host talks for the first 10 min­utes while the guest is qui­et (frus­trat­ing!). You asked about evan­ge­lism of FIRE? Well nobody in my world wants to live in real­i­ty. They all live pay­check to paycheck…spending on large hous­es, SUV, restau­rants etc.

    All the best,

  10. Love the thresh­old idea. I guess I’ve had a high thresh­old, since, like many oth­ers, I’m the only one that I’m aware of forg­ing this path to FI. It makes me won­der that when we reach this point, will peo­ple stop pat­ting us on the head and start tak­ing us seri­ous­ly?

  11. I have been read­ing about FIRE for almost a year and a half now and just recent­ly found your blog. I have to say thank you, because you are, with­out a doubt, low­er­ing the thresh­old for oth­er mil­len­ni­als (like me)!

    It’s only in the last month or so that I made the inten­tion­al deci­sion to work towards FIRE, and I have not real­ly shared the con­cepts with any­one besides my clos­est fam­i­ly and friends. Even among them I get some side­ways, “She’s def­i­nite­ly gone off the deep end,” glances. I hope that the fur­ther along I am on this jour­ney the more com­fort­able I will be with FIRE evan­ge­lism. Right now I just wish I would stum­ble upon some oth­er FIRE enthu­si­ast in “real” life so that I could geek out about FI with­out feel­ing judged.
    Kait recent­ly post­ed…The Aver­age Mil­len­ni­al and Col­lege CostsMy Profile

  12. It took some time, but I’ve not got­ten a lot bet­ter about evan­ge­liz­ing about FIRE IRL. At first I over­shared, was so enthu­si­as­tic, and told the same mes­sage to every friend/stranger. Now, peo­ple know me as being fru­gal by choice, so they’ll come to me for sav­ings advice. I think about their sit­u­a­tion (stu­dent loans, super spendy, age, and rough income) and direct them to an arti­cle that would apply to them specif­i­cal­ly. I always rec­om­mend low cost index funds regard­less of the per­son.

    My MIL actu­al­ly switched how she was direct­ing her 403b con­tri­bu­tions! She had them sit­ting 100% in CDs with a spec­i­fied 1% return. She knew I loved research­ing sav­ing and she now is in a Van­guard Tar­get Retire­ment Account.

  13. I think this is one of your best posts, Gwen. I love the tie-in from FI to the behav­ior thresh­old & the Wilt Chamberlin/Rick Bar­ry sto­ry! I heard that one on This Amer­i­can Life. I also liked the domi­no the­o­ry & video.

    I’ve had lit­tle impact on spread­ing the FI word IRL. I gave a per­son­al finance pre­sen­ta­tion to a cap­tive audi­ence (my stu­dents) where I laid out the basics. I think it may have res­onat­ed with some, but I still see a fair amount of sta­tus-quo behav­ior. I walk the walk for them — they see me mak­ing my own lunch, biking/walking to work, etc. Maybe the fire will light up.

    A big­ger issue is slow­ly con­vert­ing the spouse. Its clear she’s not inter­est­ed in her own FIRE yet, but at least we’ve got to a point were I can usu­al­ly talk about my goals. Slow process, but worth it.

  14. Well that explains a lot! I’ve always won­dered why peo­ple can come across a real­ly awe­some idea that speaks right to their ide­al life dreams and then they appear to go on with nor­mal life as though they nev­er even knew about it. I haven’t real­ly spo­ken about FIRE to any­one, but I did sug­gest a busi­ness idea to a friend that I thought we could explore togeth­er. It was a per­fect fit for our sit­u­a­tion and it’s as though we nev­er even had the con­ver­sa­tion. Very inter­est­ing. Thank you!

  15. Excel­lent post, Gwen. Any­more I find it a hard sell to con­vince oth­ers about FIRE. But I have seen a few behav­ior changes with a few friends.

    I suck at both free throw meth­ods. Some­thing to work on in my renais­sance man phase in 2.5 years…

  16. This is an amaz­ing post.

    I’ve got­ten noth­ing but pos­i­tive reviews from friends/relatives. Most­ly because I only talk about FIRE after finan­cials has already been broached as a sub­ject so I already know they are inter­est­ed in it as a sub­ject. My friends are pret­ty open mind­ed. I would say they are intel­li­gent and pick up ideas quick­ly so that prob­a­bly helps. That com­bi­na­tion plus explain­ing it as an option and just show­ing it is bet­ter for your life’s over­all expect­ed val­ue… most peo­ple real­ize life is eas­i­er with more mon­ey and if you frame it in a way that shows you have options, instead of using the word ‘retire­ment’ which most peo­ple asso­ciate with being old, helps a ton.

    • Yeah peo­ple are get­ting more impressed the fur­ther along I am in my jour­ney. It’s one thing to say I’m going to do it, and anoth­er thing entire­ly to say, look at what I’m doing!

  17. In my cul­ture, talk­ing about mon­ey is taboo. It’s a stu­pid taboo, but it is a taboo nonethe­less. I per­son­al­ly have no qualms but I can see peo­ple squirm when I talk mon­ey!

  18. Good piece, and I like the tie in with the Revi­sion­ist His­to­ry pod­cast.

    If you’ve got a lot of time behind the wheel and are look­ing for some oth­ers, here are some I’ve enjoyed that you may like:

    *99% Invis­i­ble
    *Plan­et Mon­ey

  19. I love that sto­ry about Cham­ber­lain, it just seems so sil­ly that he switched back. There’s quite a few play­ers that could ben­e­fit from this even today. Who’s going to make fun of you when you were shoot­ing 50% and go up to 75–80%? I would think your team­mates would be hap­py. Rick Barry’s son (Canyon) actu­al­ly broke the record for most con­sec­u­tive free throws in a row at Flori­da a year ago as well shoot­ing under­hand!

    I also high­ly rec­om­mend Plan­et Mon­ey if you’re look­ing for addi­tion­al pod­casts (with a 5 hour dri­ve I am sure you are).
    Debt Hater recent­ly post­ed…Net Worth Update – August 2017My Profile

  20. Hey girl!! Con­grats on get­ting Rock­star cred today. I am not sure how I missed this one but daaaaamn.… watch­ing those domi­noes fall was the best way to start my day. So reward­ing after all that hard work…hopefully as reward­ing as the feel­ing of FI we will soon get to. 😉 Also, have you read The Tip­ping Point?? You may like that one. I par­tic­u­lar­ly liked the dis­cus­sion on con­nec­tors. Check it out!
    Miss Mazu­ma recent­ly post­ed…Adven­tures in Land­lord­ing – The “Leak”My Profile

  21. This post is killer. I love it. So true. The move­ment is def­i­nite­ly pick­ing up steam! Have you seen the Google search results for finan­cial inde­pen­dence and ear­ly retire­ment search­es? They are explod­ing – I high­light them at the bot­tom of a recent post: There’s also a FIRE movie in the works! So crazy. It’s just start­ing to get more pop­u­lar and more peo­ple are writ­ing about it. I’m pro­ject­ing 2018 will be the year of FIRE. I’ve been writ­ing a ton for my book that comes out next year about the path I took over 5 years – hope­ful­ly, it will help more peo­ple “see it”! I’m also pro­fil­ing 15 oth­er peo­ple who did it before 35 as well. Thanks again for the awe­some post. I hope all is well Gwen.
    Grant @MillennialMoney recent­ly post­ed…How to Nego­ti­ate a Mini-Retire­ment My Profile

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