By Brad Beckstrom
You hear the word “lean” in business a lot. Writers talk about the lean startup. Optimal, minimal, hyper efficient strategies for getting a business to run like a well oiled machine. Big companies are in this game as well. Workers are asked to do more with less. In many cases, a lot more with a lot less. Fewer resources, fewer coworkers, “re-defined” compensation and benefit plans.
We tend to jump right in, even with a few of our own ideas to make things run just a little leaner. If we save enough money for the company, this could impact bonuses at the end of the year. We later realize that bonuses being impacted when lofty goals are missed is not always a good thing. I remember a recent car commercial, where an enlightened Mazda driver was now so confident in his epicness that he had no problem leaving his office at 5:15 PM. His co-workers stared in shock as he’s confidently strolled out the door, flipping his jacket over his shoulder. Coworkers wonder, what’s his secret? Apparently his new Mazda has made him confident enough to leave work on time. Actually, he may be headed to a second job to pay for it all. Maybe he just wants to get a jump on his one-hour commute. In the ad we’re not privy to that part of the story.
The Living Lean Philosophy
Let’s put a positive spin on this. Maybe this guy knows about living lean. Possibly he had come across studies that show the peak of productivity comes in at just under 40 hours a week. Maybe he just convinced his boss that he should ditch the commute altogether, save the company some money and get more done working from home, especially once you add in the time he’ll save not commuting. With this extra time, an entire new world of possibilities will open up to him.
If he’s smart, he will spend that newfound freedom, that extra time, exploring a living lean philosophy versus just putting in some extra work.
What is living lean?
Many of us are quite good at coming up with efficient ways to work but when it comes to our personal life we struggle a bit with this lean philosophy. Many Americans spend beyond their means, work too many hours, neglect their personal life and health, chasing a dream that they did not define. At some point the lucky ones realize this. They dive into self-help books, seminars, they want to fix this problem. This problem of being overextended, overtaxed, overworked, and exhausted. They often find there’s no quick fix and if there was, just too little time to make it happen.
It’s time to start applying a lean startup philosophy to our personal lives. If you think about it, it comes down to living the best life with the resources we are given. Living lean does not mean living less of a life, in fact it means living a different life, a more fulfilling one.
My living lean journey began in 1993 shortly after reading the book “ Your Money or Your life”. I made a commitment to saving and investing with the goal of achieving financial independence.
To me, financial independence has nothing to do with early retirement or even retirement at all. Financial independence simply means you have the resources to stop working to chase another man’s dream and begin building your own. Who is this “other” man or other woman? That could be anyone, it could be the major shareholders of the corporation you work for or it could be the owner of the small business you work for. Their dream, not yours.
Jobs and careers can be fulfilling but it’s never too early to begin planning this third phase of your existence. Hint: The third phase of life is not retirement, its enlightenment. It’s time to look at your current job as just part of your path to get there. The first step in this process is putting some serious motivation in place. Ask yourself the question what would you really love to do, something that you love so much it wouldn’t matter if you were paid to do it or not. The next step is to figure out how to go and do that versus waiting til you retire.
Start thinking of yourself as your own lean startup.
I started this blog to share my ideas on how to do this. So, if you’re new here or just getting started on your own plan, here are the steps I took with links to more reading on each one. These posts not only cover why to live lean but also examples on how I did it, including important books that got me there.
- Think long. Understand that regardless of your age you can begin this journey. Start by defining what it will look like, when it will start and what it will take to get there. For some motivation take a look at this post on why most people misunderstand life.
- Find your “why”, create a personal manifesto. These are not goals, they are your core principles for living. Here is how to create a personal manifesto. Your “why” needs to come before your “how”.
- In order to think long, you have to actually live long. All of the retirement savings in the world won’t be much use to someone who’s not around. At the beginning of my journey, I decided to make fitness a core element of living lean. Some of the things I sacrificed in return look very small now. Create a fitness plan that’s interesting enough that you want to do it each day even if that means just taking a walk.
- Simplify your life. Declare war on stuff. Understand why most stuff, including big stuff like SUVs, are slowing you down. Learn how to begin to value experiences over stuff.
- Create a freedom plan that incorporates, your “whys” and do some reading on what it will take to get there. Hint: often the biggest obstacle is in our heads not our bank account.
- Start applying this living lean philosophy to all parts of your life, determining what’s most important, understanding the difference between frugal and cheap. Committing to working, traveling and investing lean.
- Embrace lean investing. Do you want to retire 10 years early? The fees many retirement plans and financial advisors charge not only can add years to the time it takes to reach your goal but they can eat up over 40% of your investment earnings during retirement. Find that hard to believe? Read my post on lean investing which includes links and free resources to find out if you’re being fleeced.
- Don’t forget to give. One of the best parts of choosing to live lean is the ability to simplify your life by giving stuff away. Giving creates jobs at the many nonprofits like Salvation Army, Purple Heart, and Goodwill who employ disadvantaged workers. I’ve shared some easy and beneficial ways to reduce your dependency on stuff by giving it away.
Most important, Just get started. If you only read one of the posts or one of the books I recommend a month, you’ll be doing more than 95% of those planning for traditional retirement and you’ll know more than 90% of financial advisors out there. Don’t believe that part about being smarter than 90% of the financial advisors out there? Then I would recommend starting with a book called the Four Pillars of Investing.
I hope you enjoy this blog. It’s different than most personal finance, lifestyle, or fitness blogs. I found that the best way to implement a plan for living lean is to write down my experiences and share them everywhere. I constantly question traditional advice on personal finance, lifestyle and fitness, then create my own experiments finding out what works.