A Day Of Early Retirement – Going on a Walkabout

After a cold and abnormally snowy winter, the first day of beautiful spring-like weather came calling last week.  We answered that call by getting outside and enjoying the fine weather.  Even though it was Monday, a day that normally brings dread to cubicle dwellers the world over, we found ourselves embarking on foot for a journey to… a gas station?  That rather strange destination, especially given our mode of transport, was sheer pretext to pull us out of doors and into the great urban Wilderness that surrounds us.

It was the most ordinary of mornings in the most extraordinary sense possible.  We caught the budding cherry trees just before the blossoms opened.  We passed by an empty bird nest temporary vacated or possibly deserted.  A recent ice storm deposited scattered hulks of downed branches across the neighborhood’s yards, some already smartly stacked by the sidewalk obediently awaiting a ride to the city yard waste center.

Earlier in the morning before our journey to the gas station, I set out on my own adventure to deliver the kids to school.  It was so nice that taking the shortest route back home would be a minor misdemeanor (if not a more serious offense).  I was compelled to detour through the park and along the paved trail paralleling the creek.  The more circuitous route revealed a narrow deer path on the far side of the creek leading down to the slowly ambling water.  A season of wild steps wore the path down to reveal the rusty red clay beneath the thick layer of leaves on the forest floor.  Down into the water the path led, straight toward me.  Up the bank and across my paved trail a set of wet footprints emerged.

While trying to identify the type of animal that just crossed my path minutes earlier, I took to pondering how many other sets of ephemeral footprints tracked across the trail earlier in the day only to evaporate completely unseen by us human interlopers.  Maybe a dog or an opossum or a raccoon left this set, but I didn’t delay any longer trying to puzzle it out.  On I walked toward home.

Once home, I spent a few minutes reading some of the wonderful comments you readers left on that Monday’s post about my Financial Independence plan as a 17 year old.  Then I cracked open a new novel (East of Eden by John Steinbeck) until Mrs. Root of Good was ready to join me on our main adventure of the day.  If our trip is as good as my new book, I thought, then this Monday will be one to remember.

We set out with two year old Mr. RoG Jr. accompanying us on foot as we pushed his unoccupied stroller that doubled as a gear hauler for the day.  I hesitate to call it “gear” since it was only a few bottles of water, snacks, and some books we needed to return to the library.

Off we went, making steady headway along the sidewalk.  We passed the library about a mile into the trip, deciding to stop there on the way back from the gas station.  Beyond the library lays relatively unexplored pedestrian territory for us.  We crossed the main road too early and quickly realized the sidewalk stops for a full city block.  Years of heavy footsteps on this segment of our path left a firmly packed dirt trail that allowed us to push the stroller with moderate ease until we rejoined the paved sidewalk at the next intersection.

Along the unpaved trail I noticed a future anthropologist’s dream – the discarded remnants of those pedestrians that passed by before us.  A small platoon of forty ounce malt liquor bottles next to a quartet of Gatorade bottles.  Sun-faded cigarette and cigar packages sprouting through the thin layer of pine needles, already partially hidden from the present world and rapidly becoming part of the past.  Beef jerky packages mixed with McDonald’s wrappers served with a side of french fry containers, all patiently waiting their turn to be discovered by that future anthropologist and revealed as the main dietary constituents of the early twenty first century human’s food supply.

Not to leave the anthropologist misinformed about our epoch’s housing situation, some thoughtful contractor left a major clue about twenty feet into the woods.  A large roll of fiberglass insulation marked “R-19” would tell our future anthropologist that humans used to live in houses nearby and enjoyed some form of interior climate control.

On we walked, past what many consider trash but some in the future will consider cultural treasure of our era.  Before long we could see the bright red canopy sheltering the gas pumps from the elements.  Mr. RoG Jr. proclaimed “I’ve never been there before!”.  He has a few times, but never on foot.  Everything looks different when viewed from a pedestrian scale.


The most epic sub sandwich ever

We enter the gas station as I pull out a small stack of coupons.  I didn’t come here to spend any money, but rather to claim my free six inch sub and a free coffee or drink of any size.  The gas station (Sheetz, for the gustationally curious) serves a wide variety of subs, sandwiches, and drinks for a very low price.  It’s not gourmet, but still a step up from Subway in my opinion.  Not many would venture out on foot on a four mile round trip just to get a free coffee and free sub sandwich.  But the weather was nice, we wanted to go out walking, and a free sub and cup of coffee at the half way point served as just enough enticement.

I went for the extra large self-serve Cupo’ccino of crème brûlée mixed with caramel brownie.  A little too thick and sweet, I cut in a generous serving of Serious Dark Roast coffee.  For the sub sandwich I opted for the sliced steak.  The coupon stated the sandwich was free, including any upcharges, extra cheese and added toppings.  I considered that a personal invitation to make the most ridiculous, over the top, yet good tasting sandwich imaginable.


Sheetz has these cool touchscreens where you place your own order and customize to your heart’s content (or the guy in line behind you tells you to hurry it up).

On top of the steak, I ordered these free toppings:

  • fire roasted tomatoes
  • boom boom sauce
  • caramelized onions
  • cooked peppers
  • parmesan cheese
  • sliced tomatoes
  • banana peppers
  • pickled jalapenos
  • black olives
  • pickles
  • cucumbers

And these upcharged toppings that were free with my coupon:

  • French fries (yes, on the sandwich)
  • provolone cheese
  • mozzarella
  • meat and bean chili
  • cole slaw
  • pico de gallo

I turned a $3 steak sandwich into an $8 monster with 17 toppings that turned out to be completely free.  I suppressed a smile as I went through the checkout line and paid in full with my coupon.

Some would look at the resulting sandwich and think it grotesque.  I viewed it as a steak and cheese sub plus french fries plus nachos plus a salad.  A work of modern art.  Though we had to eat it with a fork, it was pretty awesome nonetheless.

With our bellies full of our steak sandwich buffet and neurotransmitters fully turbocharged with caffeine, we started the return trip back home.  Don’t worry, we didn’t deposit any cultural treasures along the roadside for our future anthropologist friend to find later.  There’s already enough human detritus scattered along the path as is.

We made a pit stop at the library and playground on the way back home.  The little guy had to get his rock climbing fix before the day was out.  As he played, I visited the library to pick up a few (free) books.


After the park we finally arrived home and enjoyed an afternoon of laying around on the back deck.  It was perfect hammock weather, so I grabbed my book and reclined for a few hours of laziness.  A nice long walk left me with a slight fatigue and tiredness equivalent to knocking back a beer or two.  Not quite exhausted, just worn out enough that an afternoon of hammock-laying feels like a reasonable reward for the morning’s efforts.

Later in the afternoon we had to retrieve the older kids from school.  That marked mile number six for me and mile number ten for Mrs. RootofGood for the day (she worked out earlier in the day).

Mrs. RootofGood is taking a day or two off here and there in order to use up her vacation time.  This day was a miniature taste of early retirement for her.  A day without any real structure and with the freedom to get out and explore.


Letting time slow down

A few months ago I mentioned our possible summer trips to Oaxaca, Mexico or a cross-country road trip to California and back and also discussed the joys of walking around in that article.  Whether we are enjoying slow travel on the road or slow travel by foot while on a staycation at our house, there’s always something to appreciate if you slow down and pay attention to what’s happening around you.

Even though we set out on a trip to the gas station for a free sandwich and coffee, it was the trip itself I enjoyed the most.  The journey is often an intrinsically valuable end in itself, whether it’s working toward big goals in life or walking to the gas station.  Are we there yet?  We’re always there.


Spending nothing all day is the biggest expense we have

On that gloriously perfect Monday, we spent exactly zero dollars.  That’s not really abnormal, as we don’t spend any money on plenty of days if we don’t leave the house for anything.  The strange part is keeping busy and engaged outside of the house most of the day without spending any money.  We have months (like last month and last June) where we don’t spend more than $1,000 for our family of five.

It’s easy to keep expenses down when we focus on enjoying the free things first like great weather and the outdoors, offers of free food, free books from the library, and free fun time on the playground.  Buying groceries and cooking at home is another expert way to keep spending at a minimum.  We religiously track expenses using Personal Capital to be mindful of how much we spend (in real time) and where the cash disappears to each month (hint: it’s not a black hole).

I don’t think happiness is strongly correlated with spending a ton of money.  Or at least it isn’t for me.  Beyond having enough to provide the basics in life plus the rare luxury, additional consumption doesn’t have a highly positive marginal benefit.  I get a lot more enjoyment appreciating what I have rather than expending mental energy figuring out what else I can get.

From an accounting perspective, our walkabout cost exactly nothing since we didn’t spend a dime.  But in a symbolic sense, the freedom to roam at our whim on a random Monday of our choosing cost us over a million dollars.  A price well worth paying when you can enjoy the ordinary in such an extraordinary way any day you want.



What’s the most amazing completely ordinary experience you have enjoyed lately?  



photo credit: coofdy @ flickr

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  1. My favorite part of the weekend is waking up and cuddling my husband in the morning. It’s the only time possible since I wake up before him on the weekdays. It’s the best and priceless 🙂

  2. Funny how reading your post brings back memories of some of the great moments during our lives, and oftentimes they cost little or nothing as well. Spending the day working in the yard, going for a walk, working out, sitting in the sunroom – these are the kind of things I look forward to in a single day now that spring temps are here. The common theme with all is that little to no $ is spent doing any of them.

    While I can’t often get free food like your sub, the wife and I almost always use coupons when we are out. Coupled with our gift cards from Kroger’s (for reduced gas costs) and using my Visa (with 5% cash back on Harley-Davidson offerings) we can drive the cost of meals down substantially. No reason at all the pay full retail when eating out, as long as you are willing to work at it. Congratulations on the Sheetz coupon, btw – haven’t seen much of them since we left the Northeast.

    1. The best things in life really are free it seems. Yesterday was walk to the park, play tennis in the park, play on the playground at the kids’ school, then walk home and spend most of the day relaxing outside. Never touched the car (or even thought about it) but kept entertained all day for free.

      We usually do coupons or some kind of promo or “gift card laundering” when dining out (though we don’t eat out a lot). I like the “buy a gift card get a free meal or $5 gift card” type of deals since you can then use the gift card later and get a free meal instantly. And when you use the gift card later you can use another coupon or promo.

      Sheetz stores are pushing south and we have a bunch in North Carolina now. I’m a fan, and even more of a fan when it’s free or heavily discounted.

  3. What a wonderfully ordinary day! This weekend I saw on facebook (yea I need to stop checking that) and saw a friend take their toddler to some play area where they charge you to bring your kids. However our 20 month old seemed to do the same things at home for free…played with some balloons (he loves balloons!) that a nice neighbor who went to a kids b-day party gave us since she knew we had a toddler, he asked me to push him around in a box, and then we went out to the playground. Glad the weather is getting nice though…starting to get cabin fever.

  4. Ahh Raleigh- such a beautiful urban wilderness/public landfill all in one.

    BTW You took my old running route! I always debated whether to stay on the path and cross the road (that was busy during my running time), or just push a jogging stroller without a sidewalk and having to duck through the overgrown trees and such. We’ve since moved, so my running route has changed (and is much less filled with trash).

    1. So you know this little stretch of urban wilderness too? 🙂

      They finally trimmed the bushes/trees on the east side of the road with the continuous sidewalk.

  5. Picturing that ginormous sub sandwich and the smile on your face getting it for free made me laugh.

    I enjoyed playing with the kids at the park yesterday and watching them interact with the other kids. Despite how they pick on each other at home, once at the park they get along with everyone.

      1. I get the same sub sandwich building kick at Subway. I too smile internally as I tell the server what toppings to add, one by one: lettuce, spinach, tomato, cucumber, green pepper, red onion, mushrooms, black olives. So, of course, I always have to ask for a plastic knife and fork (which you don’t automatically get) because — like your sub, Justin — my Subway sandwiches become full-fledged meals.

        To make it even a better deal, (1) by getting a foot-long for $5.25, I get to save half for the next day’s lunch, (2) by using the Subway “frequent customer” card and points, about every 6th or 7th sub I get comes free, and (3) by using a cash back credit card to pay for the thing, I get a few more pennies back into my pocket.

        Isn’t it sweet?!

    1. It was delicious. I’ve never heard anyone complain about time off from work other than “I’m so sore from doing fun stuff that I need time at work to let my body heal!” 🙂

  6. I too take walks like the one you described, Justin. I call them “town hikes.”

    I’ll intentionally park my truck at the grocery and then do a long walking loop along a couple of winding country roads to hit the public library and the thrift store before taking another road back on which I’ll hit the Dollar General, the Post Office, and (if needed) the liquor store before ending back at the grocery’s parking lot.

    Every errand run becomes an adventure. (Hah, hah.)

    1. Good thinking to hit the liquor store last. Not that you would imbibe any of your purchases, just that those glass bottles can be very heavy and unwieldy. 🙂

  7. A great day indeed! As it warms up we are looking forward to getting outside more and enjoy it.

    This post makes me wish for time to move quicker so I could enjoy early retirement sooner, but I then recall that if that happened I’d skip past these years when my kids are young, so I just need to work on making time for them as best I can right now.

    1. I’m glad you realize that it’s not smart to want to fast forward life! It’s easy to fall into that trap. But the goal should be to make “now” pleasant enough that you don’t want to skip it just because “later” will be so much better. I’ll fall into the trap myself for a split second when I think how much easier it’ll be to throw some clothes in a backpack and hop on a plane or get in the car and just drive once the kids are out of the house. Of course then I would be cheating myself out of the next 16+ years of life, which is 20% of the average lifespan. No way! Enjoy now as best as you can.

    1. Oh, Mrs. RoG is going to love your comment. She said take a picture, and I said, nah, nobody cares, it’s completely un-noteworthy (other than it’s girth). So we ate it, then regretted not photographing it. I took a pic of the receipt for proof, in case someone doubted my sandwich-ordering prowess.

      But oh was it a monster.

  8. Beautiful descriptions. That sounds like a lovely day. You sure know how to stoke the fires of envy in those of us not yet FIRE’d. 😀

  9. I know your writing style is solid when I can spend 10 minutes reading about a walk and a sub sandwich. Basically life has become on glorious Saturday and I’m looking forward to getting there too.

  10. Ahhh, sounds like perfection to me. We too are coupon/free stuff mavens and one of our favorite walks includes a stop at a huge Whole Foods that almost always has free samples available. And, truth be told, sometimes our only destination is Whole Foods… it’s like a food museum. Occasionally we’ll stroll through their frozen foods section just to marvel at how much people will pay for frozen, pre-made, organic quasi-foods. The world is an interesting place. And we love seeing it on foot.

    1. Mmmm free samples. Most of the stores I frequent aren’t fancy enough to offer free samples (but low prices make up for that!). I’ll have to detour through Sam’s club on the way to the gas station next time to load up on some free goodies.

  11. We picked up a few hours of entertainment ourselves this past weekend (I’m one of the cubicle guys come Monday).

    On Saturday, we did a two hour run around a state park that’s just a block down the road. The end result was we were too tired to spend any money even if we wanted to. We followed that up on Sunday with loading up the kids in a bicycle trailer and pedaling along some of Denver’s amazing bike trails and hanging out downtown for a couple hours before making the return trip.

    Gotta love the great outdoors.

    1. Awesome. We had another great day outside yesterday. I realized this morning after my walk back from school that I still own a car but haven’t used it in a while.

      1. I use my vehicle to commute to work but it is rare for me to drive on the weekend. Aside from work, I’m fortunate enough to have everything I need fairly close to me.

        1. That’s awesome. My car was primarily for work, although I do use it to haul groceries for the family if I’m doing the big weekly grocery run (and not just grabbing a few things that can fit in my backpack).

    1. Oh no, the food police! Although point taken, since meals in a restaurant usually aren’t great for you whether it’s super fancy or something simple but fresh from a gas station. Good thing we don’t eat out a lot.

      If you look at the ingredients, it’s actually a pretty freshly prepared sandwich. Do you mean pickles or pickled jalapenos or pickled banana peppers? Or something that comes from a can? I’m curious what specifically you find highly likely to prematurely shorten the human life span.

      And I think our 6+ mile walk should offset any of the bad stuff. 🙂

      1. We ate lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings today (low-priced apps and a gift card, just for reference). I had the New Yorker, a pastrami sandwich with cheese, a rich mustard, and pretzel bun. In addition I had beer-battered onion rings, chips and queso, and topped it off with a Diet Pepsi. That last item pushed this into the healthy category, as well as the onions, since we all know onions are good for you.

        And in response to the food police, I have crossed 60, run or lift weights every day, started yoga, and have a black belt in karate. I am also 6’4″ and weigh 200 lbs. I would like the food police to tell me how wrong I am to eat what I did today, in conjunction with my overall lifestyle.

        1. Summoning food police in 3… 2… 1…

          I’m with you on the onions, they are vegetables after all. And beer batter has beer in it, another vegetable derivative.

          I bet your physical activity and stress reduction from not working more than offsets any of those “bad” foods. I know after I quit working and increased physical activity (without really changing diet), my bloodwork came back much better (everything within normal range, BP down 10-20 pts to within normal). Is there room for improvement and does it make sense to pay attention to what we’re gobbling up? Always.

  12. What an incredible and simple day! Sometimes those are the best ones even though not a lot actually happens, it feels like we did a lot. I love not spending any money too. That feels awesome!

  13. “On that gloriously perfect Monday, we spent exactly zero dollars. That’s not really abnormal, as we don’t spend any money on plenty of days if we don’t leave the house for anything. The strange part is keeping busy and engaged outside of the house most of the day without spending any money. We have months (like last month and last June) where we don’t spend more than $1,000 for our family of five.”

    Completely jealous! I can’t tell you the last time that my family has had a $0 day!

  14. Inspiration for more zero days for us! I think Saturday may have been zero? 2 kids soccer games followed by a long visit to the park with our new puppy. Followed by some flower planting. Whoops, I think my wife spent something as she purchased some fine plants from a Library fund raiser and arrived just as the plants went half price. Yes, I recall, she said $6. I’ll consider it my donation to the library and the plants a gift to us.

    Will start working the zero days into the schedule in advance.

    Played with the new puppy the balance of the day followed by Rokuing Twin Peaks on Netflix. The weather was awesome here!

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