Premature Departure

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I received some very sad and unwelcome news yesterday. One of my high school classmates died unexpectedly.

She and I were not close friends in high school and it’s a tricky business remembering someone after they are gone ,which all makes my memory seem somewhat suspect. But still, feel I remember her well. And what I remember is that she was an absolutely lovely girl.

In my mind’s eye she always had a smile on her face that was both half innocent and half cunning. And she was always laughing.

I never saw her do anything petty or mean to another person. (Surely my high school classmates could not say the same of me.)

And the point is that to hear this news of a former classmate was truly shocking.

It suddenly reminded me of the central truth that I am forever distracting myself from.

No one gets out of this thing alive.

We are all going to die.

This is an obvious truth. But it opens up deep faultlines in my own consciousness every time I come face-to-face with its reality.

But this is not a mortality blog. And it’s not a religious column. And it’s not an obituary.

It’s just a humble little early retirement blog.

So the obvious question comes up; What does early retirement matter if are all going to die, and we don’t even know when?

Faced with a predictable death who’s timing is unpredictable, one could make a sound argument for hedonism.

Why save for tomorrow when tomorrow is so unsure?

Why not just pursue worldly pleasure as long as we have a body to enjoy it with?

And the answer for me comes down to happiness.

If I were to die tomorrow I would die a happier man now that I am pursuing early retirement.  There is simply little that I could buy to improve my happiness.

Spending money unnecessarily was a distraction which took my focus away from that which truly made me happy.

Somethings are worth spending extra money on (for me fancy cats, and delicious food, and travel.) but most things simply do not bring enough happiness to compensate for the future freedom which is frittered away by their purchase.

And it even goes a little bit deeper than that. By constantly weighing what it is that makes me happy, I have become more sensitive to that which adds value to my life and that which does not.

If I weren’t obsessed with saving for my own retirement, would my pursuit of meaning be quite so efficient? I doubt it.

And finally I find that the freedom of incrementally building up a financial cushion has de-stressed my life. I feel stronger and less vulnerable. And this feeling of strength is a comforting one that I carry around with me all the time.

So it turns out that this choice to pursue financial independence has ended up not being a question of trading today’s happiness for tomorrow’s, (which I’m not sure I could’ve predicted when I embarked on this journey.)

It turns out it’s a choice for both happiness and meaning in my life every single day both before and after I achieve financial independence.

And what is the common thread in the shock of losing a friend to a premature death, and the unexpected happiness of pursuing early retirement?


Since we are mortal, time is the most valuable resource of all.

Losing a friend reminded me that time is my most finite and precious resource. One day I will run out of it. (And so will you.)

And to pursue early retirement is to place a value on time over most material things. Once I have attended to my basic needs, and purchased a few items that may bring me some additional happiness, it just seems wise to pursue a strategy that focuses on the most valuable resource of all.


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12 Responses to “Premature Departure”

  1. Elaine August 10, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    I am so sorry for your loss.

    One might think that as a doctor, you come face to face with premature death more often than some others. But it is the death of someone in your personal circle and of your age cohort that gets you pondering the subject, which is really not so surprising.

    We are closer to retirement than you, but I am married to someone who prefers to work. But I guess the issue is that he is choosing to – not that he has to. It is not completely fine with me, because his work interferes with my personal travel goals. But if I’m lucky, he’ll see the error of his ways 😉 and retire in 2016. Meanwhile, I am MSing and travel hacking, with the occasional actual trip tossed in too!

    • Miles Dividend M.D. August 10, 2014 at 1:25 pm #


      You are right. In my job I come face-to-face with death more often than normal.

      But as doctors we necessarily keep some emotional boundaries between ourselves and our patients. It is our job to care for them. And this framework in some ways helps us to make rational decisions in concert with our patients.

      The death of a childhood friend is somehow different. There’s not so much emotional compartmentalization.

      As you know I share your passion for travel hacking and travel. But in defense of your hubby, loving ones work is also a form of vacation, no?


  2. Mo August 10, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    I was raised to spend money as if it’s going out of style. Being frugal and saving for the future feels unnatural but I’m being as mustachian as I can be. I wouldn’t say the process is making me happy. Then again, I wasn’t happy being in med school, yet I’m really glad I get the privilege of practicing medicine. I will count my dollars, not go to the movies, not buy a new cell phone because I’m buying my freedom earlier than others. Coincidentally being mustachian is good for the environment and if I leave this earth I’ll be happier knowing I didn’t mess it up too much for the next person.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. August 10, 2014 at 11:31 pm #


      That’s interesting. Maybe you should experiment with spending more money and see if it does not in fact make you happier.

      For me it didn’t. But the calculus changes for each individual.

      As doctors, we have the benefit of having a stable job so we can gamble a little bit and still recover.

      The point to me is just happiness. Nothing more. Though the environmental benefits are a welcome byproduct of this lifestyle.


  3. Jeff August 10, 2014 at 9:07 pm #


    First and foremost sorry for the loss of your friend. I think back to those I went to high school with and reflect on those school mates as you have. I went to a big school. There were many classmates, many I remember but couldn’t tell you their names but when I hear of them I can remember each of them.

    I’m like you in a business where we are reminded weekly if not daily of how short life can be (as a firefighter). We have to live our lives to the fullest. Live like we will be 100 but know it could be in five minutes. So how do you balance that??

    We have had a lifetime full of challenges for our family. We have two living kids, two others we will be with in the future.

    With that being said we have to live life to the fullest. We as a family have deciced to not look back and part of that is traveling. My sons are young and have seen more of the world than I had most of my life (my youngest is 3 and has seen many places (including disney world!))

    Travel hacking offers an outlet. Your website is one that I enjoy reading and I thank you for that. In summary we have to plan for the future (Save) but live life it could be our last day! Best wishies to your classmate.


    • Miles Dividend M.D. August 10, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

      Jeff ,

      I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I can’t imagine losing a child.

      It seems that you and your family have a strong foundation that allowed you to weather these tragedies. I am sure it is an ongoing challenge.

      Carpe diem !


  4. Jeff August 10, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    PS. Wear your seatbelt. It really does mean the difference between life and death….

  5. Dennis August 11, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Very well said. Time is far more valuable than money. However, when you don’t have any money, most people are willing to sell their time for money. Unfortunately, after medical school debt and high living, most doctors put their heads down and work hard. By the time they look up, most of their lives are gone, spent working.

    That is why your focus on early retirement is so much better than those other blogs who promote that you should just keep working longer and delay retirement. Nobody ever puts, “I wish I had worked more.” on their tombstone.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. August 12, 2014 at 9:52 pm #


      Thank you for your kind words.

      I am glad that you find value in my message. But I am a contrary sort so allow me to play devils advocate.

      I believe that for some people, working more is the sweet spot for maximizing their own happiness. But I would guess that this is not the case for you. It’s probably not the case for me either.

      My only argument is that it is counterproductive to trade our own happiness for material possessions when it is the case that the material purchases do not secure as much happiness as the equivalent amount of freedom that can be purchased by not spending.

      And if the right amount of work and spending is very individual for each if us then our efforts should be spent finding that unique balance for ourselves, if happiness is what we’re after.

      Less is not always more. But it often is!

      Sorry for preaching, and thank you for your encouraging comments.


  6. Ap August 12, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    Hi AZ
    I am new to mile games. I went over your flow chart and it seems that i should play mile games. I have already gotten my bluebird card and cheques. I visit walmart every other day as it is only big store in town I live. I am in a very small town which has only one airline coming in- United. And I have to travel frequently to East Coast (at least once a month) and it costs me almost 600 dollars for two way fare to visit my wife and son. So, I really want to take advantage of this game.

    I am stuck on this stage. I really don’t know what cards to sign up for. I believe that I should sign up for United mileage card because it is the airlines I will be using frequently.

    The biggest step for me has been how to manufacture the spending easily;

    Another question I have is; If I earn miles in United credit card; how can I use to buy tickets let’s say from cheapoair or other travel sites..

    • Miles Dividend M.D. August 12, 2014 at 10:04 pm #


      The miles game is perfect for your current situation. Saving money on travel to see loved ones(and investing the savings on your own financial independence) is the ultimate case of a win/win/win scenario.

      I would investigate all of your local flight options including American, BA, southwest, USAIR.

      Diversification is always a good idea.

      Assuming you want to focus on united first though my strategy would be something like this.

      Churn 1:

      United personal 50K miles
      Chase Ink: 50k ultimate rewards (transferable to united)
      SPG AMEX personal and business (25K each)
      Barclays world arrival 40k miles
      And CITI Aadvantage 50K American miles.
      You might also consider the Barclay card us air card since it will be gone soon given the American Airlines merger.

      All current links can be found here:

      Have fun. And spend more time with your lived ones!


  7. Jeff August 13, 2014 at 1:20 am #

    Chase ink can transfer to Singapore kris flyer and book united at a discount. 35k round trip vs 45k to hawaii. It doesn’t make any sense to me to be able to book on one airlines points to another airline for less. I don’t make the rules I just fly them!!

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