Ryan G – A Portrait of Successful Laziness

Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP®

Ryan G shares that it is possible to achieve FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) while being "successfully lazy".  This story is one of 26 portraits in my book “Portraits of Childfree Wealth”.   

Ryan G

43, Male, Married, Oklahoma

Bachelor’s in Management Information Systems

Software Implementation

Ryan’s portrait requires a bit of a disclaimer to start. I call this a portrait of successful laziness. Laziness, in this case, is not a derogatory comment but a reflection of a way of life that Ryan described to me. Ryan’s life might fit “work smarter, not harder” but with a twist. He has found ways to “check off” many of the common steps in life and work, not to do more, but just to enjoy his life. I found myself envious at times of the balance he has achieved.

Bill Gates is often credited (although with some debate) for the quote, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” Ryan explains it this way:

“Let’s say you have to water your lawn every day. You could water your lawn, and you care about your plants. You don’t want them to die. So, you’re willing to put in the effort. Even though you’re lazy, you could water your lawn every day. Or you could put in a lot of work right now to put in a sprinkler system. The system is more work upfront, but it’s less work overall. And that’s kind of the mindset you have to be to be a successful, lazy person. It is not, what’s less effort [now], but what is less effort over a lifetime.”

Ryan is Childfree but did not decide not to have kids. As he puts it:

“It’s not like I ever thought about having children and decided against it one day. I’ve always never wanted children.”

Ryan has been married for six years, and being Childfree was part of how they met:

“I found her using online dating. One of the search criteria was, ‘does not want kids.’ So, she’s not wanted kids, as long as I’ve known her. But, it never occurred to me to ask if that’s how she’s always felt, or if she changed her mind at some point.”

It also wasn’t about the benefits of being Childfree:

“I didn’t do a cost-benefit analysis to say, well, I kind of want kids, but I’m willing to give up the time and money. It was, I don’t want kids, end of the story. And there are benefits to it, but I didn’t do it for the benefits.”

That isn’t to say that Ryan and his wife did not benefit from being Childfree. They are in an excellent financial situation due to their choices and a bit of sound investing. Ryan and his wife both work with software implementation, but their finances allow them additional options. Ryan shared:

“She [Ryan’s wife] is taking a break from work, and we’re unsure, she’s going to go back or not. We reviewed our finances. She was already struggling with work, with the pandemic, stress, politics, and everything. She needed a break, and we reviewed our finances. And if we’re frugal, we could probably retire. So it may be that she permanently stopped working, and I may stop within the next year or three.“

When they met, they each had their own home, but once their primary residence is paid off, retirement becomes a real option (in their early 40s):

“We each own a home, and we’re thinking of selling hers and using the money to pay down this house. And then we’ll be close to paying it off. I may work ‘til it’s paid off, or I may pull money out of savings. Once our house is paid off, really healthcare is our only real serious expense.”

Healthcare expenses have become a recurring theme in many of my interviews. It seems like a combination of the cost and the unknowns impact early retirement decisions. Ryan puts it this way:

“I mean, if we had universal healthcare, retirement would be absolutely for sure. Without it, it’s one of those things… Well, we think we can swing it, but it’ll be a little bit tight, and it’s going to be our biggest line item by far.”

Ryan is very close to financial independence and retirement. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has already accomplished it by the time this book is published. So, what would retirement look like for him?:

“Our life would essentially be the weekend seven days a week. For me, that means waking up in the morning, doing some housework, watching TV, playing video games, and inviting my friends over. If they’re free, you know, or read books. That kind of would be my life, but seven days a week and work on my hobbies. I used to paint miniatures. I kind of stopped, but I might get back. If I had more money, I would do more. But the goal is to live our current middle‑class lifestyle without working. And my middle‑class lifestyle is after my responsibilities are done. It’s board games, video games, and D&D [Dungeons and Dragons], and the big downside would be it wouldn’t be the weekend seven days a week while my friends work. If they could retire too, it would be like Monday is D&D, Tuesday is Pathfinder, and Wednesday is this other game. Thursday is a rest day, and Friday, you know….”

Ryan has always known he wanted to be retired:

“I’ve wanted to retire since I was a teenager since before I had my first job, I knew I hated working since before I even tried it… So, I learned about IRAs and opened a Roth, and started contributing the max contribution from that point forward. Once I got my current job, which I’ve had for about 18 years, they gave me a 401(k). So, I started with the minimum to get matching and then increased it and was like, you know, I could probably contribute more. So, by my late twenties, I was contributing the max and then just been investing. I’ve had some luck with my investments. So, I’ve managed to accumulate a fair amount. I didn’t even know about FIRE or that FIRE was an acronym ‘til a few years ago.”

Ryan may be doing the concept of FIRE, but the process and Subreddit communities just don’t fit him:

“Honestly, a lot of those people are real overboard. Like, yeah, I’m going to retire because I’m going to cut every expense, and I’m going to make my own soap, and I’m going to work hard. My goal is to minimize how much effort I have to do. And honestly, a lot of the things they do seem like more work than a job.”

Ryan has made an art of balance and not working too hard while moving towards retirement:

“I mean, I’m kind of lazy. So I’m taking the easiest path to retirement. Frankly, it was just getting a desk job and then taking as much money as I could and investing it. And I am not putting hard work into it. And it’s worked out, right? My investments are worth a fair amount at this point. My desk job is fairly low effort, but it can get stressful sometimes. It’s hard work, but it’s still not as hard of work as some people who do physical work that I’m unwilling to.”

Laziness isn’t a negative in this case. Instead, it is a way of life that has a balance:

“I mean, it [being lazy] is a bad thing, but it has not held me back much. I’m lazy but responsible. So it hasn’t stopped me from doing the necessary things to be successful. Maybe a good life. I mean, if you’re lazy and a freeloader, that’s obviously bad. Or if you’re so lazy, you don’t accomplish your goals. But I, I did accomplish my goals. I mean, I’m lazy, but I still graduated from college, got a house, and still have a decent job, which I’m holding down. It’s just kind of how I want to live in a sort of a lackadaisical life of indulgence.”

Ryan wouldn’t change much. The only thing he might change in his life is to exercise:

“Exercise. I know I should, but I hate it so much. But one of my fears is that I’m going to be wealthy and then die. Right. And be like, yes, finally I’m rich, then a heart attack, you know? Or, or even if I don’t die of a heart attack, that I will be one of those old people who sit in their chair and drools. ‘Cause it takes too much energy to get up, and they don’t go upstairs.”

I asked Ryan to define Childfree wealth. His answer fits his approach:

“I don’t really associate those two things together, even though they’re obviously linked. I was not childfree with wealth as a goal. And when I plan for wealth, I didn’t think about [being Childfree]. It was more like; I don’t want to work, and I don’t want kids, and those not having kids have it real easy. So I just decided not to have kids. And I mean, that just happens, right? You don’t even have to do anything to not have kids. And then focusing on retirement, I, you know, did what I said. I try to find a job with the highest pay-to-effort ratio. And I put a lot of that money in the stock market. And I didn’t really plan for being childfree, so I’ll have more wealth, or I should [be Childfree] in order to get more wealth.”

While retirement was something Ryan wanted all his life, it isn’t that he is a super goal-driven person:

“I’m not driven. I’m not someone who feels much sense of accomplishment. Usually, when I do something, I feel relief that it’s over. People are like, yeah, I succeeded at X. Isn’t that amazing? And I’m usually like, oh god, finally done. Right. So the lack of a sense of accomplishment means that I don’t set out to accomplish things. But that’s not strictly true. I mean, I play video games, and I want to win. And I’m like, yeah, I beat the final boss, and I get something out of it. But it’s, it’s much more muted, I think, than some people I’m not like, yeah, I finally achieved this thing. Woohoo. It’s more like, yay. I finally checked it off my list. So after [retirement], my goal would be maintenance. Keep the house clean and maintained, keep my marriage happy, keep the cats fed.”

Ryan didn’t follow a financial plan or even have a budget. He knows he needs to look at budgeting if he is going to retire, but so far, his focus has just been on maxing out his retirement and living his life. He’s got Excel spreadsheets to track everything (he likes spreadsheets) and had a friend who is a CFP® professional weigh in on his path and provide some tweaks. Ryan doesn’t have a long-term care plan (beyond his investments) and figures they can address that as they get older.

I have to admit that I had a bit of trouble reflecting on my interview with Ryan. I am also a “work harder, not smarter” person (I credit Scrooge McDuck with introducing me to that), but it is so I can achieve more to then relax and enjoy. I’ve always been goal-driven. I went through a bit of a mid-life crisis after achieving my goals. I have now shifted towards helping others to achieve their goals. In my mind, reaching your financial goals requires a plan, budgeting, and constant learning.

Ryan decided as a teen that he wanted to retire. It wasn’t even indeed a goal, just a box to check off. He has gotten there (or almost) and now is looking forward to a life of gaming and friends. He may not have followed the “standard” path, but he did great. Next time I’m in Oklahoma, I’ll have to look him up for some gaming, but I will probably need to learn to chill first.