The $10 Million Dollar Question
Last week I was shaking my metaphorical fist at judgy relatives, and expressing my frustration about the consumerist culture here in the States. It’s hard for people to believe that we actually choose frugality, rather than having it forced on us. Despite our financial independence and growing portfolio we see little need to increase our spending. (Not everybody believes us though)
That post generated a ton of great comments… but one in particular stood out. A reader named “Joe” asked the following question:
“If you had a 10 million net worth, would you still keep your budget exactly the same? That’s the true test of whether you “have to be” frugal or “choose to be” frugal.”
What an excellent question Joe!
Sometimes the comments on personal finance blogs are absolute gold mines for great ideas. I thought the question would make a perfect topic for today’s post…
Life Will Spank You
So let’s imagine… instead of a net worth of nearly $3 million, the Tako family suddenly has a net worth of $10 million dollars.
Wohoo! Would we increase our budget and suddenly stop being a frugal family?
To give a simple one-word answer — No, we wouldn’t. The more important part of the answer is understanding why.
Today, our annual spending is approximately 2.6% of our portfolio. We live a pretty comfortable life — We have a nice older home, and go on month long vacations overseas. We eat tons of delicious food, and have plenty of friends to share it with.
Our general goal is to spend 3% or less per year, and so far that plan is working-out. Many people call this level of spending ‘conservative’ given the historical returns of the stock market, but if there’s one good lesson I’ve learned in life it’s that Life Will Spank You. Hard.
Just when you think things are going pretty well, life will reach-out and slap you down.
Feeling awesome because you got a raise at work? Fantastic! … except for that wacked-out Mercedes driver who just crashed into your Honda. Now you either ride the bus to work, or buy another car (essentially wiping out the positive effects of a raise). Then, that wacked-out Mercedes driver sues you for additional money.
How about another example — Has your portfolio done excellent the past few years? Don’t pat yourself on the back just yet! Everyone’s portfolio is doing fantastic. This doesn’t make you an investing genius.
Market downturns can happen at any time. Imagine the stock market crashes next week and erases 45% of your portfolio value. Market returns are ephemeral. They come and they go like the changing of the tide. (Which is one of the reasons why we focus on dividend income growth instead)
Even dividend income can get spanked during market downturns — Take a look at our dividends during the 2009 Great Recession:
Ouch! We went from nearly $19k in annual dividends to $5k. It took two years before dividend payments returned to normal. Our portfolio value declined by 45%. That’s no joke when you’re attempting to live off portfolio returns.
This is one of the reasons why we keep so much cash uninvested — In the event of a downturn we don’t want to be forced to sell assets to pay our bills. The losses to long term capital would be massive.
My point with these examples isn’t to be negative, but to illustrate that both good luck and bad luck happen in life. Many things are not under our control. Don’t over-extend. It’s important to stay humble.
So, let’s get back to the $10 million dollar question. Imagine for a moment that we did increase our budget — we bought a big house, a couple luxury cars, ate out every night, and forgot all of our frugal ways. What might happen?
Well, given my luck that’s right when a huge recession comes along. With that new high-priced lifestyle we could find ourselves in deep financial trouble trying to maintain it.
I don’t want to get stuck in the position of trying to maintain a “high class” lifestyle when it could be decades before the market returns to previous highs.
Setting A Good Example
Another good reason to NOT increase spending has to do with our kids. We want to set a good example for our children about what a good life looks like.
Notice I said “a good life”, not “a wealthy life filled with overabundant luxury”.
I don’t want my kids growing up in a “wealthy” household, being given everything they can imagine. That’s just a recipe for a spoiled brat! One who will overspend his income when he finally moves away from home.
This is exactly why we get nearly every piece of clothing and every toy used (and frequently free). Hand-me-downs are considered a gift to be appreciated in our household, not derided. This Christmas (like last year) our kids are getting used toys.
Some people might criticize this, but we’re attempting to live a realistic lifestyle. The idea here is that we’ll set a solid example for our kids. They won’t grow up having everything, and they’ll learn to live with imperfection.
The Hedonistic Ladder
I think the easiest way to capture my feelings on the subject is to visualize the hedonistic ladder. I started-out life near the bottom rungs of that ladder. This is the end with absolutely no luxury. You wear thrift store clothing, drive nearly-dead cars, and live in crappy ancient rental apartments with toxic lead paint (true story! I rented an apartment like that!).Most people go through life trying to climb that ladder… to move-up the rungs to ‘nicer things’ in life. With luck and hard work, most college graduates can expect to climb part-way up the hedonistic ladder and achieve “middle class”. This is a good comfortable position to be in life. There’s plenty of luxury in the middle levels of the hedonistic ladder, and it’s achievable with hard work.
Not everyone stops in the middle though. Some individuals are driven to climb higher for the rewards — The upper rungs are filled with fancy four star hotels, luxury cars, designer yachts, personal chefs, and gigantic mansions with ridiculous driveways. You know, all the trimmings of the rich and famous.
Very few people earn their way to these top rungs of the hedonistic ladder, but many try to imitate the lifestyle. This path is fraught with financial difficulty.
The problem with climbing the hedonistic ladder is that you get used to the lifestyle on the upper rungs. Any step down on the hedonistic ladder feels like a loss, and can lead to unhappiness or discontent.
Quite simply, once you’ve owned a Bentley, a beat-up Toyota just won’t bring you the same level of happiness.
This secrets is to not climb the hedonistic ladder any higher than you have to. Learn to find happiness on the middle rungs.
The Tako family is trying stay somewhere in the middle because we don’t desire to climb the ladder higher. We have enough. There’s plenty of luxury in our life, and we’re perfectly comfortable being ‘average’. Climbing higher would simply mean a more expensive lifestyle, NOT more happiness.
Having $10 million dollars wouldn’t any of change that.
Where Our Budget Might Change
While contemplating this $10 million dollar question, I was able to imagine one reason why our budget might rise… It was around location.
Mrs. Tako and I are currently considering new locations to move our family, but we haven’t yet decided on a location. If we had $10 million dollars this would open-up more expensive options we haven’t yet considered.
For example, we could move to Hawaii or California — the two most expensive states in the entire U.S. While we wouldn’t climb the hedonistic ladder, our expenses would need to rise due to more expensive housing, food, and higher taxes.
The same goes for expensive international locations — countries with higher taxes and a higher cost of living (like Australia or Japan). These countries have a very good quality of life that we would enjoy. Potentially it could even help us live longer.
Currently we spend WAY too much time indoors because of our local climate. It’s cold and wet in the Pacific Northwest 9 months of the year.
To live a healthy lifestyle, our family needs to spend a lot more time outdoors getting sunlight and exercise. That’s hard to do in the Pacific Northwest when it’s cold and constantly raining.
While I believe it’s possible to improve our quality of life without having $10 million dollars (there’s plenty of reasonably priced states), having more money would definitely make solving that problem easier.
Now I’ll pass the question to the readers — How would having $10 million dollars change your spending?
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53 thoughts on “The $10 Million Dollar Question”
I admire your dedication to a frugal lifestyle. Honestly, I would live a bit more luxurious as we are doing now if we would suddenly have $10M on our bank accounts. There are a few things that I would like to do that are currently not accounted for when we reach FI. That being said, if that $10M would make a net (after taxes) 4% return, I probably would not know how to spend that money anyways 😉
I feel the same way Cheesy! I can’t imagine what I might spend all that money on.
I’m with you man, I don’t think it would change me at all. Of course it’s easy to say that when I don’t have it. Like anyone, I would have to be sure to focus on not inflating my lifestyle. Because that becomes a slippery slope.
I was on a bike ride recently with some friends and some dude in a Porsche 911 came whizzing by us speeding very dangerously of course. I looked over at my friend and I said “I have something he’ll never have…… enough”. My friend is not all that frugal though, so I don’t think he got it.
Good one AF! There’s so many benefits to not inflating your lifestyle. Too bad more people don’t see it that way. It’s our culture here I guess.
Honestly I can’t think of significant ways to increase our spending. I’m happy with what we have. If I don’t believe it will make me more happy why would I buy more?
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Ding Ding Ding! We have a winner here! 🙂
“Quite simply, once you’ve owned a Bentley, a beat-up Toyota just won’t bring you the same level of happiness.”
As a kid I grew up with a ton of luxury, only to be completely wiped out with a terrible economic crisis (abroad). What we learned is that, after having enough money to not ‘worry’ about basic things (including health), beyond that it not only does not bring more happiness but actually starts to hurt it. We learned the value of friendships after that loss, and which ones stayed because of the ‘luxury’ vs the actual friendship. AND happiness and contentment are a choice from within, never ever can something outside bring it for you. Those things bring pleasure (dopamine) vs happiness (serotonin).
Honestly I feel like with $70-75k per year I have EVERY luxury ever needed, inclusive of once in a while experiencing super fancy pants stuff (if one gets creative one can really get many experiences without the constant expense).
You are so right, life does beat you up when you least expect it. More money would almost make me more anxious that I have more to lose.
Have you read he Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains By Robert Hustig?
Thanks for sharing your story TTS! I haven’t read that book, but I’ll check it out!
If I woke up to 10 million, pinch me I’m dreaming, I think I would immediately retire and have 2 residences, 1 in a low tax state like southern Nevada which would be my domicile for tax purposes and 1 that had gentler winters like the northwest or perhaps southern Cali. My annual spending would probably rise from 40k to 60k to account for more travel as would my giving to friends and family that were in true need.
Sounds like a cool plan Dan! I can’t recommend the winters here in the PNW though! 😉
Interesting take, Mr. Tako. I like your reasons. You will pay less tax as a result of this, too.
The difference for us would be the quality of international schooling for our daughter. $10M would afford a better school, but that may also result in an entitlement problem. So there is no perfect solution besides being happy with where you are.
You seem to have figured that out.
You know, I thought about private schools for this question — At least in our area the public schools are so good there’s no point in private schooling (other than elitism, etc). That won’t be true everywhere of course.
Great question. With 10 million at hand, I would love that big cushion. It would give me more financial security, and remove any worry related to money. In terms of my lifestyle, it won’t change much. I might travel and eat out a little bit more. Still live in the same house, and drive the same car.
It sounds like you have things pretty well figured out Helen! Congrats!
Interesting post and great question! Hubby and I haven’t reached the $1M status yet, so I’m not sure what I’ll do with 10M.
But Mr. FAF has been talking about traveling the world and eating out more often. We will probably take a month off work to travel and come back. I think we’ll go back to our normal lives after that trip. I won’t be stressed out about more anymore for sure. I’ll try to find more fun things to do without worrying about whether it will generate an income or not. 😀
I’m thinking that we would most likely move to a warmer climate in the US if we had that $10M cushion. We could more easily afford to travel back and forth to visit all of our family that resides in the Upper Midwest. Other than that, I can’t think of too many upgrades to our living style that I would make. Other than me quitting my job that is 😉
I was going to say ‘let my kids choose whatever University they wanted to go to’ but it makes me angry to think that an undergraduate degree can cost $300k at some private schools. Paying retail for this will set a bad example for them regarding other large purchasing decisions.
Once you find the joy in being frugal, it’s hard to go back!
Growing up a family friend of mine always had the newest and greatest toys. I was always jealous of him. But once he grew up, he was never satisfied by material things no matter how much they cost. He always wants the top of the line things and is never really “happy.” Meanwhile I was not raised on the opposite spectrum. When you get used to all the “fancy” toys, you will always want more and never be satisfied. It is far better to be frugal and be humble about the things you have and be appreciative.
Awesome post. Our income has always been near the top but we live in a middle-class environment. Savings and investing have produced an artificial sense of poverty/scarcity. Maybe that isn’t right? Middle-class lifestyle is “enough” for us. We don’t feel deprived spending less. We def don’t want to spoil our kids.
I agree about the stock market. Too many are at 100% equity right now and are happy with double-digit returns. This too shall pass. Dividends decline, but not as much as stock prices. Cash flow is what matters.
I wouldn’t change anything if I suddenly had $10M. Maybe that’s why I’m not motivated to get there?
I think with $10m we would probably ramp up our vacations a bit more and maybe remodel a couple of rooms in the house. But other than that I can’t see much difference. Maybe use some of the money towards charitable causes?
Ugh! The PNW will be terrible for the next 4 months. I’m already sick of it. At least it is sunny today. I have to get out and soak up some vitamin D through my face…
Honestly, if we have $10 million net worth, we would splurge a bit more. Mrs. RB40 probably would go see more live shows and buy nicer cloth. I’d probably hire helpers to work on the properties instead of trying to do everything myself.
We are flexible and I don’t mind spending some money. As long as we spend under 3%, I think it’s perfectly fine.
I think you should consider Texas. We moved to Dallas from Southern California recently. This was purely for work reasons, but has turned out to be a wonderful move in terms of quality of life. I expected that everything would be cheaper (an no taxes), therefore we could get more housing for less. What I had not expected was how much more relaxed everything is. My pet hypothesis is that since everyone is less stressed about money, everyone is more pleasant to interact with, and it becomes a virtuous cycle. In addition to the costs, in a place like Dallas, you still get all the amenities of a major city – museums/culture, airports, sports teams, restaurants, good jobs, good schools, and a highly educated/cosmopolitan outlook. Plus, you only get 2 weeks of winter… a few tough months of summer, but you can travel then – the rest of the world is lovely in August!
WRT the $10 million question… I have found us climbing up the ladder recently in terms of housing. I’m telling myself this is a one-time thing, and once the renovation is done, the marble in the bathrooms and kitchen won’t cost any more in recurring costs than something cheaper, but will still be really pleasant to live in.
Texas is definitely on our list. We’ll be traveling there soon.
re: increased spending. Would your response & spending changing if the number was $100 M instead $10 M?
One area I would think you would consider is education for your children. You could afford the best private schools for them as well as a private university. Studies have shown that the knowledge and contacts made at these schools pay dividends in terms of career advancement & earnings.
The second thing I would think you would consider is cars with more safety features which typically means newer & more expensive cars. I read that accident rates are going up despite new safety features. They attribute this to drivers using their cell phone while driving.
Not very sexy but I would also imagine you would increase your liability insurance coverage. You have more to lose if you get sued.
Well, we already have one of the safest cars around, so I don’t think more money would improve anything there.
As far as private schools go, I’m not interested. Our local public schools actually outscore the private schools in testing.
My father kept our family life very simple even though he was a doctor because he wanted all his children to be able to keep the same lifestyle with any career. We were provided an education to have any career that called us not choose something just to make money. Because he was frugal he was able to insure my mother was provided for after he was gone. Children need love and education and the freedom to follow their passion not status.
Well said Evans!
I suppose I’m sort of a frugal heretic. I don’t go crazy but I let myself spend money on convenience such as prepared food and a lawn service. It does give me a little room I can cut back in a pinch.
Also, I am human or cephalopod and have checked the appropriate box.
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Money does not buy happiness but it can buy conveniences which allow you to better pursue happiness. Let’s say reading makes you happy. To maximize happiness you want to read every minute you are awake. Time spent doing the laundry, preparing your meals, cleaning the house, etc. is taking away from your happiness. If you can afford it, you should send your laundry to a service, hire a cook & hire a maid. Are those luxuries? Certainly but if you can afford them, why would you decrease your happiness in order to fulfill some commitment to frugality that was likely born in less affluent circumstances? If your answer is you don’t want to set a bad example for your children then it’s not reading that makes you happy but setting “positive” examples for your children that is making you happy.
Frankly, I think FIRE parents are bad examples to their children. Imagine you are a child & neither of your parents work. The child will think that is normal and without the memory of the wealth accumulation phase, the child may have a hard time adjusting to full-time work since his/her parents never worked full-time during the child’s lifetime.
Actually, that sounds like a pretty modest amount of luxury Financial Velociraptor! As long as you still *can* cut back it doesn’t sound like it’ll be a big problem when the wind changes.
I would spend the *&() out of that $10 million.
All $10 million would be invested, I wouldn’t touch a penny of the principal but that would net me $300,000 annually (at a conservative 3%). That’s on top of what I have now – I currently consider myself FI but I live frugally.
From where I am now, I can’t envision spending all that annual income but some things would definitely change:
Pay off my mortgages
Pay off my car loan
Install AC & new heater in my house
Have a housecleaner come regularly
Eat at restaurants more
Get better health insurance
Donate more to charity
That’s quite a list. I hope that $10 million is enough!
Two nights ago, we were chatting with a couple of early semi-retirees that we invited over to our little casa in Mexico. I told them I realized a few years ago that there wasn’t much different I would do with $10 Million that I would with two or three [million].
But… having visited both Iceland and Mexico this year, I will say that I am much more willing to grab ice cream cones for the family or spring for another round of drinks when the cost is five times less.
Maybe that’s a sign that I’m not yet where I’d like to be, but I think it’s more a reflection of my nature. Why spend $20 for four cones when I could get it another time in another place for $4. Blowing $20 on the ice cream is the opposite of optimal. The same goes for a round of drinks costing $6 or $30.
Yep, I’m the same way. My habit is to optimize even when I’m out enjoying myself. We spent gobs of money in Japan, but I still did plenty of frugaling our budget.
A zebra can’t change it’s stripes!
Just as an FYI: life in Japan isn’t necessarily expensive if you know how to do it. This is doubly true outside of Tokyo, but even possible in Tokyo; in fact, a friend who recently moved to Colorado says that the US is more expensive to live in than Japan was for him. Healthcare is WAY cheaper, daycare is also way cheaper, you don’t need a car in most cases… I could go on. For reference, my family of 3 lives in roughly $30K/year in a major Japanese city.
Look for Retire Japan if you want more info on cheap living and investing in Japan.
Yep, we just got back from a month long trip to Japan, so we’re very aware of the costs there. While some things are less expensive, other things are much more expensive (like taxes on investment income).
I’d call it a wash when compared to a HCOL area where we live.
If we have $10M… as Mr. Tako mentioned, I would definitely love a life in a warmer climate. California is attractive climate-wise, but not so much when it comes to general/typical lifestyle. Feels like it’s too convenient and too citified in many places.
But, Hawaii. Now that’s super, super attractive in so many aspects… Climate, nature, easy access to beautiful ocean, friendly people, local fruits, sunshine for us and for our garden…the list goes on and on. Also a preferred environment for our kids to grow up in. Lots of outdoor adventure opportunities, cultural diversity (school and public in general)… It probably presents less concerns for our biracial kids to live comfortably while providing them with more opportunities (w/o spending much $) to experience different cultures and lifestyles.
I don’t like the idea of private school in general because it limits diversity. I want my kids to be comfortable with people with different background, culture, status, etc from early on — so it becomes a norm for them. Sure, the idea of better education IS attractive, but I believe there’s also so much to learn outside of school curriculum – socialization, understanding and being okay with differences, natural learning from being around different people… I mean, I used to get 20 or 30 scores out of 100 on some subjects back in grade school, but I ended up fine now… I think??
Anyways, so yes, living in Hawaii would be great. Expensive to live, but we can probably live more frugal lifestyle day-to-day, than we do now — go down to one car, grow more in our garden, walk/bike to stores, enjoy outdoor entertainment (so much less rain!), and spend more time as family (retired and no commuting).
We’ll also feel more open to traveling, probably. Especially when our kids are little older and can appreciate the experience. But that’s about it. We are happy with our lifestyle now, and don’t have the desire to upgrade it. If anything, we already feel like our kids are too spoiled. They have too many toys… (though easily >90% of them are either gift, hand-me-down, free-cycled or from second hand stores.)
What would I do with 10 million? Exactly what I do now. When you’re living your dreams there’s nothing extra more money can give you. I think that’s the sign you are an Optimizer. Why would you pay more to get the same quality of life? Hustlers, on the other hand might just increase their spend and that’s ok too, as long as they are still FI. But yeah that’s a great question to ask yourself.
I think if you keep it to spending 2% or $200,000 …. it would be fairly safe … it would probably be good to keep the day to things close to one’s old frugal style…. but perhaps nicer travel options and of course more travel … a few more gadgets? … or a nice Ford Edge TITANIUM!!!! .. ahhemm!? 🙂 Okay maybe on that …. CPO, From the Far Side of the Planet
$10M ! I’d quit my job. I figure I can live a very nice life off of $100,000 a year.
I’m sure my spending would go up a bit. I would take all 3 vacations I’d like to next year, without the time off from work worry.
I’d move closer to friends and family which would be a slightly higher cost of living area. Of course that $ would be mostly for the land, because I’d love a tiny house.
Might need to spend on hobbies. With the free time from not working I’d expect to be exercising more, so more replacement of sneakers, more sunscreen, more laundry. I’d probably consider a bike too.
I’d spend on food because I’d try all of the Mr. Tako recipes with my free time.
And if I did have the land, I’d probably rescue a few horses. That’s not in my budget, nor do I have the time to care for them right now.
But really that’s why I’m working towards FI. To earn back my free time. 🙂
we would stop working and get a house with a pool. That’s all I’ve got. Everything else is just fine and in just 5 years we will stop working anyway.
The first and most important thing I learned from MMM was how much you need for FIRE is dependent on your spending.
So we stopped our creep up the spending ladder. Now retired we continue to live how we have always lived.
Currently I volunteer time, and use my asserts to promote affordable housing, but I don’t have enough to risk losing assets. With 10 million I would be able to take on some risk, and multiply by efforts.
On the mundane side, maybe I’d spend less time trying to save $50 on a hotel room or airplane ticket. But I’m not sure I could stop myself.
I thought about this a bit as we are in a situation when we maybe getting a large windfall soon (2018 or 2019) of anywhere between $5-10m. Add that to our current $3.1m nest egg
I would pay off our mortgage.
Set aside the money for the youngest to finish university.
Set up a donor advised fund or trust for giving.
Would likely still work but just less and consider extended time off.
We wouldn’t necessarily change much else as we are frugal by nature but live in a HCOL area in so cal by the beach. We have our local mountain home. I’d likely also get a loft in Portland Oregon.
I really enjoy reading all the comments
With a $10 million windfall, I wouldn’t change my consumption behavior at all. I’d still work, but maybe go part time- I enjoy being a physician. The key to happiness is to construct your life the way you want whether or not you have gobs of money or not.
My net worth is sufficiently higher than my lifestyle now so whether I had an additional ten million would be of no impact. I’d still buy reasonable used cars and I’d still work at my retirement side gigs for challenge and social interaction. I’d still travel anywhere in the world I want and anywhere in this country. Once you have enough it is enough. I’d give more to charity in proportion but I doubt I’d change anything else.
Great post! I’m in Hawaii right now and we have met a lot of locals and it seems a lot of Californians have moved here (including my cousin). A lot of people we’ve talked to say the public schooling isn’t great here (in Honolulu), and they recommend private school (Punahou) to be exact (tuition $24000). Something to consider if you move to Oahu! (Not sure if that’s where you intend to go).
I like your ladder- and how it says “Middle Class LIFESTYLE” and not Middle Class. Because it is a lifestyle. My husband and I are firmly in the middle class lifestyle.
I like the idea about used toys for Christmas- all our baby’s clothes are used right now. We don’t want to be raising a spoiled child either.
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Fun question, Mr. Tako! Since I do have a 10-year goal of reaching $10M, I will indulge myself a bit. 😉
I think for me, time is most valuable. So, given more money with which I could live off the interest, I’d use that additional cash to outsource certain chores around the house. I’d certainly save enough chores for the kids once they’re old enough (builds character!). But, I think I’ve washed enough dishes in my life to be within the top 5%…haha.
Additionally, our travel expense would likely rise. I wouldn’t travel frivolously because a lot of the fun is experiencing a culture down and dirty. But, I’d also spend enough for clean and comfortable accommodations. I’d still like to travel to Thailand, Japan (your trip looked awesome!), China, Iceland, Switzerland, Argentina, Australia, Galapagos Islands, etc.
Furthermore, I’d give a lot more away to both charity and friends. Although with friends, it’d be more sharing experiences vs. handing them cash.
Finally, I’d probably take a few more risks lighting up other business ventures for fun.
I think that’s it!
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I thought this was fascinating, but would not wish for a $10 million lifestyle, so would have to give it away!
So, I just hit $10 Million in net worth. I intentionally made a big jump in lifestyle at around $8 Million. I am single, and thought “you can’t take it with you”, but it was very uncomfortable to get out of my frugal comfort zone and try to spend. So I bought a house with a pool, with a massive HOA bill that covers lawn maintenance, etc., and a very large property tax bill. But I bought in a place where I can use the pool daily and where I am not far from the beach and other recreational activities. I have to say it is hard to overcome my frugal tendencies. I still shop at Aldi, I drive my serviceable Subaru, I still don’t have a cleaner, though I can clearly afford one, but I do have someone come once a week for pool maintenance. Even with all those extravagances, if I stopped working I’d be well under a 2% withdrawal rate. I’ve had some health issues lately, and am likely to quit soon, but even with $10 Million, bag lady syndrome is still a thing.