How To Retire Early Without Making a Bunch of Money
If it was all about money then how come billionaires never stop working? This is not a FIRE Article.
Retirement is that thing we hear a lot but don't talk about much. Articles with titles like Here's How Much You Should Have Saved for Retirement by Age 50 or commercials scaring you into saving for retirement like This Is Getting Old by E-Trade.
It may not seem like a big deal, but if the only time you hear about or talk about retirement is around this kind of media, it can start to take root and shape the way you view retirement.
Based on the commercial, most people see retirement as something that happens when you are older, when you have a lot of money, and life should be easy.
Why this Vision is So Wrong
If you plan on achieving anything in life you need a plan to get there and to have a plan you need a clear target. The idea of retirement I just laid out above is impossible to plan, which is why I think few people do.
Can't Control Your Age
When a goal is strictly tied to age, it can make you feel trapped. However, I think most people become used to that in school, so it doesn't seem too foreign when applied to other parts of life.
I am saying that it doesn't matter how good you are in school; once the year starts, you have to go through the curriculum at the pace set out. Meaning you can't finish 6th grade in the middle of the year.
Retirement feels like that for most people. I will get there when I am older, and for now, I am just running out the clock. I think this thought process leads to people to just put on the blinders for retirement or they have a blind retirement strategy. Meaning they are either hyper-focused on it or they don't even look at it. Neither is a good strategy.
Too Focused on Money
"Make sure you save for retirement."
"Are you maxing out your 401K?"
"Save early and save often."
I would venture to say 80% of retirement talks when you are working are focused on money. Everyone is telling you to save. Is there a specific dollar amount you should set aside?
Nope. You are told to save a lot.
Money is essential for retirement, but it has less to do with how much you make or how much you save versus how much you spend.
Focused on Feeling
No matter how you plan on getting to Retirement Island, everyone agrees on this part. Retirement should be relaxing. But is that actually what is best for us?
"People who retire at 55 are 89% more likely to die in the ten years after retirement than those who retire at 65," says Daniel DeNoon in a WebMD article.
If they retired at 55, they did so because they had enough money. You won't retire if you don't have the means. Why are the chances of death so much higher?
A lot of retirees lose their sense of purpose—honestly, the saddest part. Spend your entire life to get there, and then you find out it bores you to death, literally.
My Vision of Retirement
I know I spent this entire article crushing traditional retirement views, but don't worry, I will layout my definition of "retirement."
What Retirement Means to Me
Retirement to me is pretty simple. I have more freedom to make choices.
I know that is pretty broad. Let me give you a practical example. The company I work for has to do a round of layoffs because of a global pandemic. And this had led me to be unemployed. Am I in the position that I can take my time finding a new job, or do I need to take the next available one?
If the answer is, no choices are being forced on me. If I am retired, I have more freedom to make choices around my next job than someone who said no to the above question.
Notice how I said "more freedom." Complete freedom doesn't exist. We all operate within constraints, many of them are self-imposed, and others are outside of our control.
How Money Plays In
Money plays a huge role in retirement, but as I said earlier, it is more focused on what your consumption habits are than a magic number in a bank account.
Yes, the sooner you pay off your house and the more you have in savings, the earlier you retire. But what happens if you get a bigger house every time you get a promotion?
I am not saying have a lock on the piggy bank, but make sure what you are spending your money on is aligned to what you value. Because if the majority of the time it is not, you will spend the majority of your life having choices forced on you.
Work, then Happiness
I believe humans live to work. I know this seems like an odd saying if you don't enjoy your job. But I think we're supposed to use our talents to contribute to the world.
How that plays out will look incredibly different.
Happiness does have a role to play in my retirement vision, but it is more of a by-product than the aim.
This has caused me in my young career to try a lot of different things. Take different roles in my professional career and try other things outside of work to see what sparks my interest.
I am also always trying to build up a technical skill-set that will give me the freedom to move around. What interested me when I was 20 will be different than when I am 45 with kids. I am always trying to make myself as agile as possible, and every career and side-hustle choice stems from that.
This article may not have made you toss out entirely the societal vision of retirement, but I do hope it made you take a pause and question it for a second.
The biggest takeaway from this article is retirement is not age, specific dollar amount money, or a feeling of bliss.
My foundational principle around retirement is personal freedom. This will take some people a very long-time to achieve, and others might already be there.
When you find "it," you will know, and you will want to keep doing it. That is why most really financially successful people don't stop working. Think of Bill Gates. He fits every criterion of retirement. He is old, has a lot of money, and can do nothing and be fine. But the man is always going.
We won't be as commercially successful as Mr. Gates, but I think he is onto something.
Let me know what you think about this article in this brief survey.
And if you like these articles and want to be notified every time I come out with one, make sure to subscribe.