Financial independence for the non-early retiree

Published August 31, 2015   Posted in How to Think

What if I have no plans to retire early?  Is financial independence all that important then?  In fact, why should I give a damn about this whole FI thing if I love my job and am perfectly okay working into my 60s doing something that brings a smile to my face?

Pinterest: Financial Independence for non-early retireeBecause some day, your job may no longer make you smile.

Truthfully, it is only natural to link financial independence and early retirement together. In fact, the term “FIRE” means precisely that, Financially Independent Retire Early. I talk a lot about these two issues as if they were linked at the hip, but this article is going to be different.

Much different.

It is important to understand that these two concepts are absolutely mutually exclusive and can (and do) exist independently of each other.  Keeping these topics separate is critical to understand the wisdom of becoming financially independent for virtually anyone alive.

Imagine you are having a conversation with someone about your plans to escape corporate America early.  It might go something like this:

You: I hate my job so much, man.  I am planning on retiring early.

Them: Yeah?  Like, how early?

You: In about two years.

Them: You’re so full of it!  You’re only 35…there’s no way you can retire by 37.

You: Yeah there is!  I’ll be financially independent in another year and a half.  With your salary, you could become FI too in a few years.

Them: Whatever.  I love my job, so why go through the hassle?  I don’t want to retire early.

What do you say at this point?  If it were me, my response would be simple:

You: Fine, then become financially independent and keep working.  Nothing wrong with that!

Financial Independence for the job-loving

Even if you’re not planning on retiring early, there is still much wisdom in becoming financially independent.  But many of our blogs – yes, mine included – far too often link these two concepts together, giving the impression that if the “RE” part of FIRE is not of concern, then why focus on the FI?

There are several reasons why FI is important even for those who have no plan to retire early:

  • Your next boss might totally suck, prompting you to contemplate slamming your head against a brick wall just for the sake of a few extra “workman’s comp” days off
  • Your organization might shrivel up and dissolve, or relocate, or otherwise stop doing business in their current capacity
  • You may no longer enjoy what you’re doing in the future
  • You might watch a documentary about a poor Ecuadorian school on television and would kill to live there for a while and teach the local children English
  • You might have a family emergency, requiring months of time away from the office

In other words, things might change from the rosy awesomeness that they may currently be.

At one point, for example, I quite enjoyed what I did for a living.  But in my business (Computer Science), the profession has a way of literally draining the life out of you.  Each passing year I become less and less enamored with the idea of doing this for the rest of my life.

Things change. Your wants and desires morph over time and your ability to tolerate and feel genuinely happy with the way that you spend your time can, and probably will, adjust over time. Getting yourself financially prepared for the future, with the realization that it might not look exactly like the present, is one of the wisest moves that we humans could possibly make.

So, why become FI even if you love your job and want to work forever?

Financial independence provides the freedom and flexibility to do anything.

Freedom in Hawaii

The freedom to do anything, like take a 6-month vacation to the ocean

After reaching that buttery-sweet point of FI, YOU become the ultimate ruler of your life rather than your full time job.  You pick and choose your schedule.  You decide your life’s work from that point on. You instantly put yourself in the position to dominate virtually every facet of your life, from top to bottom.  No bosses.  No schedules.  No performance reviews.  It’s all you.  No job required.

But remember, this article is not intended to convince you to retire early.  Instead, this is about the freedom that we all get once we become independently wealthy.

If you have ever worked at a place where rumors of layoffs started circulating around the office, the employees who instantly begin coming in early and staying late, volunteering for uncompensated overtime and start kissing the boss’s khaki-covered ass are not financially independent.

If those people were, they’d have nothing to worry about.  They would continue strutting around the office with the confidence and carefree attitude that they always had, completely unaffected by the threat of layoffs.  Being financially independent, this person can easily take the next 6 months off to “decompress”, George Costanza-style, then re-enter the working world that they apparently love so much for more jobiness.  On their terms.  When they damn well feel like it.

Which would you rather say if you were laid off tomorrow:

I’m laid off?  Oh shit, I gotta get my resume together; fuck, I should have done that last week when the rumors started.  Damnit, what the hell am I going to do about my credit card payment?  Am I gonna lose my season tickets?  Jeez, FML…


I’m laid off?  Cool, I get to sleep in. 

Important bottom line: Whether you like your job or not – or plan to retire early or not, the instant that financial independence is achieved, your life changes.  Your ability to quit your job and do something else becomes simple.  Layoffs become meaningless.  Your confidence to try new things and exert yourself almost becomes automatic.

While not retired quite yet, the minute that my wife and I became financially independent earlier in the year, my work life suddenly changed, and it became epically better.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


54 responses to “Financial independence for the non-early retiree”

  1. Jason says:

    I am clapping as I am reading this. All I can say is yes, yes, yes! I am one of those people who may not do the “RE” in FIRE, but I am bound and determined to be FI. I still have a bit to go, but I will get there hopefully by 50.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Jason! Good on you for choosing the FI route even though you may not directly pursue RE. Once you reach FI, your options will open up dramatically, allowing you to spend your time doing precisely what you want to do, employed or otherwise. It’s a great feeling! 🙂

      • Ginger says:

        I am with Jason. I want financial independence because the profession I am in is very cyclical. I don’t want to stress while looking for a job. I don’t want to remove those important to me luxuries from my child during the down times. I’d much rather remove the non-important things and be much, much more stable. I see FI as stability and relaxation which are good for everyone’s health, lol.

        • Steve says:

          Hi Ginger!

          Agreed on removing all those non-important things in your life and just focusing in on what is truly important. That gets to the heart of why financial independence is so important, regardless of whether you’re looking to retire early or not. It just makes EVERYTHING that much easier.

          Thanks for reading. 🙂

  2. Great topic. I’m in that situation where I hate my job and I really dislike my boss. I plan to kick the bucket next year and take the leap on building the jewelry business full-time.

    I like your question…What if you were laid off tomorrow.? A year ago before Mrs. Budgets jumped to the “dark side” of personal finance blogs, I would of answered..Holy crap! I need to dust off my resume and send it to some competitor companies. I also thought at that time I would be at this company for 10-15 more years. But when you lose an amazing boss, you get a new boss that you dislike and work becomes more of a burden to go to everyday, the story changes!

    Today, I would totally respond with “I’m laid off? Cool, I get to sleep in.”

    • Steve says:

      Awesome, Mr. Budgets. Yup, as you’ve experienced, things change – and not always for the best. Being FI means you can quit at your leisure, and I’m definitely impressed that you’re jumping in head first with your business. It takes guts to do that, but once you’re successful, it will probably feel that much sweeter that you took the plunge!

      Good luck in your endeavors. I’ll definitely be following along on your blog.

  3. No plan to retire early??? What’s that about? Agree with you 100%, circumstances can change. That great job with a great supervisor can change in an instant. Your company can have a bad couple years, your supervisor moves onto bigger and better things, etc. FI can be a back stop to all of that even if you love your job!

    • Steve says:

      Hey Fervent!

      Totally, I have no idea why someone would not want to retire early, even if you love your job. But hey, to each their own I guess, but even so, being FI allows you to leave at a moment’s notice. It’s a nice feeling. Like you said, it’s the ultimate “back stop”. 🙂

  4. The two concepts aren’t different in our minds, but it’s definitely important to remind those who love working that FIRE doesn’t HAVE to mean quitting your job. It’s working on your own terms, when and where you find acceptable. We for sure plan to work after retirement (after a decompression period, that is), but will do work that’s more fun and creative, and doesn’t come with the health-destroying pressure that we currently deal with. Retirement does not equal (or doesn’t have to equal) sitting in a recliner watching the Price is Right all day, every day! (Is that show still on, btw?!) 😉

    • Steve says:

      Agreed, they aren’t different in our minds either. Who wouldn’t want to quit their JOB early, anyway?

      Yup, I believe The Price Is Right is still alive and kicking, but now hosted by Drew Carrey – yes, a SKINNY Drew Carrey. It’s weird. 🙂

  5. amber tree says:

    Nice to see an article on the FI goal only. I plan to reach FI, the RE is not part of the plan. I like to have a challenge, something to do that excites me. When I reach FI, it might be work, it might be something else…I am curious to see what it will be, it will not be drinking mojitos at the beach all year long.
    For me, reaching FI will result in total peace of mind: There will be no more worry on the job… There should be a word for that

    • I concur. We work to be FI to achieve the flexibility we desire for the future while recognizing the need for a challenging new endeavor. For example, we have a concept for a business in mind that we are thinking of launching, and the freedom to pursue it if we’re successful would be awesome!

    • Steve says:

      I completely agree, Amber Tree – the peace of mind knowing that you don’t NEED to be working where ever it is that you do work means you have the ability to be and project confidence virtually 100% of the time without any fear of losing that job, or needing to work in general! 🙂

  6. Maggie says:

    This is a great post. And aren’t even early retirement peeps always touting that we might still make money in retirement? It’s the whole work vs. job thing. Yay to work. Boo to job. And flexibility and freedom. From sea to shining sea. Oh sorry… got carried away in the spirit of FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE!

    • Steve says:

      Hey Maggie,

      Yup, financial independence is great. Unfortunately it’s not the “American Dream”, but it sure is the dream of THIS American. 🙂

  7. Mr. SSC says:

    I definitely agree that FI is great to have even if you want to keep working. It gives you “FU money” so when you hit a situation where your new boss is a tool that makes you hate your job and the company you once loved…. I was gone in less than 4 months. It worked out well, but still things change pretty quickly.
    Plus, like you pointed out, maybe you get a wild hair and want to do something out of the box. Having FI gets you the freedom to choose that path and not be stuck working for the man because you HAVE to. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Hey Mr. SSC,

      Yup, it ultimately all comes down to freedom – pure, juicy freedom. It’s nice knowing that you can quit any time things get bad, take some time off, then try it again. 🙂

  8. Joseph Beckenbach says:

    I agree, FI and RE are separate concepts. FI without RE is a wonderful plateau which can go on endlessly; RE without FI must be temporary, with the inevitable transition often rudely abrupt.

    Right now I’m taking a six-month professional break. I’m clearly getting a taste of RE without being at FI yet. I’m still 8-10 years out from FI, depending on what sort of mischief my wife decides to play with our expenses as the children approach college age.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Joseph,

      Yep, nothing wrong with taking a professional break. I think that I probably should have done that, in fact, a few years ago. Would have probably made these years a little easier to take! 🙂

  9. ARBM says:

    I totally would love to retire tomorrow if I could, but then I would also come back to work tomorrow. As you said, once you reach financial independence, you can choose… I would totally stop doing the boring documentation side of my job… and only do the fun problem solving and implementation side of my job. Someday… maybe… I’m just beginning my financial journey… I’m working on finding the balance between future and now…

    • Steve says:

      Hey there ARBM!

      Appreciate you stopping by, and better late than never when it comes to financial independence. It’s never too late to start, and I love the name of your blog. An All Around Better Me is definitely something we all can strive for.

      Thanks for visiting.

  10. Tawcan says:

    Man can’t agree with you more on all of your points. Great stuff. Too many of us are just looking at the limitation instead of the possibilities. Being financial independent will definitely provide way more flexibility and freedom.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Tawcan, appreciate the vote of confidence! I definitely agree that flexibility and freedom is the name of the game in this business. It’s about the freedom to do, well, everything! 🙂

      Thanks for reading.

  11. Kurt says:

    Planning to work forever, or at least well into one’s 60s or beyond, is wonderful, but unfortunately some things are out of our control. An illness or disability, to ourselves or our spouse, can derail such plans. I think working diligently toward financial independence, starting when one becomes an adult, is the safe and secure way to go. Nothing wrong with having too much money in one’s senior years. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Hi Kurt,

      So true. You just never know what circumstances that you’ll be confronted with in the future, and being prepared to take time away from your full time employment is definitely one of those things that can make an unexpected event that much easier to deal with. I’ve never heard anyone say that they have too much money! 🙂

  12. Hit the nail on the head with this statement:

    “Financial independence provides the freedom and flexibility to do anything.” I’ve found that when I’m in a position at a job where I no longer need the job, my world is opened up. You almost ENJOY your job more, with the knowledge that if the tide turns, you can easily move on. To me, it’s all about the freedom that is provided – never really about the money, just the freedom that money can help provide.


    • Steve says:

      Thanks DP, appreciate your comments. The freedom and flexibility to do anything is a freedom unlike any other – in my humble opinion.

      Thanks for reading!

  13. Steve,

    I thought we would weigh in how we view these definitions:
    Our jobs – what we do to earn money to fund our FIRE goals.
    Our work – what we love to do regardless of if it makes money.
    FI – the ability to display our middle fingers to “Our Jobs”, telling them we quit because we no longer need that money to live.
    Retirement (RE) – Retire Early, the ability to leave the previously described jobs behind to pursue our own personal interests – preferably while we are still alive. 🙂

    Take care!

    • Steve says:

      Hey Bryan!

      I like it! The ability to give the big middle finger to corporate America is very, very refreshing. And most of all, I’m definitely looking forward to actually doing it next year. I’m sure you are right there with me, too! 🙂

  14. Retire29 says:

    I totally agree with this mindset. I wrote an article a long time ago after I talked to a friend of mine that was totally set on working another 20+ years. I think it’s super important to not stay “forever” at a job just because it’s fun or easy, because when you’re getting near the twilight of life, you need a job that has meaning to the world. In my mind, to stay at a job forever, you need to have freedom, adequate compensation, fulfillment, and enjoyment—otherwise, it’s just not worth it long term. I wrote about it here, if I may drop a link 🙂 ( Thanks for posting!


    • Steve says:

      Hey Eric,

      Absolutely agree. I’ve worked with people who’ve been at an organization for 15 or 20 years, and I’ve seen a noticeable negative difference in skill and motivation with these people to be perfectly honest. There are exceptions, of course, but usually there are two primary reasons why people stay at an organization so damn long: They can’t find another job that pays more, or they are so comfortable in their jobs that they just don’t care enough to look for another one. In either case, that has never worked for me. I like to see new things and experience new lines of work – it keeps things interesting for me.

      I get bored fast. 🙂

  15. Even Steven says:

    Great article Steve! You are right it’s so hard to not link FI with the RE, it just seems like they go together. I think you make great points that you might not want to RE, but don’t you want to build wealth and win the long term game. Very few would answer no to this and my guess is they are seldom reading financial blogs.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Even Steven. They sure do go together like a hand and glove, but that certainly doesn’t mean you HAVE to keep them firmly connected at the hip. Take one without the other – no big deal with that! 🙂

  16. Tim says:


    “I’m laid off? Cool, I get to sleep in. ”

    That is a great quote!!! If it comes down to an act of getting laid off… I’ll get to use that one!!

    • Steve says:

      Ha, thanks Tim. Agreed, I’d much rather use that quote than the other. The freedom and flexibility to do anything, including being chill and comfortable with an unexpected layoff. 🙂

  17. J says:

    Hi Steve, I totally relate to this because I decided to start my personal finance journey without early retirement in mind. I took action because I wanted to take control of my finances and have financial security. And like what you said, I also wanted to be ready when a change comes my way. Things aren’t looking very pretty here in Australia and there has been some restructuring in my workplace as well, if I didn’t find out about the beautiful world of PF and FI, I think I’d be suffering from anxiety by now. I’m nowhere near ready for early retirement but knowing that I can survive a few months without work, if anything happens *knock on wood*, allows me to sleep soundly every night.

    Thanks for writing this awesome post!

    • Steve says:

      Amen to that, J! I love this statement: “I took action because I wanted to take control of my finances and have financial security”. This is definitely what it’s all about – the freedom to do whatever you want.

      It’s great! 🙂

  18. Stephanie says:

    I’m glad to see this topic addressed in the financial blog world! My husband and I are both the rare type looking at earning a pension one day and for that reason we don’t plan on retiring early. Plus my husband is locked into his military obligation until close to his retirement anyways. However, we are still actively pursuing FI because it opens up so many more options and takes away so many stresses (like lay-offs as you mentioned, or maybe health problems, supporting elderly parents, who knows!)

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Stephanie. I think you’re doing this exactly right – having that card in your back pocket to play, if needed, provides you with incredible freedom. You can quit whenever you decide that your job is no longer worth the effort. 🙂

  19. […] The Frugal Cottage wrote an interesting article about why early retirement should be the goal of everybody.  It isn’t simply about leaving your job, she writes.  It’s about freedom.  It’s about giving yourself options and controlling your life in virtually every way possible. This reminds me of financial independence for the non-early retiree. […]

  20. Great point you’ve made. FI is the first and most important step. It’s what leads to every other decision you have the freedom to make, whether it’s RE, keep working, start your own business, etc, you need financial independence first.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Ms. MyCountdown. Yup, FI opens up so many doors to make your life truly your own, where YOU manage your own time, not some corporation.

      Thanks for reading!

  21. How to make money online

    Financial independence for the non-early retiree –

  22. Late to the game on this article, but just saw it via Twitter!

    This is a great read and another example of how Financial Independence, or getting closer to that moment, has benefits beyond “retirement”. The freedom to express yourself inside or outside of your job becomes less hindered as you don’t need the paycheck

    FI is on a spectrum so while it may take many years where you can quit and never work again, the benefits of getting closer still provide plenty of benefits in the here and now.

  23. […] I discussed before, don’t let your current satisfaction of your job keep you from achieving financial […]

  24. Not ready to retire yet says:

    I actually am FI now with savings and retirement, debt free, a paid off house etc. I like my job, usually, but once in a while someone gets a stick up their butt and takes it out on me. I have the FU money (John Goodman in ‘The Gambler’ explains it well) to walk but I get paid well and am putting every spare dollar into retirement. I have come to the conclusion that my work needs me more than I need it.

    • Steve says:

      Definitely sounds like you are in a really good position. Debt free is an amazing feeling! Oh, and this: “I have come to the conclusion that my work needs me more than I need it.”

      You’re doing it exactly right. 🙂

  25. […] written before that early retirement isn’t for everyone, and I truly do mean […]

  26. JC says:

    I think you missed the biggest payoff of financial independence: you are finally free to do the right thing! If you see an innocent person suffering, you can help. Broken down car on the side of the road on your commute to work? Sorry boss, I’ll be late. Humanitarian crisis overseas? I can send money without worrying about the mortgage. Asked to do something unethical at work? Here’s my resignation letter.

    My personal plan is to use traditional FIRE techniques to achieve FI quite early before taking on a couple of years of “earning to give”. The synergies between ETG and FIRE are astounding, and the communities that have built up around those concepts have alot to learn from eachother.

    • Steve says:

      True that, JC. That’s a huge unspoken benefit of financial independence. You can do what you know in your heart to be right. That is a hugely important element to this picture, indeed.

      Thanks for that comment.

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