Sometimes in the personal finance community, we fall over ourselves preaching the virtues of early retirement. Especially after we actually do it. It’s our new way of life, and because it’s working out so well for us, it’s going to work out well for everyone.
And therefore, everyone should pursue early retirement as well. Why would they not? It’s working out so great for me!
But here’s the thing: Yes, early retirement has been wonderful, but it also won’t work the same way for everyone. I’m not here to sell you on early retirement. It’s not necessarily the best thing since sliced bread. Why?
- Enjoyable jobs can provide a healthy purpose
- Some may need to work to support family and loved ones
- Many wouldn’t know what to do with themselves without a job
We get so hung up on the shittiness of jobs that we relentlessly attack their very nature. I’ve done this, too.
I’ve made it no secret that I hate corporate America. I worked for 14 years and made good money, but I didn’t enjoy it. Almost ever. I could not fathom another 30 years doing that stuff. It just didn’t work for me and I needed out.
Early retirement worked for me. My wife and I are proud of what we accomplished and make no apologies to society for bailing from the grind in our 30s.
But, what if it doesn’t work for you? Are you somehow not doing it right?
What if early retirement doesn’t work for you?
First, don’t feel bad. Just because you don’t want to retire early (or can’t), that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It simply means you’re different than me. And, different from a lot of other FIRE bloggers.
We are FIRE bloggers because we aren’t finding fulfillment in our full-time jobs. But, that’s not to say that jobs don’t provide a whole hell of a lot of value for a lot of people. They do.
Jobs provide purpose. Something to do with our time. An opportunity for us to get out of the house and meet people. Build a network of friends. Solve interesting challenges and do new things.
All that stuff is good. However…
Let me digress for just a moment.
I do believe that finding a purpose in life outside of your job is chock-full of wisdom, too. There is nothing wrong with loving your job, but there’s a risk inherent in that, too. Bare with me for a few moments.
The problem with loving your job
For most of us, our jobs are nothing more than a means to an end. Our job enables our work. It puts into action the thing that we love doing.
But, jobs also come and go. And, they can seriously suck sometimes.
Right now, you might love your job. Love everything that you do. You have an awesome boss who genuinely cares about you as a person. He or she gives you the autonomy to do your job in the best way that you know how.
They don’t care about status reports or performance reviews.
Everything’s awesome. You love it.
But, what happens if your company gets bought out by another much larger entity and strips out that layer of wickedly-cool management and replaces it with a collection of mindless automatons whose sole focus is the bottom line?
Suddenly, weekly status reports are the norm. You’re having 1-on-1 meetings every week with your boss instead of doing the things you enjoy.
Oh, and those raises that you’ve enjoyed the past five years? They’re gone – or at the very least, reduced. They are tied directly to an arbitrary 1 to 5 number on your yearly performance review that would make the most bureaucratic manager extremely proud. You get what you get. And, you’re no longer permitted to leave at 3pm on Friday afternoons, either.
The work day ends at 5pm, pal. Bet you wish that you prepared for a job loss a little more aggressively now, eh?
In other words, jobs change. If you are like most of us, you’ll probably move around within your industry, too (in fact, that’s how significant pay increases tend to happen!). Jobs come and go.
Love your work – not necessarily your job. But I digress.
If you love what you do so much that you have no intention of ever retiring – much less retiring before 65, then here’s the next best thing:
Financial Independence. What if you have no intention of retiring early? Then set your sights on something that’s always beneficial.
Financial Independence is more important than early retirement
Early retirement gets attention in the media because that’s a popular buzzword that generates clicks. And, I get it. People are naturally interested in early retirement because it’s way different. It goes against the norm.
And because of that, it’s also super controversial.
But, it’s the financial independence part that’s the more important element of this whole retirement business, and the reason is very simple.
Financial independence means we’ve accumulated enough money in our savings, investments and things like home equity to live out the remainder of our lives with a reasonable chance of never running out of money.
Note: A lot of us use the Trinity study as the foundation for figuring out when financial independence has been achieved.
When we achieve financial independence, we no longer have to work a traditional job – though we still can if we choose to. We are no longer required to maintain a consistent cash flow to fund our lifestyle.
Early retirement, on the other hand, implies the financial independence part. After all, we can’t quit our jobs (for good) without having enough cash to live. But, it also means we’ve gone that extra step and quit our jobs.
In ER, we quit our jobs after achieving financial independence.
But make no mistake about it: Financial Independence is much more important than Early Retirement, and most retirees value the FI part more than the ER part.
…though, it may not seem that way sometimes.
Financial independence provides the freedom and flexibility to do anything.
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.
This FI/RE movement is about happiness. Nothing more, nothing less.
The gritty details of incomes, cash flow, and net worths aren’t what is most important in this conversation. Those details matter, but they also don’t tell the whole story of why.
This is the story of what makes us smile and it’s going to be different for each and every one of us. We travel. Others hate to travel. Some might want to live in a high cost-of-living area while others prefer something different. #Vanlife. House-sitting. Minimalism. FatFire. LeanFire.
Guys and gals, it doesn’t f’ing matter.
What’s the difference between financial independence and early retirement?
These two concepts are mutually exclusive, and it’s important to note that while there is incredible wisdom in achieving FI, the ER part is 100% optional.
Financial Independence means that you have enough money to sustain your lifestyle without holding down a job or a significant means of cash flow. There’s nothing to say that you can’t continue to work a full-time job even after achieving financial independence.
Early Retirement means you’ve quit the rat race. You’re no longer working a full-time job even though you might be earning money in one of your passion pursuits (blogging, woodworking, etc). Early retirement implies that you’re financially independent.
Sometimes, you’ll hear these two concepts referred to as FIRE, or FI/RE. Though, other derivatives exist, like FIOR and FFLC.
If you’re looking for a bunch of completely meaningless buzzwords and acronyms, I got ya covered.
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.
Early retirement is not a magic pill
If there’s one thing that you take from this article, let it be this:
Don’t let anybody sell you on the idea that early retirement is going to fix all of your problems, or that if you just pay some money and sign up for such-and-such course, or read this or that book, you’ll surely retire early and fall ass-backward in money, fame, and happiness.
Reality doesn’t work that way, and there are too many who are selling the idea of happiness. But as we all know, happiness is very rarely bought.
Don’t try to buy it.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.