This article is one of a few Devil’s Advocate-style posts I’ve been inspired to write recently.
I don’t want to retire early. Of course, I’m only 24 and have only spent two-and-a-half years in the workforce, so my atittude could change after another 20-30 years. But right now, I can’t conceive of wanting to retire at 40 or even 50.
Yet in the personal finance blogosphere and beyond, there are people who are passionate (even extreme) about achieving early retirement. I understand how someone trapped in a job they dislike would want to be free early. I also understand the desire to retire in order to pursue some kind of volunteerism or a path which won’t earn you any money.
But early retirement is not for me.
Why? Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to find a career path doing what I love—working with books and information. There are ways to manage information as a self-employed person, but I prefer libraries. In fact, I’ve only met one library I didn’t like working in (very bad office politics). It’s certainly work, but on the whole it’s work I like.
Micah’s the same way. While he could be happy retiring if he were constantly writing papers and/or books that teach by proxy, he’s passionate about teaching and loves working with college students. Many of them like him as a teacher and his classes fill up quickly with the friends and younger siblings of his former students. Certainly, there are some days he comes home frustrated with a decision the administration made or a particular incident, but listening to him talk about his work and watching him teach, I know he’s exactly where he should be. He lights up.
What Would I Do if I Retired Early?
If someone forced me to retire right now (and given money), I’d probably turn it around into a second career. I’d become an Etsy seller, I’d expand my web consulting, I’d build websites, I’d cut grass—I’d create long-term projects to keep myself occupied and sane.
Some people retire early to travel. While I enjoy traveling now and then, it’s not important enough for me to make my goal retiring early in order to do it more.
Others retire early in order to have more free time. I understand the motivation, but when I have too much free time I find myself getting depressed and uncreative. I’m actually more creative (and happier) when I’ve been working 40 hours a week. This is one reason I was glad that I went back to full-time work after working part-time and freelancing. I did National Novel Writing Month without ever writing during working hours (I couldn’t have concentrated even if I tried).
Still others “retire” early in order to start another job or career or found a small business. While I don’t think this counts as retirement and would call it a mid-life career change instead, I can see how it requires the same savings cushion and how these two camps might fall in with each other for support. But often such career changes require more work than a day job. The difference is that it’s something the person is passionate about. If you’ve found that passion for your day job, why retire?
Retiring Early Isn’t for Everyone
Few things are for everyone. I think getting out of debt—or at the least out of everything but mortgage & car-payment debt is for everyone. And getting out of everything but the mortgage is for almost everyone. But starting your own business (no matter what Kiyosaki says) and retiring early just aren’t.
What is ideal for everyone is finding a work situation that provides you with interesting work, that fulfills some of your passions (and gives you the time to work on the others), that gives you the degree of freedom necessary to live sanely (vs. working 80 hours/week). What that means is different for every person.
Some need to start their own business, some are more interested in the work itself and would be miserable if they had to handle the rest. Some become location-independent “digital nomads.” Some feel called to do work for organizations that can’t afford to pay (or to pay very much). And some will never be able to find that ideal situation because their choices necessitate company health insurance, regular paychecks, etc. (Though sometimes these choices, such as supporting an elderly parent, were the only ones they could make as humane humans.) One can hope that they feel those choices are worth it at the end of the day—such as my FIL working at a job he could do but didn’t like to keep his family from falling below the poverty line.
Why Saving Up for Early Retirement is Still a Good Idea
Just because I don’t want to retire early doesn’t mean I won’t be actively saving for retirement. Being able to retire gives you a lot of power. It means that if the career you love turns sour or you’re stuck in a dead end job, you can leave. It means you can quit if something changes in your life. I appreciate my two retired aunts who have volunteered their time to help my mother as she recovers from a major surgery last week. My job limits my ability to help.
Also if your retirement fund loses value, you’ll still have more saved than if you were planning for a traditional retirement. You may not have to work longer than usual even if you can’t retire early on it.
So even though I don’t want to retire early, I’m still in favor of having that retirement safety net. Life may throw you a curve ball and being financially secure allows you to catch it.
What about you? Are you planning to retire early? Are you building a safety-net just in case?