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September 12, 2018

Why Retiring Early Is A Myth


Some of the most widely shared articles on the internet are on the concept of FIRE. Fire stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. The basic assumption is that you hate your job, so you will be happier by saving most of your money while you are working with the goal of retiring early. The earlier the article discusses retirement, the more views it gets.

While advice showing how to retire at 55 instead of 65 could help a lot of people make good healthy decisions, they wouldn’t get views because it’s not an unusual situation. The outlandish articles about people retiring in their 30s get the most views which is why writers search for these people who are supposedly very happy because they don’t need to work anymore.

Retiring From An Office Job Can’t Compare To Manual Labor

There’s a massive problem with the thesis of these FIRE articles. There aren’t people working laborious jobs with long hours voluntarily retiring in their 30s because they don’t make enough money. In order to retire at that age, you need to make multiples of the median income in America. Retiring early when you work a backbreaking job would be an amazing accomplishment, but retiring when you have a job in an office with a college degree seems unnecessary. It’s easy to change jobs and careers in the latter circumstance. There’s a false freedom in thinking that if you don’t have a job, you can do anything. If you are making more than enough money to meet your needs, you can easily take excess vacations to relax and go places you’ve always wanted to go. 

There’s a big gap in the understanding of what work is. It goes back to the point about how well-off people who are retiring early. The simple reality is physical labor is more temporary than an office job because the human body breaks down over time. Applying that basic understanding of work to high level jobs is foolhardy because there are possibilities to apply your skills to more fulfilling work if you don’t like your well-paying job. That makes more sense than working at a job you hate just to save money and retire. Every year you live is precious, so wasting your youth at a job that doesn’t fulfill your needs is a huge cost to live out the rest of your life doing nothing work related.

A Work/ Life Balance Is Critical

The most happy lives are balanced. Whether that balance for you is hobbies and working, or spending time with family and working. If your job happens to be your hobby, then that is the perfect marriage. The fact that your time is limited because you have work adds to the benefit of leisure activity. Not needing your entire salary to pay for your basic needs is incredibly freeing because you can work for whichever place has the best culture and helps you grow as a person.

Working Is Important To Fulfilling Your Needs

It’s easy to say work is about making your mark on the world and helping as many people as possible, but for many people they just need to take whatever job they can get to survive. When you don’t need to do that, you have the opportunity for work to help make your life meaningful and impactful. Don’t squander that by saving most of your money when you are young just to retire. Even though it seems like most entrepreneurs are in their teens and 20s because of the stories about them, the average age of founders is 42. When you are experienced in your field, you can make the most progress because you know which pitfalls to avoid.

Early Retirement Stories Are Unrealistic

There is no denying that some people love retirement in their 30s, but for most readers it makes them feel unaccomplished because they compare their lives to the young retired people. Just like how people get frustrated when they haven’t started a company by the time they are 21 because they see Silicon Valley teenage millionaires, it can be discouraging to see articles of people retiring in their 30s, while your plan is to retire in your 60s. The median retirement savings for people ages 32-37 is $480. Most Americans have way too little saved. If you have enough saved to retire at 65, you are in great shape.

Saving In Moderation Is Great

The good points made in the discussion about retiring super early are taken to the extreme. It’s interesting to see advocates advising people to save 70% of their income, when many people don’t save at all. It’s like preaching a diet of 100% vegetables to someone who has eaten only meat all their life. Because saving is a great habit, financial writers can easily take it to the extreme as there’s little backlash from telling someone to save more money. Ultimately, there is a balance between happiness now and in the future. Focusing only on the future can make you miserable in the present for little benefit.

Take Control Of Your Money, Not By Saving 70%

There is value in avoiding worshiping material possessions, but you don’t need to not spend any of your money on things and experiences that make you happy. The key is perspective. You don’t want to try to earn more money just to keep up with ever increasing needs. The goal of retiring in your 30s is an overkill backlash to people spending more money than they have just to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. Not buying anything nice doesn’t solve the problem of perspective. It’s very reasonable to spend money on luxurious items when you have earned the money, if that sort of stuff makes you happy. If you want to gain perspective, you can visit the poor and volunteer at a soup kitchen to stay grounded and thankful for what you have. It can also help you learn to focus on treating your loved ones better.
You don’t need to save most of your money and retire to stop money from controlling you. The best bet is to invest enough money to meet your long term goals and only buy things you will really enjoy. The reality is money can rule over you when you are either rich or poor, but the quantity of money does not define who you are as a person. If you are miserable, you will be both rich and miserable or poor and miserable. It can also rule you if you retire early.

Conclusion

Retiring extremely early is something high earners can do if they save an excessive amount of their money. The benefit is much smaller than the feeling you get by working at a fulfilling job where you can positively impact others’ lives. It’s possible to travel and spend leisure time while having a job. Money doesn’t have to control you even if you only make the median income. It’s all about smart choices which involve saving the correct amount and investing according to your risk profile and goals.

Courtesy of UPFINA  

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

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