Why I don’t like “early retirement”

August 20, 2023

About ten years ago, I was really into the financial independence and early retirement (FIRE) movement. FIRE enthusiasts try to live frugally, save and invest as much as possible, and “retire” much earlier than normal. They aspire to retire in their 50s, in their 40s, or even in their 30s.

The movement appealed to me because while my job as a litigation consultant was fine, creating spreadsheets and writing reports five days a week for the next 40-odd years seemed awful. Also, I had an excellent salary and plenty of money to invest.

So I switched cell service providers to save a few bucks a month. I canceled all my magazine subscriptions. I gave myself strict budgets for clothing, eating out, vacation, and so on—and if I overspent on one budget category, the money had to come from another. All so I could invest a little extra money each month, bringing me a tad closer to that magical retirement date.

At some point, I knew I was on track to retire in 17 years. Not bad for a guy in his mid-20s! And, with my expected salary raises in my career as a litigation consultant, I might even be able to retire in as little as 7 years. Assuming my spending would never go up more than inflation, of course.

There was just one problem: I hadn’t put any thought into what I would do after “retiring”.

When you have enough money to never have to work again, life doesn’t suddenly end. It also doesn’t suddenly start. Life’s been going on the entire time! I realized that the FIRE movement is a step in the right direction—saving and investing for your future is great—but I also realized that fundamentally, retiring won’t make you any happier. It doesn’t help you figure out what you want to do with your life.

It took a two-year burnout and a few more years of playing around with various online business ideas before I started to have an inkling of what I want to do with my life. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have my life path mapped out at all. But with the business that I have today, I live a lot more in line with my values than I used to back in my consulting days.

What I needed was not to “retire early”, but rather to figure out how I want to live and what actually makes me happy. Once I began to figure out what makes me happy, I was able to change my lifestyle to match my desires. You can’t have everything you want all at once, of course. But you can get some of the things you want pretty quickly and you certainly don’t have to reach a specific age or dollar figure in your savings account first.

I appreciate that the FIRE folks taught me how to invest my savings. (Buy stock index funds that track entire markets. Don’t touch them for a long time.) I also appreciate that they helped me avoid a decades-long cubicle career. But there’s more to life than “early retirement”. In fact, the whole concept of retirement is silly. You have only one life and it’s happening right now. Enjoy it today. Don’t wait for a day that might never come.

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