I’m quite a fan of Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week and the producer of an excellent podcast that is always worth listening to. I recently came across a passage I’d clipped from his book voicing his opinion about “early retirement”:
Retirement as a goal or final redemption is flawed for at least three solid reasons:
- It is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life. This is a nonstarter – nothing can justify that sacrifice.
- Most people will never be able to retire and maintain even a hotdogs-for-dinner standard of living. Even one million is chump change in a world where traditional retirement could span thirty years and inflation lowers your purchasing power 2-4% per year. The math doesn’t work. The Golden Years become lower middle class life revisited. That’s a bittersweet ending.
- If the math does work, it means you are one ambitious, hardworking machine. If that’s the case, guess what? One week into retirement, you’ll be so damn bored you’ll want to stick bicycle spokes in your eyes.
Hmm. His starting point is a bit of a massive generalisation. Are most of us striving for early retirement because we want to exit jobs we hate? Possibly, but I don’t think that’s quite the reason. I’m sure some of us quite enjoy our jobs (I did) but still have the ambition to get out of it sooner rather than later. My experience is that a job, to a greater or lesser extent, robs you of your freedom of choice, and it’s that freedom that people want to regain. “Retirement” isn’t completely opting out of life, although Tim is trying his best to make it sound like that.
On (b), sorry Tim, you’re wrong on this one. The maths does work. You do need the income, the motivation and the determination to get there, but you CAN save the pot of money you want to fund the retirement lifestyle you want. And the “golden years” becoming “lower-middle class life revisited”, well, that’s a choice too, if you’re not careful.
On his third point, Tim admits he’s being disingenuous about the maths, but twists this round to say that the type of people who can earn and save a self-funding retirement income are exactly the type of people who will not want to “retire”. They’ll be too restless, ambitious, goal driven and creative to sit still and vegetate, and inevitably they’ll return to work. The only question is what kind of work? Which is, of course, the point of his book – his “Four Hour Work Week” is the four hours of money-earning, “have to do”, perhaps traditionally defined, work that most of us commit forty hours a week to doing. If you can get this done as quickly as possible it will free time to allow you to do other stuff that you really enjoy.
It’s at this juncture that Tim Ferriss and, say, Mr Money Moustache, meet up and agree. Quite a few of the Early Retirement bloggers casually let slip that they haven’t completely forsaken the world of paid work. It seems to me that often the work they do could be donated freely, but generally they take the cash. Who knows, perhaps they give away the money they earn? The point is though, they take the pay as validation of the work done.
Although as a blogging community we’ve chosen “Financial Independence Retire Early” as our watchwords, I think that the “retirement” element isn’t what most other people probably think it is – loafing around, doing nothing and waiting for the Grim Reaper. The Early Retirement I think most of us are thinking about is from the traditional career and life cycle that Jacob Fisker calls “The Lock In”, where you spend all your time working for an organisation that pays you money with which you go and buy stuff that you don’t need and don’t have the time or energy to enjoy. So I agree with Tim Ferriss, generally, on his third point. It does strike me that The FIRE community are really not idle drifters or dreamers and are actually quite the reverse. They are objective led, target orientated, have a real sense of purpose and a determination to succeed.
Thus I do find myself thinking – sometimes – that it may well be that the people who do reach FIRE are the least qualified, in a psychological sense, to really be comfortable with it!