With all the shenanigans involved over tax affairs and investing this week (and I won’t get into the politics of it) it did occur to me that maybe David Cameron should consider Early Retirement. He certainly seems to have the means to be able to do it and, really, does he need the hassle? Tony Blair’s another one – not short of a bob or two. In fact, there are countless thousands of people (probably) who have the financial means to retire but continue to work.
The exciting thing about being Financially Independent is the choices that it gives you, of which Retiring Early is but one. When you’re working in a job you hate it may well seem like the only choice worth taking and I know it became an overriding ambition for me that blotted other options out as I considered how I might reach that goal. I spent a lot of time on the Usual Suspect websites that waved flags for Early Retirement (you know who they are) and all my financial calculations were geared toward funding that lifestyle. What kind of house would I need to live in? What kind of car should I drive? How much should my weekly shop come in at? Should I darken the door of a Starbucks ever in my life again?
This was all an amusing and diverting distraction while I was employed and the wages were coming in. In a way, work allowed me to indulge in the fantasies while building a bank toward realising them, and I sometimes felt a bit guilty about it. But, to quote the legendary Jack Bauer, “I had no choice”. It was work, or no work. There was no middle way, at least not for me in the job and position I was in.
Although I thought long and hard about the income side of my retirement equation, the option of working less, or at a lower level, with the same employer wasn’t one I was willing to spend much time on. It just wouldn’t have been an option, and despite my fantastic selling skills I wasn’t about to pitch for a three day week. Nor did I feel I could raise the subject of “downgrading” my career with my boss – taking a “lower level” role with less pay, but hopefully less stress and more time at home. How could I broach these subjects without it sounding like, “Hey, I fancy an easier life with you lot, doing a bit less work for a bit less money but retaining most of the benefits – you know, the medical care, the car, the pension contributions and all that. I want a better work/life balance, more time with my family. How about it?” To me, no matter how I framed it, this is how the pitch sounded.
Then there was the ego side of the equation. If I was granted my request, would I be able to handle the loss of status in the workplace hierarchy? Could I see those less talented than myself (i.e. the whole company) promoted ahead of me? Was I underselling myself? Was I frightened of change? Of growing old? Was asking for a less stressful job or a shorter working week just an admission of failure?
This is a possibly more a male problem because often women are forced into this discussion early on in their own careers if they decide to have a family. But eventually it becomes an age thing too for both sexes. Taking time out to have a family is almost completely accepted and encouraged. A young thruster taking a sabbatical is almost always admired. Old “pops”or “granny” in the corner wanting some time out? Feed them to the dogs.
So, for me, I felt I had to be “all in” or retire from the table. Perhaps things are changing though. Last week I spoke to a friend still in employment who was somewhat surprised to find himself working alongside an old boss who’d taken a voluntary demotion. My friend wasn’t quite sure how to handle it, but I was surprised that this was even a workplace option. It’s one that I now sometimes think I should have explored with my own employer, but I have to say my own prejudices and insecurities might have prevented it. Perhaps I was part of the problem and therefore I had to follow the traditional route of work versus retirement. To anyone thinking of going “all in” on the retirement plan, however, you might want to consider an “alternative options” discussion with your employer first. What do you have to lose?