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Why Early Retirement Isn’t for Everyone

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  • Post last modified:May 28, 2020

In what has proven to be my most popular post to date, I wrote about why frugal living isn’t always everything. And now I am going to say early retirement isn’t for everyone? Am I just trying to confuse you all!?

Far from it.

Although I know I can’t please everyone, and while I am still all about starting the FIRE, I do think it’s good to cover all my bases. In other words, I like to recognize that there are caveats to these things. In doing so, I make it clear that this philosophy is not for everyone. Thus, if the things I cover here are “totally you,” then maybe early retirement isn’t your best play.

A Career? Or Just a Job?

I have a lot of friends who do very different work than me. Many of them really love their jobs. I will say that with those who do, I have noticed a common theme. It seems that most of them work very closely with people; many of them work in clinical roles caring for patients.

Early retirement isn't for everyone. Is there something stopping you from retiring early?

Now, I’m not saying you have to work at a hospital to be happy. That was just an example. The takeaway here is that those friends who love their jobs are making a real, tangible difference in people’s everyday lives.

I will be the first to admit that at many jobs I’ve held, I haven’t seen it. Sure, I would occasionally get an email from someone expressing their appreciation or have someone show their gratitude over the phone.

Still, I think there is just something about being right there in the person’s presence – being able to see their facial expressions and their body language. These things really have an impact on people. And yet, while working at a desk, I don’t see them.

A Love (or Hate) Relationship

Recently, I saw an image floating around the internet. The image is of Elon Musk with the following caption:

The retirement age is 67. Your life expectancy is 78. Work for 50 years to be free for 11? Does that sound like a fair deal?

Okay, so I couldn’t verify the legitimacy of this. Did Musk really say this? I’m not sure. And if he did, apparently he was using approximate numbers. After all, working for 50 years to retire at 67 means starting work at 17 – not something most of us did.

Early retirement leaves more time for adventure!
This is more like what I want to be doing in my 60s. Not so much working.

All those details aside, though, I do want to talk about this general message. One person commented on the image, saying, basically, if you love what you do, this quote does not apply.

I’m sure most of you have heard the age-old adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That, I think, is basically what this commenter was trying to say.

It may be a bit cliché, but I think this is probably true. I say probably because, sadly, this has still been a struggle for me. I don’t think I can honestly say I have ever sincerely loved what I’ve done, so I don’t want to make assumptions.

It makes sense though, I think. Typically when you enjoy doing a task, it is far less overbearing. If you are doing something you really enjoy doing, something that is highly rewarding – that makes a big difference.

Early Retirement Is Not For Me. Because I’m Stuck.

Aside from loving what you do, I would say that this is perhaps the biggest argument against early retirement. I don’t have any real-life examples at the moment, so I will create a hypothetical that mimics the type of thing I often hear.

Typically, it would be along the lines of someone who is middle-aged and receiving extensive aid, either in the form of health benefits or otherwise. Basically, the person depends on the aid they are receiving.

But that aid requires them to be participating in an employer health plan.

Even if this hypothetical person had the cash to support their lifestyle, the health benefits he or she would need to cover on their own would simply not be manageable.

I hear about this sort of thing all the time. Again, I can’t directly relate because currently, my healthcare expenses are minimal at worst. But I am not naïve.

I will inevitably get older, and as I age, my health will require increasingly more attention. And of course, that comes at a cost. I can only hope that cost does not extinguish the FIRE I’ve been trying to light.

In any case, I recognize the fact that once one is in this kind of situation, it is difficult if not impossible to find an escape route. The reality is that healthcare can be extremely expensive in this country; almost criminally so in certain cases. And it must be true if I’m saying it, given that my day job is in the healthcare industry!

We’re Depending on You!

The fact is that a lot of people have people who depend on them. In my case, it’s just me, but I realize many people cannot say the same. Many people have children who depend on them, perhaps spouses who depend on them – maybe even pets who depend on them.

Many people have those who depend on them - be it a spouse, children, or even a pet!
Many people have those who depend on them – be it a spouse, children, or even a pet!

So while I could keep my expenses relatively low if I were to retire today, that might be less true for other people. Other people have families to feed, tuition to pay, and doggie daycare to pay for. You get the idea.

The fact is that when your expenses are higher, retiring early is more difficult. Sure, Justin of Root of Good retired at 33 and has children, but he also did a lot of things right in the early going. I can’t say the same, and I’m sure I am not alone.

Do What’s Best for You

I tend to have this philosophy because it just makes sense. Yes, I am certainly very enthusiastic about the whole concept of FIRE at this point, but that does not mean it will work for everyone.

In reality, FI comes first. I think this is something everyone should strive for, even if early retirement is not on the agenda. Being financially independent means that while your family may depend on you to provide, you aren’t depending on anyone else.

At the end of the day, you have to figure out the numbers and do what’s best for you. It’s likely that what is best for me will not also be best for you. So regardless of what I preach, one size does not fit all.

Do what’s best for you, and forget everything else.


This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Anna

    I’m with you on th FI, and do what’s best for. In all seriousness I’m not sure what I would do if I didn’t RE…perhaps work for free. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Bob

      I know what I would do, but some people hate traveling. 🙂

  2. Xrayvsn

    It is always nice to present contrarian thoughts to whatever philosophy you prescribe to so you can fully analyze the situation and then choose the best course.

    I agree that getting to FI is the key and whether or not you decide to RE is up to the individual. Technically if you get to FI the main issues you spoke of (healthcare costs, having someone depend on you, etc) should already be addressed as that should all be part of the ongoing expenses you have to measure against to say you are FI

    1. Bob

      I suppose that’s true, but you never know. For example, maybe you use the ACA to cover your healthcare costs since you have low “income” in retirement. And while the ACA is considered unlikely to be repealed, that could change ten years from now.

  3. True early retirement is not for everyone but FI if possible can benefit everyone.

    I truly loved my career for many years and never even considered or thought about early retirement. Then over the last few years of my career the company, management and culture drastically changed to a hostile environment. Thankfully I was already FI so I simply REed.

    I love that I had the freedom to do it and that I was not stuck.

    1. Bob

      Agreed, freedom is what it’s all about!

  4. FormerlySkint

    I love this post, I am currently in the “love my job” category, but I’m under no illusion that in 20 years, the shine may have worn off! I travel a lot, which is great at the minute, but I can’t imagine always wanting to be planning my next work trip 300 miles from home.
    It’s definitely FI with the option of RE that I am chasing. Employer benefits aren’t something I had fully considered, I must admit. I have got the most basic package as my company is still quite small, but again, who knows what will be on offer in the future.
    Food for thought!

    1. Bob

      Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. Dragon Guy

    Healthcare is what is definitely keeping me back from pulling the trigger right now on early retirement. Living with a chronic illness definitely makes me take more pause. I am getting closer, but there are still too many unknowns right now. Financially, I think we would be ok, but being a finance guy, there are still ways that I can run the numbers where things don’t work out in a way gives me enough comfort.

    1. Bob

      Yeah, that is definitely tough. I think the ACA would work for me, but it certainly wouldn’t work for everyone.

  6. Joanna

    I think retirement means something different to different people. My husband has put in his notice to quit his retail job in order to focus on being a full-time artist. For him, he considers his future as an artist to be a job that he doesn’t expect to every retire from. But probably for other people, the fact that he’ll be working for himself and doing what he wants from day to day sounds like the ultimate retirement dream 🙂

    1. Bob

      That’s awesome and I completely agree. I would love to do something like that one day. 🙂

  7. Andrea

    I am one who is uncertain how I feel about the retire early aspect too. I honestly do not love my current position but I am never happy not working. I will reach FI but I do not know if the RE will just mean transitioning into a business I love of my own or what it will mean. Great thought provoking read Bob!

    1. Bob

      Thanks, Andrea! Hey, I too am one who wouldn’t be content to sip cocktails on a beach all day. But I could find interesting things to do, I think. 🙂

  8. Rob

    I think one of the reasons why “early retirement” is sort of a hard sell is that people still want to be productive. I like the term financial independence. Once your there you can still be productive but entirely on your own terms with freelancing, gigs, or whatever your passionate about. Hope I helped you get to 10K views lol.

  9. Sandra

    I would love to retire early,always saying I could be retired right now had I finished up my reserve duty.I had a decision to make to sign up again or get out because who was to keep my kids if we did have to go to war I didn’t want my ex to have them and my parents wasn’t in any shape to do so.They were young,I’d divorced my ex under bad conditions and had he gotten them there life may have been in danger.I learned that we did go to war.I have come so close to hitting the lottery .I definitely would for sure had I won

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