Save for the last few years, the extreme early retirement movement was gaining momentum. If the American Dream was homeownership, saying, “See you!” to your boss with a more colorful word choice was the American Daydream. Who wouldn’t want financial freedom at age thirty, spending the best years of one’s life doing only what they want rather than trading time and effort for a paycheck, through age sixty-five or later?
For most people, the idea of ending the rat race, leaving the safe corporate world behind in favor of financial freedom for five to six decades of one’s life, is going to remain a cubicle daydream. Without extremely diligent saving and a lucrative short career or some luck with business, extreme early retirement is out of the question. There are a few ways to get around this conundrum, though, without the excessive frugality or selling your latest start-up to Google.
I was fortunate to be able to say, “See you!” to my corporate boss recently, and while it may look to some people who don’t know my life here at Consumerism Commentary that I was able to retire, nothing could be farther from the truth. This is just the next level of working, like when you move from strawberries to bananas in Ms. Pac Man. I’m working harder, but so are the ghosts that are chasing me. I’m not as paranoid as that sounds.
Here are some suggestions for making that early retirement happen. So there is a common understanding, I’m taking “retirement” to mean “living off savings without the need to trade time and effort for income.”
1. Marry someone who is willing to work while you sit on your backside. I love this suggestion because out of the many writers who claim they retired early, more than a few have someone in the family still generating income for the household. If they have published a book about retiring early, they haven’t really retired, either. You could write a book while sitting on the beach but it’s still work. It may be enjoyable work, but nonetheless, if that is your situation, you haven’t really retired because you’re working for an income. You may not be doing the high-stress work you once did, but it is not retirement.
We’re in a two-income-family world right now, and I know very few people who would be happy to work for a living while their spouse sits back and spends the money that is coming in. That isn’t to say there aren’t people out there for whom this plan works, but I expect in those cases, the person who is choosing not to work does not have the capability to earn as much as the individual who is working or is satisfied managing the household.
2. Marry someone who is independently wealthy. Retirement is generally seen as the reward of hard work over a long period of time, but if you have the ability to attract a partner who doesn’t need to work for a living to afford a family, it’s a legitimate choice. “The Millionaire Matchmaker” is a popular television show wherein a successful matchmaker works with clients, usually multi-millionaires and multi-millionairesses, to find partners for life. Patti Stanger is the matchmaking star of the show, and the show is based on her service for wealthy bachelors. The company’s fees are quite high, although women can join for free. Single men are looking for love, and they’re willing to pay for help finding it.
Wealthy single women are in a similar position; the desire for a rich partner doesn’t discriminate by sex. With wealth comes the opportunity to choose from among many. If you want to be chosen and therefore have the ability to live without working, find out how to be in the right places at the right times.
3. Find a job doing what you love. In theory, if you spend your time earning money by doing something you love, you’d never want to retire. You would continue working until the day you could no longer physically or mentally carry out your job function. If you reach this point, then you may also be at the point where enjoying your retirement is impossible as well. The solution is to think about what you would like to do when you’re retired and find some way to earn a living doing that. For example, if you like traveling, work for a travel agency or produce series like Michael Palin’s travel documentaries. Perhaps more in line with twenty-first century trends, create an insanely popular and profitable travel blog.
In this case you are still working, but in this cheat, you’re doing what you’d imagine you’d be spending your time with in retirement.
4. Live your retirement now. While the stoic are saving diligently for retirement, putting away every penny they can to max out 401(k)s, IRAs, and any other saving vehicle available, a good portion of us will never make it to retirement. Not everyone lives well into their eighties or nineties. If you have reason to believe you wouldn’t have the opportunity to make much of your retirement, either due to your medical issues, hereditary concerns, or risky lifestyle choices, and if you’re not concerned about the financial independence of those you leave behind, stop wasting your precious time and start living.
Even for those who live to be 100 years old, life is short. If you want to live a life without any regrets, don’t put all of your eggs in a basket that may never come. It’s risky not to save for retirement at all, but you’re also taking the chance that you will live long enough to achieve all that you want to do.
If you’re willing to stretch the truth or take a different approach to living and earning money, you don’t have to wait until your sixties to retire.
Updated December 22, 2011 and originally published January 13, 2011.