What I Mean By Early Retirement

by Mr. Cheap

Telling people you want to retire soon when you’re in your early 30’s really bugs people.

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time these days getting my financial house in order and making plans for the future. One of the ideas I’m investigating is to “retire” in 3 years. The most common reaction when I’ve tried to talk to people about this is outrage (“how dare a guy in his early 30’s even THINK about retirement!!!”).

Part of this comes, I think, from our society’s protestant work ethic and the idea that its just plain wrong for someone not to want to toil for 40 hours a week to secure the necessities of life. Working hard is placed on a pedestal in Western society, with near universal contempt for those who inherit wealth and decide not to work (or that super-small, ultra-minute, potentially-imaginary subset of homeless people who just decide not to work without having an inheritance).

Another part of it probably comes from jealousy (“Why should I have to work hard when you don’t?”) and part of it comes from the expectation that you follow the proscribed path through life in a Western country (high school in your teens, university in your early 20’s, crappy jobs as you start working leading to ever higher quality/paying jobs and eventual retirement at 65). Shaving a few years off of any one of these stages is noble, but forging your own path is viewed with great suspicion.

A while ago a woman called in to Suze Orman and said that her parents had retired young (at around 40), blown through all their savings, and at 65 were basically impoverished. They then told their daughter that she had to support them in their golden years (since they’d raised her). The woman asked Suze what she owed her parents. Suze’s response, which I agree with, is that the parents behaved quite foolishly, and the daughter has ever right to tell them they have to get by on social security if they don’t want to get part-time jobs.

The unfortunate aspect of all this hostility is that I think people misunderstand what I’m after. I’m not planning to spend the next 70 years wearing a wife beater and watching Matlock (which is what, I’m lead to believe, retirement mostly entails). My goal is basically to escape wage slavery (I’m a capitalist who believes in wage slavery – go figure!) and to be able to live life on my own terms without having to feel dependent on anyone else for the necessities of life (or for a large enough pay-check to purchase the necessities of life). I hate to feel beholden to anyone (I’d make an awful trophy wife) and most 9-5 jobs and contract work makes me feel exactly this way (“if I upset this person they may fire me and make my life unpleasant”). Basically I want to have a “welfare-eque safety net” of monthly cash payments that will cover the necessities of life that I’ve provided for myself rather than relying on that provided by society.

If I get to the point that I can cover my cost-of-living from passive investments, my first action would probably be to put on a wife beater and spend the next 2 months watching every episode of every Star Trek series, in order (see, I’m not going to waste my life!!!). After that I’ll probably spend another 2 months drinking coffee and reading. Once I’m bored of that, I expect I’ll spend the rest of my life alternating between three things:

1) Working short-term, interesting work (this could be doing things like preparing tax returns, working as a barista and letting hot women pick me up, becoming a grad student again, etc) in order to purchase luxuries (travel, a nicer place to live, materials for some hobby, etc) or increase my standard of living by increasing my passive income

2) Pursuing knowledge for its own sake and enjoying the process (go get a PhD, spend 6 months in Buenos Aires learning Spanish and how to surf, etc)

& 3) Starting new businesses (probably with low capital requirements) and get them running such that they can operate with minimal over-site (such as rental properties, a franchise with a more active partner, writing a book, selling copies of software that I’ve written, etc) or selling them outright (same as any of the earlier ideas but with no ongoing commitment or royalties)

Not the worst way that I can imagine spending the rest of my life, but (almost) everyone else seems to disagree.

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