A Thought Experiment for the Retirement Police // Where’s the Line on Retirement?

To me, the distinction between “early retirement” and “financial independence” has always seemed like a purely semantic one. Case in point: this semi-rant on the false dichotomy between the two. But I’ll save you some reading: Both give you the freedom to do work you are excited to do and the ability to walk away if it’s not fun anymore. Both allow you to support yourself without work. Essentially, the only difference (and not a meaningful one) is whether or not you quit your job after you hit some number. (But if you call it FI and you quit your job six months after you hit your number to go work on some fun project on your own, is that different?)

If I’ve learned anything as a part of this blogging community, and have I ever, it’s that lots of people disagree with me. Some, dubbed the Retirement Police, are quick to point out that doing anything in early retirement that remotely resembles our preconceived notions of “work” means you’re not really retired. Fortunately, I think those folks are pretty rare, and mostly serve to give Mr. Money Mustache something to complain about.

Much more common is the more subtle idea that earning some larger amount of money in early retirement disqualifies a person from being able to claim they are retired, even though traditional retirees do part-time or second act work all the time, and we don’t quibble with whether they are retired or not. (Age bias?)

After Monday’s post asking bloggers to be more transparent about how their blog (or other side hustle) earnings affect their finances, and whether that undermines their promotion of the 4% rule or passive income, a lot of your comments got me thinking:

Is the distinction we perceive between early retired and obviously not really retired like they promised more about the amount of money that someone is earning, or is it about the actions they’re taking?

In other words, do intentions matter? If someone is doing something with zero intention of earning money (or at least consequential money), and then happens to earn some anyway, is that the same as someone who actively tried to create a new income stream? Or, conversely, if someone is trying to make money, but is failing at it, are they still early retired, or are they just unemployed? Does it matter how old they are?

I’m not a big fan of labels, and am not looking to smack one on everybody. But I do like to dig into assumptions and try to pick them apart to find the real crux of what makes something what it is, or — conversely — what our internal bias stems from. So let’s ponder those questions above and think through a thought experiment, and then discuss it all in the comments. Let’s go!

Thought Experiment for the Retirement Police // Where's the Line on Retirement? // When is someone no longer early retired? And what factors decide that? Let's discuss!

Below are three examples for consideration in our thought experiment, each with some different intentions, earnings and mechanisms for those earnings. And with each one is a set of questions aimed at the retirement police (mostly to be funny) but also at each of us, to examine if we carry any biases around with us that we might not recognize.

Example 1: The Artistic Hobby

Let’s say that I am about to retire and I can’t wait to take up painting. I dive into my new hobby as soon as I leave my career behind, and I start cranking out a few paintings a week. (Apparently I’m a prolific painter!) I don’t do much with the paintings besides hanging a few on my walls and giving a few away to friends. I love my new hobby and don’t care whether I make money at it, because that’s not why I’m doing it.

Retirement police say: Retired, obviously.

Flash forward a few years. Now I’m still painting at the same pace, but those paintings I gave away to friends got into the right hands, and suddenly I’m a popular artist. My paintings go for several hundred dollars a piece, maybe over a thousand, and since I can crank out about a hundred a year, I’m now making a legit income just from doing the hobby I love, even though I never meant to make money at it.

Retirement police say: Not retired. You’re now a professional painter.

Plenty of non-police folks would say that’s still retired, since it’s a hobby, and since I still don’t care about or need the money, because I was FI before I started. Others would say that I’m no longer retired, because I now support myself with earned income, not passive income. Even though I am spending my days exactly the same way as I did when I was retired with a hobby.

(What do you think in this example? Share in the comments!)

But those are the extreme ends of the spectrum, and it’s easy to tell the difference between earning $0 and living off passive income and earning more than enough to live on. So let’s go into the real thought exercise:

The Gray Area

We’re back in the early days of my painting hobby. I’ve now painted enough paintings without selling a single one to be out of space. I have paintings everywhere, I’ve given one to everyone I know, and I can’t make space for any more. But I don’t want to stop my beloved hobby, so I decide to see if I could sell just a few at a local craft fair. I set up my table, display my art, and at the end of the day, I’ve sold a dozen or so for about $50 a piece, which thrills me because that will buy me plenty of paint.

What say you, retirement police? Am I still retired, as a hobby painter who just made a nominal amount?

A few months later, I’m into this craft thing, and I’ve decided to go to three or four craft fairs a year and raise my prices a little. (It’s also a nice excuse to get out of the house and meet some new people.) Now I’m selling about 20 paintings at each craft fair, every three or four months, and I’m making closer to $100 on each one. So in a year, I make about $7500, not counting the cost of my materials or traveling to the fairs. It’s a small dent in my retirement budget, but it’s nice to have a little something coming in.

How about now, retirement police? Still retired?

After a couple of years of the craft fairs, I decide that they’re too much work, but I still love painting, and I’ve interacted with enough buyers to know that they like my stuff. So I decide to see if my local artist collective will sell my paintings. They agree, I agree to provide them with 60-80 paintings a year, priced between $200 and $300 each. My first year doing this, I make around $17,000. I’m still relying mostly on my passive income, but I love having a good chunk of it offset by this new income stream.

Is this the tipping point, retirement police? Still retired?

A year or so later, I decide that it’s too tiring to transport my paintings to the local shop, and I was never in it for the money anyway. I decide to stop selling at the shop and just paint entirely for my own pleasure. But then a funny thing happens. People visit the shop looking for my paintings, they don’t see them there, and they ask the manager, who sends them to me. They’re now coming to me directly and offering more money than I would have ever expected to make. I sell fewer paintings, without intending to, but the price they’re offering is so much higher that it offsets the lower volume. That year, I make $30,000 on these direct sales, enough to cover a significant portion of my living expenses, but I’m still making withdrawals from my portfolio.

How bout now, retirement police? Does this amount cross the line?

Example 2: If It Looks Like a Business and Quacks Like a Business…

I deliberately used an artistic pursuit in example 1 because we tend to have biases about what can constitute a “hobby.” Painting, playing an instrument, dancing… we have a high bar about about what constitutes a “real artist.” And if we meet someone who’s into something artistic, we’re much more likely to assume that that’s a hobby, not a vocation. (Don’t ask me for data on this. It is based on my own observations. Feel free to disagree if you have actual data!)

So let’s do an example of something that raises the “business” flag in our brains instead of the “hobby” flag, even if it’s truly a hobby. Let’s take for example, oh, let’s see… how about blogging.

[Sidebar: This reminds me of the not-to-be-named blogger I met at FinCon who said, “Wow, your site has no visible ads. How are you monetized?” My reply: “I’m not.” (Also thinking, “What’s an invisible ad?”) He/she said: “Ohhhh, I get it. So what’s your long game?” Me: “Ummm, to keep blogging?” In this person’s defense, I guess most people who plan to blog entirely for fun wouldn’t pay to travel to a conference on it. Even though most people going to ComicCon aren’t there to boost their side hustle. But I digress.]

Blogging about plenty of subjects could feel like a hobby (painting, playing an instrument, dancing, fan fiction…), but blogging about something money-related raises that “business” flag. So let’s shortcut the explanations and then ask the retirement police.

A. Hobby blogging, no monetization, no income.

B. Still hobby blogging, but throw up a couple ads and drop in a few links. Tiny income that maybe covers expenses.

C. Get a few sponsored post offers, do a few, earn a few more bucks. Small income that covers expenses and a dinner out each month.

D. Get more popular so the ads and links start netting more. Do a few more sponsored posts and ask for a higher rate. Slightly larger income that covers 15-20 percent of retirement expenses.

E. Even more popular, so everything nets more. Now earning a medium income that covers half of retirement expenses.

F. Get featured on Good Morning America, traffic is through the roof, and now netting enough to cover all the expenses for the year, and can leave the portfolio alone.

G. Become the darling of Elon Musk, who tweets about the blog constantly. Crazy traffic, big revenue (and, grrr, higher hosting fees!), netting out to triple annual expenses, meaning standard of living goes up and the retirement fund gets a lot more padded.

Okay retirement police, let’s hear it. At what point in that process did our hobby blogger go from retired with a hobby to professional blogger? Or did she? Is she still retired, regardless of how much she earns, because she wasn’t trying to build a big income stream at all?

And would it matter if we took away the sponsored posts, which are a more active attempt to monetize? Let’s say our blogger started the blog with those basic Google ads up there, and just never took them down, and threw up a couple affiliate links from Personal Capital, Bluehost and Republic Wireless because why not, and then it all just grew in revenue along with the audience growing.

Is our friend here a “professional,” and no longer retired, even though she’s fundamentally doing exactly the same thing she was doing when it was a hobby and she made no money, and when her intent was never to earn more than maybe what she was paying in hosting?

Where is the line, when did she cross it, and was crossing it solely based on income, or does it have to be based in action or intention? 

Example 3: The Failed Entrepreneur

In our last example, we have someone who early retired with plenty of financial cushion specifically to try out some of his entrepreneurial ideas. He really wants to build a successful business to create a legacy, to pad his nest egg so he can fly first class once in a while, and to give himself the ability to leave a big fat bequest to charity when his time’s up. He has no intention of working at the company he builds forever (he’s dedicated to early retirement), but he at least wants to get the thing off the ground and help it turn a profit.

He reads all the books on entrepreneurship, watches all the TED talks, and then starts pitching his ideas to investors. None of them stick. He goes back to the drawing board, invests some of his own money in actually bringing one of his ideas to life, and then he goes back to the venture capital guys. Still no bites. He makes some big changes, and then some more changes, and then some more. Still zero interest. He considers giving up. Total revenue: Negative a few tens of thousands of dollars.

Whaddya think, retirement police? Is this guy early retired? Is “not retired” defined by effort or by income?

Labels Are Harder to Slap Onto Gray Areas

I’ve never had a problem with these so-called retirement police, probably because I’m not retired yet. And even though we now accept that we’ll probably make some money in retirement, we hope to never be in a position where we’re choosing what we want to do based on needing to make money. That’s why we’re making sure we’re well beyond financial independence and well cushioned before we pull the plug on our careers.

We’re going to choose what we do based on what seems fun, what fulfills a revived childhood dream, or what gives us a creative outlet or a chance to make a difference in our community.

And who knows, maybe we’ll get accused of not really being retired if we’re doing something cool with our time that doesn’t involve sitting in a rocking chair. So many of the examples we’ve seen on early retirement blogs have been someone making a bunch of money now, or a person professing that we should work a super small number of hours each week suddenly having a million things going on, and there it’s easy to cry foul that someone has violated their own evangelizing.

But most of us in early retirement won’t be that lucky (sorry), or maybe just won’t want to hustle that hard anymore. And that’s where it’s all gray area.

Looking at Where We Draw the Lines… Or at Our Own Bias

So we have those three examples: an artistic hobby turned money maker, a more business-like hobby turned money maker, and finally an intended money maker turned expensive hobby. Extremes at the ends for two of them, but lots of gray area in between. We could make up a million more examples (and feel free to in the comments!), but we cover a lot of bases with those three. So now let’s ask:

Which of those folks still feel “retired” to you? Or not retired? Why is that? 

And which of these factors matter when you think that through:

  • Whether they intended to make money or not
  • Whether they actively took steps that netted revenue
  • Whether they did what they were doing based on earnings potential vs. purely for the love
  • How much they ultimately earned in relation to their annual expenses
  • What the activity itself is (seeming “like a business”)

And then let’s add to that:

  • For any cases where you deem them “not retired” in your mind, would it change if they had left their careers at 65, not 35 or 40?
  • What if they gave all the active income to charity and still lived off their passive income?

Time to Share!

I love getting insights into how people think about things, and I bet you do, too. So let’s share where we each landed on this stuff, and chat about it. And a few other questions while we’re at it: Would your answer have changed if we’d said “financially independent” instead of “early retired”? How do you define “retired,” and does baggage around that work affect your answer? Any other biases you discovered while doing the thought exercise that surprised you? Anyone discover that, gasp!, you ARE the retirement police? ;-)

In fairness, I’ll go first (but not to sway your answer! I love differing opinions): I think all three people in the examples are still retired, essentially no matter how much they make. The failed entrepreneur is borderline, but if he wants to call himself early retired, great. Of course I define retirement not as playing shuffleboard or any other tired old images, but as leaving your primary career to do the things you’d rather be doing. If you don’t need the money, you’ve left the career behind that got you to financial independence and you’re now doing the stuff that fires you up, you can call yourself retired all day long as far as I’m concerned.

Your turn!

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170 replies »

  1. I love the way you make us think. I’m with you, the definition of “retired” that works for me is if you’ve achieved FI and left your “career”, and don’t need to work for money for the rest of your life.

    I do struggle if folks reach the point where their hobby (be it painting, blogging, or whatever) shifts from a “hobby” to an “obligation”. If something becomes an “obligation” that you no longer pursue for joy, but for money, it’s starting to sound a lot like work. The major difference, and why I still think you qualify as “retired”, is that you can walk away tomorrow if you decide.

    Financial Freedom = retirement, and the freedom to do what you want to do. Whether it makes money isn’t the point, but rather your mindset. You’re free, never let yourself become “trapped” again.

    • 100% agree with this. Obligation is where I’d draw the line.

      Though…it can still be gray — putting in affiliate links most likely doesn’t bring most bloggers joy, and is clearly just for money. It is low effort, though, and the majority of effort in blogging is the writing/editing, which our hypothetical retiree does for fun. This is why if I ever do make a profit, >= 50% would go straight to charity. It stops any self doubt. 😊

      Just, please, anyone reading this, don’t include affiliate links to companies that suck. Please and thank you!

      • Yeah, agree all the way with obligation being the crux of it all. If you have no obligation to work, then call yourself retired even if you work all day on fun stuff! ;-) And agree 110% with no sucky company affiliate links! :-D

    • Aw, thanks! And I think obligation is a good distinction to make, though my follow-up question would then be “Obligation to whom?” For example, on Sundays and Tuesdays, I have an obligation to write new posts here. But that obligation is to ME, not to “the man,” because I choose to enforce that discipline on myself. So if you agree, maybe we call that distinction the “obligation to others.” ;-)

  2. We in the FIRE community (to generalize a bit) think we are pretty smart and don’t care what other people in society are doing because we are building a life around what is really important to each of us. We don’t care about material objects or fancy titles that motivate many people. If that is truly the case, why do any of us care about how we label ourselves, or how anyone else labels us?

    • You’re bang on with this one. It’s a label, if you are smart, you don’t care about it. Do what you love doing and enjoy the heck out of it. If you want to give it a label, grab one that is most suitable to you and sounds positive :-)

      • My point in writing this was to try to shut down the labeling of folks *by others,* which is what I really object to. If you want to label yourself some particular way, great, rock on. But if you’ve decided to appoint yourself a person who can decide whether someone else can use a certain label or not, then sit down and be quiet. ;-)

    • You’re going all meta on this, EE, when we’re supposed to be having a fun, hypothetical navel gaze. Hahaha. ;-) Totally agree with you, of course.

  3. At the end of the day, I feel the definitions of the words we use matter less than the state of the lives we’re describing, and aspiring to. It’s all about finding a way to live your life on your own terms, and in terms of the subjects we tend to cover within our little corner of the internet, it’s about handling money in a way that gives you the freedom to do that. There are other ways to do it, too, for instance by making a business of it, as you mentioned as an example.

    For me, the mindset that living life on your own terms is a possibility, not just a pipe dream, is the most important point to put across. The money thing is next in line, even if I’ve disguised my own website as one that is first and foremost about money.

    • Oh yeah, totally. No disagreement there! Who cares what anyone else says about how you’re living your life. Mostly I wrote this in hopes that it will shut down some of the EXTERNAL judgment from folks who deem it necessary to tell others whether they are or are not doing what they’ve chosen to call their lifestyle. ;-)

  4. I guess I fall under the retirement police umbrella. For me the issue is why are people are so quick to grab the label of early retiree but not that of artist or blogger or businessman. After all, they’re all labels. There are many people our there that are FI with no plans of RE but they don’t walk around telling people they are retired.

    A lot of people are still wrapped up on what other think of them and grabbing the early retirement badge is a way to justify doing what you want with your life. News flash, it’s your life and you don’t need to justify it.

    • Haha, I love that you can admit that. :-) And I agree 100% that no one has to justify what they’re doing with their life. My issue — and again, this post is just meant for fun discussion, nothing serious — is when some folks decide to tell others whether they can or cannot use the label they’ve chosen. To me, self labeling is fine if you’re into that, but deciding whether others can use that label or not is not fine. :-D

  5. Nobody cares if you eat chicken … unless you write a blog called LIVING OUR VEGAN EXPERIENCE! (LOVE!)

    You see what I’m getting at. The champions of the FIRE ideal need to understand that the “retirement police” (probably better termed the FIRE police) are a natural consequence of the FIRE movement. People will always try to hold you to the standard that you set for yourself. This is purely a conversation within the FIRE community. Nobody’s asking my dad, age 73, if he has a side hustle. He plays pinochle for quarters. No one cares.

    Personally I’m all for someone deciding on their own terms how and when to leave the workforce, live their lives, whatever. Fair enough. But if you write a blog saying you want to be free of the workforce and hack the tax code and hack the health system and live off your savings, well yes you’ll get dinged for not doing what you said you would do. You can’t have it both ways. I’ll admit to being disappointed when a FIRE blogger says he achieved his goal, he’s free, and then I find out his wife works to cover the bills. You’re a stay at home spouse, buddy. No shame in that. But that’s not why I started reading your blog.

    My bigger concern with the FIRE movement, actually, is not the definition of retirement but the definition of work. The typical FIRE setup is that traditional work is a soul-crushing cubicle, a barren trade of time for money, a prison to be escaped. Maybe true for some people but certainly not for all, and certainly not the view of work I want to pass along to my kids. I think there’s a value to work, sometimes even when the work sucks.

    ONL, thanks for the forum! I hope not to rankle too many FIRE folks, I actually love the goal and love hearing about it, and no one should care about my opinion because I couldn’t do it if I wanted to! Like I said, this is mostly an internal debate for the FIRE community to wrestle with. I’m not sure what my community would be — Finish At a Reasonable Time (FART)? I doubt many people want to be a part of that! Thanks for letting me tag along.

    • Rich,
      Aren’t there already a lot of old FARTs in the world? It sounds like the idea is already taken.

      I’d buy the T-Shirt…and wear it to a conference!

    • I love that analogy. (And, dude, I’ve seen the vegan police, and they put the retirement police TO SHAME.) ;-)

      You pretty much got right to the central paradox of all of this, which is you have to call what we’re doing SOMETHING, and there is no perfect term out there. Even FI means different things to different people (lots of folks in the broader PF space, including news media, use it to mean not living paycheck to paycheck, which is a far cry from how we talk about FI here). So given the lack of the perfect term, and the necessity to use some consistent term, you’re bound to get folks who want to call others out for not truly abiding by that term, even though what they’re really saying is “You’re not abiding by MY definition of the term.” Since “retirement” means something different to everyone, this effect is magnified.

      And P.S. Please do start the FART movement. LOLOLOLOL

      • I was kidding, actually. I thought the term quite clever for those of us who just want to retire on time, meaning in their 60’s. I admire all of the FIRE people who can get their lives together at a younger age. It just never occurred to many in our generation because we fell in line with what everyone else did, be it wrong or right. So kudos to those who figured it out earlier. And I agree wholeheartedly with Rich when he said that thinking of work as some soul-sucking endeavor and doesn’t want to teach his kids this attitude. This paragraph of his was exemplary. I believe in meaningful work, but it takes time and effort to achieve that dream/goal. In the meantime, a good work ethic, regardless of what you do, is something to be proud of, and all forms of work have meaning….from sweeping floors, trash collector, to engineer and scientist. It’s the attitude you bring to your work that makes it worthwhile. I’m very proud of my work ethic and having worked hard my entire life. I’m just not so proud that I didn’t handle my money as well as I should have. Lesson learned.

  6. I have been an avid follower of “early retirement” blogs for the past 2-3 years, helping to prepare for my own ER which I achieved last year at 47.

    This recent topic of monetizing blogs and providing disclosure (on blog income, 4% etc) has sparked some fierce debate, with plenty of opinions, especially from those with vested interest and who run their own blogs. As ONL has outlined, there are any number of definitions and interpretations of “early retirement” OR “financial independence” OR “FIRE” or whatever you want to call it.

    The one terminology I have not seen ( and correct me if I am wrong) is FINANCIAL FREEDOM. Isn’t that the whole point of all the advice these websites and blogs offer? To reach a point whereby we have the financial resources to do whatever the heck we want?

    Maybe that’s painting, maybe starting (and eventually monetizing) an ER blog, or simply having the freedom to wake up without an alarm or a desk to report to, and take each day as it comes on our own terms. Where no one “owns” you and you are the master of your own destiny! That’s what I call Freedom.

    That’s my two cents.

    • Yeah my thought has been change the name from FIRE to FIEE(Financial Independence Escape Early). Money is a tool and it just brought you the time to do what you want. Mostly a semantics thing in my mind though.

      • I think you might have an uphill climb on “FIEE.” ;-) (What’s your vision on how it’s pronounced?) But totally agree that it’s all semantics and whatever baggage a person brings to it, especially around “retirement.” Notice no one calls it becoming “Independently Wealthy,” even though we’re all doing that, just because that feels so loaded. So words DO matter, but we can still define them how we want.

      • In my mind I pronounce it fwee, like my 3yo grandson says free, or how old he is fwee and holds out three fingers. So it does double duty of how I can spend my time and what the acronym stands for:-)

    • Woohoo! Congrats on reaching your goal! How awesome. :::applause:::

      Some folks definitely do talk about financial freedom, but I think the “FIRE” moniker has just become so darn catchy that there’s not much deviation from it. And yep, I think you’re spot on that that’s truly what we’re all aiming for.

  7. The problem with labels is that they’re always loosely defined and people bring their baggage with them, baggage you never intended to include when you use them. Eschew the convenience and headache of labels!

    • Yes, totally! The hard thing is… how do we all write about this subject without using consistent terminology? Sure, we could all define ourselves differently, but that would be super confusing to readers! For example, at some point folks collectively decided not to say that we’re all aiming to become “independently wealthy,” even though we are. Probably because that term sounds too weird or braggy or whatever. But pretty much every term comes with baggage, and we have to pick some of them despite that baggage. ;-) Having said that, this is obviously just fun navel gazing meant to stir up conversation. :-D

  8. This is a really interesting thought experiment. I like what people have said so far in the comments (and will continue to read as more come in!) and I agree with a lot of it.

    I agree with Rich that it is probably a product of the fact that FIRE bloggers are writing about early retirement that brings in the retirement police. I don’t think normal people get hassled about their side income or second acts.

    I agree with Lisa that we should not be afraid to grab the label of artist or blogger or whatever else we end up doing. I can be both a retired lawyer and a current writer. There isn’t necessarily any extra honor or value in saying that I am retired rather than that I am a writer (or vice-versa).

    Honestly, my answer would probably be a dodge. I don’t think it matters whether you define yourself as retired or working as long as you are enjoying your life. I know I am completely ignoring the point of the thought experiment, but that’s my answer anyway :-)

    • Thanks, Matt! This is totally a navel gazing exercise for those of us who spend too much time thinking about this, so you’re totally right that normal people don’t need to waste time pondering these questions. ;-) And I love your AND approach. And you’re right. I’ll be a blogger AND retired, and probably 10 other things. Great solution.

  9. Is there an aspect of whether you are doing it for strangers or for charity? Is my painting hobby a job when I begin selling to strangers rather than my SIL and her friend? Am I retired if I put basically three days a week into managing donation events for my favourite charity?

    The painting and blog seem like a hobby unless I start from the end position, when they both immediately look like ‘real’ jobs.
    The entrepreneur is a job, he’s just bad at it!

    • I love that question! Like if all of your work is volunteering, I think it’s easier to call yourself retired, but if it’s money-making work and you donate all the proceeds, is that the same? More good thought starters!

  10. Interesting post and thought exercise. Fundamentally I think the label doesn’t matter but if you ascribe to a label then you have to adhere to some consistency in what people think when they hear / see that label since presumably that label is tied to some “higher Purpose”.
    Think about recipes, if you decided to share one and use salt when you mean sugar, anyone who tries to use your recipe gets a bit of a shock. So as long as the recipe is for your exclusive use, you can use labels indiscriminately. If you want it to be reproducible, there’s got to be a recipe police

    • Thanks! I agree and disagree with you. :-) It’s important that we all use some consistent terminology to be understood by readers — exactly like your recipe analogy. But unlike salt or sugar, which are not open to interpretation, words like “independence” and “retirement” bring their own set of connotations and baggage, depending on who you ask, which I think is central to this though exercise. Plenty of people in the larger world use “financial independence” to mean you’re not living paycheck to paycheck, which is clearly not the way FI bloggers use the term. And retirement conjures up lots of different things for different folks, which is why the retirement police exist in the first place. :-D

  11. I’ll play! (I skipped the other comments so they don’t bias my answer, so apologies if this has already been written.)

    As I was reading through, the key aspect to me was really motivation and intention. If you are painting because you love it, and people start coming to you to buy your paintings, you are still retired. But if you are considering what you paint and how you paint in light of how your customers might perceive the product, you are working to increase revenue and not retired.

    Similarly, with blogging, doing it for the love, and not tailoring to your audience–retired. Once bloggers start to modify their content–promoting products and services, then they are working, and it doesn’t matter how little or how much money is actually made.

    The gray area to me in both of these cases is attempts to cover costs. Small, simple tweaks like adding ads, or bringing artwork to a cooperative to sell, feel a little like work, but could be minimal and simply covering the expense of the paint or the blog hosting.

    The entrepreneur, on the other hand, seems to me to be working. The motivation from the beginning was to develop a product/service that was marketable. Whether or not he makes money is irrelevant. And whether or not he enjoys it is irrelevant to my definition of work!

    • Side note: I LOVE that you answered without reading other comments. That’s the way to do it. ;-)

      I love the wrinkle you put on the intention — if you’re catering to others’ desires over your own, that seems key. Though if you have a little hobby portrait painting business that you do mostly for fun but don’t mind the tiny side income, and that’s clearly focused on giving folks what they want, are you still retired? (Sorry, in devil’s advocate mode.) ;-) And on blogging, I think doing things specifically to make money is one thing (clearly money driven) but tailoring content to your audience is a little bit more in the gray area in my mind. Like I’m not going to write about the migration of humpback whales here, even if I find it fascinating, because that’s not why people visit this site. So I AM tailoring content to the audience, but I’m still ultimately doing this because I love it. So where would that fit on the scale? (Okay, I’ll stop. Promise.) ;-) And I think I’m switching my position on the entrepreneur. I think he’s probably working (just bad at it), but when he’s done with that failed experiment, then he can call himself retired if he wants to.

  12. I’ve decided to avoid the entire controversy by making it clear on my blog that I “retired from full-time work”. On my Start Here page, I explain what this actually means…it means that I no longer have to work a full-time job to sustain myself. In fact, I don’t need ANY income whatsoever other than small withdrawals from our investments. Anything else is just icing on the cake.

    Therefore, I don’t much care what the Retirement Police think of my situation.

    Personally, I define “not retired” to be a phase in your life where one needs to work in order to pay the bills of, well, being alive + holding down a full-time job. Meaning, if you are financially independent and don’t need to work, but still work a 50-hour a week job because you truly love it, then I think the word “retired” probably isn’t the best choice in that circumstance.

    But whatever I think, it doesn’t really matter. People will call themselves whatever they want. I don’t really have a problem with that.

    • I know you know this, but you are still going to get retirement police telling you you’re not really retired, regardless of what your blog header says. ;-) Fortunately, you aren’t the type to give a flying flip about that, but it’ll still happen. I agree that if you’ve reached FI and still work 50 hours at a traditional job, you aren’t retired. But if you pour 50 hours a week into your passion project and don’t care about whether it makes you any money, then you’re free to use the retired moniker if you so choose. :-)

  13. Damn, it’s way to early to think! If you have achieved financial independence, quit your job, and now do something that excites you–regardless of how much money your passion generates–you’re retired. For the vast majority of early retirees, this definition holds true. But there are outliers. Elon Musk, for instance, has achieved financial independence and is doing what excites him. Is he retired? Here then is my new definition. If you have achieved financial iindependence, quit your job, and do something that excites you–and your passion isn’t traded on the New York Stock Exchange–you’re retired. Thanks for the great thought experiment, ONL.

    • Hahaha, sorry about that. ;-) Your definition matches mine pretty much exactly. Especially the NYSE/Elon Musk example. We’ll call that exception the Musk rule. Or maybe the Groovy rule. ;-)

  14. Yeah, sure, they are all early retired. Maybe “early retired”. I don’t worry too much about labels. For casual acquaintances I don’t even tell people I’m “retired” many times, since retirement describes what you’re *not* doing (working full time, generally corporate stuff in my circles) vs what you *are* doing (leisure time, games, maybe something productive that might turn out to be profitable).

    I think in the case of the artist, blogger, and failed entrepreneur, I see artistic pursuits in all 3. I like to think my blog is a form of art in a way (hey, I try to be creative about stuff :) ). And I know plenty of households with an artist like the one you’ve described. Only one was FI, and he describes himself as retired, and recently dropped the artistic gig because his interests changed. The others work at their art because they need money. As in, “hey, I can’t stay at the party, I have to go soon. I have a commission due in a couple days and I’m rushing to get done.”

    When you routinely prioritize art (broadly defined) as you would work, and loose out on leisure time as a result, it looks a lot more like work and not really retirement.

    And as far as this thought experiment goes, I think it’s unique to the FIRE blogger community to even navel gaze about this stuff. 99% of folks out there work to get by, then retire when they are old. Plenty still work in retirement and we have no problem calling them retired because they are old and left their full time careers for something else.

    Also have to lol at the Fincon comments re: monetization. I’ve heard the same thing from full time bloggers or the businesses that support FT bloggers. “Hey man you could do so much more with your blog. Why not consider X, Y, and Z and you could double your traffic in a year easy and increase gross yields by 50% on top of that!”. Like holy crap dude, I’m just flinging words on a page. Ain’t nobody got time for all of that!

    • I know you know this, but this isn’t about trying to slap labels on everyone. This is about saying that we can label ourselves if we so choose, but others don’t get to decide whether we’re retired or not. ;-) And as for what you say to others outside of our little blog echo chamber, I’m totally with you. We will only rarely tell people we’re retired, but expect to find other labels like “blogger” or whatever label Mr. ONL comes up with. ;-) (Professional adventurer? Self-sponsored athlete? Stay tuned.) And LOL on your last comment — for real, who has time to worry that much about blog income???

  15. So many thoughts.

    1. The painting example of $17,000 sounds a lot like my dog sitting business. I love dogs. While I wouldn’t host a hundred dogs a year for free, I would certainly do a smaller amount for passion.

    I’ve settled on Bill Belichick, coach of the Patriots, says when they ask him about retiring. He always says something to the effect of, “I enjoy coaching football… it beats work.” So I think there’s definitely an aspect that the second act has to be something you are passionate about.

    2. I explored the definition of retirement about 10 years ago ( I came up with 5 qualities of retirement job that wouldn’t really count as work and they didn’t have to do with money:

    – Ability to work on projects that I enjoy
    – Flexibility to working as much (or as little) as I want to
    – Flexibility to when I want to
    – Flexibility to work from wherever I want to
    – Freedom from having to take orders (which I may disagree with) from others. (Be my own boss.)

    I think the more of these that you have, the easier it is to claim that you are still retired (assuming you have the money aspect taken care of) while you are on any second act.

    And as many have pointed out (including yourself), retirement is just a label. A lifestyle by any other name would surely smell as sweet.

    • I absolutely love your 5 qualities. I’ve thought about this many times, but never been able to define what retirement is to me quite so elegantly. I agree 110% and will definitely stealing this definition for my own use. Thank you!

      • I’m glad you like them. I’m sure those concepts could be even more elegantly defined.

        If you read the main article, it was more of me trying to defend a blogging lifestyle as a form of retirement.

        This was before I had an idea of things like second acts and such.

      • Love that! It makes me feel better to see you stealing somebody else’s thinking since we “borrow” your concept of dirtbag millionaires. ;-) (Not in those words of course!)

    • I LOVE your definition of retirement, and I agree 100%. Everyone does SOME work at every stage of life, except maybe the very beginning and very end. So putting some arbitrary label on THIS WORK that counts as not retired, while this other work over here is fine because of some other arbitrary reasons, that’s just totally missing the point. If you get to do work you enjoy, do it when you want to, and without worrying about the money, then you’ve won the game of life, and you can call yourself retired if you darn well please. ;-)

  16. I get conflicted about this too. At first, when we made the decision to work towards FIRE, I imagined we’d just live off our portfolio for the rest of our lives upon leaving our full time jobs. But now over a year in, I’m warming up to the idea of having a side hustle that I can pick up when I want to earn a few extra $$ after the 9-5 ends.

    So, do I see it as retiring? If you want to get into the semantics, the definition of retirement is “the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.”

    So, whilst I’ll be stepping away from my career, I may still work. What I’m doing is trying to achieve is financial freedom to enable me to live a different kind of life without the stress of money to hold me back/restrict me. Personally, I don’t want to give my life labels once we hit FI, I just want to have the freedom to pursue other things, be they hobbies or work.

    Like you say, it’s a massive grey area and everyone will come at it from a different angle, with different thoughts and perspectives.

    • Pretty much exactly the same for us! Given how demanding work has been these last several years, we’ve been dreaming of NOT WORKING because it’s so different from what we do now. But the more we thought about it (okay, really the more I thought about it — Mr. ONL really still just wants to be outdoors doing something rad every day!), the more I realized that won’t be remotely enough. So I will always have projects (ahem, this blog), but I won’t have to give a flip about whether they make me any money. In my mind, that’s still early retirement, but if folks want to police that, so be it. :-)

  17. Several people have talked to this, and the article gets there at the very end, but I think the focus on money misses the point entirely. The point is about TIME. If you are spending all day 3-5 days a week on the thing you love to do you will be a happy person. But if that keeps you away from something else you *really* want to do, then it has become work. This is true whether you make money at it, or not. It could be cleaning out an old barn (work, but hopefully not for months or years) or it could be working with a favorite charity, where the organization has dragged you in beyond your intended commitment.

    For me, a big part of my FIRE goal is to spend time with my son. (now 2 years old) There are not a lot of things / organizations / activities that will trump family, much less kids. But when he turns 5, he will start to spend time at school, which allows me the opportunity for balance with other things, without sacrificing my main goal. That is my internally-negotiated balance point. And when he goes off to college, that will be an opportunity for yet another chapter in life, and finding a new balance. For a lot of people, empty nesting and retirement come as one big change package. Early retirement, for me, means I can take smaller bites, and I don’t have to find a single answer.

    • I totally agree with how you defined it. If you’re doing it for the love of the task, and it makes you happy, great. If it’s purely for money, different thing. But that’s not a distinction the retirement police types are willing to make. They base it purely on time, not based on motivation or intention, and I disagree with that. Your FIRE goal sounds pretty perfect, and like the best possible reason to retire early. And I LOVE that you’re thinking about your life in chapters. We are not one thing forever, and we’ll all keep evolving in our post-career lives!

    • I agree with Matt that the defining issue is Time. Being able to choose how I use my time is my motivation for saving and trying to live below my means. I really like my job and I like the identity that goes along with it, but there are many days where I have finished my work and I’m ready to go home at 2pm but I have to stay until 5pm…At first I was thinking that maybe something like “being your boss” is what defines freedom, but then I thought about my dad who owns his own company and his time is certainly not free. I think being able to decide day-to-day, hour-by-hour what you want to be spending your energy on is the ultimate definition of financial freedom (to use the phrase of another commenter) and gets at the heart of ER and FI.

      • I agree — I think if our painter started having to paint on a schedule to meet sales demand, that would feel a lot more like a job than just painting whenever the urge struck and then unintentionally being able to sell those paintings.

  18. Hi ONL,

    I do not like labels. Life is full of nuance – so slapping a label like “Retired” essentially is useless, because everyone has an opinion on what a retiree should do. Otherwise, we may spend time arguing about things, which doesn’t really add much in my opinion. For example, if I physically select my investments, am I retired or am I a portfolio manager? If I move cash dividends from my brokerage account to my bank account, am I a bank teller all of a sudden ;-)

    The important thing is to live life to the fullest, to focus on things and are interesting to you, and make your life fulfilled.

    So if you are a painter, go ahead and paint that masterpiece.

    If you want to start a business, start that business.

    If you like working, keep working.

    Worrying what others think about you and how they label you is really something that is counterproductive, detracts from your happiness, and actually is in a certain way an example of keeping up with the Joneses opinion.

    I do believe that financial independence is all that matters to me. Having money gives you options in life. Money, for me, isn’t what it can buy in material possessions, but it means intangibles such as freedom and peace of mind. So labels, and discussing labels doesn’t really add much in my opinion. It just detracts us from the fight to go ahead and reach our goals

    • In truth, the point of this post was to get people to stop self-appointing themselves as the arbiters of these labels. So I’m with you. I think if you choose to slap a label on yourself, great, and I do think for the point of communicating clearly about we’re all aiming to do, some labels do add clarity. But in general, I HATE someone labeling others, and that’s what I’m attempting to shine a light on here. Anyway, that’s my counter rant. ;-)

  19. Well both of these posts have been interesting. I was a casual observer at FinCon last year since it was a short Lyft ride from my house and I heard similar monetization discussions. My opinion as a recent consumer of a lot of retirement blogs is that the folks whose intentions are purely motivated by giving information and ideas and discussing ideas and theories who “happen” to make money on the side don’t bug me so much. I can see through a few of the blogs hat have changed to become more money making ventures though there is one in particular that I read that has added value to me lately and I noticed that the ads were about more meaningful “things”. That makes me more likely to turn back to that blog for the value add piece that also generates income. I’ve been turned off by bloggers with extra opinionated views on finance theory because it seems everybody is an expert in an up market… and finally I liked these two posts for a couple of reasons – 1) I am curious to know a few folks who have done FIRE just on the 4% rule and how has that worked? 2) I’ve been pretty obsessed myself with the mechanics of his this is all going to work – hedging against sequence risk and how I’m actually going to access cash flow when I need it. I *think* I have figured out my approach to this whole thing for myself but putting my theory into practice will be interesting. One other thing at play here – someone who is FIRE – already is someone who has been successful and motivated and productive – I gotta imagine it’s hard to not make a creative pursuit profitable when you already are quite practical and disciplined. GREAT thought experiment.

    • You were at FinCon last year and we didn’t meet?!?!?! And yeah, I share pretty much all your thoughts here. I think it’s usually easy to tell a blogger’s intent, and I definitely gravitate toward those who are genuine in wanting to share info and build community, and I am continually wowed by the incredible generosity of this community. Those clearly in it just for the money, buh bye. And we think about the same things you’re thinking about in the plan, though it’s seeming more and more likely that we’ll make some money that will both obviate the need to test our version of the 4% rule (not really 4% at all, but based on our two-phase projection), and protect us on the sequence side. But who knows! Either way, we’ll talk about it here. :-)

      • Yes, I was there… but I was there on “official business” for my job and didn’t get to participate much in the social parts of it since I also have a 9 year old who has activities after school (not complaining – I just have to be efficient with my time). I did get to sit in on a few presentations, which were all excellent. My opinion is that if you go into the early retirement blog-o-sphere with the intent to make money with it, you might not be doing it for the right reasons. And I think there are some people whose blogs now make money who are still cool and add value and do so without ego. I get a big ego vibe though from a few blogs and some I choose to read still to see if there is any information I can glean and others I’ve unsubscribed from. I think there are a lot of different ways to pull this FIRE thing off and if you are living life on your own terms even if you make money on your blog, then you are FIRE in my book. Mentally completely letting go and turning over our future to the 4% rule is a little disconcerting especially for folks who are used to taking life by the horns. My hedge is to follow a 3.5% rule because I think the data shows that the chances of success are above 99.5%. I was given some advice that if I wrote about early retirement, it would help me remain accountable. And I totally believe that to be true. I just can’t bring myself to do much more than consume information and comment for the time being and kick butt at work for 3 more months.

        I think I saw you walk out of a room at FinCon I was walking into and did a double take on your name tag but by the time it registered who you were, I believe you were already in a conversation and I think I was headed somewhere else and didn’t feel like interrupting. :) Oh, and for the record, I’m a mountain lover but a single planker (my kiddo is a skier)… don’t judge. I went back to skiing for a few years when said kiddo was younger (days when she wasn’t in a lesson) but something about riding a board is so fun though my back leg on powder days feels like it wants to fall off. Let’s get some turns in next season when we both have lots more time! Maybe I can convince you to visit my home mountain? I am about to buy my pass for next season. That cost is factored into my annual budget, too. I’m pretty sure that I can pull off all our lodging needs through travel hacking, however.

      • So much here! Well I’m still bummed we didn’t meet at FinCon, but sometime! I think the 3.5% rule is smart, especially if you’re risk-averse like I am. I forgive you for being a knuckle dragger, even though skiing is of course the superior sport. ;-) And we’ll totally ski with you at your home mountain if you can share some buddy passes. Or maybe backcountry? Single day lift tickets are a quick way to bust an ER budget! Hahahaha.

      • Yes, I will share buddy passes – my husband and I each have 5 of them (they are 50% off). Also, there are ways to get discounted tix at Costco from time to time as well as friends who can buy them on the military base in town. Usually those cost about the same as the buddy passes. Backcountry is in my future, but with a 9 year old, that’s not happening for another 3-5 years. The whole goal has been to keep it super fun and get her to be a solid skier. I didn’t do much skiing growing up and I struggled on the two planks. Decided to try a snowboard and after 2 days, I could ride as well as I could ski, my feet were cozy warm and I loved the effortlessness of lugging a single board around. And yes, sorry, I didn’t realize that I had done a complete brain dump in the previous comment. :) Apparently I am quite opinionated after reading too many FIRE blogs for the past 20 months.

      • Sweeeeet. Hooray for buddy passes. ;-) And I’m glad you’ll look at backcountry down the road! And keep those opinions coming — love them!

  20. I’m fascinated by this phenomenon that there are people who care what other folks do after they hit FIRE. People who are FI have made smart financial decisions and have the freedom to live the life they want. That being said, I do enjoy your philosophical posts, Mrs. ONL. I’m not interested in getting into the weeds of whether someone is “retired or not” but your post did make me wonder why people bother with those quibbles when there’s so much other value to be had?

    Personally, the FIRE community has inspired me to imagine life beyond my day job and about what other opportunities are possible. I still don’t think of myself as creative or entrepreneurial, but you all push me to ponder those options when I would otherwise steer clear of such ideas. I really value that. You and other bloggers pose good questions about what kind of life we’d choose to live if it was completely up to us. My answers are TBD, but it’s a very worthwhile journey.

    • Ha — same here. Along with the whole internet troll phenomenon (I got called “fake news” and worse on MarketWatch today. Ha!), I just wonder… do you really have that much free time that you can sit and judge other people or what they’re calling what they’re doing??? Oh well, apparently they do! And this is of course just a fun thought exercise, not meant to push for MORE labels, so big picture, I completely agree with you. And thanks for your nice notes — so glad you enjoy reading here, and that the blog helps spur new thinking for you! <3

  21. I don’t think I will ever pass as “retired” in a way that is acceptable to the retirement police. I love making money through side hustles and wouldn’t stop once I hit a number that made me comfortable leaving my full-time job. I also enjoy experimenting with monetization strategies on my site. Some sort of work gives me identity and makes me feel accomplished. I definitely will pursue it in “early retirement.”

    • Yeah, but screw those police. ;-) Hahaha. I say call it want you want, no matter how much you love those side hustles. If they’re fun to you and you’d do them without the money, then no worries!

  22. The “Retirement Police” as you call, it seems to me like a communist guy, that think money is horrible. If you make money you are a slave to it. If you don’t make money you are free. Which is totally the opposite. You are slave to money when you don’t have any.

    If you do a hobby when you make money out of it, it has nothing to do with retirement plan. You are retired, you are free. The only thing that makes you not free is if your mind traps you. Meaning, you make $7,200 with your paintings and that makes you more ambitious. So if you were happy with $10,000 from passive income, now you want $20,000 a month, so you need your passive income plus paintings income. Still retired for me. You can leave the painting if its boring, but you decided to put your freedom away for a while and do the paintings even if you don’t want because you are drunk on money.

    For me retirement = the ability to walk away if it’s not fun anymore. Just like you said.

    IF you have this ability but YOU choose not to take it BECAUSE you are drunk on money, its YOU that is trapping your self NOT the money. So retired but with different plans. Thats all.

    • I certainly didn’t coin the term “retirement police” but that’s an interesting way to think about them! And that’s an interesting test for whether someone is retired or free, basically if they’re focused on the money piece. Thanks for weighing in!

  23. Ha. I have a post in the hopper about “what is work” the premise being that everyone works. AKA does laundry, cooks, mows their lawn, volunteers, raises kids, home repairs, or whatever it is for them. Being FI is for us is more about getting to do the work we want to do, if we earn money or not. We can do a lot more free work. Sometimes we even pay other people to do our work so we can do different work that we love more.

    And people who don’t do any work at all are weird. I’m sorry, but it’s true. When they pay other people to do all their work, things get odd. (think maid, lawn service, cook, laundry service, ect.) They end up stressed out because they have a teeth cleaning and chiropractor appointment in the same week.

    Being FI for us is more about choosing the work we love. And saying no to work that sucks. Maybe that’s gardening, or hanging out with our kids. Maybe that’s giving speech, or serving on boards. Maybe….whatever the heck we want. Maybe we earn money, or save money by doing it, maybe not. But money is about the 8th question we get to ask.

    I don’t really care what others want to call it. I’ll call it freaking awesome!

    • Hahaha — That’s funny and true that folks who outsource too much stuff get weird. ;-) I noticed you used the FI term instead of wading into the ER thought exercise debate, which is totally fair since you guys aren’t really aiming for ER.

      • Our ER status would be super grey area. =) We have about 2 hours of “downtime” a day. And about 10+ hours of “work” but we only earn income from about 1 hour of that time. We don’t have to do the other 9 hours of “work” (cooking, errands, kids, hiking, gardening, traveling, writing, blogging, freelance projects). But it’s how we like to spend out time. I don’t call us ER just because it looks so different than what most people would think ER should look like. But the reality is we left our careers and are doing what ever the heck we want. So I feel a bit ER. =) The FIRE police would go ballistic, so I will just let them pick whatever label they like. =) As long as I get to custom pick my lifestyle they can decide what to call it. I don’t feel much different working on a cool freelance writing gig or working in my garden. Playing with my kids or blogging. It’s all just want I want to be doing that day. Although I do hate cleaning my house. I might start paying someone else to do that. For reals. Then the frugality crowd will flip a lid. =)

      • And that’s totally the point of the whole thing. If you don’t want to label what you’re doing, great! If you do want to label it, great! But you should get to call it whatever the heck you want, just as the point is to do whatever you want, and others don’t get a say in the matter. :-)

  24. This is 100% where I will be in May of this year. I have left work and have enough saved to be FI and support the expenses we have that my income supported.

    BUT I plan to keep adventuring, hiking, climbing and being in the outdoors. I plan to keep networking and meeting new people and expanding my circle. I plan to keep working on my blog and promoting myself. All of this will allow me to gain organic work that comes to me via selling photos from my experiences or doing freelance writing. Heck I have started to get gear sent my way to do reviews. While this doesn’t put cash in my pocket it does help me preserve my savings.

    For me the goal is to preserve my savings if my fun times allow me to generate income. The key will be to balance it and ensure I don’t overload myself or introduce any unnecessary stress into my life.

    I find the volunteer positions I hold to be the real work and add the most workload on my shoulders. Now how does that fit …

    As for my blog, it would be rad if it generated some income but I don’t have the traffic or engagement to even consider that. It is the platform I use to showcase myself for the freelance work that I can hopefully keep getting.

    Anyhow, I completely support your perspective and approach to the topic.

    • I don’t think I knew your exit date was so soon. That’s awesome, pal! Congrats!! I’d say, even with all the stuff you’ll be doing, you’ll still clearly be early retired (at least if you choose to say that about yourself!), but I’m sure there are others who’d disagree. I think your case makes it easier to see as ER because so little of your time will be spent at a desk — I think we see work done at a desk as fundamentally different (more “worky”) than activities done outdoors or somewhere else. ;-)

  25. I think the FIRE community needs to bite the bullet and admit they are not fully retired. At least not the public ones. Acting as prophet for the movement is work, even if it is only part time. Every CEO in America is FI. They are working for some other reason – prestige, power, bigger yacht than the other CEO’s, seeing your dream come to fruition. Retirement is really a 20th century phenomenon anyway. Everyone just worked until they dropped before then.

    You need a different category than working or retired. You have achieved the apex of the Maslow’s pyramid of needs. You now do things to further your own growth, not some artificial growth of the corporation. This must be better than either wage slave or on the sidelines. Celebrate.

    • You are totally right that retirement is a new phenomenon (still less than 100 years old!), and I think that’s part of the problem with the term. Because it’s no new, it doesn’t have a fixed meaning. So it’s hard to be talking about the same thing, using the same term, but infusing all kinds of different meaning into it. And you’ve got me thinking re: Maslow. Though I’m not sure that achieving full FI equates to self-actualization either. That’s a whole other ball of wax!

  26. Man the retirement police are going to have to cuff me and throw me in a cell when I ‘retire’. I want to quit working my career job, so I can go do things I want to do. Those things happen to look suspiciously like work: ski patrol/instructor, youth camp counselor, stained glass pieces…. with the added bonus of (sometimes very low pay). It’s work to be a counselor and be responsible for 20 kids, 24 hours a day, for a straight week. However, it happens to be something I love and find rewarding – even if it only pay $1500 a summer.

    I want the freedom to pick my job based on what fulfills me and makes me happy – not on what pays the most.

    • Hahahaha. Fortunately the police only arrest you, they don’t prosecute. ;-) Speaking of summer camp, my old camp where I last worked in 1998 just emailed me to ask me to submit my criminal background check paperwork. That was some hilarious back and forth. ;-) And you know my view — if you want to do all that stuff and still call yourself retired, more power to you! (Plus, I will totally back you up if anyone tries to say you’re getting rich working at a camp. Those jobs pay less than peanuts!)

  27. I think you are what YOU think you are. I retired intending to RV full time. Before we hit the road a part-time virtual opportunity arose that was in my field. I took it because it sounded fun and would bring in extra money that we wouldn’t have to take out of savings. I enjoyed doing this with a few days here and there not so fun for about 5 yrs. We still did all the traveling and touring we had intended with little adjustment for the job. I quit about the time I qualified for SS, since a change in administration no longer made it fun. I felt retired all that time. But the money, being the cheap person I am, made it gravy for me and preserved more financial independence for later. I thought it was win-win!

  28. You’re basically describing everything we hope to do in “retirement” – or “lifestyle change.” Maybe we should start calling our future the “attempted entrepreneur stage with a hefty safety net.”

      • Well, since we’re terrible at marketing or selling ourselves, we’re basically only the artistic/ideas generators and hope someone else can help with all that dull stuff. :)

      • Fortunately with the gig economy, you should be able to find cheap help on that. Or maybe I’ll be bored and help you guys with that! ;-) #onlytheboringarebored

  29. I’ve always thought of retirement as financial independence, whether it’s early retirement or at 65. In these scenarios, the person will be fine if the hobby/side hustle income stops tomorrow. Whereas, if someone is 65 and retires from his/her career job, but cannot afford to live on retirement savings and must take another job…well I’d say they just changed jobs, or they’ve gone to part-time work. I think being able to live off of the passive income is what retirement and FI means to me. But what about celebrities who have millions and could clearly live without working another day, but they still act/sing/etc.?

    • Not to take us down a whole traditional retirement rabbit hole, but I’m sure you know the stats: More than half of people are forced to retire for a range of reasons (poor health, layoffs, ageism) well before they are ready to do so financially, and if it’s poor health, then they can’t easily work another job afterward. So they’re not FI but still retired. But I digress… ;-)

      I love the Q you posted about celebs or other super rich folks who clearly don’t need to work but choose to continue. To me, the answer is intention (the opposite of two of my three fake examples — celebs intend to keep working and making money), but I’d love to know what you think!

  30. Labels are sticky and hard to get off. They suck.

    I’d call you (hypothetically) a smart artist. You can be retired and selling your paintings. The difference is that you aren’t doing it because you need the money to live off. It’s the excess. If you go on a tour or start your own line…that may be different. It’s the obligation factor as someone mentioned above.

    My version of ER is being able to have the basics met, so you can spend your time in other pursuits. Be it volunteering, working in a coffee shop in who knows where, etc. The concept is fuzzy but it boils down to being passion driven instead of needs driven.

    • I love that definition — passion driven instead of needs driven. One of my high school teachers told me that he started working at a coffee shop after retiring, not because he needed to financially, but because he just loved getting to chat with people for several hours each week. You could say, “Hey, you’re still working, you’re not retired!” but he couldn’t have cared less about the paycheck. He really just thought it was a great time!

  31. So I had a really interesting conversation about what constitutes financial freedom with a group of people who I almost guarantee have never read a FIRE blog in their lives, and it all came down to “being able to turn my business into a full time gig so I can leave my job.”

    When you say “as leaving your primary career to do the things you’d rather be doing” as the definition, I think the one thing that trips me up most is what if the thing you’d rather be doing IS running a business? Which yes, would be a heck of a lot less terrifying if you had all the money you’d ever need in theory in your retirement accounts already… but to me, financial freedom is the ability to run a business that supports you, instead of working at a job.

    Anyways, none of that is retirement anyways, so this might be one of the more off-topic comments you get on this entire post, lmao. Your definition just reminded me of that “What does financial freedom look like for you?” talk with a buncha entrepreneurs.

    • I don’t think this is off-topic at all! You raise a SUPER important point, which is that terms mean something different to everyone (like the experts on TV who define “financial independence” as little more than not living paycheck to paycheck anymore — sooooo different from how the FIRE community defines it). And so while others who focus on FI might like “financial freedom,” that term is hugely up to interpretation as well, as you prove here. I really think that’s why folks settled on “early retirement” well before we got here, because it comes the closest to being indisputable, although even then, “retirement” means something different to everyone, hence the existence of the retirement police. ;-)

  32. Who cares what the internet police wants to say. Stop worrying what some stranger says about you on the internet. So what if you’re making money while you’re “retired?” So those 70/80 year olds that stand in front of Wal-Mart to greet people because they didn’t want to sit at home all day… I guess technically they aren’t “retired” either?

    This is one of the reasons why I don’t use the word “retirement.” I use financial independence instead. In FI, you can choose to work if you want to.

    • Haha — you fell into the early retirement police trap of arguing back! ;-) This exercise is aimed at those who tell others whether they can or can’t use a label, and to some extent you’re bowing to that pressure by using FI instead of ER as your term of choice. ;-) I’d love for us to get to a place where we can all choose how we want to describe whatever we’re doing and shut up those who think they can tell us whether that term is correct or not. ;-)

  33. I go to work every day because I have to. Its not a choice. If you end up working your butt off because you ‘want’ to. by all means keep calling yourself retired. I have more than one family friend who are retired and say they are way busier in retirement than during their career. they are constantly offering their time to educate others, help others, or volunteer in some other way. Occasionally some of this work is paid. But its all optional because they are retired.

    • Sounds like your view on retirement is a lot like mine! And yeah, I’ve heard that same thing from quite a few early retired folks, that they quickly started to wonder how they ever had time for a job before!

  34. I’ve always thought that the “retirement police” were people who are not FI, so in order to justify their inability to achieve it, they vehemently point out flaws in others. I find that most FI-types have very strong internal locus of focus and intuitive thinkers (NT), so they care less about these specific definitions.

    • Oh you could totally be right about the retirement police! I haven’t had them come after me, so haven’t had that first-hand experience of what they quibble with. And the point here isn’t to start smacking labels on people, it’s to point out the absurdity of arguing with them in the first place. ;-)

  35. It’s a tough question to answer. Let me take the contrarian position. For me retirement truly is done don’t care if I make another dime. Financial independence is doing things that may generate money but could stop what your doing and not make another dime. I don’t begrudge anyone using the R word as I’m not the Retirement police. Frankly you can call yourself anything you like. But to me being free to dabble in whatever that makes money is financial independence. Completely walking away from earnings is retirement in the strictest sense. Still, I’m not much for labels so I’m not sure it matters.

    • Hahaha — it for sure doesn’t matter. Just putting this out there for the fun of really thinking it through and debating it. :-) For those who think doing some work isn’t retirement, I am super curious to know where that line is, when a person crosses from retired into “maybe not truly retired.” And I have the same view on labels, though I have no problem with someone identifying with one for him or herself — my problem is with others trying to decide for that other person if the label is okay.

  36. I love the thought experiment. Please promise that you will continue them after you unmask yourself-sometimes its easier to put a controversial topic out there when you don’t think people will be able to hunt you down…like the retirement police?

    When I was in college I was a student who also worked in retail and food service. Am I a retired retail worker? A retired food service worker? A retired student? I would say I had a career change to my current part time job and will probably change careers a few more times. I don’t plan to use the retired label because it focuses too much on where I’ve been and I’m much more interested in identifying myself by where I’m going until I’m too old to care.

    Since you asked, my accountant bias would draw the line for “retired” when paying income taxes on a hobby, since that’s when you are covering more than your costs plus charitable contributions. But even no-pay passion projects can interfere with spending time with loved ones so I do think it’s worth exploring the time involved and if the hobby becomes a job when you start to turn down too many other things you value.

    Ultimately call yourself whatever you want because living according to what others think usually turns out badly.

    • Thanks for saying that! And not to worry — this kind of stuff will for sure continue. I’ve met most of the big FI bloggers already anyway, so they’d know how to find me. :-D (Now, as for the retirement police, I wouldn’t mind putting off drawing their ire for as long as possible.) ;-)

      I love your way of looking at this, and asking the questions about whether you’re retired from your college job. (Given that you were in college to get your “real” career, I’d say no, but I still love the question framing!) And by your definition, this blog is a “job” since I pass up other stuff to work on it, but that’s also a choice because I love this. I suspect we’ll never have enough time to do everything we want to do, and will always have hard choices to make. That’s certainly what we’ve heard from lots of folks who have retired ahead of us!

  37. Fantastic.

    Lots of fun to think about who says this or who thinks what, and I ponder the same questions. In the end, it matters little, but it’s hard not to ponder what the masses or your internet buddies think about your online pursuits. I know I do.

    I haven’t retired from the day/night job yet, but my online alter ego has progressed from A to E in Example 2 far more quickly than I thought possible.

    Now I’m compelled to adjust my message from “I’m retiring” to “I’m retiring from clinical medicine.” On one hand, it’s awesome that I’ve found a way to cushion the landing when I give up a healthy income, but on the other hand, as you covered in your recent post, my message is cheapened.

    Folks might assume that they can only transition out of medicine if they have a potentially lucrative fallback, when that’s not the case at all. I had enough to walk away before I started talking about it online. But few will get that.

    I am anonymous for now, but that’s tenuous. When I’m found out, I imagine many will assume I’m “quitting” because I have this sweet website. The thing is, I was able to quit before I started writing or knew a single thing about making a website. It’s a chicken versus egg game for some, but I know darned well the chicken came first. Or is it the egg?


    • Glad you enjoyed, PoF! This one is just for fun, and clearly matters not in the least in any real sense. ;-) It’s interesting that you’re thinking of adjusting your message. I guess I’m more shameless in that way and plan to plant the “early retired” flag pretty much regardless of what we do next. ;-) (Though I don’t see any scenario in which we work anywhere close to full-time, and under no circumstance would we ever go back to the 150%+ that we work now.) As for your story, I think it’s clear that you were already FI, and so long as you say “this is what my transition looks like but yours doesn’t have to look the same or have post-medicine active income because of X,” you’ll be fine!

  38. Nice way to lay it out! I don’t have to much to add except to echo a couple of thoughts by other commenters -welcome to the Echo Chamber, lol.

    I think in a lot of cases it’s because we’re (blogging FIRE community) championing being retired and getting away from work, etc… and “here’s how we’re going to do it” sort of thing. Like your last post pointed out, when we get away from that and have something else that fills our time, does it count as retired still? I’d say yes, as long as it doesn’t detract from your leisure activities.

    Like the comment someone made about an artist friend that has to leave parties early to finish commissioned paintings, hurray, you’re a professional artist now, yep their lifestyle is already pretty much retired, just call yourself an artist, lol.

    The other thing is, do you need the income? If you’re retired and FI and things go south and you HAVE to go back to work because things didn’t work out in retirement, then you’re back working “in retirement”. If you pick up a cool money making hobby, side gig, whatever and you can drop it at any point or don’t need the income, then yeah I’d say you’re still retired.

    It’s more about semantics at that point. Except that we’re bloggers, blogging about “being retired” so we get put on a different pedestal and held to a different standard than regular retirees. My dad had part time jobs and no one ever told him he “wasn’t retired anymore, quit calling himself retired!” That’s because he wasn’t slinging word into the internet espousing early retirement and that sort of thing. If he quit them, life would go on, and he didn’t necessarily need the income, it was more for social interaction. He also actually early retired, so it wasn’t like he was 70 doing that.

    When I become a stay at home dad (SAHD) my career would be retired, but with Prof SSC working does that still count as retired for me? Not in my book, I’m just done working for the man. I wouldn’t call myself retired, though, maybe like PoF, just retired from Petroleum Geology, lol.

    • Look at you… you just appointed yourself the Retirement Police! Hahahaha. You’re totally right about blogging early retirees being held to a different standard, because we are seen as the poster children of the movement, and the internet trolls of the world are always eager to call foul. (Seriously, just look at 2 or 3 comments on my Obamacare thing that showed up on MarketWatch! Some people have an enviable amount of free time…)

      • OMG those comments were hilarious. Not all of them but enough to keep me reading, lol. And as far as the Retirement Police; There’s a new Sheriff in town… Not really, I could care who does what, but as long as the question is put out there, that’s how I see it. :)

      • “I’m gonna die at work, so you should have to too, and also you’re a mooch, but also an entitled coastal elite snowflake!” Hahahahaaha

  39. I don’t think the label ‘retirement’ matters as much as whether a person feels happy and fulfilled, so to me, the definition is unimportant.

    • Haha — the definition is 100% unimportant. :-) This is just a thought experiment to head off critiques by the retirement police who claim to be the ones who get to define what retirement looks like. I’m with you — we can all define it for ourselves!

  40. Hey! Great post.

    I am new to this community, so forgive me if I miss the point. Who cares how anyone defines retirement? Does anyone get a hero biscuit for being retired with income vs without? Either way, I think people are really f’g lucky if they’re able to choose what they do for money on their own terms. I guess that’s what retirement means to me.

    Perhaps the concern is that some folks might view you as an “entitled snowflake” once you’ve formally retired, because even though you’re legitimately living off your retirement funds, they may feel that you haven’t “paid your dues” yet. To that I say, hater’s gonna hate. Let them think what they want… you’ll be too busy in your retirement to care, right?

    • LOL — You are 100% correct that this doesn’t matter one bit in real life! But there is lots of debate within this navel-gazing community, and among the “retirement police” types about what actually constitutes “retirement.” And so this is meant to challenge that, and my essential thesis is: If you want to call yourself retired, then you’re retired! ;-) I’d guess based on how you describe what retirement means to you that you agree! (But there are plenty of folks who think if you earn much more than a penny that you can’t call yourself retired anymore.) And I definitely got that entitled snowflake treatment in the comments on my piece that went on MarketWatch, but I think the argument from the police is more about selling this thing (not working any more) and then not actually doing what they think you promised, either because you’re just a hypocrite or because you can’t actually live off passive income as you said you would.

  41. I loved this post SO MUCH! Is there anything better than pointing out the numerous flaws of the Retirement Police arguments? One thing that I haven’t seemed mentioned yet is that pretty much every RP member seems to be fully employed. I mean, it certainly couldn’t be jealously driving these ridiculous comments, right? LOL

    For the record, my defintion is that if you consider yourself retired, then you are.

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Eric! And it does seem that the RP tend to be fully employed, so yeah, there’s that. ;-) (In the comments on my health care post that went on MarketWatch yesterday, it was pretty shocking the number of folks who said some version of “I have to work til I’m 70, so you should have to too!” It’s funny but also sad. And I love your definition of retirement — it’s an opt-in definition that we choose for ourselves. :-)

  42. I haven’t seen a comment above citing “Tale of the slave.” Your question is exactly the same form. (

    So given that a “label” cannot be assigned to a specific threshold, I would argue that “retired” versus “financially independent” gets scored on a “percentage of effort on un-desired activity.” My “work” is not defined by the parts that I like or that define my identify. It’s “work” because there’s an overhead of things I *don’t like* that are included in the job.

    If you spend 95% of your time painting and 5% selling – I’m assuming you don’t *like* selling – you’re pretty much retired. If you spend 50% of your time painting and 50% selling, I’d have to say you’re not really “retired.” Of course, if your love is “meeting people” and selling, then 5% painting and 95% selling could still be retired. The “painting” is the overhead for what you want to do – a conversation starter.

    • You definitely win the award for the most scholarly-sounding response. ;-) And I think that’s a pretty solid definition in terms of time allocation on tasks you don’t like. I buy that.

  43. My husband retired closer to the traditional age (55) and I will be retiring early at 50 in a few months. If I stayed 5 more years, I would have substantial health benefits and a pension close to $65K/year. But I would have traded those 5 years of our lives. I will still be working very part-time (3-4 hours/week) online (because it increases my pension so much) – and many of the RP would say I wasn’t retired because of that. But I don’t have to do. It is just a really smart decision – and I enjoy it. After I hit 55, I may keep doing it because it is helping kids – and that matters to me. The interesting thing is the “label” and the FIRE movement has really helped push me to finally leave full-time work. It just felt SO weird because of my traditional (teaching/education) career. And I doubted myself for a long time too. I can count on one hand how many peers “retired early” by choice during my 28 years in education. I haven’t told people I’m retiring early though. I just say “I have a lot of cool things I want to do – and I don’t need to work”. Maybe I should embrace the label to help others find out more? Hmmmm…..

    • Gosh, if anyone says you’re not retired because you work 3 hours a week, they are nuts! Especially if you can do it from anywhere. I’d just see it as your way of building up your investments, because it feeds your pension, which you’ll get back. As for what you call yourself when you leave in June, go with your gut. I think it’s a nice thing to plant the idea for others, but you gotta do what feels right!

  44. I have a hard time defining that line FI/ER as well.

    As we move closer to goals, my husband and I have been talking about how the next few years will look like. He wants keep programming for sure, but deciding how that will look.

    He’d like to keep working for pay, creating some income and he’d also like to give more time to the open source community and help out on projects. Would that make him semi-retired?

    • I think semi-retired is a super safe catch-all term if you’re concerned about the retirement police. And if you’re not, then call yourselves whatever the heck you want! :-D And I love your vision for how you want to spend your time!

  45. I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about him, but I always liked the way Tony Robbins categorized it.

    Financial Security – Housing, food, cars, and basic entertainment are covered by passive income

    Financial Independence – You don’t have to work and everything is covered

    Financial Freedom – You don’t have to work and everything you can think of is covered

    He also says most people won’t stop working even when they hit the higher levels. They’ll just continue working on things they are passionate about.

    • I mean… I don’t think I want to hang out with Tony Robbins, but I can completely appreciate how he thinks about this stuff. Hahaha. Though by his definition, we’ll probably never reach financial freedom, because I can think of a LOT of first class flights. We’ll have to settle for plain old FI, I guess. ;-)

  46. For me, retired = not having to work for money anymore, i.e. not having an obligation to work, for the rest of your life. Basically the same as FI, tbh. So A, B and C are all retired. However, the bigger question IMHO is: why would they, or anybody else, care about whether other people think they are retired or not? Really, ONL-ers, you are almost free to do whatever you want to do for the rest of your lives. I suggest that freedom should also include the freedom not to give a heck about what anybody else thinks :).

    • Haha — We’re totally with you in not caring. This is just a fun thought exercise to shoot down the arguments of the retirement police, who cause us FIRE bloggers a lot of eye rolling. ;-) But heck yeah to not caring what anyone else thinks!

  47. Illustrative conversation:
    What do you do for work?
    I am unemployed.
    Are you looking for work?
    No, I am FI.
    How do you spend your time?
    However I want. Somethings cost money, somethings make money. I am really passionate about ______, so I spend quite a bit of time doing _______.

    Everyone can choose the label they want to be called. Others can choose how they label others.

    The important thing in your examples is that each person had purpose and is focused on it.

    • You’d at least answer, “funemployed,” right? ;-) I suspect that will be my answer some of the time, along with “blogger,” “sponsored athlete” (just to see the look on their face before I tell them I’m the sponsor — ha) or “stay at home non-mom.” Hahaha. I totally agree that everyone can choose their own labels, if they want them at all, though I’d love to see a lot less labeling of others.

  48. I think the word retirement is not all that useful. As you may know I like to frame my life in terms of freedom. Retirement is ‘freedom from’ instead of ‘freedom to’. When I’m retired I’m free from having to work. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to ever trade my time for money again, but I won’t have to. When I’m financially independent I have more ‘freedom to’ do what I want. I think the language matters here.

    • I’ve definitely concluded that there is no perfect word to describe this stuff. Even “freedom” is used by Tony Robbins and others to mean basically extreme wealth, which is (I assume) not how you are using it. There’s no escaping word baggage and misinterpretation. Oh well, just means we all have to determine the definitions that work for us of whatever word we choose!

  49. This post has a lot of things. and above all, it will oblige me to ignore my personal feelings and opinions on the word retirement….

    To me, FI (haha, I managed to avoid retirement) will be successful when I can spend 80pct or plus of my time on my terms, on things I love and value, that make me happy and satisfy me.

    To take the blogger example: that could mean that I go from success to failure: how: the blog takes up that much of my time and creates that much obligations that it starts to feel as must do again. That is a big NONO in retirement.

    The entrepreneur example: he is still “retired”, he just did not yet succeed in being an entrepreneur.

    PS: did you know, that sometimes, I dream of a job at the police. No joke: the things I see in traffic or on the train make me want to help justice…

    • First, I love that you’re creating your own definition of the word — whether that’s retirement or FI ;-) — that doesn’t worry what others might say qualifies for either. And second, I think 80 percent is a pretty good level to aim for.

      That police dream is pretty hilarious. But I know what you mean, and I sometimes wish I could write tickets for littering, driving like a jerk, etc. ;-)

      • Oh irony: i likely have at least 3 speed tickets the past month…. Life happens… Yes, you can give me the lightning look, i deserve it.

        On the FI: how about PFI personal finance independence (itneeds a more sexy name). It is not a race against the other Joneses (we both have a post on that) it is about finding your personal habits that lead to happiness. For some that is being cheap, or frugal or binge watching television or running a blog as a pro while traveling like a mad. Who am i to disagree with any of those. I do need to read the story and see what i can apply to my own journey.

      • You hypocrite! Hahahaha. If it makes you feel better, I recently met a FIRE blogger who still gets an allowance for personal spending, and spends a lot of it on speeding tickets! ;-) So you’re not alone!

        Maybe we should have a contest to come up with the new, better term for FIRE that encompasses more of what you’re talking about: the why, what makes you happy, etc.

      • not proud, not proud… It goes in waves… There will be less fun the following months as I pay out of my fun money.
        How about Early Freedom? of Fast Freedom? Happy now?

  50. My two cents, for ER bloggers: if you write whatever you want you are retired, maybe even if you spend long hours doing it, and even if you do (or could) live on blogging income alone. Conversely, if you have to say something nice about a product so they provide some affiliate income (or any income) then they become your boss and thus you are not totally retired, even if you don’t need the money that much or don’t spend much time blobbing.

    • I like that definition! That completely gets at the motivation question, as well as if you’re spending your time the way you’d choose to or the way you feel you must for $$.

  51. I was talking to a friend who is 42 and retiring from the military. He plans to go into consulting. A recruiter cautioned him to use the term “transition” rather than “retire” because of the negative connotations with “retire.” I actually love that word. My parents retired in their 50s, and it was a transition for them. I’d like to be financially independent but transition in my 40s to a less stressful role in the same field. Why? I’m still passionate about my field. I’m just not passionate about management, 100 emails per day, etc. I propose FIRE be renamed FITE. Financial Independence Transition Early.

    • That’s so interesting! It seems like it’s an important difference that your friend is seeking more active work, and not looking to do his own thing like many FI folks. But either way, I do love the idea of “transition,” though I don’t know that I’d use it forever — that’d be one looooong transition. Haha. And if you are in a field that you feel that passionately about, then by all means keep working in it! I love hearing from folks for whom that’s true. Good luck transitioning that work to a more enjoyable balance of more of the good stuff, less of the email and management!

  52. It never bothers me how people self-define in this regard. As long as they are happy and contributing some good to the world, I’m satisfied. (I’m a bad PF/FIRE blogger)

    • Hahaha — not sure how that makes you a bad blogger! ;-) I agree — if someone wants to say they’re retired, then great! I don’t really care if they have some income coming in or spend some time working. And likewise if they feel like using another term or no term at all. ;-)

  53. I personally don’t like the word ‘retirement’. It just does not inspire me or fit my personally. So, I’ve revised FIRE for what does fit my personality…. FIRE is having Freedom, Intellect, Resourcefulness and Enough. I also think that most of us can FIRE ourselves well before we really think we can.

    • That’s a pretty cool new breakdown of the FIRE acronym! I like it! And I think what’s important is that you use a term (or avoid terms) to suit yourself, and you’re doing that. :-)

  54. So the bias I discovered in my own thinking while reading this was the fact that (exclusively in the FIRE context) I don’t consider someone to be early retired if they aren’t financially independent. I know this may sound like an obvious, silly thing, but hear me out.

    Let’s say all 3 cases maintain a lifestyle at $50000 a year (any number will suffice). The size of their portfolio renders them financially independent and able to support their expenses without their jobs. They retire and persue their passions. They start earning a sizeable income eventually or no income at all. To me they are retired either way UNLESS…

    a) They now either spend more than their portfolio would support in isolation (maybe $75000 a year) because of the income from their hobby/craft/business and their lifestyle changes significantly. If you took away the income from the hobby/craft/business, they would not be able to sustain their lifestyle. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s what *not* being financially independent was like before. So sure, their portfolio may still be massive, but it isn’t enough to support their annual expenditure and thus they are not financially independent. To me, they’re not early retired anymore. They *need* to work to sustain the lifestyle. (In the examples, you pointed out lifestyle changes as a result of the new income, that’s where it tips for me regardless of the income or the intentions)


    b) they deplete their portfolio (to fund the hobby/craft/business) to such an extent that they are no longer able to sustain their initial withdrawal strategy ie they can no longer draw $50000 a year (or the equivalent) without collapsing their initial assumptions that helped them decide they could retire. They are thus no longer financially independent and to me that snuffs out them being early retired. They just had enough assets to take a few years off to take some risks and have fun, but they are again going to need to work to sustain themselves. That’s called a Sabbatical :-)

    Again, note I’m very specifically discussing EARLY retirement. The point is that you invested well enough to bow out EARLY at a level where your portfolio maintains your lifestyle. If it no longer does because of choices you made that resulted in the need for external income, you now work part time. No shame in that, but call it what it is.

    That’s at least the thought process I had during this experiment. I kept thinking “still retired” until the extra income started coinciding with lifestyle upgrades. It had nothing to do with intention/motivation to earn money (because that can get muddied when you *need* the money but also believe you do it all for love) nor amount of money earned, but more to do with *need* to earn money to sustain the lifestyles.

    Of course I also love the nuances of 10! Rocks’ five questions/qualifiers.

    Hand me a whistle and a firearm!

    Aaaall this said, do I really care enough what someone else does after they claim to be FIRE to label them as anything but? Nope. Just a really fun thought experiment, so thanks for that!

    • I think you make a great case here, and I agree — at least for folks younger than traditional retirement age. Let’s say you’re 70, you get social security but it’s not quite enough to cover your (low) expenses, you were downsized years ago from your career and can’t find another job, so you work part-time as a greeter at Wal-Mart. To me, you can still call yourself retired then, because you’re not doing whatever your career was, and you sure WANT to be retired. What do you think then? And in your case A, what if after they lose the bonus income, they reduce their expenses back down to where they’d been? I’d say they’re still retired in that case. Curious to know what you think, though. Love the add-on thought starters!

      • Oh I completely agree. That’s why I felt the need to emphasise that my bias only applies to Early retirement, can’t really be so critical of traditional retirees.

        And as far as lifestyle, sure if one is willing to pare down to the original budget, they can call themselves retired. Whether they would though, is something that is so subjective. That’s the beauty of personal(ized) finances!

  55. This is an interesting post. I have recently discovered the FIRE community and many of its bloggers (I found you through POF). I have actually never commented on any of them – yours is the first! After binge reading many sites, I started realizing that the large amount of time I spent reading was just a fraction of what many of these bloggers spend writing. My enthusiasm for their stated purpose began to wane rapidly as I realized may of those extolling the benefits of new found free time were likely spending an inordinate amount of time blogging. I became especially skeptical of their motives in light of the diffuse advertisement plastered all over their sites and throughout the posts. Thank you for remaining untainted; your blog is the one I’ll be following from now on. I’d love to see you write a post about the paradox of bloggers pining for ER yet dutifully reporting for blog duty on a scheduled basis (some even while on vacation)!

    • Honored to be your first comment! ;-) You hit on an interesting contradiction, but I think it matters a ton WHY someone is writing. I write because I can’t NOT write, and having more time to write in ER will count as a victory for me, even if I’m writing on a schedule (which looks a lot like “work”). However, some folks definitely do write in ER to keep their blogs profitable, and I think it’s wise to question that. I’m a big believer that the retirement police don’t get to determine whether we’re early retired — that’s for each of us to decide — but it’s only fair to readers to make clear whether the blog writing (essentially a new career) is actually paying the bills vs. actually living off the financial plan you espouse on the blog. As for that post idea, I’m a good example of living that paradox, but I’d say that because I love blogging, it’s different than having to work on vacation. ;-)

  56. This article is linked to from a piece you inspired me to write –

    Thanks for everything!