In my old career, one of the things I got to do regularly was rebrand organizations, something that I loved doing. People get all frothy to talk personal brands these days, and hey, rock that Instagram feed. But beyond the buzzwordy social media meaning of “brand,” a brand is not fundamentally about logos or taglines or which Snapchat filters you use, it’s what the organization or person promises.
Volvo’s brand isn’t slightly boxy cars, it’s safety. Apple’s brand is cool, intuitive technology. But it works on the negative side, too. No matter how many Polaris ads they run or how many apologies they offer, United’s brand right now is certainly not the friendly skies.
My team and I got hired when cause-based organizations wanted to sharpen their brand, most often because their core promise wasn’t coming through, or because they had evolved beyond their original brand and now wanted to show that evolution to the world.
On those same grounds, I think retirement is long overdue for a rebrand.
Last week’s manifesto post – either a call to rally the blogging troops, or a leave-no-prisoners campaign, depending on your perspective – spurred an unexpectedly large number of conversations about what retirement means anyway. To generalize, there was a strain of comment that went something like:
I don’t know why all these bloggers insist on calling themselves retired when they’re really still working. At best, they’re semi-retired.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by those comments, given that I was calling out bloggers who make money on their blogs or from any side gigs and don’t disclose it. But I wasn’t calling them out for making the money, but for not telling their readers how that could be biasing that thinking, for example by making them feel extra flush and therefore especially rosy about economic forecasts and whether things will work out. That optimistic bias could manifest in all kinds of ways, like having the emotional belief that the 4% rule is already plenty conservative, or that you don’t really need all those contingencies or – worst of all – that you don’t need to get all the way to your financial independence number before leaving your job. We need to make sure readers have some clue if we’re potentially biased in some way, and so long as you do that, then make allllll the money as far as I’m concerned.
But the question of whether earning money makes them retired or not (and “them” in this case includes Mark and me, because we’re side hustling like 10 percent of the time this year) caught me off-guard.
Is Retirement Fundamentally About Time or Money?
To us, retirement has always meant we have control over our time. We could choose to work or not, but we’d never have to work because we need the money, and we’d only take on work that is fun, comes with incredible perks or really fires us up on our purpose. But we wouldn’t suddenly be “not retired” because we happened to earn a little money doing something that was entirely by choice. That’s how I’ve described our vision of retirement from my very first post here three-plus years ago.
And we have that now. The small amount of work we’re doing checks all the right boxes, and it’s a tiny, tiny slice of our lives. We’re still waking up without alarms, we’re spending our days the way we want to, we’re never skipping a powder day because we owe someone something, we don’t check with anyone before scheduling a trip and we feel as free as we’d hoped we would. So the idea that the 10 percent of our time spent working this year someone equals “not retired” felt, quite honestly, absurd. After all, I’m on the record saying this:
But that could also just be my reaction because it felt personal. So I decided to ask Twitter for its infinite wisdom. Is it just me who thinks retirement is fundamentally defined by free time, and not by whether you happen to earn some income?
Turns out, no:
I’m married to a long-time pollster, and Mark assures me that, even with that sample size, 85 percent to 15 percent is vastly more than statistically significant. And whether my question is scientifically worded or not, it’s safe to say that I am not alone in believing that retirement is primarily defined by controlling your time, and perhaps also by having more free time than not, under which definition we surely qualify.
But still, there’s a small but vocal contingent out there – sometimes including the internet retirement police – who believe that earning any sort of income makes you not retired. (For those folks, please try this thought experiment and tell me where you think the line is.)
And that, friends, is a branding problem.
It’s like talking about what “middle class” means, another hot-button topic from last week’s post (that one I expected). It doesn’t matter if academics have created a precise definition for it, we have a country in which virtually everyone identifies as middle class, even the 1 percent. And it’s the same for retirement. Ask 10 people what it means, and you will get 10 different answers. Some will insist you’re only retired if you keep your butt firmly planted in a rocking chair, while others will assure you that you can work as much as you want so long as it’s on your terms. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between.
Retirement’s Brand Promise
On both measures – not being universally understood and overdue for an update based on changes in society – retirement is in need of a rebrand.
On a purely semantic level, “retirement” is really only the moment of departure from one’s career, like commencement is the moment of departure from school. But we’ve all imbued meaning and imagery into it that take retirement well beyond the once momentary definition.
A good brand is never defined by absence of something, it’s defined by presence. What it is, not what it isn’t. On that level, promising “no more work” isn’t nearly as strong as promising “total control over your time.” And, indeed, that is what retirement promises:
The point of leaving work isn’t so that you will never earn money again because that’s somehow bad. The point of it all is to have control over your time. So that’s the brand promise.
Defining a Brand By the Need It Fills
A brand promise gives you the feeling of it, but it doesn’t always describe it well. Using the Volvo example, if someone didn’t know what a Volvo is and asked you, and you responded “Safety!” you would have given an incomplete answer. So we can add to that promise and plug in the need that it satisfies. Retirement’s promise is related to time, so for need, let’s relate it to money:
I added the wrinkle of semi-retirement, but all three states refer to the need for money. When the need for money is gone, retirement opens as an option.
But Retirement Isn’t Just About Ideal States
Like in the United example, we could all say that retirement is its brand promise, but if that’s not how people understand it, it’s meaningless. United’s “friendly skies” promises fall flat the second you get yelled at by a gate agent or flight attendant. (And I’m only using United because it’s the obvious example these days. I have flown United mostly positively for years — and many hundreds of thousands of miles — but moreover, I think all the airlines are about the same. No one is raising the bar for quality these days.)
We can say that retirement is about its promise – control over your time – but that falls flat for a great many people. Two-thirds of people retire before they intend to, and many are so constrained by their finances that they can’t in fact take total control of their time because they can’t afford to do what they’d like to do. Or they are unhealthy or have mobility limitations. So on that measure, retirement isn’t delivering on its brand promise.
Likewise, the need component of retirement fails. Only a tiny fraction of people are well prepared to retire at any age. Many of them are forced to work in their old age because they don’t have enough money to get by. Plenty of people are forced to work or choose to work well after they leave their “real” career, but when you’re 75, I assume the internet retirement police leave you alone and don’t quibble about whether your retirement “counts.”
A Brand Is Its Story
When I helped rebrand an organization, the biggest component of that was telling a new story. Or, more accurately, reshaping its story to better communicate to audiences what it had been trying to say all along, or what it now needed to say based on how it had evolved.
The story we’ve been telling about retirement as a society is still relatively new. People haven’t been retiring in droves for much more than a century, but that’s still plenty old in terms of our personal memories. And our memories have strong images and associations with retirement that mostly have to do with people in their later years. People with lots of gray hair. Grandparents, elderly neighbors, aging parents. Those are the stories we know, so those are the stories we attach to retirement.
But, powerful as those stories are, they don’t dictate what retirement is, or what retirement could be. Because retirement is evolving. Younger people are opting in, and traditional retirees are taking on second act careers and other fun work. Its definition is changing, and those of us pursuing a different path in life are some of the ones changing it.
If we want to change how people see retirement, it’s up to us to tell that story.
How Would You Rebrand Retirement?
So with all of that as preamble, it’s your turn to weigh in. Branding is a participatory exercise, after all. There’s the technical definition of retirement: When you stop working (at least mostly) and therefore have free time. Fine. But then there’s the whole set of promises and rich feelings behind that. What are those things for you? What’s the story about retirement that you’d like us all to be telling? What is retirement’s promise to you? Please share all your thoughts in the comments!
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This reminds me of an exercise from my old linguistic’s semantics class: What’s a Chair?
Most people have a shared view of the typical example what a chair is. (I forget what all these terms are called in the academia world now.) However, a chair doesn’t need to have a back or even four legs… like a stool. A chair can have zero legs… like a chair lift in skiing. If you are sitting on a rock and there’s a rock next to you, you could invite your friend to “pull up a chair” and he/she would probably understand the invitation to sit on the rock next to you.
Despite all this, I’m not sure we need to rebrand what a chair is. I think it’s fine keeping it like it is, the typical case, and realizing that context can allow us to agree on the meaning in that particular scenario. Just because younger people are opting in and older people are taking on second acts, I’m not sure it’s enough to call for a rebrand for what applies to the vast majority.
I kind of agree with this. Fending off the Internet Police can be a fun sport. The “IP” are like the Keystone Cops. Chasing some boogeyman around who doesn’t exist. Fun to call them out, over and over and over again.
Hey look! Grandpa just volunteered at the soup kitchen! He’s not retired! Bust him!
Oh my! Sally is working on a novel! Writing? That’s work! Busted!
Hmm… I’m sorry Grandma Jean, you really shouldn’t be working the register at the gift shop, even if it’s only 4 hours a week. You might as well be hustling in a cubicle for 50 hours a week. *slapped with “not retired” sticker across forehead*
My point is that it DOESN’T apply to the vast majority, though. Given how few people have enough saved for traditional retirement, I think we should expect more and more people to be doing work of some sort in retirement. (And you can quibble over whether it’s really retirement, but if you’ve left or been forced out of your career, you’re collecting Social Security, and you’re only working part time, I’m calling it retired because Uncle Sam considers it retired.) So the associations of retirement with no work and all relaxation no longer work for a large number of people.
Yes, I’ve been sick of the ‘retired’ arguments for a long time now. And most PF blogs have had their “why I don’t like the ‘RE’ part of FIRE” post. Yep, got it. Inevitably their post goes on to say “I don’t want to stop working, I just want to do the work I want to do”. Yep, got it. Me too.
I don’t have the answers to this since I’m not a branding expert, or even a novice. But a thought came to mind that maybe the increasing influence of the gig-economy and the freelance culture will slowly start to erode what retirement means? It’ll take a while, since most of the folks in that space are still super young, but when they hit their 40’s – assuming the influence of freelancing and gig-type work keeps gaining popularity and economic strength – maybe the conversations about what retirement is will get fuzzier and fuzzier. Inevitably the folks doing that type work will be taking “mini-retirements” and sabbaticals and having very disjointed and fragmented careers. So is it too far of a stretch to think that the very nature of a traditional job is changing (slowly) right before our very eyes because of technology?
The traditional job is for sure changing! And I think this is a super interesting line of thought to pursue. The economy in general is changing, what a “career” is is changing and it therefore makes total sense that “retirement” would have to change along with it. As it is, LOTS of people are forced to work in retirement because they don’t have enough saved, they have to provide expensive care for a loved one, etc. But I think we can expect even more shifts in coming decades.
And P.S. I still consider us retired. You’ll never see the “I don’t like the ER part of FIRE” post here. ;-)
The purpose for my own savings is to (one day!) be able to comfortably take opportunities without money or any one time-consuming obligation (9-5 work) as a factor. The main point is to remove the need to be at a ‘stable 9-5’. The way to get there is to make and save money so the income-producing factor is inconsequential. I think of savings as a commitment to my future self — my retired self who isn’t healthy enough to work, isn’t marketable, or just plain isn’t interested. I want to meet that commitment to my future self as quickly as I can without sacrificing too much of my current self.
I save aggressively so I don’t have to be making decisions later with income production as a factor. Once I reach a magic number, I have a million things I want to do and a few different countries I want to settle down in for a few years each.
All the things I want to experience in my life don’t lend themselves to a straight-line career path, so I’m biding my time and saving to get to the point that my resume can look like it encompasses ALL my passions! :)
I’d love to do a few things that happen to produce income, ranging from:
-organizational development/change management
-teaching yoga (more so than I do now)
-global HR mobility/relocation/researching CoL for different cities
-managing a coffee shop and hosting community events (French speaking groups, forums on personal finance, cross-border living, women’s groups, etc.)
-teaching English abroad in a few different countries (including living in Asia and Latin America for a few years each)
-hosting a podcast and retreats for women living abroad, and
I suffer from the ‘I want to do everything’ excitement for life…I embrace on thing so fully it consumes me.. and then I get bored once I’ve scratched the surface and am ready to move onto the next thing that engages me. This doesn’t really fit the straight-line career path so I can’t wait to evolve onwards from my current career and hop to the next ones without consideration of the financial implications!
You are my spirit animal! Each week I come to my husband with a new idea of what we will do after we retire!
The list goes:
– go back to university for a degree in urbanism
– get involved in local givernement to work forwards sustainable city
– get involved in EU organizations to work forwards sustainable development
– pick up more teaching
– pick up motivational aspiration gigs
– get involved with UN with their sustainable policy goals
– work in a coffee shop in Iceland (as long as the work covers the cost difference)
– teach management (me), or English (hubby) in Japan
– develop acting career (hubby) (side gig for him was having small roles in movies, so hey, why not?)
The list goes on. If it took us less then 12 years to get to where we are in our careers, retiring by 40 will mean that we will have 17 years of experience, and another 25 to go. We can fit 2 more career paths in there, on our own terms!
What is to be seen, is if it stays that cool of a thought if you take out the financial motivation factor, but this is another story!
That’s a great list! And you can be retired and do all those things, even if you get paid! ;-) And taking out the financial motivation factor IS huge! It really lets you focus on the work you’d actually want to do and not worry about whether it’s worth enough money in exchange for your time.
You’re definitely describing a life filled with pursuing your passions, which sounds wonderful! And I especially like that you’ll be contributing meaningfully to the greater good, which everyone should aspire to do in some way, IMO. ;-)
Agata, you are my spirit sister! :) I said to my boyfriend last week, ‘I want to learn more about urban planning.. and now there’s a library book on my table that’s 1/2 consumed already! I also worked for the UN on their anti-corruption SDG!! I’ll see you in some future life chapter as my fellow barista.. but can we make it Copenhagen (Denmark) instead of Iceland? :)
Tanja, I completely agree if we’re in a FIRE group, most of us are capable and privileged enough that we should be paying it forward somehow. I used to work in international development but let the career for a few reasons. One was that concept that I was helping but was also highly paid working for the UN and felt a lot of internal friction between my own income/savings goals that I was meeting, while those funds should have legitimately gone to the beneficiary IMO. Really my job just shouldn’t have existed, and the money should have been given away directly instead. Any raise I got made me feel a little guilty actually. I wanted to ask you, did you have any weird feelings about being a highly paid do-gooder in your career?
That might be worth a blog post/podcast — I’m sure there’s a gender filter in there too!
The biggest issue for me with the “RE” part is it can be off putting to individuals outside of the FI community. People hear “retire” and are turned off to the idea because of the stigma retirement carries. People imagine the RE crowd wasting away and not contributing to society. It takes digging below the surface to understand the motives of the FIRE community.
It’s also somewhat misleading as early retirees seem to almost never really retire and some end up spending more time working on projects of interest.
FIRE is a great brand and I totally understand why it has gone semi-mainstream. It’s simple, memorable, and can strike a nerve with people (in a good or bad way).
In the end, we should probably stick with the FIRE brand because there is some magic when a term goes mainstream that can be tough to duplicate. Instead of rebranding FIRE maybe our community should come up with a two or three underlying key messages that consistently explain the motives of the FIRE community.
My question back to you is: why are retirement and projects of interest in conflict? Isn’t the exact reason to retire so you can pursue those projects, whether or not they earn money?
I also think the concern about what retirement means to others is overblown. If you want to call yourself retired, great. It’s your life and you get to decide how or whether to label it. Of course, I say that having written a post talking about rebranding the term, because I do think its connotations now fall short, including for traditional retirees who are being forced to work in greater and greater numbers.
I love your idea for the key messages for the FIRE community, though. What would you include there to show our motivations?
That’s interesting you used to do that for work, sounds like an enjoyable job.
I feel that retirement can mean different things to you, I prefer to use the definition though:
1. the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.
2. the withdrawal of a jury from the courtroom to decide their verdict.
Either way, congrats on being FIRE and inspiring us all with the future of doing the same!
The fun part of branding is getting to go beyond the definition. ;-) So sure, that definition is technically correct, though it’s also incomplete because of all the associations we carry around on this stuff. I love that you see retirement as something that can have different meanings to all of us. :-)
I think you are on to something with the control over time thing, which is why so many of the Retirement Police believe stay at home parents with a working spouse are not retired since they have little control over their time, and persons who spend some time working for pay are only semi-retired since the paid work means they do not have 100 percent control over their time either. Maybe 90 percent in your case but not complete due to spending time on others priorities.
I have always found retirement problematic because it is focused on a has-been. I spent more time as a student than in my career but I do not spend a lot of time arguing whether I am a retired student. My studies were concluded with commencement which focuses on things to come rather than what was. I’d love the part after FI to do the same.
Oh, I love that! Focusing retirement on what’s to come instead of what’s in the past. I think in my mind it always has carried that meaning, but you’re right that that’s not the common set of connotations around it.
I was one of the 85% in your poll. Retirement is about having both control of your time and the ability to make choices on what to do with that time. Forced retirement due to health or termination is really not retirement at all, and should not be lumped together with the “retirement” brand.
I agree with you on time! The forced retirement perspective is interesting — a full 2/3 of people don’t retire when they intend to, and are forced into it by circumstances (https://ournextlife.com/2016/11/07/retiring-on-our-terms/), so I’d argue that that exactly typifies retirement. Perhaps we need an altogether new term? ;-)
Hmm, I hadn’t considered that statistic. It certain does taint the “retirement” brand if by choice is the exception rather than the rule. Maybe we do need a new name for voluntary retirement, early or not!
I love that idea, of clarifying that it’s retirement by choice, regardless of age. I wonder if there’s a way to do that without stigmatizing those who don’t get the choice.
I would brand retirement as…
Retirement = Freedom!
I agree, with one wrinkle. ;-) https://ournextlife.com/2017/05/03/freedom/
I think in the FIRE community, the word “retire” is always going to be up for debate. I usually feel pretty meh about the use of the word, so long as the person using it is being upfront about where their money is coming from, and where it’s going.
But, one aspect I don’t really see covered when people argue about it: Maybe it’s not about whether or not you’re working, or whether or not you’re making money, but rather what money you’re living off of.
Traditionally, retired people live off of their retirement funds, whether that be investments, a pension, or social security.
So, if someone is blogging, even minimally, and using that money to cover their living expenses, then how is that different than a 20-something that is blogging and living off their income?
And if we say that, well, the “retired” blogger doesn’t have to earn that money, they have plenty of money, and choose to work, then do we suddenly call every person with a large amount of investments retired? All the CEO’s, and people “from” money, and most of Hollywood, is retired, even if they go to work? Because working is a choice, not a need?
That doesn’t mean that retired people can’t work, or can’t make money. Do whatever you want with your time! Use the extra money to add some extra luxury to your lifestyle, or travel more, or to donate more. But if the money you’re making is paying the rent/mortgage, or keeping the lights on, then…
I think the retirement debate is kind of like the carbonated beverage debate: Where I’m from, I can say I’m going to get a “Coke”, with every intention of getting a Sprite, and no one blinks. Because we all use “Coke” as a catch-all phrase (like soda or pop). But when I talk to somewhere from a different region? A Coke is a Coke, and a Sprite is not a Coke.
Is it close enough that you get the idea? Yeah.
So, does FIRE need a rebrand? I think we all get what it means, even if we don’t all think the wording fits. But, just like I wouldn’t offer someone else a Coke, if all I actually had was Sprite, I think bloggers need to be transparent about what FIRE means to them, and how they’re applying it to their life.
“So, if someone is blogging, even minimally, and using that money to cover their living expenses, then how is that different than a 20-something that is blogging and living off their income?
And if we say that, well, the “retired” blogger doesn’t have to earn that money, they have plenty of money, and choose to work, then do we suddenly call every person with a large amount of investments retired? All the CEO’s, and people “from” money, and most of Hollywood, is retired, even if they go to work? Because working is a choice, not a need?”
Agreed here! I don’t know if the argument is worth all the time that’s spent on it in the PF world, but there don’t seem to be any actual categories, just a continuum with category labels that overlap and thus mean very little.
I also don’t know how much we absolutely need perfect labels, but I can tell you I would like them! I am digging long and hard to find info on/writings by people that are retired at a non-traditionally young age + have no active income (which is what I expect to do or at least feel I need to count on to properly prepare financially and mentally), but even that long-ish description could probably be quibbled with and it turns out I just don’t have the words to find the people I am looking for – I just keep finding more people that call themselves retired, are a non-traditional young age + are working part or full time and earning some or lots of money. So if there is (or could be) a different label for those two very different lives, I think it would be helpful for clarity and, being selfish, for me personally to find “my people.”
If we can agree that “retired” is all about “control over time” that still encompasses so many, many different lifestyles and lives, that I think we might just end up needing subcategories…that will then be the next thing to fight about!
I wrote out a response to that point to Cindy that I encourage you to read because it covers a lot of this. ;-)
And, if you’re being realistic, you’ll see that what you’re asking for kind of by definition can’t exist. Anyone with the hustle to write and maintain an early retirement blog is probably going to earn SOME income, while the folks who don’t have that drive won’t blog about it. It may be an annoying paradox, but that’s reality.
Your last point — YES. Because there’s no common understanding of the word, I think we each need to be clear how we define FIRE or retirement or whatever term we use. On the blogging question, no one is ever going to be able to argue successfully to me that blogging is the same as real work, unless you’re purposely making it a career. In the latter case, you’re having to chase down leads, pursue crossover opportunities and do all the things that I frankly find exhausting even to think about! Blogging is a hobby to me, and I think it’s a hobby to most FIRE bloggers, albeit a hobby that pays them. (But that then goes into the thought experiment territory, and begs the question of where, exactly, you draw the line: https://ournextlife.com/2017/03/29/retirement-police/.) And as to how it’s different from a 20-something blogging, if that 20-something is trying to build a career out of it, that’s a key difference. (I don’t know any FIRE bloggers for whom that’s true.) And if that 20-something is worried about paying the rent and saving for retirement one day, that’s a key difference too. But as someone who blogs a LOT more than most of the FIREd bloggers out there, I can say affirmatively I would never in a million years compare this to “real” work. ;-)
If we’re being literal, IMO the poll is a bit too black-and-white to do the topic justice (so than you for writing about it, too). Someone who is broke and unemployed would be “retired” by the definition laid out in the poll – you don’t have to go to work…but you don’t have money either. But that’s a terrible definition of retired I think for the majority of people.
That being said, I definitely don’t agree that it’s just not drawing a paycheck either. There are ways to get compensated that aren’t a paycheck, and even if you earn money you might not be doing any work (yay royalties!) so that’s shot, too.
I think it boils down to not working a traditional job and having the financial means to do it indefinitely, including the ability to stop earning any money and sustain your lifestyle.
If you’re not working for someone else but you need to still work for money? Congrats, you’re self-employed/an entrepreneur!
Working for someone else still but have all the money you need! Most definitely not retired – but FI, and that’s awesome.
Not working for anyone else, and don’t NEED to earn any more money for the rest of your life? Congrats, you’re in a special group called retired folks. You CAN earn money, there’s nothing that says you can’t, but as soon as you start running a business again you’re not retired.
I think a lot of the semantic arguments here boil down to people who say ‘I am retired’ who really just mean ‘I am retired from a typical 9-5 job and now pursue my own passions and hobbies, some of which may earn money.’
I like your definition. Certainly “retirement” has some dependent variables like having those passive income streams in place (whether or not you have to use them is up for debate), so I don’t think an unemployed person counts. But agree with most of this — except that I think the “if you earn some money you’re not retired” argument is a little bit silly. How much do you have to earn? Where is that line? If you do little dabbling projects here and there over the years, do you keep retiring over and over again when each one wraps up? ;-)
Yes, but only if you throw retirement parties each time.
Well if it’s an excuse to throw more parties… ;-)
It is a fun question. I’ve retired at 58 so to many, especially on these types of blogs – me thinks, would not consider what I’m doing as retiring early. To me it feels early enough and dare I say perfect. As a white collar worker, I think of part of the retired equation is not continuing in my chosen career. I would expect that this would not work for a lot of people who feel that they have a job and work but they don’t seen what they do from 9-5 as a “career”.
The ability to choose the work that I will and will not do going forward and that my primary focus is no longer about maximizing earnings is another part of the equation. In the future I can’t imagine accepting work that requires a full time commitment for an extended period of time. But then again, I’m at the very start of this phase called retirement.
A few years ago when I was no longer “working for money” because I reached my safe retirement nest egg target it was a liberating feeling. Making the decision to no longer continue with my company (one that I liked very much) and no longer continue in my chosen career was also liberating. What comes next? Not entirely sure but I want to keep the first year pretty open to opportunities that may arise.
I like the marriage of financially independent with retire early. It is not the only way to do it – obviously. I don’t have what I call “stupid money” where I could buy anything at any cost at any time but for my lifestyle that is quite ingrained after 58 years I have more than enough.
Good distinction around career, Keith. And I think the most important thing you wrote here is that it feels perfect to you. That’s all that matters, not whether IRPs would deem you retired or not.
No idea how to go about a rebrand, but I would agree that FIRE is mostly about freedom. Beyond that, there are so many different answers. But money is a huge part of it – otherwise, many times being FIREd would be no different than the thousands (millions?) of people who choose part time / lower paying work in order to follow their passion – except those people don’t have the safety and security FI brings.
So long as that freedom doesn’t include the freedom to call yourself retired if you feel that describes your situation. ;-) Hahahaha. The contradictions around “freedom” are RAMPANT in the community, and if I hear another person say “I’m pursuing financial freedom, but that can only look ONE WAY,” I’ll explode. ;-) Hi, guys. Freedom means FREEDOM.
Who’s “retired” and who’s not – it’s an exhausting debate. This debate is largely unnecessary IMO.. does it really matter what people think you are? Like with the income debate, people in their own minds believe what they want to believe and most of the time their mind isn’t going to change just because someone on the internet told them otherwise.
I think you’re doing it right, informing people exactly what your situation is, and letting them know how you consider yourself.
I do agree that the “retirement” brand needs to be reshaped and over time as more and more people begin to do this it should almost naturally occur. This is a great start to the conversation though!
That’s why this post isn’t about debating who is or isn’t. ;-) It’s about rebranding retirement to encompass the more realistic range of experiences that real retired people face, most especially traditionally retired folks who are by and large financially unprepared to retire and therefore have to work in their 60s, 70s and even 80s. As you said, it’s the start of the conversation, and I’ve love to steer it more this way and stop debating whether any person is retired or isn’t. (Because seriously, who has that much time to care?!) ;-)
I think we disagree a little bit here. Financial Independence = “Don’t need money.” Retirement = “Don’t work.” I agree that there can be some gray area with it when the “work” is done for fun, not for the money.
Let’s say someone has $0 in the back and get injured and can no longer work. They would be retired even though they don’t have enough money.
On the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg works. He’s the CEO of a huge company and therefore controls his time. Nobody has enough power over him to tell him when he can and cannot take a vacation. He’s got a multi billion dollar net worth. Yet, he’s not retired. He’s financially independent and living the life he wants.
I disagree that retirement needs a re-brand. I think the term used should probably change to. Unfortunately, saying “I’m FI at 40 and do what I want with my time” does not have the same national shock value as saying “I retired at 40.”
I think you’re reducing the argument on purpose. Obviously someone can’t be retired if they have no way to support themself. ;-) That part is implied. Whether it’s social security or a pension or FI savings, that’s a dependent variable.
And on the question of retirement overall, does the fact that a large number of traditional retirees work to supplement their social security or pension sway you at all? The idea of not working at all just doesn’t hold up in reality for retirees of any age.
I agree that this is an issue. But it’s not just FI bloggers (like me) who call themselves “retired” but then continue to work. Almost every other person I know who calls themselves retired — whether retired early or not — also works for money in some way. So why the backlash against those of us who do this? Fundamentally, I think it stems from ignorance — although I mean that in a literal sense and not a pejorative one.
As you hint at in your article, Tanja, retirement is a relatively recent “invention”. But although the concept is at best 150 years old, most folks have no sense of its history. You see, retirement didn’t used to be a desirable thing. The full phrase was “mandatory retirement”, and it involved forcing older people to leave work. They wanted to work, but lost their jobs to younger, stronger folks. (This is, in part, why Social Security was instituted.) As the years progressed, the meaning of retirement changed, as did the public perception. In fact, the definition of retirement has been in constant flux for the past 150 years. Those people who want to cling to one specific definition don’t realize there’s NEVER been a fixed definition of retirement.
Speaking of fixed definitions of retirement, I recently read a book about this very subject: The Experience of Retirement by Robert S. Weiss. Weiss is a retired sociology professor from Princeton (although he continues to work for money). At the start of the book, Weiss argues that there are at least three primary definitions of retirement, and only one of them — the economic definition — is about not working for money. The psychological definition is the one that most FI bloggers use: You are retired if you think you are retired.
Anyhow, I personally think it’s stupid that the Internet Retirement Police exist and feel the need to declare that people are NOT retired based on a fundamental lack of understanding of the history and definition of the concept. But the reality is that we’re not going to change them…
YES. I agree with everything you said, JD. The fallacy that retirement has a fixed definition does, as you said, stem from ignorance. When the Social Security Act was passed, only about 1 in 30 workers even made it to an age to collect SS, so it was rare to “retire” less than a century ago. And that psychological definition of retirement from Weiss’s book feels spot on. I really do think it’s a state of mind more than anything, and folks who quibble about the earning side of is miss the point.
My goal in writing this isn’t to shut down the IRP, which I agree with you is a fool’s errand. But more to shift the broader associations with retirement for everyone, because the current thought of retiring to the rocking chair is equally inapt for traditionally retired folks as it is to early retirees.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment! :-)
Ok, let me try this … I’m 42 with 2 young kids and my spouse and I both work 50 hours a week. And yet … I feel free, independent, and relaxed in my mind. I’m retired!
Hmmm, not sure it’s working. My family was quite confused and refused to throw me a retirement party. :)
So, I would gently push back on this. I understand the history and the malleability of a term, but there is still a current common usage (i.e. dictionary, Fidelity commercial). I’m not sure we’d want to make a full postmodern move away from objective moorings to a psychological construct, lest we all end up sitting on doorknobs and calling them chairs. That said, this is a conversation about thinking through the boundaries of various brands / definitions, so I don’t mind at all the process of pondering what retirement is and could be. It’s fun. And it’s why I read PF blogs, to see how others do it.
Beyond all that, I’m going to agree with you (I think) that in practice, the nature of work / career / retirement etc is changing. The linear path (school, work, retire) isn’t so linear anymore — people are taking gigs, gap years, moving rather quickly between companies, working after “retirement” and so on.
What I worry about is not so much what we’re calling it, how it should be branded, but whether or not it’s sustainable on a broad scale. I know 22 year olds who assume that the next gig will always be there, and that career mobility is not only an option, it’s a given. For all the benefits of flexibility, there are risks. Gigs don’t always provide long-term benefits, and companies are increasingly shifting risk away from their books and onto workers. This may or may not turn out well. I think risk (career risk, investment risk, etc) is extremely under-appreciated at the moment. We may see a backlash in the future where people demand longer term commitments from employers, where stability is valued over flexibility.
Well now I’m way off topic! Thanks for the thoughts. Time to go snowboarding.
I agree with the “chair” comment. Retirement has a very established definition, which is: leave one’s job and cease to work, typically upon reaching the normal age for leaving employment. I’m not sure the poll veers from that as the key part is not spending time “at work”. Everyone’s mind immediately goes to a typical picture of an office, a cubicle, and 8 hour day. And that is by all definitions not retirement. Any subset of retirement will be measured by its relation to the traditional definition — how close or how far from “normal” is it? Which is why a high chair is not just a chair. And a sofa is not a chair at all.
I’m not a Retirement Police Officer or a Retirement Lawyer, but I think what people are saying when they call out certain situations is that the definition can become so stretched it should be called something else. The Average Joe will read an article on CNBC about someone retiring at 36, and they have a general picture of what that means (traditional definition). The guy apparently retired, and the article gives no hint of continued work or additional income from his spouse. THEN, Joe clicks over to the guy’s website and finds out he runs a monetized blog and manages operations of a website (for money) and his spouse works full time. It is not Retirement Policing to say that this does not pass the common sense test of retirement. Average Joe is kind of annoyed. Joe doesn’t begrudge this guy his lifestyle, not at all. Joe just feels … tricked. (Note to Steve: I recognize CNBC may have changed the content or the title, and that you can’t put all context into a short article. It’s in their interest to present the article a certain way. I don’t begrudge you anything.)
Most people, I think, could listen to a situation and say with decent accuracy if a person is retired, semi-retired, or not retired. Most people could also recognize financial independence. So the problem is not with the traditional definition / brand. The challenge for FIRE bloggers, I think, is to find ways to define their own situations accurately, especially when they reach the visibility point of being featured in mainstream media. Most do this fairly well if you read their blogs end to end.
Curious to hear what others think and I’ll probably jump back in later!
You’ll appreciate this: https://thinksaveretire.com/early-retirement-faq/
I think the problem lies not with the blogger, who I believe has been very forthcoming with information about his living and working situation, but with the national media that wants to sensationalize the story, leaving out key information that the blogger has disclosed on his site. The hate comes down on the blogger, but it’s not his fault.
Yep, saw that and actually I appreciate Steve’s approach on his blog and the FAQ is a nice addition. However, CNBC did not write the article on its own. I could be wrong, but generally those articles are a trade off — publicity in exchange for simple and snappy. I wouldn’t call it sensational, just … pop sugar. The overall point is, I think most objective readers would come to the same conclusions that I posited. This is not a knock, it’s an observation.
On second thought, it is a slight knock because in general people know what they’re getting into with mainstream media. It all goes back to what (I think) is one of Tanja’s points from her previous article (what bloggers owe readers), which is that it’s easy to present something that is a mismatch with reality, and ultimately bloggers are responsible for content that has their name on it. It’s not policing or hating to point out that mismatch.
Since I did sort of knock Steve, I should point out that Steve is rocking his situation by living the life he wants. I appreciate that. I wouldn’t call it retirement but I would call it an amazing achievement.
It’s definitely not true that bloggers get to read a piece before it’s published (same rules as virtually anyone who gets written about in media), so I think that’s assuming that more happens behind the scenes than really does. Often, reporters shorthand things or take them out of context, or they don’t even understand the thing they’re writing about. Like when the reporter for MarketWatch made it seem like Gwen thinks she’s retiring on a not very big number, which she most certainly does not think: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/these-people-are-retiring-early-but-theyre-not-worried-by-the-volatile-markets-2018-02-09. That’s not to say that no FIRE blog has ever oversold their situation, but just that you can’t control the message.
The way it works in news is that generally even the person who writes the article doesn’t write the headline. The headline is written by the editor who may be quite far from the story, and it’s written for clicks. You should see some of the titles that have ended up on my posts on MarketWatch! (But I also know this from actually working in news.) So the clickbaity titles of “I saved 5 million dollars in six days!” are usually the most reductive possible message from the story and occasionally mislead. You have to look to the direct quotes from the person to see their intent, which often differs though sometimes doesn’t. ;-)
Yeah – “early retirement” sells, and that’s what national media [correctly] believes will get them clicks. It’s all good, and that’s one of the primary reasons why I’m especially transparent on my blog. I want to give the whole story there because, well, mainstream media isn’t particularly interested in that part of it. They want quick wins with words and phrases that get the most emotion from their readers.
I could just remove everything about money and my wife finishing up her sabbatical from my blog altogether and pretend that I’m an example of “traditional retirement”, just at an early age – but, I choose not to do that. If a reader feels tricked by that, then that’s okay. Nothing I can do.
Yep. All sadly true. You’re never going to get your whole story into a media piece even if that reporter has all the right intentions. They have to cut everything way down for space and they may or may not choose the most relevant facts to highlight and might focus on entirely the wrong thing. I loved your FAQ and hope that will inspire more bloggers to follow suit!
But Steve and Tanja, you can’t have it both ways. On the one hand, you celebrate the fact that you are featured on CNBC while at the same time claiming that mainstream media isn’t interested in the whole story. To me, this is disingenuous. Sorry. Just own it if you like the clicks.
Of course we like the clicks. We also understand that the mainstream media generally won’t publish everything, so we do what we can on our blogs to make sure the whole story is told. :)
TOTALLY agree with this. Media coverage is absolutely a double-edged sword.
That’s a big misconception, though. Retirement does not, in fact, have a very set and fixed definition. See JD Roth’s comment for an excellent articulation of that. It’s still a new thing, has shifted in definition hugely in a fairly short time, and has multiple aspects to it.
I also don’t know that the Average Joe assessment you laid out here is true. I’m sure the commenters on Steve’s CNBC post said such things, but we all know commenters on most of the internet are the fringy outliers, not the holders of mainstream opinion. When I told people in real life I was retiring early and they asked the inevitable follow up “What are you going to do?”, no one then quibbled about whether I was really retiring when I listed out activities, some of which could make some money. And not that my experience speaks for everyone, but I think the truth is we don’t actually know whether folks see any work as meaning you’re not retired. I do believe most people would envy the situation!
I also think it’s important to look beyond early retirement, given that more and more traditional retirees are working in retirement now. The term is equally not serving them well, so it’s not just about the FIRE community.
I think “retired” does boil down to “stopped working” but the context cannot be left out. Retirement to me means that you left a line of work that you had been doing for a long time, a career really, so that the shape of any work you do going forward will look very different for you. I think it is a much more context dependent term that FI, and it might not apply to everyone who reaches FI (even if they stop working all together) because some people won’t have the (more traditional) work history behind them to really fit the retirement label and that’s fine!
That’s a super interesting perspective! I’m curious if you see there being any age distinctions in there? Like if someone has not had a “career” per se but has always worked a series of jobs, retires at 65, then later finds they don’t have enough money and picks up a part-time fun job on the side, does their lack of “career” make a difference in whether they are still retired or not?
I ‘retired’ from my career, but I help my husband with his (our) business. I’m not a blogger and I don’t tell friends I’m retired but internally I feel retired.
One example that comes to mind is Frugalwoods. They call themselves retired, she left her career and started a passion career – but accept the term retired. Mr. FW has not left his original employer, so not retired. FI, yes, retired – no! Even if he doesn’t need the $, he has not left his career, employer, and works full time.
I think they’re great and hooray for them, but TOTAL misrepresentation of their situation.
The most important part to me of your comment is that you FEEL RETIRED. That is all that matters!
And to my knowledge, Liz and Nate don’t call themselves retired. They say FI. I do think “retired” has been applied to them (and I wonder if her publisher put “retired” in her jacket copy and publicity materials to pump up interest), but I know for sure it’s not how they think about themselves.
I think the definition matters if you are giving advice on safe withdrawal rates and such. It’s a different thing to retire with no side gigs and really live the 4% rule, than to have a stash that could support you, but keep earning and not face the risks. I agree with your previous posts that a little disclosure would be useful for context.
My context: three years post-FIRE, no work/income, and living on 3.9%.
Agree 100% on disclosures being key! Especially given that people do not agree on what “retirement” means, like even a little bit! ;-) So you have to specify. And you are my hero for truly living the full, unquestionable retirement. We’ll be there by next year, though I’m sure that there will always be folks who quibble because I HAVE A HOBBY. ;-)
Yet another thoughtful post as always Tanja. People are “retired” but they work on the side, or that their spouse still work. I don’t have a problem with that but it’s faulty when you are advertising yourself as fully retired and that your household is retired, but in reality you are getting income somewhere… This creates a false reality for your readers. If you are making an income, provide that info. I think Justin at Root of Good is doing this so well. They don’t need the side income but it’s like an extra gravy and he discloses this info on the blog. For me, I’m all about being honest. I write as if I’m one no the readers and I lay out my site the way I like it. Therefore no pop-ups and not too many ads. Treat yours readers like you’d treat yourself. The problem is that so many blogs simply see their readers as cash cows, and the readers can sense that.
Sorry I went off the tangent a bit. You’re right, retirement is how you define it. Having said that, I don’t and never liked the phrase early retirement. That’s why I focus on being financially independent
The situation you describe is just dishonest, and shouldn’t count against folks who are retired and transparent about their hobbies that happen to pay. And you know I totally agree that retirement is whatever you define it as. ;-)
The definition isn’t the problem, the term already has an accepted one. The problem is (once again) operator error… in this case people using the wrong term to describe something and generating confusion/controversy/clicks by doing so.
Forgive me for pointing out the obvious here (it’s a gift!), but the Oxford English Dictionary already defines the term:
1. The action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.
1.1 The period of one’s life after retiring from work.
1.2 The action or fact of ceasing to play a sport competitively.
2. The withdrawal of a jury from the courtroom to decide their verdict.
2.1 The period of time during which a jury decides their verdict. ‘a three-hour retirement’
3.1 A secluded or private place.
That is all about leaving something behind. Nothing there suggests a person can’t move on to something else, or earn money.
Incidentally the Urban Dictionary also already defines the term:
A myth. Something hard working people look forward to all their working lives, only to be disappointed by the fact that they can’t afford to live off there substantially small pensions for the rest of their lives.
This second definition would seem to suggest most folks will need to earn money by do something else after retiring!
It’s also a myth that retirement has an accepted definition. It’s still a new concept with an evolving definition, as JD Roth’s comment above explains nicely. That said, I agree with you that the definition does not, as many insist, say you can’t ever earn money again without “unretiring.” And to the Urban Dictionary point, that’s as much a reason to me to rebrand retirement as this niche FIRE community issue: HUGE numbers of traditional retirees have to work in retirement, and so the idea of sitting in the rocking chair forever kind of applies to no one.
I have no interest one trying come up with a single brand message. ‘Retirement’ has a multiple brand messages because retirement is different for everyone. There is no single car brand message and nobody is fretting over that, are they?
I with I could edit that first sentence, but I can’t.
I wish I could spell too. Geez!!
It IS different but it’s not generally thought of as a whole multitude of things (even though it is).
When I left stopped teaching, almost 8 years ago, no one threw me a retirement party – even though I had dedicated nearly 30 years of my life to other people’s special needs children. I had colleagues who actually said to me, “You didn’t retire…you just QUIT.” Ouch! So the definition of retirement has a very personal meaning for me, and it has nothing to do with making some money. Initially, the income that happened or didn’t happen was part of the equation. But after a short while on our Encore Voyage, we’ve come the the realization that retirement is much more about OPTIONS! And yes, while I recognize that it violates the “branding standards,” in many ways retirement is defined by what it is NOT: It’s not an age, It’s not an end, It’s not a time when you stop being what you were before. I will always be a teacher. Jeremy will always be an architect. Perhaps that’s why we choose to see this as more of an Encore than a retirement. But I’ve gotta tell you…every time I see the traffic report of people schlepping off to jobs they hate, I tell myself – this “retirement thing” is awesome! And if we make a buck or two on a side hustle…well, good for us! And I sincerely hope that no one feels somehow “duped” in reading our blog…as if we’re somehow not “retired enough.” ~ Lynn
Whether it violates good branding practices or not, I love this! Yes absolutely to retirement being about options, avoiding the commute traffic and all the rest that goes along with having control over your life and time. I can’t imagine that anyone would feel misled by your blog, but regardless, what matters is that you feel retired.
Not a fan of branding but whatever you do as a PF blogger, you should provide full disclosure. I don’t think promoting FIRE and not disclosing the blogging income you are relying on to be “RE” is fair to the readers. Nothing wrong with side hustles, just disclose it so you don’t mislead your readers in thinking they can retire early, when they actually can’t based on their definition.
I am FIRO (Financial independence, retirement optional) so I don’t get caught up in this RE discussion, I like working and I want the option to keep at it for as long as I enjoy it, part time, full time, side hustles…I just like having the freedom to do what I want:)
The branding you’re speaking of is the overused jargon that essentially means “Be a social media narcissist!” ;-) That’s not what actual branding is, which is really just to ensure that your true promise is what’s coming across.
I guess my favorite phrase was from a blog (don’t remember where…) FI/OR. Financial Independence/Optional Retirement. Or just FU money.
It’s your life. You get to call it what you want. ;-)
Love the interaction of the last two posts! My branding/thoughts on 3 things.
1. Retirement = I get to choose what I do without the need for making more earned money
2. Middle class = It’s a “fat” middle out there. Rich (>$350k), Upper Middle (100k-350k), Middle (50k-100k), Lower Middle (30k-50k), Poor
3. Airlines – Emirates and Singapore stand way above the rest. Domestic my pick is Southwest. And direct flights only!
IMO, #1 & #2 are not worth spending much time debating, since there are too many variables. One thing I do like a lot is the concept of how much have you kept out of the total that you’ve made. When you look back and say, that you’ve ultimately kept every dollar that you made … then that’s pretty special.
And as for #3, well that’s just a fact ;).
Love #1. ;-) 2. I think it’s valuable to break the poorly named “upper middle” into more categories than that earning $325K is very different from earning $100K, and I also just have feels about what a mealy mouthed phrase “upper middle class” is — because as many people as possible want to be middle class. 3. True that some international carriers do a better job, but you usually pay a LOT more for that privilege. And Southwest has mistreated me plenty, too. ;-)
Unfortunately the word ‘retired’ is always going to be a loaded word for many people. There are going to be thoughts and mental images associated with it.
This is why I try not to use the word ‘retired’ too often. I prefer to used ‘financially independent’ because I feel like that term has a lot less mental baggage. ‘FIRE’ also seems to be OK because the individuals who understand the meaning of the word are already part of the ‘in’ crowd… they already get it.
In short — words have power. We can’t just willy-nilly decide to redefine what a word means and expect people to ‘get it’. I simply choose to use a different word.
That’s true, but also not. ;-) Think about terms like “death tax.” People have very successfully rebranded certain terms and given them new associations, so it’s totally possible. And at a time when a large number of traditional retirees are also retiring, it’s a good time to tackle this question, because the old notions of it equally don’t apply to a lot of them!
for me, retirement will mean a lack of scheduled work. just now i got the hankering to get in the car and drive to nola and deliver the drum set my friend tequila mike bought from me, but i’m scheduled to work and not retired yet. that’s not to say i’ll never agree to be some place to earn money, but it will be on my terms. even in retirement though, being a smart-ass is still gonna be a full time job for me.
Ha! I’m sure it will. ;-) I like that definition, and I agree that *scheduled* work feels different from work on your own terms. Not that I think it’s a job, but this blog is a great example. There’s no time by which I have to respond to comments or even write posts. I feel like upholding a posting schedule, but that’s completely optional. So it never feels like work.
I like this thought progression, too…It made me smile broadly as it reminded me of a conversation I had with a former colleague shortly before I retired when I told him I was retiring (it was at a marketing event a colleague of mine was hosting) and he didn’t know what to say and just couldn’t wrap his head around it and then finally responded with: you going to sit around and drink all day and golf a lot? Imagine someone saying that who was 100% serious. I have a feeling that is how he imagines he will spend his time in retirement.
Ha! I think a big part of the problem is that most people have NOT thought about what they’d do in retirement, other than perhaps just liking the idea of not working. But as soon as you think about it for more than five seconds, you realize that you’ll still do stuff that looks like “work” assuming you’re healthy and able to. It might be a hobby or volunteer work or even paid work, but no one literally does nothing if they have a choice in the matter.
The very best we can do when we share our thoughts is to first and foremost listen. You have done that to an exemplary level and then taken the next step. Evolve our understanding and message, alwasy taking debate as an opportunity to grow and further optimize our mindset and beliefs. This post is a prime example of being open to the feedback of others, being honest with your position on it and then reformatting your personal position. That there is growth and authenticity ~ Kudos
Well said, my friend! And thank you. :-)
i like the definition from the French language: re-tirer = to pull back or withdraw.
Whether it is pulling back on an earned income or a horrendous schedule or both, that works for me. And pulling back does not necessarily mean all or nothing. You may never work or earn again. You may earn some money through an endless list of potential endeavors. You may engineer a new lifestyle that frees up loads of time. Or not. Pulling back, again, is not all or nothing.
The other aspect I like about the French origin is withdrawal. As in SAFE withdrawal. But that is another set of blog posts on draw-down/capital preservation strategies, all in itself….!!
Les francais disent prendre sa retraite, mais j’aime beaucoup votre idee.
I like that! Especially the fact that it is not all or nothing. Rarely are things that clear cut, but often folks want to think in absolute terms.
After being told I’d be bored after early retirement by my mom too many times, I now aim for FITE- financial independence transition early. That is something those in both the FIRE community and my mom can understand. She transitioned through three very different phases of her nursing career. FIRE folks can transition to a couch, their same job but with freedom, or a new pursuit after FI. fight FIRE with FITE.
While I totally understand the desire to find a term that works, creating a new term just because your mom insists you’ll be bored seems like a step you didn’t need to take. ;-) Especially because financial independence itself can mean so many different things, so it’s not an unproblematic term either.
Need for money is also not that clear cut. The money earned today gets added to the pile. It provides security, charity, legacy, or simply feeling good. Is that a need or a want? Hard to say.
“Internet Retirement Police” was invented to deflect legit fact checking. Suppose I go around saying I made a flying car and when you come to learn how to do it I show you my 2005 Honda Accord with new tires. When you protest it isn’t a flying car, I say you are Internet Flying Car Police. I say I’m free to define what’s a flying car for myself and you don’t get to define it for me. You will feel cheated. People don’t care what I call my car at home. People only push back when I misrepresent it to others. There’s a reason I chose to say I made a flying car. You wouldn’t have come if I just said I put on new tires.
Exactly. What someone wants to call themselves within their own inner circle, it is completely irrelevant, it’s when you hard sell the super secret formula that others too can stop working and “retire” to a life of leisure that it starts to become problematic.
Especially when it’s just casually glossed over that you have a working spouse and that you don’t actually like the idea of retiring early in the traditional sense.
This blog was all about retiring early in the traditional sense until relatively shortly before the actual retirement happened. There’s certainly nothing wrong with people’s thoughts evolving in that way, but it seems silly that now all of sudden everyone is pushing the narrative of “That’s crazy talk! Who would actually want to retire early in the traditional way?” when it was literally the theme of the blog for multiple years…
I’m going to respectfully disagree on your last point. Tanja’s been writing about wanting to write and do other creative projects in retirement since like 2015.
To me that’s what makes this blog more interesting than a lot of other FIRE blogs. They have lots of dreams and interests and are using this path to explore the ones they couldn’t while working full time. They never said they were going to quit their jobs and Shelter in Place or spend their time exclusively camping and being Nomads around the globe.
To me, the depth of interests and flexibility built into their plan is the most attractive version of Early Retirement, whether it counts as “real retirement” in others minds or not. If my only option for “Real Early Retirement” was like some other bloggers who spend 20k per year and live off rice and beans and travel hacking, I’d never even consider it.
You can certainly disagree, but my recollection is that there was an entire post, and perhaps multiple, on how the mindset shifted from not planning to pursue income to being okay with pursuing paid speaking and writing gigs etc. It happened around the time she came back from her first FinCon, but I’m far too lazy to go through the archives.
My recollection is also that Tanja originally had the opinion that creative projects might start to be less fun for her when you associate money to them. That’s not an uncommon opinion, by the way.
In the early days, there was talk about maybe working at a mountain to obtain free ski passes.
At some point there has been a shift which included becoming an early retirement expert using the popularity of the blog to land a book deal among other things.
This blog was never about a rice and beans or a permanent tent camping lifestyle in any of it’s iterations.
The point isn’t that they changed their plans, it’s that the original expressed plan is something that many people hope for (regardless of age) but nowadays you have early retired bloggers who get all snarky and are like “who would want to stop working for 40 years?” as if it’s this crazy concept when I have to believe the traffic going to these sites would be much smaller if the people who want to retire to a life of leisure rather than entrepreneurship stopped coming.
I responded to the substantive points here elsewhere in the chain, but I hope you’re not detecting snark here. The only thing where that could be true is calling out bloggers for describing themselves as “middle class” when what they actually are is out of touch and other items from last week’s manifesto. The main point of this blog is and always has been that you get to shape your life however you want it to be. If that’s zero work, great. If that’s some fun work, that’s great too. If that’s the slow path to FIRE or working forever because you love it, awesome. You don’t have to follow the MMM success formula or any other for that matter, and should build a plan that’s based around what speaks to you, not what’s “correct” or “accepted FIRE doctrine.” None of that has changed.
I’ll add one thing that I think is significant: We still saved enough to never work again. I’ve consistently encouraged people to be conservative in their planning, and we did exactly that. If I’ve mislead anyone, as it seems you now believe, it’s to greater financial security than perhaps they actually need if they get to retirement and find that they wouldn’t mind working a little. I can sleep just fine at night knowing that. Quibbling over what we do now is all beside the point because we got here how we said we would and we don’t need any of this work to make it work. But I disclose it anyway because I believe strongly in that.
I’ll just do one reply. It definitely sounds like I was the one who came off wit some snark here and I certainly blame myself.
I absolutely wasn’t intending to refer to you with a lot of the statements that you interpreted as such.
A lot of my commentary has been more general about the whole “movement”.
One snark I felt in particular was from RB40 in the comment section on the manifesto post:
“”I never liked the whole completely stop working after ER model. What the heck are you going to do for the next 50 years?”
That seems so out of touch with what you would expect the average blog reader to be looking for when finding that site and thinking it would be so cool to not have to work after the age of 40.
For some people, if you have to spend 20 hours per week on a blog, maybe you’d rather just work longer so that you don’t have go through the hassle of blogging later.
I don’t have any issues with you or how you tell your story. You’ve always been a straight shooter here and you’ve never let the dollar signs of major monetization influence your thoughts which gives you that more credibility than the average personal finance blogger.
I also never said that I don’t think you’re “really retired” because you do X, Y or Z.
My questions on Twitter is to try to understand and relate to how you define retirement. Why XYZ counts, but ABC doesnt. I get that we all can define things for ourselves, but we’re also communicating to others and need to understand what they mean when they use the words.
Most of the people I bitch about are a whole lot less conservative than you. Some of them having working spouses. While others probably spend far more time on their blog than they care to admit, but they still call themselves retired. Even if someone is just managing a team of people to maintain their blog, that sounds so stressful to me, that it’s hard to believe that’s someone version of retirement, but certainly more power to them.
I personally struggle with defining retirement in the way that many bloggers seem to because I watched my grandfather retire and my dad will soon retire in the economic sense, and to me, labeling myself as retired it just seems super silly and cheapens what they’ve accomplished.
It does seem odd to me that some bloggers (not you) use the economic definition of retirement for a lengthy period of time, “I’m saving for the 4% rule, and then I can be retired and live off my portfolio”, but then when they actually get there, they define retirement as a fuzzy feeling instead of a numbers accomplishment.
You made it very clear that being an early retirement personality doesn’t take up that much of your time and, if anything, probably gives you more personal satisfaction in life than financial compensation. I have to think if you were all about the money, you’d still be doing what you were doing before since you said you loved it and it paid well.
My comment about becoming a published early retirement expert or whatever was just an off-hand example of how things have evolved over the years for you. It wasn’t intended to be a knock on you personally or somehow void your retirement eligibility in my mind.
I apologize that you interpreted those comments as personal attacks as that really was not at all the intention.
You actually posted a link to one of the exact blog posts I was thinking of where your thoughts on working for pay after retirement changed, but I want to say there were some posts after the conference where your mindset went from “we might do X, Y and Z” as noted in the linked post to “we’re definitely going to do ____ and we’re excited about it” ,
Thanks for coming back and clarifying. I appreciate all of this! I definitely get your frustrations with some blogs generally for how they talk about stuff, but I do think — now having seen the “other side” — that there’s some of this stuff I couldn’t possibly have known several years out from ER, no matter how much thought I’d given the question. The “never work again” idea sounded soooo appealing when we started all of this, but over time it came to mean something more like “never contribute to society again” in my mind, which felt like a death sentence. Of course I wanted to be able to contribute on entirely my own terms, without worrying about the money or asking anyone’s permission to schedule my actual life, and I feel proud that we’ve done that. I really do feel crazy lucky to get to ignore money completely, which is why the critiques that have come in about our work this year (not from you) have felt so disorienting because the money is beside the point. (Though, of course, given the likelihood of bad sequences of return in our case, we also won’t turn it down.) Everything we’re getting to do for money this year is stuff we would have been happy doing for free, and stuff that’s meaningful to us, which we can do on our own terms. So we very much FEEL retired, and I want to make sure to get that story across, too. That your vision for retirement can shift in small degrees without it somehow negating the whole picture.
And I’m sure it’s true that there was stuff I especially got excited about after FinCon, namely realizing that people will fly you places to speak, which is something I’ve always known I would miss about work. It’s not about the money and more about the free travel getting to do something I love. ;-)
Thanks, friend. :-) That is exactly right. It’s super surreal for folks to accuse you of betraying them or changing your tune for doing exactly what you always said you wanted to do. Hahahaha.
Sorry, pal, but that’s not actually true. Here’s a post from summer 2016 about realizing we’d work some: https://ournextlife.com/2016/07/18/rethinking-work/. I think you are getting awfully twisted in knots about us working literally 10% or less this year, with no plans to earn anything beyond this year.
The fact that the IRP was invented for that reason doesn’t negate the fact that folks often create arbitrary distinctions and then use them to discount everything you’ve said. Though I enjoyed your flying car analogy. ;-)
This is why we decided to go for the Fully Funded Lifestyle Change concept, because we didn’t see either or both of us actually ever being “retired” however it gets defined. FI, sure, but we just tried to stay the heck out of the murky alligator ridden waters of “ER” where the retirement police lurk, lol. When I quit work at the end of the summer, well, it’s just that. Me leaving this job to be a stay at home dad. We’re 91% of the way to being “Fully Funded” and neither of us “having” to work, but if that’s what Mrs. SSC wants to do, more power to her. It affords our family a great lifestyle, a comfortable lifestyle and OMG did we build one hell of a emergency cushion in case things go wrong.
I’ll have to run the numbers and see when we will hit true “Fully Funded-ness” since our savings will be pretty low here on out. I’m not worried because we got so far ahead already. Whether I work part time or no time, we’re golden. It’s pretty amazing. I sense a few key opportunities I may be able to leverage into remote part time work though and I might work on that after the first year and I get some fishing, woodworking, and banjo playing in. You know between running the house hold and taking care of 2 kids.
As we make the transition and all of that, I’ll point out income changes, savings changes and those sorts of things and let people call it what they may. I don’t know how I’d label it other than, I’m just being a stay at home parent with a cushy, cushy, emergency fund at this point. :)
Something I don’t think I’ve ever asked you is: If there wasn’t all this silly hand-wringing about the retirement terminology, do you think you would have felt compelled to invent your own term? Because it seems to me more like a reaction and an attempt to head off criticism, and not something you created because “retirement” or “semi-retirement” couldn’t encompass what you guys are doing… all of which is awesome, by the way. ;-)
Well, that’s interesting to think about, but I don’t think that it stemmed from “the retirement police” as much as it did from our disagreement about what we each wanted to do. As I am crafting this I think, “this could jsut be a whole post in its own right…” Maybe I’ll crank one out and address it there in more detail. It grew a bit more organically, but also from the fact that we realized our personal definition of “retirement” didn’t fit what we wanted to do. Especially if one or both of us continued to work full time or part time or however that panned out. This term was coined when we were both working from 7:30-5pm and kids were in daycare from 6:30-5:45-6pm… It was brutal for everyone. We decided that if we could save enough to build a large enough cushion, we could take a $30k/40k/yr job somewhere rural, slower pace of life, one of us could be stay at home and the other could work, but we’d have a lifestyle change rather than shoot for early retirement. Yeah, I’ll just write a post about it, lol.
It seems like a lot of these comments are focused on Retirement in the context of FIRE (which i realize is mostly the context for your whole blog) but I think there is a great point in there about Retirement in a broader sense.
When my Grandfather retired, he was 65, got his company pension, moved to Florida and played golf until he passed away (tracks pretty closely with media and social norms of “Retirement”). When my Father talks about “Retirement” it usually includes comments like “I’ll work until I die”, “Retiring is for rich people, must be nice”. He’s 68 and has his own business, but no pension and not enough cushion to stop working, and has internalized a lot of really negative ideas about what retirement is. For me, I have a 3rd and entirely different view on “Retirement” and am hustling my tail off to retire early(ish) and take on the freedom to do whatever I want with my time (maybe coach a local high school sports team for fun or write childrens books), not needing a salary and call that Retirement.
All this to say, none of these views are exactly wrong, and we are all shaped by our context, but the way “Retirement” is sold to most Americans by the Media, by Financial Institutions, by Social pressure, etc is packaged the same way it was sold to my Grandfather (Who by the way retired in the 1970s). There are so many people who are put-off by that package, and so much in the world, the economy, and work has changed since then, it probably wouldn’t be terrible if we helped re-shape and update the “Retirement Dream”.
I mean, is there anything from the 1970s we are still buying into the same way? Even Running (which is basically pre-historic) has been re-branded since then
Preach, sister! And you’re right that I’m talking about ALL of retirement, not just the early part. I think the “play golf until you die” (my grandfather’s was “go fishing until you die”) idea of retirement is widely held and also the tiny minority. MOST people are tight for cash in retirement, and a huge number of them have to work. So that’s why I agree with you that we all need to change our entire conception of retirement, and not just do the silly FIRE community echo chamber debate of who’s “really retired” and who’s not.
To me retirement means you are done with working for a living. Same as when you are finished school. Nobody gets bent out of shape after graduation saying “wait a minute, no more learning you are done school”. Does your continuing to learn somehow indicate you really didn’t graduate?. So when you retire and no longer need to work to pay for your living, yet you end up earning money from a blog u enjoy, or you write a book and people pay to read it, does it automatically mean you didn’t “really” retire?
So well said! Now if you’d just like to go remind folks on Reddit of this, that’d be great. ;-) Hahahaha.
My simple terms…..I do what I want, when I want, for whom I want for as long as I want without the worry of having enough money to live for as long as The creator decides to keep me around
it is simple it is all about freedom. I will probably do something making money for the rest of my life but only under these simple terms.
Seems very straightforward and like a good goal!
I’m curious about this definition of retirement: Let’s take the example of someone who has a really large inheritance, all in investments, that provide a regular stream of money.
He goes to college, gets a job, works for a week, then decides he doesn’t like it, quits and stops working for the rest of his life.
Is he then “early retired” at the age of 22 after having worked for all of 7 days in his life as a result of having a huge inheritance? He certainly has financial independence and complete control over his time.
I totally get where you’re going with this, but where do we draw the line? Are we going to require that anyone who claims to be early retired is self-made? By that measure, almost no one would qualify, because many people in this camp had some help paying for college if not also some help getting set up after college. Or if we’re going to put an age limit on it and say you have to have worked for X number of years, where would you put that number? While we all may resent someone who claims to have done the same thing it took all of us many more years to achieve, my view is that if that person FEELS retired, then they’re retired. If they don’t, then they aren’t. ;-)
There are thems who are tired and thems who are retired. Thems who are doings and thems who are beings
It’s about what you are not the politics
Curious what you mean by politics in this case?
One big issue is retirement is the undiscovered country for most of us who have not retired. When we are not working, we are on vacation, sick, a new parent, or amateur nurse. We have no basis of comparison. We know Mom & Dad or Grandpa are doing something, but we cannot really figure out exactly what, and it does not seem like much. If the retirees you know are 25 or 40 years older, their energy level and types of activities probably don’t line up with those of an early retiree.
Blogging about early retirement seems like a non-representative case of retirement. You are doing something that looks like work from the outside. Why do you feel like you are not working? The quantity of work being lower is a good start. It may be useful to compare yourself to a wealthy socialite. Spouses of the robber barons don’t work either, but many have full social calendars and manage charities at a senior manager level. You don’t have the financial profligacy of a Claire Underwood, but maybe you have some things in common, just smaller scale.
This is why I like the term independence. I will be free to choose how to spend my time without having too worry too much about the constraints of money either, within reason. The stories we tell each other definitely matter. But I believe folks when they tell me what they are. You say you’re retired, then who am I to question (or care strongly)???
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By your standards I retired several times. I was in the navy – working a huge number of hours a week and being on call 24/7. I retired from that job at age 24 and went to school. Then I went to grad school – working 12 hours days 6 days a week before retiring again to take a regular 9-5 job. Then at 48 I retired one more time – never looked back and haven’t been to work since.
You call it retired but most people would call it a career change. Still, achieving a level of financial independence at 40 is a realistic goal and it is nice that many people write about it to share their experiences with others so that others know their dream is achievable. When I quit at 48 (18 years ago), I had no peers with which to compare or follow or from whom I could learn. I hope a lot more young people are in fact retiring – and blogs like yours can give them the confidence that it can be done.