Can't Retire? Who cares?


Wednesday’s retirement post alarmed people (me included). It’s not comfortable to realize you’re in no way, shape or form prepared to retire in the traditional sense.

In the comments on the post, saveourskills offered an alternate view:

“The idea of retirement is that you do something terrible now and when it is over you can finally enjoy life. To me retirement is a lie. Retirement is a mindset – not a goal.”

Jesse made a related comment after I published the post:

“I think this idea of ‘retirement’ started with the invention of Social Security – before that I’m pretty sure the idea was that you’d just keep working until you died.”

If you hate the idea of working until you die, your problem isn’t your savings rate. It’s your profession.

What if your income-generating hours made you happy? Challenged you? Taught you new things? Created and improved relationships?

If those were the conditions, would you ever want to stop?

“Sure,” you’ll say, “I’d love to enjoy my job, but I’m too entrenched. I have too much experience/too many bills/too much debt/can’t take the risk…”

Yes, you do. I’m not trying to diminish the reality of your responsibilities.

Can you transition to a new job (or completely new profession) tomorrow? No. Next week? Month? Year? I don’t know – maybe not.

But what if you set a goal of truly enjoying your work within two years? Or five? Still unrealistic? I doubt it.

I love this quote from Peter Drucker:

“We greatly overestimate what we can do in one year. But we greatly underestimate what is possible for us in five years.”

As budgeters, we’re uniquely capable of making this transition (however long it takes). We understand (or are discovering) our real expenses. We don’t overestimate the financial obstacles in our path (nor do we underestimate them).

We can say, with great clarity, what we’d need to earn from our new happy profession. We’d have far fewer stresses as we made the transition, because we wouldn’t be piling financial unknowns on top of the questions about changing the way we make our living. We can even start to use the Four Rules to whittle away at our expenses in preparation for earning less money.

*But who’s to say we’d earn less money in the new profession? Why wouldn’t our happiness and enthusiasm for the job lead to more money? Not a guarantee, but not an impossibility.

A recipe for financial contentment:

  1. Use a budget to live happily within your means. Budgets are freedom.
  2. Save aggressively as insurance against permanent loss of income. Planning to work happily forever isn’t an excuse not to prepare for the ultimate rainy day.
  3. Pursue enjoyable work to avoid feeling the need to stop earning money. Believe it’s possible; set a goal to love Monday within 2 to 5 years.

Can it be done?