Early retirement / FIRE is becoming obsolete and that’s a good thing!
As one of the pioneers of the modern-day FIRE movement, I’ve witnessed many changes since 2009. In the good old days, the goal was to simply generate enough passive income to cover your living expenses. You could then retire early because you were financially independent.
Achieving the traditional definition of FIRE was hard. Therefore, new terms popped up to help FIRE pursuers feel better and more motivated about their progress.
Barista FIRE was created as a solution for those who still needed supplemental income and health insurance to be financially independent. Instead of working at Starbucks, I was thinking of working at Coldstone Creamery in Honolulu to help supplement retirement life.
Coast FIRE emerged for those who were still working day jobs but wanted to feel good about the amount of retirement savings they already had. But Coast FIRE is an illusion. It’s similar to everyone getting a trophy just for being.
Post-pandemic, however, I’ve come to realize early retirement / FIRE is now becoming obsolete. We no longer have to invent new definitions of financial independence. We no longer have to retire either!
Let me explain why.
Why Early Retirement / FIRE Is Becoming Obsolete
After dropping off my boy at school at 8:45 am on a Thursday, I went to play pickleball. When I arrived at 9:15 am, there courts were still wet from the recent rain, so I spent the next 20 minutes responding to comments and e-mail.
Soon thereafter, I met a 45-year-old single mom who was willing to drill with me on the slippery courts. She was an athletic director at a San Francisco private grade school who used to play basketball. Her job didn’t start until 1 pm.
We ended up playing for two-and-a-half hours with various other players. If she can play for an entire morning, then work for five hours in the afternoon, and still make enough money as a single parent to raise a child in “expensive San Francisco,” does she really need to retire early?
Of course not. She just spent a wonderful day comprised of fun and balance!
Children may not be as expensive as you think. Perhaps it’s your desire for climbing the corporate ladder that is trying to trick you into thinking children are expensive, thereby delaying having or not wanting them. Something to think about.
A Google Employee With Tremendous Free Time
At 10:30 am on the same day, a familiar face popped by the courts. Let’s call her Stacy, a 26-year-old Google software engineer. I had gotten to know Stacy in December because she frequently played pickleball at another park during the weekday mornings.
During December, she frequently brought a Google co-worker to play with her for a couple of hours. He was also 26 years old. She said December was slow and they didn’t have many meetings scheduled.
So when I saw Stacy again on Jan 19 at 10:30 am, I was surprised! The beginning of the year is usually extremely busy with new initiatives. “All hands on deck!” as my old bosses used to say.
But Stacy said Thursdays and Fridays were quiet days at Google. As a software engineer, she can simply code at night.
Originally, she said she had to go at 1 pm. However, she and her partner lost to me and my partner, so she wanted a rematch! We ended up playing together from 10:30 am until 1:30 pm.
When you have so much flexibility, why retire early? You don’t need to retire early for greater happiness when you can have the best of everything while working.
Stacy is making around $250,000 a year. I’ll take that type of income with maximum flexibility any day.
Grinding Away In Banking In My 20s
When I was 26 years old I was working 60 hours a week in investment banking. It was a stressful period because I had to prove myself all over again with a new boss in a new city at a new firm.
Unless I was doing a coffee run for the team or had client meetings, the most I could step off the desk was for 15 minutes. After that time period, people would start questioning where I was due to inbound phone calls that would have to be picked up by a colleague.
Being tied to a desk for 10-12 hours a day was one of the main reasons why I loved to travel for work. Every business trip I took to Asia felt like I was making free money. Even if my flight was delayed, I didn’t care because I was still getting paid.
If I could have worked from home and played tennis or pickleball for even just two hours in the middle of the day, I wouldn’t have burned out by 34. Instead, I could have easily worked until the ideal retirement age of 45! The misery I felt between the ages of 31-34 wouldn’t have been as intense.
With 11 more years of work, I would probably also be much richer today.
Early Retirement / FIRE Was Born Out Of Work Misery
The main reason why I started writing about FIRE in 2009 is because I had begun to hate my job. The global financial crisis had made me question the point of working in finance. If I had been happy at my job, FIRE might never have been born!
Being chained to a desk for 10 hours a day was unenjoyable. The daily commute was a killer. Office politics was a bummer. And the decline in merit-based compensation was demotivating.
The only solution to my job misery was to find a solution.
For three years after starting Financial Samurai, I saved and invested even more aggressively. Then I came up with the ultimate catalyst: negotiating a severance in order to retire early with money in your pocket.
Once I figured out how to negotiate a severance, there was no excuse not to retire early from a job I disliked. If I got bored with early retirement or failed at an entrepreneurial endeavor, I’d simply return to work within three years.
When you are in a suboptimal situation, a rational mind always finds a solution!
Work From Home Makes Early Retirement Obsolete
From a professional standpoint, work from home is the best thing to have come out from the pandemic. Today, millions more people are able to work from home and still get paid while raising their kids, running errands, exercising, meeting up with friends, and vacation traveling.
To retain talent, companies have been forced to provide its employees with more flexibility and freedom. Sure, have been plenty of tech layoffs in 2023 with more to come. However, most of these firms overhired in the first place.
Every work from home employee I’ve met is so thankful for the increased flexibility. It’s only the ultimate go-getters who want to build better relationships and make maximum money who wants to return physically back to the office.
Gallup poll after Gallup poll shows that ~70% of employees are not engaged at work. Hence, to be able to give them more freedom from work is a huge blessing.
Further, not having to interact with colleagues and bosses you don’t like are some of the huge benefits of working from home. If you never have to run into your workplace bully or micromanaging boss, you will be much happier. And when you are happier, you’ll stay at your job for longer.
Another Perspective To Consider
From the employer’s point of view, there are tremendous cost savings thanks to less employee conflict. Back in 2017, an Uber employee accused a colleague of sexual harassment. HR supposedly ignored the situation which resulted in huge reputational damage to the firm.
The founder and CEO lost his job and a large part of senior management got culled. At the time, Uber’s market capitalization may have taken at least a $1 billion hit. If more employers let employees work from home, physical employee conflict would decline.
There’s no need to retire early or leave a job that treats you well.
Declining Male Egos: Another Reason Why Early Retirement / FIRE Is Obsolete
FIRE is an all-gender movement. However, it started off as a movement mostly by men with fragile egos who were dissatisfied with their jobs. Observe the blogs that began writing about FIRE after I started in 2009. They were mostly written by men.
The reason why no stay-at-home mom says she is retired is because being a stay-at-home parent is one of the toughest jobs in the world. 13 years in investment banking is easy in comparison to being a stay-at-home parent for five years. Due to stronger egos, you don’t see many childless women say they are FIRE either.
But due to fragile egos, many men are unable to admit they are stay-at-home dads, especially if they have working spouses. Rather, they opt to label themselves as anything BUT stay-at-home dads out of pride. They come up with replacement terms such as:
- Early retiree
- Gig worker (dog walker, uber driver, etc)
Why Are Men So Ashamed Of Being Stay-At-Home Dads?
For some reason, it’s not good enough for most men to be viewed as a stay-at-home dad. Maybe it’s societal pressure that expects men to always be the principal earner.
But I’m sick of this pigeon-holing of men, which is why I wrote:
I don’t want childless men or fathers with working wives to ever feel embarrassed for no longer having day jobs. Instead, I want men to feel proud they are spending more time caring for their children and taking care of household chores.
Being a stay-at-home parent is easily a six-figure job.
It’s too bad change in the face of a critical society is so tough. Not only do we need men to stop making fun of other men for being caregivers, we also need women to be supportive as well.
Looking At My Own Fragile Ego
Whenever I meet new people, I still find it difficult to tell people that I’m a stay-at-home dad. Due to the desire for status, nowadays, I’d rather tell someone who asks what I do that I’m an author. It wasn’t like this until after I had written Buy This, Not That.
By saying I’m an author, there’s a greater chance of me connecting with the other person, especially if they are not a parent.
Earlier, before saying I was an author, I would say I was a high school tennis coach. And before saying I was a coach, I would say I was an investor. But saying I was an investor was annoying because then people would ask me for all sorts of investment advice. So I quickly stopped.
I haven’t written incessantly about early retirement since leaving my job in 2012 is because there’s so much more to life. Leaving work behind is only one chapter.
For me, early retirement is obsolete thanks to technology and the internet. I’m able to stay intellectually stimulated working my ideal 15-20 hours a day.
More Acceptance Of Stay-At-Home Dads
Thankfully, I’ve noticed society is gradually becoming less critical of stay-at-home dads with working spouses. Just look at the 100+ comments on the post, My Secret To Retiring Early With Only $4 Million And Two Kids.
There’s so much love and acceptance! It’s wonderful to support women who are focused on their careers. After all, more women are getting college degrees than men.
With less criticism about men with working spouses, the terms “early retirement” and “FIRE” are becoming obsolete. Fewer men are writing and podcasting about FIRE and more about life in general.
Further, fewer men are saying they are financially independent because they’re more comfortable admitting their wives are the providers.
When I stopped telling people I had retired early in 2013, a year after I had left work, I started to feel more free. Now that I’ve publicly hung a lantern on the fake retirement movement, I feel even better!
The True Test Of Financial Independence For Couples
For those in a relationship, here’s the true test of financial independence: getting your partner to also leave their job.
Unless your partner truly loves their job, not leaving it is a signal your financial independence number isn’t real. One or both of you are too afraid to let go.
Being reliant financially on someone is not financial independence. On the contrary, it is financial dependence. And when you are dependent on someone, you are never truly free.
We can fool ourselves into feeling more financially comfortable with different FIRE terms. However, at the end of the day, we’re only fooling ourselves.
Yes, the journey to financial independence is long. There will be bear markets that knock FIRE adherents off course. But treat the journey as a fun game! The journey is more fun than the end game anyway.
With more work flexibility and receding male egos, FIRE is becoming obsolete. We no longer have to pretend to be something we’re not or do something we don’t like.
Now that is true freedom!
Reader Questions And Suggestions
Readers, do you believe early retirement / FIRE is becoming obsolete? Are you noticing fewer people talk about FIRE on podcasts and in posts? Are more men strengthening their egos by recognizing the professions of their working spouses?
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