Perhaps it was naive to think everyone would understand semi-retirement at age 36, selling a successful business and nice house in the South East of England to do so.
I’d spent two years immersed in the world of Financial Independence, devouring podcasts and books from the likes of Mad Fientist, Choose FI, Millennial Revolution, and Grant Sabatier. So it all felt pretty normal to me — I was deep in the community.
But I’d done it silently. No one really knew of the plans other than a choice of few friends who I thought might understand. Some, like my parents, knew my rough future plans, but I’d never mentioned the words ‘semi-retired’ to them; it would blow their minds, or they’d take me for a fool.
I’m partial-FI, which means I do still have to work a little, but around half to three-quarters of my living expenses (depending on where in the world I am) are now covered by passive income. I made a decision to take the first year off paid work to explore freelancing options such as web design, writing, and winemaking (less of a weird choice when you know my background is in wine) without the pressure of having to make a buck. So right this minute, I have a taste of what it would be like to be 100% financially independent.
Figuring out the words to explain to those around what the hell it is that you do when you’re financially independent is not a walk in the park. I ended up using words to describe my actions like ‘taking some time out,’ ‘recuperating’ and ‘seeing where the world takes me.’ The problem is:
If you say you don’t work, they assume you’re unemployed.
If you say you’re taking some time out, they think you’re just on sabbatical.
If you say you’re financially independent, they give you a blank stare.
So you explain a little.
And then the questions come…
Won’t the Money Run Out?
Let me get my calculator out and explain to you the perpetual money machine. The magic of compounding. The 4% rule. All these perceivably tedious concepts that once you understand, you’ll kick yourself for not knowing about sooner.
People understand I sold a house and a business. You can see them adding up roughly what they think I earned from these ventures, come to a figure, and assume I’ll be spending that figure until the money runs out and I’m left with nothing.
They think I’m stupid to waste the money I’ve spent years saving. Why would I want to spend it all now, at such a young age? Why not work instead?
Anyone familiar with the pillars of financial independence will know that this isn’t how it works. That my initial capital won’t be touched for many years, if ever. That it’s invested in nice, simple index funds, ready for me to withdraw 3–5% each year, leaving the rest to compound.
Those in the FIRE movement know about this, but seemingly few other people do. My parents, friends, family members, not a single one of them, invest in the stock market. Instead, they ‘invest’ their savings into cash ISAs (similar to Roth IRAs if you’re American) with a 0.5% interest rate (if you’re lucky), watching inflation eat up the pathetic gains. Because losing money this way is deemed as ‘safe.’
So how do you answer someone who asks how the hell you’re expecting to live on a small nest egg for the next 50 years?
Some will think you’re crazy; some will be interested, most will be indifferent. Whichever way you choose to handle it, for those who are actually interested, you could open the door to a whole new money thought process, which is pretty cool.
For the rest, gift them J.L Collins’ The Simple Path to Wealth and leave them to it.
But You’ll Go Back to Work at Some Point? This Is Just a Holiday?
A holiday is not usually spent in a small flat pounding out thousands of words a day in the pursuit of becoming a freelance writer. A holiday is not about forming some sort of routine so you can stay motivated to work on your own projects. A holiday is not spent building a brand on social media.
Sure, some early retirees lead a traditional retirement life, full of gap year-like pursuits — ziplining, snorkelling, or backpacking. But most want to work — often immediately. They just don’t need to work for money, and they don’t need to work in a traditional way.
Asking someone if they’re on an extended holiday also suggests an impermanency to their plans. That this is just something, they’ll do for a while before getting bored and re-entering the ‘real world.’
I don’t know a single early retiree who has ever planned to go back to the ‘real world’ because the post-early-retirement world is a) real enough, thank you very much, and b) so much more satisfying than what they had before.
But hey, a bit of snorkelling, backpacking, and ziplining in between the work schedule sounds pretty sweet. And, if you’re financially independent, totally achievable.
Do You Need a Job? I Can Help You Look for One
I’m immensely grateful for people who want to help me job hunt, and I do feel a pang of guilt at telling them that I don’t need one without sounding like a fat cat revelling in all my lovely piles of money.
This is further accentuated by living in Spain, which is not a rich country. The people I meet here don’t waste the money they could save for retirement on fancy houses or cars like they do in the UK or US. They typically have old cars and live in flats, often small and cheap, because wages are low and taxes are high.
But no, I don’t want a ‘proper’ job. I’ve not set foot in a traditional employment job for nearly a decade, and I don’t intend to start now.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to work. It took me just 48 hours of arriving in Spain before assisting in a winery for a few days. The best bit was that I worked there because I wanted to, not because I had to. I got paid with lunch and wine, and that was good enough for me.
The concept of divorcing money from work is not something many understand or feel they have the luxury of being able to experience. How can you think in this way when you live paycheck to paycheck?
But for those on the path to financial independence, this divorce is the holy grail. That you can work on projects you want to, when you want to, for however long you want to — that’s the dream.
Don’t You Feel like Your Identity Has Been Eroded?
In our culture, job title = identity. Asking someone you’ve just met what they do for a living is normally question number 2, after asking them their name.
To be honest, yes, I do feel that part of my identity has gone. For eight years, I was the owner of a successful wine store — that was my thing. Now, I’m exploring other avenues. But because Western culture places so much emphasis on our paid job as our identity, can I really tell someone ‘I’m a writer’ or ‘I’m a web designer’ when I’m unpaid and new to the gig? Would I be regarded as such by others? Probably not.
So it’s time to create a new identity, one that is based on more meaningful parts of my personality and pursuits. After all, wouldn’t you rather be known as a kind, compassionate human being with no fixed job than as an accountant for a large multinational?
The FIRE movement is still a mystery to many, shrouded in misconceptions like we’re all misers who never spend any cash, surely as miserable as we were in our corporate jobs.
Yes, the lifestyle is unusual and far beyond what many people are willing to comprehend as a realistic choice.
So questions about our chosen lifestyle are inevitable and often welcomed because they can lead to someone discovering the Financial Independence movement for themselves. Even if they don’t pursue it all guns blazing, knowing that your actions can inspire others to take a look at their finances, their life choices, their debt, their investments can only ever be a good thing.
I, for one, am happy to welcome the questions that come my way.
This article is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered Financial or Legal Advice. Not all information will be accurate. Consult a financial professional before making any significant financial decisions.