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The Questions, Complaints and Criticisms of Early Retirement

September 14, 2021

Criticisms of the FIRE Movement

In today’s article, I’d like to address some typical questions, comments and criticisms of the FI movement and the idea of leaving full-time work with a non-gigantic sum of money AKA retiring early.

And let’s be real, as a group we’re still the minority.  So we’re bound to get a ton of baffled and even angry people trying to throw shit on what we’re doing.

Doing something different often makes people feel uncomfortable, because it prompts them to question how they’re playing the game of Life.  And that maybe – just maybe – they don’t have it all figured out after all. 

Of course, the natural reaction is to push back against that feeling.  To be clear, I’m not saying we have it all figured out either!

We’re just playing the game in a different way which happens to come with a whole bunch of sexy benefits like freedom, wealth and being able to live a healthier, more satisfying lifestyle.

But I’m getting carried away.  Let’s tackle some of these comments…

 

How would you cope with emergencies and other one-off expenses?

Many one-off expenses are actually kind of expected over a long period.  Car replacement, property maintenance, additional health costs, and so on.

The easiest way to prepare for these things is to have some cushion built into your plans for when random things happen.  This can take many forms.

Holding extra cash.  Being open and willing to earn some income after leaving full-time work.  Being flexible with your lifestyle and spending.  Open to taking a little extra from your investments than planned.  Or simply saving a little extra in the first place.

All are very reasonable and sensible things to do.

 

But what if you want to spend more, do expensive travel, have kids, etc.?

You can either plan for this in advance by building more investments before leaving work, or you can do a little bit of work to cover the extra costs.

Remember, even one day of work for one person is likely to be about $200 ($25 x 8 hours).  That’s $10,000 per year, which would go a pretty long way to covering additional costs.

And that means you still have an enormous amount of freedom – 6 out of 7 days off!

More on how to reach FI with a family here, from someone who is doing it.

 

Why wouldn’t you work longer so you can have a better standard of living/more cushion?

This is a judgement call for each individual based on what you think you need to live a good life.

There’s no set prescription of how much you’re supposed to live on.  We can tailor it to suit what we each prefer.  You can certainly work longer to spend more if you like.

Some people feel no need, considering we already have it pretty damn good in modern-day Australia.  Not to mention the fact that spending more isn’t necessarily going to make us any happier.

Personally, I would rather have freedom sooner and then I can decide whether it’s worth  working more to bump up the luxury, rather than the other way round.

This lets us see what we’re really giving up (freedom and control of our time) in exchange for a fancier lifestyle.

 

What if you rent and you want to buy a house?

You can either buy one before you leave work, sell off some investments to buy a home with cash, or go back to work for a year to qualify for a mortgage.

People have this weird fear of being locked out of the housing market forever.  If you’re saving and investing a healthy amount, that’s a ridiculous fear to have.  Your wealth is growing and your investments are earning returns.

Yes, sometimes property markets boom, but it doesn’t last forever.  At any time down the track you can still buy a home if you prefer.

If the fear is too much, just buy before leaving work and build this into your plans.

 

It’s too risky to rely solely on investments.

Is it though?  Better than relying on a paycheck.

Remember, you have investments PLUS the capacity to do some type of income earning activity if you want/need to.

If living solely off investments is too scary, maybe just switch to semi-retirement where you work a couple of days per week and live partly off investments.

Funnily enough, a couple who picks up a bit of part time work goes a long way to covering a modest level of spending like $50,000.  So even with poorly performing investments and a measly amount of work, there’s still plenty of cash to keep things running smoothly.

 

What if you need a job again when the economy turns to shit?

See previous point.  You’ll still be in a dramatically better position than everyone else who didn’t bother saving and building wealth before that happened.

When the prepared person leaves work, they will also have some backup plans to smooth out the bumps along the way (see emergencies question).

 

But being retired in your 30s is stupid. What’s the point?

This comes from people who are hung up on the strict definition of the word ‘retirement’.

To them, it can only mean golfing, watching TV, holidays and shopping.  The solution is to change how YOU think about the word retirement.

To me, retirement simply means the point where you can afford to leave mandatory work and start doing whatever the hell you want.

What’s the point of it?  To spend more time on other things which are often neglected due to the demands of full time work.

Health, family, hobbies, contribution, learning, kids, pets, passions, and just time to slow down and enjoy life other than working all week.  The list is endless.

You also have the breathing space to start a little business, low-paid or even volunteer work without needing to think about how you’ll pay the bills.

You get to design your life around what you want to do, rather than what you have to do.

 

Why don’t you just find a job you like?

It’s not about that.  See above.

This comment usually comes from people who think you must work full-time all-the-time to be a useful member of society.

But that’s a pretty sad way to measure the value of a human life.

There are a ton of people who aren’t in traditional employment who are doing really nice things in the world, many of which are adding far more value than the bureaucratic bullshit, endless email-chains, and pointless meetings happening elsewhere at many workplaces.

Is the point of life to work, or to live?

Maybe it’s both.  But this way, you get to choose the balance.

 

What if you get sick of living frugally?

Well, we can always make more money if higher spending is desired.

Pretty much everyone who becomes financially independent and leaves their job ends up doing something productive which earns some money later anyway.

So there’ll likely be plenty of extra spending capacity down the track for those who leave work with ‘just enough’ and find themselves wanting to spend more.

I’ve never actually heard of anyone retiring and having this ‘problem’ though.  The opposite usually happens.  People find they need less than they thought to live a satisfying life.

 

But that’s not living… you might as well be on the dole or living with your parents.

This thoughtful comment is usually targeted at those like myself who retire early and live on $50,000 or less per year.

Pretty judgemental and closed-minded at best.  Entitled and extremely lacking perspective also comes to mind.

We’re simply not playing the hyper-consumer game that many others are playing.  Is that wrong?

It’s like people playing football and saying that football is the best game ever – the only game that could possibly be worth playing.

But a  group of us notice others playing basketball and it actually looks pretty good.  We decided to join, and now we’re having a great time playing basketball too.

So your answer to that is “No, no, this is all wrong – get your arse back over here and play football.”

Really?

You’re measuring other people’s lives based on your own criteria.  With the same boring and faulty assumption:  spend more = better life.

 

You’re missing out on your peak earning years!

This is a big problem… if your life goal is to earn the most money possible and have the biggest safety net you possibly can.

Yes, there’s an opportunity cost to retiring early.  But what about the opportunity cost of the life and time you’re missing out on by staying at work to amass more money?

Once you move past the fear of having enough, that feeling quickly dissipates.  That usually happens when you finally admit to yourself you don’t need an expensive lifestyle to be happy.

Chasing after an ultra-affluent lifestyle comes from our desire to feel significant and important.  Because we think it means something. 

It doesn’t.

If you want more money, you can always go back to work.  People seem to think once you leave your job you are somehow locked out of the workforce forever.  That’s ridiculous.

Sure, maybe you can’t get the exact same job again.  But who cares?!

If you’ve reached FI, you already have enough investments to sustain yourself forever.  Even part time income would be 100% surplus!

By the way, this isn’t designed to be a general FAQ about FIRE.  I’ve already got that on this page under ‘Getting Started’, along with the most common investing questions under the ‘Getting Started Investing’ section.

This is a reply to the pushback on the idea of opting out of the rat race with a decent but not staggering level of wealth.

 

Final thoughts….

I’m trying to take these comments seriously.  But most of them are based on thinly veiled excuses and a bunch of hand-wringing because people are doing something different from the standard treadmill of 40 hours a week for 40 years.

Many criticisms of FIRE and anything related typically stem from fear.

Fear or the unknown.  Fear of having enough money.  Fear of not being able to live the ultra-consumer dream.  Fear of what others will say.  Fear of not fitting in or being liked.  Fear of losing the identity and sense of importance we get from a job.

Some are valid concerns, but many are imaginary problems that are easily solved with a little thought, some common sense, and, well, a little courage.

In general, if you actually listen to the people in the FI community, you’ll know damn well the last thing we are is fearful.

When you take control of your life and decide to be 100% accountable for everything, you no longer worry about what might happen.  You just know you’ll figure it out when it does and be perfectly fine.

Rant over.


In other news:  I’m saving thousands of dollars per year after refinancing two home loans to better rates.  But using the critics theory, I guess our quality of life is now lower 😉

It’s always worth checking if you could get a better deal.  If your mortgage rate is over 2.5%, that’s an emergency to get sorted out!

If you want someone to shop around for you, I can recommend my personal mortgage broker More Than Mortgages.  I’ve worked with Deanna and her team for many years and they’ve been very helpful.

Note: if they end up helping you get a loan, this blog will receive a small referral fee as a thank-you from MTM. I only ever recommend things I use myself and genuinely believe in.

30 Comments

30 Replies to “The Questions, Complaints and Criticisms of Early Retirement”

  1. That’s an excellent summary Dave.

    I wonder if sometimes some of these critiques are also getting at something more fundamental, but hard to define. For example, some may be nervous about not building up the intangible ‘career human capital’ of learning high value tasks, building connections of people who are interesting or can help them in the future, or their skills going out of date.

    Some of these are probably partially able to be mitigated in other ways, and so might be less a worry when actually thought about carefully, but some may be real trade-offs to consider.

    p.s. You missed my favourite – ‘but Pat the Shuffler owes me a lifetime of tax, in some indefinable way, personally!!’

    1. Cheers mate, much appreciated!

      Yeah there’s something to the whole ‘career to fall back on’ thing. But if they’ve already reached the point of ‘enough’ then this definitley diminishes in importance. Especially when we consider that most people who would retire early don’t do nothing… they go on to learn more skills, make more connections – perhaps more than when they were at work due to trying new things etc.

      I suppose a lot of it comes back to breaking through fears which stem from doing something different from the standard life approach and thinking it may all come crashing down someday. For some, it may be too deep-rooted to break with logic. But for most, hopefully they can see the fears are largely unwarranted.

      Haha yes good one, I do remember the guy who said Pat was essentially not a worthy member of society any longer if he drops out of the full-time workforce 😉 Jeez, imagine what he must think of me… 4.5 years and counting.

  2. Good article thanks Dave. 60 year old boomer here. I’ve lived modestly all my adult life, first from necessity, then from choice. What I learnt early on was that above all I liked free time in tune with a reasonable life.
    I shared my daughters pre adult life with lots of time off.
    Buying ‘time to be with her was priceless.

    1. Thanks Kenin. That’s fantastic! The free time is so beautiful yet so hard (basically impossible) to quantify its benefits.

  3. Hey Dave ,

    Rant?? …no mate …you’re just passionate !! You know what they say …commonsense ain’t that common !! …and besides if it weren’t for these fearful individuals in our society , dividends and the Stockmarket would probably not exist !!! 👍🙏. I won’t tell them our secret , if you don’t 🥳

    Cheers 🍻

  4. Closely related to your “What’s the point?” is my favourite objection which is “but without a job, what are you going to DO”?
    As you say, the list is endless! I find it sad that so many people can’t imagine a life that isn’t dictated by their job, or where their job is the only purposeful activity that they can think of.

    1. Haha yeah that one is such a strange comeback from people. So naturally they hate evenings and weekends? They’re utterly bored and lost without being at work?

      Most people can find plenty of things to do, look forward to days off and seemingly hate Mondays rolling around. So while I get that it’s different, these people need to use just a tiny bit of imagination 😉 Every day is the weekend… imagine that!

  5. Life is very short, death is very long. Enjoy what you have, invest wisely, spend wisely and enjoy your life as soon as you can.

  6. Great summary of the excuses used to justifying doing nothing to avoid a poor retirement outcome.

    I would have thought the pandemic would be a circuit breaker to shake them out of their daily salary stupor and consider a better way to live!

    I am so glad I was made redundant before my 40th birthday just as my passive dividend matched my salary income.

    At the time, I felt some fear from losing the safety net of a guaranteed salary when being kicked out of the corporate cocoon.

    However, I now dread the thought that if I hadn’t achieved FIRE, I would be putting my life at risk being forced to keep working in a cublcle farm in my 50s!

    Vicky Robin’s seminal FIRE Book is called “Your Money Or Your Life”.

    It really is that simple, how much of your life are you willing to risk to chase money!

    1. Thanks for sharing Keith.

      I think the pandemic would have definitely shook some awake, but for whatever reason most people are continuing down the spend-everything-you-make road. That’s what it’s about at the end of the day – we’re giving up our lives in exchange for buying a bunch of shit we don’t really need and doesn’t make us happy.

        1. Good one. Some people will read that as “our time is precious so let’s not spend it working forever and accumulating shit” while others may read that as “I shouldn’t save, I should just ‘enjoy’ myself”… which unfortunately usually means consumerism on steroids.

          Hopefully more people resonate with the first one!

  7. Excellent article Dave and some great comments. One could write a doctoral thesis on this topic. In fact, there’s probably enough material for an entire conference!! I’m reading Morgan Hounsel’s excellent book; The Psychology of Money at present. I strongly recommend this book to your readers. Chapter 7, is entitled Freedom – Controlling your time is the highest dividend money pays… Hounsel writes; “The highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up every day and say “I can do whatever I want today” and “The ability to do what you want, when you want, with you want, for as long as you want is priceless.” That makes the Dave Gows of this world supremely wealthy!!! For me personally; the root of the FI and FIRE movements comes from regaining that non-renewable resource; time. Money comes via various and renewable means; salaries, rents, dividends, owning a business… Time is non-renewable; it’s a one-way street. The critics of the FI and FIRE movements do not appreciate this critical point.
    A FIRE Conference…. Now there’s an idea….

    1. Cheers Jeff. And yes completely agree – that’s a brilliant book, it’s now on my recommendations page. Best personal finance book (and book in general) I’ve read in many years!

      Great summary mate. I think sadly many people undervalue their time (life) until they realise they may not have much of it left.

      As you might imagine (and might be wondering), my book (work in progress) will have a heavy focus on freedom as being the ultimate benefit from managing money better.

  8. While for those of us who hold certain societal privileges this may seem fairly straightforward, for many it is a whole new concept to wrap their heads around. Anyone who grows up in (what we in Australia would consider) relative poverty is going to have difficulty believing that FIRE is possible for them, because that kind of history ingrains a belief that wealth is not their destiny – it’s that “people like us…” mythology that blocks them from thinking outside the beliefs they’ve grown up with and that have been reinforced by their lived experience. If you read some of the African American bloggers, this battle is a clear part of their story. It’s similar for Aboriginal Australians and also for people from low socio-economic demographics. People in these situations are almost never going to be able to meet us where we are. We need to try to meet them where they are. I’m not sure how to make that happen, to be honest, but I think it’s valuable to keep in mind that not everyone is starting from the same start line.

    1. Good point. I think the best way the message can eventually reach people like that is with more and more examples of people from all sorts of backgrounds and personal situations achieving a level of financial independence in their lives. So over time as we get different and more examples, more people hear about it and believe it’s possible for someone like them. And so they make some changes and see it working and tell a friend. I think that’s the most practical and likely way this stuff spreads in real life.

      But we have to start in the middle, where we are and make connections to people similar to us, who then connect with people similar to them, and it slowly spreads outwards, bit by bit.

  9. Hey Dave
    Great article.
    People/haters can be pretty rude, thinking they even have a right to criticise someone who is retiring early through FIRE. If a person can build up $1 million dollars plus in investments, they’re certainly qualified to decide how to utilise their own time.
    My wife and I have been working part-time since mid-thirties (now early 50’s). At the time, we had a paid off house and not much in the bank. But even on part-time wages, we have slowly reached FI over the last 18 years, without doing anything fancy (spend less than we make, salary sacrifice to super, buy the odd parcel of shares). Even at 52, my mum thinks I’m way too early to retire. Hehehe. 🙂
    Cheers John

    1. That’s an awesome situation John, thanks very much for sharing. I love that you semi retired first and then made your way to FI, all before it was even well known about as a thing to do!

  10. Pretty simple really. If you don’t like religion, don’t go to church.
    If you don’t agree with gay marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex.
    If you don’t want money to work for you, go order over-flavored force-fed bird, deep fried in carcinogenic seed oil for dinner and get it delivered to your house for a fee. Pay five dollars a day for a cup of hot liquid with addictive properties that you could make yourself for a fraction of the price, then drop the single use plastic receptible into landfill.. that’ll show em!!

    We all have to find our own way in the world. I like to think of how I can be better today than I was yesterday. I’m not a saint, I still love smashing a bottle of wine with a mate, eating fine food and solving the worlds problems but the harder you push your ideals on some people the harder they push back.

    In short: Lead by example. I wish you and all those who read this the very best that life has to offer, now and always..

  11. I work casual and had times of no work, friends panic are you ok? I try to Explain my investments are working for me, after 4 years explaining the concept of FIRE and directing people to the information I think the penny has dropped for some of them.
    Unfortunately I still have friends planning to retire at 67 with a mansion, boat ,flash cars and no money ,they think I’m nuts to be retiring at 53-55.I hope some change their mind so I’ve some Cafe buddies . Great blog Dave.

    1. Cheers Peter, and nice example of the real life benefits of having your financial shit together 🙂

      The consumerism religion is wired into people pretty deeply at this point, with how much is spent on advertising etc. So personally all we can do is put the info out there for those who strikes a chord with and be the example of what’s possible. The others aren’t ready. Later they’ll (maybe) realise what a waste of time focusing on status symbols was.

  12. One concern I had when starting FIRE was missing out on welfare. If you spend all your money on toys and lose your job the government will give you the dole but if you have more then $10k of “liquid assets” my understanding is you can’t get Newstart. Similar issue with accessing the pension, save all that extra money only to be on the same income as someone that saved nothing.

    1. The rule is (far as I know), if you have more liquid wealth than that you simply have to wait 10-12 weeks before you will be paid welfare. The idea being you have enough money to last a few months before you truly need assistance.

      And I suppose the pension thing is a fair point. We may be on a similar income level, but far better to be independent, especially since many people here are doing it decades before the pension kicks in.

  13. “Why don’t you just find a job you like?”

    As someone who already FIREd and is now ‘working’ more than ever, having a damn good time doing it and earning more than ever, I somewhat agree with this one. If I’d started my current line of work earlier I wouldn’t have felt like I was in a rate race I wanted to escape from. Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and I also may never have gotten to this point without my FIRE journey.

    Even so, I see a lot of people in the community working jobs they hate for 10-15+ years to hit FIRE. It’s a worthy pursuit but it’s also worth considering that we get one life to live. A decade is a long time to be miserable even if the pay off feels worth it.

    1. Thanks for the comment Mike, and it’s a good point you make. As you mentioned it all looks obvious in hindsight. If people genuinely hate what they’re doing, they need to leave that job, so that particular ‘slog it out’ approach is self inflicted, it’s never the recommendation.

      Sometimes people get impatient and want to take the most extreme approach – spend nothing, chase every dollar, etc. which usually creates misery as you’ve pointed out. So a bit of sense and balance goes a long way!

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