Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Work, Retirement, and Financial Independence

At Make Love Not Debt, He recently wondered why so many personal finance bloggers are looking to "retire early." I just finished a really thought-provoking book called "Your Money or Your Life," which is prompting me to rethink this concept.

I have always had a very negative association with the whole concept of retiring early and living off your investments. It conjures up images of a privileged "leisure class," living in decadence off the sweat of working people, using their free time to golf or shop or stay at fancy hotels around the world. And I imagine that they have enough money to do so because they put money above all else, not caring about who or what they hurt on their way to the top. That doesn't fit my values at all!

But "Your Money or Your Life" has totally turned this on its head for me. I just finished reading it this week and am still processing it, and I'm not sure I agree with everything it suggests, but it talks a lot about achieving financial independence (actually, FI, which includes financial intelligence, financial integrity, and financial independence). The case it makes is that once you are FI, you will be able to spend your time and live your life purely according to your values. And a big part of their message is living simply and frugally (both in the present so you can save money, and in the future so you can afford to be FI)-- I can't argue with that!

YMOYL is full of examples of FI people doing incredible things to make the world a better place. Many of them have values similar to mine, and honestly, it sounds incredibly appealing. Yes, I have a great job which I enjoy and which promotes my values, and I'm in no hurry to leave it. But there are so many other meaningful things I would love to do in my life that would inevitably pay me little or nothing at all. It would fit my values perfectly to have the freedom to do those things anyway without having to worry about where the next meal's coming from. In my fondest dreams of the ideal society, everyone can do work which they love and find fulfilling without having to worry about getting paid for it; FI is a path towards that for the individual which leaves the rest of society intact, for better or for worse.

I'm still trying to figure out what effect YMOYL will have on my decisions (and I bet I'll be writing more about it as a result!). But if nothing else, it's helped get rid of my automatic negative reaction to anyone who's trying for early retirement/financial independence. I don't know their motives or their values, and it's unfair of me to assume that they're bad ones. Who knows what wonderful things they might do once they are freed from paid work?


2million said...

This sounds like a book I live by. I have yet to really discuss my plans when I reach financial independance but I expect big things.

One of my many thoughts is that rather than working for a corporation, when I become financial independant, I will work (aka full time volunteer)for a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity.

Katie said...

You address topics I constantly debate about with myself. I'm working as hard as I can right now--not to retire, but to reach a point where I'll work because I want... and where I want.

So many people talk about financial decisions they wish they made at age 23; I'm hoping that my efforts might change my course.

Credit Card said...

I'm still amazed that some people think that if you have some measure of financial independence and can enjoy the good things in life, you must have done something wrong or exploited the underclass.

bpt said...

I have enormous respect for Your Money or Your Life, having met many people whose life was changed by their construct. But! It doesn't work for me, because both my husband and I are lucky enough to have found work which we enjoy and feel blessed to do. And it is lucrative. Plus work structures life. It's hard to be taken seriously if you are a volunteer, in my experience.
YMOYL doesn't speak to the issue of how to live your life is you have enough work you love and plenty of money - it presumes work is soul-sucking, not inspiring, and that the only reason one works is to earn money.