Elizabeth Kerr ponders if early retirement is just a fad – or will it become a modern cultural shift?

By Elizabeth Kerr

When I was growing up it seemed like the only people who retired early were “greenies”.

They were misfits of my community, living on a lifestyle farm in the back roads, driving an old rusty truck, burning incense, usually single and living alone with their animals.

While they had the freedoms of not working they weren’t exactly someone I was aspiring to be like when I grew up.

You see, I grew up in the ‘you can be anything’ era and it was full-time work, power lunches, power suits and power cars all the way for defining success.   

Fast forward 25 years and early retirement has totally changed its look.

Nowadays early retirement folk are people really enjoying themselves, enjoying each other, travelling with their kids, in great health, eating really well, giving back to the community, learning new skills, doing the things that matter to them and thanks to the internet are able to share their tips and wealth creation strategies with the rest of us. 

The lovers

Clearly early retirement has totally dropped the “misfit” stigma and has become something that normal people like you and I can strive for without once needing to milk a goat or alienate our friends. In fact early retirement can be further refined into sub-trends and combinations depending on what takes your fancy.  Here are a few I’ve collected for you this week:

  • Location Independence – The travel anywhere and everywhere whenever you like early retirement.
  • The minimalists – pare down your belongings and keep only that which matters to you and avoid accumulating stuff which is not 5-ways useful or made in sweat-factories.
  • Konmari – The life changing magic of tidying up, which guides you in liberating yourself from that which does not bring you joy.
  • The Simple Living trend – everything in your life is connected and should be focussed on your life’s purpose. An emphasis is placed on relationships over things.
  • Off-grid community – embracing a self-sustaining and DIY lifestyle that goes hand in hand with early retirement for some.
  • The homeschooling family living in campervans – the closest thing to hell on earth in my opinion!
  • The non-consumer – aka the “don’t you dare buy anything movement”.
  • The get rid of debt and live on the smell of an oily rag community( this differs from above because eventually you are allowed to spend money again).
  • Slow Movement – if you slow life down you become happier with less.
  • Tiny House Movement – by necessity this trend encapsulates all of the above!

The two things that all of these early retirement folks seem to have in common is that are all committed to doing life in their own way by bucking societies pressure to conform, and they feel a very real conviction for sharing themselves and their lifestyle design with others on the internet.

Seeing as half of success is being open to learn from those who have already been there, this is all very valuable to you if you’re on the early retirement journey. Having exposure to how others do it is incredibly powerful for changing your own world view of what is “normal” and as a result what is achievable when you put your mind to it.

The Haters

Just as there are those who are sharing the positives of early retirement there are the haters as well. Those who poo-poo early retirement generally come up with the following arguments for their position. To save you all the hard work of thinking for yourself I’ve provided my responses to their arguments for you:

1. “You add no value to anyone when you’re not working”!

“Really – are you a complete bum when you’re not working and no value to anyone”? I would argue that without having to be at work all day you could choose to be of immense value to someone by sharing your talents, giving back to the community, and if you’re really struggling the simple act of consuming could be of value to someone. Working is not the definition of adding value, it comes down to personal choice as to how you spend your time.

2. “If you have kids you are setting them up for a life of entitlement without even sharing with them the values of a good work ethic?”

Ouch!  So, kids who have parents who are available to them a lot of the time, who can participate in their school communities, talk to their teenagers, keep a mindful eye on their use of internet, watch out for bullying, teach them how to do stuff like make a meal, mow the lawns, budget… would be setting them up for a life of entitlement?  The fact that these parents are present is as a result of an obviously good work ethic combined with savings and spending decisions that need to be reinforced everyday, so I’m quite sure the kids are getting a great introduction to values.

3. “You will get left behind and never be able to “get back in”?”

This is by far the most common push-back I hear and if I’m honest… the one that rumbles around in my own brain if I let my guard down and listen to the haters too much. To this I ask myself: ”Get back in where exactly”? Am I worried that everyone else will spend and consume better than I will? Not really. Is it the housing hysteria that is speaking to me here…(like when speaking with real estate agents in Auckland last week…more on that trip for another day)? Do I worry if I “bail out” now I won’t be able to afford the five-bedder, two-bathroom McMansion? Never! Getting “back-in” is just a place in my imagination and doesn’t exist in real life!

4. “You are being lazy, putting your brain on autopilot – that’s not much of a life?”

Ummnnn nope, wrong again. I believe early retirement is retiring from the commitment of having to work every day in order to meet you personal non negotiable expenses. I’m not advocating retirement from life altogether! Your brain will work as hard as you push it.

5. “You are copping out because you were no good at your job and/or couldn’t find one you liked enough to stick it like the rest of us!”

This could be quite true for some early retirees. And maybe achieving early retirement is the best way for them to overcome this. Let’s just be pleased these people leave their jobs open for others still on the lifestyle inflation treadmill.  

6. “Ha!  You will change your mind and be back in the workforce within a year, just you wait and see”.

Again maybe they’re right. But for those early retirees that do go back to work at least they have gone back on their own terms and not because they have to. Theoretically that very thing alone will mean their attitude to the job will be kickass awesome because they’ll know exactly what their drivers are for being there each day.

7. Last but not least, “Other people won’t respect you anymore”!

I think you’ll find other people will be more envious of your lifestyle the moment Monday morning comes around and they’re dragging themselves to work when they would rather not. I bet that you’ll be the first person they think of when they go back after their xmas holidays and you’re still enjoying the summer weather. I think you’ll find you’ll attract more people asking you for advice on how to achieve an early retirement for themselves than you would those who disrespect your freedom.

You see, there are the lovers and the haters for early retirement.

This week I wanted to raise the point that there are many different flavours of early retirement and there are as many ways to achieve one as there are individuals pursuing it.

So go on… have a good look around the internet, find a trend that suits where you are today and ignore what the haters might be saying. 

Remember to get there…you have to be different.