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Millennial Early Retirement Increase is Concerning

Last night my oldest son came home from preschool after a particularly rough day. The first thing out of his mouth was he wanted to retire. Now obviously as any parent would, I found this quite cute and described to him what retirement actually means. However, after he went to bed that night I started to think about what he said in the context of what I see in the personal finance blog verse. These thoughts led me to a question, is it healthy for millennials to consider early retirement?

Now before I raise the ire of the entire community, let me first state this is not an article like the disturbing one 2 years ago on Elite Daily. I see the value of saving in your 20s. I even find it commendable that someone in their 20s would be targeting financial independence. My concern is more with the mindset of someone in their early 20s that wants to “Early Retire”.

Are Millennials Entitled?

A lot has been written by various bloggers about millennials being entitled or not willing to pay their dues. On every one of these posts I usually post a comment that goes something like the following: “Every time a generation is young the older ones believe they are entitled, slackers, or want things handed to them”.  Look back a few decades and Gen-X were called the slacker generation, latch key kids, or the MTV generation by Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers were called flower children by the greatest generation. In every case as the generation gets older they straighten out, take over, and then judge their kids the same way they were. It’s the way of the world.

So needless to say I am not concerned about the entitled in the millennial generation or those not willing to pull their weight. They will eventually come around and give Gen Z a hard time, whatever they will be called. So, I am not concerned about the average Millennial, but I am concerned about those seeking early retirement. Right about now your probably going, Wah?

Typical Early Retirement Story

Many tales of Early Retirement you hear about these days have similar back stories. Someone works for 8-10 years in a financially responsible way.  Then they realize they are starting to approach early retirement. At the same time they decide they do not like the rat race or their chosen profession in general. Instead they maximize their savings until they retire and pursue a different passion. I see nothing wrong with this approach, even if I do not personally follow it.

The key here though is they enter the work force like most people, bright eyed and full of hope. They attempt to make their impact on the world and get ahead only to find they do not enjoy their day to day. In that time they might have engineered some major improvement in the world, cured someones disease, or even just enabled a better world. When someone is just out of college, or even still in college, none of this has happened yet. At 22 or 23 you have not even had enough time to determine whether you like your chosen profession or just were stuck with a s#it boss for your first job.

Life Changes who you are

I know at 36 my personality and life is nothing like when I was 22 or 23. I have completely morphed my life in adaption to my experiences. At 22 you have yet to have these experiences. That was really the point of the Elite Daily article everyone criticized so much. At 22 you need to live and enjoy life and experiment. Things are usually not real yet, you do not have kids or other responsibilities. Likely there is no house to be responsible for. The costs of mistakes are much reduced and you are working on discovering what you really enjoy in life. That enjoyment may be your chosen work path, or it might be early retirement and pursuing some different passion. However, I am pretty sure at 22 you do not know the answer to this. You really should be focusing on enjoying life and not squandering the most precious commodity in the world, time.

Early Retirement’s Societal Cost

So why do I care? Ultimately it is someone else’s life. On a person by person basis I don’t. Everyone is entitled to their pursuits. Surfing to Millennial Early Retirement blogs or listening to them talk can even from time to time provide a different perspective then my own. On a societal basis though it makes me nervous. Those who are pursuing early retirement and Financial Independence are likely motivated, otherwise they would not be considering such deep thoughts. They are also likely intelligent. Combine those 2 and you have someone that can make massive improvements and innovation to our society. And yet their pursuit of early retirement means they will likely focus on high paying jobs simply to retire as soon as possible. This may deflect them from some life altering lower paying persuit where they might make a major difference on society.

Millennial Early Retirement, and Indictment of society?

Even more concerning, what does it say about society when the first thing a college senior thinks is I can not wait to retire. If one or two bloggers on the web are thinking this, I suspect it makes up a much larger portion of society then is otherwise visible. After all those that self select to be personal finance bloggers are likely a much smaller portion of population then those who actually feel this way. What has changed in society to lead to so many no longer entering the world from college feeling like they can make a difference? Is it too much college debt? Over indulgent parents? Instant gratification? Poor working environments?

What do you think? What is driving millennials to consider early retirement? Are you concerned, as I am, about what this means for the future?

30 Comments

  1. I think my key take-away from the Millennial generation is their general desire to pursue their passions on their own terms. My dream of early retirement doesn’t necessarily mean stopping working. It’s more about stepping out of the rigid 9-5 career and working on my own time. The majority of people I’ve talked to want to work and contribute to society, and society is beginning to adapt to allow more flexible arrangements. I’m excited to see the changes to come in our near future. Inevitably, the marketplace will prevail and in-demand services will continue to draw people to work.

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] July 5, 2017

      I see nothing wrong with entrepreneurship or flexible work arrangements. Those probably will increase productivity in the long run. I hope most of those young wanting to retire early have this mindset.

  2. I had a discussion over the weekend which I think will help your thoughts on this topic. For me, I want to be financially independent so I can pursue deeper work and take more risk with my career, in terms of earnings or work unrelated to my formal education.

    I’m never going to stop working most likely, that is unlike me. That being said, I don’t want to be sitting in a cube all year waiting for a 2-3% increase in salary with the occasional 10% promotion.

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] July 5, 2017

      It sounds like your exploring financial independence over early retirement at least as I definite it. I appreciate that and think in some ways that will increase efficiency. It’s more the other I have to go to x career because it pays the most mindset that scares me.

  3. Interesting stance. I disagree, generally, but find your take on it interesting nonetheless.

    In the folks I’ve talked to about what they’d like to pursue, it doesn’t have to do with money. The millennials I talk to (and I count myself among this group), we’re all trying to pursue something that makes us feel valued and that has a clear, positive impact. We want to work on building cool new products and services that help people and improve the quality of life that folks have. The people I talk to aren’t chasing a paycheck. Sure, it’s nice, and you need to be able to support yourself, but money tends to be of less importance than the kind of work one is doing.

    For that reason I think your statement “And yet their pursuit of early retirement means they will likely focus on high paying jobs simply to retire as soon as possible” is not aligned with my experiences. That’s not to say you’re wrong or that I’m wrong, just that I think this is likely an over-generalization…or that I’m thankful to be making one based on my circle of friends. 🙂

    I think those who pursue ER, like you said, tend to be both intelligent and motivated. While ER may be a goal, few people I know who are both intelligent and motivated would be content to waste their lives away not producing value in our society and making it a better place overall. I think the FI of the equation is a much more admirable goal, and ultimately the one I see as empowering everyone involved.

    I think, too, that the definition of what ‘early retirement’ is may be a good topic of discussion. If early retirement means just not slaving away at an 8-5 for a paycheck, but being able to help others and volunteer your time, then I would be hard pressed to be concerned with this. However, if early retirement means sitting on a beach and drinking mai tai’s till you can’t walk…I see little benefit to society and understand your points of concern.

  4. FTF — I admit I’m concerned about this as well, for a couple reasons. The first is that young people may be wrong about their assumptions. It is one thing to retire with a big nest egg and live for 30 years. It is another entirely to retire early on a tight budget and potentially live 50 years. The financial assumption is that market returns and tax rates and retirement account regulations will continue to be favorable. The career assumption is that one won’t ever again want a career, or that side hustles will always be fruitful and meaningful, or that the job market will always take one back. A lot can happen in 50 years.

    The second reason I’m concerned is what you alluded to — the societal impact and societal indictment. Employment carries a whole lot of benefits, both to the working individual and to the structure of our civilization. Generally speaking, employment an answer, if not the answer, to societal ills like crime and depression and so on. When employment is no longer cherished as a good … something is going on.

    Finally I’d just add something I mentioned on Mustard Seed Money, which is that I wonder what the generational effect is. Personally, I want my kids to see me going to work and prioritizing career and having a balanced lifestyle. Life is not all about our family and it’s not all about vacations and free time. I feel my best when things are going well at work and at home.

    Thanks for writing this ….

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] July 5, 2017

      Thanks Rich. That’s a great question that probably deserves it’s own post to explore.. what is the impact on your kids if you retire early..

  5. Interesting stance. I think that your point about pursuing low paying careers that could benefit society is exactly why more people should be striving for financial independence. At 22 I am striving for financial independence, although I sometimes use the term retirement to describe it, I believe they are different. True retirement would be no longer working, but financial independence just means I no longer need to work.

    In my current job I would love to leave today, but I am hopeful that I will have the opportunity to find a job that I love and could not imagine leaving. That might be after I am financially independent. If I am financially independent then I could take on a project that would benefit society without needing any compensation.

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] July 6, 2017

      Hopefully it happens for you before Fi, that’s a long time to wait. Best luck.

  6. “Those who are pursuing early retirement and Financial Independence are likely motivated, otherwise they would not be considering such deep thoughts. They are also likely intelligent. Combine those 2 and you have someone that can make massive improvements and innovation to our society. And yet their pursuit of early retirement means they will likely focus on high paying jobs simply to retire as soon as possible.”

    I can say from my personal perspective that I have turned down higher-paying jobs that would be less meaningful. I want to reach FI, but I don’t want to live a meaningless life before getting there. Also, one of the reasons that I want to reach FI is because I believe that I can better contribute to society and to improving the lives of others if I don’t have to worry about turning a profit. If I can dedicate my time to figuring out the best ways to help people rather than the best ways to help people that also pays my living expenses, then I think that is a more productive use of my time.

    I recognize that that is just my personal experience, but I’d like to hope that it is not an unusual one for Millennials seeking FI.

  7. One of those early retirement Millennials checking in. I would love to be financially independent and have the freedom to pursue lower paying but more fulfilling jobs. For instance, I would really love to be able to explore artistic endeavors like stained glass and throwing clay but they don’t pay enough so I can’t do it full time yet. Until then, yes I did go into one field specifically because it pays well. Fortunately I joined a great company and do a lot of good while getting paid a lot.

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] July 6, 2017

      I’ve stories where you end up with the best of both worlds. Glad to here it’s working out for you.

  8. SMM
    SMM July 6, 2017

    It could be a number of causes. I know people back in the 60s would work at only one place for 30+ years and retire from there. In the past couple of decades people job hop more working at one place for maybe less than 5 years before going somewhere else. And now like you mentioned some may want instant reward or gratification. But the cost to retire is a lot and many millennials could have a rude awakening if they do decide to retire early. But who knows maybe their definition of early retirement is not working a place for which they earned their degree but instead working at place that pays less but is more rewarding.

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] July 6, 2017

      True, early retirement can mean many different things to different individuals. Working for less money due to independence could be a positive to society.

  9. As others have stated it is more about having the financial freedom to choose how you spend your time without having to worry about money. Most people aren’t really looking to be 100% retired and just playing golf 24/7 when they turn 40.

    However, I have no issue with that either. If you have saved enough to retire at 40 and never earn another cent you likely have millions invested in the companies that do push technology and society forward.

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] July 6, 2017

      It’s certainly their life and choices, on aggregate though forty year olds stopping working is a detriment to society. I don’t begrudge anyone their choices, it’s their life. I still worry about societies future though.

  10. Chris
    Chris July 6, 2017

    I don’t think we have much to worry about regarding too many people hitting FI. While many people regardless of generation may be trying to get to FI or ER I question most how dedicated they are. Reading blogs like this makes it seem like many people have these goals but whenever I walk away from the computer, my experiences in the outside world make the FI seekers a very selective group. People can complain about college expenses, but I see parents co-signing for johnny to go to a 40k per year school even though he doesn’t know what to do. I see people my age (46) buying new cars every 2 years just like I see the college graduate somehow qualify for a 6 year loan on a new car even though they don’t have a job yet ? (No I am not making this up). My point is I think people needing the $800 cell phone but cannot afford it and the expenses that go with it, are the 95% of our society. The people that read these blogs are maybe 5% of the population, probably less. Not sure which camp I am in, I do have the cell phone, I often feel guilty about it but I justify it since I’m in the biz being a computer programmer. Let’s just say you do hit FI, what are the chances that your parents, as well as kids are all doing real well too ? I mean, I like my course, but my parents are blue collar and will likely need help. I have 3 kids, chance of at least 1 needing help ? I hope not but really what are the chances ? Money is no good if you can’t help the ones you love, and less fortunate especially if it’s your own parents right ?

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] July 6, 2017

      So true Chris. Taking care of family is a very important thing often overlooked. As always I appreciate you adding your thoughts.

  11. Sarah Saverdink
    Sarah Saverdink July 8, 2017

    As a millennial couple, we both worked very hard in our respective careers for 10 years and then realized that due to our high-incomes and reasonable expenses, we were saving a very good chunk of our salary. By 32-years-old, we had saved $1M already. That sparked the FI bug in our heads. I didn’t even know that concept existed until I was at least 30, but I always prioritized saving from the moment I started my first job.

    We are planning to work at least another 7 years (40 is our goal FI age) and then hope to “retire” from our 9-5 jobs (which in reality are 8am – 6pm+ jobs…). Yes, we plan to travel a lot, but we also plan to volunteer for causes we care about and contribute to society in other ways.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance July 9, 2017

      After 10 years the decision makes a bit more sense to me. You’ve had an opportunity to see the world and decide what you like and do not.

  12. High income Parents
    High income Parents July 9, 2017

    I’m a Gen-x-ER and I think millennials are the first generation to get hosed a little more than the ones before. We’ve constantly been told to go to college regardless of the cost and pursue the American dream of a house, two cars and 2.5 kids.
    Wage growth has not kept up with the costs of a lot of these things especially education and the Millennials got caught right in the middle of it. It sucks. The greatest generation had to live through a world war though. Life is hard.
    I’m not saying it’s the same but I do think Mellinnials are the first to have to change the definition of the American dream. That is going to take some growing pains so they may want to retire early but it’s unlikely for the vast majority.
    The reality is also that those who have the drive to reach financial independence at a young age won’t stop working. They will just change the work to something they are passionate about and likely society will be better off for it.

    Tom @ HIP

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance July 9, 2017

      I also believe, as someone else pointed out, that the definition of work is changing. Self Employment use to be something for big time entrepreneurs. These days everyone and their mother seems to have some sort of side hustle business. Purse freelance and contract work is also on the rise. That’s probably both good and bad. Flexibility is good, but it also means further degradation of the less volatile career paths of old.

  13. Mustard Seed Money
    Mustard Seed Money July 9, 2017

    I think that early retirement is the newest in vogue thing for people to latch onto. People are looking to reject traditional ideas and I think while they’re young they want to try something different. Whether or not they can do it is a different story and I think will be an eye opener when they see how hard it is 🙂

    • fulltimefinance
      fulltimefinance July 10, 2017

      These things do ebb and flow. I often wonder what will happen to the whole movement when the wheels fall off the economy again.

  14. Mystery Money Man
    Mystery Money Man July 12, 2017

    This is such a great post, FTF, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed reading through a comment thread as much as this one in a while either, so many great thoughts.
    I’m a Gen X’er who’s not all that interested in ER, if it’s to mean the end of my “work-life”. That being said, I’m all for people pursuing a level of FI so that they are able to have more control over their career and their time away from work. That’s certainly something I’m striving for.

    One thing I’ve found over the course of my career is that companies are far less loyal to their people than they once were, and so millennials in particular should not count on much security from their employer.

    I do question whether many of the Millennial FIRE crowd are being realistic about their long term income needs before and after retirement. In one of the comments above, Chris makes a great point about the need to help out aging parents or children as they get older. If you’re projecting your retirement income based on your lifestyle as a 25 year old single person or married couple who haven’t yet had children, good chance you’ll need to re think things down the road.

    • fulltimefinance
      fulltimefinance July 12, 2017

      Thanks MMM. It really is a shame how weak the bond between companies and employees is these days. Though it does seem to have given rise to more freelance opportunities so it’s not all that bad I guess. Thanks as always for adding your thoughts.

  15. Jacq
    Jacq July 24, 2017

    I think part of the mindset is frustration. The Boomers are hanging on to jobs, which stiffles room to grow within companies. Which can also affect the individual’s feeling of their ability to make an impact. The culture in many large companies changed, which is mimicked by medium companies. My father had the ability to shift roles within his company, that’s a thing of the past most places.
    If I’m going to be doing this for the next 10 years…(as I mindlessly entered numbers into a spreadsheet before lunch), ‘life is so precious, there has to be more than this’ can become the thought.
    I work in an industry with the ability to make an impact on lives, but it the deliverable time table is long (even if things go according to the short term plan, known impact will take years longer)…how much impact do _I_ have, vs if I get to FI, and interact with individuals and can see the change/joy/spark in someone else’s life?

    We’re not just Gen X/ Millennials / that middle group. We watched the World Trade Center crumble, and see how quickly it can all be gone in an instant due to current media. We want a chance to do something to make a difference while we can.
    ““When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.” – Doctor Who
    I want to be part of what makes it ‘So much Better!”

    • fulltimefinance
      fulltimefinance July 27, 2017

      Very insightful and a great add. This attitude gives me Hope for future generations, I must say. Thanks for the comment.

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