It’s almost a cliche in the personal finance community. The professional doesn’t like their job, so they set a goal to retire. While the trope is well played, I’m here to challenge it a bit. The reality is retirement is not a goal.
This whole post was inspired by a post from Diversefi about whether kids are holding you back from FIRE. Now let’s be honest kids can and do delay plans. But honestly the bigger thing I noted was the comment about holding back from FIRE. It sort of rubbed me the wrong way to think of values getting in the way of FIRE.
Retirement is Not a Goal
FIRE, or Financial Independence Retire Early is all about putting in place changes to become financially independent and retire early. It’s a lofty milestone to be financially independent, or even retire early, but it’s not a goal. Don’t get me wrong, Financial Independence can be extremely important. However, to be your goal the actual point has to be to be financially independent or retire early. But even if you are part of the FIRE community, retirement is not the point.
What You Value is Your Goal
Bear with me a second here. I’ve written in the past that you must retire to something. The to is one of your goals. The things you value in the background, that is the goal. The point is finding what you value and maximizing it across your entire life. Financial Independence or early retirement may be a means to achieve that goal or a milestone on the path, but it’s not the goal.
Your Goal is What You Value
Say you want to focus on travel, maybe see the world for long periods of time. What you value is time and the means to travel. Retirement may be a means to achieve that. Location Independence might also be a means to achieve that. I’m not saying retirement isn’t the best way to achieve it, but its a means to the end, not the end. The key point is you owe it to yourself to understand if retirement is the best method to achieve your end goal.
Understanding Your Goal
You might say, well what if you just hate your job and don’t want to work anymore? Still retirement is not the end goal. Reworded your goal is likely to not sit behind a desk at your current job and do a thankless job. A solution might be to work in a different field, work in a field your more passionate about, or it might be to retire, but retirement is still not the goal. It’s just one way to achieve your goal of not doing your current job.
Perhaps your goal is to not have to work in general just to ensure you have secure finances. Financial Independence might be a way to achieve this. But the goal here is not to depend on work for your finances. Retirement is still not your goal, just a means to these goals.
Focusing on the Method of Retirement as a Goal can be Dangerous
Which brings us to the second point, Focusing on retirement as the goal is actually dangerous. You can miss out on your true values. You can ignore important opportunities to even better outcomes if you close your mind to any anything other than retirement. Understanding what you truly value is important.
Back to the Original Question, Is FIRE held back by Children?
In our example about kids the question was whether having kids and their associated costs was holding back someones FIRE. My answer, so what. If you have kids, and wanted them, they are probably part of your goal. It might conflict with other goals, but it’s still one of your goals. Being able to work without depending on employment for your finances, or even spend time doing something else other than working might also be your goal. Having kids might slow your path to that, that might be the important question. But delaying your path to retirement itself is not that important. Not having kids just because they delay your path to retirement is not a valid reason.
Money is a Measurement System
I’ve stated before on this blog that money is but a measurement system. It’s a fungible measurement system with no intrinsic value that tells you where you are towards your retirement milestone. It also gives you options to choose what you value. You exchange it for your real goals and values, but it’s not the point or goal either. Like retirement it’s just a choice on the path to obtaining what you value, one of many valued actual goals.
Life is About the Journey not the Destination
Which really brings us to the last point of this piece, retirement is a milestone, but the goals are sprinkled all along the path. You shouldn’t wait until retirement to experience the things you value, but instead meter them out throughout a lifetime. After all you only live once and there is no guarantee you will make it to a later milestone where you might enjoy them.
That doesn’t mean you should go hog wild and rob the future to pay the now. It does however mean you should make the things you value happen now and plan in such a way that they will continue to flow throughout your life. Set goals based on your values along the way, and achieve them as you go marching towards the various milestones of life. Utilize all tools at your disposal to achieve those valued goals, including the possibility of retirement. But do not focus solely on retirement as it’s not really a goal.
Do you know your true goals? Do you disagree that retirement is not a goal?