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Retirement is Not a Goal

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.

Post Inspiration

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?

16 Comments

  1. Joe
    Joe August 22, 2018

    I somewhat agree. You need to do something after early retirement. Personally, I don’t think relaxing, traveling, and living a leisurely life would be fulfilling enough. I became a stay-at-home dad/blogger after I retired from my engineering career. That kept me very busy for quite a few years. Now that our kid is in school, I can focus more on blogging.

    I think focusing on retirement is okay. You just need to keep in mind that there is life after retirement. You can stumble around and figure it out after retirement. You’ll more time to think about it once you don’t have a job anymore.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance August 22, 2018

      The question I would ask is, what tangible thing is retirement gaining you? What is the root reason to retire?

      • Joe
        Joe August 23, 2018

        I gained a lot of time and autonomy. I’m much more relaxed and less stressed out.
        The root reason for seeking retirement? Probably autonomy. I just didn’t like working for a corporation anymore.

  2. Doc G
    Doc G August 22, 2018

    Great points here, and thanks for linking my article. I like to say the FI is not a goal but rather a goal post. A mile marker.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance August 22, 2018

      Sounds like we’re in agreement. Thanks for the inspiration and the comment.

  3. Reverse The Crush
    Reverse The Crush August 29, 2018

    Great post! I agree 100% that retirement is not the goal. The goal is about how you want to spend your time. Although I realize people change, I think I have a good idea about what my goals are. I enjoy blogging, allocating capital, spending time working in coffee shops, and I like not rushing in the morning. In addition, I’ve always liked the idea of owning a small business. Thanks for sharing!

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance August 29, 2018

      Good set of goals. What type of small business are you considering?

  4. Raina
    Raina September 21, 2018

    100% agree with you. Once we embraced the principles of FI and rearranged our life, we realized we could afford for me to stay home with our daughter.
    We would be at FI much faster if I had just continued to work and saved 100% of my income, but it wasn’t the most VALUBLE thing for our family at that moment. It’s been three years, we don’t regret it.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 21, 2018

      Sounds similar to our story. My wife runs a small business in the short period our youngest is in preschool each week and otherwise is home with the kids. She’ll be the first to tell you that time with the kids is special to her. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Wealthy Doc
    Wealthy Doc September 21, 2018

    I agree!
    Life is all about the journey.
    I have worked hard at times and other times not at all. Now I work part-time and I love it. Reaching FI helped open up more options, but that is about it. Life is much more than one financial goal.

  6. RE@54
    [email protected] September 21, 2018

    This is a discussion my wife and I have now that we are about five years from retiring from our current jobs. We will be 54 and 52 at that point. It is not about getting out of our current job, but it is about the next chapter of our lives. Just like we had our chapters in college, early careers, kids, and later career, we are now ready for post retirement years. We are really excited for the unknown. We are FI, but not ready to quit working. We just want to do something different. Part time or our own business or just being busy with what we want to do.
    Coworkers and friends don’t understand this: What are you going to do? You will be bored. How can you live with a limited budget? I could never do that….

    BTW, oh heck yeah, kids delay your FIRE. That’s life. Ha ha.
    Nice article.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 21, 2018

      Nothing wrong with wanting to do something different. As long as it makes you happy, those around may not understand but it won’t matter. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Dragon Gal
    Dragon Gal September 26, 2018

    Loved this post! I retired over a year ago and it has been a journey to discover what I want my retirement to be about. I wrote plenty of lists on things I wanted to do in my retirement, and I’ve certainly explored a lot of things on my list. But for me, the most important thing has been to be patient and open to new activities. It takes time to develop new communities and try out new opportunities. I really love this idea that retirement is not a goal, but a continuation of how I want to live my life with the things I value. Very thought provoking post!

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 26, 2018

      Thanks Dragon Girl. It sounds like your putting retirement phase to good use.

  8. Tawnya
    Tawnya November 2, 2018

    Interesting take. I agree that “retirement” itself isn’t the point of FIRE. However, I think of it as not about retirement (because in many cases people are simply switching jobs) but more about freedom in your life to pursue what you want to. I like your take on figuring out what you value first, and then figuring out your path to get there.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance November 3, 2018

      Freedom is a perfectly reasonable why so long as we have an idea of what we would do with it. Thanks for the comment.

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