Retirement Redefined

While we were watching football last weekend, a commercial for TD Ameritrade came on. I wasn’t really paying attention but for some reason when I heard the word retirement, I spontaneously muttered, “I think I will retire tomorrow.” It sounded good in my head and of course, impractical as it tumbled off my tongue. Though I expected no response, Angie simply said, “Okay”. It wasn’t the same okay that I usually get when she’s reading and only half listening to me. It was more like the one I get when I suggest we go get ice cream.

“And then what will we do?” I asked with a hint of sarcasm that was mainly directed at myself for saying such a dumb thing in the first place.

Without missing a beat, she said, “Well, if it rains like they say it’s going to, then we’ll watch movies.”

It was just that simple. And yet that profound.

For days I’ve been thinking about this. Just what is retirement anyway?

In my grandparents’ day, retirement meant you were old enough to receive your company’s pension and could spend your days doing all the things you had dreamed of while working for 40+ years. Today, I turn on the news and retirement means that our older generation is no longer employable in their career field but can’t support themselves because they’ve overspent and under-planned, so now they must work at Walmart. Don’t believe it? Just Google “Americans Unable to Retire” and you’ll be bombarded with sad statistics like 85% of Americans are worried about retirement, only 54% have a retirement savings account, and 10% say they will never be able to retire.

Or maybe it’s time we call bull-crap on those statistics and the pessimists who publish them and come up with our own definition of retirement.

Jacob Fisker did. He’s the author of Early Retirement Extreme.

Pete did. You may know him as Mr. Money Mustache.

Long, long ago, the definition of retirement was simply to withdraw to some place, especially for the sake of privacy. I like that. I like it a lot! In fact, last year I withdrew to Florida for just that very purpose.

If I were going to craft my own definition of retirement, I might start out pretty similar, with one that has nothing to do with money. But you can’t do that, I hear you saying. Money has to be the starting point. You have to have enough of it to survive once you aren’t working anymore.

Nope. Not in my definition.

Retirement is not a financial achievement, though as Americans, we’ve come to see it that way. We work for years to reach a point where we can buy back our most valuable resource – time – and use it as we see fit. We think retirement is when we can travel, spend time with loved ones, take on new hobbies, or simply greet the day with no intentions.

No wonder I find the concept of early retirement so appealing! I want to do those things now. If I wait until TD Ameritrade says that I have enough money, I’ll be long past dead!

Retirement shouldn’t be about how you spend your money, but rather, how you spend your day. I want to think of retirement as a state of mind, a place of peaceful living, that one can arrive at any age.

Even looking at it that way though, I’ve not quite reached my retirement. I am still leasing a portion of my time to things that I don’t necessarily believe in. So for me, the rest of this year is going to be spent in careful contemplation of how best to resolve that issue so that the next time I’m passively listening to retirement commercials, it won’t be wishful thinking.

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