Retirement Redefined

A few years ago, Angie and I were watching a football game on TV when 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 at the same time, as it tumbled off my tongue. Though I expected no response, I still remember to this day what Angie said – just one little word, okay. This 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 suggesting such a 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 several days after that, I pondered the question: 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 24% fear 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!

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 so many of us find the concept of early retirement so appealing! We want to do those things now. If we wait until TD Ameritrade says that we have enough money, most of us will be long past dead!

Retirement shouldn’t be about how you spend your money, but rather, how you spend your day. If you want to work, that’s okay. If you want to fish all day, that’s fine too. It’s your life, live it however you want. And don’t wait until you reach some arbitrary age or ask permission from some greedy brokerage firm to do it. Retirement starts the day that you choose to spend your time pursuing life instead of money.

Retirement is a state of mind, a place of peaceful living and time spent with loved ones, a nap on the couch, or an afternoon enjoying a good book. Retirement is getting up each day, knowing your time is your own, regardless of what you choose to do with it. And by that definition, retirement is a place we can arrive at any age.

9 thoughts on “Retirement Redefined

  1. Fully accepting your point of view, I’ll describe my idea of retirement.
    Living in easter part of Europe, here are probably different relations between earnings and expenses, then in your part of world. But I fully agree that retirement does not depend on “some arbitrary age”, “brokerage firm” , etc. These are kind of “last resort” waranties – I rely on them if everything else fails.
    But for me, retirement will come, when:
    – my resposibilities are done. e.g. when my son is mature and able to manage his needs.
    – I have some place of my own – small piece of land with cottage where I can retreat, I don’t need to pay rent for that, nobody can send me away. With small garden.
    – I have savings to cover reasonable time of troubles (e.g. half to one year of frugal living) – so I do not bother relatives.
    Then I can slowdown, work just to cover my needs, spend more time by something what has value for me. And have freedom to decide whether I want to work more or live frugally. That’s “retirement”.

    BTW really great and inspiring blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great post! So many profound statements. Thank you! Retirement is NOT a financial achievement – I love that. ‘Retirement starts the day that you choose to spend your time pursuing life instead of money.’ When I read this, I realize that I need to refocus and relax about today, tomorrow and the rest of my life. I need to stop stressing and start living. Again, thanks so much for writing and sharing this awesome post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amen to this- my cousin joked to me the other day that I’m semi-retired at 52, and I thought ‘Yes, I kind of am- only work part time and do a lot of whatever I want most of the time (but cheaply)’, and I smiled to myself. She seemed a bit jealous to be honest…

    Liked by 1 person

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