One of the most common questions to ask someone when you first meet is “So, what do you for a living?” In some cultures, this might seem too forward or a bit awkward. But in America, “what you do for a living” helps others understand more about who you are.
Here are some examples of what people might think when they find out what you do: Teacher (he’s caring and compassionate), Software engineer (she’s smart and nerdy), or Banker (he’s wealthy and greedy).
Of course these are all stereotypes and can be totally off base, but this is how most people start to formulate their opinions of others. So, what happens when you’re in your 40s and you tell someone you’re retired? That’s where things get interesting.
My wife, Allison, and I achieved FIRE (Financial Independence / Retiring Early) 3.5 years ago, as of this writing. During that time, we have experienced a wide variety of reactions to our new lifestyle.
1. “Good for you!”
This is by far my favorite reaction. We love our lifestyle, so it’s always great when others are happy for us.
Both of our moms had this reaction, once we told them that we were financially able/capable to retire early. They’ve both been retired for some time, live independently on their own, and love it.
I remember Allison’s mom saying something along the lines of “Good, you don’t need to keep working for other people. You’re better off!” We feel the exact same way.
2. “I’m so jealous!”
While this might not seem exactly like a happy reaction, it really is. It’s the reaction of someone who values your lifestyle and wishes they could be in your shoes. I love trying to help and inspire the “jealous” ones to get to FIRE as well.
You just have to be careful not to flaunt your happy-go-lucky lifestyle, because that innocent jealousy could turn to a darker form of resentment. As in “OK, I’m sick of seeing their pictures of doing fun stuff all day while I’m stuck in the office.”
3. “Darn, it’s too late for me”
We get this reaction a lot, especially from people who are over 45. Because we have a website called Retire By 45, many people automatically assume that if they haven’t hit FIRE by 45, then they missed the boat.
The reality is that you have more time than you think to “retire early.” According to US Census Bureau, the average retirement age in the US is about 63. So if you retire before then, technically you are “retiring early” (or at least earlier than most). And ultimately, it’s more about the Financial Independence than the early retirement, no matter how long it takes to get there!
4- “You’re lazy, a drain on society, and/or no longer productive”
Although nobody has ever actually said this to us, I can imagine it might be what some people are thinking. While I can’t help it if anyone feels this way, I can certainly offer our viewpoint.
To be able to retire in your 40s takes a lot of hard work, combined with savvy investing, and living a frugal lifestyle. Over the years, we’ve paid more than our fair share in income taxes, property taxes, and social security contributions. We just did it in a more compressed span of time.
I got my first job at 16 and didn’t stop working until hitting FIRE at 43 (I actually counted about 30 jobs over that timeframe!). Allison, who taught me the value of hard work, used to commute 3+ hours per day when she worked at eBay, and was always working in the evenings and on weekends.
As for productivity, we make a point to be very involved in our community and with our neighbors, friends, and family. Also, most of the content we create on Retire By 45 is completely free (other than some of our courses) and available to anyone who needs some tips and inspiration. So, yes, I feel like we continue to contribute to society in many ways!
5. “What do you do all day? Aren’t you bored?”
We get this reaction a lot from especially from people who are workaholics or Type A personalities. They can’t imagine a life that doesn’t revolve primarily around a job or career.
I can understand this point of view, because in many ways that was us back in the day. And I’ll admit that I also thought we would be bored once we stopped working. However, I can honestly say that I rarely, if ever, feel bored.
On the contrary, I feel constantly stimulated. We now have time to do things we actually want to do, not things we have to do. That means more time exercising and getting into shape, traveling around the world, eating at new restaurants, and enjoying the artistic side of life (reading, writing, movies, shows, music, etc).
You just have to make a conscious effort to ensure you’re getting the most of your free time. We put together a blog post about our 6 keys to having a fun, rewarding, and happy early retirement.
6. “When are you going to get another job?”
This was Allison’s dad’s reaction. He is still working in his late 60s with no plans to retire, so he doesn’t understand why we would want to retire early.
He asked “So when are you going to get another job?” for about 2 years after we retired. I think he’s finally given up now. To be fair, he has an important job (engineering skyscrapers and tunnels in NYC) and a great work ethic, which he passed along to Allison.
While we enjoyed our jobs and careers for the most part, they weren’t fulfilling and compelling enough to keep going once we didn’t have to. Perhaps if we were curing cancer or presiding on the Supreme Court, we would be happy to keep working forever, but managing projects and marketing products for others was never our lifelong dream.
7. “Do you make a lot of $ on your blog?”
This is the reaction when people learn about our site Retire By 45. When I told my dad I was building out our website, he got excited and asked when I was “going to IPO” or get acquired by Google. I think he’s seriously still waiting for that to happen.
While there are some bloggers that make big money writing about FIRE (or other topics), the vast majority make little to no money. A few blogs that do make bank are Mr. Money Mustache, Making Sense of Cents, and Smart Passive Income. I talk about how much they make and how you can become a blogger in my post about How to Start a Blog from A to Z.
But for every Pat Flynn, there are thousands of “Joe Shmoe on FIRE” sites that nobody’s heard of. As of this writing, Rockstar Directory has 1750 blogs about personal finance, and Modest Money has over 1000
We write about FIRE, because we enjoy writing about it and truly want to share our story to inspire others. And we do make a few bucks on it from ads, courses, and affiliate links, but it’s really just some extra money to go into our travel and experiences budget.
8. “Are you sure you have enough money?”
This is a very common and well-intentioned reaction, especially from family members who want to make sure we’re not retiring too soon. The idea of cutting off a high paying salary while we’re still young enough to keep working and earning seems kind of crazy to most people.
And believe me, Allison and I have gone over our numbers and looked at as many possible scenarios as possible to finally feel comfortable with our decision. One analysis we looked at is what’s called a Monte Carlo Simulation.
We consulted with a financial advisor at Vanguard, who put all of our assets into their financial modeling tool. It looks at 10,000 possible market scenarios from now until you reach 99 years of age. Fortunately, our assets held up 99% of the time. Our advisor said they never put 100%, because nothing in life is certain. [You can run your own Monte Carlo analysis here -- Retirement Simulation]
Now, when we’re not sure whether to splurge on something (usually a trip or some fun experience), we ask ourselves whether one of the Monte Carlo scenarios would cover it, and we have our answer.
If you’re wondering if you might be getting close to being able to pull the plug on your job and FIRE, you can read our post Where Are You on the Path to FI?
Once you achieve FIRE, you too will get these reactions (and more) when people hear of your new life situation. Be prepared for the good (I’m so happy for you!), the bad (so, when are you going back to work?), and the ugly (you’re a blight on society!).
And when asked the proverbial “what do you do for a living?” you have a number of options. You could simply say “I retired early,” although that might sound a little pretentious. Or maybe you say “I’m financially independent,” which may be accurate but sounds even more pretentious.
Lately I’ve been telling people, “I’m self-employed,” which is true since we declare the small profit from our blog on our taxes. People can wrap their heads around this answer more easily. It usually leads to questions like “Oh, so what type of business do you run?,” which leads to interesting conversation about FIRE (an acronym most people have never heard of).