To read MoneySense or any of the “Family Profiles” in the business sections of most Canadian or American daily newspapers, you’d think the only goal most middle-aged middle-class workers have is retirement.
And I certainly understand this. After a decade or three of employment in any large corporation or government body, release from the treadmill does at first glance seem to have some appeal.
But as I told Chris Hill recently in an installment of Motley Fool’s Market Foolery podcast, I believe many people just think they want to retire.
If all you’ve enjoyed after a multi-decade working life is an annual vacation of two or three weeks, the idea of an extended vacation—remember those endless summers in grade school?—does seem exhilarating. And as I know from my sister-in-law, in the United States early in a career, it’s common to have only two weeks of annual vacation. You only start to relax in the second week and the next thing you know, it’s back to the cubicle.
But even the schoolchild starts to get bored after a month or two of summer vacation. Maybe not all: after all, the child knows September is fast approaching and with it the back-to-school regime.
Not so for the retiree. To those still toiling in cubicles and corner offices, I suggest you ask yourself whether you really want to retire, or do you really just need the kind of change that a year’s sabbatical might provide? Or perhaps three to six months of what author Tim Ferris calls a mini-retirement: as described in his book, The Four-Hour Workweek.
I can totally understand being fed up with commuting, office politics, bosses and annual reviews (both receiving them and dishing them out). But that doesn’t mean you’re going to find salvation in watching daytime television every day, or playing golf every second day. In one of my books (yes, that book!), I quote retired computer consultant Art Benjamin to the effect that “Most jobs are marginally better than daytime television.”
Perhaps you need more than an extended vacation or sabbatical. If you’re in your 50s, the milestones of age 65 or 67 still look pretty far away. If you’re paying undue attention to all those articles about how so-and-so just needs to grit their teeth and keep adding to their RRSPs and TFSAs for the next decade, maybe what you need is not retirement but a wholesale career change. Going back to school for a year or two might launch you onto a completely new life trajectory. I know of former business executives and even a rock star who decided they wanted to go to divinity school and emerge as ordained ministers. A year ago in MoneySense we told the tale of an investment adviser who decided in his mid 50s to become an actor.
These career changes may mean a cut in pay, but the new lower salary may provide satisfaction: what financial planner Jenya Rose terms “Happy Money.” In an exchange of essays at her website and the Financial Independence Hub, Jenya criticized those who espouse early retirement (or early findependence). She herself, with benefit of an inheritance, confesses she did a lot of partying and travelling in her youth. Later, much later, she got serious about saving and investing, so much so that she became a tax preparer and financial planner. Now she enjoys her work so much, she calls it “happy money.” She’s found a vocation that pays and which she feels she could remain engaged in well into old age.
I responded that what I’m doing now (since last May), could also qualify as happy money. A guest post by Sheryl Smolkin tells of her “road to findependence,” which began when she took early retirement at the tender age of 54 after a long career as a lawyer and pension consultant. Almost 10 years later, she’s still writing about personal finance, blogging and has also launched two websites. She too is enjoying happy money. And happily, she has doubled her retirement savings nest egg since her first retirement.
So if you’re thinking about getting off the hamster wheel, remember this blog post: maybe you only think you want to retire.
Jonathan Chevreau is chief findependence officer for the Financial Independence Hub. He blogs there and at moneysense.ca and other sites.