If You Haven’t Retired by 30 You’re a F—— Failure

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Watch what you say. The world is listening.

When I first discovered the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community I didn’t even know it was a community. Always eager for a good read, I mentally grazed on the offerings of blogs around the internet.

Intrigued by frugality I was naturally drawn to these blogs and news articles. Poverty was well in my past, yet habits die hard. My reasons were many. I wanted to leave as light a footprint on the planet as possible as good steward of the world I inherited. My natural competitive nature also drove me to compete against myself in lowering my consumption and needs.

Before the FIRE community caught my fancy I was living a frugal life and had attained FI. It was common to see me turn out light not is use and to turn the water heater off except for the times of the day when hot water was needed. Keeping my house 60 degrees F in the winter doesn’t appeal to Mrs. Accountant or the girls, but dad sure loves seeing if he can lower this year’s heat bill over last year. Every heating season is a competition to find a way to cut energy costs.

Eventually I ran across Mr. Money Mustache (Pete). Other blogs were interesting, but Pete roped me in like no other writer. Before long I introduced myself to Pete, ended up his accountant and discovered our philosophy had a few areas of disagreement.

Today the newsfeeds are stuffed with articles on people who retired by 30 or 35 or 40, quit their job and traveled the world. When I started this blog I became an apologist for people who loved the work they did and didn’t care about retirement.

Making excuses about why I am 53 and still not retired got old fast. Eventually I used some colorful language (read: cuss words) to punctuate my desire to continue running my tax practice. If I retired I would end up filling my time doing exactly what I’m doing now. So why retire!




Blame it on Pete

This post was in my queue for a long time. I am finally writing the post the night before it is published (unless I am murdered by the Illuminati before I can get the thing formatted and scheduled in WordPress).

When I came up with the idea and saved it in my queue I emailed Pete to ask him if he would edit the post to avoid offending him with my “retirement sucks” shtick. He agreed he would edit the post. (I kept the original title and decided to publish without Pete’s blessing or awesome editing skills.) My original intention was for this to be a very edgy post with many of the aforementioned colorful language. Time (and a promise to refrain from my tendency to write very dark essays with four-letter words) healed some of my original fervor, but here goes anyway.

A gathering of Mustachians in Seattle.

You are NOT a failure if you don’t retire by 30, like Pete! Get it. Stop introducing yourself to me with an apology for not retiring yet at the ripe old age of 37. Remember who you are talking to.

True to the original concept of this post, I blame Pete and his blog for starting the whole darn thing. It wasn’t actually his fault. Early Retirement Extreme came before Pete and I’m sure there was somebody before that. Hey, we all came from someplace; all started as something different.

Yes, Pete retired at 30. No, he is not lazy. He does a lot of other productive activities vital to a better community. He writes his blog (he doesn’t write much anymore, but most of his work is still available at his blog and he graces us with a post or two each month), has a new HQ in his hometown and performs the most important task any man can: he spends quality time with his son and wife. His new headquarters hosted a business school recently to great acclaim if social media is any indication. I call that a productive retirement.

Pete did make one very serious mistake, a mistake so huge I’d kick him in the tail if he weren’t a client. His mistake was to convince people they can retire young. Many people took that to mean they had failed if they didn’t repeat what Pete accomplished.

Knock it Off!

You are NOT Pete! You’re not the Wealthy Accountant either. Stop trying to live in either of our shoes!

Of course, my life is awesome. So is Pete’s. But you can’t have my life! You don’t want it either. The price I paid to have what I have is a price you are unlikely to enjoy paying yourself. When I hear readers tell me they want a farm (just like mine) and a tax practice (just like mine) and a blog (just like mine) I want to scream, “Live your own life!”

Don’t take it personal. It’s not you; it’s me. You will be unhappy living my life. My life juices me. You need to find your own way. Pete and I can provide plenty of fodder in your thinking process when building the life that juices you. But you can never be Pete. There is only one Pete. There is only one me. (And thank God for that.) For fans of Vin Diesel let me quote from the Chronicles of Riddick: “Sister, they don’t know what to do with one of me.”

People sit across the desk from me after reading Mr. Money Mustache and The Wealthy Accountant in tears as they explain how much they failed in life because they are 32 and still punching a clock.

My life on the farm. Not yours.

Let me add one more piece of perspective. You probably ran across this demographic from a newsfeed blaring yet another story of some guy who retired at 30 something and is living the good life. To keep readers clicking—and paying the bills—they have to keep upping the ante. One guy retires at 40, the next guy at thirty. The next guy better blows the rat race at 28 if he wants a slot on Business Insider or MarketWatch. I fully expect any day to see an article scroll through my newsfeed of some kid from Tupelo who retired at four months old and started traveling the world. To keep the article family friendly the infant helped mom and dad retire and travel with the little snot-nosed kid. Remember, you heard it here first.

How do you top that?

WONDERKID RETIRED BEFORE VACATING THE WOMB

It’s sensational journalism and I hate it. There is nothing wrong with a productive life.

People have been BS’ed into thinking they have to hate their job. Not all jobs or work is that hated! I love my job even on a bad day. Sure, there are days that make my head hurt. I work with government, for Christ’s sake! But I wouldn’t trade it for any other job in the world.

Work is fun. It gives us something productive to do. It allows us to earn a living. We have a build-in social network to communicate with at work. Side gigs are work, a job. And there is nothing with that.

Traveling is something I hate. As FinCon gets closer I know I have to sit on a plane again and I talk about it more. It’s something I do as part of this blog, even if distasteful. Then I have a great time with readers sharing ideas.

Traveling for traveling’s sake is something I don’t care for. But does that mean readers should be like me? Heck no! If you want to travel, you should. If you want to retire early, go for it. Let me warn you I have seen plenty of people in this demographic retire early only to work more at their business or side gig later than when they were formally working. I find it poetic.

It’s not fair to Pete, me or you to expect or have you do what any of us did. These blogs are to share ideas in reaching financial independence; to retire early if you desire; to start you own business if it lights your fire.

One Good Reason Not to Retire

It breaks my heart when a client sits in my office apologizing for not reaching FI by a certain age. Then they explain medical issues threatening the life of a family member and feel like a failure because they didn’t reach retirement or FI early in adulthood.

Special treatment at the gym for a certain accountant. They know me wherever I go. What’s up with that?

Nothing is more important than your children and significant other. Nothing. If I had a choice between money and my family, my family wins hands down. There is no competition. I’d rather live poor with Mrs. Accountant and my beautiful children than have money without my family. If the demand is made, my money would be gone instantly to share more time with the girls I love more than life.

Retirement is not a goal! Finding meaning in each day of your life is what matters. Family tops the list. For those of faith, God tops the list followed closely by family.

Money is only a game, a scorecard. More stuff will not make me happy. You either.

My grandfather worked until he was in his late 80s. He enjoyed the work and had plenty of money. He enjoyed the company of co-workers and helping people. Someone explain to me what he was going to retire from.

My grandparents traveled a bit in their younger day. Good thing because my grandmother died of a stroke at 70. Granddad filled his day with meaningful work helping people. Younger people hated the job; he found happiness in all his activities, including formalized labor.

I travel now too. Mrs. Accountant isn’t as healthy as I am. That is why you see me connected to the sexy Mrs. A at conferences. We are madly in love after 29 years of marriage. Maybe the newness of marriage will wear off eventually. You know, by the time we have 80 or so years under our belts our youthful lust might abate a tad. Nah!

I live my life my way. I invite you to live your life your way. Don’t be Pete; don’t be me. Learn from both of us and other bloggers sharing their story. Learn and adopt what works for you.

Pete didn’t get a chance to preview and edit this post. He doesn’t have a clue it’s coming. Hope he’s not offended. Hope I still have a client.

Pete? Pete?

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Keith Schroeder

24 Comments

  1. Jason@WinningPersonalFinance on September 20, 2017 at 7:52 am

    It’s amazing that you love your work. Having a job that you would do for free is amazing. It’s why I started my blog. I love that I can use my knowledge of personal finance to help people accomplish their goals. I’d do it for free. Currently, I’m running it at a loss and that’s okay. One day, maybe it will be my only job.

  2. Mrs. Picky Pincher on September 20, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Bahahaha, I love it. 🙂 I think the concept of FIRE is similar in this way to the “keeping up with the Joneses” phenomenon. It’s our struggle to constantly use other people as a yardstick to our own success. So, although it’s great when people are able to retire by 30, that story may make others feel like, yeah, they’re losers. I have 5 years to 30 so I’m reserving some hope there. 😉

    • Keith Schroeder on September 20, 2017 at 9:20 am

      You read my mind, Picky! It’s not in the queue, but it is a thought I’ve had for a long time: FIRE, FI and ER are all versions of “keeping up with the Jones”. I might have to add it to the queue. We’ll see.

      Don’t get hung up on when you retire or reach FI. The arrival is anticlimactic, the journey is the whole adventure.

  3. Steveark on September 20, 2017 at 8:33 am

    Finally! Finally somebody blogged that. Thank you. I worked until I was nearly 60 because I loved my job as one of my favorite hobbies. The last couple of years that changed but by then they were throwing money at me in wads that were so big that I was sort of stunned. Anyway, I came to my senses when I realized that more money was meaningless and left. Sure I had been FI for more than a decade but I liked traveling on expense accounts and having my car and my electronic toys paid for with other people’s money and I liked being in charge of an operation with nearly 1000 employees where I could be the compassionate face of a decidedly noncompassionate corporation. My life was great then and it is great now. I had exactly one employer, one house and one spouse for my entire career. Now I have a dozen paid and unpaid side gigs that still make a lot of unnecessary income and also give me a chance to change other people’s lives. I have a friend who is a billionaire, yes, his net worth is measured in ten figures and his wife is beautiful and hilarious and kind but I don’t want his life any more than I want yours or Pete’s. Mine fits me like my trail running shoes. My beautiful, hilarious and kind wife of 39 years is mine, and I am blessed. Great post.

    • Keith Schroeder on September 20, 2017 at 9:17 am

      I’ve danced around the issue many time, Steve. Originally this was to be a very edgy post. It wasn’t right so it bounced around in my head until this came out. Retirement is never the goal and shouldn’t be. When you die they say you expired or retired. Someday, but not today.

  4. Billy B @ Wealth Well Done. on September 20, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Fun, thought provoking article. I have my first guest post going live on @ BudgetsAreSexy.com on Friday that speaks about many difficult times I have lived through in life to get to where I am. Like you, I learned through those difficult times that it’s meaning and purpose that makes me feel fulfilled and provides me with the most happiness. Though I have not commented before, I enjoy your writing and your blog. I’d be honored if you checked out my guest post on Friday to see the real journey which has accidentally led me to wealth. It’s a unique one. I am not retired, and I don’t know if I will ever be “truly” retired. My vision of “retirement” is being free to start businesses and ministries and not having to worry if they are financially successful or not. I can just start them because it’s what my soul craves to do. I like to create, help others, and achieve goals too much to ever give up on the vision I feel like God is calling me to live. I just want to be a voice to the people who don’t have perfect lives. I didn’t rise out of a perfect life, but that didn’t stop me from building and creating a perfect life for me to live in.

    • Keith Schroeder on September 20, 2017 at 9:15 am

      Billy, I will check out your article. Your story should resonate with everyone because nobody is perfect. One guy was perfect, one guy, and they crucified him. What makes us most human is our story and the sharing of that story. Glad you decided to comment.

      • Billy B @ Wealth Well Done. on September 20, 2017 at 9:39 am

        Thanks for the encouragement Keith. The post should be a GOOD one. J$ was super excited to get it. I am going to be sharing alot of stuff in the post that I have never shared online before. I’ve had to fight through alot in life, and I want to encourage others that even if you weren’t born into a perfect family, life, job, or education, it doesn’t mean your life is going to be hopeless. You always have the power to turn your life around. Your future is always up to you, and it’s up to you to take control.

        I also loved your christ anology. It’s awesome and you’re so right. One person was perfect, and look what happened to him. If that’s what happened to a perfect person, then there’s hope for the rest of us.

  5. Andy on September 20, 2017 at 9:46 am

    My wife and I are very close to FI but we recently admitted that we wouldn’t fully retire. She enjoys her job but doesn’t enjoy the long hours. She has the option to go part time and keep the insurance benefits. She enjoys helping people in healthcare and I enjoy technology as a hobby. I will seek part time IT contract jobs just for the fun of learning new stuff with knowing that it will not be permanent. So basically what I am saying is we’ll semi-retire.

    FI has a few definitions. Sure it can give you the means give the middle finger and walk away but if you want to continue working, FI gives you more choices to do what you enjoy instead of being stuck in wage and debt slavery.

  6. Dave @ Married with Money on September 20, 2017 at 10:36 am

    This is very true and something people need to keep in mind. It’s pretty engrained in us to compare ourselves with others, and it’s important to understand that your journey is uniquely yours.

    Thanks for the wise words.

  7. Bernie on September 20, 2017 at 10:48 am

    As a 56 year old that is still years away from FI, I’m glad you took the approach you did with this post! Reading about the young FIRE crowd, I can’t help but think “what if”. What if I had been smarter about finances in my 20’s, 30’s even 40’s?? But there is no going back in time. Because of some stupid mistakes, the biggest one being not asking for financial help, as in an education on personal finances, I had given up hope on financial independence. Now after reading so many blogs over the last year and receiving a bit of an education, I am confident I will achieve FI! I may be 65 when I do, but that is better than the track most folks my age are on. Thanks for the encouragement and seeing that FI is what works for us as individuals.

    • Keith Schroeder on September 20, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Never forget to enjoy the journey, Bernie. Ask yourself: What happens after I reach the invisible, yet magical, number of FI? The answer: Like a black hole, you don’t feel anything when you cross the event horizon, yet you are in a whole new world. Ask yourself: Why would a crazy accountant keep running a tax practice after he reached FI? Why would he start a blog with all the accompanying work and stress? Answer: It brings me pleasure. Nothing changed! I still love my wife and daughters; I still enjoy a sunny afternoon with friends; I still put my pants on one leg at a time. It is hard to understand, but I’m just normal people. Money is all mental. Happiness is all mental. Happiness is more important than money by a million miles. My enjoyment of my day has absolutely nothing to do with my net worth and never will. I’m high on life without drugs or any other inducement. This is available to anyone who accepts it.

  8. Kristi on September 20, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Thank you for writing this. I wish I could write more specifics but I’m a stay at home mom with little kids running around and a long reply is not in the cards for me. :). But I did want to tell you this really hit home for my husband and I. He actually really likes his job but feels pressure once we reach FI to quit because that’s what you do in FI. I will share this with him and I know it will be very affirming to him. Keep writing and sharing.

    • Keith Schroeder on September 20, 2017 at 11:55 am

      Kristi, no need to apologize for taking care of the kids. Also, you don’t quit doing the work you enjoy because you reach FI! If someone tells you different you send’em over The Wealthy Accountant and I’ll slap’em straight.

  9. Kristen on September 21, 2017 at 6:25 am

    This article is just what I needed. It is hard not to think we need to get to FI as fast as everyone else or having a savings rate equal or greater to all those published. It may be a faster path to FI, but is it the happiest? My husband and I have both recently cut back our hours and it has significantly upped our happiness. We are even contemplating my husband taking time off in the near future in order to explore his passions as well as possibly build our new home himself. FI doesn’t mean retire early to me anymore. Thanks again for the inspiration to stay on this path.

  10. Mr. Tako on September 21, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Why is everyone always in such a hurry? It’s not a race. I was 38 when I called it quits. No spring chicken compared to the kids these days calling themselves “retired”.

    All these headlines about young retirees just sends the wrong message. Folks who think they can retire at the *height* of a bull market at age 30, might be in for a surprise.

    The last 8 years have been host to an unprecedented bull market. Returns have been fantastic and *everybody’s* portfolio is flush. Honestly, it might NOT be a good time to leave a job.

  11. Adam on September 22, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Thanks for the thought provoking piece. As a relative newcomer to this subject, I haven’t even considered that I’m a failure for not reaching FI/Early Retirement/etc. In fact, I wouldn’t want to live your life as it would cause me to miss out on the experiences of my own. Then again, that’s the point of your article and I agree. I don’t want your life and I don’t think that many people reading this would be happy in mine.

    Due to the very explicit shelf life of my current profession, I have always planned on transitioning to another job after “retiring” in the next 7-10 years. My plan for that transition has been years in the making and includes education, professional certifications, and savings. While I have been successful in the first two, my exposure to this community has opened my eyes and dramatically improved the third. That’s what I value from this community; the broad spectrum of thoughts, ideas, and paths.

    In the end, I appreciate that everyone writes about their experiences. I take what I can apply to my life, file away what I think is interesting for the future, and discard the rest. Thank you for your thoughts and experiences. I appreciate them even though a farm is no where to be found in my future.

    Though I’m starting to question my lack of an accountant/financial advisor. I may ask for recommendations in the Denver area starting next year.

  12. Alero01 on September 22, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you for this post. I love FIRE-blogs, but I have to remind myself that I’m not a failure simply because I’m still working fulltime at age 45. My principal residence is paid off. I haven investments that kick of $1000/mth. My rental property’s mortgage is less than $90,000. I lead a balanced life and have a network of friends and family who love me. I’m already in the double-comma club and early retirement is still a distinct possibility for me. Your post is a refreshing reminder that pursuing FIRE is as personal a goal as any other. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this message!!!

  13. FullTimeFinance on September 23, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    I whole heartedly agree. I’m in a similar boat. I enjoy my job and don’t intend on quitting any time soon, FI or not. Yes we’ll be FI in another two years or so. But even if I left work what would I do with my time? I like to travel but my kids are in school so that doesn’t work. I like to build cool things that change the way things are done…. hey wait that’s my job… why would I retire again? I will probably retire early, at age fifty five. But when I do it will be because other avenues for my time open up, not because I need to retire at 55.

  14. Jeff @ Maximum Cents on September 24, 2017 at 7:26 am

    Excellent post Keith! I think a lot of FIRE bloggers want to genuinely help people but get carried away with the sensational headlines and advice. Just because they may have hated their jobs doesn’t mean everyone does. Also, they make it sound like anyone can achieve early retirement (which brings readers), but they have to work extremely hard to be in that position. It’s like one of Michelangelo’s quotes I wrote about: https://www.maximumcents.com/michelangelo-buonarroti-quotes/
    If people knew how hard it was they wouldn’t be so amazed.

  15. D.J. Ryan on September 24, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Wow, what a great post. I’m so happy to see another blogger posting something as absurd as this- enjoying every moment of every day and not get absorbed in just making enough money to retire. I mean, how could someone focus so much on family and enjoying life that money takes a back seat? (Of course, some of that was me being facetious…)

    Awesome! Thanks!

    • Keith Schroeder on September 24, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      D.J., the happy medium I found in running my business is to include the family. Most business trips Mrs. Accountant comes along. My daughters have worked in my office periodically and also join gatherings. Family/work/business/side gig can work together in harmony.

      • D.J. Ryan on September 24, 2017 at 4:44 pm

        Agreed. That’s what I’ve done. Anytime I’ve gone on a business trip or go to a work party, I’ve tried hard to make arrangements for my wife to come along. Makes it way better!

  16. Ember @ An Intentional Lifestyle on September 25, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Yes. Yes. Yes. I have nothing else to add. Well, maybe I do. This is the truth. Retirement is for those people who don’t like what they do. For us, we want to put ourselves in the position to be doing exactly what makes us happy and makes a difference for God, not for us. Maybe that means working in a traditional job, maybe not. But it’s so easy to think of not getting to that “goal” as failure, not as life. Life is more important. The journey is absolutely more important. Never trade the journey for the destination. And never be so focused that you don’t see that the plan isn’t the right one, and it needs to be changed. God’s plans are best, and ours end up making us unhappy if He’s not in them.
    Thank you for all of this. So much.

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