Now is the Time to Retire

In April of 2011 a young Canadian man decided to share his philosophy on work, living life well and early retirement by publishing his first blog post. His message of fiscal responsibility and frugality landed with a thud at first. 

Prior to starting his blog and before claiming the early retirement mantel, our young hero moved to the United States. The first year of blogging was brutal. He published a massive load of very useful information without the traffic or revenue matching his efforts. 

And then it hit. The right message at the right place at the right time struck a chord and the Mr. Money Mustache blog was no longer an internet backwater blog, but on a destiny to change the world.

It is only proper at this point I provide full disclosure. I served as the tax preparer/consultant for the Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) blog and its owner, Pete Adeney, for a few years. It was in a conversation with Pete and his wife at the time that I learned the first year of blogging was not all roses for Pete.* The first post didn’t automatically attract traffic. That came later.

If you produce good material they will come, and so it was for our hero. Pete kept telling his story. It was real so it resonated. He retired at 30 by design. Of course, if you retire at 30 you do not necessarily spend the remainder of your life planted in a chair. And that caused the largest complaint Pete faced in his blogging career: that he really didn’t retire.

Once you reach a level of success there will always be a few who want to tinkle on your shoes. Pete was not exempt. Once retired, Pete entered into a partnership, starting a construction company with a friend. As so often happens with partnerships (ask any seasoned accountant), it went south. You can hear the story straight from the source. It wasn’t pretty. It also placed a real risk in Pete’s retirement plans.

Pete also bought a property to fix and rent. That went much better. Pete loves working with his hands and building stuff. Working on a property at a casual pace (to assure quality and avoid burnout), Pete manged to hone his carpentry skills. From a failed construction company, to a rental property to the MMM headquarters in Longmont, Colorado, Pete found the prefect path to engage his passion.

Then we come to the MMM blog. Pete once again filled his time with something constructive (pun intended). Retirement is not short-hand for death! Pete decided to share his accumulated wisdom. But some were not having it.

 

That is NOT Retirement!

It didn’t take long before it was pointed out Pete didn’t actually retire since he was running a business for a while, remodeling/renting out a property and kicking out a massive quantity of material on his blog. Some of his readers were calling BS. 

A certain wayward accountant from the Northwoods of Wisconsin noticed our hero about this time. When the two met Pete instantly took to this wayward accountant for about 15 minutes. As good fortune would have it, the sickness passed.

I love Pete’s work and philosophy of living the good life, financial independence and frugality. But when it comes to retirement we are about as far apart as any two people can be. The 15 minutes we connected was limited to such a short time due to my attitudes about retirement. 

Climbing to the top is worth the effort.

The good news is that neither of us are right for the entire crowd. Some want a Pete style retirement and some, like me, start a business doing what they like and refuse to stop. (What am I supposed to do? Something I like less just so I can brag I retired?) I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out differently if the partnership Pete had with his friend had actually worked out.

My argument with Pete’s philosophy was not about living a productive, meaningful life. Rather, I always felt Pete’s encouraging others to retire just like him had a timing issue. 

April 2011 was a really good time to retire. Pete actually retired a bit prior to that which made it an even better time to retire early.

You see, we had a financial crisis that smacked the economy and stock market around pretty bad in 2008-9. If you had enough money to retire at the market low I would be far more comfortable with you taking said retirement than with all the fine folks who followed in Pete’s footsteps who wanted to push the retirement envelope to the limit when the market and economy were on a sugar high. Retiring on the edge financially when the market is pulling 10 years of near straight-up gains is not the best idea.

 

The Best Time to Retire is Now

Right now, this very day, is the best time to retire since Pete took those same steps! If you have the resources to retire when things are down you have an excellent chance of staying retired. 

True, the economy is still declining from the pandemic while the market has regained much of its losses. And the market is likely to get cranky when the reality of the economic damage done sets in. Still, it is during these trying financial times when you learn if you really are ready for retirement, early or otherwise.

Pete found the sweet spot in picking his early retirement date; he just happened to be 30 at the time. Many considered it a challenge to retire younger than Pete without remembering Pete still maintained financially gainful activities. 

Retiring younger than 30 will take some luck. Skill is unlikely to get you there much faster. 

Many claim they have retired in their 20s, hoping to strip Pete of his early retirement mantel. Deep down I think they hope they will be bailed out by publishing a profitable blog before anyone notices the emperor is not wearing his skivvies. 

How would I know all this? Because people pay me a lot of money to talk to them about their personal situation. And the theme is recurring. I don’t think Pete has a full grasp of the effect he has on some people. They are not really listening to what he said. They pick what they want and forget the rest. It turns out as expected. 

If you have thought of retirement, now is the time you can practice the process. The pandemic has left many forced to deal with a retirement lifestyle whether they like it or not. It takes talent to have a meaningful day when there are no pressing demands.

Pete retired after the bottom of the economic collapse of 2008-9. It was the perfect time to make the transition. If you can do it when all your assets are at or near lows, the chances of retirement going as planned increases dramatically.

Maybe today isn’t the ideal time to take the early retirement you planned. But the day is fast approaching. The pandemic will pass, economic activity will increase and the market will travel to new highs. Beginning retirement when the economy is at the beginning stages of a bull market allows for the longest period of growth before your budget is seriously challenged with declining asset prices.

Disaster Planning

Many clients have bent my ear the last few months as the financial pressures have increased. Discussions of taking early Social Security, and the consequences thereof, are common. 

Another frequent discussion involves people who took retirement too early. Instead of following the Pete plan and building multiple sources of income, they retired as soon as they thought they could get away with it and took up traveling. That fantasy came to a screeching halt.

Retiring at 28 just to say you beat Pete to the finish line is insane! Some of these early retirees are now looking to reenter traditional employment and it isn’t by choice. 

When planning early retirement with clients I use a formula for determining if you are ready to retire, assuming you are mentally prepared. In my formula I ask clients to consider a really bad economic decline where the stock market declines by 50% and real estate is hard to sell at any price. I also assume a decline in rent, interest and dividend income. If we can map out a serious economic disruption and it is nothing more than background noise in your financial plans you are probably ready financially for retirement.

This should not be confused with what I do, which is never retire. My plan is to work at my preferred tasks (taxes, accounting, business planning and consulting) until my body can no longer cash the check. Not everyone has that luxury. I’m lucky I found what I love doing at a young age and feel compelled to keep doing it. 

Most people want a designated time in life where they don’t have the stress of a job or of running a business. Many want to travel or explore other avenues of living. Those goals are no less valid than mine.

What I am saying is that the two ends of the spectrum have Pete on one side and me on the other. There is a large amount of middle ground for you to consider. 

There is no competition! There is no prize for retiring younger than Pete! And for crying out loud, don’t try to be like me. God knows the world has a hard time dealing with one of me. 

Find your path. Pete and I have provided excellent templates for the extremes. Finding what fulfills your life is what is important. You only live once; don’t waste it.

If you have been planning, saving and investing for retirement — and getting close — now is the time for a serious look at taking that step. Today (the day I’m publishing this) might not be the exact perfect day to pull the trigger. But the sweet spot is coming soon; probably within a year to year and a half at most.

There will be no bragging rights if you planned wisely and are now ready to make the transition. If the numbers still work when the markets finally move on from the current economic issues, you should be ready for a smooth entry into retirement.

There will be no excitement, but that is what you are trying to get away from in the first place with traditional work.

 

* As an insider I cannot share everything I know as it is confidential. Friends of Pete will know I have left out parts, as I should. The important parts for this story are all publicly available so I mention them. The links to the MMM blog provide greater details if you want to know more. In some cases there are multiple blog posts, but I don’t link to all of them. I leave it to you, kind reader, to take a deep casual dive into the MMM blog if you already haven’t.

 

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16 Comments

  1. KAREN on April 25, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    “It takes talent to have a meaningful day when there are no pressing demands.”

    totally true, and thanks to the lock-down I know I don’t have that “talent” yet!

  2. Stephanie on April 25, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    “What I am saying is that the two ends of the spectrum have Pete on one side and me on the other.”

    What about someone who retires and does not engage in any further paid work? I think that person extends the spectrum even further!

    • Keith Taxguy on April 25, 2020 at 3:35 pm

      Stephanie, paid or unpaid, it is still work. I guess there are those who aspire to retire so they can sit in a chair all day staring into space. At some point I may give up the stress of business ownership, but I will still volunteer where possible. Same spectrum, only no paycheck. Part of the pay-it-forward revolution.

  3. Chris on April 25, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    I’m one of those people still giving MMM a hard time because he intentionally chose to promote the word “retirement”. The implication is regular retirement always takes place around age 65-67. It doesn’t for most people. It’s simply when many people start drawing Social Security and plan to reduce their work hours. Since Pete sort-of reached that financial milestone at age 30, younger people considered it notable and MMM developed a cult-like following. A far more valuable message would have been “I entirely stopped thinking and worrying about money by age 30.” That would be a fantastic idea for everyone without the interest (you) or ability (most Americans) to retire.

    Personally, I think it’s a heckuva better financial philosophy than early retirement. Anyone can achieve a worry-free mindset at any age. Retirement not required.

    If he’d simply called it financial independence, independently wealthy, heck even “Renaissance Man” – no one would give him any crap about it. My version has turned out to be perfectly happy working the remainder of my days (isn’t that what keeps life interesting?) coupled with extended trips to explore the world with our kids. I know too many multi-millionaires who still work endlessly because they’re terrified of losing it all. There’s no amount of money that will get them to a peaceful retirement.

    • Bob on April 26, 2020 at 2:33 am

      He spoke about this concept that saying he’s retired is controversial so he can have a conversation. He mentioned these financial independence as a term, but then he wouldn’t have gotten noticed, and everyone would have read the article and gone, “hmm thats nice”. This way people noticed and now there’s a following. I took notice, whereas with Kiyosaki talking about financial independence, too much emphasis for me was on ways of wealth building instead of looking at the lifestyle factors in addition to income. For that MMM was a great eye opener.

      • Keith Taxguy on April 26, 2020 at 8:16 am

        Bob, to be clear, I agree with the approach Pete took. You need to be noticed before you can make a difference. For the record, I am a MMM fan, but not of Kiyosaki. For some reason Kiyosaki never resonated with me.

        • Bon on April 26, 2020 at 12:18 pm

          That’s cause Pete had credibility from his blog, whereas you’re never sure about Kiyosaki. I’m in the camp that he made his money from books not property.

    • Keith Taxguy on April 26, 2020 at 8:11 am

      You hit the nail square, Chris. Worrying about money doesn’t make it better. The idea of making money a tool (something Pete does abundantly) is probably the best financial advice a guy can get.

      As for those tireless millionaires. There are some who work just for money. But there are some who are just that driven. Elon Musk put it all on the line to build rocket ships and electric cars. That was a bad idea if money was the only issue since he already had a lot and could have lost it all. Bill Gates is another who keeps working, only now to give it away. Deep down, I think some people are driven to keep making a difference. It gives their lives meaning, and we are all better off as a result.

  4. Financial Freedom Countdown on April 25, 2020 at 6:08 pm

    I am always amazed by people who say “if market drops I’ll go back to work”.

    Problem is that when the market drops; its due to bad economic conditions accompanied by higher unemployment rate.

    How are you going to get a job and justify your gap years and atrophied skills to a hiring manager when there are hungrier candidates available?

    P.S. I don’t follow Pete since his lifestyle is not relatable to someone like me living in San Francisco area. Plus not disclosing the $400k/year income from his blog as a retirement fail-safe to his cult members was not the right move.

    • Keith Taxguy on April 26, 2020 at 8:13 am

      FFC, I have always advocated the opposite approach, as you indicate. If things go to heck too bad I’ll step back and let those in need have the job. When the economy is humming and a few more hands are needed I am ready to step back in.

    • Bob on April 26, 2020 at 12:27 pm

      Why isnt it relatable in San Fran? Its the principles. We follow his writings and we’re in South Africa where average gdp/capita is $5k per annum and most dont earn enough to eat, yet we were able to FIRE on $1m here and travel to Europe for skiing, Switzerland which is heck expensive. Our COL might be low, but so were all the incomes here. Ypur example may be the cost of living being higher in San Fran but by extension so are incomes. Be interested on your thoughts as to relatability?

    • Roberto on April 28, 2020 at 1:37 pm

      The whole financial independence blogsphere is kinda culty. Financial freemdom doesnt solve the most important aspects of life. Basics of Personal finance can be covered 80% on a 4by6 flash card. The rest is just a bunch of hype pomped up to appear to solve deep problems in peoples lives. Personally, ill work rest of my life because i find meaning in it and want to make a change, even if its just for the people that i will work around with and not on some global scale.

  5. scott on May 5, 2020 at 12:56 am

    “Prior to starting his blog, but after claiming the early retirement mantel, our young hero moved to the United States. ”

    Not necessarily a material fact for your article but I’m pretty sure MMM moved to the U.S. and took a series of new jobs, each time increasing his pay, BEFORE he retired.

    • Keith Taxguy on May 5, 2020 at 7:59 am

      You are correct, Scott. I will correct the text to indicate Pete did not retire prior to moving to the U.S.

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