Posts Tagged ‘retirement’

Motivational Goals

Build goals that motivate you, allowing you to live your dreams. Dream big, but follow these steps to keep balance in life. #Life #work/lifebalance #success #goals #motivationWhen I was a child I wanted to be President of the United States and an astronaut. At the same time, if possible.

My uncle, Kev, wanted to be the first person to farm on the moon. 

Growing up poor in the backwoods of Wisconsin caused us to dream of a life like that on our old black and white console television. The world looked so much more exciting on the glass teat (a term from the days when the television screen was a protruding bulb) than in our settled rural lifestyle. 

Such are the dreams of youth when our imagination knew no limits.

Many children dream of growing up to be a doctor, policeman or fireman. The visible (and exciting) occupations all make the list.

Some keep the extraordinary dreams. Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are modern examples of people who created a whole new world we all live in. 

A hundred years ago it was Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla creating the world people lived in. Amazing how a century can turn incredible technologies into mundane necessities of life we only acknowledge when the electricity goes out or the car refuses to start.

 

Big Dreams

Dreaming big is what made our modern world. It is hard to believe electric vehicles would be where they are currently without Elon Musk.

In the past few days Richard Branson is reported to be floating the idea of the first publicly traded space tourism company. 

A hundred years ago industrialists gave us the airplane, automobile and a host of household conveniences. In one century we went from horses and wood stoves to space travel and computers. Space launches are becoming so common few get excited anymore when a rocket lights up unless Elon Musk has something exciting for us.

But you, like me, probably don’t have dreams quite as big as Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin). And even if you did you probably don’t have the resources, or access to the resources, to have any chance of realizing the goal.

Branson, Musk and Bezos are in a unique position of possessing the resources to realize the space dream. 

For the rest of us with fewer resources, we find goals that large the equivalent to Don Quixote chasing windmills.

 

Appropriate Goals

Goals of space travel are good to have. The space cowboys in the private sector must have had these dreams long before they could reasonably undertake their projects. Their dream of space travel, and more to the point, people living in space and permanent colonies on the moon and Mars, evolved from dream to goal. And once a dream reaches goal status it takes on a life of its own.

Most of us understand large goals are a step-by-step process. In other words, smaller goals are needed to attain the significant. 

You might not get a star if you reach for one, but you sure will not come up with a fistful of dirt. Dream big! Create goals that motivate. Create goals that make your life better. Create goals you will use to better your life. #life #goals #stars #goalsettingStarting a business and planning for retirement are large goals. The business doesn’t have to be a S&P 500 company to be significant. A local company is just as important as the big guys. Communities are more vibrant if there are more local businesses. A one-company town lives only as long as the board of directors thousands of miles away don’t decide to downsize or outsource. Small business does provide stability.

Retirement planning is something we can all understand. If your ultimate goal is to build a $1 million nest egg you don’t start by investing $100,000 per week until it’s done 2 1/2 months later! No, you plan. Each paycheck half goes to the retirement account. This allows tax advantages over several years so you can save even more.

A decade of investing in low-cost index funds leads to serious sized retirement accounts. Each pay period is a goal. Increasing contributions annually is a goal. 

Big goals require consistent smaller goals. Early retirement is a process you start at an early age. If you decide to retire at 45 you better have taken steps before you turned 44. Unless you are already loaded or a trust baby, one year is not enough for that large a goal.

We see the same practices in massive firms attempting the near impossible. Elon Musk has a goal of putting humans on Mars. But first he needs a reliable rocket! Musk has pushed the envelope with interesting reusable rockets that land themselves. It is a sight to behold. Then he needs to figure out. . . 

Ultimate endgame goals often require more time than anticipated. Musk may not get humans to Mars as soon as he wants. (He has a hard time keeping to his delivery promises at Tesla.) He will get a lot closer if he focuses on the task (goal) at hand.

 

Shooting for the Stars

We used to call lofty goals “shooting for the stars”. Today we are actually shooting for the stars. For real!

The advantages to society will be even greater than those provided by the Apollo program. In the 1960s the government (NASA) ran the program for the U.S. The only competition was the Soviet Union. Today many private firms are vying for a piece of the space market. More enter every year.

One of these new space ventures will succeed. Probably more than one. More competition will keep coming assuring humans will call more than Earth home. 

If you share the space dream it can be disheartening. Most people reading this will not lead a company blazing a trail into space. Most will not even be lucky enough to work for such a company.

But there are lessons we can all learn from these modern pioneers. Life on earth has never been so grand. Steven Pinker has done the research. We live longer and better than at any time in history. There is even less war. Check the data. Fewer of us die of violence than ever in history! And by all accounts it looks to be getting even better!

Small goals can motivate for a short time. A goal to visit Spain next spring is a good goal. If you had to plan for 30 years for that one trip and everything else was sacrificed, you might not hold interest in said goal for long.

Large goals hold our imagination. Financial freedom and retirement occupies the majority of adult thinking. It never gets old dreaming of retirement, or planning accordingly once retired, so we can continue enjoying the life of luxury. 

 

Goals that Motivate

Like my uncle, Kev, you might have extreme goals like farming on the moon. These massive goals will change mankind forever (when achieved) and have the ability to motivate, especially if you can take steps (smaller goals) toward achieving the large goal today.

However, life is a series of smaller goals. We want to pay off the mortgage, building a plan (goal) to do so. Starting a business is a serious undertaking many want to explore. And retirement is always looming (time keeps counting). 

Yet, before we can pay off the mortgage we must save a down payment and buy the house! 

This illustrates today’s message. People waste time thinking about paying off the mortgage when they should be thinking about saving as large a down payment as possible. You need a mortgage (or will have one soon) before you can plan to pay it off. Or as we say on the farm: putting the cart before the horse.

Retirement is the same. Too many spend time thinking of all the awesome things they will do in retirement and forget to actually plan to have a retirement. (Saving and investing.)

As an accountant I have several examples of clients who died shortly after retiring. In the last year a business-owner client died three days after retiring. He wasn’t that much older than your dearly, not yet departed, friendly accountant. My staff has reminded me of this with my recent personal health scare (not yet resolved). 

Goals should help you live better. Yes, grand goals of jet-setting around the galaxy with Captain Kirk is fine as long as you don’t forget to live while still walking God’s green earth. 

Musk and all the others are working to make space quotidian. They are also making the world a better place now in our everyday life with electric cars and with new ways to buy and sell goods and services.

 

Goal is a Four-Letter Word

The word goal has taken on dreaded status. Over the decades I’ve attended several informational and motivational seminars. Whenever the topic of goals comes up, heads duck. It shouldn’t be that way.

I think people dread goals because they feel obligated once they are on paper. There is also some fear of stating your goals because they entail your deepest desires. 

Sometimes the best thing that can happen is for someone to throe sand into the gears. Learn how to properly set goals for business, financial independence and retirement. #retirement #goals #financial goalsThe thing is, goals should change. Not every goal deserves consideration. It would be nice to skydive. Sure it would. But after careful consideration other goals might interest you more. More family time might be the goal you wish to pursue instead and the rewards (in your mind) might be better than falling from 10,000 feet.

Goals can take on a life of their own, taking you where you don’t want to go. A wise person will notice the subtle course change and review their direction to ascertain they are heading where they want to go.

For a decade now I’ve worked hard on a course change for my tax practice. I dived head first into the DIY tax preparation opportunity. The first foray was a disaster costing me nearly $80,000 in loses. (Tax deductible, I should add.)

My second attempt was rebuffed and fundamentally changed the normal part of my practice. What was a quiet tax office turning a reasonable profit erupted into a madhouse ending with burnout and health issues. 

My goal took a different direction and I felt obligated to more people than I really was.  The goal turned into a four-letter word. And a goal should never be treated as such.

Goals are guidelines you set up so you stay focused. When the telescope is moved you need to reevaluate. 

Sometimes the best thing that can happen is for someone to throw sand in the gears. You can get comfortable (I got comfortable). Then things can go really wrong which causes bitterness and loss of direction.

Yeah, you might have fewer clients and less income, but you will have a more satisfying life; you might have to work one year longer before retirement , but you can slow to a reasonable pace instead of trying to beat the record earliest retirement among your friends. Always, quality over quantity.

When used properly, goals are the most powerful force on earth. They can take us to the moon and make electric cars mainstream. 

Goals should help you manage dreams and help you live a better life. Maybe all the way to the stars.

And sometimes a quality goal is to quietly read a good book (or blog). To slowly absorb the story.

Take the time to live, kind readers. We only get one go at this. May as well enjoy the journey.

Remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together. (Red Green)

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

The Wealthy Accountant World Headquarters and Camp Accountant

Today I want to think out loud within earshot of readers. The benefit to readers is they get a better understanding of how I think about business, investments and life/work balance. It also allows me to crowdsource my thoughts  where readers can provide advice I can use to make a better decision. And, of course, readers have skin in the game as will soon become apparent.

Before we begin we need to know how we got where we are before we can move forward. 

 

How We Got Here

This blog is very important to me and I want to continue growing and improving the venue. I also own a tax practice since 1982 part-time and from 1989 full-time. There is a lot of history and memories.

When this blog started a piece of my childhood was still with me. Growing up on a farm in the boondocks of Wisconsin is like no other childhood. While running my practice I enjoyed raising beef and chickens. . . until a few years ago. 

Saving your business when illness strikes. Build and grow your business in the toughest of times. Guarantee your business lives on long after you do. #business #illness My first writing started in high school, but it took until the early 1980s for anyone to bother publishing what I wrote. Publication was rare, yet enough to encourage me to keep honing my craft.

Before The Wealthy Accountant (TWA) I wrote in a variety on genres. The last gig was flash fiction. The contract required 4 flash fiction stories per day, seven days a week. It sounds like a lot, but flash fiction is a few hundred words at best so it wasn’t a heavy load. And no research was ever required.

Once this blog started it was time to phase out the flash fiction work.

TWA was more demanding than any prior writing. Much more response from readers kept the workload heavy. Things that I loved doing had to go to keep up. With heavy heart I bid my boys (the steers) goodbye. The price was heavy for this country boy.

Still, I wanted a successful writing career along with my tax practice. Writing in my preferred field was a huge bonus. Unfortunately, the demands are more than most of my kind readers understand. Reaching a decision to stop farming illustrates the seriousness of my commitment.

While TWA enjoys a modest readership, a massive percentage of those readers need more than a short post. They have unmet tax and financial needs. So I accepted more clients; too many, in fact. To help those I couldn’t take on as clients I consulted with. And still I was only serving a tiny fraction of those crying out for help.

Tax season no longer ends on April 15th for me. Extensions stretch well into summer with clients not always understanding the toll this was taking. In between I consulted and wrote more blog posts. The goal was always to elevate my work higher and higher so readers enjoyed the greatest value.

And then life stepped in.

 

Boy, Interrupted

As the weight started taking its toll I adjusted as best I could. First the other blogs were cancelled. Then my farm was sacrificed. The weight of my choices extracted a serious penalty.

I have always been healthy. I did have a heart operation in junior high, but outside that I’m like a machine. I enjoy life and take the largest bite I can chew. If life is worth living it is worth living to the max.

It was easy to brush off the first warning signs. Yes, I was working long hours, but I enjoyed the work so why not.

To compensate for fatigue I started devising ways to increase my productivity. Two years ago I started building daily goals, especially when I worked weekends and holidays, to complete a certain amount of work. 

Surviving tragedy in business. Survive flood, fire and natural disasters. Keep your business alive when things are darkest. #business #tragedy #disaster #flood #fire #health #medicalVisualizing my goal allowed me to increase my production a fair amount. But every action has a opposite, yet equal, reaction.

Last summer I never snapped back from the prior tax season. The growing workload even from current client’s expanding (blog clients do that a lot) real estate holdings, investments and businesses gave me no time to rest. 

Spin down had begun and there was nothing left to give up. 

When the last returns were filed last year I tried to take time to relax. It didn’t matter. My system couldn’t recover. And then another tax season arrived.

My entire office reached burnout trying to keep my pace and eventually left. I picked up the slack because I gave my word to my clients. I couldn’t let them down.

Even without accepting new clients (and a few clients leaving) the workload increased. Clients from the blog always had significant issues. I never anticipated that accepting a 4-hour tax return client might end up taking 40 or more hours, as sometimes happens. 

The new tax law (TCJA) added to the tax season workload. It was my goal to speak with every client so they knew how the changes affected them. I was exhausted, but motivated and excited to serve clients.

Then the inevitable happened. Around the middle of February a nasty cough returned and refused to relent. Within a few weeks I could barely speak. Working with clients expended more energy than ever due to my health.

By the end of tax season the well was dry. My voice completely collapsed. Employees were concerned I might die I looked so bad. Nothing seemed to help. There were no options left to force more out of this country boy.

I blamed it on the long and cold winter followed by a cold spring. When the weather improved so did my health. . . temporarily.

Many tax extensions are still on my desk and it seemed every return I touched I couldn’t finish it. It was mentally draining. Something always came up. Information was missing and/or extra work required. Without any reserves I struggled to have any productivity.

The 4th of July holiday was a chance to catch up some without interruption. It was the final straw. An all-nighter is not what my body would allow anymore. 

The cough which never really went away reinforced and worse than ever. My voice collapsed again and this time it really hurt (as if it didn’t the first time around). 

The extra hours were for naught. Monday I left the office at noon barely able to drive home. The level of burn out I was experiencing caused a high fever. Tuesday I left early and again today. 

After tax season I went to the doctor to see if there was anything for the cough. There was nothing physically wrong with me. 

I was pushing past burn out toward a nervous breakdown; the doctor made that clear and warned me I needed to slow down. I was working at an unsustainable level and had been doing so for so long there was a real risk of permanent damage. 

With a desk still piled with extension I am back in the pit. 

No matter what it takes I will finish the work I promised. But one thing is certain; I will never survive another tax season business as usual. Changes must be made or it will all crumble to dust.

And this is where you come in, kind readers.

 

New World Order

I know my body will not allow another year or tax season the way I’ve been doing things. At the same time this blog is something special, helping countless people.

Once again something has to go. The blog is more important because it helps more people than working one-on-one in the tax practice.

Transitioning your business. Take your business to the next level. You worked hard growing your business. Make sure it lives on after you leave. #business #transitioning #growth #sale #sellingBut I can’t let go of my baby. I have run my practice for so long it is like a body part. This is what I am. Letting go is as impossible as cutting off my right arm with a dull butter knife. It just can’t be done.

And if I push one more time I may not live long enough to see the long days of next summer. 

My options have narrowed. The current breakdown after the 4th of July weekend scared even me. My throat swelled so much from the cough I had a hard time breathing. I might be slow, but I eventually get the message.

This is an existential threat to the tax practice and employees would like for me to change while I still can.

The office started throwing around ideas to deal with my health. Everything was on the table. And I mean everything.

You, kind readers, need to help us with this. Consider it crowdsourcing TWA’s tax practice. You actually get to help decide the future of the practice and this blog.

My practice is unique in many ways due to this blog. Over half the clients have multiple state returns. Almost all returns are complex requiring research. This isn’t the easy way to run a firm, for sure.

Now I will run down the ideas we had in the office with the pros and cons. Please add new ideas we haven’t thought of in the comments and give your opinion on the ideas we did have.

Remember, everything is on the table.

 

Complete Sale

My first reaction was to just throw in the towel and quit. With over 30 years in the field and my 55th birthday only a few weeks history, it might be time to finally do what the FIRE community always recommends: retire. 

It is not something I want to do. To walk away completely is alien to me. Once I recover from the stress I know where I will want to return and it will be gone. So much has been sacrificed already. Not this, too.

Pros: The biggest benefit is it would be over. I could return to health reasonable fast if the damage isn’t permanent. 

Cons: Do you kill the patient to kill the disease? What about my clients? Employees? Community? These people count on me. People don’t hire a tax pro 3,000 miles away because there is an equal choice two blocks away. My work is not done! Walking away would be such a waste after all the progress made.

 

Partial Sale

I checked around my community and found it will be hard to sell my practice. My clients require special accountants and if they were available locally I would have hired them by now. I also placed an ad on Indeed with a starting wage for a tax preparer of $26 – $32 per hour, plus benefits. So far not a single candidate. (A few accountants working A/P or A/R applied, but they didn’t read the listing requiring letters after their name and at least 5 years tax experience. My clients are not for the faint of heart.)

There is the possibility another firm may want to buy or merge with mine. However, most tax offices are working long hours already and don’t need an influx of extraordinarily difficult tax returns.

That leaves the option of a partial sale where I either sell part of the practice, keeping maybe 125 clients for myself, or just letting all but 125 clients go if a partial sale isn’t possible.

Pros: This half measure brings the headcount low enough where I still can enjoy plenty of tax work, still write this blog and have a life. (Oh, and remain healthy.) I would also keep two write-up (bookkeeping and payroll) clients, too. Consulting and the blog added to these 125 returns and two write-up clients would give me a very good income. I am seriously considering this option.

Cons: The biggest drawback is the office will be a very lonely place. Most clients live far away so very few will walk through the door. Every day I’d work alone in silence. Summer will be eerie, indeed. I will miss the tax office I once had and might end up with more solitude than I’m able to bear.

And how do I let go of so many clients? It would break my heart.

 

Hire Remote Employees

This is an appealing idea to me. It works like this:

I would hire people from various Facebook accounting and tax groups I belong to. I’ve noticed many tax professionals willing to work remotely in these private groups. Most have experience and I can vet them by just watching how they ask and answer questions within the group. 

There will still be work finding qualified employees, of course, but the gene pool will be much larger and I’m casting were the fish are swimming. 

The best part is I can hire more tax professionals than I ever could locally. Some semi-retired, very experienced, tax pro might want to take on maybe 25 returns a year. Another might want to handle 80; another maybe 50. No one employee will do so many that if one gets sick or quits the house of cards collapses.

Pros: Hiring tax professionals from around the country allows me to send tax returns local to the remote employee. Office space in not an issue. Many can be hired so there are plenty of skilled tax people on the team. This is my favorite idea to date and will be pursued regardless just to understand how it will work. It is also the best solution allowing all my clients to stay and get better service going forward and even add new clients.

My office is set up for remote employees already. I work from home often and it’s just like sitting at my desk. New remote employees will work the same with full security, like having their own desk in my office.

Cons: Herding employees around the country (they must all live within the US) could be like herding cats. Only time will tell. Secure remote setup costs money. Adding 10 or 15 new remote users could get expensive. Not prohibitive, however.

Another risk is taking on too many client because I think I have people to handle the work. Future growth must be controlled to avoid a repeat of what I’m going through now.

 

Selling Chairs

One of my accountants came up with this idea. It would work similar to beauty salons where the owner leases out a workstation to people owning their own hair care business.

I have never seen this done in a tax office before. There will be some technical hurdles. Each room would need new doors with security locks as each tax professional is their own business. They could piggyback my EFIN with some updates and modification on my part with the IRS. 

The front desk could be a shared expense. I could keep my 125 clients as listed above under Partial Sale and shift remaining clients to employees now running their own practice. Clients will have the exact same environment they are used to with the same support structure. No client would be let go under this plan!

One current accountant and a CPA employed by me years ago might be interested if the terms can be worked out. (I will make the terms work out for them.) 

Pros: I like this idea as it cleans my desk and allows me the freedom to explore other business ideas while serving all my clients in a respectful manner. My income goes down, but it’s like selling my business and renting my office without selling my business. Each tax pro can work with others in the building, helping each other (at their regular rate) wherever needed.

I don’t want to do bookkeeping or payroll so I can keep some clients that require such services by hiring another tax business in my building to handle that facet. 

My current employees will earn more and own their own business so they should be happier.

Cons: The building will need some remodeling and updating. The parking lot is too small and will need to be expanded. Upgrade costs will top $50,000 easily. I have the benefit of the partial sale as listed above with a steady stream of rent income. However, income will be less than managing it all myself.

The same issues exist as with remote employees. The entire office can rent usage of my server and the software. Printers can be shared. Real effort will be needed to structure this properly and there may be regulatory issues.

 

TWA World Headquarters

The choices listed above are what I have. If you have a better idea I’m all ears. 

If I sell 100% of my practice I will keep the office building and use it as TWA World Headquarters. Classes, training and other activities will be offered to the community. 

If I decide on a partial sale the building will still be re-purposed as TWA world headquarters. 

There are advantages to focusing on the blog. Financially, focus should allow the blog to equal and exceed what the blog and practice combined produce now within a year or two. 

If the tax practice fills the whole building I may decide to restructure the businesses. The tax practice would not have a sign out front anymore as TWA takes a more public image. Local clients will understand the name change. 

The future is this blog. Still, I always want to spend time in the trenches so I continue growing experience in tax application as well as theory.

I will share with you, kind readers, as this evolves.

 

Camp Accountant

As you may have guessed, Camp Accountant is on hold until my health improves. Sorry.

 

Decision Time

Realistically I need to make a decision on my practice before the extension deadline (October 15th). I will explore each idea to see what might work as some ideas might not be what I expect. 

The unique nature of my firm makes it hard to sell or merge. Someone willing to manage my firm would allow me to expand (another option). Unfortunately, I can’t do it all. 

What my experience shows is that there is a massive need for good tax professionals around the country.

I don’t want it to end here. Before I do something I regret for the remainder of my life, I need to make good decisions for the future. 

In our brave new world we can crowdsource ideas like never before. I don’t have to solve every problem. One of you readers might actually have the solution to my problem.

Don’t be afraid to share your ideas in the comments. The future of this entire dreams depends on you.

 

Update: A lot of you are commenting. I am reading all the comments, but lack the energy to thank and answer each comment separately. Thank you, everyone. You have no idea how much you motivate me. You are the best.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Investing in a Retirement Account is Like Taking Out a Loan

Traditional retirement plan contributions come with a loan attached to it with a variable rate of interest, to be determined at a later date by the tax code and your income level. #interestrate #interest #loan #IRS #taxesEver since the FIRE (financial independence/early retirement) movement hit the scene I started to question conventional financial wisdom. 

Most of the advice preached was re-purposed from generations past. A penny saved is a penny earned turned into a variety of frugal anecdotes. You can’t read Proverbs (from the Bible) and not recognize the many similarities in advice. Sound money principles have ancient roots.

For a time the FIRE community welcomed me as one of their own before I stepped back a bit to cut my own path. (No sense in another voice calling out the same message.) I’m still part of the community, but gave myself permission to question the dictums of said community. The hope was to build a bridge from where we are to a higher level.

It also became clear my net worth was near the top of the demographic. This bothered me and caused me to conclude something was wrong.  How could a backwoods farm boy with nothing more than a high school education, a few college courses and a full personal library do better than virtually all within a community so dedicated to wealth?

I don’t trust luck to carry me that far. It had to be something else.

Then I started reading what was published in the tax field and felt a great disturbance in the force. While the advice was fundamentally sound, it also lacked in effectiveness if brought to task. All too often blogs were using IRS publications as their authority. (The IRS is NOT a tax authority; they are a bill collector.) If people followed this advice and the IRS ever challenged (likely with so many people tempting fate) there was a real risk of loss. (If you go to Tax Court and say you used an IRS publication as your substantial authority you lose automatically even of you a right! IRS publications have zero authority in Tax Court.)

Sometimes the math was fuzzy. A blogger might claim a certain level of frugality when it didn’t add up. Some claimed a level of wealth that also didn’t add up. Either the rules of mathematics were suspended or someone was trying to pull the wool over their reader’s eyes.

The biggest area of concern involved retirement accounts. The mantra of filling retirement accounts to the hilt for long periods of time has some obvious issues

Some retirement account problems are less apparent. Everyone keeps saying this is the best thing since sliced bread. But is it? 

So I started running some numbers and it wasn’t as clear as most are led to believe. There was something fundamentally wrong with the advice.

 

Numbers Game

The issue is with traditional retirement accounts (IRA, 401(k), 457, 403(b), Keogh, profit-sharing and cash balance plans); Roth type retirement plans don’t have this issue.

Don't lose your retirement account to hidden taxes. Current tax savings are dwarfed by future taxes on all the gains at the highest rate allowed by law. It's your money! Don't give it to the IRS. #retirement #account #hidden #taxesRoth style retirement plans don’t get an up-front deduction, but grow tax-free. Most financial blogs consider this the best animal in the yard. I agree.

A close cousin — if you qualify for it — is the health savings account where you get a deduction and tax-free growth, to be used for qualified medical expenses. The biggest drawback of the HSA is the amount you can invest annually is relatively small. 

Roth retirement plans are limited in many cases based on income on if the employer has the option in their 401(k) . The maximum Roth IRA contribution is also relatively small. (Exact limits are excluded from this post so changes in the limit don’t distract from the evergreen content.)

The mega-backdoor Roth (a favorite of the FIRE community) allows for sizable Roth contributions with one caveat: it’s probably illegal (according to the IRS). The IRS hasn’t attacked the mega-backdoor Roth because there is no current revenue to be raised by taking such action; Roth investments are not deductible.

However, once these accounts grow in size the IRS could come back and disallow the tax-free advantage, plus interest and penalties. If the IRS has a kind heart (ahem) they could forgo the excess contribution issues which would certainly mean penalties several hundred percent of the entire investment. You decide what course you wish to take. 

The safest retirement plan route means traditional retirement plan investments after you maximized your Roth contributions. Or is it?

 

Loan Document

Traditional retirement plan contributions come with a loan attached to it with a variable rate of interest, to be determined at a later date by the tax code and your income level.

All you debt-free warriors should feel a bit nervous at this point. Just as a mortgage-free home still has loan-like obligations (property taxes, insurance, maintenance), a traditional retirement account has an unannounced interest-like expense and it is a big one.

And this is what disturbed me so much that I had to publish a post on it. 

We all know that traditional retirement accounts get a tax deduction at your ordinary tax rate up to the retirement plan contribution limits. We should also know that these accounts grow tax-deferred and that all distributions are taxed at ordinary rates.

This is a real problem if your goal is to maximize your net worth. In the early years the tax benefit makes it seem like it is the best deal on the planet. But as time passes the math tells a darker tale.

Let’s start with a simple example to get a fundamental understanding of this matter:

Joe contributes $10,000 to his t401(k). This is subtracted from his income on the W-2 and never reaches his tax return. His tax bracket is 30%.

We will disregard actual tax brackets as they change over time and we are more interested in a workable formula for determining the best course currently and for future readers as well.

The good news is Joe saved $3,000 on his taxes this year. However, in 40 years, when Joe retires, he discovers his investment in a broad-based index fund performed as index funds have over long periods in the past: around 7% per year on average. Joe is a very happy man! He now has $149,744.58. 

If Joe were to take the entire amount in one year it would be a fairly large tax. However, Joe decides to take the money out over a number of years. As a result his ordinary tax rate is only 15%. (We will disregard taxes on Social Security benefits and other similar issues to make calculations easier.)

Joe now has a tax bill of $22,462. (Numbers are rounded.) That is $19,462 more in additional tax! Call the 19 grand a tax or anything else you want, but it looks like interest on the $3,000 to this accountant.

Even though Joe saw his tax rate decline by half in retirement he still saw his tax bill increase over 700%. His interest rate would be slightly less than 5.2% annualized in this situation assuming Joe never saw his account value increase after he started taking distributions, an unlikely event.

 

Early Payments

If I approached you and said I would borrow you $20,000 at 5.2% would you take it? Unless you have bad credit that is a high interest rate, especially since it in not deductible. Worse, you can’t make early payments to get out of the deal! You can’t jump ship until you are at least 59 1/2 years old. And if you are stubborn I’ll kick you overboard at 70 1/2. 

The good news is I’m a nice guy and will not do that to you. On the other hand, Congress has passed laws the IRS carries out doing just that.

And we haven’t seen the worst part yet! Retirement plan distribution included in income can cause more of your Social Security benefits to be taxed and can also increase the premium you pay for Medicare once you reach age 65.

A small tax deduction today can do real damage in the future. This is why I say I want multiple tax benefits before I get excited about a tax deduction

All this assumes your tax bracket drops when you retire. Considering the massive government fiscal deficits during a strong economy, it seems to this accountant taxes will go up in the future. And if your income remains high in retirement your tax bracket will also be higher.

Consider this: If Joe had a 30% ordinary tax rate on his retirement plan distributions his taxes would have climbed to $44,923, a full 7% annualized rate. For people with good credit this is a massive interest rate and almost nobody is thinking about this.

 

The Cold Equations

Joe’s example is unfair. First, Joe will put a lot more into his retirement plan over his lifetime, therefore, the damage will be much larger.

Second, retirement plan distributions happen over a number of years. While this might sound like a solution to the problem, it actually makes it worse as the investments continue to grow over time.

Third, smaller account balances experience the same issue only with smaller numbers and that tax rates might be lower due to the lower income level.

Fourth, early retirement does not solve the problem. Yes, you can take a limited amount of money from a traditional retirement account before age 59 1/2 without penalty under Section 72(t). This only reduces the amount of time the money has to grow; it doesn’t resolve the issue.

No matter how you cut it, traditional retirement accounts are best viewed as loans from the government, due in retirement. If you don’t pay the piper, your beneficiaries will.

 

 

Alternatives

Your experience will differ from that of others. You can use the simple example above to determine your implied interest rate assessed as tax in the future. You may discover this isn’t an issue for you. Or, you might need a moment for reflective prayer.

We saw that greed for a current tax deduction produces a 5%+ interest rate loan from the government, payable in retirement. So, what alternatives are there?

The best comparison is doing nothing at all (investing in a non-qualified account). You still invest in the same index fund. Dividends and capital gains are taxed at the lower long-term capital gains (LTCG) tax rate (15% or less for most taxpayers) instead of ordinary rates later (up to 37% federal, plus state income taxes). 

Since the money is outside a traditional retirement account you don’t have to worry about early distributions or required minimum distributions. And if you die your beneficiaries get a step-up in basis the retirement accounts don’t get. Gains on these investments are also taxed at the lower LTCG rate. 

 

Matching

I can hear the complaint already: What if my employer matches?

A valid argument. We’ll go back to Joe again and assume his employer matched his contribution 100%.

Joe invested $10,000 of his own money and his employer matched his retirement plan contribution with another $10,000. 

Joe still gets a deduction worth $3,000 for his contribution. The employer’s match is free money and not taxed until Joe takes the money out.

In total, Joe has $20,000 invested in his retirement account. His account grows to $299,489 in 40 years. The tax on this at a 15% tax rate is: $44,923. 

The initial tax benefit to Joe is $3,000, plus $10,000 from his employer, for a total of $13,000. The implied interest rate in this situation is around 3.15%.

The lesson of this part of the story is that using your employer’s retirement plan up to the match maximum is still a good idea for most. After hitting the matching maximum you might be better served putting the rest into a non-qualified account, however.

 

Smart readers will also be quick to point out the extra tax savings means you have more to invest which mitigates any of the extra taxes owed in the future. This would be true if people actually did that.

When was the last time you invested your tax savings from a traditional retirement account investment? Where did you invest it? Uh-huh. Thought so. You spend the tax savings as most do.

(If you are one of the few who actually pull the tax savings from the family budget and invest it in a non-qualified account my hat comes off to you. You still need to run the numbers to verify the best course of action.)

 

Facts and Circumstances

You can’t read tax law for more than a few minutes before running across the words “facts and circumstances”. And this situation is no different.

The IRS has hidden interest-like charges on retirement accounts. Here is how to avoid them. #avoidtaxes #taxes #retirement #IRS #interestI gave you the tools to build a working plan based on your facts and circumstances. Use a future value calculator to determine the interest rate the tax code is forcing you to pay if you use traditional retirement accounts. 

Employer matching is a real benefit that is diminished by the tax code after very long periods of time. (I would focus on the employer match closely as real value can be found there.)

After the employer match and available Roth retirement plan contributions allowed are exhausted you might find non-qualified accounts the best course of action, for you

The important thing is that you are reading this. That means you are more likely to run your numbers for the best options, for you

There are a lot of factors at play. Index funds still kick out dividends and some capital gains which are currently taxed. This slightly reduced the implied interest rate of the traditional retirement plan if you are prone to investing tax savings. It also assumes you keep your fingers off the pile until retirement. 

The one thing to remember is that deferred taxes frequently come with an implied interest rate paid as a higher future tax.

This is the kind of stuff I think about in the dark of the night. It might also be the prime reason I top the net worth list at Rockstar Finance.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

It Never Pays to be a Bear

Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered! —Old Wall Street Adage

 

Back in the early days of my career the investment industry and the tax/accounting industry tried to merge. To be fair it was the investment industry’s idea. Tax offices were the perfect partner to sell securities (usually mutual funds with a respectable dose of insurance thrown in for good luck). Virtually every small accounting firm took the plunge.

Accounting offices are prime for solicitation. Tax professionals have a powerful relationship with their clients. Accountants also know a lot about their clients due to the data collected to file an accurate tax return.

Before someone got the idea to enlist the tax profession, it was common for insurance and securities salespeople to wine and dine the accountants in the area to build a relationship where the accountant fed ripe clients for plucking. (Did I say that?) Then H.D. Vest Financial Services changed the face of the accounting, tax and investment industry in one fell swoop. The world hasn’t been the same since.

As many firms did, I joined the herd of lemmings to the cliff. It wasn’t a bad choice. I learned a lot from my tenure in the field. I also discovered things I found revolting.

H.D. Vest Financial Services contacted me and I was a willing accomplice. The money was very nice, but I also had a massive interest in securities. If the opportunity in securities would have presented itself before taxes I’d probably be writing The Wealth Broker. (Sounds more like an oxymoron to me.)

H.D. Vest required we attend two major seminars around the country each year. (They had me with the traveling schedule.) Every December we met in Dallas (not far from the FinCon hotel last fall). The other event floated around the country.

A Story from the Brickyard

The keynote speakers at H.D. Vest events were influential members of the community. The one speaker who stuck out the most for me was Nick Murray.

Murray cut his teeth in an earlier age when hawking mutual funds took some effort. By the 1990s selling mutual funds in a roaring bull market was easier than taking candy from a baby. Murray’s advice and stories always stuck with me.

The age-old question was front and center: Where is the stock market headed? Clients are always nervous about investing. They’re afraid the market will tank the moment they buy. Murray had the perfect retort. He said he had no idea which direction the next 20% move in the market would be. He didn’t know the direction of the next 50% move, or 75% move or even 90% move. It could go either way. Up or down. But he guaranteed his clients the next 100% move in the stock market is up, not down. He ended by saying if he was wrong there wouldn’t be anyone around to sue him or complain.

A Story from the History Bin

Murray was on to something. Using the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) as a yardstick we can check how well Murray’s advice stood the test of time.

Charles Dow published his first index, a precursor to the DJIA, on February 16, 1885. The current industrial average was first published on May 26, 1896. We will use the May 26, 1896 start date for our history lesson as before that the average was more a transportation index and in fact is the basis of the current Dow Transportation Average. The DJIA started with fewer stocks, but by the late 1920s had the familiar 30.

One thing we are familiar with is the sound of the business news broadcasts saying, “Today the Dow Jones made a new high . . .” It happens a lot. There are certainly lulls between new highs periodically, but the upward pace almost seems to be persistent.

With so many “new highs” in the DJIA (and broader indexes) have you ever wondered when the last time was when a new low was made? Well, I have the answer if you’re interested. On August 8, 1896 the DJIA hit its all-time low of 28.48. We haven’t heard a new low in the Dow for over 100 years! The last time a “new low” was made was in the late 19th Century. 19th Century!

The chart in this post illustrates the relentless climb higher of equities. Notice the pimple about an inch from the left side of the chart. That’s the 1929 Crash and Great Depression. The scab about an inch to the left of the year 2000 is the 1987 market crash where we shaved 22.61% off the market in a day! It was a good day to buy stock in Fruit of the Loom. Now I know why Warren Buffet had to buy the company with guys wearing fruit costumes.

The most telling trait of the chart is the parabolic look the closer to the right you get. But if you pick any time in the past it usually has a similar look! In the 1980s it looked straight up. Same in the 1960s. Same in the 1990s. You get the drift. As the market ratchets higher the older areas of the chart look smaller and smaller until even major fluctuations (from the viewpoint of people living through the event) are pimples on the chart if they can be discerned at all.

Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. Once again we are enjoying market highs. The market has been up a very long time. We’re due for a correction, prognosticators say. Then we get a mild correction, but we still fear every shadow. We’re due for a bear market!

To top it off, your favorite accountant mentioned what he thought was an interesting fact. He moved to his highest cash position in his adult life at 52%. Half his, ah, my money went to cash in late January. How lucky can a guy get!

I got lucky because I wasn’t timing the market. Another significant business prospect (a non-public company) came my way. I don’t like borrowing money so I liquidated some serious positions. If all the money isn’t needed some will find its way back into the market. Regardless, my retirement money is still going into Vanguard index funds 100% as it peels off my paycheck. I also automatically deposit money into my non-qualified (non-retirement account for non tax people) Vanguard index funds every month on the 7th. It’s the law!

Now, with my idiotic profession of good luck earlier this year, we must focus on the only way to invest in the market. Like Nick Murray, I have no idea which direction the next 20% move will be. Same goes for the next 50% move, 75% move or even 90% move. But I guarantee you, as did Murray, the next 100% move will be up! The stock market has been doubling again and again from the beginning.

Is it any wonder the DJIA made an all-time low a bit over two years after the average began reporting without ever digging lower? Even the Great Depression couldn’t break to new lows! Yet again and again we hear news of a new high. Maybe this time is different, but I wouldn’t count on it. Business and the economy keep growing with minor hiccups along the way. Bear markets are scary from the inside because somebody is in the corner crying, upsetting all the nice people milling about.

Bear markets are temporary; bull markets are forever.

Final Argument

There is one final argument to stay invested in broad-based stock index funds no matter where the market is at. It involves the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

For 13 days (always a lucky number to make you feel comfy when playing with nuclear weapons) the United States and the Soviet Union came within a whisker of a full scale nuclear confrontation over imminent deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba.  President Kennedy went on television to inform the American people (and warn the Soviets watching) the U.S. had target 50 Soviet cities with nuclear weapons. It was assumed the Soviet Union had targeted an equal or greater number of U.S. cities.

The DJIA only lost a mere 1.2% during the nuclear crisis. That didn’t mean panic wasn’t under the hood. There is the story of a young stock broker who started screaming to sell when an older, more seasoned, broker in the office told the young broker to calm down. The young broker yelled the world could end at any moment and he had to sell. The old broker put a hand on the young broker’s shoulder and said, “Buy. If the nukes don’t fly the market will rally.” (The DJIA added over 10% by the end of 1962.) “If the nukes do fly the trades will never clear.”

The same is just as true today. Could President Trump really cause the end of the world? Maybe. But if the world doesn’t end you’re going to look mighty foolish.

Human history is marked by perpetual growth for many thousands of years. The growth trend has been marred by periodic declines, even extended ones. In the end it was always a losing bet to bet against humanity. Progress has been unrelenting for a very long time.

It always looks like a top. Always! But then we go higher. And if I’m wrong the trade will never clear. (Or at least nobody will be around to tell me how wrong I am.)

And for the record, bulls make money. Bears and pigs both get slaughtered.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. —Winston Churchill

You’re Using the Wrong Definition for Retirement

Students are ready.

Old dogs can learn new tricks. Preconceived notions are not reality or facts.

Several years ago life was going fine for me. Business was good, the sky was sunny and I thought I had a firm grasp on how the world worked. An avid reader, I chanced across a blog that pulled me in deeper than any before. Normally I read several blogs with no blog standing out from the crowd. I digest what I can and move on. Then along came Mr. Money Mustache.

Some blogs are better than others. Quality is frequently an issue, but personal taste is too. To make matters worse, this Mustache guy had a serious following. High quality suited to my tastes with a massive audience started me questioning some of those preconceived notions.

Most issues I was in complete agreement with. There was one stand-out: retirement and what the word meant. At first I had an identity crisis. Was I really retired all along and didn’t know it? Is it wrong to have gainful employment?

The only way to figure this thing out was to attend personal finance conferences with like-minded people. That was two years ago. In the beginning it made the confusion worse and the crisis more acute. Then I developed my own definition of retirement to suit my needs. Finally, last weekend, I made what I feel is the final leap in my evolution toward a retirement definition I can use in my personal life.

Four Letter Words

First impressions are everything. Work is a four-letter word and certain demographics are quick to point this fact out. If you enjoy your work, too bad! The goal always seemed to be about quitting your current gainful employment as soon as possible. But I like my job!

Work is a four letter word, but not a four-letter word if you get my meaning. There is nothing wrong with work! Work, force times distance as defined by scientists, is good for the body. Sitting all day is the bane of good health and happiness. An oxymoron of life is most people sit on their tail all day doing work. And we are overweight and unhealthy. Might I suggest a walk? Walking is “real” work.

There is an animal called the FIRE community. It stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early, as if they two go hand in hand. They don’t. It’s a misnomer.

Financial Independence means you have enough money to pursue your dreams and still pay the bills. FI means your investments throw off enough income to cover your lifestyle. Your spending level determines your investments needs to reach FI.

Retire Early is complete BS! Anybody can retire at any age. Sometimes people are forced to retire early due to corporate downsizing. Amazing how these people yearning for early retirement lament the fact when it is forced upon them. Do they discover something you and I don’t know about this retirement thing?

According to the dictionary retirement is defined as something that is used up or worthless. Use the correct terminology (Hey, buddy! Can’t wait to see you become worthless so you get the hell outta here!) and you’re liable to get your beak busted. The only explanation for the heavy use of the word retire without a proportionate level of busted beaks must have something to do with terminology.

Early retirement is possible without financial independence! There is no connection between the two situations. None. Having enough money to do what you want is totally unrelated to being “used up, worthless”. In fact, early retirement has more to do with laziness than FI.

Life Lesson

When in Rome, they say. So I joined this FIRE community totally aware I was a fraud. The FI part was nailed down decades ago, but the RE part wasn’t even in my vocabulary. Retire, I asked? Retire from what?

It took a while to find a reference in my life. Waaaaay back in the beginning (when God was creating the heavens and the Earth (not that far back)) I had a job working for someone else. It was the only time in my life I worked for someone not a family member or in my own business. When I met Mrs. Accountant things got steamy fast. What can I say? She’s hot! Well, a year after we met we were headed down the aisle. Before the preacher would marry us we needed to attend some classes with the preacher. During this process it was noted I was living the early retirement lifestyle sitting at home and reading all day. This would not do. The church needed a custodian (read, janitor) for the attached school and I was available. So I was a janitor. For a year.

The people at the parochial school were awesome! It was a pleasure to work with them daily. Except I felt empty. My temperament didn’t allow me a life swilling toilets and mopping floors. A year after I started I quit. Call it retired, if you will. I was used up, all right! It was the only time in my life I felt what many people seem to feel about their job. I was FI and now I exerted my RE part of the equation.

A New Life Lesson

Fast forward thirty years and life was ready to smack me up beside the puss again. I adopted my new family in the FIRE community and started using their language as I felt they were using it. As soon as you were FI and quit your job you were also RE, even if you started your own business.

This confused me. I had my own business and enjoy the work. Why are they FI/RE and not me? It wasn’t them; it was me!

Last weekend I attended Camp Mustache in Seattle. You can read about it here. I attended all but the first Camp. A husband/wife team there retired a year or so ago to travel the world. They are young whippersnappers, barely tipping the scale past age 30. They did this all on teacher’s salaries! I was lucky to be there the last years to see this whole thing unfold. Social media allowed me to see the world through their eyes as they traveled.

This year at Camp they were back home, so to speak. Instead of the world, they now traveled North America in an RV. The husband also started a business.

I kept indicating he was still retired. It took my thick skull two days to understand he is NOT retired anymore! (He must have discovered he wasn’t as “used up” as he thought he was.) His words, “As of three weeks ago I am no longer retired.”

Hallelujah!!! Finally, I found someone who worked his own business and still fit in with the FIRE crowd. I felt a tear welling. I am normal after all!

Reality Bites

Of course, reality wiped the tear from my eye quickly. Joe, the husband of our husband/wife team, ran his business a bit different than mine. Soon the advice was flowing on how other uber-successful people ran their business. Yours truly didn’t do it that way.

A wise retired military man now teaches.

As a business owner I am very hands on. I meet with clients, review practically all tax returns before they leave the office and spend serious time plying my trade. The worst part is I am an integral part of the firm. If something happens to me it could kill the company. How stupid is that?

Multiple stories were told of business owners who found the right balance between work and personal life. This post isn’t long enough to dig into those individual stories.

Once again this highly intelligent group of successful people educated this country accountant. My desire to “do it all” limited my reach and puts the company (and the employees and clients) at risk should my health give way or I meet my demise.

Life is a series of unending lessons and I just picked up a big one. The new information is now getting pressed into action. Changes are happening at the Wealthy Accountant headquarters to protect the company should I not be available. And it all started with a couple of 30 year old kids living the dream of early retirement to see the light.

They say the teacher will appear when the student is ready. This is wrong. The teacher was there all time. It took the student all this time to open her eyes and see the teacher next to her waiting to teach. That is the life lesson learned by your favorite accountant this past week.

Teachers are usually disguised. Thirty year old kids (teachers in a past life, I might add) taught me a lesson I wasn’t ready to hear a year or so ago. I never thought much about military personnel in the past, but a retired military guy has plowed an endless stream of wisdom my way since we met. I now call him friend.

I am not retired and I am proud of it. My index fund is bursting at the seams so I proudly proclaim financial independence. None of that matters. What matters are the friends I have gained and the teachers I have found. My eyes are opening for the first time. Like a newborn child, my vision is blurry. But I can see. I can see! And teachers are everywhere, willing to take my hand into the brave new world I have discovered.

Old dogs can learn new tricks.

The Trauma of Retirement

Over the years I have retired many times. So have you.

The demographic of this blog leans heavily toward early retirement. This has always bothered me. I always feel like I have to be an apologist for all the folks enjoying their work. Life would be less bright for me and my brethren if we were forced to do what we enjoy most, less. Why is this? What is the hang-up with this retirement thing?

 Zig Ziglar, God rest his soul, pointed out to me 30 years ago what retirement really means. I only met Zig once and it was enough. We talked and shook hands. In that short meeting I confessed to Zig I was going to cash it in and sit around reading all day. Now Zig is a good guy. He didn’t say nasty things to me, but for the smallest fraction of a second his face had a tell. I knew Zig was going to tell me something profound.

He told me to go home and verify what he was about to say. He said, “Look up the definition of retirement in the dictionary. It means used up, worthless, ready for replacement.” Worthless! I am not used up or worthless!

I did go home and check the dictionary and Zig was right. This whole retirement thing was a BS story. Years later, when it was cool to retire early, I came across the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) crowd. I love the concept of simple living and frugality. It was frugality that led me to the community, not the early retirement thing. Now CNBC and the Yahoo newsfeed have a story of somebody who retired at 12 while working through middle school on a regular basis. I’m still not buying it.

Retirement is a stupid goal. Sorry. But it really is. Who works hard, saves and invests, only to reach a goal of worthlessness? An idiot, that’s who. I’m NOT used up! And neither are you. You retire (or is that expire) when you take your last breath. We need a different meaning for retirement.

We need a word—don’t wait for me to provide one because I don’t have one that will sell as good as “retire”—which will convey what we mean better. I’d sue CNBC if they ran an article saying I was retired, used up, worthless, ready for the landfill. (Okay, I wouldn’t sue. The additional traffic to this blog would allow me to swallow my pride.) Those smiling faces in pictures in the articles saying these people retired at 32 are really grimaces. To imagine the world looking at me with a headline over my face saying I’m retired, useless, past my prime, would irritate me to no end.

New World Order

If we can’t find a better word, we need a better definition for the word we are using. I recommend we lobby the dictionary industry until they add one more definition to the word retire. Here is my recommendation: Definition #38) A change in career path.

It is simple, easy to understand and captures what is really meant.

I see so many people now in this community doing the retirement thing and with rare exception they are only doing something different. It was only a career change! I met husband and wife teachers a few years back at Camp Mustache as they were in the last throes of gainful employment. Their goal was to travel the world and travel the world they have.

But they still earn money while traveling! She writes romance novels and is making money doing it. Last I checked writing took work. It might be easy pushing nouns up against verbs; the real problem is knowing which nouns and which verbs. Another retirement foiled and I am happy to share it with the world these, ahem, retired teaches are not used up or worthless.

Pete over at Mr. Money Mustache catches hell on a regular basis for being a hypocrite. You call somebody a hypocrite and you’re asking to get your beak busted. The argument against Pete is simple. Hey, buddy, you’re not retired. You write a blog. Pete is a gentleman. Me, I’d send a return message with the international sign language of my middle finger. Christ, people! If anybody embodies the FIRE community it is Pete! He gives us Definition #39 to the word retire: Doing whatever the heck you want with your day.

Pete is not used up, people! He walks a different path, a path where he spends inordinate amounts of time with his wife and son. That is not retirement by the dictionary definition. It’s the exact opposite. A dad raising his own kid? What has the world come to? This is what we call worthless now?

The Real Retirement

There is only one real retirement and it is six feet under. Nobody I know of has a goal to reach the finish line in life. (Okay, there was a nut job over in Tupelo back in 38, but I digress.) Life is a journey and we need to stop getting hung up (nice choice of word, huh) on quitting our jobs. Seth Godin wrote a short book on the subject: The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick). It’s a good book. You should read it.

Life is grainy. We do things for a while until we get sick of it and then go do something else for a couple years. There are been so many phases to our lives.

I grew up on a farm and after a short stint in town returned to where I felt most at home, the countryside. Before long my 10 acres of the world had chickens and steers. The work was hard, yet satisfying. I did it for more than 15 years. Then one day it ended. I had a blog to write and other things I wanted to try in life. I fought back tears as the last of my boys were loaded on the cattle truck. I promised myself I could have steers again someday. We both know the odds of that are long. I retired from farming for good. (Unless you count the 25 chickens running around the place.)

My tax practice evolved over the years. In a way you could say I retired several times from the tax/accounting business. I retired from doing taxes by hand back around 1988. Didn’t fight tears when that one hit the trash can. Go figure. All my verbiage about loving my work and nary a tear for a tried and true method of tax preparation used successfully for millennia. (It worked for the Sumerians it should be good enough for me.)

I played janitor for a year and retired from that one mighty quick. Okay, I guess a guy can get used up in certain cases.

The whole point of this discussion is to convince you, no, impress upon you it is okay to change course in life. Experiencing new things is NOT retirement. Ms. Olson enjoys traveling with her husband and writing novels. Not used up! Pete loves telling his story and spreading the gospel of frugality and responsible resource utilization. Not used up! I found my calling early in life and kept doing it. Not used up!

And you, my good friend, are not used up. You are not retired; just tired. You need a nap. Go take one. You need a change of venue. So change it. You want to experience something else, something new. By all means, experience it.

Stop worrying about retiring young or at any age, for that matter. It’s not about getting used up, or whatever definition you want to apply to the word retire. It’s about living life right, with meaning, with purpose. The truly retired disappear, never to be seen again. You are not retired and never will be until your dying breath. And that is a good thing.

It’s about living the life you choose. And if that is what you meant by retire, then you keep smiling from the news feed. I’ll smile with you.