If you are one of the people who are surfing the internet looking for information on how to retire early then you have found articles and websites dedicated to the F.I.R.E. movement, Financially Independent Retire Early. Most of these stories feature people who saved a good portion of their income and had enough after a certain period of time to leave their jobs and tour the world or live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere while typing their financial manifestoes.
The biggest lie these websites love to pass along is that anyone can do this. This is the same mentality that had Mitt Romney telling reporters that he thought middle class started at $250,000. The people who have accomplished this goal are in the upper middle class and those who do something similar under that threshold are referred to as bums, no debt but living in poverty.
The other aspect of these stories that people tend to overlook is the obvious advantage that these people have over the majority of the population, inherited wealth, no student loan debt, six figure salaries, or households with two six figure incomes. The message is always the same afterwards, anyone can do this. Not everyone is like you.
I fall into the category of people who make around $35,000 a year. I have good benefits and no debt except for a laptop and a house. The laptop will be paid off in a few months. I am on schedule to pay off the house in 5-6 years, but when it comes to savings there is about $10,000 in various accounts and other assets far from what would be needed to retire early. On my income, the odds of having enough to retire even at 65 is about 1 in a bazillion. The sad reality is that 52% of Americans don’t have enough in savings to pay an unexpected $500 bill and only 62% of the population that can work does work. That means 38% of working age individuals are either retired, disabled, unemployed, or choose not to work. Translate the numbers into what it really means and most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with no future in sight.
Is early retirement truly feasible for the average American, no. to say otherwise is to feed hope to those that are already seeking answers to a better life. Does this mean that Americans shouldn’t try to better their situations and live a more meaningful life, no. There are resources available to live a financially secure life even on a lower income. It takes some work, but if one really tries hard enough, they can get out of debt and take control of their lives where others have failed. Dave Ramsey has his famous book Total Money Makeover that is very effective if one follows the principles in it.
Stressed caused by finances can cause people to make bad choices and spiral further into debt instead of climbing out. So, making changes to better one’s situation or finding a solution to that feeling of hopelessness is important. This article isn’t saying there isn’t something to learn from these people that retired early, good for them. What I am saying is that here and there we can find things to take from their experiences to make our lives better. For example, Mr. Money Mustache was able to retire early, at the age of 30. While this is impossible for most of us, what we can learn is how he is able to live on only $25,000 a year with a household of 4. He rides a bike to work and other places around town. His house is paid off, something most of us neglect doing because payments are “low.” He eats at home most days and the wife and him rarely go out for drinks or dinner.
While it may appear appropriate to blame others for our situation, there is one thing we all can take away from these stories, the responsibility of our personal situations comes down to us and how we handle it. We should, under no circumstances, wait for some financial messiah to come save us. We are the masters of our own choices and when we eat out, buy some luxury item we can’t afford or buy a house that is out of our price range we are the ones who put ourselves in that situation. We can’t blame the realtor for telling us we can afford it, or the car salesman for telling us that a seven-year payment plan is really good for an automobile. We are the ones who should know better. Let’s face it, if we really wanted to stick it to the man we would live frugally and watch as the stock market took a big dump in everyone’s portfolios and laugh as people in three pieces suits applied for part time jobs at the local Starbucks and asked if they have benefits for new employees.