She Picks Up Pennies recently asked Is FI/RE distorting reality? She was talking about how FIRE attitudes can make you forget that some people, like herself, find their jobs satisfying.
But I’d like to take the question a step further: Is FI/RE even a good goal?
After all, the heat from an actual fire makes the air around it fuzzy and wavy, skewing how we see things. Heck, if you stare at a fire too long, once you do look around everything is dark and hard to make out.
In other words, FI/RE’s quasi-namesake can blind you to how the world really looks.
First of all, “retiring early” always drives me crazy as a notion because almost all the FI/RE bloggers proceed to take up some other form of work, even if it’s just making their sites a source of steady income. That’s not retirement!
Heck, some early “retirees” find themselves working far more hours than they did at their 9-5s. But I suppose Financial Independence/Change Jobs (FICJ) just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
And yes, there are probably non-bloggers out there who do retire early and stay retired. And those are the ones that I worry about the most. Because I’m not sure anyone short of multi-millionaires can be truly independent — and I’m talking several million.
Because independence implies that you’ll always have enough to live on. And I just don’t think that’s something you can safely rely on. Rentals go empty for long periods of time; investments tank. And because the universe has a nasty sense of humor, you could be hit with large bills during those times, draining the regular savings account at a time when your investments aren’t providing much income.
But most of all, I worry about FI/RE-ers’ health.
An apple a day… does diddly squat
People retiring early tend to be pretty healthy, which means they may be unprepared for the costs of illness. Especially since most healthy people seem to gamble on low premium, high deductible insurance plans.
Our (far too many) ER visits have run anywhere from $1,500 to $2,600 depending on the level of care needed. A two-day stint in the hospital — which is frustratingly easy to accomplish if, say, you break one ankle and badly sprain the other, get pancreatitis or have a UTI randomly run amok — will run around $4,000.
Unless you have a platinum plan, all of that will come out of pocket.
And those are just one-offs. A basic chronic illness can really rack up the bills. Just getting diagnosed could cost hundreds of even thousands. Blood tests will run you anywhere from $50 to $200 each (and doctors rarely run just one at a time). X-rays and ultrasounds are about $200 each. MRIs are $700 to $900.
All this means that retirees with a mystery set of symptoms could have a very bad financial year. True, they can switch for the following year, but in the meantime savings may take a big hit. All so that they can come up with a treatment plan that could cost even more money — including medications that may run $100+ a month. Heck, even Tim’s generic Ritalin is inexplicably $100 a month on his new plan.
Even if you don’t end up with an chronic illness, there are others that strike with alarming frequency in the population. Cancer certainly doesn’t respect age (or high deductibles).
And once they switch to a better plan the following year… That’s probably an extra $3,000 a year just for a better plan, and they’ll probably still end up with a noteworthy deductible.
Of course, even that figure is predicated on marketplace premiums remaining the same. The newest legislation could see costs skyrocket, which could really ruin some FI/RE-ers’ carefully laid plans.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every early retiree is going to get sick. I just don’t think enough of them respect how easily they could get sick or how expensive it would be.
Time is on your side (too much of it)
There are a lot of hours in a day. Are FI/RE-ers ready to fill their time?
When I was unable to work, I slept 10 hours a day, read three books a week, watched hours of afternoon reruns and evening TV and still found a fair amount of time to be bored spitless.
Of course, I had limitations on how much I could do. I couldn’t go take hikes, play sports, garden, etc. I certainly couldn’t afford to travel. Maybe all of that that takes up enough time. Maybe. But day in and day out, especially if you don’t have kids? That’s a lot of time to fill, guys.
I often wonder just how many financially independent folks — especially the ones without blogs — are going to wind up bored out of their skulls.
Do you really hate your job?
FI/RE starts to make it feel as though everyone hates their job. That attitude would mean that anyone who is still working — especially for someone else — is to be pitied.
But as Penny realized, there are plenty of people who are happy with their work. Sure, a study she cites stated that only 50% of respondents reported being satisfied with their jobs. On the other hand, half of the people surveyed are satisfied with their jobs! That’s a pretty big number in a society that tends to portray work as a never-ending drudgery to be dreaded.
There are plenty of people not seeking to “escape” their 9-5s. I’m one of them. I like the security of a paycheck. I like my boss. And I love having definitive hours. If I were to just focus on this blog I’d work all hours of the day trying to grow it.
I think that FI/RE makes us forget that — or to feel embarrassed about it. People can get so caught up in the notion of retiring early that they don’t stop to ask whether it’s what we really want.
Some people should retire early
I’m not saying that FI/RE is necessarily a bad idea. And there are people who genuinely need to, either for health reasons (like Revanche over at A Gai Shan Life) or because their jobs are draining their souls.
And there’s nothing particularly wrong with vying for the “FI” of FI/RE. Why not get financially independent but keep that job with its dependable health plan and steady paycheck? Just in case.
But the “RE” portion. That concerns me. I think there are a lot of potential problems — ones that, I worry, haven’t been given enough thought/credence.
And I wonder if the entire concept has gotten a lot of people convinced that they dislike perfectly acceptable jobs, thereby potentially causing dissatisfaction where there wasn’t any before.
I guess what I’m saying is that probably a lot fewer people should get swept up in FI/RE-y passion.
Are there other concerns about FI/RE that I haven’t thought of? Are you vying for early retirement?