Why Is It So Uncomfortable to Say I’m Retiring Early?

Why Is It So Uncomfortable to Say I'm Retiring Early?The idea of retiring early is something that most folks in the personal finance and FIRE world understand.  When I tell people in the community that I’m retiring early at the age of 43, they say “good for you” and move on.

Nevertheless, when friends or family ask me what we’re planning to do once we move to Panama (that is after they get past the idea that we’re moving to Panama!), it gets a little weird.

Ok, it gets a little weird, but really just for me.  I hem and haw and then say something along of the lines of…

“Well, uh, I’ve been working on building up my blog for a while and that’s starting to generate some income so I’ll be continuing to do that along with some other projects I have in mind.  Um, and then we have the rental income…”

Then it starts to get worse as I realize in mid-thought that this isn’t something to be ashamed of saying.

So I end up following it up with something like…

“… but we’ve saved a lot of money and we’re in a position where we probably won’t have to work if we don’t want to.”

Then I start to feel like I’m bragging so I taper it back with a line like…

“… well, at least for a few years anyway.”

Ouch.  Similar conversations have already happened too many times already.

What the @#$% is wrong with me?  Total mess!


A better answer…

I get it – my answer to people is ridiculous and a horrible response.  Here’s how my side of the discussion should go instead…

“Well, actually, we’ve been dedicated to aggressively building our savings and investments over the years.  We’ve worked hard to learn what we could about personal finance – specifically with the goal of retiring early.

“Not only are we paying ourselves first and living on a lot less than we make, but we also sacrifice some of our time outside of regular work hours with some side hustles to generate some more income.

“I’m sure that I’ll come up with some projects to keep me busy and that’ll probably bring in some income once I quit working.  But in all reality, we’re blessed to be able to say that we won’t need to work again if we don’t want to.”

Haha, could you imagine if I actually said that to people?!  Their jaws would either just be left hanging open or they’d be angered as if it was an insult to them and punch me in the face.  I prefer the former, but neither option would likely end well.


Retiring early isn’t something I take lightly

Here’s the deal – any of you that have already retired early or are planning to retire early (myself included) are in a unique position.  This is not the norm… not at all.  This chart is starting to become a little dated (2015), but it can still give you a general idea of what we’re looking at:

Why Is It So Uncomfortable to Say I'm Retiring Early
Courtesy of LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute

In my case, I’m 43 as I write this and less than 1% of Americans are retiring at an age of less than 50… less than 1%!!

None of my family and friends are currently on the path to FIRE.  Some would like to be and another one or two have even considered following in my footsteps, but no one in my inner circle (outside of the personal finance community) is making this kind of thing happen.

There’s no doubt I’m excited about retiring early – I’m thrilled beyond belief!  However, I also realize that we’re in such a unique position.

Most folks in life will never be able to retire early and some may never be able to retire at all.

So many people out there are struggling to pay their bills and make ends meet.  And here I am telling people that we’re in a position where we never need to work again.

I don’t want to say there’s a feeling of guilt necessarily (there’s not), but I don’t want others to feel bad that we’re in better shape financially either.  With that in mind, there’s a side of me that is very cautious in telling others what we’re planning.


Nothing to be ashamed of…

Why Is It So Uncomfortable to Say I'm Retiring Early? - Nothing to be ashamed ofBut then there’s the other side of the coin.

So many folks struggle to make ends meet because they put themselves in that situation… and continue to.  They just can’t seem to figure out how to live on less than they make.

Hell, one of Financial Samurai’s most controversial posts was about a real couple who has a hard time making ends meet on $500,000 a year.  They’re basically living paycheck to paycheck… insane, right?!

The point is that a lot of people could put themselves in a better financial position if they want to – they just choose different priorities.

And please don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive to the fact that there are struggling families out there that are sincerely in a tough financial state.  A perfect example is the waitress Fritz and I met while at dinner a few months ago.  Her husband suffered an unexpected disability and she’s working two jobs just to make ends meet.

I get it – @#$% happens and you can’t always be prepared for that.  Although we try to set up protections to help minimize things that could affect our financial situation, you can’t bulletproof yourself.

There will always be disasters that could happen to us and knock us right back to square one.

However, most of the folks I see driving to work every day in their brand-new BMW or Lexus are likely making a salary that doesn’t justify those material things.  Then they head home to their fancy over-priced homes with the latest and greatest electronics and home remodels.

If you have the money for these type of things, great – go for it.  You’re a special case and can easily afford those luxuries without hurting your financial future.

But when I say, “have the money for”, I mean that you literally have the money for it without throwing yourself into debt and that your savings and retirement accounts are where they need to be first.

And most of the time, that’s not going to be the case.  What we’ve learned from The Millionaire Next Door is that most of the real rich aren’t flashing their wealth.

The majority of these people aren’t really rich.  They’re just regular folks making the wrong decisions – whether consciously or not.

It’s that knowledge that makes me feel more at ease about saying we’re retiring early.  We’ve made some intentional decisions in how we earn and save money that most of our friends and family could do as well if that’s what they choose.


Putting it into perspective

Why Is It So Uncomfortable to Say I'm Retiring Early? - Putting it into perspectiveThe closer we get to our FIRE date, the more that our retiring early is becoming “public knowledge” with friends and family.

And the more I tell people our plans, the more I realize that I’m not giving people enough credit.  I’ve probably been overthinking this a bit.

When I stumble through my explanation of what we’re doing, they understand.  They know us and they also know that we’re not big spenders.

As I go into a little depth of the nuances of our game plan, they get it.  They’re not too surprised to realize that we’ve been saving so much over the years.

Most people (most!) realize that this is a matter of math and give us credit for being able to make retiring early a reality.

So really I just need to find a way to meet somewhere in the middle on the way I answer people when they ask what we’ll be doing for money once we move to Panama.

Maybe my “better answer” from above wasn’t really too far off.  Perhaps something along these lines would make more sense…

“Well, actually, we’ve been very dedicated to building our savings and investments over the years.  I’m sure that I’ll come up with some projects to keep me busy that’ll probably bring in some income once I quit working.  But, we’re blessed to be able to say that we won’t need to work again if we don’t want to.”

I think it’s fair to be proud of our achievement and that we should be able to talk about it when the subject comes up.  The key is not to come off as if we’re bragging because that’s certainly not the case.

In addition, everyone’s a little different so it’s probably just a matter of feeling out each instance.  I’m going to keep it simple (maybe simpler than the above response) and then expand as needed if we’re asked more questions.

The idea of retiring early isn’t that crazy, but it’s still something that’s not the norm out there to do.  Because of that, I think it’s important that we openly discuss our plans in a way that helps to educate and possibly motivate others who might want to do the same.


Think telling people you’re retiring early should be uncomfortable?


Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

38 thoughts on “Why Is It So Uncomfortable to Say I’m Retiring Early?”

  1. I’ve only semi-retired, and yet most people give me “that look”. I even have an easy-out as I teach a class at a local university as a second job so I tell them “I’m teaching more which allows me to work from home”. But most of my neighbors can’t get over the fact that my car doesn’t leave the house 3 days a week.

    1. It’s funny how as long as you can present something that you’re doing, that can pacify people – it’s suddenly Ok and you’re back to the norm. I was laughing about the note about your neighbors – people love to keep an eye on what their neighbors are up to! 🙂

      — Jim

  2. Been there, Jim! I settled on, “We realize we’ve been fortunate, but it’s also something we’ve been working aggressively toward for 30+ years, and we’re excited to finally be achieving the goal. If you’re interested, feel free to check out my blog, I share a lot of the steps we’ve take to get here to help other folks achieve a great retirement.

    For folks in bad situations beyond their control (yes, I’m still in awe of that waitresses upbeat attitude!), I tend to try to avoid the topic. If they bring it up, I try to pass over it quickly, just seems unfair somehow.

    1. Ooh, I like the idea of plugging your blog as part of your answer – smart idea! I haven’t told most of my friends and family about my site yet, but I do plan on doing that around the time I leave from work… or were you saying that I should tell people to check out your blog when I talk to them? 😉

      — Jim

  3. Our plan will get us into the 13% bubble – though we could have chosen to do it earlier. I recently was reorganized out of a job and made the choice (key word choice) to take a new job that pays half of what I was earning. I am focusing more on purpose and mission and it is part of our plan to FI. Though I am working full time I consider this my semi-retirement period.

    When we talk with friends, about half of our friends get it but I know the other half are scratching their heads wondering why (but they should be asking how). We are on a five year plan that is now about 4.5 years away. Who knows what will happen – maybe that timeframe shrinks but there is no way it is going to go longer!

    1. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure can buy choices and it seems like you’re living proof of this… nice job! I like when you said that friends should be asking how vs. why – so true!

      — Jim

  4. It’s uncommfortable because sadly, we now live in a society where we have to apologize for being successful. Most people never seem to get ahead. They barely save anything, survive until their next paycheck, are in debt, and tend to have several kids.
    When my breathren in the FIRE community retire early, be prepared for resentment, be prepared for haters. What’s most sad is that when a young man or woman retires from the military after 20 years of service, no one resents them and yet they’re as young as 39 years old with a full pension and medical benefits. Yet we in the FIRE community retire in our forties or in my case, will retire at 55 in 3 1/2 years, will be resented. That’s why I recommend everyone read the book by Mark Manson; “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck.” It’ll help everyone with the way they think about things.

    1. I’m sure there’ll be some haters, but it is what it is. If someone jealous of what we’ve accomplished, so be it… it’s not hurting us in any way. And with us moving to Panama next year, that definitely becomes less of an issue than it would be here, especially since a lot of the folks where we’ll be are already retired.

      — Jim

  5. both hubby and I just retired age 55 and 57, people always say “your lucky” kind of makes me mad, luck had nothing to do with it, we scrimped and saved for 15 years, we went without lattes out, eating out, packing lunches, shopped at goodwill and stuck every penny away towards retirement, we both stayed at jobs that had pensions, even though we didn’t like them and now we are living in mexico..we cant afford healthcare in the states..but its not luck people, if you work hard and save and invest, you can do it, most people just want to live for the moment and live for wants instead of needs..hard work does pay off…

    1. Haha, luck has little to do with it for sure! I’m with you on this – most people are in a position to make choices and if you don’t make future planning part of your choices, you lose out on the goodies like retiring early. Congrats on your retirement, by the way – your hard work paid off and that’s fantastic!

      — Jim

  6. Don’t think of the question, “What are you going to do once you move to Panama?”, as being just annoying or curiosity. In my case, if I asked you that, it would be for guidance. I am fortunate enough to have retired last year at 56 with a pension and a significant 401k. Although I don’t intend to permanently move there, I think in the next few years I would like to spend about 3 to 5 months each year in either Ecuador, Panama or Costa Rica to avoid Florida summers. I enjoy reading financial blogs, but don’t ever see myself writing one. Outside of learning Spanish during these summers, I don’t have any thought out plans on what else I would do. I am anxious to hear what you and your family do once you have moved to Panama.

    Thanks for including the chart. I haven’t seen it before. I didn’t realize how few people retired at my age or younger.

    1. Congrats, on the early retirement, Mike! I know a lot of readers are interested in hearing more about Panama and I’m excited to start sharing – even though it seems like it’s an eternity away. I’ll be writing about some of the planning we’re doing as well since I think that will be helpful for readers, too.

      — Jim

  7. Great post Jim.
    I am a bit in this situation . I can sort of relate to what you are going thru with my pending layoff.
    Everybody is asking me what type of job I will be looking for . I find it hard to tell them, I actually don’t need to work if I don’t want to. Many of my friends and co-workers are in my age group or older and they still NEED to work. Because I still want to work, I come up with some story about my next job but in reality, I will probably take a break and may try a new career or not. I get to pick…and they don’t.
    We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished but some reason we play it down.

    1. It’s crazy how we know we should be proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, but feel like we have to hold back… eh, maybe we’ll get used to discussing our situations as we get used to it, right?

      — Jim

  8. Great post Jim. I really don’t tell people I “retired early”… mainly because I don’t really think of myself as retired.

    When they ask what I do, I say “Oh, I mostly manage our investments and take care of the kids.” Which is entirely true. Surprisingly, I get ZERO follow-up questions after that.

    Absolutely no-one is interested in how our investments pay for our lifestyle. I think this fact goes a long way to explaining why less than 1% of the population can afford to retire younger than 50.

    1. Ooh, that’s a good one, Mr. Tako – I like that a lot! I can’t believe no one asks you questions after that – you’d think people would be all over that wanting to know how you got to the point you did. Oh, well, people surprise me, but like you said, maybe that’s why such a small percentage of folks can retire so young.

      — Jim

  9. I struggled with this too when I first retired. I do think of myself as retired. 🙂
    It’s awkward when I told a new acquaintance that I’m retired. I can say it jokingly and throw in the fact that I’m a SAHD and it works okay. We just laugh about it a bit and move on. They’ll assume I’m a SAHD.
    I told people that I retired early and blog. My neighbor replied, “retire by 40, back to work by 50.” Hahaha. Hilarious, right? People just can’t take it seriously when I tell them I’m retired.

    Now I just tell people that I work from home. Nobody follows up on that one yet. Once we become better friends, then I’ll elaborate if necessary.

    Good luck. I’m sure you’ll find the right answer to tell people. Here is an idea. Just put it on your RtR business card. You might gain a reader or two.

    1. Yeah, SAHD is a smooth one, Joe – no one can do much with that! You’re right that it just makes sense to leave it high-level unless you’re closer with them and they want more details.

      I like your idea about the business card. I’ll probably let more co-workers know about my site a little before I leave at the end of the year. That would be a good opportunity to gain some new readers for sure!

      — Jim

  10. Years ago I met a woman in her mid to late thirties at a fundraiser. When I asked her what she did (gross, I know) she told me she was retired. All I could think was man …. she’s so lucky!

    This was long before I knew about FIRE, so it was an unusual thing to hear, but I didn’t ask for an explanation either.

    I’ve given a lot of thought to how I would explain it as well, but really, those who know and love you know how you did it and those who don’t know you don’t really deserve an explaination.

    1. Your perspective from years ago brings up a good point of what most people are like that don’t know what FIRE is. People tend to just think that the early retirees have just been lucky in life and it’s a tightrope on how much to get into things. Like you said, they don’t necessarily deserve an explanation, but there’s also that strong desire to help others see the light (if they want to!). 🙂

      — Jim

  11. Dude, I can only imagine how awkward these conversations can be. I agree with your conclusion that you can share all you’ve been blessed to be able to accomplish without being a braggart. You are blessed and you’ve worked really hard to be in your position. That’s a story worthy of being told to the non-FIRE community. The most curious will ask how…

  12. I’d feel the same. My income isn’t high but I think it’s probably higher than some people who know me realise, and I probably have more saved than they think too. It’s a shame really – openness about finances would lead to so much more healthy discussion but money seems to be such a taboo subject in some circles. I think many people keep quiet either out of guilt (because they’re doing well) or shame (perhaps because they’ve got into debt).

    You should be proud of your incredible achievement. I’d say share away if you think the listener will benefit from the information (after all, reading other FI blogs got many of us on the road to FI ourselves), or if they seem genuinely interested. But it’s easier said than done!

    1. Thanks, ThisTime – definitely proud of what’s been accomplished. I agree with your thought of sharing if the listener may benefit. It’s funny though when you’re excited and want to share because you know that so many folks could benefit. The hard part is that most folks really don’t get it and a lot really don’t want to.

      It’s definitely true that more openness about finances could be a positive thing. Hopefully our community is a step in that right direction!

      — Jim

  13. This won’t be uncomfortable for me. It’s actually going to be one of the best moments of my life. I’ve been working hard for years and I believe announcing our retirement is a moment to remember. It’s going to be bitter sweet, even if it is early, My father retired early and I plan to follow haha!

    – John

  14. Yes!! Great post. I feel exactly the same except I am 29. I find the need to dance around it with “oh I am spending more time with the kids” or “I’m still working part time running my business”. People are way too uncomfortable with the reality of it. I think that’s why I love the blogging world so much. I feel like I am around like minded people even if it’s just through their writing.

    1. Agree completely – it’s truly comforting to “be around” all these wonderful people in the personal finance community. The amount of intelligence, the like-mindedness, and the support everyone gives each other makes it a great place to be!

      — Jim

  15. I’m no where close to FIRE, but when I will be, I will not announce it to anyone, even to our own children until they are adults…. I’m a big believer of stealth wealth concept. Why flaunt when it can harm me? I have been a victim of financial manipulation by family and will never ever put myself in that situation again. I have also been a stay at home mom and was not treated equally by other working women.

    So, when I retire, I’ll keep mum about it and when someone asks I’ll just that I am a freelancer.

    1. Smart move, MTG! That should save a lot of heartache. I’ve been pretty lucky that no one’s hit me up so far and with us leaving the country, we should be a little more out of sight, out of mind.

      So sorry to hear about your past experiences with family and working women. I do like your call of just saying you’re a freelancer though… I might borrow that one from you for anyone in Panama who asks me! 🙂

      — Jim

  16. I understand this and feel weird when people ask me what I do. The simplest answer and the most truthful one is that I am an investor. This does take time even as a passive investor. I have stock, real estate and a blog/eCommerce. That is already sounding like a full plate.

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