Retirement makes NO sense

Perhaps the most influential book that I’ve read in the last two years is called The 4-Hour Workweek. Even though I’m living on a shoestring budget, I deemed it important enough to plunk down the $19.95 to own my own copy.

It was written by a 28-year old guy who offers a different way to prioritize one’s life. Essentially, he posits that we all undervalue time and overvalue money. Everyone probably ‘knows’ that to be true, but so few people ever actually do anything about it. Instead, most people follow the same path of work, work, work, retire….sprinkled with occasional short vacations. We’ve got one crack at this life, and that plan just doesn’t make sense.

From the book…

Retirement is flawed for three solid reasons…

a. It is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life. This is a nonstarter–nothing can justify that sacrifice.

AKA…If your job is so miserable that you dream of retiring…then get a NEW job.

b. Most people will never be able to retire and maintain even a hotdogs-for-dinner standard of living. Even one million is chump change in a world where traditional retirement could span 30 years and inflation lowers you purchasing power 2-4% per year. The math doesn’t work. The golden years become lower-middle-class life revisited. That’s a bittersweet ending.

c. If the math does work, it means that you are one ambitious, hardworking machine. If that’s the case, guess what? One week into retirement, you’ll be so damn bored that you’ll want to stick bicycle spokes in your eyes. You’ll probably opt to look for a new job or start another company. Kinda defeats the purpose of waiting, doesn’t it?

It’s pretty clear. Retirement as the ultimate ‘goal’ makes no sense. It is akin to wasting away the prime years of life for some utopia, that, if lucky enough to reach, is eventually discovered to be less worthwhile than the work beforehand.

The book has many more thoughts on alternatives. But I’ll save those for later.

Think about it though, how many retired folks do you know who are truly happy? The only ones I can point to are people who ended up getting different jobs after retiring from old ones.

2 thoughts on “Retirement makes NO sense

  1. That is all well and good – but if you like your job, then there’s really no problem right? If you’re content with your job retirement just happens to be a point in your life/career – not some holy grail. Free time can be the biggest problem because most jobs require that 40 hour a week stuff. So then your situation becomes finding more flexible jobs for its own sake, and less about retirement. Is everyone else aiming for retirement?

    I’m excited to enter a ever-changing field, move to a different city, and think about starting a family. Raising kids, enjoying your chosen area of work, friends and family, seem to over shadow some sort of tunnel vision on retirement.

    I think thats how must people start out, but eventually you get to a point where not working sounds appealing (you’ve been doing it for 40 years) and retirement consumes your thoughts (can I afford to not work?) I think it’s a leap to assume those 40 years were wasted praying for retirement and are full of regrets.

    “It’s pretty clear. Retirement as the ultimate ‘goal’ makes no sense. It is akin to wasting away the prime years of life for some utopia, that, if lucky enough to reach, is eventually discovered to be less worthwhile than the work beforehand.”

    This view point sounds like the perfect idea to elaborate on to sell books, pardon my harshness. I agree – retirement as the ultimate goal makes no sense – and I don’t think most people think like that (and those that do are nearing retirement!).

    Do most people actually make retirement an ultimate goal when they start out in the real world? I’ve never thought about it that way. Or is it a financial goal? Ultimate goals are stable families, happy children, good health, things like that . Retirement presents itself as an opportunity and is one that requires some years of investing to take advantage of fully. Some do it right, some do it wrong.

    If you decide to ease off work so you can enjoy your “healthy able-bodied youth” so to speak, how will you afford to live when your no-so-abled-old-body wont allow it? Force your children to work harder so they can pay for all your old people bills? Theres more than one reason to work hard so you can save money for the last years of your life – recreation is just one of the many.

    I had no idea I felt so strongly about retirement haha! I should read this book.

  2. This is just like you liberals…trying to make excuses so lazy people can stop working and live on the government’s dime. 🙂 Kidding.

    A lot of interesting thoughts to dig through.

    One key idea that you mention and should be clarified is the difference between ‘retirement as a point in life’ vs. ‘retirement as a goal.’ The book (and the post) are all about the mentality of it.

    I agree that most people DO start their life in the ‘real world’ with a balanced view of things that they would like to accomplish with career, family, etc.
    But far, far too many people switch into “go through the motions” mode far, far too quickly.

    In one way the book uses its discussion of retirement as a way to critique the modern day dilemma of putting off happiness. A theme throughout the text is a ‘smelling the roses’ thing…retirement bashing is a way to express it.

    Also, I think it is important to mention that we (those of us still in school) are probably thinking clearer about this NOW than we will in the future. That’s because as we slowly tiptoe into careers/families, the weight of various obligations will slowly accumulate. My guess it that it will become much tougher to keep the ‘enjoy the moment’ mentality. The author’s point is that we should spend more effort on it.

    In other words, passions/interests/hobbies should be pursued more vigorously. Not attempting to do something or experience something because there isn’t enough time and/or money (learning a new language, visiting a hidden tomb, etc) leads too many people to concede too many happinesses way too early in life.

    “I’ll-do-it-when-I-retire-and-have-plenty-of-time-and-money” acts as poison.


    Another very reasonable point that you bring up: how does one survive when physically NOT able to work in old age? Perfectly valid. There is a gaping hole on that front in the post…but not the book. In fact, the author recognizes that exact scenario as the singular purpose of retirement. He says…

    “Retirement planning is like life insurance. It should be viewed as nothing more than a hedge against the absolute worst-case-scenario: becoming physically incapable of working and needing a reservoir of capitol to survive.”

    The book is definitely NOT a squeal against saving money and a promotion of doing whatever one wants to do in life without understanding the long term consequences. Not at all.

    It isn’t about making less money or being less productive. In fact, just the opposite. The book’s argument hinges a lot of the “80/20” Principle…which is another of my favorites (I’m sure I’ll write about it later). Basically it discusses the difference between being busy and being productive. More of us are busier than we are productive. Identifying which actions actually contribute to what matters opens up an amazing amount of free time. I could go on for a long ramble on this separate topic…but I’ll save it for another day.

    Anyway, your critiques of the post are valid. And I think adequately addressed in the book.

    If I had your persuasive skills I would apply them to getting you to read this book…just as you have done with LOST and Battlestar. Though you must NOT go into it focusing primarily on finding its faults- that would ruin the experience. We can always find problems if we want to find them. 🙂

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