Elizabeth Kerr ponders if early retirement is just a fad - or will it become a modern cultural shift?

Elizabeth Kerr ponders if early retirement is just a fad - or will it become a modern cultural shift?

By Elizabeth Kerr

When I was growing up it seemed like the only people who retired early were “greenies".

They were misfits of my community, living on a lifestyle farm in the back roads, driving an old rusty truck, burning incense, usually single and living alone with their animals.

While they had the freedoms of not working they weren’t exactly someone I was aspiring to be like when I grew up.

You see, I grew up in the ‘you can be anything’ era and it was full-time work, power lunches, power suits and power cars all the way for defining success.   

Fast forward 25 years and early retirement has totally changed its look.

Nowadays early retirement folk are people really enjoying themselves, enjoying each other, travelling with their kids, in great health, eating really well, giving back to the community, learning new skills, doing the things that matter to them and thanks to the internet are able to share their tips and wealth creation strategies with the rest of us. 

The lovers

Clearly early retirement has totally dropped the “misfit” stigma and has become something that normal people like you and I can strive for without once needing to milk a goat or alienate our friends. In fact early retirement can be further refined into sub-trends and combinations depending on what takes your fancy.  Here are a few I’ve collected for you this week:

  • Location Independence - The travel anywhere and everywhere whenever you like early retirement.
  • The minimalists – pare down your belongings and keep only that which matters to you and avoid accumulating stuff which is not 5-ways useful or made in sweat-factories.
  • Konmari – The life changing magic of tidying up, which guides you in liberating yourself from that which does not bring you joy.
  • The Simple Living trend – everything in your life is connected and should be focussed on your life’s purpose. An emphasis is placed on relationships over things.
  • Off-grid community – embracing a self-sustaining and DIY lifestyle that goes hand in hand with early retirement for some.
  • The homeschooling family living in campervans – the closest thing to hell on earth in my opinion!
  • The non-consumer – aka the “don’t you dare buy anything movement”.
  • The get rid of debt and live on the smell of an oily rag community( this differs from above because eventually you are allowed to spend money again).
  • Slow Movement – if you slow life down you become happier with less.
  • Tiny House Movement – by necessity this trend encapsulates all of the above!

The two things that all of these early retirement folks seem to have in common is that are all committed to doing life in their own way by bucking societies pressure to conform, and they feel a very real conviction for sharing themselves and their lifestyle design with others on the internet.

Seeing as half of success is being open to learn from those who have already been there, this is all very valuable to you if you’re on the early retirement journey. Having exposure to how others do it is incredibly powerful for changing your own world view of what is “normal” and as a result what is achievable when you put your mind to it.

The Haters

Just as there are those who are sharing the positives of early retirement there are the haters as well. Those who poo-poo early retirement generally come up with the following arguments for their position. To save you all the hard work of thinking for yourself I’ve provided my responses to their arguments for you:

1. “You add no value to anyone when you’re not working”!

“Really - are you a complete bum when you’re not working and no value to anyone”? I would argue that without having to be at work all day you could choose to be of immense value to someone by sharing your talents, giving back to the community, and if you’re really struggling the simple act of consuming could be of value to someone. Working is not the definition of adding value, it comes down to personal choice as to how you spend your time.

2. “If you have kids you are setting them up for a life of entitlement without even sharing with them the values of a good work ethic?”

Ouch!  So, kids who have parents who are available to them a lot of the time, who can participate in their school communities, talk to their teenagers, keep a mindful eye on their use of internet, watch out for bullying, teach them how to do stuff like make a meal, mow the lawns, budget… would be setting them up for a life of entitlement?  The fact that these parents are present is as a result of an obviously good work ethic combined with savings and spending decisions that need to be reinforced everyday, so I’m quite sure the kids are getting a great introduction to values.

3. “You will get left behind and never be able to “get back in”?”

This is by far the most common push-back I hear and if I’m honest… the one that rumbles around in my own brain if I let my guard down and listen to the haters too much. To this I ask myself: ”Get back in where exactly”? Am I worried that everyone else will spend and consume better than I will? Not really. Is it the housing hysteria that is speaking to me here…(like when speaking with real estate agents in Auckland last week…more on that trip for another day)? Do I worry if I “bail out” now I won't be able to afford the five-bedder, two-bathroom McMansion? Never! Getting “back-in” is just a place in my imagination and doesn’t exist in real life!

4. “You are being lazy, putting your brain on autopilot – that’s not much of a life?”

Ummnnn nope, wrong again. I believe early retirement is retiring from the commitment of having to work every day in order to meet you personal non negotiable expenses. I’m not advocating retirement from life altogether! Your brain will work as hard as you push it.

5. “You are copping out because you were no good at your job and/or couldn’t find one you liked enough to stick it like the rest of us!”

This could be quite true for some early retirees. And maybe achieving early retirement is the best way for them to overcome this. Let’s just be pleased these people leave their jobs open for others still on the lifestyle inflation treadmill.  

6. “Ha!  You will change your mind and be back in the workforce within a year, just you wait and see”.

Again maybe they’re right. But for those early retirees that do go back to work at least they have gone back on their own terms and not because they have to. Theoretically that very thing alone will mean their attitude to the job will be kickass awesome because they’ll know exactly what their drivers are for being there each day.

7. Last but not least, “Other people won’t respect you anymore”!

I think you’ll find other people will be more envious of your lifestyle the moment Monday morning comes around and they’re dragging themselves to work when they would rather not. I bet that you’ll be the first person they think of when they go back after their xmas holidays and you’re still enjoying the summer weather. I think you’ll find you’ll attract more people asking you for advice on how to achieve an early retirement for themselves than you would those who disrespect your freedom.

You see, there are the lovers and the haters for early retirement.

This week I wanted to raise the point that there are many different flavours of early retirement and there are as many ways to achieve one as there are individuals pursuing it.

So go on… have a good look around the internet, find a trend that suits where you are today and ignore what the haters might be saying. 

Remember to get there…you have to be different.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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I retired over 10 years ago at 42. I have loved every moment of my 'early' retirement. Frankly, I have never heard any of the comments you have placed under your 'haters' list. Or perhaps I have just not been listening.

As I'm sure you calculated, hiking up Machu Picchu; skiing down the Dolomites; bungi jumping from the Victoria Falls rail bridge; driving across Europe in the car you've just collected from Stuttgart etc etc is far more doable, physically, and comfortable at 42 that it is at 65+!

Have you considered that the early retirement hippie recluse stigma is entirely something from your own imagination and not a thing out here in Realityland?

LOL. Nailed it.

Hear, hear; and I would say the same for "society's pressure to conform".

This is a very disappointing article from somebody usually so reliable and sensible.

Are you telling me that there is no such pressure to conform in our society?

Conform to what? Give an example.

apparently I need to conform to put a solar hotwater heater on my own house- that conforming costs many hours of labour

Try reading some comments on articles about ER on mainstream media and you'll see what Elizabeth is talking about. To quote the editor: "online commenting is an aggressive medium".

Can you be a bit more specific with some links please?

"Doesn't sound that different than the man in Maine who lived in the woods for 30 years - foraging for whatever he needed. Just don't get sick. If you do get sick you'll be sorry you left Canada."

"This is good advice for a hermit or a zombie"


Quite possibly Kakapo, i was about 12 years old at the time. It shouldn’t remove from the point of today's column that early retirement is now, largely thanks to the internet, more mainstream.

If there is any stigma, it would stem from those times when 'early retirement' has been used as a euphemism for 'made redundant when too old to get another job'.

I retired from teaching 2 years ago aged 48. This was possible due to saving, investing, some risk taking and avoiding lifestyle inflation.
In the last two years I have done a lot of travelling, spent more time with my elderly parents, helped out on building sites, got more daily exercise and developed my 2 acres into a more productive unit. I have also chosen to do some relief teaching at my old school which I thoroughly enjoy........(no paper work!)

Most of my peers seem puzzled by my ability to walk away from the work force and are keen to know the
'Secret'. When I explain, and indeed encourage others to follow a similiar path, they listen carefully up until the point that involves simple living and avoiding lifestyle bling......at that point they declare its not for them and that I am just lucky.
I have come to the conclusion that most people are happy spending what they earn and what the bank will lend them. I get the feeling that there is only a small number for whom early retirement is a viable option.

We are all wired differently!

Some very pertinent comments. Simplifying your spending and de-cluttering your lifestyle is key - and actually fun. You actually need a lot less income then most people think. If I told some of my non-retired friends what our income is (relative to theirs) they would be amazed at what we do on what we have. But then they are head down and fully immersed in the debt fueled instant gratification merry go round.

Lots of "busy" professionals now pay for their lawn to be mowed, pay for housework, pay to change the car oil and filter, pay for meals at restaurants....

Indeed they do, and what exactly is your problem with that?

What other people choose to spend their money on is none of your business.

the comment was that it's not a necessity. If they _choose_ those things, then complaining because life is expensive and they have to work for long time . Well it is their choice.

Better to hire a local to do something productive than spend that $30 a fortnight on some plastic crap from China. I see it as a duty to hire people if possible.

..single perhaps...no kids?

Who is?

But so what if they are? Having children is also a choice. Plenty of people are now opting not to have any because we live in world where being a parent is both undervalued and expensive.

and is terrible for the environment plus they are loud walking self-absorbed disease spreading units.

...if you're lucky

there is no income from being a parent, that is also part of the choice.
and there is no decent "returns" plan if things don't go as expected (or the missus leaves with them).

Two kids. And I am still writing big cheques to support number 2 son through his third year at university.
I also feel obliged to help both financially into their own homes over the next decade, seeing as they have grown into a world with far greater financial headwinds than I did.

Neili maybe there should be a balance between your choice of lifestyle and the others you are talking about. Personally I have spent a lot of money on cars but I have no regrets as I enjoyed driving them. Maybe I could have retired a bit earlier but at 58 it seemed the right for me to do it. I always lived within my means but never lived a mean lifestyle. Hell if I had died at 50 and working I would have had no regrets. You cannot live for the future too much. You do not know what it will bring and I am talking about nasty suprises. If people want to live for now and spend it all good on them. I bet they are having more fun than you and I ever did and some will die before retirement age.

I am in no way criticizing peoples lifestyles, merely pointing out that early retirement is not for everyone and I agree that money should be enjoyed...cars, travel, food, wine or whatever smokes your tires.
Each to their own.

ah...but if you blow all of yours on cars, travel, food, wiine, and whatever, don't expect to take mine - even if you're hungry, cold, sick or ever dying .... because when I was hungry, cold, and sick you didn't even want to see me when you were enjoying your money. so don't even for a moment believe I owe you support.

Couldn't agree more!

well, except that they pay GST on their consumption which could have been used to support you through social services to alleviate your suffering.

how much tax do you think most NZers pay compared to the period required to consume that spending, for single people (unemployed, sickness, etc)

I retired at 58 after 30 years of being a busy professional. Every day since feels like a holiday especially days like yesterday. I called into the practice yesterday and a staff member said I looked so relaxed compared with when I worked there. You cannot put a price on that benefit alone.

I so want to retire early but haven't found a rich enough person (on Tinder)

*laughs* I prefer a more passive approach to my investing....

A piece of writing I found on Disqus I found "interesting" (but can't locate since Disqus doesn't have a search function) was from a middle aged woman who had made it to Senior Editor in her career, her dream job. She had done it for three years.
But she decided that she wasn't enjoying her life enough and she had a husband and he had a good job so she quit.

So I have to ask myself: Does he get to quit now too if he wants?
What does that do to the position and wage balance for the genders? Since the equivalent for her husband in the same company would have to have a better than average job to support both of them.

Not only that is she started doing part-time and voluntary work some of it for free/charity/volunteer because she wanted to and she enjoy the social aspect (more than the career and money side).
So she went from being a top career earner...removing those invested skills...and _increased_ the count at the bottom of the table.

And then what of less qualified women that wanted her entry level stuff, or could have been paid privately to do what was now given to those organisations for free?

And a young providing partner (old school "husband") they need to support their families and their partners demands for success and social position, does the family provider (eg "husband") then have to climb over others since to get respect "he'll" have to get more money to provide for social needs of family...and fight their way to be working forever to provide so "his" "wife" can also afford to retire early life "her" peers also did to take their happiness??

What does such pressure for career climbing do for the wives and women - especially singles?

While I certainly don't begrudge the woman her choice - ok a little, but out of envy - that I wish I had a income supporting partner rather than child support black holes to carry.... I do think such things render gener equality in the workforce, and especially wage equality to be ineffective metrics.

Hi All, just to let you know there will be no column next Tuesday. I am painting dragons, dancing with minions and trying to keep my home from being overcome by tiny pieces of lego and raisins thanks to the school holidays. Will be back on the 28th. In the meantime am contactable on Elizabeth.Kerr@interest.co.nz

To be honest, I hope this "work" thing is a passing fad.

yeah for most people it ends about 75 - 90 yrs of age :p

"1. “You add no value to anyone when you’re not working”!

If I'm not consuming, then just what value add do you think I owe anyone?

Liz is tight on to it...

Work equals modern slavery....

Debt Equals modern enslavement.

Money is the main tool of motivation to make slaves work...The prize of money of course you get to consume.

Of course much consumption is carried out by slaves by increase the debit credit levels on there modern shakes

What a stupid statement. By definition, a slave is somebody who has no choice about whether to work despite not being paid for it. Somebody who is motivated to work by money is not a slave. You are trivialising the real suffering of real slaves, of whom there are sadly still many in this world.

They're not trivalising. And that you don't speaks that you are of the privilege that others haven't got.
At many times I have looked at those slaves knowing that at least others would share sympathy for them knowing of their plight - new zealand debt slaves get the hardship and less compassion

Now the smart slaves especially those one's that bought shacks in Auckland are now selling those shacks releasing themselves from debt slavery and enslavement and now heading to freehold pastures.

To escape total debt slavery, enslavement is near impossible to most as the Greeks have now discovered and also discovered who their master are.

Average retirement age (if you can believe the oxymoron of "Greek statistics") in Greece is to my knowledge around 56, so, Elizabeth, you should go on a study tour there of what a country is like in which basically everyone retires early and probably did not do a lot before then either.

New Zealand is (still) blessed by a relatively high level of social acceptance for all kinds of lifestyles. I have never come across anyone pointing fingers at people who chose to check out earlier, except maybe a degree of envy for those who did not just retire early but also live it big i.e. overseas travel etc.

In any way, be happy for any early retiree - it opens opportunities for young people like you.

your knowledge is incorrect and furthermore, pensions have been severely cut under successive governments and in many cases pensioners are supporting multiple generations of their families on their meagre incomes who are out of workOn average Greek men now retire at 63 and women at 59, according to government data. In Germany, the average retirement age for those receiving an old age pension in 2014 was 64 years. But that figure goes down to 61.3 years once those taking early retirement on health grounds is taken into account, according to 2013 data. ($1 = 0.8874 euros) (Additional reporting by Alkis Konstantinidis, Paul Taylor, Holger Hansen, Leigh Thomas and Giselda Vagnoni; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by David Stamp)."

Great data you are providing. Average retirement age in Greece (men and women) combined of 61 vs 64 in e.g. Germany. Greece - a whole nation in early retirement! The qualification of including early retirement on health grounds is only of interest, if you do it for both, Greece and Germany, which is obviously not done to mislead readers. A classic case of propaganda.

In any way, also take into account the many Greek public servants on full pay who never show up at work e.g. in the state railway. That would probably bring the real average retirement age in this so-called country down to 45.

I still think that interest.co.nz should send Liz on a work journey to Greece, France or Croatia where early retirement is effectively institutionalized. Maybe we can all learn policy lessons here.

I'll go.
No need to send Elizabeth, she's obviously busy with her children.
I have no such shackles
Happy to martyr myself for the cause.
And I speak some French.

I actually agree with this article, I do intend to be relatively work free in my mid fifties (earlyish retirement) but I don't plan to do it on the state dime, instead work off passive income plus hopefully have some investments that can fund some cash, plus work some petty jobs for cash flow (E.g Uber driving) Early retirement with out any income and living on the dole is just dumb

I retired around 14 years ago at the age of 32. Much to the consternation of my parents (my father is a workaholic), friends, wife etc.

And so I can say Elizabeth's article is spot on. The pressure to conform is actually really strong. And mostly from within ourselves of course.

I agree Davo. I would say I have been semi retired for about 10 years. I pull finger several times a year and work hard. The rest of the year consists of a couple of hours a day. I do feel quite useless at times. I look at my peers slaving away 5 days a week, with some envy at times that they have this mission on. But then I wonder also how depressing this constant requirement to be present in a workplace 40 hours a week must be. I Feel guilt I do little yet sustain a reasonable lifestyle. There is a lot of pressure to be in full employment...for some years I was consistently questioned by family why I didnt get a real job. I kept doing the maths, and nothing could beat what I do now (trading cattle). Recently I realised I was paying far too much tax. So I downsized the small off farm income and upsized the gardening. I thort if I could save 5k in food purchases that would save a good bit in gst as well. Unfortunately I am not a great gardener. But will try harder this year.

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