Everybody agrees mostly about what financial independence is (although with some differences), but the term ‘early retirement’ doesn’t really have the same similar use in the personal finance sphere.
Personally, I have never felt ‘retire early’ is the right way to describe what my goal is with FIRE. Maybe something is wrong with me, but the way I see the concept used on many other blogs, I get a sense something is wrong with the ‘RE’ in FIRE.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the acronym FIRE – and I occasionally also like to say “Woohoo! The FIRE is spreading”, but every time I have to explain what it means I run into trouble.
Cambridge Dictionary offers three different definitions of “retirement”:
- “The act of leaving your job and stopping working, usually because you are old“
- “The period in someone’s life after they have stopped working because of having reached a particular age“
- “The point at which someone stops working, esp. because of having reached a particular age or because of ill health, or the period in someone’s life after the person has stopped working”
The same dictionary defines ‘early retirement’ as:
- “The situation in which someone ends their working life before the usual age”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel any of those three really capture the essence of FIRE and what most people do when they achieve FIRE.
What’s wrong: It’s hard to explain the ‘Retire Early’ to outsiders
The concept of early retirement is very hard to explain to outsiders. I’m sure the amount of follow-up questions and negative comments whenever FIRE hits mainstream media is strongly correlated with this.
The term ‘retirement’ has been used for ages to describe the time in life when you stop traditional work. You often end your working life after turning 60-something and spend the rest of your life not working.
Most people associate ‘retirement’ with a lazy lifestyle (after all you have earned it after many years of hard labor) with absolutely no work at all.
This is also why the first question you get when you explain the concept of FIRE is: “But what are you going to do?” closed followed by the skeptical question: “But what would happen if everybody did that?”.
This is because the word ‘retirement’ simply doesn’t work to describe what it is we do when we “retire”. Normal people who haven’t read Mr. Money Mustache’s posts simply do not understand what we mean.
In reality, ‘early retirement’ means something very different to us than just quitting traditional work. It means following our dreams and passions, doing cool projects, starting side-hustles, spending more meaningful time with people we care about and (dare I say it?) working in jobs we like both full-time and part-time.
Early retirement is so much more than just quitting working life (and often it is the exact opposite) and people don’t get it because of the word ‘retirement’.
All of our FIRE dreams and passions drown in the noise as soon as we mention the word ‘retirement’. This happens even though we might create even more value and happiness in the world after reaching FI than we did in our traditional jobs.
We need to find a term that is easier to convey and that doesn’t have as many negative connotations as ‘retire early’ or ‘early retirement’ do.
What’s wrong: It doesn’t reflect what FIRE’d people do
Leaving the outsiders alone for now, I’m not even sure we as FIRE bloggers agree what early retirement really means.
Lately, I have gotten the sense I am not the only FIRE blogger who feels the whole retirement part is not precise.
‘Early retirement’ is used in a variety of different and sometimes conflicting ways, and it seems like it doesn’t really apply to most people pursuing FIRE.
People who are FIRE’d do a variety of different things – some of them have nothing to do with traditional retirement.
Sometimes it means quitting traditional work forever. Sometimes it means reducing number of hours worked per week. Sometimes it means working on side-hustles and other projects. Sometimes it means going freelance to get more flexibility. Most of these interpretations, however, still involve work in one way or another. I know you can argue that post-retirement work is different from having a job, but for example the definition of ‘RE’ still doesn’t allow me to keep my old job part-time if I prefer that.
If most of our ‘early retirements’ include many different types of work (sometimes in our old traditional jobs), do we then also agree that ‘early retirement’ doesn’t really reflect what FIRE’d people do when they become financially independent?
Maybe it’s too hard to find one acronym that captures all different meanings of FIRE (for ‘RE’ in particular). Maybe we just need more versions of FIRE. But perhaps we might need a term that has a broader meaning without becoming too vague?
What’s wrong: It doesn’t make any syntactic sense
This argument might not be as important and I’m frightened of presenting it in front of experienced, grammar-expert bloggers.
I’m not an expert on syntax (and English isn’t my mother tongue), but there’s something odd about the syntax in all the ways we use the term FIRE.
“Financial independence, retire early” is the most widely used definition of FIRE. Those four words have the following word classes:
- Financial: adjective
- Independence: noun
- Retire: verb
- Early: adverb
Something’s wrong here. We have to be consistent. Either we use adjectives and nouns or we use verbs and adverbs (or something else).
As I see it, we should be able to use FIRE in one of these two sentences:
- She is FIRE
- She has achieved FIRE
Which options do we have if we insist on using the concepts of “financial independence” and “early retirement” in some shape or form? I can only find one combination (please help me find more syntax experts!):
She has achieved financial independence and early retirement. Adjective, noun, adjective, noun.
Just one problem. Now it is “FIER” and not “FIRE”.
I tried numerous other combinations of word classes, but I simply could not find any good combinations that make sense in those two sentences without adding indefinite articles or something similar.
I simply cannot find a syntactically meaningful version of ‘FIRE’, and although this is much less important than my first two arguments, it just adds to the confusion around FIRE.
What could be an alternative to ‘Retire Early’ in FIRE?
Now to the million-dollar question: If FIRE is so bad, which alternative suggestions do I have?
Truth be told, I don’t believe I can solve this alone, but I can maybe start the discussion.
I believe ‘retire early’ should be replaced by a more general term that to a better degree captures what people really do after achieving FI.
I still like the ‘early’ part of FIRE though. Early shows we are challenging the norm and accomplishing our goals before the majority of people. What’s unique about the FIRE community is not that we achieve financial independence (many people do this unknowingly). The unique thing is that we achieve financial independence early.
How about simply using ‘early financial independence‘ (EFI) instead of FIRE?
This way we remove the restrictions of ‘retirement’ and capture all of the different FI journeys in our community.
We could even have different variations of EFI. How about FatEFI, LeanEFI, BaristaEFI – or perhaps even RetireEFI? 🙂
Don’t like EFI? Fair enough. Mad Money Monster also suggested ‘FIOR‘ (Financial Independence, Optional Retirement), which I like too.
The most important thing for me is simply to start the discussion about a concept we all take for granted and (for the bloggers’ part) promote to a global audience every day.
Your turn: What do you think? Should we just continue using FIRE the way we use it today or should we start using EFI, FIOR or something else instead?