What does it mean to retire early?

I recently stumbled across this very interesting graphic that shows, in one image, how long it will take you to retire.

It’s so simple. If you want to retire early, you have two basic options: spend less, or earn more. That’s fine enough, but what does it really mean to retire early? When I tell my friends and family that I’d like to retire before 40, most of them picture an image of me sitting in a boat on a lake, fishing (which, by the way, is something I would never do for fun). The concept of FIRE (financially independent, retire early) is one that simply means that you get to live life without worrying about money.

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Imagine being able to quit your job at any time, knowing that you didn’t actually need the paycheck to get by. That’s financial independence. My goal is to have enough saved up across my retirement and personal investment accounts that I can live off the interest. That’s quite a reach for me, so I’d like to also supplement that by developing some passive income streams that I can rely on until I’m old enough to touch my 401K/IRA accounts.

For those in our 20s, I feel that the term “financial independence” is used more in the context of being free from parental support. That may be the first baby step towards being an adult and managing your own finances, but the idea of working to fund your living still remains. At what point does independence from our parents become independence from a paycheck? As one of my blogging heroes, Mr. Money Mustache, put so eloquently, “Retirement is earning the privilege of being free to enjoy the balanced lifestyle of our dreams, without “working for a living” getting in the way too much”.

If you’re like me, an obvious upside of being financially independent of work might be traveling. There plenty of bloggers that have figured out how to turn their hobby into a full-time gig and travel the world while they’re at it. That sounds so nice, but I don’t know if that’s me. That said, I’d love to have this blog pay for itself if that sort of thing is possible without resorting to ad placements. (If you’d like to support me, a great way to do that would be to check out my Recommendations page and purchase products that you’d consider getting anyway through my affiliate links. I’ll only ever do recommendations for products that I actually like and use.)

Early retirement isn’t something that appeals to everyone, but I think that’s because many people feel that retirement is a whole different ballgame from financial independence. The important thing is to figure out what in life gives you “flow”. That’s a key requirement in achieving happiness, and for most of us, it’s not at our jobs, which take up the vast majority of our days. If you’re most focused and engaged at a volunteer opportunity at a non-profit, what’s to stop you from doing that full-time? Money. Our living expenses are the biggest hindrance to pursuing meaningful outlets for creativity and passion. What I’m trying to say, essentially, is that to me, early retirement is a means for me to pursue happiness, which is what all of us could ever want in this life. Granted, I’m still figuring out what actually makes me happy, but until then, financial independence is a good target to aim for.

What would you do for a living, if money wasn’t an issue?