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  • Writer's pictureGary Grewal

The Early Retirees No One Talks About

Ah fall, finally! For those of us in California (yes, poor us, I know) fall is a time we can breathe a sigh of relief, as triple-digit temperatures are pretty much behind us. (Unless mother nature has a few tricks up her sleeve).

Fire season is (hopefully) winding down, the colors are changing, and we've got a bounty of gourds, root vegetables, and citrus that's coming into peak season. As much as I absolutely love summer, I welcome fall with gusto each September.

Being in finance, I tend to look at my year in quarters, and we are now closing in on the 4th, and last, quarter of the year. What does that mean?

It means it's a chance for us to reflect on the year, and review what things we want to get done before the year closes out.

Maybe it's planning next summer's vacation before the hoard of retired folks book out all the campgrounds, maybe it's planting a few trees next to your porch, or maybe it's starting to plan your end-of-the-year holiday events.

it's also a time to reflect on how fortunate many of us have been. Yes, it's not yet Thanksgiving, that's a special post don't worry!

Gratitude Isn't Just for Thanksgiving

In the doom and gloom of inflation, preparing for a recession, and how "tough" the last few years have been, it's hard to part the clouds and see we've actually been very, very lucky.

Think about it. Besides the very brief correction of 2020, the last decade has been nothing short of prosperity.

We haven't been at war or dealt with a domestic terrorism event, we have more affordable transportation options than ever, wages have been increasing, jobs are plentiful, side hustles are abundant, and we've been blessed with so many medical, educational, and technological advances that make our lives easier (what ISN'T there an app for these days?)

"Help! I have $2.5 million and think I might run out of money by age 100!"

Yet there is still a frequent discussion in media and social media, about how hard hit Americans have been due to the pandemic, inflation is the reason we can't invest in our infrastructure, and the apocalypse is coming.

Almost every early retirement forum I read has posts about people who have 7 figure portfolios sweating about losing money, so much that they spend their precious free time looking at their accounts, being even more frugal, and questionably taking advantage of government benefits they really shouldn't

I don't want to come across as out of touch or unsympathetic to the hardships faced by many, as I know there are plenty. Those people absolutely deserve our help, and thankfully the pandemic relief programs have helped some.

They've also helped line the pockets of fraudsters and wealthy retired folk, but that's a discussion for another day (No, a 62-year-old retiree and her husband with a $4 million portfolio don't need stimulus checks).

At the same time, there are so many people in our FIRE community that have done the hard work, sacrificed, and have taken risk mitigation efforts to reduce their exposure to financial ruin, yet are still scared to the core.

Worrying Just to Have Something To Worry About

They check their early retirement calculator every day, re-read all the core early-retirement books, and peruse all the blogs on a regular basis. They would rather spend their Friday nights making sure they don't miss out on a tax-savings strategy to protect their $2 million rather than creating memories with friends or practicing self-care.

It seems every day there are people who have paid off their homes, received an inheritance, have 6-7 figure portfolios, $50,000 in an HSA, and yet still look for advice or compassion from fellow FIRE members about how they are concerned about health care costs or outliving their money.

Even financial advisors and talking heads seem to never tire of beating clients into thinking they will run out of money if they are not careful. They tell them not to spend 4% because that will dig into their principal. Is that always a bad thing?

True, you don't want to spend down your assets so fast that you run out of money by 80. But guess what? Even if you do, you'll likely have a paid-off house, and Social Security coming in. You probably won't be taking $5,000 vacations or spending $450 a month on car payments.

I've read about so many people that have $3-$6 million portfolios or more, and yet keep working because "just in case". Or there are those that did retire but don't want to "touch" accounts, keeping them there just in case. Just in case of what? I've heard ludicrous reasons such as in case Vanguard or Fidelity go under.

You Can't Take It With You

Ask any group of retirees what their goal is for a certain investment account, and they might give you a blank stare. Even those with pensions paid off houses, and plenty of savings, haven't thought about how to spend down their assets in their lifetime, not even accounting for potential inheritances or reduced expenses in the final years.

Sure, maybe some early retirees may want to keep something to gift to their kids, yet when you ask people what impact they want their money to have, they either don't know or don't care. Why work so hard all your life to build up a portfolio that you don't want to enjoy, and yet don't care what happens to it?

Think about if people were freer with their money, how much better things could be. Yes, right now inflation is out of control because lots of money was pumped into the economy, and everything from pent-up demand to staffing shortages is exacerbating that. But members of the FIRE community are cautious.

What might happen if we tipped better, or invested in an electric car instead of proudly proclaiming our frugality by driving a 2004 beater?

What if we thought of the greater good of our community by voting yes on tax increases and ballot measures that would increase our taxes, but would also improve the libraries, bike trails, and public infrastructure that so many of us enjoy? (Especially FIRE folk, since we look for ways to have fun for little to no money).

I'm not saying go crazy and buy a Taycan tomorrow. I'm just encouraging those who have worked hard and been fortunate to benefit from the prosperity of America, to be realistic about their financial situation and believe in our communities, as well as our country!


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