Mrs YFG here. Mr YFG allows me to post now and again (how kind of him).
Mrs Frugalwoods was featured in the Guardian recently. Being an avid fan, I read her article (nothing new to me as a dedicated follower). I don’t know what possessed me to then scroll down to read the comments, but I did. And promptly got offended on her behalf and closed the article. Most of the comments were of the vicious jealousy type – well it’s alright for her, she had the income to begin with. Nobody else is fortunate enough to do this (completely missing the point that reaching FI is about your saving-expenses rate, your actual income is mostly irrelevant). Many of the commentators sniped that she wrote a book and still earned a little money- that’s not retirement, that’s mis-selling. They missed the title of the book and the point : financial independence is not retirement.
Retirement, to me, is a complete step away from the workforce – not working in any paid capacity. This is not what I want from my life, and yet it is the general consensus in society that you stop it all at 65 and get to enjoy your life then. Working (exchanging my skills and time), whether paid or not, makes me happy and helps others at the same time – I love to help other people. Retirement for me would quickly lead to depression – not because it’s awful, but because of the way my mind works. I need to be needed. I think Mr YFG is wired very differently. He can easily occupy himself with fleets of fancy for days (or even weeks) – and doesn’t tend to mind if people don’t agree or seem interested in what he’s doing or the same things as him – all that matters is if he’s interested in it. I think we both like to do things that help other people. However, its clear that ‘retirement’ and FI are very different for both of us. When it comes down to it, FI is a very personal journey specific to your beliefs.
FI, getting to a point where I have enough saved to live off passive income for the rest of my life, is a state of mind. Reaching FI does not mean I go “fuck this shit” and quit my job and never look back. It means that I can, for the first time, make choices based on what I want, not constrained by the need to maintain a certain level of income. If I choose to work, I have flexibility to choose a job which fulfils what I’m looking for. Whether this is a job in the legal sector is irrelevant. Where I don’t choose to work, I can volunteer my time for others (which is the most important thing for me).
In an ideal world, I would work part-time whilst providing a much needed babysitting, pet sitting, baking, mothering and counselling service for my friends and family. I would be a part-time fairy godmother. The part-time work would enable me to maintain my link to some emergency funds (if it all goes tits-up) and I could reduce the cost burden on others by helping them out with my time for free. For Mr YFG, I think FI means him doing less stuff that annoys and frustrates him (which includes working for other people or doing what other people say) and him doing more stuff that he likes (learning about things, and sharing what he learns with others). Whilst I couldn’t bear the thought of never working again, I think Mr YFG could live without working. In that sense, I doubt I’ll ever fit “society’s” definition of retirement. But that’s fine, because its my personal journey.
Some of the comments on Mrs Frugalwoods article seemed to reek of jealousy. Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, writes aptly on envy: “Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You mostly envy those who have what you desire.” I have no doubt that many of the commentators would like to live a life like the Frugalwoods, but for whatever reason can’t or assume they can’t. Many comments under the article quickly jump to: “well that’s good for them, but not what I want – so this is all rubbish”. I think that’s a shame, because we can learn a lot from other people and the stories of their journeys – regardless of whether we want that journey for ourselves.
Separating the two concepts of FI and retirement can be difficult. I think in part because the mainstream media doesn’t have a concept of FI – you either work or you don’t. But understanding that the two are both very different and very personal is the key to understanding what you actually want in life.