In which I tackle skeptics from the New York Times.

Articles on the FIRE movement inevitably draw out skeptics in the comments section. Some people ask sensible questions in a neutral tone; others call us fools and worse. Either way, what they say is thought-provoking.

As an early retiree I’d like, then, to deal with several such comments that arose after I appeared in the NYT latest article about FIRE: “Your Questions About FIRE, Answered.”1

In no particular order:

——

I’m guessing that by “ones needs” the author of this comment is saying that people who have retired early are of small benefit to society because they’re mainly focused on self-gratification rather than using their time and wealth to improve the lives of others.

This is one of the most common opinions people have about FIREees, and I can only reply with a piece I wrote some time ago in response to a guy who was struggling with that very idea. As he put it:

“[H]ow do FI people deal with not being a productive member of society? I’m afraid I won’t accomplish anything that society would deem worthy of my life. I feel like if when I hit FI I will just want to go hiking, game, go to the dog park, read.”

To which I answered:

You say that as if it’s shameful, but your assumption is false. Being early-retired does not automatically make one a non-productive member of society. Viz:

How about leveraging your pastimes into Big Brothers/Big Sisters? There are kids out there who have little or no exposure to positive adult role models. Hiking, gaming, taking them to the dog park, and reading books with them are wonderful ways to get them that exposure.

And imagine the power of reaching one kid. One kid who grows up to be, instead of a convicted felon, an individual who’s community-minded and family-oriented and concerned with social justice.

Do you see the multiplier effect? You touch that person and that person touches countless others. All because you spent time sharing activities you enjoyed with another human being.

Does that satisfy the societal definition of “productive”? Fuck it; who cares? The question is, does it satisfy yours? I’m guessing you’ll think it does, and if so, would pursuing it assuage or even destroy your guilt?

I think it’s reasonable to assume we as early retirees have more time to share than the average full-time worker. So we should share…and many if not most of us do. If nothing else, we’re refusing to sell our time for less than it’s worth for the enrichment of others–financially, at least–and those of us who practice frugality are in our own way dialing down the toxicity of modern consumer culture.

So again, it’s flat wrong to assume that having retired early automatically makes us primarily selfish and therefore non-productive members of society.

Moving on…


So many problems with that statement. To discuss just a couple:

“…retiring in their 30’s and then asking their kids to work throughout high school to pay for their own college?”

So you think caring for your kids responsibly requires you to pay for their college.

You might view this as a copout, but I can tell you that as early retirees we’re of course trying to teach our kids the idea that people should work for what they want. But given the student debt crisis we’d also like them to have a good grasp on cost-benefit analysis. If my daughter projects a student debt load and decides to skip college and go to welding school, I applaud her decision. If she decides to join the military, I applaud her decision. If she decides to take a gap year so she can grow her perspective and make a more informed decision about her life direction, I applaud her decision. And if even if she goes straight to college to learn, I don’t know, how to separate stones from gravel…I applaud her decision.2

But others of us do NOT ask our kids to pay for their own college. For just a single example, I’ve set my daughter up a 529 which across time has grown to roughly $75,000 . However, I haven’t told her about it. I’ve instead discussed with her how expensive tuition is and how she’ll need to work very hard in high school if she wants a shot at scholarships. And so far, she is.

…supposed to be a responsible adult caring for my minor children!

By “caring” do you mean actually spending time with them? Together? In each other’s presence? Let me ask you, then: do you have a job? If so, how many hours a week do you miss with your kids because of it?

Or are we talking about going to work to earn money to put food on the table? That’s an EXCELLENT decision; one you have my full respect for. And I ask you to return that respect. Early retirees also work to feed our families; it’s just that we do so in such a way as to allow us to now do so from money management rather than from salary.3

But again, I’m guessing you equate caring for your children with paying for their college. I’m fine with that. So be fine with the way I do it too. Because we all love our kids, yes?


The last issue, one for which I don’t have a screenshot, is the one that provokes the most name-calling…usually to the effect that early retirees are parasites on society. To wit: healthcare subsidies, and here’s how these comments are often phrased:

“You need a good throat-punch, asshole. You’re stealing taxes from my family to pay for your healthcare even though you’re rich and you can afford it yourself. Fuck you. I hope your house burns down.”

People really say stuff like that.

Let me address such people directly. Listen…rhetorical hyperbole aside, I recognize that you and I aren’t gonna change each other’s minds today. What I’d like to do, then, is simply explain the philosophy behind the decision many early retirees make to accept a health insurance subsidy.

First, I don’t think “two wrongs make a right.” I don’t think that if, say, one of my kids steals a Kinder Egg from the grocery store that I’ll be telling the other one, “It’s OK…your brother stole one first, so it’s fine for you to do it too.”

So if you’re telling me it’s wrong for me to accept a tax-funded healthcare subsidy, I have to ask you to consider examples of the subsidies you accept. For example: do you take a mortgage deduction from your income tax? Do you pay sales tax on the purchases you make across state lines, as your state government almost certainly requires? Do you go to a church where politics are preached from the pulpit even though it operates tax-free?

And most of all: do you realize that the health insurance you get through your job is taxpayer-subsidized? And that the total amount of those subsidies is five times more than the total subsidies received by people who get their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act?

Just think about that stuff before you threaten to throat-punch me, man. The main reason you’re coming down so hard on individual health insurance subsidies is that it’s the hot-button issue of the day. But you don’t get to cherry-pick, and neither do I. You won’t find me calling you an asshole or hoping your house burns down simply because the government’s helping you afford the place.


 There are certainly more such comments; more such issues. I should probably work up another article on them, but we’re now over 1,300 words and my little SEO widget is screaming at me to wrap this thing up. So I will.

Thoughts? Especially from skeptics?


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Footnotes

  1. Yeah, I’m beating this dead horse with the canoe paddle I misplaced when I was trying to survive shit creek…but give me a break; I’m entitled to bask for a few days.
  2. I may not understand it, but it’s her life, not mine…and as long as she’s not turning tricks to pay for meth or whatever, we’re cool.
  3. Which, yes, requires a lot of time and effort.

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit http://EarlyRetirementDude.com or email EarlyRetirementDude@gmail.com.

15 thoughts

  1. It’s crazy what some people will write. It’s hard to focus on the positive ones or ones with valid comments ,when the tone of the majority are negative.

    Like your answers to above. I just skipped reading the comments section of that article altogether.

    1. I’ve never yet understood why people will say absolutely horrible shit to strangers online when they’re most likely good/decent/etc. people in person. Maybe I have too much faith in human nature? Maybe they’re just having a bad day? Who the hell knows.

  2. I do a lot of volunteer work as a slightly early retired guy. But no more than I did while working. In fact, of my other retired friends, I can’t think of a single one that volunteers more now than when working. I honestly do think early retirees do not volunteer as much as full time workers do. I have no idea why but I think it might be an unwillingness to be tied to a schedule after escaping a regimented life.

    I get a little miffed because my one day a week consulting income blows me way past the health insurance subsidy limits yet others with similar net worths pay little. I pay $16,000 per year. I’m not mad at those who are getting a free ride but a means test that considered invested assets might be fairer. It seems ill conceived for the government to provide that kind of disincentive for working part time in early retirement.

    1. It’s a weird thing: to say that “Mr. Ooofy gets a subsidy” is essentially meaningless when Mr. Ooofy lives on the proceeds from capital gains. He has no idea what his MAGI’s gonna be by the end of the year, so the most prudent thing he can do is budget as if he’s paying the whole premium himself.

      And yeah, you’re in an unfortunate middle ground between tax-free employer subsidies and ACA market subsidies. It’s a big frigging tangle that I’ve lost hope will ever get sorted out.

      Curious: I’ve thought a great deal about how means testing could be feasible in the ACA context. You say “invested assets,” but wouldn’t that just incentivize people to shift to assets exempted from testing? And what about pre-tax accounts? Not wanting to start any kind of debate; just interested in a discussion of the nuts & bolts of such a system.

  3. “Curious: I’ve thought a great deal about how means testing could be feasible in the ACA context. You say “invested assets,” but wouldn’t that just incentivize people to shift to assets exempted from testing? And what about pre-tax accounts? Not wanting to start any kind of debate; just interested in a discussion of the nuts & bolts of such a system.”

    A lot of people have the fear that their registered accounts (tax advantaged accounts) could be used for income testing. It would be the easiest to gather information from since the data already exists. The government could pass a law that says if you have X amount of dollars you are no longer eligible for social security, tax deductions, or subsidies. Two things prevent this 1. The government which passed the law would likely get a lot of backlash and thrown out of office.
    2. People would withdraw all their money and not stop using these types of registered accounts.

    1. >2. People would withdraw all their money and not stop using these types of registered accounts.

      That’s what I was thinking. Depending on the loopholes, of course, people would be paying off mortgages, buying near cash-equivalent assets like physical gold, finding ways to hide money overseas, etc. And if property became a tested assets? Good luck finding it, and for sure, good luck appraising it.

  4. Wow, you cared enough to response to the NYC haters? 😉 We all do weird things for fun I guess!

    The comments on mass media articles all boil down to a few emotional root causes. Jealousy, fear, envy, resentment. People who are broke are jealous and envious of your ability to flip the world the bird and do whatever you want. Some might have a little cash but are too afraid to actually pull the plug. And others resent you for setting yourself up in a comfortable fashion. Screw ’em!

    1. To expand on your point: I take these comments incredibly seriously, which is why I tried to frame my responses positively.

      The people who leave comments like these are insufficiently and perhaps completely uninformed in personal finance matters. So while what they say may arise from emotion, I think that emotion arises from Dunning-Kruger set up by 1) the typical American citizen’s shitty financial education, 2) material consumption brainwashing, and 3) inability to conceive of anything other than birth-school-work-death as a “normal” and “productive” path.

      That said, they’re the ones who choose to express their oft-uninformed opinions in a public forum. Tragic, really, that the ideas they present as solutions are so often signs of a larger problem.

  5. Ugh, I was rolling my eyes so hard at these comments. I think people just want to diss something they don’t understand. They think it’s impossible to achieve and use character attacks (that often don’t make sense) to discredit a different way of living. For shame.

    1. >They think it’s impossible to achieve

      “I can’t believe it’s possible; therefore it must not be true.”

      And the sad thing is that people will say this when the evidence is right there in front of them.

      1. “There are four lights!” (Star Trek The Next Generation reference)

        Has the mass media brainwashed the masses so much that they will not see reality/facts?

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