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Do You Use Work As An Excuse Not To Reach Financial Independence?

I sometimes get into conversations with friends of mine who wonder why I’m trying to save so much money.  When I tell them that I’m doing it because I’d love to be able to retire early, I’m often met with the same response: “I couldn’t imagine myself not working.  I’d get too bored.”

I’m sure those of you on the path to financial independence have heard that same remark as well.  It’s all well and good, mind you.  There’s nothing wrong with working.  If you like your job, by all means, you should keep doing it.  Honestly, if I ever do reach financial independence, I’ll probably keep working too.  Perhaps not in a traditional 9-5 job, but I’d probably do something that I find fun.

My problem isn’t with people who say they enjoy working.  That’s totally fine.  It’s that I find that people who tell me they like working often use that, not as a plan, but rather, as an excuse for why they’re not saving very much.  Or they use it as a reason to criticize my own drive to save money.

Enjoying work doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push yourself to save as much money as possible.  It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t test yourself to see how much you really need in order to live well.  And it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to reach financial independence

Even if you have no intention of retiring, you still need to save money.  And in fact, the only true way to know if you enjoy working is to save aggressively to the point where you could retire early, if you wanted to.  If you need the income from your job, you can never really know if you’re working right now because you really like it, or if you’re working because you need the job and don’t have a choice.

Using Work As An Excuse Not To Save

There’s an intuitive logic at play here for people who say they don’t want to retire.  It goes something like this.  I enjoy working so I don’t plan to ever stop working.  If I don’t plan to retire, then I’ll always have income coming in.  If I have income coming in, then I don’t need to save all that much money.  Accordingly, it’s okay that I’m not saving a lot of money.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it’s not a plan.  It’s an after-the-fact excuse used to justify a weak savings muscle.  Think about these folks who say they never want to stop working and use it as a justification for why they don’t save.  If they’re not saving their money, then presumably they’re spending it on stuff.  What are they spending their money on?  In my experience, it’s usually on stuff they do outside of work – things like buying a fancy house, driving a nice car, going out to eat at expensive restaurants, and maybe all sorts of other stuff that really aren’t all that important when you think about it.

These folks might like working, but do they actually like working?  It’s hard to tell.  To me, it looks like they’re working because they like having the income to spend on stuff for when they’re not at work.  If you’re working in order to have money to buy stuff, it really raises questions in my head as to whether you really enjoy working, or whether it’s just being used as an excuse.  It also makes me wonder – why not save that money so that you can eventually spend all of your time doing the things you like to do outside of work?

Reach Financial Independence As Soon As Possible And Give Yourself Choices

People who say they like their jobs should still aim to reach financial independence as soon as they can.  Just think about the type of comfort someone can have knowing that they don’t need any of their income from their job.  When there’s no reliance on the paycheck, you can just work because you want to work.

I think the feeling I get from my side hustles is a good example of what financial independence must feel like (another good reason to pick up a side hustle).  Part of the reason I enjoy my side hustles is because I don’t need any of the income from it.  The money helps me for sure.  I save all of it and it’ll definitely help me reach financial independence sooner.  But I don’t need the money.  My savings rate would still be fine without it.

I do my side hustles because I enjoy them.  They teach me something.  And it’s my decision whether I do these side hustles or not.  I don’t need to Airbnb a room in my house.  Nor do I need to watch dogs or dig through trash or bike around town delivering food to people.  I do it because I want to do it.  And if I ever thought it wasn’t fun anymore, I’d just stop doing it.  Most people who tell themselves they don’t save because they like working aren’t in a position to just walk away if they wanted to.

Financial Independence Is The Only Way To Know If You Really Like Working

The only real way to know if you like working is to get to the point where the income from your work is meaningless.  This is why, even if you never plan to quit working, you should still be pushing yourself to reach financial independence as soon as possible.  Anytime you’re working for for a paycheck, by necessity, you’re working because of the income, not because of the work.

You might enjoy the work, sure.  But if you need the income, it’ll always cloud your view of how much you really enjoy it.  We’ll tell ourselves we enjoy anything if we have no choice in the matter.  I don’t doubt that some people really enjoy what they do.  But if you’re not saving and are telling yourself that it’s because you like working, really think about that some more.

Enjoying work and reaching financial independence aren’t mutually exclusive.  You can still do both.  Whenever I hear someone tell me that they aren’t saving as aggressively as I am because they enjoy working, I always wonder why that’s deemed an acceptable excuse.  Working should help you reach financial independence as soon as you can.  It shouldn’t be used as a crutch to justify why you’re avoiding saving.

46 Comments

  1. You should check out my new post from today! I wrote it because of the exact same reason. The are lots of good reasons to pursue FI, even if you love working. 16 off the top of my head. 🙂

    • Great minds think alike! Your 16 reasons are way more than my one reason!

  2. dn dn

    your point “… as Soon As Possible And Give Yourself Choices” is the most salient. Many people don’t consider that maybe 15 to 20% of people don’t reach full retirement age due to health issues, either theirs or partner/kids/parents. In addition, people may not be considering that as hard as they work, workplace situations change (company tanks, industry tanks, bosses change, corporate culture tanks, economy tanks) and its helpful to have options then. Think of FI as just another form of insurance then, insuring you have options for when things that are largely out of your control transpire.

    • That’s a great point! It’s exactly why enjoying work isn’t a reason to not save aggressively. We never know what the future holds. And totally right, I didn’t think about it, but most people don’t just retire into the sunset out of their own choice. It’s often a result of age, health, or something else happening. But if you can reach FI when you’re younger, you leave the decision to walk away in your own hands.

  3. This sounds EXACTLY like the haters on our blog. “Oh I don’t need to become FI. My job is perfect.” “Why would I save money when I’m making 100K a year?” blah blah blah.

    Okay, a “perfect job” isn’t going to be perfect forever. You have zero control over that. AND just because you’re FI doesn’t mean you have to quit you job. It just gives you more options.

    I really like how you put it as “are you really perfectly happy at your job? Or is it an excuse not to save any money?” So true.

    • Right! The “I like my job” argument always seems like an excuse to me. It’s not a plan. And just because you like working doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aggressively save. What’s wrong with saving after all?

    • Excellent point, FIRECracker, regarding just because you’re FI doesn’t mean you have to quit your job. I really hope to reach FI within the next 5-7 years so I can quit my job. Only after I quit will I truly understand if I really liked my job -OR, if it is something I liked because it enabled me to save a significant amount of money.

  4. “I couldn’t imagine myself not working. I’d get too bored.”

    Ha! I love it when I hear this response. Do you seriously have no hobbies? No dreams/goals to pursue? I think people just rationalize their laziness for not saving more.

    I have found what is close to a perfect job and it has actually motivated me to save more. I could never imagine myself going back to working for a non-meritocratic company. So I’m trying to save as much as possible to give myself options if anything ever happens to my job.

    • Exactly. I think it’s more often an excuse to justify not saving. Makes a ton of sense to be saving a ton even if you’ve got a job you like. You never know what tomorrow might bring.

      • TJ TJ

        I think it really dehumanizes the legitimate concern that people have of getting bored in retirement to chalk it up as people expressing that just so that they can be lazy about saving?

        I save a huge percentage of my income, some months have been as high as 75%. I don’t say I am scared of being bored in retirement because I want to be lazy and not save. Because i do save. It’s a legitimate concern that I won’t stay busy if I don’t have structure in my life. If left to my own devices, why wouldn’t I just lounge around and goof off on the internet or whatever? That’s how I spend a lot my non-working time now.

        It’s great that some people have all these dreams and goals that they apparently don’t have enough time to pursue, but I already pursue my hobbies because my job is confined to 8 hours day 5 days a week and I can shut that down when I’m not working to pursue hobbies. I’m lucky that some of my hobbies are profitable or end up saving me money.

        For me, it’s always been, it seems smart to save as much as possible so that some day I will not have to work and can live a more leisurely lifestyle and not be forced to work for financial motivation. But that statement is oozing with so much privilege. And as I get closer to that becoming a reality, the purpose of life starts to become more of a focus on my mind. Maybe working’s not such a bad way to spend my time? Maybe a life focused on total leisure is a little selfish and not helpful to my fellow humans?

        I don’t think it’s so black and white that retired = good, structured work = bad.

        I guess my longwinded point is that people have the right to have and express a fear of boredom in retirement because it’s a real fear from where i sit.

        Anyone who is using that as a justification to not save is obvious foolish, but remember that it’s a spectrum rather than a dichotomy.

        • It’s a good point, and I’m sure I’m generalizing when I say this – just in my experience, most of the time when I hear this, it’s used as an excuse or a justification for why saving isn’t a priority, rather than a plan to not save. It’s one thing to actively decide not to save. It’s another when folks aren’t saving and then come up with the after the fact justification that they want to work forever. I guess the difference in my mind is whether idea of not saving is a conscious decision made beforehand, or an unconscious decision made after the fact.

    • Agreed! Why don’t these people try and volunteer if they REALLY have nothing to do, but don’t tell me if you’re not working all you do is sit around and stare at a wall. And congrats on the job!

  5. Reaching FI means that your passive income roughly covers your expenses. If you get such comments, that means they’re coming from people with max 10-15% saving rate. Let’s say they really like what they do. That’s great. But I don’t believe any of them would say that they wouldn’t be happy with nearly double of their present income…

    • Good point! I might use that one in the future. If you like working so much, imagine how much money you’ll have when you’re financially independent and are still earning an income. They could spend all of it and still cover their expenses. Pretty crazy when you think about it like that.

  6. Totally agree. Setting money aside is so much about creating security and options – what if something happens and you can’t work? Or being able to choose to take time off and experiment with a new venture or even one day choosing to leave a high paying field and volunteer your services or work for a non profit for a lot less money. Any number of things can lead to a life change. Anyways, just preaching to the choir…

    • I’m sensing a theme here! Seems like reaching FI is a form of insurance for most people. I like that way of thinking.

      • dn dn

        To follow up with the insurance theme (that I’ll take some credit for mentioning that first 🙂

        So consider that you pay into auto/home/heath insurance and if you are lucky, you never/rarely draw from it. I have never filed a home insurance claim, minimal medical, been lucky and never had any kind of auto claim. And if you think about it, on average, we all must pay in more than is cumulatively drawn out (and the delta must then be profit for the insurer). So you could pay $$ into insurance over your lifetime and never realize any benefit out of it. And cumulatively, we realize less benefit from it than we pay into it (again, due to profits to the insurer).

        However, the best thing about FI is its the only insurance that is pretty much guaranteed to pay you back! Your deposits into this insurance fund of yours grows (as its invested) and is always there for you to use, if need be. Furthermore, it pays you periodically with dividends and interest. With this insurance, you get something infinitely more valuable out of it, besides 100%+ of your money back (assuming some returns), you get freedom, which is actually priceless. So the value of this insurance, is priceless divided by your $ you put in, which as a ratio is infinite! Hows that for a good value?

        So when people bemoan the fact that that saving for FI is somehow a waste, they are mistaken. They really are buying one of the best insurance policies that can be had.

        • You get all the credit for the insurance theme! And wow, that’s a really good way to think about it. It’s basically insurance that pays you back guaranteed. But why get that insurance when I could go out and buy a giant house that I can barely afford?

  7. Great read FP! People using the work forever strategy are betting on two big things:
    1. Their motivation will never wane. A lot of people lose their motivation as they get older which is totally natural and okay. What’s not okay is not having a financial cushion to fall back on.

    2. Their job will still be there for them in the future. Automation is taking over the world. Yes, there will still be jobs, but they will be fewer and fewer. Betting on working forever is a huge risk given your job may go away or your health may no longer allow you to do you job.

    • dn dn

      Another thing glossed over by people is just agism. You don’t feel it in your 20s through early 40s and it seems unlikely, but just wait until you are older and look around and realize that its actually a thing. Being FI prepares you for that eventuality so that you could possibly negotiate your own severance (a la a Financial Samuri-ish move).

      • Agism is definitely there. I was an employment attorney in my prior job and saw this pretty regularly. Losing a job when you’re young is much better then losing a job when you’re older. It’s not uncommon to see an older person with a lot of experience take years before getting another job. High level executive positions aren’t always available.

    • Agreed on both points! There’s a lot of assumptions people are making about how long they can or will want to work.

  8. Great points! Although for me, I need to have a better plan and idea of what exactly I want to retire to. I’d be interested to read a post about what your goals are for your family when you FIRE.

    My job is okay but I definitely crave the freedom that FIRE would allow me. However, it does feel like it’s going to be a long journey because we live in a high cost area with no plans to leave. Part of me sometimes wonders if perhaps I should just put FIRE goals on the back burner and loosen the purse strings. No, I’m not going to be a spendthrift…it’s just not in my nature.

    • That’s a good idea for a future post. I’ll say right now that Ms. FP has no plans for FIRE. She’s not against reaching FI, but she’s not planning to retire early. For myself, honestly, I just want to be a full time delivery man I think…

  9. I like the concept. Coming from a partially physical line of work I am very aware that I’m one significant injury from the end of my career. Whether it’s the back, knees, or a horrible traffic collision, it could all end tomorrow. It’s a good reason to love what I do before it’s gone, but appreciate that it could end soon and every bit I prepared makes the rest easier. (Especially since its becoming more acceptable in certain circles to literally “fight the law.” Whatever happened to non violent resistance? Ah the good old days.)

    But I digress, go savings!

    • You’re definitely in a unique job compared to other people. Someone who could get hurt and physically become unable to work need to hustle even more now that I think about it.

  10. FP – I always wondered why you left your job to take a big pay cut, but you were doing these side hustles. Now I understand!

    This is an excellent post. I totally agree with, “But if you need the income, it’ll always cloud your view of how much you really enjoy it.” Which is why I’m excited to work toward my dollar goal to hit FI, quit my job, and then reflect back to see how much I actually enjoyed my job.

    • Haha, I mean, the side hustles are just for fun really. I don’t need any of the income from it. I took the paycut for personal reasons mainly, but surprised myself when I found out that I didn’t need all that income I was making before. Looking forward to when we both hit FI one day!

  11. I hear this excuse all the time! Saving money and reaching FI early is hard, and it’s so much easier to justify not doing it.

    I live in an oil town and when things are good people easily forget the downturn 5 years before. A lot of the layoffs recently have been people over 50 who thought they’d have time to save until they were 65 and can now no longer afford to pay their mortgages, let alone retire. Their high salaries are gone and aren’t coming back. It’s a really scary situation and I’ve had more than one friend tell me they pay their 60-year old parent’s mortgage.

    • Thanks for sharing that info Jamie. I don’t have a lot of experience in oil towns, but I know that in North Dakota, there were huge boom times over the past bunch of years and that it’s now starting to die off. I know lots of folks without much education were making six figures. Unfortunately, I bet a lot of those people didn’t save their money away and like you said, they might not ever see that type of income again.

  12. The reality these folks often forget is retirement may not be optional at some time in the future. Ageism exists, so do health issues. Either could force you out of the workforce before your ready. For this reason I argue while retirement doesn’t need to be everyone’s goal, financial independence must be.

    • People often forget that you just can’t physically work forever. Even if you like work, you might just be forced to retire. Much better to have the choice yourself of when you walk away.

  13. Brian Brian

    On the other side you won’t know if you have over saved until you reach FIRE either
    The mad fientist said he saved to much but did not realize it until fire.
    Example taking a high paying High pressure job for 10yrs to max out income and then fire may leave you with no time to travel and enjoy your twenties.
    But go going slower like fire at 20yrs you can enjoy more of what life has to offer.
    Traveling in your twenties is not the same as your thirties or sixties.

    • That’s true and I don’t exactly know how to argue against it. The only thing I can say is that reaching FI doesn’t necessarily mean depriving yourself now. It just means choosing the stuff that matters to you more. You can travel in your 20s while still hustling for FI. You’d just have to cut down on something else instead.

  14. DS DS

    Great post! This certainly got my wheels churning about the excuses I make. Lately I’ve been craving more independence in my career, so this post is very, very timely. Thank you for the motivation!

  15. You make some great points here, FP. Saving gives you plenty of options, whether you like working or not. For us, we knew we’d be happy quitting our jobs as they didn’t define us (and at times, seemed quite stupid to be honest). Full Time Finance’s point is also well taken – sometimes the choice to leave is thrust upon you and having nothing to fall back on is detrimental.

    • Thanks Mrs. Groovy. I sort of feel the same way when it comes to my job. I don’t really feel it defines me either, and my hope is that I can make the jump one day on my own terms.

  16. People are crazy. Independence just means you can do what you want – not that you have to do anything. I think it’s so strange how many people just miss the point.

    • I wonder whether it’s people missing the point or just making excuses. It’s probably a combination of both I imagine. I know I justify tons of stuff that probably that really isn’t all that smart.

  17. Jay Jay

    Thanks for the intriguing post FB. I hadn’t thought about how work could be a crutch to avoiding financial independence. But you’ve definitely given me some food for thought today. I totally agree it’s an after-the-fact justification. So thank you again for sharing your insightful perspective, and have a great weekend!

  18. I am definitely not one to say I am in love with my job, but even if I did financial independence is something that I strive for. To work and not necessarily need the income really shows just how much you enjoy working. I’ve heard the “I’d get bored” statements before, but I never really thought of how that point-of-view could hinder someone. Great post.

    • Thanks Dyana! I didn’t think about it too much either until I started realizing that a lot of friends who didn’t save that often always had that as an answer. It felt like an excuse, rather than a plan.

  19. Retiring early has become less of priority recently but I still want the freedom to choose if I so wish. So I’ll continue to save save save, and choose later if I want to retire. I was recently talking to some people in their early 50s both in a position to retire, but who aren’t ready yet. That’s fair enough, but they have the choice so if they want or need to stop working, they can.

    • That choice is what’s key! We can all make excuses about why we save or don’t save. What matters is whether it’s a real choice or whether the rationale is just an excuse!

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