There is a bit of debate among my friends, family members, and blog readers as to whether someone can be earning money and be retired at the same time. I don’t really care whether it’s called retirement, semi-retirement, or not retired at all. My goal is to do what makes me happy even if, inconveniently, someone will actually pay me to do that. Setting the controversial semantics aside, there definitely is a difference between the actual experience of “working in retirement” (I’m going to call it that because I need it to be a verb) and working before retirement.
Before retirement. Before I retired-retired (where I gave up my well-paid, well-respected profession for the full-time pursuit of goofing off), money was a renewable resource. Whatever I spent it on, it didn’t matter so much because there would be more of it coming in on the 1st and the 15th of the following month. Luxury vacations, a house cleaner, or new clothes, whatever it was I spent the money on, it didn’t matter that much because someone was always giving me more of it after I spent it.
I was also saving for retirement, but for most of those years of working, losing that job would have meant that I would have had to go get another one to support myself. Deciding that I wanted to walk out the door tomorrow was just not a practical option.
Retirement. When I did walk out that door, I had a stash of retirement funds that would carry me through the next 50 years, if I only spent a set amount of it each year. Money was no longer a renewable resource. If I spent money on a housecleaner, that meant one less dinner out that week. If I spent money on a week-long luxury vacation, that meant giving up a whole month of less luxurious travel. And if I paid someone to mow my lawn, that would limit the number of jazz concerts I could attend that year. Money went from a being a renewable resource to being a measure of exchanges. I could spend up to my budgetary total, but spending money on one thing meant giving up another thing.
Working in retirement, semi-retirement, or whatever you want to call it. When I was offered the opportunity to pick up some paid work a day or two each week, I couldn’t really see any downside. If I hated it, I could quit. If I liked it I could take that money and do some things I would want to do if only I had more money. And I had an idea for what that would be. For years I’ve been lusting after a little studio pied a terre in San Francisco. While only 30 minutes away, I miss the energy of the city and would love a little crash pad for all those nights we head up for dinner with friends, or for jazz and symphony concerts. I used to dream of owing a condo, but that’s too much commitment, that would tie me to the job forever (or require me to sell it if I wanted to quit.) So I figured, I could take the money I make and rent a furnished apartment for as long as I liked the job. That was part of the reason I took the job.
But a funny thing happened even after I picked up that retirement job. First of all, I still think of money as a unit of exchange rather than a renewable resource. If I spent the money on an apartment, that’s money I could have spent at a resort in Mexico. Secondly, the reason I retired in the first place was to enjoy freedom, freedom to do almost exactly as I please. If I rented an apartment, or hired a housecleaner, or spent the money on some other thing that upgrades my standard of living, I’d need money as a renewable resource again. And for that, I would have to exchange freedom. And that is why I won’t be spending much of the extra money I earn.
Because even if you don’t want to call it "retirement", I want the option of goofing off full-time available to me at any given moment. I don’t want to lose my freedom, and part of that freedom is knowing that I could still decide tomorrow that I would rather have the extra time than the extra money.
This is a post from Retirement: A Full-Time Job