It’s official. I’m old.
The other day I attended my first finance committee meeting for the non-profit I volunteer for. When I introduced myself and told the mostly silver-haired committee members that I retired five years ago, something happened that’s never happened before. Or should I say something didn’t happen that always happens when I say I’m retired. Not one of them said, “Retired? You’re too young to be retired!”
So I guess it’s official, not only am I retired, I’m finally old enough for it to be considered legitimate in the eyes of the world.
At the end of this month I will celebrate my five-year anniversary of being retired. As most of you know, for two of those years, I worked part-time in my old field. That caused some people to say I wasn’t really retired during those years, and now am re-retired, or something like that.
So who gets to use the word “retired” anyway?
Case Study Number One
My husband Doug retired in 2003. Well actually, he didn’t know he was retiring. The company he worked for went bankrupt after the dot-com bust, so technically, he was unemployed. It was a difficult experience, so we both thought it would be a good idea for him just to take a year off to enjoy himself before deciding what he wanted to do next.
But as it happened, we both really loved that year. He loved not working and I loved having a stay-at-home husband. It was surprisingly easy to adjust to the loss of half of our income, so it turned out to be a win-win situation.
So what’s the verdict on his retirement status? At what point did he go from being unemployed to being retired? Or, since we really still needed my income to survive, did that mean he wasn’t actually retired at all; rather should he be classified as a stay-at-home husband?
Case Study Number Two
I retired in 2008. I think most people would agree that I’m allowed to call that retired. I quit my job with enough money saved for us to live until we’re 100 without ever working again.
But then in 2010 I picked up a little part-time job. And worse yet, it was in the same field as I worked in before, so was I still allowed to call myself retired? This situation appears to fall into the gray area. While we didn’t technically need the money from that job to live, I did have bosses and deadlines and stress. But now that I’m not doing that anymore, everyone agrees that I’m officially retired.
But what about Doug? If he wasn’t really retired before I retired, does he suddenly get to be called retired once I retired? Even though he’s doing the exact same things now as he did before I retired? Or maybe he was already retired the whole time?
Case Study Number Three
I have another friend who retired even before Doug and I did. But she never called herself retired. She never ruled out working again, although she didn’t rule it in either. I guess she never felt she had to put a label on her non-working status. And over the years, she did dabble in a couple of part-time jobs, nothing nearly as lucrative as her old career though. Most people labeled her retired.
A few years ago, she had a baby and got married. Her husband works. So if she was indeed retired, does she now not get to use that designation anymore? Does she go from being retired to now being a stay-at-home mom?
Case Study Number Four
Some people like the words “financially independent” instead of “retired.” This label allows for the retiree that works even when they could opt out of work. They choose to work because it’s what they want to do, as opposed to working because they need to pay the bills.
For this example I will use a guy I call VCP (Venture Capital Partner). VCP has more than enough money to meet all of his and his family’s needs if he quit his job tomorrow. But he likes his job and would never consider not doing it. Plus he gets to play as much golf as he wants and call it work, so what’s the point of quitting work? Does this mean he’s really retired and just working in retirement?
I would think most people would not view VCP as anything even closely resembling retired. So I’m not sure the financially independent label works either.
I don’t really have a definitive answer here.
Mr. Money Mustache has some ideas. He doesn’t want to replace the word retired with financially independent either:
“The perfect word has already been invented. Are you ready to hear it? Here it is:
It’s perfect just as it is. It’s just like “Financially Independent”, but it sounds more amazing and it uses 75% fewer syllables.”
The Wall Street Journal has a great column called Second Acts. It profiles retirees whose retirements look absolutely nothing like my own. Consider these retirees:
- Jim Ferry who retired from his career as a management consultant and now works as an oyster farmer,
- Gerald Leener, retired CPA and now volunteer EMT,
- And Stephen Solosky, who turned a passion for travel into a business as a travel guide and writer after retiring from his 31-year career as a math teacher.
Some of them are earning money, some aren’t. Are they really retired? None of their retirements resemble mine.
I have to agree with Mr. Money Moustache here, “Retired means different things to different people,” and also his advice, “If someone tells you they are retired, you do not question them. You congratulate them.”
And it wouldn’t hurt to tell them they look too young to be retired either.
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