Imagine you’re a 44 year old male. You’ve spent the last 15 years consistently working 40-45 hours a week for your company. You have a nice, large 401k that you’ve been diligently adding to each paycheck, with help from your employer’s six percent match. You’ve even convinced your loving wife to be just as disciplined with hers. In as few as ten, perhaps nine, years, you calculate that you’ll finally hit that magic number and retire.
But things have changed of late. You haven’t taken a vacation in two years, instead cashing the days out to add to your retirement account. You used to enjoy the job, but the routine is getting old and you find yourself increasingly ornery and ill-tempered. Just a few more years, you think, and you will finally be able to break free.
Then, BAM! You’re hit by a bus.
I’m not suggesting cashing out your 401k and buying an Audi R8. First of all, a good chunk would be taken out by Uncle Sam in penalties, not to mention the even bigger chunk in taxes (assuming it’s not a Roth). It’s important to be disciplined with your finances, and a 401k helps with that.
As usual, this post was inspired by an article. I’d heard of Timothy Ferriss’ book The Four-Hour Workweek before, but only in the context of Virtual Assistance, which seemed a dubious concept at the least. However, this time it struck a very personal chord. A few years ago, with my roommates shortly before moving to Utah from Rochester, NY, I had proposed a similar idea:
“I think I’m just going to work for a year at a time, save some money, then quit and travel for a few months. When I get bored, I’ll come back and get another job, and repeat.”
Hmm. I didn’t really take myself seriously, as I was more concerned at the time with finding a job to pay rent next month. But this “mini-retirement” idea is very, very powerful, and could help answer some very deep questions about the nature of work, society, and their roles in personal happiness. Why squander the best years of your life at a job you’re not passionate about? Why put off all your hopes, dreams, and desires for thirty years until you’re too old to take advantage of them? (Ironically, my parents are excellent examples of having happy, fulfilling lifestyles funded through traditional retirement savings.)
Which brings me to my point. Saving for the future (or anything, really) is never a bad thing, unless it negatively impacts your happiness now. Live (and love) your life while you can. If you feel stuck, change something. There are always alternatives to the lifestyle you’re living; you just have to be brave enough to step outside of the societal norms.