260 comments

Mr. Money Mustache vs. the Internet Retirement Police

All_Bottles“He’s not really Retired.”

“It says right in the blog that he does construction work. Also he manages his own rental houses. And has a blog. That doesn’t sound like retirement to me.”

“That Brief History of the ‘Stash stuff doesn’t add up to me. I think he’s making it all up.”

“Yes, he has a nice nest egg. But I suspect he’ll be working for a good part of the year.”

“Who the fuck”, you may ask, “are these people?”

That’s what I asked more than a year ago, when first alerted to the presence of a large number of people who I’ve never met, who were carefully and yet completely inaccurately speculating about the life and times of Mr. Money Mustache.  Lucky for me, the answer came immediately, in this brilliant poem/comment that Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme posted on this blog:

The “internet retirement police” (IRP), which you’ll meet in various online forums, have established five main directives:

In principle you can only participate in certain pre-approved retirement activities such as beach-sitting, staring out the window, and receiving visits from your grandchildren.

Traveling is also okay, as is eating “delicious food”, just make sure you don’t cook it yourself, see below. Think twice before doing anything that’s not on this list! The IRP is watching you.

The IRP does grant one exemption should you become bored with the activities above. You can work for a nonprofit organization. Make sure you’re not getting paid though even if you have to plead your case with the CEO to put in special exemptions. Accepting money obviously means you didn’t do your retirement-math and that you ran out of money a couple of years after retiring. After all, what other obvious explanation could there be? (Besides the obvious ones) If you can’t find a way to work without pay, it’s best to head back to the beach towel and sit on that.

Just to be clear: You’re most definitely NOT allowed to be a kayak-instructor in your retirement. While it may sound like a fun job that you picked yourself even if you didn’t have to, the keyword is J-O-B. You can, however, spend a Saturday morning dressed up as an elephant handing out fliers and free lemonade at the entrance. And if you really must instruct in kayaking, please avoid doing something more engaging than blogging about kayaks (and if you do blog, try not to make the blog popular… because … then the blog would be a job!).

Next, I feel like I should warn MMM readers lest they stumble into the retirement pitfall of saving money by living frugally. You can’t do that! According to the IRP saving money IS a full time job and—try to follow this—since you can’t have a job and be retired, you are not allowed to save money in retirement. You see, if you save money by doing your own cooking, you’re now WORKING as a cook, thus no longer retired.

The IRP would like you to take this to its extreme logical conclusions, e.g. you’re working as a money manager if you handle your own investments, you’re working as a gardener if you mow your own lawn, you’re working as a chauffeur if you don’t hire a driver, you’re a pro-blogger if you have a blog, and so on.

Disclaimer: All examples are taken from real world cases as presented to me by the IRP. They’re not kidding!

Jacob wrote that comment hastily in the discussion section of First Retire, Then Get Rich, but I immediately Tweeted out a link to it, sending a warning shot across the bow of the Early Retirement Police Boat. And now, at long last, we are going to sink it for good.

At issue right now, is the definition of “Retirement”.

“You’re not retired – you admit to doing an awful lot of carpentry”
 If I can somehow suppress my urge to build things and sit inside, THEN will I be retired? What about if I work only on my own house? Retired, or no?

“You’re not retired if you have a rental house”
  If the tenants never call me for any reason (as has been the case for the past two years), THEN am I retired?”.. or if I sell my rental house and transfer the money to a REIT which offers equal yield, can I be retired then? What if this is less fun?  What if I subsequently do a bunch of research on REIT funds and allocate my investment across several, rebalancing occasionally?

“You’re not retired if you have a blog that makes money – even if it’s about early retirement”
 If I take down the remaining ads, THEN can I be retired? Or is the work involved the issue? Would I be retired if I had a robot that wrote the blog for me, but I collected the revenue?

Or what if I still did the writing, but I did it only while sitting on the beach while being fed intravenously? Would I be more retired than if I wrote it from my couch at home as I do now?

“It’s a shame we don’t have a better name for all this stuff we’re doing as Mustachians. Retirement doesn’t sound right. Financial independence comes closer. Can we invent a new word for it? How about Removed?”

News Flash: the perfect word has already been invented. Are you ready to hear it? Here it is:

Retired.

It’s perfect just as it is. It’s just like “Financially Independent”, but it sounds more amazing and it uses 75% fewer syllables.

“Retired” means you no longer have to work for money, and you are aware of this fact. You can then proceed to do whatever you want, as long as you do it consciously and of your own accord. If you meet this condition, and you feel retired, congratulations, you are.

Retired probably does not mean you sit at home watching TV, venturing out only for medication or a motorized-cart-aided round of golf.  This is a subset of retirement, but only a very special case of it, for those with very advanced age or limited mobility.

Retired means different things to different people. But one of the rules of Mustachianism is that if someone tells you they are retired, you do not question them. You congratulate them.

Retirement may or may not include any of the following lifestyle attributes:

  •  the complete abandonment of alarm clocks, and a soft chuckle specially developed for anyone who tries to make you be somewhere before 9AM.
  •  a general lack of awareness of what day of the week it is
  •  a work ethic that ebbs and flows with your natural human cycle. There may be times of extreme productivity and late nights, and other times of  dormancy.
  •  work and areas of interest that change over the years, some of which might earn you money, and some of which might be neutral or even involve spending instead of earning money.

Or it can be completely different. The only rule is that you theoretically must have sufficient savings (or other assets) that you could live indefinitely off the passive income they provide, and these savings must give you the freedom to realize that any work you do is totally optional.  You don’t actually have to live off the income, it just has to be there.

So there it is – the official definition of Retirement, of which Early Retirement is just a special case.

Why does Mr. Money Mustache get to define it?
Because I have the biggest Early Retirement blog. If the Internet Retirement Police would like to supersede my definition, they will have to start their own blog, calling it something like www. mrmoneymustacheisnotreallyretired.com, build it up to be more widely read than this one, and then propose their own definition. Only at this point would the torch be passed and the definition of Retired be up for discussion.

Thousands of the Mustachians who read this blog are already Retired. Most of them still do some sort of “work”. And all of them have fists brandished in case the Internet Retirement Police dare to show their faces around the Internet again.

 

Further Reading: Jacob @ Early Retirement Extreme responded to this article a few days after publication.

  • zweipersona February 16, 2013, 7:52 am

    This is way too much text for something that demands a simple and easy to understand response (we don’t want to confuse the IRP right?)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wS5xOZ7Rq8

    Done

    Reply
  • imho February 16, 2013, 9:08 am

    Interesting discussion. I was semi retired doing consulting, and then offered full time employment on a fascinating project. I took it for the opportunity, but that comes with full immersion back into the workforce, 60 hour work weeks, etc. My time and schedule are no longer my own. However, on a macro level, it is a totally different experience.

    I no longer make decisions influenced by the fear of losing my job or not being promoted. On more than one occasion I have (privately) voiced my differing opinion to the company president. I would have thought long and hard about that before. Now, I will tell him what he needs to hear, and if he decides he wants to fire me for it, it will be his loss. Surprisingly, it resulted in him promoting me.

    On a micro level, that does not mean that there are not times I have to work weekends (which I hate) or work late into the night so the team can meet deadlines. But I always know that overall I am doing this by choice for the opportunity to work on this project, and that choice comes with some compromises, as well as a nice little cushion in the retirement calcs.

    Reply
  • Jayman2002 February 17, 2013, 12:30 pm

    Yes, I agree totally with your definition of retired. I know several people who fit your definition– business owners that are retired and still own the business but don’t really do anything day to day and receive enough income to pay all the bills and more. Also, they may happen to do something else that happens to pay them something. Isn’t that retired? Heck yes! Who said retired meant pathetic.

    I’m now lowering my lifestyle to the point that I’m going to be retired very soon too! (I was going broke and being whiny on a very significant passive income. All because I had to have….a 300HP luxury car, private clubs, food out all the time, expensive clothes, “the best” for my kids, etc. I’ve just been released from the Matrix. Thank you!).

    Reply
  • Your Boss @ What Your Boss Thinks February 18, 2013, 11:35 am

    If you think you are retired, then you are! It is a state of mind really and not a state of your daily schedule. :) We all have our own definition od retirement. I don’t really get it when people try to impose their definitions on other people. WTF really?

    Reply
  • Jenstill February 18, 2013, 10:20 pm

    Well, I don’t care what anyone else calls this way of life. For me, it has simply been an awakening. A couple weeks ago, I stumbled onto this blog from a link on Ericas blog, Northwest Edible Life. I am eternally grateful that I did. I’m a 38-year old single mother of 4 and I’ve lived my entire adult life in debt, always going from paycheck to paycheck, often unsuccessfully. I’ve been unhappy, obviously, and stressed sometimes to my breaking point, but truly had no idea there was any other way to live. I guess that makes me naive or stupid to many people, but there it is.

    I have spent so long just believing that this was the way life is, has to be, and I should just suck it up and get on with it, do the best I can. I was not a complainypants, I had just accepted that the debt-laden, depressing life I had is the only kind available tor lower to middle-class Americans. I felt lucky that I wasn’t born in the slums of , like I was “supposed” to and tried to put on happy face and make do. It always felt like something was wrong though, something missing.

    Then I found this blog. I’ve read every single post here and most of the comments. You people are brilliant and inspiring. I know it sounds exceedingly corny, but this blog, this community has literally changed my life, and by extension, the lives of my children, for the better. Something WAS wrong with our life; something WAS missing. I don’t HAVE to live the way I was shown. Spending money I don’t have for things my kids don’t really need doesn’t make me a good mom. And, refusing to spend money on things that don’t enrich our family life doesn’t make me a BAD mom. (Eureka!) There are choices and I’m allowed to make them. I will not retire in 5 years; I have too much consumer skin to shed (read: debt to repay) for that. But, I can and will pay off my debts, live more consciously, and invest our money in our family, rather than the latest shiny thing. In 10 years or less, I should be free.

    Long post, sorry. Point is: I don’t understand the hang up on what word is used. Retirement’s fine by me. So is any other word anyone wants to use, as long as you keep posting and showing people like me how to learn to really live.

    Reply
    • Christine February 19, 2013, 5:03 am

      Well written comment! I think you expressed what a lot of readers feel. :)

      Reply
    • Erica / Northwest Edible Life February 19, 2013, 12:57 pm

      This nearly made me cry. :) Welcome to your future. It’s awesome.

      Reply
    • J.Reid February 19, 2013, 5:27 pm

      Well-said, Jenstill, and thanks for sharing.

      Team Mustache (MMM, Mrs.MM *AND* all the great commenters) has changed my family’s life in macro and micro ways FOR GOOD.

      My Optimism Gun is locked and loaded!!!!

      Reply
    • meagain February 19, 2013, 5:43 pm

      Wonderful! This is the type of change of thinking that I imagine drives MMM to write this blog. Hurrah!

      Reply
    • gonefishing February 8, 2014, 11:09 pm

      Jenstill I read your post and find it inspiring to say the least. Hopeless as it may seem at times you can do this. Start with the little things and the rest will follow sooner than you think. If there is something you don’t understand or you need ideas there are a number of very intelligent people on this blog to point you in the right direction so never be afraid to ask for help and advice.

      You are not naive or stupid if you didn’t know in the first place so don’t beat yourself up about that. The naive and stupid ones are those who have been provided the information and still refuse to change and take advantage of it!

      Best of luck to you and you children!

      Mike S

      Reply
  • Freeyourchains February 20, 2013, 10:05 am

    The more passive returns i make from my investments because i saved over 60% of every paycheck starting a few years ago, the more secluded i feel on sharing this information because consumers and normal workers don’t want to hear about finances, frugality, or the many many options of investments besides a 0.01% savings account.

    It seems like the longer they have been an over consumer, the harder it is to open their mentality for even a conversation. I am glad on got on board the ERE Mustachian bandwagon as early as i did, just the only place i can even talk about it is on these blogs and relative forums/ blogs. Heaven forbid if you got to a consumer’s website’s forums and start talking about FI there!

    Reply
  • Freeyourchains February 20, 2013, 10:12 am

    A huge reminder to the story about the Mexican Fisherman and the Capitalist, the Mexican Fisherman lived a lifestyle of a Retiree his whole life, as the Capitalist worked to death for a similar lifestyle in the end of his life.

    Google Mexican fisherman and the Capitalist

    Reply
  • Freeyourchains February 20, 2013, 10:25 am

    When i was watching Star Trek: TNG, i was questioning the entire time if the officers aboard are retired or not, sense they have all they need and currency doesn’t exist anymore. Sometimes they seemed like volunteers just doing their Duty, but other times they were ordered to die for the “Federation”, like it was dying for Humanitiy’s sake.

    Then again if i were retired extremely young, i would volunteer and be loyal to a Starship Captain to get the chance to explore the mysteries of deep space, as an engineer and a friend, without the need for profits.

    Reply
  • Bill February 20, 2013, 8:08 pm

    I agree that “retired” or “financially independent” are perfectly acceptable words for mustachians to use.

    However, that language isn’t very useful, in the sense that the mustachian doesn’t really fit the terms as they are generally understood. Thus, the mustachian who uses them faces making long explanations and/or long arguments with the IRP. Which is borne out by the preceding long series of comments.

    The best descriptor I’ve found to date is “self-directed,” which incorporates the idea of being able to pick and choose the activities you engage in. “Self-employed” also isn’t bad, although it might be taken to imply that working for money is an essential element of one’s life. “FU money” also might work, although it might be taken to imply only that you are financially able to weather periods of unemployment after telling your (previous) employer “Hey bud, I’ve got FU money, so FU!!”

    Reply
  • anne-marie van der merwe February 23, 2013, 2:58 am

    I am bored with being retired. I am fit, healthy and have a lot of experience – all going to waste. There, I”ve said it.
    I am looking for a partner in a working guest farm that I want to buy in South africa (just outside of Cape Town in the Overburg area).
    Anybody out there interested in a working retirement as a partner in a busy essential oil/ wheat farm/ guest house/conferencing/wedding and game farming business?
    Call me +27 82 922 9893 or e-mail: anemari2602@gmail.com
    Retirement sucks

    Reply
  • Jeremy March 6, 2013, 8:04 pm

    I use various words to describe what we do, depending on the audience. Today we met a man in his 60’s, consciously counting pennies and living in lower cost Mexico because its the only way he can afford to not work. He also just went through a divorce and was feeling down, and coughed constantly through our conversation. I didn’t tell him I was retired, because I didn’t think he could handle it

    We also met a girl in her 20’s who was a free spirit, working the occasional seasonal job to fund her adventures, because that’s what she loves. When she asked how we can afford to travel for so long, it was from genuine interest and curiosity, so I told her I was retired. She said, “That is awesome!” with a huge smile on her face

    While visiting my grandparents before starting our travels, I also said I was retired. My grandfather, probably a card carrying member of the IRP, looked confused and said, “But not with full pay!? You are too young to be retired.” My grandma just looked at him sideways, and said, “Suck it grandpaw.” Go grandma! :-D

    Just like not dropping F-bombs in church or in court, I tailor my language based on the situation. Channeling grandma is a lot more fun though. Suck it IRP!

    Reply
  • Tony March 8, 2013, 2:46 am

    Completely agree – there’s a lot of confusion around what exactly does “retirement” really mean – I have been confused about it myself. It’s easy to see where the confusion comes in. For example, I have written computer games for fun. If I do that in retirement that’s OK, but what about if I charge for the games and make money – am I still retired? Not according to the Internet Retirement Police! I am slowly building a picture of what my “retired” (that word again) life will look like – probably a couple of years away from it now – just waiting on daughter to finish University then I’m done. Thanks for this great article!

    Reply
  • Frugal in DC April 27, 2013, 8:10 pm

    The IRP definition of retirement is nonsense. According to their standards, my parents are not retired even though they’re about to turn 80 and live in a retirement community. That is because they mainly cook all their delicious meals, don’t sit around staring at their navels all day, help care for grandchildren, and my father works part-time because he wants to. Actually my folks say that you would be surprised how many of their neighbors work at least part-time.

    I attended a retirement seminar last year in which several speakers recommended that retirees have plans for how they’re going to use their time for at least 20 hours every week. Apparently this has been proven to benefit both physical and emotional well-being. It also leads to a longer and more fulfilling life.

    Reply
  • River April 30, 2013, 10:59 am

    I like your definition of retirement.

    I’m single and looking to turn the corner toward my own early retirement at 45, though I’m still deciding whether best to sell my house with a mortgage on it or to rent out a room.

    I’m also concerned that I might fall into a rut. Maintaining a positive attitude and challenging myself to be as active and social as I have been is important to me.

    Anywho, thanks in advance for several articles that are getting me thinking outside the societal box!

    River in PA

    Reply
  • Giovanni May 8, 2013, 1:52 pm

    Boeing used to do seminars for their employees who were about to retire, hopefully they still do. Being a big company that had been around quite a while (and being full of engineers) they had built up a lot of data on their retirees in the pension plan and the most important fact they shared in the seminars was this:

    If you sit on the porch after you retire you’ll be dead in a year.

    The biggest lesson Boeing had to teach their retirees was that the IRP approved retirement would kill them in a year! This is a lesson the clearly applies to everyone including mustachian retirees and soon toos.

    Bottom line, the IRP definition will kill you early if you try to live it and there is statistical evidence from IRP sources to prove it. Clearly they need a better definition and I heartily recommend the MMM version.

    Reply
  • Doug February 5, 2014, 4:36 pm

    MMM- Love your site and blogs as I retired last June(43 yrs old). I was curious if you have a LinkedIn page. If so, I wanted to take a look at it. I wanted ideas or your thoughts about how to word this new phase of my life.

    Thanks very much.

    Doug

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 6, 2014, 10:59 am

      Nope, I try to stay away from both Linkedin and Facebook these days. But I am still fond of the term “Retired”, so if I had a profile, that is what I’d put into it :-)

      Reply
  • gonefishing February 8, 2014, 10:22 pm

    Many years ago we decided to get out of the suburban rat race and go cruise the Caribbean. Both of us were working like dogs to maintain the expected standard of the up- and- coming yuppie lifestyle and getting nowhere. We scrounged together enough cash to buy an old sailboat, spent 2 years fixing it up and then one day just sold out and left. Our neighbors and bosses couldn’t believe that we actually did it as it did not fit their perception of what was “normal”. During the 3 years we were sailing around we met many people who said “I wish we could do that” and we would reply that you can you just have to make the decision to change your concept of what’s important in life and work towards that goal. I don’t recall anyone actually stopping to consider that option as it was too far from the “normal” definitions in their lives.
    It also utterly changed our concept of how little was actually required to live a healthy, rewarding life. As a result we are both retired now, my wife since age 48 and myself at 58. The change in expectations opened our eyes and we concentrated on setting life up for “enough’ rather than “more”.

    The IRP are nothing more than victims of their definition of “normal” and are afraid of what the MMM lifestyle represents. One of your earlier posters hit it exactly when she said we force them to confront their own failure and they don’t like what they see at all. I think rather than worry about their definitions of what we “should” be we’ll stick w/ being happily “retired” and frustrate them even more.

    Mike & Susan

    Reply
  • David March 20, 2014, 10:55 am

    MMM,

    In Spanish the word for retirement is “jubilado” which translates to mean “jubilated”! I always liked this idea better than the word “retired”.

    PS: first time commenting on all of these blog posts as I read through every post from the beginning of time!

    Reply
  • Nicola October 12, 2014, 3:13 pm

    Hi
    I have only just found this website and been enjoying reading through the different articles.
    However on this article what are this guys plans for his retirement? Mine are (and its still far off as I dont even own a house yet), I want to be a postie, I always have. Why – I am an early morning person and would love to get out in the mornings and ride delivering the mail. A friend of mine wants to be a gas station forecourt attendant (i am not from the USA and we have these), and yet another a Stop/Go man on the roadworks gangs. Retirement is what you want to do, it is what you make it, like everything else in life.

    Reply
  • Frank October 17, 2014, 8:19 am

    MMM- Certified financial planner Eric D. Brotman, author of “Retire Wealthy” has your back!

    “When you have achieved enough financial wherewithal to eschew any and all income-producing activities other than those you want to pursue, in my mind you are “retired.” In other words, it is the absence of needing to work, not the absence of working that defines retirement.”
    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/everyone-adopt-alternative-definition-retirement-161854716.html

    Reply
  • Kim October 28, 2014, 7:40 pm

    I’ve never heard of the IRP before but I’ve certainly been asked if I’m retired (I have been for over 7 years).
    My standard reply is that I’m not retired, I’m just tired.
    I’m just so busy doing the things I love doing. My income has increased since retiring so I’m reasonably happy with the result though it still hasn’t reached my goal. I’m earning (if that’s the right word) more than twice in passive income what I was earning in active income when I was in business. How good is that!?
    I’ll get to “retired” when I’m permanently horizontal!

    Reply
  • Rollie November 6, 2014, 1:51 pm

    “Internet Retirement Police” is a bit too flattering because it implies someone with power/authority whose orders you have to like, give a shit about. It’s just ordinary internet trolls. Or in this blog’s terminology, complainypants’s… pantssss, pantseses, compl… never mind.

    Interesting response anyway, regardless. Not yours, theirs. In the Kübler-Ross model, it’s pretty clear we’re dealing with Anger & Denial. And the loss being grieved-for is actually many-faceted and of considerable heft, including at a minimum, the loss of the comfort of not feeling like a total fucking chump steeped in lies your whole life. Having a belief demolished, even if it was a lie and the truth is the demolisher, can be a big shock!

    Reply
  • David April 5, 2016, 8:00 pm

    According to the triple M definition I have been retired since my mid 40s. I just didn’t realize it until I started reading this blog about a year ago. When I hit that point where I didn’t need a regular paycheck I started doing fun jobs with little regard to the wages. Since then I have been a whitewater rafting guide, snowmaker at a major New England resort, wilderness recreation guide, wild mushroom forager, hobby farmer and occassional remodeling contractor. Snowmaking is my favorite of these pursuits because I love the challenge of staying comfortably warm and avoiding injury while dealing with subzero temperatures, steep icy terrain, high pressure water and 480 volt electricity. There’s also the pride of giving the skiers a quality product and the beauty of the night sky in winter. Bonus: Northern Lights!!! If I didn’t already have a substantial nest egg I couldn’t afford to have this much fun.
    Since I can do what I want I guess it means I am retired. If I get paid for doing what I want it’s even better. The big question is will I be physically able to keep having this much fun when I reach “retirement age”?

    Reply
  • The Californian May 10, 2018, 1:26 pm

    I’m not sure if financially independent and retired are the same. President Trump was financially independent decades ago, but can we really call him a retiree? How about the Rolling Stones? They are certainly financially independent, but if they are retired, why have they been “coming out of retirement” to do another tour?

    Financial independence provides independence from the need to work for a living. Paris Hilton was born financially independent. Retirement means not working anymore, except for pleasure. So — respectfully — I disagree with declaring financial independence and retirement as synonymous.

    Reply
  • Rick April 2, 2019, 12:57 pm

    This is gold… just pure gold.

    “Or what if I still did the writing, but I did it only while sitting on the beach while being fed intravenously? Would I be more retired than if I wrote it from my couch at home as I do now?”

    LOL! Like, how do you top this comment? And it really speaks to the kind of person that argues with being ‘retired’. There’s no winning with those people anyway.

    MMM’s the man. Keep spreading the joy dude.

    Reply

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