Not Waiting to be Rich

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial adviser. He is married, has three kids and plans to retire at age 35.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

The lottery has been in the news lately. In BC, a couple just won $50 million. If you are between 30 and 40 years old, that’s $1 million per year for the rest of your life. That’s a lot of money. What would you do with that much money? I can assume that most of us would squirrel away a large portion of it. And since the topic is early retirement, I suppose that most of us would quit work and do all the things we’ve been planning for later, once we are financially independent. But let’s take this thought experiment a step further. What will your life look like once you are financially independent?

I enjoy reading and writing. My wife enjoys reading and horseback riding. We both feel strongly about public education and want to improve the education system here. Now look back over that list. Which of those things takes money to achieve? I have realized that my ideal life takes some money, but much of it takes a commitment of time. What’s stopping me from doing some of these things now? I feel that it would be unfortunate to postpone all my happiness to a time in the future. So besides the time I spend working or parenting my kids, I try to spend some time every week doing the things that are important to me. I read and write, I go horseback riding with my wife and we are trying to be involved in local groups that support public education. I’m not able to spend quite as much time as I’d like on these projects, but I my life feels more meaningful than when I focus entirely on work and waste the rest of my time.

I’m not saying I don’t need money to be happy. But once the needs of my family are met, other aspects of my life take on more importance. A wonderful example of people who have found meaning outside of money is a couple in Nova Scotia who won $11 million in the lottery. They gave a portion to family members, they kept a small amount for an emergency fund, and they donated the rest to charity. They reasoned that they had all the things they really needed or even wanted and that others could benefit more from the money. Almost everyone would agree that they were rich when they had $11 million. And they are richer now that they’ve given it all away. It takes more than money and owning stuff to really be happy. They must have also been rich before their lottery win, since they were happy with the life they had.

Money doesn’t change people. It just magnifies what we already are. If early retirement is about amassing enough money to be able to retire, it’s equally about figuring out what to do with our life, once we no longer need to work to support ourselves. If we can build the kind of life we want, we can be happy no matter what circumstances we are in. What do you look forward to doing more of in retirement? What do already you do, besides working, that makes your life meaningful?

9 thoughts on “Not Waiting to be Rich”

  1. A former work-aholic, when our mortgages were at zero and our RRSPs in good shape, I started job-sharing at age 47, and spent more time on my passions: financial writing; playing music in an amateur rock/country group; golf; fishing; skiing and lake life with my family and extended family. After-tax, I’m not even that much beind in annual income.

  2. Great post Robert! This is a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m in my early 30s and nowhere close to retiring, but I’ve come to realize that retiring means very different things to different people. To me, retirement is about not having to do something just because you have to, but because you want to. That’s the point, for me, when work becomes play.

  3. Threeaz, people who are able to earn income doing what they love are fortunate indeed. Not everyone needs to stop working (in retirement) to be able to enjoy life. And you’re right that it’s different for everyone.

  4. I cringe at the thought of breaking up an 11 million dollar investment fund.

    Giving lots to family and charity is great – but I’d rather preserve that capital and be able to spin off donations to charities and gifts to family and friends for generations instead. In the end it would do far more good then the temporary effect of a large one-time gift.

    That said – in terms of the couple that did it they may not be as comfortable as I am with managing money – so they probably made the right choice for their happiness.

  5. Sean, You sound like you work in the investment industry. I can identify with your feelings, but I disagree that an immediate donation is NECESSARILY less effective than “planned gifting.” I think much of it comes down to your conception of money and it’s proper uses (your comfort with managing money, as you say) and their conception of it. Perhaps they see money as “the root of all evil”, and wanted to stay far away. That’s not to say their view of money is right or wrong, but that I agree when you say they made the right choice for their happiness. And a choice that highlights, in my mind, that happiness doesn’t come from money.

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