Why I Became Semi-Retired, for Life

I always thought I wanted to retire some day. The plan was simple and apparently foolproof:

Step 1: Work hard for four decades.

Step 2: Save up lots of dough.

How would I do this?  The normal way, of course.  I would get married to the love of my life, have 2.1 kids (can I round down?), get one or two house mortgages, and probably no dog – it would poop, and that’s no fun.  Two cars and of course, a garage with a remote control opener.  Add some internet-connected home automation and, voilà!  The dream beyond all dreams.

Or maybe not. After I spawned a boat load of children* I read about the FIRE movement – aka “Fiscal Independence, Retire Early”. I was hooked, reading blog entry after blog entry about how people like Mr Money Mustache and Jillian of Montana Money Adventures did life in an unusual, anti-cultural way – and retired early. Then I read about how they used this new freedom to…

:drumroll please:

…to work more! That’s right, Mr Money Mustache bought a building with cash, started a coworking space, created a small home-building business, fixed up houses, helped a family in Hawaii build their house while living like a loco local. As of 2019, Jillian of Montana Money Adventures is touring the world teaching people about FIRE, coaching and raising her children. In fact, Jillian mentored us for about 6 months – which triggered several bold work decisions that grew me some nice new chest hairs!  And my wife, well I think she got an inch taller and started pursuing her God-given talents in fresh ways through the process.

What’s crazy is that multiple FIRE bloggers get to their hard-earned “retirement”, and they don’t actually retire. Whoops, didn’t need to stash quite that much money.  Why?

Bottom line: FIRE bloggers who retire end up working fewer hours than before, but on more meaningful work.

WHOA. Could it be that God actually made us to do meaningful work, and to enjoy that work? And simultaneously not be burdened and stressed by that work? John 10:10, Matthew 11:28-30

Could it be that God did not intend all (or any?!) Christians to be stressed out, cash-strapped, mortgage-indebted and credit card-reliant for life? Addicted to experiences this month that have to be paid with the fruit of next month’s labors?

Disclaimer: I’m not a huge Dave Ramsey fan (pay off everything, as fast as you can, so you can then have more freedom). I’m also not a fan of a friend’s financial philosophy of “leverage everything” – have ties to lots of houses with as little equity as possible. I suppose I’m a fan of “in the middle” financial philosophies – such as having a good portion of equity in a house (30-70%), and as possible also have cash laying around to invest and earn money on the spread.  Spread meaning money gained between the interest you’re earning (hopefully high, like 7.5%) and the interest you’re paying (hopefully low, like the current 3.125% 15-year rate!)

That said, I am a huge fan of the Bible. I find much of it very challenging, but always worth the effort put into the wild walk of faith that is the application of God’s Word to my daily life.

Here’s a raw question to ask yourself: did God intend for man and woman to retire?

In the United States, modern day retirement philosophy was significantly impacted by the creation of Social Security in 1935, and the legislation that followed.  Social Security established the retirement age of Americans as the age of 65.  In 1935, it was not expected that most people would live far beyond 65, so this was a convenient date that older workers could get snubbed out of a job  humanely transitioned to a non-working state, making room for younger workers to move up the chain.

You may be surprised that not long before that, in the late 1800’s, about 75% of all males over the age of 65 worked.  And if they weren’t working, it was likely they were disabled!

Reading a brief timeline of retirement in the United States, it is apparent that there have been many hits and misses with legislation.  One law de-incentivized working at age 65 to help phase out an older workforce; decades later, work was again incentivized at age 65+.

Enough of the US history lesson.  What does the Bible say?  I find this passage from Luke 12:15-21 (NKJV) convicting:

And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ‘But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

Poor rich dude.  He thought the “universe” gave him a break, decided to take it easy and lost his life – and worse yet his soul. Verse 21 puts the finishing touch on it:

So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

Freaky. The man lost his soul because he had a mega cash stash (paraphased) and was not rich toward God. In a small way, I feel this when I give my children gifts, say for instance toy cars. One of my daughters has about 50 cars – she loves them, and gets them for any special event. When she is not willing to share even one with her siblings, I get a bit ornery.. “She has over fifty!  And can’t share one?  I’ll teach her a lesson and take all of them away, mwahaha.” I think to myself. But in her shoes, like I am with dollar bills (yes, I have over 50 dollar bills), I have the same tendency – to hoard rather than share.  And like my pastor wisely states, it doesn’t become easier to share (or tithe) when you get more money!  Quite the reverse.

What’s the end of all this? After learning from the Bible, other’s stories and six years of experimentation with various part-time work-life balances, I have developed several personal resolutions and conclusions.

  • Oh my soul, stop itching for a “full retirement”, it only brings angst and a fizzle of disappointment if I have spent my work life vainly stretching to get there without purposeful work.
  • I do not ever want to stop working entirely.  I want fruitful, enjoyable work that the Lord can provide me in every season of life.
  • The most fruitful work I do may earn less than market wage, or even $0 per hour.  Dear self, do not measure work only by the amount of money generated per hour.  Measure work based on God’s kingdom value (spiritual fruit) and monetary value.
    • If it doesn’t have kingdom or monetary value, it’s not worth doing.
    • If it just monetary, then at least I am not worse than an unbeliever (check 1 Timothy 5:8).  Note, I believe most monetary work can have kingdom side effects – because we can worship God through our excellent work ethic, uplifting encouragement to others and our love for coworkers.
    • If it has kingdom and monetary value, woohoo!
    • If it is just kingdom value, that can still be work too.  I think of the work Paul did in prison – writing letters, worshipping God through song all while eating moldy bread and other stuff people do in prison.  Perhaps one day I will mentor people 60 years younger than me from the soft biscuits-and-gravy-eatin’ comfort of a nursing home.  Yeah, I may not be earning much money at the ripe old age of 92, but at least I can still bear positive results by what I say!
  • Learn more about contentment.  Internalize it.
  • Forget about what other people splurge on.  Find admirable things to splurge on, such as memorable family moments.  Or developing my children into godly, wise, healthy and smart people.  Or encouraging people who are in a rough spot through a tangible gift.
  • Aim for being “freed up in life”, the sooner the better.  I do want a plan and financial resources to cover many years of inability to work, in case my wife or I cannot work due to disability, death or perhaps even adopting a large sibling group!
  • DO work hard to generate time and money margin.  Guard it, but don’t hoard it – perhaps God has provided in one season what is needed to take stress off the next (Joseph and 7 years of storing up, Genesis 41:49) or to bless another generation.  Wouldn’t that be a gracious blessing from the hand of God?!  Proverbs 13:22
  • BE generous!  I don’t have to die with the fattest wallet.  How much better if I die with a thin wallet but many friends who will greet me in heaven.  Luke 16:9
  • Beware the trap of falling in love with money!  Money is powerful, but not the most powerful.
  • Money is a tool.  Money is not my boss.  God is my boss.
  • I will make strides daily and monthly to loose myself from debt and not generate more debt.

Thanks to some wise financial moves (shorter duration mortgages, refinances at the right time, selling real estate during an up market, hard work, spending less than I make), I am grateful to God to be in a season with financial margin.  I have roughly 4 years worth of living expenses if I were to stop working entirely, which I don’t ever want to do.  Or I could withdraw roughly $30K/year for the rest of my life and work to make up the rest.  So I continue to work while I am able, give back to God through the church, missions and other opportunities for generosity.  And through that I consider myself in a state of persistent semi retirement.

If I was in a stressful home season (as I am now!) and needed to spend more time with family, I could pay our monthly expenses from rent from our home’s basement apartment and 40 hours of work a month (not a week).  Praise the Lord!

If I was in a season with more time margin, I can work extra, save extra and be more generous with time and money.

What is a pure joy in this season is that I have been able to choose work that is more meaningful to me: serving my local church.  If I did not have time margin, I would not have been able to step in when my church most needed my skillset.  If I did not have financial margin, I would have felt strapped to work for the highest paying gig.  The result is that I get a gratifying job with people I love, doing work that I enjoy that serves the local church – my Father’s house.  And how great is that?

Praise God that in this last season we were able to clear the slate from jobs that didn’t fit into our plan for emotional, financial and time margin.  I’ll share more about that in another post.

What does “Semi-Retired For Life” or SRFL mean?  (SRFL is pretty catchy right?)  For me, it means being “unburdened”.  2 Timothy 2:4  I aim to wisely manage finances so that I have margin to share in areas I see God moving.  I prune my schedule from emotionally taxing, low-fruit-bearing tasks.  I am not over-extended so that I can be available to share the love of Christ in every season and every place I feel Him moving.

I can go on the wild ride that He has waiting for me.

Whew-whee… I am surprised and honored you read this far!

Does this get you pumped to experiment and generate margin in your life?  Any areas I should explain more?    Please comment, I’d love to hear about how this hits you!

*I actually have more than a boat load.  My inflatable boat only holds 6 people!

2 Comments

  • Kyle says:

    Excellent article Ryan! Possibly one of the best FIRE related articles I have read in the past year which is a LOT. This really speaks to where I am at with my FIRE journey as well as I have come to very similar conclusions. It is so refreshing to see Biblical wisdom brought into the FIRE topic! Thank you for sharing!

    • Ryan says:

      Kyle, thanks for reading it and for your warm feedback. I’m excited to see God moving in your heart in similar ways. If you’d ever want to guest post or share a post with what you’ve learned, I think that’d be really cool. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.