Monthly Archives: September 2019

Labor Day Reflections on Retirement and Working

Let’s start by stipulating that if I’d taken a gummit job right out of college, I could have retired 19 years ago. Instead, I’ve been self-employed for most of the 49 years I’ve been working, and I’m still grinding it out at 65.

By the standards of the FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early), I’ve blown it. The basic idea of FIRE is to live frugally and save up a hefty nestegg to fund an early comfortable retirement. As near as I can make out, the nestegg should be around $2.6 million–or if inflation kicks in, maybe it’ll be $26 million. Let’s just say it’s a lot.

You’ve probably seen articles discussing how much money you’ll need to “retire comfortably.” The trick of course is the definition of comfortable. The conventional idea of comfortable (as I understand it) appears to be an income which enables the retiree to enjoy leisurely vacations on cruise ships, own a boat and well-appointed RV for tooling around the countryside, and spend as much time golfing or boating as he/she might want.

FIRE retirees might opt for socially aware volunteer work or hiking trips in remote regions. Whatever the activities, the basic idea here is: retirement = no work = enough cash to do whatever I please.

Needless to say, Social Security isn’t going to fund a comfortable retirement, unless the definition is watching TV with an box of kibble to snack on.

Where do you put your expanding nestegg so it earns a positive yield? In the good old days, regular savings accounts earned 5.25% annually by federal law. Buying a house was not a way to get rich quick, it was more like a forced savings plan, as over time real estate earned about 1% above the core inflation rate.

But all the safe ways of securing a return have been eradicated by the Federal Reserve. The Fed’s “fix” for economic stagnation was to financialize the U.S. economy, effectively eliminating low-risk returns and forcing everyone to become a speculator in high-risk financial casinos.

As a result, the saver seeking a yield above zero is gambling that all the asset bubbles don’t all pop before he/she cashes out. If the bubbles keep inflating steadily for another decade, making assets ever-more overvalued and unaffordable, then maybe the saver can exit the asset bubbles with the desired nestegg. But what if the bubbles in stocks, bonds, real estate, etc. pop?

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