Whether it’s through work or my own social circles, I know a whole lot of early retirees. With the FIRE movement a much-discussed phenomenon, more and more clients are starting the process of heading toward an early exit from their careers. Some people make it work while others struggle with the financial discipline.
Everyone I see succeed in their FIRE always has one thing they have in common: a drive to keep being productive even after leaving the workforce.
It takes a special kind of determination to earn enough money to stop working in your 40s and live comfortably for the rest of your days. That kind of fire (pun intended) doesn’t just go away with the introduction of extra free time. If anything, those who manage to retire early become even busier pursuing new and loftier goals without the burden of daily office visits.
What’s the plan for your newfound freedom? After you soak in some needed R&R, how will you stay active enough to feel fulfilled without giving up that retired life you worked so hard for? Most of you probably have an idea - or hundreds of ideas - for what your new life will look like. For those who aren’t as far along in their FIRE goals, here are some ways to put your wealth, time and abilities to good use.
Money has an undeniable purpose, but it cannot be considered a purpose in and of itself. We secure wealth as a means to various ends, which means anyone with enough capital to stop working and still feel secure should be able to donate some of their time without caring about reimbursement for those hours.
The choices for how and where to volunteer are endless: at your church, as a little league coach, working at a national park or nature conservancy, helping low-income folks jumpstart their careers. When you take income out of the equation, you suddenly have opportunity in every field. What interests you? What are you passionate about? What would be a beneficial way to use your time?
For many of us, the causes we support can only exist because of a volunteer workforce; anyone looking to earn a good living usually doesn’t go into a field that doesn’t generate a product or revenue. With early retirement comes the opportunity to make a huge impact just by showing up.
Frankly, we should all be volunteering. If you work a sixty-hour week, I bet you can pop into a soup kitchen one lunch break per week and give an hour of your time. If time feels like it’s too limited, hopefully all that work has you with a little extra cash you can donate. Then, when you realize your FatFIRE dreams, you can start volunteering your time.
It’s hard to explain how fulfilling it is to volunteer your time. Charitable work makes passion and thoughtfulness more important than sales and hours logged, so you can work diligently without burning out. You also get to shed the burden of expectation, since the work you do is out of the goodness of your heart and bound to be appreciated in any measure.
A good property can be a game-changing investment for anyone. However, it’s a lot more difficult to take on landlord responsibilities when you also have a demanding career. With a little more time on your plate, owning a multi-family unit or a vacation rental can keep you just the right amount of busy.
As a side hustle, renting a property has to fit some existing protocol. You can’t spend too much time dealing with maintenance and you have limitations as to how far away the property can be unless you have a third party to manage. With a clean professional slate, however, there are plenty of options to consider.
Want a beach house that you’ll only use a few times a year? Get the house of your dreams and let other people live out dream vacations when you aren’t there. Airbnb and VRBO give you instant access to millions of renters as well as a lot of important safeguards. If you aren’t too worried about how much the property brings in, you can be really selective and just offer it out to friends and family.
This might not turn into a real estate empire, but it will give you equity and as much busy time as you care to have. If you end up hating the management part, you just own a vacation property or you have a house to sell. If you love it, you can occupy your time and make a decent amount of money. If you like it too much, you’ll end up running a bed and breakfast and be way busier than you were before you retired.
If you do it right, transitioning from traditional worker to rental owner can have you constantly growing your wealth without really increasing your workload. A few years of renting out Property A will have you ready to buy Property B, and that growth can continue if you so choose.
This might be the most common FIRE move, and with good reason. The right real estate can be an asset and an investment that pays for itself. It might take a little time to get the house into the right condition and find long-term renters, but once the pieces fall into place you’ll be sitting pretty.
Depending on where you shop for properties and your business background, you might have success with a commercial property. Definitely not the way to go for a novice investor, but an exciting option for someone who knows what they’re doing.
Ever thought about renting out a place to other business owners who would do all the work? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. A warehouse can be used for everything from employee trainings to banquets, and a commercially zoned house can serve as a cozy wedding site. If you’re in the right city, production companies might seek out your space for film rentals. Accepting the business of insured professionals gives you real peace of mind while you let strangers occupy your property for days at a time.
This option is much more niche, but sometimes filling that kind of specific need delivers the greatest reward.
If volunteering sounds appealing but you want a little more business direction, joining the board of a 501(c)(3) can provide the same sense of purpose you had while working without being all-consuming. It also gives you the same sort of flexibility as volunteer work, with so many nonprofits serving the causes we tend to care most about.
In some cases, donating a few thousand dollars will get you a seat that comes with a decent amount of oversight. Without diving back into the daily grind, you can put your past experience to good use and help move a company you care about in the right direction.
Serving on a board usually entails more responsibility that a volunteering gig, though that all depends on the company and the type of work. One notable difference is the camaraderie you often get when joining a group of board members with similar interests and experiences. An overlooked drawback of retirement is a shrunken social circle - which actually leads a lot of professionals to keep working long after they could have hung up their cleats. Becoming part of an oversight team helps replace the companionship you might otherwise lose.
Another favorite among wealthy retirees, becoming an adviser can fill the need to feel useful while allowing you to only answer the call when you want to do so. The work mirrors that of a board member in many ways, except you can offer your services to anyone and only take on projects that meet your terms.
I know a fair amount of workers that do this kind of work for free, though I might suggest a sliding pay scale. If a profitable company wants you to come in and advise, no reason why you should skim a little off the top. Meanwhile, providing pro bono consultations to smaller businesses might be fulfilling enough even without any sort of payment.
Serving as a consultant lets you choose not just the type of industry you want to get involved with, but also the demographic. What you’ve learned over the years could prove very useful to some young entrepreneurs getting a startup off the ground. Or maybe the work you did that allowed you to retire early could help an older business owner who needs to modernize a little. You don’t just have to join a pool of consultants looking for work - you can look for projects tailormade for your skillset.
The trick is how exactly you go about making yourself available for this type of work. There’s a thin line between sporadic, part-time work and incessant calls from would-be clients. Build a website if you want to have the promotional tool, or just go through existing contacts and see how word-of-mouth works for you.
In a similar, less business-minded vein, a lot of retired professionals turn to teaching as a means of staying busy. If you’ve got a master’s degree you’re ready to work at the college level, and you could have a lot of freedom coming up with the course and content you want to teach. I know retired folk from all fields - finance, music and art, architecture, law - who teach at community colleges and absolutely love working in education. It won’t make you rich, but it presents a special way to give back to the community and the next generation.
After so many years of earning money at an accelerated rate, you might not be able to fathom a career without a monetary goal. If you can recalibrate your thinking, you can hopefully embrace a project that’s strictly for pleasure. When you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter that you’re working for free. And, as I’ve seen so many times, the passion projects often turn into the perfect source of part-time income.
As an example, my friend’s father started turning bowls while he was still working as a lawyer. It was a weekend hobby at first, then he got more and more into and, when he retired, he had business cards made and now sells bowls in a handful of shops in his hometown. He’s not really in it for the money, but the occasional sale adds just a little value to his hobby.
Most people retire with eyes on the simple, relaxing hobbies: fishing, golfing, jigsaw puzzles and whatever else you enjoy doing on a Saturday morning. If you retire early enough, you probably have a desire to take your hobbies a step further. Instead of just bird watching, you can start writing a blog and posting photos of the birds you see, then eventually turn it into a coffee table book; learn how to blow glass and make your own art; start canning those homemade jams and sell them at the farmers’ market.
Or don’t do any of that and keep your hobbies commerce free. It might play to your workaholic tendencies to turn a pastime into a job, but that might be the last thing you need to do in retirement. Some things are meant to stay leisurely.
When you achieve your FatFIRE goals, you could find yourself lacking direction and trying to figure out how to use your time, not waste your hard-earned money, and enjoy your life to the fullest. That balancing act can prove a little overwhelming, which is why choosing the right post-career career can make all the difference.
You certainly don’t have to work, as that’s the whole point of the FIRE movement. At the same time, you don’t want to find yourself listless and wondering what to do with your life. Without starting a career that becomes an overwhelming time drain, figure out how you might put your extra hours and energy to use in a fulfilling, meaningful way. Whether it’s a part-time job or a full-time hobby, find the thing that gets you up in the morning without keeping you up at night.