Why You Can Still “Retire” Early…Despite the Current Crisis

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on April 15, 2020 in Make Money

Interesting story from my backlog of reading… 

We all clearly realize at this point that the coronavirus has not been kind to stock markets around the world, the global economy, jobs, various industries…not to mention health. As part of this mayhem, a story on CNBC.com notes that the pandemic “could wipe out what’s become known as the FIRE movement.” 

If you’re unfamiliar with FIRE, it’s the acronym for Financial Independence, Retire Early. It’s largely the playground of millennials who, rightly, see their future defined by their own initiatives rather than dependence on government and employer largess. That’s a respectable belief system. 

Of course, more than a decade of bull-market virility on Wall Street helped fuel the FIRE movement by providing devotees with a source of income. Now, with Wall Street in a corona meltdown, the idea is emerging that the virus is killing the concept of financial independence, and that the notion of retiring early is suddenly fading. Maybe that’s true; maybe it’s reactionary in the moment. But I see this through a totally different lens. 

FIRE was never about retiring in terms of doing nothing all day from age 40-something until death. Frankly, what would be the point? That’s an especially dull life. 

No, FIRE was always about choice: The choice to forge your own path working at something you love, rather than being handcuffed to a job you hate simply because it offers a paycheck. Financial independence was never supposed to be about having so much money you could stop working in your 40s and not do anything. I’d argue that independence comes from your ability to meet your financial needs (and wants) based on your earnings capacity across a range of opportunities that you can exploit on your own time schedule. 

None of that is dead because of corona. 

In fact, I’d say that exactly the opposite is true: Corona is showing the world that working from home, or working from wherever, is more viable than much of society imagined before the pandemic landed. It’s exposing all the opportunities that exist. 

I regularly talk about freelance income opportunities with writing and photography and authoring an e-book. But the breadth of possibilities is enormous. 

I hit up Google and started randomly searching for freelance opportunities, regardless of industry, and to gauge where the market for freelancing is these days. I was actually surprised at what’s going on. 

Contra, a website that bills itself as the LinkedIn for independent professionals, saw a 10,000% increase in membership in March alone. It’s matching more and more freelancers, remoter workers, consultants, designers, and the like with one-off and ongoing projects in product design, marketing, writing, customer support, social media, and other areas. 

VidMob, a creative-tech company, is hiring a host of people with skills in video editing, 3D modeling, animation, and whatnot to join a team of workers who work from home year-round. We Are Rose, an Atlanta-based marketing company, is hiring remote workers for marketing projects that typically consume 20 to 40 hours of weekly work. Better yet, the company offers 401(k), weekly pay, and full healthcare benefits to its U.S.-based remote workforce. 

Executives at Toptal, a freelancer website that cherry-picks the most exclusive talent in certain industries, reports that “the current pandemic has forced almost all of our clients to very quickly transition to a fully distributed workforce.” Translation: Coronavirus has exploded demand for remote, freelance workers in software development, design, finance, and project management, among others. 

To me, this moment in history does not portend a disastrous end. 

It is, instead, foreshadowing a very different—and lucrative and financially secure—future for those of us who see opportunity hiding in plain sight. We all hear so much negativity about the economy, about Wall Street, about newly confirmed cases and rising death tolls. And, yes, the human element there is tragic, without question. But there’s more here than that. 

I think about this in terms of some advice I was once given by a well-respected and grizzled Associated Press photographer. This was back in the mid-80s and I was covering Louisiana State University football games as a stringer for rival United Press International. In the shared darkroom after the game, I was admiring some of the photos he’d captured. One was an elegant, black-and-white image of a player on the losing side, head hung low, sweat dripping from his nose, steam rising from the top of his head. 

When I commented on just how artistic this sports photo was, he said, “The secret, kid, is to always look at what’s going on behind you. The action might be in front of you, but for the real story you sometimes have to turn around.” 

So, what I am saying is, turn around. Our future as Savvy Retirees isn’t the death of financial independence or the inability to retire. It’s the emerging opportunity to exploit now what too many others aren’t yet seeing.

Written by Jeff D. Opdyke

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