There is an endless stream of articles discussing the Financial Independence / Retire Early (FIRE) movement. The plan is to save a very high percentage of your working income, invest the proceeds, and then retire young and live off of investment income. There is, however, another way to achieve many or all of the benefits of FIRE that is a better alternative for most people: pursuing part-time freelance or consulting work that can be performed remotely. In practice, this is what almost all of the FIRE advocates do. They blog about FIRE and write books or articles from which they make money.
What drives many people to try a FIRE lifestyle are things like long working hours, high stress, commuting, and feeling trapped at a job in order to make money. Secondary factors may also be living in places you don’t really like. Having work that allows you to live somewhere you love and control your work hours can provide the salve for all of these issues. In addition, you might find that separating the parts of work that wear you down from the parts that require your expertise and creativity will make you really enjoy the work you do, as well as providing income.
There are several substantial benefits to continuing to work part-time rather than bailing on work altogether (early retirement).
Benefit 1: Maintaining your human capital. Human capital, your skills and know-how, is a decaying asset if you don’t use it. Working part-time allows you to preserve and even grow your human capital.
Benefit 2: Intellectual stimulation. Work is an important source of intellectual stimulation. Work exposes us to new situations and challenges. Fully retired people can certainly find many ways to stretch themselves intellectually, but work is good, too.
Benefit 3: Maintaining flexibility. Sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry and its good to have a plan B. If you have continued to work part-time, you will have a lot more options to deal with unanticipated financial stresses. Odds are, you could work more hours if the market tanks and your investments take a beating, for example. This will be far easier than trying to re-enter the workforce after being completely out (see Benefit 1)
Benefit 4: Improving your life sooner. For many people, the most compelling reason to plan on continuing to work part-time after leaving the rat race is that you can leave sooner. A small amount of earned income replaces a large amount of savings that you would otherwise need to produce the same income. In addition, the money you already have saved has longer to grow if you can reduce your withdrawals, especially when you are younger.
As it happens, Vicki Robins (one of the founders of the Financial Independence movement and co-author of the classic Your Money or Your Life) does not endorse the idea of simply quitting work as soon as you can. Her vision is that people will continue to work but will be able to choose to work on new and interesting projects once they are no longer constrained by the primary requirement to earn money.