Can you really just “go back to work” after early retirement?
To be blunt, I don’t think so. You can definitely work, there is work all around us, but it may not be at your old career, or at the level you left at, let alone the pay.
This is a COMMON issue amongst women, particularly those who divorce, those who separate, are widowed, or simply were stay at home parents, but it also applies to people who retire early.
If you retire early, let’s say in your late 30s or even 40s, and you retire on a very little amount (we are talking bare bones), this means you could potentially have to front about 60 more years of living on this amount, with unforeseen issues (elder care, and so on, I actually wrote a whole post on how FIRE people are shortsighted), but a common refrain when you pose this question to them is:
“Oh I will just go back to work if I have to.”
The thing is, if you left a professional white collar job, this is not so cut and dry. If you ask me why I say professional white collar jobs, it is simply because to even retire early, you need to have made a lot of money early on AND SAVED CHUNKS OF IT, or have gotten lucky either via a lottery, or the genetic lottery (inheritance) to allow you to leave your job so early.
There is no other way. There is no magic pill to FIRE retirement, and usually those who start around even their early 20s, have decent jobs making over $50K, and can aim to retire by about their 40s or so if they are super diligent about saving and so on.
If you made even more than $50K, the early retirement age drops even lower. It’s basic math with two rules: (1) The more you make, the more you can save, and (2) the earlier you can save, the less you need to save.
As a result, saying you can “go back to work”, comes with an big glowing red asterisk that no one thinks about such as the fact that you will likely not be able to go back to your old job that you left and for the same salary for a number of reasons such as experience and an employment history gap.
Even if you have left a job for a year, new employers will question the time off, regardless of the reason why (health, FIRE, new parent..). Your lack of experience in that year, makes you a less desirable candidate than someone who has kept up on the trends and the market, and hasn’t left their jobs at all.
Leaving your job, is like a death knell on your career trajectory.
You have to be sure that you are DONE when you leave.
So let’s say you go back to your same industry…. but I guarantee it won’t be at your same job nor your same title or pay, unless you are in truly specialized niche that only values experience and is trend-resistant. Not many jobs are like this.
You will likely start at the bottom of the career ladder, and even there, you are going to run into age-obstacles. For one thing, you are much older than the fresh-faced graduates, so age, depending on your industry, can work for or against you.
For another thing, you won’t start at the pay you left at. Let’s say you quit at $80K a year, but an entry-grad job starts at $40K. You will be competing against people who make $40K, and will have to take that salary.
Okay, you have a bit more experience, but it won’t be a huge bump up to $80K, it will likely be at $50K at best, accounting for that you do not need to be trained, but maybe, they don’t need someone with any experience.
Worse, if you were in a high-level job
If you were in a high-level executive job like a Director or a VP, you can forget about getting there again. You’ll start at maybe lower managerial levels and then have to work up again, all from a work employment gap.
Just look at the aftermath of women giving up their careers and wanting to now go back to work. They are finding it TOUGH to re-enter, let alone at where they left. Heck, just watch the show Younger and you will see firsthand in the first season, how bloody hard it is to reenter when you are of a certain age. (The show I will warn you, is farfetched as far as storylines go, but the first season of her struggling felt very visceral and real.)
I also anecdotally, knew a guy who retired at 50 after having been a VP. He wanted to start his dream of running a business. The business tanked, and he had to .. well.. you guessed it, “go back to work”. The only job he could get, at his age, was a low-level manager, and then later, a coordinator of some sort. He never became a VP again, and his pay, was not as high as when he worked (obviously). He finally got to retire at 75, but it was pretty tough and humbling experience for him.
Start over again!
Alternatively, you could just go into another job/industry. Why not? But you are starting at the bottom there too, but at least you have no expectations. Lastly, you don’t have to quit entirely, why not do part-time?
This is why I am a little bit of the camp of “take everything these professional FIRE bloggers* say with a grain of salt” because they didn’t quit their jobs and early retire for the most part… they transitioned into blogging or something else, didn’t they?
Now a lot of them are money coaches, they sell courses, books, all of this is their day job and it is a full-time, hard gig to handle (I do not know how they do it to be honest. I tried it for a little bit and closed the door on that line of work forever.)
They never actually quit working and there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.
In fact, it’s admirable that they love talking about money and retirement, and wealth building so much that they moved into doing what they loved and are good at it for the most part.
The only caveat I will say is that if they are relying on this job to pay their bills and couldn’t stop if they wanted, then they never actually retired from working.
Or others on the same path like me, are still working in their careers because we never hated it to begin with, nor did we necessarily want to retire early and ASAP, we just wanted to work towards financial security and independence so that we COULD quit if I wanted to and not feel stressed.
*I am not considering myself in this camp, I still work at my day job, I have no intentions of quitting, and I have absolutely ZERO intentions of becoming a professional money pundit or FIRE blogger of any kind to make a living income off this. This talking about money is strictly a hobby that happens to make a little fun money.