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Confessions Of A Rich Woman Who Retired At 49

I have the ultimate First World Problem. In my forties (okay, I admit, I am 49), I find myself to be rich and no longer needing to work. I don’t need a full-time job, and I don’t even need a part-time job — that is what I mean by “rich.” I own a small but nice home; my family has two cars and an RV. We have no personal debt. We eat out when we feel like it and have great vacations — mostly here in Australia, but overseas probably every second year.

I have achieved what 21-year-old me, entering the workforce reluctantly and with not a clue what to do with that wonderful degree in Russian Studies and Anthropology, had dreamt of — I have financial independence and the freedom to do what I want. I should be happy. Should.

I am now that woman on Facebook, Instagram, etc. posting that she is off to yoga, the gym, swimming, or having lunches with friends. These things, plus caring for my family, are now my “job.”  I guess I am a stay-at-home mom, but with an increasingly independent 16-year-old as my only child, this doesn’t feel like a full-time role. So my job now is “self-care” and I do need some — the years of juggling work and family and my particularly stressful last job have left me fat, unfit, and often anxious.

I come from a family that always struggled financially, where no one had a full-time job due to health problems, and a single parent household. My mom was good with the money she got from welfare payments and cash-in-hand cleaning and babysitting, and we had a roof over our heads in a decent three-bedroom suburban home and did not go hungry. But we had no holidays, and clothes were of the cheap and cheerful variety, and I changed out of my “good” clothes as soon as I got home every day to make sure they lasted as long as possible.  I worked casual jobs from the age of 12 — paper delivery, retail, babysitting, etc. Thanks to the Australian system of free healthcare and almost free education even through University, I was able to set myself up for a better future.

I worked, married, started a family, then worked part time for many years, changed careers, and did a few full-time years teaching. Then I got burnt out and quit because I could afford to. My husband and I had invested sensibly, lived fairly simply (with our splurges being travel), and we have the money to not work. Either of us, ever again, even if we live to be 90. We can travel enough to satisfy my wanderlust, as long as we keep it simple. As long as we keep our lives simple and stick to the “less is more” mantra for material goods that I signed up for about 10 years ago. As a couple, we made all the right financial decisions — worked hard, invested, lived frugally, and we have now “made it” as young(ish) retirees.

I “have it all,” and I know my life looks like a dream to others, and my 21-year-old self would be patting me on the back — 49 and no longer needs to work!!! But I feel too young to retire, so I’ve taken on some post-grad studies. It is existential angst I guess — what is the purpose of my life? When you can do “anything”…what do you actually DO with your time?

Part of me sees my angst as an overdeveloped work ethic. I feel the need to justify my existence on this planet. I embrace the idea of being a volunteer, and maybe that role will develop in time, but part of me resists the loss of status that I feel comes with not being a “proper” employee, valued enough to be paid.

I know I am rich, especially compared to most people on this planet — compared, in fact, to most of my friends. So I am grateful, and most of the time I am happy, but I have realized that my identity was more wrapped up in my professional life than I thought. We worked hard to retire early, and the chase for financial independence was somehow important to me…and now that it is over, I feel, frankly, a little lost. And I think I feel guilty that I have all this, and yet am still not 100% happy, 100% of the time.

My message to everyone chasing the dream of financial independence, wealth, being “rich,” or however you think about it, is this: yes, do chase these things, but remember why you are chasing them. I seem to have forgotten.

Annie is officially a teacher, “parental,” and wife, but is really a time-waster, oxford comma denier, and social media layabout, spending too much time planning her next trip either at home in Australia in her RV or overseas. She lives in fear that she won’t get to see the entire world and won’t lose the baby weight. As the “baby” is now 16 and Annie is officially middle-aged, this is entirely possible. 

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  • Annie, this is a really interesting dilemma. I’m inching my way towards financial independence and early retirement, and always picture the fabulous life ahead of me, tending to a garden and beehive, volunteering with some of my favorite organizations, and casually sipping tea in the middle of the day on a cold beach somewhere. But there’s going to suddenly be a lot of time to fill, which I’ve never allowed myself to have.

    I hope you find yourself happy with your new-found time, however is best for you.

  • Miss Meg

    This is certainly an interesting article- and it’s reassuring to know that yes, it can, in fact, be done! But for me, it was a painful read…I can’t speak for all of TFD’s readers, but I do know they are mostly like me. We are all around 27 on average, and usually concerned about money and our futures, some with existing debt. This article felt like no more than a meandering humble brag. There was very little strategy to HOW you became a 49 year old retiree, just that now, it’s hard to fill your days as a lady who lunches…I will try to keep in mind the need to find meaning if and when I get to such a comfortable position, but I feel that I, and most of TFD’s other readers, have more pressing and immediate problems.

    • Vivian

      There doesn’t need to be any strategy on how to retire early disclosed here. I read it more as a perspective piece, and from a viewpoint you don’t often hear from. I don’t foresee myself reaching financial independence early but I love the last line, and think that is the main takeaway from this piece.

      • Ella

        Ditto! There are lots of TFD articles that are focused on sharing a perspective, not geared as a how to. I enjoyed reading about an experience so outside of my own sphere.

    • Victoria Fredericks

      I agree with this. Call it sour grapes, I guess. I don’t think the article was meant to reveal any secrets or strategies about “how” she managed to accomplish this, it seems more a meditation on where she is in her life. Money doesn’t buy fulfillment nor does it buy happiness, is what I took from this piece.

  • aeverson12

    I really enjoyed reading an article from the POV of someone older. I think it would be good if TFD had more articles like this one or ones that offer advice like “if I could do it over” types of pieces. A few questions I had though:
    1. What type of job did you have to allow you to make enough to retire early?
    2. What types of things did you invest in?
    3. Any advice for younger readers?

  • This is a really interesting read, Annie. Congrats on achieving FIRE and for taking the time to figure out how you want life to look during & after this transition period!

  • Anon

    I have always wondered about this! FIRE always sounded kind of boring.

  • magdalean

    I think this message is really applicable to anyone’s life. Whether you have a lot of financial goals to accomplish or only a few, you’re always going to have a “now what?” moment before pivoting from a met goal to the next one. If you have a lot to work on financially then that “now what?” may be quickly and easily answered, but I think this piece is really encouraging us to always ask “why that?” along with “now what?”

  • Jen on the Edge

    Thank you for sharing this Annie. I’m almost in the same boat as you — late 40s (and so is my husband) and we think that with continued careful saving we might be able to retire by mid-50s. (Once our daughters are finished with college.) I am trying to figure out what life would look like if we quit our jobs at such a young age.