Volumes upon volumes have been written about the correct steps towards retirement over the years. The outline varies little from one decade to the next, and the essence remains unchanged.
Get a "good" job and save your money!
These books aren't wrong. These "books" are a collection of time-tested, quantifiable, independently verifiable money saving techniques. But let's leave all the finance based retirement advice in the world at that, "money saving techniques".
Money saving techniques do not equate to the pursuit of happiness. And for those that want happy, retirement is better framed as an interest than an end goal.
What a "good" job and saving meant for my parents and grandparents is a bit different today. But of the previous three generations, including my own, saving 20% of each paycheck plays by the book.
While pensions of past days are on their way out the door, 401ks, IRAs, and independent stock market plays have evolved to help partially fill that (GAPING) void. Saving 20% of each paycheck has never had more growth potential for blue collar America.
For ambitious savers, more sophisticated means and methods are available. Steps along the retirement ladder include accumulating sources of passive income such as rental properties or dividend yielding shares.
What makes this traditional path the right path though is suspect, for the case is built against a specific defendant for comparison, a defendant that does not represent a dichotomy.
When you read about the person who saved, the data is always compared against the person who did not save. But this is a false dichotomy.
There is a second matching parameter between these two that is never discussed.
The person who saved (and did not live), is always compared to the person who did not save (and did not live).
Here's and excerpt from "the book":
"John works 40 hours a week as an engineer and is able to save $750 per month. Joe works at a toll booth and is able to save $200 per month.
Both John and Joe invest in one of the book recommended money saving techniques and accumulate 6% year over over for 40 years and blah blah blah.
Therefore, as you can see, get a "good" job and save your money!"
What the book failed to mention is that both John and Joe had an interest in sailing a boat to the tip of South America as young men.
Neither man ever got around to it. They were too wrapped up in the money saving techniques and unwilling to risk job instability.
But lets imagine an alternate scenario, where Joe was not waiting to live, and embarked on that fateful sailboat trip.
People who are capable enough to pursue their interests do not lose their general capability when money (and retirement) later becomes the interest. The "books" always fail to recognize this, and instead let the imagination of the reader replace the capable version of themselves with the incompetent person they've never been.
Let's say when Joe gets back he thinks to himself, "You know I loved that sailing adventure, I met so many amazing people, and now I'd like to marry that woman I met on the sailing trip and have the family I'd always wanted. I'd like to retire someday. I don't think my old job at the toll booth is going to cut it."
Joe then goes on to evaluate his money making options, including perhaps, going to school to become an engineer like John so he can afford to raise a family. Maybe Joe even reads "the book" and tries his hand at acquiring a distressed real estate property after saving for a decade at another low paying job.
Regardless of the money making options available to Joe, "the book" always focuses on money gap with his theoretical self and highlights the fact that even if Joe became an engineer 4 years later he missed out on all those magical years he could've been saving sooner (and accumulating interest!).
For those that choose to live beyond the context of having a pulse for the purposes of saving money, for those that have mountains to climb, songs to write, oceans to cross, hands to hold, thrills to chase, a conventional retirement approach does not apply.
What is the exchange rate for the man who has lived freely?
If a man works 50 hours a week, for 40 years, and yearns for a million dollar house at the end, but the same man lives in the way he feels compelled for that time (sails to South America for example), and at the end of 40 years is at peace with a $100k house, is the difference not $900k? Is that $900k not an enourmous sum of money that no longer needs to be saved based on the quality of life lived?
What are the financial advisors to make of this possibility?
What if John, the engineer who saved on schedule, let the years roll by, never left that job to take that trip, never developed himself in the ways he was interested, and died an unhappy man, a man whose thoughts, words, and actions, were always at odds?
"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song inside them" (misquoting Thoreau)
What if as a young man John skipped that next year of 401k payments, stretched out his student loans over 20 years, in order to make it as easy as possible to bet on himself, and his interests? What if he sailed that boat the first chance he could literally afford?
What if the only thing between John and his own happiness was the retirement advice he decided to follow?