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The grey haired bus - why you should retire as soon as you can


Early retirement lets us make the best use of our truly active years
The grey haired bus (Image by Freepik)

On our campervan trip in May this year, we stopped outside Barcelona. The campground had a bus service to the city, so we didn't have to deal with city traffic or battle to find parking - it was a popular choice, the bus was full of people with the same idea.


Aside from the convenience, what stood out was that nearly everyone on the bus had grey hair. I wondered, why am I on a bus filled with old people? Then it dawned on me, most of them weren’t that much older than me – I’m, unfortunately, not as young as I think or wish! The only positive is that I don’t have grey hair...yet.


I’m not being fatalist, I think I’ve a good chance to live to ninety or maybe even one hundred, but the reality is that my truly active years will stop long before that. This realisation is giving me anticipatory FOMO. I’m worried that, when I’m older, I might regret that I’ve missed out, that I won’t have made the most of my more active years. Once those active years are gone, they’re gone forever.

To make the best use of our truly active years is a reason why we should retire as soon as we can.

In truth, I don't really think everyone should retire as soon as they can. If you love your job and have a passion for it, continuing your career is a valid choice. But I do think it makes sense to give ourselves the option of whether we retire or keep working. Financial independence is the part of FIRE that gives us the choice.


I retired seven years ago when I was forty-seven. I don't think I'm old now that I'm fifty-four, but more and more, I'm realising how valuable time is. It’s a limited resource, and my truly active years are dwindling and fast becoming a scarce commodity. On the plus side, financial independence means that I had the choice of whether or not I spend these years sat behind a work desk.


In addition to realising that I wasn't particularly out of place on the grey hair bus, some other things have recently reinforced my view that we should prioritise our limited more active years.


Injuring my ankle, although not serious, has put a halt to my sport activities for 6 weeks. It might not seem long, but it does mean my summer trail running plans aren't happening. Given that running is an activity susceptible to age, this missed summer could represent a meaningful part of my remaining truly active running years. A case in point, a friend was recently diagnosed with osteoarthritis, so his running came to a halt almost overnight.


Another example: last year, I met up with friends to run Berlin marathon, and this year some of us got together to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc. The reunions and the activities were great fun and we agreed that we should keep doing similar things. Because we live in different countries, every two years was suggested. Great idea, except that by only the sixth iteration I'll be sixty-six years old. That's quite the reality check that the clock is ticking fast on my truly active years, and that I shouldn't waste them. Maybe we should aim to meet up for a reunion activity every year instead of every two.


This concept of active years strikes a chord with me. I'm much closer to the end of my truly active years than I am to the beginning, which is a little scary. But, on the other hand, I’m grateful that financial independence has given me the choice of how I spend these active years – to sit behind a work desk or not.

I was, however, recently told of a problem with my point that we should target financial independence so we can choose how we spend our time. Someone in their twenties challenged me, saying that for them, simply making ends meet is difficult enough, and when things like saving for a house deposit seem impossible, financial independence is frankly an unrealistic pipedream. In which case, why even try?


I explained that being young, they were at the best age to start saving and investing even small amounts to get the rewards of compounding, and I described the benefits that can come from tracking spending and perhaps setting a budget. I’ve no doubt they understood those things, but I don’t think it overturned their belief that financial independence feels unachievable. I didn't change their "what’s the point of trying for something impossible" sentiment. Even assuming my message was right, it's irrelevant if it's not received. Maybe this is an area to work on, so that the next generations, my kids included, can have the same opportunities as I have.

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Having just come back from our family, summer holiday this article resonates with me. Every day we saw something new, spent most of our time outside, accumulated a vast number of steps and somehow managed to slow time down. I am now stuck ‘behind the desk’ again, the steps have diminished, the fresh air has gone and I am surrounded by already wealthy workers who seem oblivious to any other life choice than carrying on until they are 60/65+. Both my holiday and this article have reinforced my determination to stop to retire in 3 years time!

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Hi Matthew, great post. Would love to hear more about your Fire journey and how old you'll be in 3 years, hope that's ok? Cheers and best of luck on your journey 😀

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I realized the truth of this recently too. We spent 5 days camping in the mountains. The first two days, the park was about half empty. Everyone but us had gray hair. On Friday, people our age started arriving for the weekend. The trails became crowded.


I'm glad i have more than just weekends for the things i want to do. I'm currently in the best shape of my life and will eat right and exercise as long as I can to extend my active years, but retiring early is the most effective approach!

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Absolutely! Unfortunately, we can't stop the passing of the years, but we can ensure that we make the most of them. I'm not thinking that I'm completely achieving the latter, but at least I'm trying, and having fun doing so.


By the way, how awesome to be able to say that you're in the best shape of your life!👏👏

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Johnston Orr
Johnston Orr
Aug 28, 2023

Excellent post David, and the first of these 2 very important points seems to be something that others in the FIRE community are aware of too. Actually, whether retired or not, I think we could all agree that it’s important we don’t let life pass us by. None of us get that time back.

The second main point is a difficult and potentially divisive topic, especially here in the UK where we have a widening gap based on when people were born as well as the wealth and privilege they were born into. Increasingly this feels like something that needs to be discussed, addressed and ultimately resolved if we’re to continue to live in a harmonious society. I suspect…

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Maybe I should add, I don't think we're talking about revolution here. My assumption is that the capitalist system with an associated welfare support system that we already have is intended to ensure that parts of society don't get left behind. What I'm wondering is whether this system is not now sufficiently achieving it's objectives, and that some adjustments are required to get it back on track.

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