Those of us who are interested in personal finance may learn about the concept of early retirement online — or we may even be actively pursuing it — but most people have never known anyone who has retired early or who even worked toward that goal.
And that means that the whole idea, for the majority of people, is entirely unfamiliar.
Now, there are some who hear about early retirement and immediately jump at the chance to learn more. (That was us all the way. And maybe you, since you’re reading this.) But it’s not true for everyone. Some greet the concept with skepticism, concern for those willing to take the risks inherent in early retirement, and maybe even disdain.
When sharing plans with them, some of those loved ones may gradually accept that it’s not a decision any of us are making lightly, while others may never see things our way. Or they might react in a host of other ways: jealousy, disproportionate concern, passive aggressive “congratulations,” and any number of other reactions.
While we’d all prefer to have total support from those we love, we’re not powerless in this, and there are a number of ways we can deal with those who aren’t ready to support our early retirement life vision.
Many of us have unsupportive people in our (early retirement) lives
I asked on Twitter how folks handle it when people in your life don’t support your early retirement goals and got a ton of interesting responses, including:
Blogger Penny from She Picks Up Pennies said, “I think most people support [financial independence] but don’t call it that. [Early retirement] is hard for people to accept, though. No long-term examples.”
Blogger Kate from Goodnight Debt said, “Most people can’t [retire early] unless they are in sweet paying gigs. I can see why people would be shocked to know you’re walking away from that.”
Chris Durheim from Keeping Thrifty said, “None seem to have a problem with saving and gaining freedom. Where we usually get pushback is how we are getting there.”
Ryan Rossman said, “Some dismiss it because it’s ‘impossible.’ Others resent it. Many mock our frugality. I laugh it off. It’s not everyone’s priority, I tell myself.”
Of course, there are the lucky few who mostly experience support. Blogger Tawcan says, “I’m lucky that my family and close friends are supportive.”
And there are those who can’t help but go for comedy. Blogger Choose a Better Life says, “The trick is to be weird enough that [early retirement] is small potatoes compared to previous revelations.”
But most of us pursuing early retirement or some other alternative life vision backed by financial goals get some pushback from loved ones somewhere along the line.
Read: Want to retire early? The simple math — and magic — of lifestyle stagnation
Dealing with unsupportive loved ones
It’s so important to pace ourselves on the journey to early retirement, and that means not spending too much mental energy defending our life choices to those we love. Best case, that wastes time and energy, and worst case, stressing over unsupportive loved ones’ opinions may even make us second-guess or abandon our early retirement goals. Fortunately, there are a number of ways we can deal with those folks so that we don’t give up on our life plans:
1. Try to convince them
While not everyone jumps up and down at the idea of forsaking regular income for the rest of their lives, that doesn’t mean that they can’t come around. Continuing the conversation over time, or sharing brief updates, can help them see that early retirement is truly possible, and they might even start asking questions or getting interested in retiring early themselves.
2. Project forward
Even if everyone isn’t supportive of you now, imagining a future state when they’ll envy what you did might give you the resolve you need to keep going. Blogger Jen from Frugal Millennial said, “I try to ignore [the negativity] and remind myself that someday they’ll be wishing they had done what I did.”
3. Find something else to talk about
If someone refuses to be supportive, it might make sense to avoid the subject, or to decide how much you value that relationship in the first place. The last thing you want to do with someone who won’t support you is keep reopening that wound. Blogger Leigh from Leigh’s Financial Journey said, “Mostly when I learn that they don’t think it’s possible… I never mention it again.”
4. Just don’t tell them
Sometimes the best way to cope is just not to make a potential point of conflict part of the relationship at all. While there’s value in seeking the support of friends and family, you know yours best, and can make the call of whether they’re likely to be positive or negative about the concept. Blogger Finance Patriot said, “I handle it by not telling them about it. They will know after I am done [working] shortly. It’s my life.”
5. Tune out the haters
Sometimes you just have to stick to your guns and tune out all the noise, even if it comes from someone you love. Blogger Carrie from Carrie’s Thinking said, “In the end, you have to ignore [the criticism]. Frugal haters gonna hate!”
6. Listen more
The most unexpected response came from Ryland King, who said, “I listen to them with an open mind because they often have my best interest in mind and sometimes I learn awesome things about my [early retirement] strategy.” It makes sense — especially when we’re talking about a huge and unconventional life decision — that we all want to explain ourselves, to be understood, or even to bring others around to our way of thinking. But what if, instead of trying to convince others, we just listen?
7. Laugh it off
If nothing else works, remember this life advice that applies to any situation: If all else fails, laugh. It’s your life, after all, and there’s no need to justify your choices to the rest of the world.
Our story of (mostly) supportive people
We’ve been downright amazed to be greeted with virtually total support from everyone we’ve told about our plans. (It’s still TBD what our employers and most of our work friends will say, since we haven’t told them yet. That’s happening this fall when we give notice.)
But, there is this one person, a person who has an important role in our lives and isn’t someone we can just write off for lack of support. This person asks about our plans regularly, but then usually responds in a passive aggressive way, saying things like, “Oh, you’re so much younger than me. But you’ll be retiring first. I guess you just don’t want to work hard like the rest of us.”
Yep, super fun.
While I can’t say for sure, I’m guessing there’s some jealousy there, and the truth is that this person has not prepared especially well for retirement, and has a minimal safety net in place should something catastrophic happen. And that’s not something we can (or should) fix. But it does mean that those remarks are likely to continue.
Read: Want to retire early? Ask yourself these 10 questions first
We feel grateful to have such overwhelming support from friends and family alike — including those urging us to quit sooner than we plan to when they see how exhausted we sometimes are from work and work-related travel — so it’s easy to keep this one person’s lack of support in perspective. And we deal with those passive aggressive moments without taking the bait or feeding the self-pity that’s behind them.
In response to a remark like what I wrote above, I’d add one last coping strategy:
8. Don’t take the bait
We’d just respond, “We’re super excited,” and leave it at that. We don’t try to defend our decision or the soundness of our logic, nor lay out the math over and over, and I highly recommend that approach if you find yourself in a similar spot.
Does your social circle support you?
It seems like everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum between total support and zero support from friends and family — I haven’t yet heard from anyone who has support from literally no one outside of early retirement blogs, nor have I heard from anyone who has no one who is skeptical in the least. But maybe folks on one or the other end are out there, and we’d all love to hear from you.
And for everyone else who falls somewhere in the middle: Do you feel mostly supported or mostly unsupported? For those who aren’t at least initially supportive, what are their reactions like? Are they acting out of concern for you or out of something more like jealousy? How do you handle that lack of support? Have you had any success bringing folks over to your side?
This column was updated and published with the permission of Our Next Life — When family or friends don’t support your early retirement dreams.