Early retirement is supposed to be the ultimate dream, but I already know it's not for me - and I'm fine with that

bora bora tahitiMaridav / Shutterstock.comEarly retirement might seem like the dream, but it's not for everyone. The author is not pictured.Maridav / Shutterstock.com

  • The author, Brynne Conroy, made a choice not to pursue early retirement because of potential costs associated with raising and caring for a special needs child.
  • Health insurance, ability to secure work, and caretaking are all expenses parents of special needs children have to account for in their retirement planning.
  • Early retirement may be off the table, so Conroy uses today to fulfill the dreams she can't schedule for tomorrow.

When I began writing in the realm of personal finance, I was quickly introduced to those pursuing financial freedom, or FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) as it now commonly known.

The idea is you work and save like crazy while you're young so you can have an incredibly long retirement. During this "retirement," you could pursue whatever was meaningful to you, whether that be a new line of work, traveling the world or devoting your time to your family and community. 

It sounds like a dream life, and it's one that's often posed as the capstone to financial education and achievement within the FIRE community. As you progress through your financial enlightenment, it's inevitable that financial independence will end up being your ultimate goal. Anything else is an excuse.

This is where the FIRE dream fizzles out for me. While I think it's great and admirable that so many people - most of whom would be considered high-income by the greater part of the American populace even if they don't consider themselves to be so - have the self-discipline and vision to make their dreams a reality. It genuinely inspires my respect.

But I don't see myself joining those ranks anytime soon, and take umbrage with the idea that FIRE is the ultimate progression in personal finance. There are many reasons for my opinion, but today I'm going to share my most personal one: I'm the parent of a special needs child, and that means there are some major question marks in my savings formula.

Because of all those question marks, I currently have no intention of pursuing early retirement.

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I don't know that I can always count on health insurance

In my home state of Pennsylvania, my child qualifies for Medicaid - which typically provides superior coverage to private insurance plans - because of their disability and regardless of my income. I am extremely fortunate, as the costs of necessary therapy, dietary supplements, and other medical supplies can be enough to put even the most affluent in an unstable financial position without proper coverage. 

Even with Medicaid, I have to fight with the insurance company several times a year to cover a service or medical device for which they are required to pay by law. 

And getting on Medicaid? That's a mess, too. There was only one year where I haven't had to correct the errors of social workers. Every year I have to prove that my child still has a disability, as if it's going to magically go away.

Even with all the inconvenience, I know how lucky I am. Pennsylvania provides comparatively excellent Medicaid coverage for disabled children. In other states, such as Utah and Montana, my income would preclude my child from getting the coverage they needed to live a full and healthy life.

Getting on and using Medicaid would be little more than an inconvenience for me, except that Medicaid and Medicare have become politicized weapons and I can't be sure they'll still be here years in the future. Even if we make it out of this period of off-the-wall politics with these programs unscathed, I can't guarantee my child will have access to adequate health insurance for their expensive medical needs throughout the entirety of their life. 

My child might never be able to support themselves

Like all parents, I worry about my children's future. I want to save enough for them to feel safe and secure.

My child is brilliant, but the world isn't currently structured for them to thrive. While I have a lot of hope, I can't be as certain as other parents that the employment sector will be kind to my child. I may have to provide for them my entire life. 

If that happens, I'm looking forward to all the time we'll get to spend together and the companionship we will provide each other throughout those years. But when you're looking at early retirement numbers, adding the potential of another mouth to feed can skew your plans.

I have to plan for my child's well-being, even after I'm gone

After I die, if there is no one else to care for my child they could end up in a home. If I don't have enough money saved, that would likely be a state or county home.

Many of my friends and acquaintances work in this field (in my hometown of Pittsburgh, healthcare is one of our two biggest sources of GDP) and having an insider's perspective hasn't done anything to put my mind at ease.

The cost of providing after I'm gone is so massive it's nearly incalculable, and I believe in setting achievable goals. An incalculable early retirement number means that early retirement is not an achievable goal. 

I won't be waiting for retirement to enjoy my life

I can't tell you how many times people tell me, "Don't worry, you'll be able to do all that after your kids graduate!"

But that's not quite true for me.

Whether it's travel or pursuing further education, I do not have the luxury of assuming I'll have time to myself after my children finish high school. Because of this, I make a conscious effort to live for today. Whether that's traveling solo to see friends and explore new places or studying subjects that stimulate me, I don't push it off. If I'm going to be working for most of my life anyways, I need to integrate some of my non-monetary goals in the here and now. 

My life is more beautiful because of - not in spite of - the diversity my child adds to the world. While I sometimes get frustrated with the financial realities of an economic system that is not built with families like ours in mind, I wouldn't trade my experience with parenthood for the world. Early retirement be darned. 

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