No matter where you are on the path to financial independence, there are many lifestyle design options you can use to create a better life for yourself and your family. They allow you to improve your life along the path to FI but are also great alternatives to early retirement once you reach your financial goal.
Whether you are just getting started, feel stuck in the “boring middle” of the financial independence journey, or have already reached FI and are unsure if you even want to retire – you have options!
If you are considering making some lifestyle changes, I’ve got you covered. In this article, you’ll find 26 alternatives to early retirement you can use for inspiration.
You can enjoy these lifestyle designs along the path to FI (as your financial freedom grows or as alternatives to full retirement.
Financial Freedom Isn’t Linear
The benefits of building financial freedom don’t increase in a linear manner. They shoot up exponentially as soon as you get your sh*t together financially, build some buffers and start investing.
I often say that you can access most of the benefits and lifestyle options financial independence offers long before you actually get there.
You don’t need a certain amount of money in the bank (or your portfolio) to have permission to re-design your life and your work in a way that makes you happy. You can also make changes as you see fit along the way.
Sure, when you have consumer debt, no savings, and live beyond your means, doing anything that puts the steady monthly income stream from your job at risk (whether you like your that job or not) is the last thing on your mind.
But as soon as you have crossed the first financial milestones on the way to FI (think debt freedom, a solid emergency fund and some FU Money), you have a multitude of options.
A while back, I created the chart below (called the “Financial Freedom Spectrum“) to illustrate this point. It’s always tragic to see people who are well on their way to FI (or already there) who are still stuck in the red zone. The green zone is yours to conquer. And you don’t have to be financially independent to do so.
The 26 lifestyle design options described below (and many others) all become available as your green zone expands. I’ve tried to sort them by how much financial freedom you realistically need to successfully incorporate them into your life. However, the reality is that most of them are 100% possible if you are committed and willing to take some risks.
Let’s get started!
1. Make a Career Change
Are you an accountant who dreams of a career in IT? Or an engineer considering a career in healthcare? You are allowed to change your mind and try something new. Career changes and so-called “second-act careers” are very common these days. The good thing is that you will probably already have a whole range of skills that are transferable and that you can apply in your desired career.
Yes, you might have to take a few courses (see #10) and maybe take a more junior role, but you have savings, so that’s not an issue. If you feel a career change might make you happier in the long run, it’s definitely an option worth exploring, especially if full or semi-retirement is not for you.
2. Find a Better Job
Maybe you like your field of work but are stuck with a job that you don’t really enjoy. This might be because you don’t get along with your boss, have awful colleagues or don’t like the culture of your company. The solution is simple: find a better job! Life is too short to be miserable at work.
3. Negotiate More Flexibility
Want to work from home most of the week? Work longer on Tuesdays to finish early on Fridays? Just ask. If your employer says no, you can always decide to look for a new job. Your savings give you leverage.
4. Take a Mini-Retirement
Taking an extended period of time off – whether in the form of a sabbatical, a career break or a gap year – can be magical. A mini-retirement gives you the chance to rest, think, recover from burnout, and do some self-reflection. Mini-retirements are also a great opportunity to travel or explore some of the lifestyle design options listed in this article.
Yes, mini-retirements require some financial preparation depending on how you want to spend your time away from your job, but you don’t need to be anywhere near FI to take one (or several!).
5. Just YOLO For a While
Yes, you read that correctly. If you’ve spent a significant amount of time and effort to pass the first milestone of your wealth creation journey, it might feel good to let your hair down for a bit. This is basically like a mini-retirement from the path to FI. You could simply allow yourself to splurge a bit more and save a little less for a while. Just don’t overdo it.
This is also a great test to see if more discretionary spending adds value and joy to your life. If it does, build some more splurge money into your spending plan in the future. If not, just enjoy your little YOLO experiment and go back to saving and investing like before.
6. Stop Hustling
Do you have a side hustle that adds stress to your life and that you don’t enjoy? You could improve your quality of life by giving it up. Maybe you started it to make some extra money to grow your nest egg, or maybe you thought you would enjoy it but don’t. Giving up a side hustle that doesn’t serve you will give you some time and freedom back and might make you feel like you are a little more retired already.
7. Volunteer Your Time
A lot of people want to reach FI to volunteer, help others, and support the causes they care about. But you don’t need full FI to do these things.
Here is an idea: once you are ready to work a little less and drop a day or so per week, why not use this day to volunteer your time? The volunteer position could be unpaid, but some even pay a little. This is actually a version of the portfolio career approach described below (see #8).
8. Build a Portfolio Career
Once you have some FU Money and a growing portfolio, you are much less dependent on a “safe” full-time job. While you might still want to work a full-time schedule at this point, you could try out the portfolio career approach.
With this approach you can combine different types of work: a job, freelance work, a part-time business – you name it. You can also include some volunteer work in the mix. So instead of working 40 hours a week in just one job, you could combine different types and fields of work into your unique portfolio career mix. And once you are ready to step things down, you could simply drop a part of your portfolio career.
I have chosen a part-time portfolio career strategy in semi-retirement and love it. In my opinion, it’s one of the best alternatives to early retirement because it provides flexibility and allows us to pursue different passions.
9. Work Part-Time
Ok, this one is a no-brainer. Going part-time could simply mean dropping one day per week while you are still in your accumulation phase. This will probably mean that your savings rate will go down and your path to FI will be slower, but you’ll get more time back now.
Part-time work could also mean working just two or three days per week once you are a bit further down the FI trajectory. If you go for a Coast FI or Flamingo FI type plan, this will allow you to cover your expenses once you are done saving for retirement.
And even later on in life (even if you are fully retired), it is usually a good idea to work a day or so per week just to stay engaged.
Check out my in-depth article on working part-time for more information.
10. Go Back to Uni (Or Learn a Trade)
Why not go back to uni to do a course or even a degree in a field that interests you? This is often part of the strategy for career changers (see #1) but could also be part of your self-development goals. The same goes for learning a trade. This would be a great way to use a mini-retirement or career break (see #4).
Remember, it’s never too late to learn new skills in a completely different field – either because it simply interests you or because you hope to find new work opportunities that way.
A friend of mine has recently switched to part-time work to go back to uni and study an art history degree on the side – at age 40. Just because it makes her happy!
Technically this is probably a sub-item to #9 (Part-time work), but it’s a really cool strategy, so it deserves its own paragraph. When you enter a job-share arrangement you do exactly what it sounds like – share a job with someone else. This is a great strategy for operational positions where a standard part-time arrangement is not always possible.
Check out this interview with Mark for inspiration!
12. Do an Internship
Contrary to popular belief internships are not just for students or uni graduates. There is no reason someone in their 30s or 40s couldn’t do an internship (paid or unpaid) to check out a different industry or field of work.
Have you ever dreamt of being a photographer or a professional chef? An internship might be the perfect way to explore these professions without committing to a full career change.
Fun fact: there are even internships for older adults and those who have been out of the workforce for a while called “returnships”.
13. Work Seasonally
Work for part of the year, make enough money to cover all your annual expenses and then relax during your months off. Sounds good? It is! In a way, this is a mix of part-time work (#9) and lots of mini-retirements (#4).
Whether this is possible depends on your field of work – things like tax prep or fruit picking (I know showing my past as a backpacker here!) are obvious choices. But it pays to be creative.
We know a guy in Munich who sets up a massive campground every year during Oktoberfest (charging premium prices and making tens of thousands of dollars in just a few weeks). He then takes it easy the rest of the year, living off the income from his campground gig.
Geoarbitrage (short for geographical arbitrage) is a fancy word used to describe the idea of earning money in a high-income economy (think Australia, the US, and most of Western Europe) and then spending it in a low-income economy (parts of Asia, parts of South America etc.). Goeorbitrage is also possible in your own country if you can make big city money and live in a much cheaper location (via remote work, for example – see #15).
Using these opportunities could allow you to work part-time (#9) or seasonally (#13) and enjoy much more freedom. Also, if your goal is full retirement, building your nest egg in a wealthy country and then moving to a cheaper country means your required nest egg is much smaller.
Mr. Flamingo used to have a colleague who lived in Turkey with his family. He would take on a contracting role in Switzerland for a few months (at the Swiss minimum wage!) and then return to Turkey for the rest of the year – with enough money to support his whole family! That’s geoarbitrage in action.
15. Work Remotely
If Covid has proven one thing, it’s that many of us can work from home as effectively as in an office environment. Benefits like not having to commute to work, being able to do some laundry during the day and having enough time to cook dinner for the family make a big difference for many people (especially parents!).
Many roles are now advertised as fully remote or at least partially remote (often requiring 1-2 days per week in the office or attending monthly or quarterly team events).
If you enjoy working from home and have been asked to return to the office, you could either negotiate with your employer (see #3) or look for a new remote position (also see #2).
If you have worked in your field for a while, consider leaving your full-time job behind and becoming a consultant. Most consultants are self-employed and work on a contract basis.
Companies in almost all industries hire consultants to add experts to teams as needed without having to hire for a permanent position. Consultants often work as part of project teams but can also fill the gap during temporary staff shortages.
Consulting contracts usually last for 3-6 months but are often extended. Consulting is not your typical 9-5 job, and you can be expected to work long hours, especially if you are part of a team working on a time-critical project.
The benefit of consulting work is that it is usually very well-paid and gives you much more flexibility if you want to spend extended periods away from work. Take on 1-2 contracts per year and take the rest of the year, for instance.
Consulting is not for everyone (I tried it for a while, and it was not for me), but it’s a good option for experts who want to slowly step away from their full-time job.
17. Become a Freelancer
In many ways, freelancing is the “light version” of running a small business. Freelancers provide a service to and get paid by customers (instead of their employer). Freelancing (theoretically) gives you a lot more freedom and control over your work.
The benefit of freelancing is that it usually comes with very minimal overheads. Plus, depending on your field of work, it is likely that you will quickly build up a base of repeat customers who you get most of your jobs from.
This last point can also be a downside because big customers can quickly turn into bosses, whether they employ you or not (this happened to me when I started a freelance business back in 2014). But as long as you know of this risk, freelancing can improve your work-life balance.
If you enjoy things like copywriting, graphic design, translation, website design, etc. you could always start freelancing on the side (or as part of your portfolio career – see #8) to see if you like it before you go all in.
18. Do an International Job Exchange
This is a fantastic way to see the world and get to know a new culture and language!
International job exchange programs basically work like student exchange programs – just for working adults. They are very common in Europe, but they also exist in other parts of the world.
Say you are a Swedish chemical engineer who works for a large pharmaceutical company with subsidiaries all over the world. If your company offers an international exchange program, you could “swap” jobs with a colleague in South Africa for a year or two.
I know of people who did these kinds of exchanges and even swapped their homes with their exchange partners. This gives both parties immediate access to a network of neighbours and friends.
Government employees like teachers (depending on your country) can also very easily do this. A friend from Germany participated in a teacher exchange and lived in Singapore for a year. She really enjoyed the experience and made several teacher friends who she still talks to regularly almost ten years later.
There are many ways to organise an international job exchange, but the two most important things are to a) think outside the box and b) just ask (you never know what’s actually possible if you don’t ask).
19. Start a Part-Time Business
You don’t have to be a full-blown entrepreneur to start a business, especially a part-time one. A part-time or hobby business is an excellent alternative to a part-time job for those who want to have more freedom and do their own thing.
I have two small part-time businesses (the coaching arm of Money Flamingo being one of them) – although I am not sure if maybe they fall under the entrepreneurship category (see #22). Either way, I love the autonomy and creative freedom they provide. Mr. Flamingo dreams of starting a part-time gardening business with our kids once they are a bit older.
20. Become a Stay-at-home Parent
Some people argue that you cannot be fully retired if you have kids. I’m not sure I agree with that statement, but one thing is certain: being a parent is hard work. It’s hands down the most demanding job I’ve ever had.
Let’s be honest – two full-time working parents and young kids make a pretty crazy combination, especially if you don’t have hands-on support from grandparents or other family members.
So why not consider becoming a full-time stay-at-home parent while your kids are young?
21. Move and Make a Fresh Start
Have you ever considered selling most of your stuff, packing your bags and moving to a new country (or city)?
Moving to a new location (without everything planned in advance) can be a great way to make a fresh start and embrace your sense of adventure.
This is exactly what Mr. Flamingo and I did when we moved from Europe to Australia eight years ago (with two suitcases and no jobs lined up). This allowed us to re-design every element of our lives and has worked out great for us.
Many entrepreneurs start as small business owners (see #19) who end up wanting to take their business “to the next level”. Others have an idea they want to turn into a product or service. The lines between running a business and entrepreneurship are often blurred.
Market disruption, higher profits, scalability and innovation are common motivations of aspiring entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship often involves investing at least money and a lot of time to get an idea off the ground (without any guarantees that it will succeed), so it’s definitely a higher-risk approach than some of the others discussed in this article.
What all entrepreneurs have in common is that they work incredibly hard. Part-time entrepreneurship is, of course, possible. However, you will likely spend most of the day thinking about your business, even when you are not working if you go down the entrepreneurship route.
Entrepreneurship can be very rewarding and a great challenge for people who are in the (financial) position to give it a go.
23. Become a Digital Nomad
Digital nomads are location-independent long-term travellers who work remotely from their laptops. They often have some kind of online business or do freelance work (see #17). Some also work for an employer (see #15), but this is less common.
The digital nomad community generally attracts 20 and 30-something singles and couples. Many of them embrace a #vanlife or minimalist travel lifestyle. However, there are also exceptions. Check out this interview with Emma who is currently travelling and working remotely with her family in tow.
Digital nomads often work from cafes, libraries or coworking spaces. There are many digital nomad hotspots all over the world now (think affordable locations like Chiang Mai (Thailand), Bali, and Lisbon (Portugal) that allow digital nomads to take advantage of geoarbitrage opportunities (see #14).
If location independence and long-term travel sound appealing to you, a digital nomad lifestyle might be the ideal lifestyle design for you.
24. Become a “Normal” Nomad
This is the non-digital version of #23. As a “normal” nomadic traveller, you can move around, explore different places and find work locally.
A key advantage of this is that it allows you to really get to know the culture and the locals. This is something a digital nomad lifestyle lacks. One downside is that you usually get paid in the local currency, so depending on where you travel, the principles of geoarbitrage could work against you.
Nomadic travel incorporating longer and shorter work stunts can be the ideal blend between slow travel, exciting work opportunities and adventure.
Have a look at this interview with Jed, who has fully embraced a nomadic lifestyle.
25. Semi-Retirement (Semi-FI)
Our definition of semi-retirement is that you are done saving for retirement (early or traditional, depending on what you prefer). Once you have your retirement nest egg in place, your accumulation phase is completed. All you need to do now is generate enough income to cover your regular expenses while your investments compound in the background.
This is an ideal time to start downshifting. You could transition to part-time work (#9) or try out some of the other lifestyle designs in this article without too much financial pressure. Mr. Flamingo and I have enjoyed a semi-retired lifestyle since 2020 and love the balance it provides.
26. Phased Retirement
This approach allows you to cut back your weekly working hours slowly but steadily. This works particularly well for people who love their career but want to ease into a semi-retired lifestyle or retirement.
You could, for instance, move from 5 days to 4 days in your 40s, then from 4 days to 3 days on your 50th birthday and so on.
This strategy is very gradual and helps avoid falling into what I like to refer to as the “retirement abyss”.
If you love your career and have doubts about wanting to fully retire, why not explore the phased retirement option?
Bonus: Mix and Match
The reality is that almost no one will choose only one of the lifestyle design options described in this article. Once you get a taste of the world of opportunities between the “stuck in the 9-5 rat race” and “fully retired and never working again” extremes, you’ll likely end up combining several of them into your ideal lifestyle blend. It is also ok to try some of them and move on to something else if they don’t suit your needs and goals.
Hopefully, you got some inspiration from this list of 26 lifestyle design options.
I wrote this article to illustrate that there are so many options out there that don’t require full Financial Independence. All of these options are available to you along the path to FI if you are willing to embrace the green zone of the FI spectrum.
And if you are already at FI (or close) and not ready to stop working, you can use them as alternatives to early retirement.
As I mentioned above, these options are not mutually exclusive. I’m sure there are also several others I didn’t think of. The idea is to explore what works for you, try things out and ultimately create a life around the things that make you happy.
Have you incorporated any of these lifestyle design options into your life? Are there any that you want to explore further?