Time flies! I had my first anniversary in my new “job” already last month! June 1, 2018, was my last day at the office! I even got some social media notifications from people congratulating me on the “one year early retired work anniversary,” how awesome is that? I did write a post on the eight lessons after eight weeks of retirement, but I thought I should write an update about what I learned after reaching the one-year mark. So, let’s take a look at my eight new lessons after one year of FIRE…
1: We are happiest when we’re together
That’s good news because extended travel – seven months in 2018 and four months this summer – means that we’re often together in very constrained spaces. We normally try to book Airbnb places large enough so we don’t step on each other’s feet, i.e., with a separate bedroom, living room, etc. But that’s not always in the cards! For example, we did a 16-day cruise last year and a 14-day day cruise this year (both Transatlantic) in a 160 square feet (about 14 square meters) interior cruise ship cabin. If you’re not comfortable spending time together that would be a problem!
But we do want to spend time together. Especially before Little Miss ERN starts Kindergarten later this year. In fact, having more time together was one of the great motivators for pursuing FIRE! And it was the main argument against the dreaded “one more year syndrome” last year. True, with another year on the job you can lower your Sequence Risk and the risk of running out of money in retirement even more (from 0.01% to 0.001%???), but there’s also a huge downside: the strain this puts on your personal life. When you’re young and have no money in the bank, then opportunity costs work the obvious way, like in the econ textbook: if you want to do anything fun, hang out with your family/friends, etc., you face the opportunity cost of not working. Opportunity cost = lost income. But now the opportunity cost equation is reversed. We got more money than we can ever spend (if my Safe Withdrawal calculations hold up!) and I view work, especially sitting in some office at a mega-corporation, as substantial opportunity cost now.
Valuing experiences and especially family time over material goods has a great advantage. You see, the insanity of pursuing material goods is that there is likely no satiation point. Ever! You can have a nice house and a nice car, maybe even a boat. You will always find another richer person a few houses down the street with an even nicer house, faster car and bigger boat. And maybe a private plane. You will never be completely content. I remember watching shows about billionaires on TV and it always seems even they aren’t content because every billionaire will try to outdo the other. What, you got a 100-foot yacht? Mine is 110 feet! With a helipad! And if you don’t own a Premier League team you’re a lower-class billionaire anyway!
Not so if you value spending time with your loved ones. I can spend those 24 hours with my wife and daughter and there isn’t some fabulously rich person out there who routinely spends 35 hours a day with their loved ones. 24 hours a day is the max. Of course, we don’t have to spend all that much time “chained” to each other (neither literally, nor figuratively). Just the fact that we’re close to each other, even if we do completely different things while at home in Camas, or while on vacation is priceless. Being able to say “I love you” in person and not by text while at the office and being able to play with my daughter without thinking about emails from work is worth more than another year of a corporate salary!
2: I won’t let my blog interfere with my early retirement (yet)
When you retire with a “moderately successful” blog like mine here you come to a crossroads at some time: Do I take this to the next level or keep it mainly as a hobby? I certainly get some advertising and affiliate income now but that neither makes my retirement nor would it break my retirement if the cash flow ever went away. It’s maybe 5% of our retirement budget. But I still haven’t made my final decision on whether I want to go beyond that. Taking my online presence to the next level, whatever shape this would take (I have considered a few options), would have taken a lot more time commitment than I was comfortable investing over the last year. Why should we book all those elaborate and expensive trips (eleven months so far and counting) and then I bring my “job” with me everywhere? Blogging seriously is almost (or more than???) a full-time job, so how would I accomplish that job if I’m sitting here in Florence/Italy enjoying the “La Dolce Vita” and sipping Chianti wine?
So, if you noticed that I publish less frequently and that I don’t respond to comments and emails as quickly as I used to, this is the reason. Blogging has an opportunity cost, just like working in a corporate job. Over the last year, I felt that if I wanted a job I would have just kept my old one. At least that one would pay me more than most blogs would ever generate. And I’d have kept my nice window office on the 39th floor in San Francisco. And health benefits! But again, there’s no final word on any of this yet. All of this may change, once we live in Camas, WA again in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll be bored and I want a job again.
3: Build your community: inside and outside the FIRE community
Retirement can be lonely. In fact, boredom (see #6 below) and loneliness are two of the main concerns of traditional retirees. This is probably not the main concern for most early retirees who stay put in the same location (and in the same house) after FIRE. But for us, one important tool of reaching FIRE was geographic arbitrage; leaving the expensive SF Bay Area to look for a more affordable place in Camas, WA. Naturally, we had some concerns about how we’d like the new community there. But all turned out well. We’ve already met tons of people in the FI/FIRE community. There’s a very active ChooseFI group here in the Portland metro area. Also, just here in Camas, WA (population 22,000, a small fraction of the overall Portland metro area) we already met four other couples interested in FIRE. One couple lives only four houses down the street and contacted me after finding out that Big ERN just moved into their neighborhood, how awesome is that?
But of course, we don’t want to meet “only” people in the FIRE crowd. The first folks we “ran into” when we arrived in Camas with our U-Haul were our next-door neighbors and they’ve been super-nice and helped us settle in better than we ever imagined. Playgroups for Little Miss ERN are a great way for not just the kids but
also especially the adults to connect. Also, the summer hiking season hadn’t even started yet when we left Camas for our April-August 2019 trip, but I’m sure I will meet some new people through that hobby as well. So, to make the long story short, we love the community in our new location and can’t wait to head back there after our four-month Summer trip later next month!
4: I’m still not really comfortable (yet) telling strangers that we’re retired
Meeting new people (see #3 above) always involves that dreaded “so, what do you do?” question. Before early retirement, I always thought that I would very proudly announce that I’m retired. You work so hard and so long to achieve your lifelong dream: financial independence and early retirement in my 40s (and my wife in her 30s). Don’t I deserve to brag with this achievement a little bit? Or even better: really rub it in? Well, so far I’ve always felt that it’d be a bit impolite to brag with our own financial success, especially when you just meet new people. Of course, I don’t want to lie about this issue either so here’s what I’ve tried so far in (truthfully) answering that “what do you do” question:
- I work from home. (100% correct, plus elaborate further if people ask what exactly I do)
- I work in finance. (100% correct: I manage our personal finances, plus I blog about (personal) finance. And elaborate further – see below – if someone asks what exactly in finance I do)
- I’m a derivatives trader (100% correct, I trade options multiple times a week, see a post on my strategy here.)
Why not be 100% clear about FIRE? On the occasions where I did tell people that we’re retired I noticed that, more often than not, FIRE is a conversation killer, not a conversation starter. I think if I tell people too early it puts a barrier between them and us. A barrier in the form of essentially telling people that if they start now they can reach FIRE in about 10-15 years, which sounds a bit off-putting, I admit. Of course, it shouldn’t because most people in the FIRE community aren’t actually retired, and most of them aren’t even close to retirement. But still, it’s a lot to digest if you hear about FIRE for the first time. Of course, once we get to know people a little bit better we will certainly tell them about our FIRE lifestyle. Tell them about my blog. Refer them to the ChooseFI podcast and Facebook group(s). Hopefully bring people on board – of course, without being annoying and preachy. So, I’m just wondering if others had that same experience? Did you plan to “brag” about FIRE but then took a more measured approach when you eventually retired? Or go for the “shock value” every time?
Just as an aside, this whole “I’m retired” issue is even trickier when I talk about this in my native language German. “Rentner” is the direct translation of “retired person” but the word is derived from “Rente” = “retirement benefit” so if you tell someone “Ich bin Rentner” everybody will almost automatically assume you receive a regular, monthly retirement benefit of some sort. Same with “Pensionär,” which is derived from “Pension” (same word as in English) and would insinuate that I’m receiving a pension. The first reaction would be that people will check you out top to bottom and look for any physical ailments that would justify living on government assistance. Then in the absence of any such obvious ailments, you notice how people start thinking “maybe he has some mental issue or something” to justify leeching on the government. An aaaawwwwkward conversation starter!!! A slightly more fitting word in German would be “Privatier” (=person of independent financial means”) but that has a certain “inherited old money, trust fund boy” smell (“stench?”) to it. Luckily, the “so, what do you do?” question isn’t that common in Germany, though!
5: Count your blessings and appreciate all the things that worked out just fine.
Everybody knows Murphy’s Law: What can go wrong will go wrong. But do you know Murphy’s cousin Yhprum? Often we are so fixated on everything that didn’t work out well that we don’t even recognize all the things that worked out much better than we could ever imagine:
- It would have been the ultimate irony if yours truly, Big ERN, who writes about safe withdrawal rates on the web, happens to retire at the worst possible time, exactly at the market peak. But since June 2018, our net worth actually grew. Not just in nominal but even in real terms, even after withdrawals! Needless to say, I did have some slight concerns late last year when equities stumbled a little bit. I wrote two posts about why we were not too worried about this issue (both in October 2018 and January 2019) and so far – knock on wood – I was right. I’m not saying that we’re completely out of the woods – we will know in another 10-15 years – but so far so good! What can go wrong, didn’t go wrong so far!
- Our move to our new home in Camas, Washington! Imagine all the things that could have gone wrong! U-Haul tells me they don’t have my truck available on the morning of the move? The moving help doesn’t show up on the day of the move? Being stuck in a winter storm in the moving van on the mountain pass at the California-Oregon state line? On New Years Eve! Crashing the moving van and all of our belongings are scattered on I-5 somewhere in Oregon? Arriving at the house only to find out that it burned down? Or it’s infested with cockroaches? Or the pipes are frozen? I had nightmares about all this in November/December 2018! Of course, everything worked out just totally fine. The drive with our 20-foot U-Haul was a breeze, everything was on time, sunny (but cold!) weather, we arrived at our new home on New Year’s Eve 2018, earlier than we thought, and the house looked just as it was when we purchased it months earlier. We met our next-door neighbors that day and they are awesome! Whew! All those worries for nothing!
- And many other items I could list here, but I don’t want to elaborate too much more to bore y’all…
So, the lesson here is that when you take a major step like we did – FIRE, a new state, a new home, etc. – you naturally worry about all the things that can go wrong. But make sure that after you executed your plan, you acknowledge all the different things that worked much better than expected. It will make your journey so much more satisfying!
6: Boredom in Early Retirement? Sounds like a non-issue!
So far I’ve not had a boring day in early retirement. OK, maybe I can “blame” this on our travel schedule so far, which has kept us busy, both planning the trips and crisscrossing the globe; 27 countries on 5 continents so far (still missing South America and Antarctica!). In fact, in my 8-week update last year, I wrote that life is almost a bit too hectic when traveling full-time, so occasionally we need a “vacation from the vacation” and simply goof off a day or two every week. So, absolutely, we have not felt any boredom yet! But maybe in a few months, when we’re finally settling down and staying in Camas for more extended periods I’ll indeed get bored.
But I still think that the occasional boredom in retirement is a total non-issue. Boredom compared to what? If you have a job that’s exciting and fulfilling every single day and every single minute then congrats to you. But who has that? To make this relatable, let’s look at some examples. A lot of our fellow FIRE-fighters are in medicine or in the IT field or teaching/academia. All interesting, exciting and well-respected jobs. And in those jobs you’ll find lots of things that will keep you busy at work, no doubt, but probably not in a very enjoyable way!
- Medical Professionals deal with paperwork, insurance companies, medical malpractice lawsuits, etc.
- IT professionals deal with debugging code, and – even worse – debugging other people’s code, TPS reports 🙂 etc.
- Teachers deal with bureaucracy (committee meetings), students with discipline issues, etc.
- … let’s not forget everybody in Corporate America dealing with mindless weekly meetings, compliance training, sexual harassment training (now called anti-sexual-harassment training, just to be sure), etc.
In other words,
I’d prefer a boring day in FIRE over a busy day at the office doing stupid/menial tasks.
Huh? What? Menial tasks? Did I ever do those? You betcha! I have to be careful because former colleagues (and bosses!) will read this, but I’d have to be either lying or stupid not to concede that even in my generally exciting and fulfilling job I had to do tasks that felt a bit like TPS reports! Again, my job was generally fun and exciting, but there was about 10% of the job that I could have done without! I doubt my “boredom in retirement” level will ever reach 10%!!!
So, the occasional boredom in retirement isn’t a big deal. But what if you’re constantly bored? That reminds me of the following quote:
“If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” Raylan Givens (fictional character). Please excuse his foul language!
Then let’s rephrase Raylan Givens’ quote above into…
“If you’re occasionally bored in FIRE, you’re occasionally bored. If you constantly bored in FIRE, you’re a boring person.” Big ERN
So, in other words, permanent boredom in retirement is likely a deeper issue. It probably lies with you personally and not with the general concept of FIRE! Specifically, I can’t imagine that a “card-carrying” member of the FIRE community has a very high probability of falling into the permanent boredom trap. Remember, we should have read classic posts like Don’t retire from something, Retire To Something. Or Our Next Life’s posts on boredom (Part 1 and Part 2), or Fritz’ recent post on how to live a fulfilled retired life. It’s not difficult to transition into retirement, even as cold-turkey as I did it, and keep a fulfilled and exciting life.
7: Procrastination actually gets worse!
Whatever happened to the hope that once I retire I can take care of all those pesky things that I never got to do because I was too busy? Ha, I learned that procrastination actually gets worse in FIRE. You see, a (mild) procrastinator will get things done while working in a busy career. You have some spare time on Tuesday night? Better use it because that’s the last time for a couple of days to get stuff done! But in retirement? Why do it on Tuesday night? I got time on Wednesday morning. And Wednesday midday. And on Wednesday evening! More time means more excuses to procrastinate!
Well, I can’t be too bad of a procrastinator because I did manage to get stuff done, including two sets of “three letters” behind my name, but just as a precautionary message to all those FIRE enthusiasts out there itching to retire: don’t plan to get too much stuff done, at least not in the first year after FIRE!
8: Everybody is replaceable
Well, almost everybody. Maybe if you’re Kevin Durant and you’re injured for the NBA finals you’re not replaceable.
Side issue: As a long-term Bay Area resident I feel a bit sorry for my former neighbors because the Golden State Warriors lost the finals to Toronto this year. But you all must be huge fans of redistribution and fairness – just look at the California tax code – so everybody must be happy that a franchise that’s never won a title before finally got the NBA crown in 2019!
But if you’re not Kevin Durant chances are that you are indeed replaceable! If you ever hesitated to retire because you worried about what would happen at the office if you left you must be delusional. I always thought that I was senior enough with specialized and unique enough skills and education that I will not be so easy to replace. Hey, I’m not a burger-flipper that they could have just replaced with someone from the street, right? Dream on! Life went on at the office. I got two short emails from the guy who took over some of my tasks. That’s it. After that, the great machine of Corporate America moved on without me.
That’s it for Year One!
There will probably be another update after year 2, with some new insights. Our lifestyle will certainly change again dramatically once our daughter, Little Miss ERN, will start Kindergarten in September. We will finally settle down in our new home, travel a lot less, and go through the Monday to Friday routine again. Maybe I will finally get bored!? Maybe I’ll take on side hustles? Stay tuned, everybody!
Hope you enjoyed today’s post! Looking forward to your comments below!
Picture Credit: Pixabay.com