planning for early retirement means living a double life

hello, friends. we hope your week is off to a great start. we just have to start out today and say a big, capitalized THANK YOU to all of you for reading. we’ve had a pretty major spike lately, and we’re grateful that so many of you are interested in reading about our journey to early retirement. we started this blog to chronicle the process, so that one day we can look back on what it was like to work so hard toward our early retirement goal, as well as to connect with others working toward similar goals. and on the latter, we’re feeling stoked. since we’ve launched in january we’ve already connected with a great number of you all here and on twitter. of course, we’d love to hear from more of you, so if you’ve been reading and haven’t commented, please say hi. we’d love to connect. and if you have, please keep it up — you totally make our day. :-) now onto today’s post…

we’d love if you all would answer a question, especially those of you who are actively planning for early retirement:

do those around you know your plans? have you told friends, family, or even colleagues?

in our case, the answer is a resounding “it depends who you ask.” we have told some people, but not others, and sometimes we feel like it’s exhausting living this double life, trying to keep straight who we’ve told and not told. it’s like trying to keep straight an elaborate lie, having to remember what you’d told to whom, and figure out which of those people might talk to each other and spread news without you intending them to. it matters to us because we *need* to keep our jobs through 2017 to make our retirement vision work.

our general rule on talking about our plan is: don’t tell employers or coworkers. do tell family. don’t tell friends if they are in any way connected to employers or coworkers, or if they are general blabbermouths, especially on social media. but then there are exceptions — coworkers who are especially close friends, and who we trust to keep our secrets, and so we’ve told them. and then there are good friends who we trust, but who are just insecure and weird about money stuff, like always pointing out how everyone earns more than them, and so we don’t tell them, or we just say we’re hoping to quit our jobs in a few years and do something less stressful, rather than spelling it out.

of course the whole double life thing feels most pronounced at work. we don’t expect that this is true for everyone, but we’ve both been in our jobs for a long time, more than a decade each. we’re invested in the companies we work for, and they’re invested in us. we both have a lot of friends at our companies, including the top leaders. we’re both sufficiently senior to be part of major decisions and long-term planning. those long-term planning conversations definitely feel awkward to us, though we hope our employers haven’t noticed anything funny. we try to think of it as the legacy that we’ll leave, when we help our respective companies map out a vision for the future, and just know that we won’t actually be there long enough to make those visions reality. of course, we know how employment works: we trade our time and skills for money, and our employers are willing to pay us for our time and skills. it’s an economic arrangement. despite our friendships at our companies, we’ll be able to walk away when it’s time, though we expect it will be tougher for us than for folks who’ve only been with a company for a few years, or have been job hoppers in a way we never have been. our real concern is whether we’ll feel irrelevant once we leave our jobs, but that’s a post for another day. (related: a previous post on how we’ll define ourselves once we leave our jobs.)

knowing that something so important to us has to stay a secret to a lot of the central people in our lives is an odd feeling, and creates a bit of a telltale heart effect, making us yearn to spill our guts inappropriately. maybe that helped lead us to get our story out here, which would be a positive side effect. or sometimes we find ourselves confessing every detail of the plan to a stranger on an airplane, where things are essentially anonymous. but you better believe, when we have a bad day at work, it’s a struggle to hold back from sharing it all.

we use twitter a lot to connect with other fi/re folks, and have anxiety about that, because we also have our “real self” twitter accounts followed by many of our colleagues and clients. what if we accidentally post a link to an our next life blog post on our real twitter accounts, instead of to @our_nextlife? no mishaps yet, but we for sure get that racing pulse anytime we’re about to send a tweet. or if we’re connected to our work vpn’s, what if we forget, and are on wordpress or twitter then, and someone in IT catches on? that’s almost certainly an irrational concern, but one we think about.

the truth is, it would not in fact be the end of the world if our employers found out. maybe they’d still let us stay on as long as we want to, which is pretty much what at-will employment is anyway. or if they did decide to let us go, we have more than enough saved at this point to pay off the house and be funemployed for several years too. but it would force us to change our plan, and almost certainly push our financial independence day farther off into the future. and so, we keep living this double life, for just a couple more years.

anyone else out there feel like you’re living a double life with your financial plans? we’d love to know your secrets for managing it all.

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32 thoughts on “planning for early retirement means living a double life

  1. I seem to take a much different approach than most in the FIRE community. I am not afraid to tell anyone about our plans to retire early. In fact, I relish the opportunity. I believe I’ve mentioned it to my boss once too, and he actually thought it sounded great and gave his support. I’m very proud of what my wife and I are doing, so I don’t hesitate to talk about when it is appropriate to do so.

    But, I think your point about “it depends” is still very, very true. Sadly, some people out there simply can’t handle someone making vastly different choices than them, and sometimes with those people it is just easier not to talk about it.

    I have found, though, that people’s reactions to our plan to retire early is a good way to judge what kind of people they are and how close of a friend they true are. It’s almost like an informal test. Not that I expect everyone (or, quite frankly, “anyone”) to simply hop on-board and accept this lifestyle – surely, that just isn’t realistic. But, I have heard stories from others who’s friends almost seem like they hope that they FAIL in their endeavors.

    And to me, those aren’t true friends. And likewise with a business, if a manager decides to affect his treatment of me because of my future plans, that isn’t a manager that I want to work for anyway. Luckily, neither of these things have turned out to be deal-breakers with my friends or full time job. I don’t know if it’s because I have more accepting friends, or if it’s in the way that I talk about my financial lifestyle, but it’s never been a problem for me.

    Personally, I think keeping secrets is exhausting, so I tend to be as honest and open as I possibly can, every step of the way. If someone can’t handle it, then it is more of a reflection on them than on my wife or me.

    1. That freedom sounds amazing! We’re envious of your ability to talk about your plans at work. Just not possible in our jobs, though we’ll be public with our plans in just about two years. No doubt that time will fly by! And great point about ER being a friend litmus test. We agree, and try to attract low drama, low judgment friendships!

  2. I tell anyone who is interested. My girlfriend and some close friends know. If someone starts discussing finances and asks me a question I may let them know. But yeah I don’t bring it up unless someone else does. I’m still far enough away where people don’t take me too seriously yet :) Little do they know!…

  3. I don’t know that I will retire earlier, but I sure plan to have the option. With this said I do talk to people about what I am doing. In the begging when i was paying off debt, I talked to more people than I do now. It seems like people could relate better when I was in debt then they can not that I am building wealth. Precisely the reason I started my blog, so I could connect with others who are doing something similar and to track my journey.

    It doesn’t feel like a double life to not talk about it, but don’t like feeling like I can share my whole life with others simply because of how they might perceive my financial situation.

    1. Such a good point that debt is more relatable than wealth. It’s a sad commentary on our society! We definitely don’t hold back because we’re afraid of reactions from others — we’re afraid of losing our jobs! Kinda need to keep those to make the ER math work. :-) But love that you’re able to talk about your plan a little more widely. Thanks for commenting!

  4. I haven’t explicitly laid out my plans to anyone other than my partner, but I am very vocal that I do not plan to spend the majority of my adult life in typical paid employment situation. Many people, especially family members who are older than me, just sort of roll their eyes and make some comment that “eventually I will find the perfect job” or “eventually I will grow up and accept permanent paid employment as my lot in life.” The financial adviser who manages my 457(b) retirement account has so far been the most accepting/ enthusiastic about my plans. I work for the local government, and am not really invested in what I do, so I share my plans freely with coworkers if they are willing to listen. I want to get the word out to people that FIRE is an option that is easier to attain than they think. I want to set an example for those around me so that they too may break free of the work slave mentality.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed connecting with others over social media for both support and inspiration in the ER journey!

  5. I can totally relate to this! For me it’s not so much about retiring early because I still have a lot of debt to pay off before I can even start investing more into my retirement. It’s more because I want to be able to express myself freely on my blog without it getting back to my employer, coworkers, and even certain family members who tend to criticize (or expect handouts when I get to where I want to be financially).

  6. As you know, Mr. FI are living the double life…and kind of love it! I mean yes, it’s hard at times to not tell people. Especially on the days where something cool happened on Twitter or our blog or we realized some fun opportunity that becoming FI will help us to attain. But we understand that, for right now, it’s just better to keep our identities and our goals a secret from the majority of the world. Because we share our earnings online and don’t want everyone we know to know what we make (or for those who we DON’T know to know who we are AND what we make), we figured it would be best to remain anonymous. Granted, we’re not rolling in the dough or anything, but it’s something we like to keep private – it just makes us feel safer and less…exposed.

    But other than not being able to share our secret whenever we want with whomever we want, I’ve noticed Mr. FI and I have become closer because we have this little (big) secret between just the two of us (and some close friends and family). It feels like we’ve been on a trip together and have all these stories and memories building up from each milestone and blog post. We often find ourselves catching each other’s eye during conversations with other people where we both know what we’d LIKE to say in response to something, but won’t. It’s nice knowing we have a connection like that in our everyday lives that we probably wouldn’t be able to have otherwise – especially since we are apart 40 hrs a week at our jobs, each doing things that aren’t interesting enough to talk about at the end of the day to the other. So, although it’s hard to live a “double life,” hopefully you can find a way to enjoy it too! After all, who doesn’t want to pretend to be a secret agent sometimes ;)

    1. Especially for the money stuff, yes! So important not to share that with IRL people. Though plenty of FIers are open about the $ numbers, we’re with you, and don’t want to be that open! Thanks for putting the secret agent spin on this. ;-)

  7. Personally, I feel that those people who challenge the norm are under-rated in the traditional job setting.

    I understand your feelings but hope your employers and colleagues have open minds and are interested in having conversations which might lead to epiphanies of their own.

  8. “It depends” is very much my attitude to this issue. My close family know in a vague way, but would still be surprised at the full picture if the knew it all. My friends don’t know at all because their financial literacy is quite different to ours, and it would make things very awkward.

    And my workmates don’t know either because it would probably have consequences, but I’m sure they will look back on conversations once they know and realise that it was staring them in the face for years!

    It does feel like quite a double life, especially so because I choose not to socialise with work colleagues outside of work anyway, so I end up being quite a different person outside of work in both a social and a financial sense.

    I find the job quite draining at times, and when the long day ends I want nothing more than to leave the office and not have anything to do with work people until I have to go back the next day or on Monday. Having a separate social life does make it easier to have a separate financial perspective though, as social interactions can sometimes derail financials if you are dealing with people that don’t have similar financial values.

    1. Thanks for sharing your take. FWIW, we’ve found that friends don’t need high financial literacy to understand what we’re doing. Spend a lot less, save a lot more, pay off the house… Pretty simple at its core.

  9. I have told quite a few people of my cube farm retirement plans. It also helps me maintain my goal. otherwise, you may get trapped in a One More year syndrome.

    I told them at work, so that did not put me on some crappy 3 year project… And they might figure ‘Give that work to someone else, this guy won’t be around for the finish”.

    I just hope they do not make me scrub out all the garbage cans on my last weeks…

    1. We’re definitely not worried about one more syndrome for us — we want out yesterday! — but glad you are able to be open about your plans at work. Thanks for commenting!

  10. I love that your blog is gaining in readership. Clearly a lot of effort is going into your work, and it shows! :)

    In our case, we have told a few family members and close friends of our FIRE goals, but they are skeptical, find it unrealistic, and/or that it’s not a worthy goal to strive for. So we’ve decided to not talk about it anymore, as money discussions outside of the norm can really change the tone of the conversation, which we aren’t comfortable with. If I had to choose to fight about my controversial lifestyle, I would rather have open discussions about my veganism rather than how I manage my money. :D

  11. I can see both sides of this argument. I understand why some wouldn’t want people knowing their business, but the one reason I do tell people I’m super frugal and want to retire early is because most of them laugh in my face.

    In fact, I did this at work the other day. We were doing this stupid game where we’d all answer a question, and one of the questions came up about one of your life goals. Mine was to retire by 40 or 45, but no later. You wouldn’t believe the laughs I got. This just made ME laugh (at how small minded some can be).

    Society has programmed us to think we have to retire at 65, move to Florida, then die (exaggerating of course). It’s fun to tell people that you’re challenging the norm, then have them laugh at you. For me this is one big thing – MOTIVATION. The more people discount my goals, the harder I’m going to work to achieve them.

    One last note, very well written article, and like the comment above, I am happy to see you’re gaining readership. Keep it comin’!

    1. Ha — That’s a perspective we haven’t heard before! Love the idea of using haters and their laughter as motivation. And thanks for the well wishes! We’re thrilled to be connecting with more people.

    2. I’m motivated exactly the same way! When I told a close friend we had paid off the house her reaction was well, you did that at the expense of your retirement. She dismissed the accomplishment completely out of hand! We don’t normally discuss money on a grand scale but we have supported each other with being frugal. That really chapped my hide and has motivated me on our early retirement goals. We should be set to retire in our late 40s, about 15 years before they do. i can’t wait. Lol.

  12. How can people not enjoy reading your blog?! ;)

    For us, it usually doesn’t come up in normal conversation to discuss our FI/RE goals. I have spoken to my mother about it (I tell her everything), at first she did not quite understand, but I think she is beginning to see the value in it for us and more importantly is happy that we are happy. I have in the past talked a little bit about our lifestyle and goals with my college friends, but it something like this: “80% savings rate?! Are you mad??”. Now we just keep it to ourselves and have no need to talk about it with others, with the exception of the few we have met who are on a similar track. It is hard to not be able to share with my closest friends, but that’s what my partner is for :)

  13. For now, I also stay under-the radar. That being said, at work our compliance department knows about it and it slipped in speaking to one coworker. Lets see what this gives.
    But I am far enough away from my FIRE goal not to worry too much about my current employer knowing.
    Friends and family are not informed either. Maybe, later, if my plans prove to be good and are under control. I like the idea of this being a litmus test.
    Taking the route we take, is not the standard approach. Deviation from the expectations is something people find weird. not everybody can handle it. I still need to find the words and approach to bring up the subject.

    Either way, good luck on your journey.

    1. Thanks! And good luck to you too! For what it’s worth — most of the people we have told have been supportive and enthusiastic. Even though it’s not the norm, most folks quickly see the virtue in the FIRE approach. :-)

  14. I accidentally emailed some FI links to some friends from my blog email account instead of my personal one a few years ago! One of those friends I talk about finances with anyway and the other one is my now boyfriend, so it wasn’t the end of the world and neither of them ever replied. My mom was actually one of the people who suggested I could probably retire early! One close friend knows about my general plans, but not specific numbers. At this point though, I don’t have a specific timeline on retiring early as I’m still in my twenties and there are some unknowns about the future. Plus, I would way prefer to retire with someone else and so one of my current projects is to get my boyfriend on board the retiring early train ;)

    1. Yikes! We would probably have a heart attack if we accidentally sent links around to the wrong folks. But your plan and support from your mom sounds pretty awesome. We definitely recommend making sure that you and your partner are fully on board with the plan, as early retirement for sure takes real dedication, as you know.

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