We’re now half a year into early retirement (nearly seven months for Mark), so it’s a good time to check in on where we are relative to where we imagined we’d be by now. I spent three years before we retired writing this blog, after all, and that gave me a lot of time (and words) to daydream about what our early retirement would be like. Are we living up to that vision? Are we diverging wildly from it?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about what early retirement has and hasn’t fixed (notable on that list: my migraines), so this is a follow-up to that, focusing less on the “problems” that post addressed, and more on what we’re actually doing these days.
A few quick side notes before we dive in:
- It’s that time of year when personal finance bloggers prepare for FinCon and when nominations happen for the Plutus Awards, the blogging community’s highest award. If you feel inspired, take a moment to nominate your favorites, and if you think Our Next Life has had an especially big year (the reveal! the retirement! the book deal!), I’d be grateful for your votes for blog of the year and best FIRE blog, along with any other categories that speak to you. The form looks kind of intimidating, but you can leave as many boxes blank as you wish to. The good thing is that you can vote for more than one site per category, which is a cool addition. Whoever your favorites are (they don’t have to be ONL!), I hope you’ll vote! Being recognized as a finalist is pretty darn gratifying and I’d love to see lots of new folks get that thrill this year.
- Registration is open for Cents Positive, the financial independence retreat for women. There are only 15 spots left as of this writing, so jump on it if you’d like to attend. And if you can’t make this one, sign up for the email list so you can stay updated on future retreats in different locations. The whole focus is on getting women together as affordably as possible in locations that are inexpensive to travel to, and I think we’re living up to that promise with the inaugural retreat in Denver in November. Plus, three words: onesie fascinator party.
- I’ll be sending out a big update in the email newsletter next week, including a lot more personal updates than I share here on the blog. If you don’t want to miss out, sign up for the newsletter. (And you know I’ll never spam you or try to sell you stuff — I don’t even want to harm your precious eyes with ads on the site. The newsletter is just for the occasional personal updates that the whole internet doesn’t need to see.)
We always knew that this first year of early retirement would be multi-factorial, that is we’d be focused on a bunch of different things, from adjusting to the lack to work and establishing a new pace of life to starting to check off things on our aspirational goals list. So I’ve split up the rundown into divisions that align to those factors.
We knew we’d need some time to adjust to our new life — including addressing the all-important sleep debt — and planned to take on as little as possible during our transition period to give ourselves a chance to recharge for real.
Detox phase — Our careers were extremely stressful and demanding, and top of our list was letting ourselves decompress from them with an extended detox period. While we don’t necessarily feel well rested every day (mostly because the kids are still in charge and we aren’t good about going to bed at a consistent time), we both feel mostly relieved of those old work feelings. In fact, it’s kind of amazing how little I think of my old work life. Occasionally I’ll see a colleague’s tweet and think, “Oh yeah! I used to be a part of that!” But it’s remarkable how quickly all of that stuff left my brain. And, despite how busy we’ve been in early retirement, we’ve managed not to take on too many new things. We’re mostly doing what we were already doing, and the new things are offshoots of old things (see Cents Positive above).
Most of the to do list items we assigned to happen right after our retirement date were financial in nature. Some were simply things to check off the list, but others were shifts in how we manage or think about aspects of our finances.
Multi-account management system — We’d planned to transition to a multi-account system to help mimic the cash flow of employment, using a new checking account as the parking lot for side hustle income, dividends and sales of shares, and setting up regular transfers/”paychecks” to our normal checking account. We also planned to reinstate allowances, at least for a while. We’ve done neither of these things, but will likely do them soon, because if you’re non-budgeters like us, who are good at artificially constraining your spending when you see less than you truly have in your checking account, but aren’t necessarily great at just spending some small, set amount, then all of a sudden having more than we need in checking is not helpful. We tried going with the flow for a while, but now see that we were right to want the pretend-paychecks in the first place.
Rollover 401(k) accounts — Mark’s old high-fee 401(k) is officially a Vanguard IRA, but mine is still sitting in my old work account until I get the employer match. I could have rolled it over without the match once, and then rolled over the match as a second transaction, but I’d rather do it just once. Plus my work account fees aren’t crazy, so it’s not as urgent as it was to get Mark’s funds out. (But come on, old employer! Pay out that match already!)
Though early retirement discussions usually begin with talk of optimizing finances and finding ways to spend less money, I’ll confess that those pieces have never been that interesting to me. They’re just math. The fascinating pieces have been how we’d figure out new rhythms for our life with no structure, few rules and few examples to follow. And we’re slowly but surely figuring out our way, a big part of which is balancing out when we say yes, and when we say no.
Boundaries (“saying no”) — Our whole vision for early retirement was what we deemed a “life of yes.” But to say yes, we must also say no, or we’ll fill up all our time and be unable to say yes to the things that are truly important to us. And we’ve been mostly good about that, studiously applying what we dubbed our “high school rule” to determine what work to take on (essentially: would we have done it happily, for free, in high school?), and deciding against large new commitments. I was seriously considering running for town council here, for example, but decided that no matter how much I want to improve certain things, that commitment is incompatible with all the travel we want to do next year and beyond. So “no” it was.
Stoke factor (“saying yes“) — And then there’s the happy flip side! Mark has been saying yes a lot to outdoor adventure, racking up lots of mountain bike miles and beach volleyball hours every week, all of which was in the plan. We’ve had several guests visit, and we can spend that time with them uninterrupted, not nose-down in our phones, showing them the best of Tahoe. And I’ve been able to take on a few dream projects and offshoots like writing my book, speaking at Google and finding ways to bring the early retirement community together through meetups and retreats.
Living with purpose — I remain convinced that everyone considering or living in early retirement should be thinking about living with purpose, but if you’re a naturally purpose-driven person, a lot of this takes care of itself. While, sure, we spend some time on the couch watching TV (we have so many shows to catch up on, after all!), we’re mostly drawn to activities that feel meaningful to us.
Year 1 To Do List
Almost two and a half years ago, in February 2016, I mapped out our Year 1 plan, and it’s turned out to be fairly spot-on. Here’s what’s on that old list, and how we’re doing in each purpose category:
Basics: Protecting Our Health
Catch up on sleep — Mostly caught up, though not great about staying caught up. Revelation: retiring doesn’t automatically guarantee that you’ll get enough sleep, just like it doesn’t automatically cure migraines.
Explore opportunities to hustle for produce — We once envisioned working occasional shifts on a local-ish farm for a CSA share, or working a farmers’ market booth for fresh veggies, but that just hasn’t been a priority. We have too many other things we want to be doing, so we’re paying for our produce like everybody else.
Improve our fitness — We’re doing pretty well on fitness, Mark especially with all the mountain biking and volleyball. I’ve been focusing on my physical therapy activities, but also getting out on quite a few hikes in addition to my PT.
Purpose Category: Adventure
Fly on miles while we still have status — We originally envisioned that we’d want to use as many miles as possible in year 1 of retirement because it’s easier and cheaper to do so when you have high airline status. But, I’m now so close to million miler (which earns lifetime gold status) that I’m focused on continuing to pay my way with dollars and credit card (not airline) points until I cross that line. Then, once we’re gold forever, we can cash in on those millions of miles we’re hoarding. But the real point of this item was to travel a lot, and we’re doing well! We’ve already been to Taiwan, New York, Coachella, New Mexico and a few close-by spots this year, and we have upcoming trips to Minnesota, Mexico, Denver, Sonoma (10-year anniversary!), Florida (FinCon!), New York and an international location TBD on the calendar, all before the end of 2018. I’m still flying a lot, even though it’s a whoooole lot less than when I was working.
Enjoy the “staycation” — We’ve been doing this! We’re out on the trails almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day with the dogs, and we’re exploring our region just as we hoped we would.
Purpose Category: Service
Increase our board service — We actually got ahead of the game on this one. We’re both president of local nonprofit boards ahead of schedule, which we didn’t think would happen before we retired. And while we’d each also like to be board members on larger boards, we have plenty full plates right now, so will wait until next year or the following to add on.
Volunteer more — In addition to our nonprofit board work, we’ve been continuing to volunteer with the local animal shelter, but in truth haven’t done as much additional volunteering as we’d originally envisioned. But we did fully fund our donor advised fund (DAF) before we retired, so have been doing much more charitable than we originally envisioned when I wrote out this list, which feels like it balances out.
Purpose Category: Creativity
Take the camera — Most of the photos you see on the blog are simple iPhone pics, but we both love photography and have real cameras… we just hardly ever felt like schlepping them along with us. But we’ve been better about this, per our aspiration. I carried the big camera to Taiwan, we’ve taken it out when touring around our home region and we’ll certainly take it with us on additional travels this year.
Join a writers group — Two-years-ago me thought the best thing I could do on the writing front at this point in time was to join a writers group and start thinking about writing a book. So it’s definitely a “pinch me” moment to know that the book is already submitted (first version, anyway — this is a multi-step process), and it’s coming out next spring. #lifelist
Plus, it didn’t make it onto that original Year 1 roadmap in 2016, but the two big creative elements that are important factors are:
This blog! — It always made me sad when bloggers faded away after retiring, and I resolved not to be one of the ones who did that. But, the book definitely forced me to step back from the twice per week posting that I did like clockwork for three-plus years, and I’m not gonna lie that it’s been hard to re-establish that rhythm. Turns out I was not making it up when I said over the years that it’s easier to post twice a week than once a week or less. It’s true! You keep that blogging muscle strong when you post often, and I’ve let it atrophy a bit. I’m not going to force myself to post twice a week if it gets in the way of other important early retirement goals, but I want to rebuild that muscle to post regularly and get back to responding to comments quickly, because that’s such a fulfilling and fun part of it all.
Podcasting — You may recall me talking about the podcast Mark and I are planning, Adventures in Early Retirement, and how it should have launched months ago. Turns out the book turned lots of things upside-down, and we’re not live yet. We’re still planning to do it, but I don’t want to commit to a timeline. The Fairer Cents, however, is doing really well, and is even more fun and interesting in the second season. (Note: It’s NOT an FI podcast. It’s really a social issues podcast with a money framing, focusing on women in particular.)
Early retirement isn’t the end goal, though it can feel that way while saving for it. It’s the beginning of the journey, or at least the beginning of a new journey, and so it’s important to shift your focus to new, future goals. And some of ours are to:
- Learn more Japanese and plan a longer trip back there (we went for two weeks last year and loooooved it)
- Get to fluency in Spanish so we can travel all over this hemisphere and not just stick to the usual tourist trails
- Launch my book next year and then see what’s next
- Continue building community among FIers, through retreats, meetups and other new ideas
- Speak publicly more — I don’t even care if the engagements pay, so long as they pay for our travel!
- Tick off 14ers in the Sierra, and tick off more national parks
But, we may not get to many of those things too soon. We have enough going on, and the goal is to add things slowly.
How is your year going? Have you checked any big items off your to do list that we can help you celebrate? What do you aspire to do in your first year of early retirement? Or what have you been doing if you’re already retired? Let’s chat in the comments!
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Categories: we retired early