we retired early

Early Retirement Year 1: Six-Month Check-In

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.) 

OurNextLife.com // First Year of Early Retirement, Six Month Check-In // Financial independence, happiness, adventure, FIRE movement

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.

Transition Period

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).

Financial Management

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!)

Life Management

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.)

Future Goals

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.

 

Chime In!

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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32 replies »

  1. So many good things! (Apart from your migraines). I personally am glad you want to work your way back up to twice-weekly posting, because I enjoy reading your blog. I find inspiration in all the cool things you can spend more time on now , and my early retirement would have similar categories.

    It’s a revelation and amusing at the same time to see that you still can’t do it all, even when retired! (I suffer from do-it-all syndrome too…).

  2. Ok seeing as I’m the first to comment, I have to ask – do you publish blog posts live , I.e. when you finish writing them (because if so, hello sleep deprivation !), or do you publish witha time delay? I don’t blog so I don’t even know what the technical term for that would be.

    I’m in the UK, hence why I’m online now ;-)

  3. My 2018 has been a wild ride! A week and a half into the year, my boss left for another job and suddenly the rumormill suggested that my job wasn’t safe and/or that I was getting a promotion, but it would require a move 400 miles away to headquarters. Fortunately neither was true, but it made me feel very unsettled, and I started looking for something more stable (and lucrative) and I found it!
    I’ve presented at two conferences and attended 4 in 4 different states. I’ve traveled to 8 states, including spontaneous travel (7 days or less preparation) on two occasions.
    Currently in San Diego and I can’t sleep because we’re going whale watching this morning! *Squeal*
    I revived my long-dead blog, and even bought my domain and am so stoked about FinCon. I can’t wait to see how the 2nd half of 2018 goes!!

  4. So much accomplished in the last six months, congrats. When I fore I would only want to catch up on sleep in the first six months the, lol

  5. All things considered, sounds like a pretty great start!

    Pretty off topic, but I’m curious: What are your thoughts on flying vis a vis the environment? I think air travel is really cool on many levels, but the environmentally-conscious side of me thinks I fly too much and has been making an effort to throttle back the jetting. I’d love your thoughts on the topic. :)

  6. we wrapped up the big maint. on chateau smidlap so a new roof and paint on the beast will mean we shouldn’t need to touch those if we call it a day in a year or two. plus it makes the place much more sell-able. you’re gonna like sonoma but i’m sure you’ve been there before. we gravitate to healdsburgh.

  7. “They’re just math?” I’m probably alone in this, but that’s what I was hoping to see.

    You’ve always done very well posting about how you were feeling and what came up as a surprise or not. I was hoping to see something like, “We budgeted 100 units of money (not sharing dollars) a month and we ended up spending 92 units. The book deal money helped. In the meantime, our net worth moved up from 100 units to 102 units as the markets stayed strong. Knock on wood, we’ve avoided the sequence of returns risk.”

    Can you bring back the charts and graphs like you used to do?

  8. As a gardener the comments about produce caught my eye. Have you considered just growing your own produce? Easing into it slowly, of course. If you were considering working in a community garden, you could just do it yourself and reap all the benefits. Unless of course you have zero yard and no porch or patio??

  9. Love the future goals and where you are headed in early retirement! Learning multiple languages is something I’ve always wanted to do but the time it takes is just not what I can give right now. Might have to wait for early retirement as well!

    2018 has been great on this end. Killing my financial goals and have went on dozens of weekend adventures to make sure I’m really enjoying the journey to FI 🙂

  10. Wow, I’m surprised your employer hasn’t paid out the match already!! One of old employers did their true-up in February.

    I feel like this year has just flown by! Our summer turned out to be incredibly busy, which was unexpected. I’m also really excited that hopefully we should not be going to as many weddings each year going forward as it felt like that was eating up a lot of our vacation time and summer time going to 3-5 per year for the last several years. Silly late twenties!

    My goals for sabbatical this year were to: catch up on sleep, eliminate stress, lose the weight I gained during the really bad pain winter, read a lot of books, and then re-evaluate what I want to do next. So far, I’m good on sleep, have a great routine and to do list plans, am doing okay on the stress side (side eye to the moths that love our condo more than we do), we have been doing great with YNAB and combining some more finances, and I’ve been ignoring my school email.

  11. My brother just gave his 2 week notice and I want him to see your blog. How can I do this? Sorry to say I stlll have migraines in retirement.

  12. Nice update! Let me know if you need any backpacking loop recommendations in the Sierras or closer to the Bay Area. I’ve lived here for a few years and have spent many a summer weekend putzing around on trails or doing river floats etc. Maybe you can share some great ones in the Tahoe region as well (one of our favorites is around Grouse Ridge, which isn’t too far from you! So many lakes for swimming!).

  13. My wife and I left our full-time jobs last year and just wrapped up eight months of travel by sailboat. We’re settling into our new home base in Wisconsin and planning to return to our boat (and our travels) this fall. Meanwhile, my second book comes out in September—I’m slowly absorbing the workload of marketing, promotion, and bonus content in the run-up to the launch. It’s all really great, but it still feels very new. I guess we haven’t made as much progress assembling the puzzle pieces of our new life as I thought we would have at this point.

  14. Sounds like you and Mark are enjoying the post retirement life. In terms of photography skill, just need to do more photo walks and practice. Get to know your “big” camera inside out. That’s what I did when I started out. :)

    Another trip to Japan would be pretty neat. I would love to go back there and visit smaller towns.

  15. One of my goals is to travel overseas every year. Three months ago I went to North Korea, so that goal is ticked off my list for 2018. Now I’m doing some long-delayed landscaping in the back yard. (Well… I’M not doing it – the landscaper is!)
    Not retired yet… I’ll be in the classroom for another 4 or 5 years.
    :)
    Sorry to hear about the migraines –

  16. Post retirement has really allowed us to focus on our passion which is camping and hiking the National/State parks and BLM/state trust lands. We also love the history of the USA park system.

    We feel very strongly about our nations parks. Preserving them for the future generations is very important!
    So our plan is to become more involved in trail volunteer programs working with youth programs. Young people need positive exposure which hopefully opens doors and minds to help preserve our limited resources.

    We heavily focus on camping and hiking to escape the summer heat in Arizona. We just returned from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. One of our favorite places in the system. Fire Point was just breathtaking.

    Our winter is spent pursuing other vollenter opportunies locally. Supporting the public library’s, local habitats improvement projects.

    If there is one big thing that retirement has granted us is having time to really dine into our core pursuits.

    Your note about using the camera phone less and your camera more struck a cord as I used to depend totally on my iPad. I use the Nikon way more these days as it makes me work for better photos. I pull the stick and load to iPad with a FireWire for posting while in the field.

    ‘Wag more bark less’

  17. If you’ve never been to Spain or Portugal, I would very much recommend either of both for your TBD international trip. We spent two weeks in Spain last year and loved it so much we just had to go back. So we spent three weeks traveling through Spain and Portugal this year! For both trips, I worked with a wonderful travel agency based in Madrid that took my ivory tower ideas and turned them into viable, executable memory making journeys.

  18. I’ll let you know when we’re coming to Tahoe. Would be great to have the ultimate tour guides!
    Thanks for blazing the trail. Hoping I can write a similar post in the not too distant future. And still hoping of course those dang migraines stfu.

  19. Glad to hear youryo making mostly good progress on your goals and even have found some more to work towards in the near future. Lifes always best when you have something to strive toward ;) If your tbd international trip brings you to Germany or somewhere nearby, we would love to know if you plan a meet up.

  20. Glad you are enjoying your retirement and selfishly am glad you are going to post more regularly and still planning on doing the podcast, love the fairer cents.

  21. Love the half year check-up! I hope you do a Meetup while you’re in Minnesota. As you’re aware, there’s a strong FI presence here! Plus we have beautiful outdoor space, perfect for photography and lake walks (or SUPs or canoeing or whatever your jam is). Yummm, jam…

  22. I can’t believe it’s been six months already! I think you made the right decision about town council, at least for now. Unlike plenty of other public service opportunities, that one requires you to be around the vast majority of the year. Maybe some day you won’t feel the need to travel so much, and then you can reevaluate at that point.

  23. What a wonderful six month review! I’m really enjoying watching the FIRE’d lifestyle from afar and can’t wait to get there myself. I sometimes wonder about filling the days. Were most of your activities things that you were already doing (the volunteer boards, particularly) before retirement that you’ve just increased time on or did you step into those after you freed up your working hours?

  24. What are you using to get Spanish fluency? I’ve been keeping up with Duolingo but feel it won’t get me there (and while it’s good for keeping things refreshed, I think it was easier for me to start with because I’d come close to minoring in spanish in college — not sure how well it would work with no background in the language).
    Sorry about the migraines! But at least the PT is going well, I guess? PT is a bitch with a hectic job.

  25. Love this update! Thanks for being so forthcoming about the plans that have worked out and the ones that haven’t. It sounds like you are prioritizing what is most important to you.

    So far 2018 has been a good year for us. Credit card debt is gone, and now we’re going to work on building our emergency fund and paying off my student loan. Your story helps keep me motivated!

  26. My goals this year were not precisely money related, but life-related. I’m re-setting after the end of a LTR. More time with friends and more focus on health. More adventures and not waiting for a significant other to go do the things.

    I keep struggling with wanting to have a more structured day/week, but I’m just not cutting it there yet. That part has often eluded me, but I am doing so much. I need to relax into realizing that perhaps this is just the way I am and be grateful that I’ve created a life where it can work.

  27. Enjoy your blog a lot since I heard you interviewed by the Mad Fientist and decided that was my favourite interview he had done. Interesting to hear what you are doing as we are 4 months into a break in our work life albeit my partner who is the bread winner has plans to go back to work eventually. Not the 12-14 hour days in the financial markets we had though.

    Our break is a lot less busy than yours. We are just generally having a long stay cation that we are loving. Getting up when we want, going downtown to cafes, fine tuning our investments. I’ve set up a similar system to you of trying to mimic a pay check every month. My partner is having to bat off the work offers from those who can’t quite fathom what we’ve done. He is brushing up on a second language and I’ve just finished archiving my whole pre digital photo collection and completed yearbooks to preserve them. Overseas travel is planned in and we hope like you to actually explore more of our own country with road trips.

  28. Dang….seems like you got busy and well I’ve gotten busy with fun stuff and somehow drifted away from your blog for a little bit. I’m sorry but I’m back ! Love the update on how you and Mark are doing. Would love to find time to hit the Sierras again and swing in to visit you guys now that you are expert local guides :) anyhow keep loving life and happy trails

  29. Have you written, or do you plan to write, an update on how your spending in retirement is lining up with your budget / expectations? I know you don’t share numbers, but perhaps you’d be willing to share as a percentage to budget (or even as vaguely as stating whether you were under or your plan). I’m most curious about whether your spending increased, decreased, or did not change since you retired. You’ve mentioned that you planned conservatively; if you didn’t have side hustle income (e.g. from your book or Mark’s consulting), would your initial early retirement plan still be sustainable?

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