After nearly four years of blogging here, and 363 posts (this makes 364), many of which tally 2000 words or more, I’ve written a lot. But thanks to that volume, much of what I most wish people knew is buried deep under hundreds of posts, or isn’t especially well optimized for SEO and doesn’t pop up on Google searches. (Mostly because I don’t care one bit about SEO and so do zero of it.)
But when I step back and think about it all, I can pull out several big principles that I want everyone to know, whether you’re just beginning to consider embarking on an early retirement journey, or you’re well into it.
But rather than rewrite old posts to bring some of those most important principles to the top of the queue, today I’m doing something I’ve never done before and giving a full run-down of what I believe everyone should know about early retirement in clip show form, with links to prior posts that will let you go deeper on the ideas that feel most relevant to you.
And let me know at the end: what do you want to know but haven’t seen addressed anywhere? (There’s a good chance I have an old post that speaks to it, just based on playing the odds, and I can share that link.) Or what have you learned that you don’t see people talking about here or elsewhere?
Early Retirement Can Happen Quickly — But It Can Feel Slow
One of the things that still feels most surreal about our early retirement is how quickly it happened. We obviously had benefits that not everyone has of more pay than we needed, no kids and good luck in that nothing bad or expensive happened to derail our savings plan. But while most people work 40 years or more, we peaced out after fewer than 20 years, only about six years after getting serious about saving for early retirement. Of course, that’s fast in the big picture, but day to day, the journey can feel like it’s taking forever. In those years when it feels slow, here’s some fodder to urge you on, from how to head off impatience and get through the slog, to a reminder of where I was financially only a decade before retiring.
- Don’t Get Discouraged by Slow Initial Progress // A Blast from My Financial Past
- Getting Through the Middle Saving Years Slog
- Conquering Impatience on the Road to Financial Independence
- The Importance of Pacing Yourself on the Road to Financial Independence
You Don’t Have to Be Frugal About Everything To Do It
It is absolutely not true that you need to eschew driving a car and subsist on rice and beans to retire early, and much of what this community sometimes calls “extreme” is really just normal frugality or everyday life to most people in the country and around the world. If you make intentional spending choices, you truly don’t have to be frugal about every little thing to save at a high rate. (But it certainly helps to continually find ways to earn more!)
- The Simple Math of Lifestyle Stagnation, the Biggest Secret of Our Success
- A Love Letter to the Atypical, Unfrugal Early Retirees
- Financial Independence, Fight Club and the Mindless Consumer Zombie Narrative
- Quitting the Hustle for Good // Plus Why It’s Okay Not to Side Hustle
But You Should Be Frugal About Some Things
But despite being against most things in the extreme, I do think there’s something important about being frugal — or selectively hardcore — about a few things in your life. Doing so will certainly save money, but it may teach you much more.
- What’s Your “Selectively Hardcore”? The Non-Financial Benefits of Strict, Strategic Frugality
- What Keeping Our House Cold Has Taught Us
Don’t Take Conventional Wisdom at Face Value — Even the Unconventional FIRE Conventional Wisdom
It can be easy to treat certain ideas like dogma, like that the 4% rule is gospel, or that HSAs are the undisputed best thing since slice bread. Or that you should choose where to retire on the basis of who has an income tax, without considering things like health care and actual early retirement tax liability. But there’s good reason to investigate every seemingly great idea thrown out there in discussions of financial independence and early retirement and to see if it actually fits in your situation. Here are a few examples.
- The Fundamental Problem with the 4% Rule for Early Retirement Isn’t the 4% Rule
- The Problem with the HSA (Health Savings Account) Isn’t the HSA
- Don’t Write Off High-Cost States for Early Retirement // Why We’ll Never Leave California
A Good Early Retirement Plan Is Multi-Faceted
When you’re planning for decades and decades of your life, filled with more unknown unknowns than known knowns, it’s essential that you build out not just a financial plan, but a life plan, and that the financial plan that supports it has room to adapt to new interests and to compensate for bad money outcomes. Your plan should have multiple types of investments, several contingencies, a plan for heading off risk (especially sequence of returns risk) and perhaps even two phases: early retirement and traditional retirement.
- Our Full Financial Plan and Philosophy
- The Income Streams Our Early Retirement Is (Now) Built On
- How We Calculated Our “Enough” Number for Early Retirement
- Don’t Forget About Your Later Years // Planning for Early AND Traditional Retirement
- Protect Your Early Retirement From Sequence of Returns Risk
- When the Crash Comes // Recession-Proofing Our Retirement Plans
Health Care Should Be Top of Mind
Recently I spoke at Camp FI Midwest, and I did a popup Q&A session on health care. Nearly everyone attended, affirming that it’s a high level concern for most of us eyeing early retirement, but it was also clear that a high percentage of people do not have an especially deep understanding of the health care options out there for retirees, how to go about researching the best options for themselves or what’s included in a standard health insurance plan. This stuff is super important and it doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating if you make it your mission to understand it all. Here are some posts to get you started.
- Signing Up for ACA/Obamacare Health Insurance for Early Retirement
- Planning for Health Care in Early Retirement
- Optimizing Our Retirement Income // ACA and Taxes Vs Actual Cashflow
You Can Earn Money And Still Be Retired
In fact, if you’re smart and focused enough to save for early retirement, you will probably find it impossible not to earn some money after you cease needing money. Weird how that happens.
- Our Big Epiphany: We Will Earn Money in Retirement
- Our “High School Rule” for Work in Early Retirement
- A Thought Experiment for the Retirement Police // Where’s the Line on Retirement?
- Retirement Needs a Rebrand
Pursuing Early Retirement Can Make Work Better (Or You Can Already Love Your Job and Still Want to Retire Early)
The wish to escape work is often a big motivator to pursue early retirement, but focusing on that wish only makes the journey slower and the slog harder. Instead, if you can change your mindset about work — aided in large part by the confidence that comes from becoming increasingly financially independent — it’s amazing how much work can change, and how much good you can do on your way out.
- The Power of a Complaint Ban
- To Care or Not To Care // The Work Mindset As Retirement Nears
- How to Use Your FI Freedom to Agitate for Others at Work
- You Can Love Your Job and Still Want to Retire Early
It’s All About Living a Purposeful, Meaningful Life
Of course none of this is really about escaping work. It’s about living big, meaningful lives that we can look back on and feel proud of. So make sure you do some real thinking about your purpose, how you’ll define yourself post-career and how you’ll use your power to leave a legacy of good.
- What Do You Want Your Tombstone to Say? // Defining Our Purpose
- How to Define Ourselves in Retirement // Creating a New Vision of Self Worth
- The Social Good of Quitting Your Job
- Our Early Retirement Charitable Mission and Donor Advised Funds
- Choosing People Over Money // The Story of Our Rental Property
That’s a Wrap!
If you can account for these principles in your early retirement planning, and in your life in general, I think you’ll be in pretty good shape. If you want even more, you can find many of my favorite posts ever near the bottom of the start here page. (Including this one, probably my favorite ever.)
So your turn! What topics would you like to see discussed or researched more? What questions do you have for early retirees (or for us specifically) that you haven’t seen addressed? What have you learned that you don’t think is common knowledge? Let’s discuss it all in the comments!
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Categories: we've learned
Even though I’ve read all of your articles already it’s good to have a concise set of links by category. You’ve done a great job of covering these topics look forward to continue reading about your experiences in early retirement. Hope to see you at fincon!
Virtual trophy! :-) See you next week! Let’s grab coffee or something.
Great roundup post Tanja. Goes to show the full breadth (and depth!) of FIRE knowledge represented on this blog.
Thanks for the high-level overview, and for your consistency over the years!
Thanks for that! There’s a lot here, and this is just from my perspective. When you look across the community as a whole, it’s amazing how much knowledge we’ve collected. :-)
I read your posts about the middle years over and over again. We’d been better than average at saving and avoiding lifestyle inflation for awhile, but about a year ago we realized that we could make early retirement happen in about 6 years. Looking six years into my past, I can’t believe how fast that time flew by. But you’re right, sometimes the day to day, or even month to month feels like watching grass grow. It’s those times that I’m most tempted to make a big purchase as a sort of palliative measure. I’m constantly looking for alternative ways to get that dopamine hit–tacking a big to-do list item, going for a run or hike, cooking something complicated, or even de-cluttering.
I’m so glad that post helped you! Thanks for sharing that. :-) That’s so awesome you’ve done that re-evaluation and channeled your palliative urges (I love that metaphor) into budget-friendly, productive pursuits.
Thanks for this! I wish all the bloggers I’ve been following these last few years would do a round-up post like this. As boring as taxes tend to be I wish there were more articles on the subject. The benefits of an LLC taxed as an S-Corp vs just doing a simple LLC, can you put too much money in pretax accounts, etc. Enjoy your Saturday! ER, Wednesday I mean.
;-) Someone recently asked if there was a way to get a condensed summary of my posts (besides the Start Here page, which is pretty comprehensive, too), and that gave me the idea to do this post. I agree everyone should do this! And while I recommend Go Curry Cracker for all things tax-related, I will be writing more about LLCs and S corps very soon. Stay tuned!
Wow – great hit parade. Thanks for putting together this post as it’ll be a great one to reference in the future.
You’re so welcome! Glad it’s helpful.
I’m definitely going to have to re-read your posts about the middle years because we are finally paying off the last of our debt (besides the mortgage) and beginning to ramp up our savings. Together, we make under $100K before taxes, so it’s going to be a long haul that I am not looking forward to. I’m going to be exploring awesome things in my “off time” from work* to try to just keep myself excited/motivated while also not being able to jet off and backpack around Yellowstone for a month or two at a time. *I just got a part-time job, on top of my FT job, to earn/save even more.. It’s only an extra $400/month or so..but it’s a better use of 15 or so hours a week than sitting around on my butt. Also, I hope that my partner and I can start to take beautiful photography pictures and sell them. I know photography is one of those things lately where the business is going down because the cameras on peoples phones are so good..So, we’ll see if we’re able to eek out a bit of a side hustle from this new endeavor. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I sure hope something comes of it!
But yeah.. gonna need to re-read about not going crazy in the next 5-10 years! :D
Also, going through previous posts..you grew up in GB?! I grew up north of, and now live in, MKE! Small world!! Maybe if you are ever back in “town” (state?), we can do a pot luck or something.. hehe! I dream of living in a place with vertical topography of some sort. Do you ever miss living by the lake and fall colors?
I sure did! I don’t get back often, but when I do, I will for sure do a meetup. And yeah, I have to say I prefer vertical topography. Fall colors are nice, but we have lots of lakes here (including one of the prettiest ones anywhere), and I’ll take mountains over fall colors (and mosquitoes, humidity, etc.) any day. ;-)
If you haven’t already, check out How to Retire Early by Robert & Robin Charlton: https://amzn.to/2MMk45n. I also interviewed them here: https://ournextlife.com/2016/01/13/interview-with-robert-robin-charlton-authors-of-how-to-retire-early/. They retired in 12 years of total saving and only cracked six figures combined in the last few years. They share all their numbers, and you might find it encouraging! And as for the rest, I highly recommend thinking about it as just living your life. The worst thing would be getting to your goal and looking back to realize you’d wasted a decade pining for the future rather than focusing on the present. Focus on living a life you enjoy now, and that will help a ton. :-)
Awesome! This gives me some great binging material when I need to find things to read! I really like how you split the posts into groups to make it more concise.
Excellent! Glad this is helpful!
You have some of my favorites of yours listed here – namely atypical unfrugal early retirees and selective frugality, because this is something that needs a LOT more discussion in the FIRE space, in my opinion.
As usual, we are in agreement. :-)
Love the list here and I love how you keep using pics from Taiwan. You guys must really loved Taiwan. :D
So much that I used another Taiwan pic today! ;-) (There will be plenty more. I never really tapped my store of photos after we got back.)
I’m so with you on living meaningfully whether it means being connected to family, a community, or a life mission with a lot less financial limitations. FIRE is basically being able to pursue interests that otherwise wouldn’t be possible due to financial resource limitations since many people are not born into bountiful economic resources.
Being FIRE doesn’t mean all problems vanish. Life goes on, and problems continue to arise, but the journey leading up to FIRE has buillt up resilience, doggedness to stay the course, and waking up each day with focus, purpose, and dedication. Like training for a marathon that becomes a lifestyle.
All well said! And even with that training, sometimes we fail at waking up with focus and purpose. Because we’re still human, after all. ;-)
I’ve bookmarked this post with the intention of reading through it bit by bit. Why wouldn’t I? You’ve accomplished what I’m still working to do.
So glad it’s helpful! :-)
Thanks for the roundup! I’ve enjoyed your insights into the mental mindset of becoming FI, and the non-financial aspects of being FI. There are only so many articles you can read on the 4% rule :).
Hahahaha. True! Though for those who reeeeeaaaaaally want to dig in on the 4% rule, Karsten at Early Retirement Now has you covered. ;-)
So true! I include his amazing, encyclopedic series in my must-read pile (still working my way through it). And ok, if I were being honest, I enjoyed your article on the “problem” with the 4% rule too. So I should amend that to, after reading 29 articles on the 4% rule, how much more can you read?! ;)
Hahahahaha. Fair enough! ;-)