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One Year of Early Retirement, Part 3: What We’re Changing

Today’s is the last post in a three-part series about the most notable points of our first full year of early retirement. The first part was a bit of reflection about the biggest lessons we learned, and the second was a rundown of the adventures we got ourselves into it. And now, in part three, a bit more reflection, this time on what we’re consciously changing in year two.

A few quick announcements before we jump in:

1. I’ll be in Portland, Oregon, in late March for the AWP Conference and will host a meetup the evening of Wednesday, March 27. Stay tuned to the blog sidebar and e-newsletter for final details, but expect 7 PMish and downtownish. As with all meetups, there’s no formal agenda, and it’s just a chance for financial independence-interested folks to hang out and meet one another. 

2. There’s still time to be entered to win one of four Skype sessions with me (or me and Mark — winner’s choice) for everyone who pre-orders Work Optional no later than February 11 and emails proof of purchase to worktoptionalpreorder at gmail dot com. While not everyone can win, everyone who pre-orders will receive the values-based budget planner as a thank you. I recorded the audiobook version a few weeks ago and will let you know as soon as the download version is available for pre-order. Soon!

3. If you are considering attending the 2019 Ecuador FI Chautauqua, taking place November 2-9 this year, note that it’s slightly more than half full. It’s a small retreat — only about 30 of us — so be aware that the remaining spots could go quickly. You can find all the info here.

one year of early retirement // what we're changing -- our next life, early retirement, financial independence, work optional living, fire movement, adventure, happiness

We learned some big lessons in year one of early retirement, quite a few of which we’re considering to be just important retired life lessons. But for a few of them, we’re actively making changes to how we’re living life.

Going Back to Paper

For years, I had no choice but to have a fully electronic calendar thanks to work. Too many people needed access to my availability at all time to make a paper calendar practical, and while I tried for a year or two a decade ago to maintain both a paper calendar and electronic one, that quickly became impossible, as meetings changed too frequently. While I didn’t realize it until after we quit, I’ve since observed that — at least for me — having my whole life on devices only made me feel far less organized and on top of things.

For most of 2018, I maintained the (far more limited) electronic calendar and to do list, but eventually realized that not having everything written down where I could see it was a source of stress. And in my mission to minimize sources of stress, for 2019 I’ve gone fully back to paper. I now have a daily and weekly paper planner, I’ve cancelled my Asana and Todoist accounts and maintain a paper to do list, and I’m writing more notes to myself by hand, instead of dumping things into Evernote or email. And I truly do feel more calm as a result. I can flip to any spread in my planner and see everything I need to do that week (which, as a side effect, also makes it easier to enforce my “one thing per day” early retirement rule).

This going back to paper shift also includes attempting to write more letters and actually send birthday cards to loved ones on time, something we failed miserably at while working.

A fun fact about me is that I’ve long been a fountain pen nerd, and I have a major soft spot for Japanese paper and discbound notebooks. (See my EDC setup for proof.) So another benefit of going back to paper is that I can actually use my pen and notebook collection, and not just look at it. Because actually using what we have, and striving to use everything up rather than donate or Konmari things that have functional life left, is important to us.

Related post: The Use It Up Challenge, and Our Nothing New Year

Scheduling Less

As we shift back to an older way of tracking our time and to do lists, we’re also just trying to schedule less generally. We’ve been pretty good in the last year at not booking ourselves for more than one thing a day, but we sure scheduled a looooot of trips.

Though we love travel and still hope to do plenty of it this year, we have very little booked so far, and want to keep our calendar as open as possible, so we can say yes to more spontaneous things.

When we travel, we keep our time mostly open, and our approach to visiting any new city is just to wander around and see what happens. So often, we encounter magic this way, and we’ve concluded that magic happens only when you have no agenda. We want to make the rest of life more open to magic like our travel is, and that means scheduling as little as possible.

Related post: Relearning How to Live Slowly

Scheduling less equals more time to drop everything to ski powder! // one year of early retirement // what we're changing -- our next life, early retirement, financial independence, work optional living, fire movement, adventure, happiness

Scheduling less equals more time to drop everything to ski powder!

Doing Less

In addition to scheduling less, we also want to do less overall. I wrote about our “high school rule” last year (TL;DR: only doing activities in retirement that you would have happily done for free in high school), and we’ve been really good at adhering to that. In high school, I wrote for and edited the high school paper, did high school radio and radio at the local NPR station, and ran the environmental club… and that looks crazy similar to my life now. I write a blog, wrote a book, do a podcast and am president of a local conservation nonprofit. None of which feels like work, because I was thrilled to do all those things before the thought of work or compensation ever entered my mind.

And I’m happy with that mix of activities, but want to scale everything back just a bit, because it can feel like a lot. Not a lot compared to my old work to do list, but enough that I sometimes feel like I should stay in and write rather than go skiing, and that’s not what early retirement is all about.

So this year, we’re being even more protective of our time, saying yes to even less, saying no to essentially all client work (this one is mainly Mark — my only real client work has been writing a few paid articles for MarketWatch), and committing to smaller doses for things we do say yes to.

Ultimately we aspire to say yes a lot, but we’re still finding that balance of how to allow ourselves to say yes to things without that taking up so much time that we can’t say yes to other things.

Related post: A Life of Yes // Our Early Retirement Aspiration

Finally Creating the Account Structure We Planned

This one is far more practical, but we’d always planned to create a new account structure in retirement, one in which we replicate regular paychecks with a separate checking account that serves as a holding fund, with monthly or twice-monthly transfers to our primary checking account.

We didn’t actually put that system into place in year 1, in part because we wanted to see if we could function without it. (This was an instance in which we did not agree. I thought we needed the extra structure help, and Mark did not.) Because our approach to saving was a fully “unbudgeting” approach, in which hiding money from ourselves was the key feature, we’ve decided that we will do best in managing our cash flow if we use the multiple account structure to continue hiding most of our money.

So we’re in the process now of setting up multiple checking accounts, and will continue using our primary as our main payment account, with a second serving as a holding account for dividends, share sale proceeds, etc., from which we’ll pay ourselves a “paycheck,” and a third serving as a holding account for large known expenses like property tax and quarterly income tax. As to whether we’ll go all the way and go back to giving ourselves individual allowances, the jury is still out.

Related post: How We’ll Learn to Stop Worrying and Love The Budget // Managing Our Finances in Retirement

Serving More in Our Community

The one area in which we want to do more, not less, is around community service. Mark is president of the Sierra Avalanche Center and does a ton of volunteer work to promote backcountry safety and education. And I’m president of a small conservation group. We also do a lot to support fundraising at our local Humane Society, and donate regularly out of our donor advised fund.

(Side note: It feels amazing to be able to write big checks out of the donor advised fund without worrying about whether we have the money. Our year-end giving this year felt like handing out free money. Another big positive of opening and funding a DAF.)

But service has always been a hugely important thing for us, and so we’re figuring out ways to carve out more time for that. The big remaining issue that’s close to our hearts that we’re not currently involved in, beyond donating money, is hunger and poverty. So that’s on our minds big time, of how we can get more involved without it feeling like we’re too busy all the time.

one year of early retirement // what we're changing -- our next life, early retirement, financial independence, work optional living, fire movement, adventure, happiness

…and one big thing we’re going to continue:

Continue Noticing Our Personal and Collective Evolution

In a way, it’s funny to write this series of annual wrap-up posts, because the last year feels so much longer than a year. And within it, we had several major seasons that each felt distinct from one another. We learned so much last year, we grew so much together, we did so much and we had time we never had while working to reflect on those changes.

So the big thing we absolutely will continue doing is just keep our eyes open. Being intentional about noticing what we’re craving, how that’s changing, what we want as a couple, what we want individually, what feels meaningful to us, whether we feel like we need more or less structure, and all the rest.

Early retirement is a time of huge personal growth potential, especially as we grow into these non-work-stressed versions of ourselves, and we don’t want to miss that opportunity.

Your Turn!

Tell us! What are you changing in 2019? Is that in anticipation of leaving work or becoming work-optional, or as a part of your next life? What lessons did you learn last year that are impacting how you’re approaching this year? Anything you want us to know based on what I shared here? Let’s chat about all of it in the comments!

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32 replies »

  1. Thanks for your series of posts! I’m trying to be more organized in 2019, which means creating more spreadsheets! I revamped our spending tracker to make it faster to use and categorize expenses, and I made a habit tracker so that I don’t forget my habits 4 days after making them (which is what usually happens for me). A major goal is to grow more of our own food (plus hopefully extra to sell and donate), and I’d like to take more time off from work too.

  2. I agree 100% re going back to paper calendars/planning! Electronic calendars remind me of my former work life/career and the need for so many other people to be able to follow my movements. My paper calendar is by me, for me, and suits my preference of being able to flip through my future in a physical manner that electronic calendars do not support.

  3. Congrats on your first year of early retirement! Sounds like a fantastic year. I just started my year three. Over the past three months, while traveling South America, I have been observing people’s lives over here. The incredible amount of hustle, price versus value of goods and services, and hardship has been eye opening especially when you meet people from Venezuela trying hard to get back up on their feet following a failed economic system. Lawyers, Engineers, and other highly skilled people suddenly needing to leave their home country to become tourguides/ waiters/ cleaners/ etc. in foreign countries just to make ends meet. Lesser skilled folks are bouncing from country to country in pursuit of whatever job they can get. It reminded me of what happens if you walk through life taking things for granted and ignore the economic fragility of the systems and societies we we built and live in. So my hope is that my ‚work’ with focus to open people’s eyes this year will help a few people to get prepared on what might be the next global financial crisis and this time likely to be associated with the significant reduction in importance of the American dollar as the World’s reserve currency. Sorry for my grim outlook but I guess that is what will keep me (and probably all of us) quite busy this year. I hope that I misinterpret the indicators.

  4. Well… What am I changing…? I might blog a little less and put a little more time into the day job. Depends on how much the increased responsibilities stack up. This weekend we went all Marie Kondo in our house and cleared out a bunch of stuff. Funny how that works even in a minimalist household.
    I’ll definitely eat less meat. Trying to stay healthy – low carb, low sugar. Will I retire early as planned? Depends on how big my “stress cloud” is when I reach my target date, later this year. We’ll see if I can shape a Denmark-like work-life balance in the middle of a Fortune 500 enterprise. Light a candle for me…

  5. You were seemingly so busy in your first year of early retirement that I actually got a little stressed out just reading about it (in part 2 of this series). So, I’m glad to see a goal of more balance for year 2. I can’t relate to going analog for calendaring and to do’s. I’m too reliant on calendar reminders and online to do lists (desktop stickies, Google Keep, Evernote — I always have the right list at the right time in the right place).

    Entering my first full calendar year of early retirement, my main goal is to focus more on building social connections (we moved when we FIREd). I’ve been obsessively writing in my first few month of ER; that will continue but with more balance. The secondary goal is to find more side hustles — so far, I’ve been participating in some paid market research studies. (BTW, is it a SIDE hustle if you are early retired?)

    Finally, my cat, Milo, loves your blog, and it’s helping him plan his next lives (he as 6 left). ;-)

  6. Looks our big change for 2019 is going from decent saving of 24% of gross (this includes the employer matches) to at least 40%. Still not in sweet FIRE territory of course, but a decent change for us.

    The big lesson from last year was even with an epic vacation and other time off…we just want to work. It’s kind of bizarre. As seen above though, we figure having money gives us a lot of options should things change.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s absolutely fascinating to see how early retirees actually live, your thoughts alone the journey and how you’re changing your lives based on reflection.

    As for me, I’m trying to be more mindful in 2019. I’ve been reflecting on what I want to change in my life and previously had mentioned “it can wait until retirement” which is (hopefully) next year. But during 2018 I realized I shouldn’t be waiting until retirement to get closer to the life I want so I’ve been starting my ‘retirement’ activities now, which have included teaching myself calligraphy, watercolor, reading at least 1 non-fiction book a month and watching at least 1 movie a week while also filling my previous ‘recovery from work’ time with activities with the people I love. We’re not even a month in, but I feel a lot more fulfilled already.

  8. I’m hoping that my big 2019 change will be finding work I actually enjoy. After four years of employment misery, I’m ready for something new. I’m crossing my fingers that my next job will be what I’m looking for, but we’ll see how it goes! Reading your book now and keeping an open mind about all of the options and possibilities out there.

    Thank you for this series of posts! Excellent read.

  9. I had a most interesting kid focused 3 day weekend with 14 kids and parents where I really noticed the my evolution as a person and in a lot of ways, it made me feel good about the direction I’m headed. I was able to just be, be available to help as needed, and because I didn’t feel like I needed to get anything productive done, I didn’t have any of those stress feelings created out of having unproductive moments. I was able to be there for my kid and others and do a good job of chaperoning things over at the girls’ air BnB house and it felt surprisingly laid back and easy. There weren’t a lot of concrete plans about how this weekend was going to go (the kids are all part of a bike team) and despite that, it seemed to me that all the kids got exactly what they needed out of it and I was never stressed about there not being plans. My kiddo even told me that I wasn’t strict at all and she had fun even with me there the entire time! Despite me being so “loose”, they all got plenty of sleep, got along great and kept the house mostly tidy. I don’t think if I were still working that things would have gone that smoothly mostly because my mindset has fundamentally shifted in a different direction.

  10. HI Tanja, thank you so much for your 3rd update. I’ll FIRE this summer so it’s been really useful to me to see how you and Mark transitioned to this new stage in your lives. 2019 will be a big year for me so my main plan is just to appreciate my last days of FT work and be grateful that I’m in this privileged position. I was wondering how you were doing on your social connection goals? I remember you had tried to build community ties when you first left work and it hadn’t gone too well, I was wondering if you’re still working on that?

  11. You should go to Muji (Japanese IKEA but better) while you’re in Portland if you like calligraphy pens and Japanese paper, if you haven’t already been to one…

  12. Love the update. Our 2019 will be figuring out how to deal with our adopted son and try to still become FIRE before he goes to college, which will be in my early 60s….

  13. We never got into using electronic calendars to manage our joint schedules. Every year we get a 12 month calendar from a charity and we use that to keep track of all of our upcoming events and commitments. The calendar sits on our office desk so it is always a reminder to us of things that are coming up. Maybe because I am so tied to the Outlook calendar at work, it feels like a good separation from work to use a traditional paper calendar to mark down everything. It could also be that I am lazy and just don’t want to set up a shared calendar that we can both use. :)

    It is great that you both are so involved in your local community. Volunteering is something that I want to do more of when I get to early retirement. Dragon Gal volunteers at a few places and has gotten some great experiences from it.

    Dragon Guy

  14. I’m with you on paper planners. I fell in love with a Japanese planner (great paper) called HOBONICHI. I’ve been using them for three years now, and I won’t go back to e-planning. I do still use a to do list app for reminding me about routine but not daily chores like changing furnace filters or washing sheets. It helps me to have an audible reminder that it is time for a task.

  15. This is an interesting post (I’ve been a reader of your blog for about 6 months), I’m surprised that you’d want to do less instead of more with your free time now that it’s essentially all free time. Do you think it was mostly just over-scheduling yourself or was it an underestimation of the time involved for the timings you dinner into? Or was it something else?

    I just hit FI and and am trying to switch gears; making my high stress job more like a hobby. Second and last question, why are there now 2 sets of Chautauquas? You’ve got the European ones with J. Collins and then the central American ones?

  16. Hi there! Thank you for another insightful post. I have been following your posts but have not commented for awhile. I can definitely relate to going back to the paper planner. I am doing that myself this year. I was not sure why I preferred it until just now when I read your post and started thinking about it: writing things down with pen and paper actually makes me feel more organized and in control! Yes! My biggest change in 2019 will be leaving my employer after Q1. I don’t feel like I can claim myself “retired” at that point, since I am way too young for traditional retirement and Mr. TOTL will continue to work for a couple more years. But “stay at home mom” does not sound that exciting, does it? But, in reality, that is what I will be (very happily, I must add) until Mr. TOTL leaves his employer. :)

  17. I’ve always been a paper planner kind of person but for some reason in the last few years I fell off with keeping up with that (which is why the last planner I bought was an undated one so I could go back and pick it up whenever instead of it being useless after a certain point). I’ve been trying to put things in the calendar on my phone, but that’s also fairly useless for anything less than a few days in the future since I don’t then go and set reminders. So it’s sorta like I’m not keeping track at all, which leads to “oh shit, I said I was going to go out tomorrow with friends, didn’t I? Guess I’m not working out tomorrow/won’t be working on a post either” moments. I suspect I’ll feel less like a hamster fruitlessly running in place if I switch back to actually keeping up with a paper planner (which also would help with my ongoing goal to be more mindful and slow down). I’ve also been saying for ages that trying bullet journaling might be fun so that might happen this year as well.

  18. I really like the idea of a hard copy calendar. It is something that I have done for the past couple years and I think it helps a lot. However, I still have a separate to do list that live in my notes on my phone. You just need to find what works for you

    Second off: I made the mistake of reading the MarketWatch article comments and it’s probably better off that Marketwatch makes you register before you can reply to people.

    I love this reflection post, always good to have some deliberate action items to do after reflecting on the past. Looking forward to seeing you in March!

  20. The paper calendar made me laugh because in preparation for FIRE I am trying to go paperless because I figure I’ll have less access to a printer (I keep my paper calendar in Word …)

  21. Thanks for this one. It really resonated with me on what I could be changing. My challenge right now is that as much as I want to volunteer more and test some of my FIRE goals, I just don’t know when I’ll have time in amongst everything else! We’re having another kid, selling a rental house, buying a new rental, finishing our basement, and planning a family trip to Disney, all in the next 9-10 months. I keep reminding myself that I don’t have to change everything all at once but then I add something more to the list.

    I love following your journey and seeing how another family adjusts to this thing that my family is so close to achieving. Many thanks for your continued candid discussion of the path you’re on!

  22. Just read all three parts and wow! Early retirement seems to be suiting you and Mark 🙂

    I love how candid you were about the lessons you learned and challenges you faced this first year. People react differently to change, and managing that with communication and staying on the page is essential. Life changes into early retirement are no different!

    So many adventures you went on last year! Travel has always been a big part of my life so I love seeing where others go and the potential experiences to be had! It was great meeting you last year in Minnesota!

    I too find that I prefer keeping my calendar/to do list on paper. I remember things a lot better when I physically have to write them down by hand instead of typing them in on a computer or phone. Looking forward to seeing the year ahead and hoping you can find that true balance of saying “Yes” 🙂

  23. I felt like I just had to comment on the paper planning. I tried Evernote and several others and I went back to writing my to do lists on the junk mail envelopes that I haven’t successfully unsubscribed from. I feel like it gives them a second life. It also calms me to see my list all at once. Now this is where I’m a bit of a failed millenial: if I really need to remember some event or to do something, I put a real paper post-it note on my phone with that item written down on it. Might get weird looks but it works for me.

  24. Things I’m changing in 2019: I think I’ll “borrow” your goal of becoming more involved in my community. I feel very privileged to have my finances, my family, and my socializing in order, and I would like to get to know my neighbors more. Good inspiration. Thanks!

  25. Have you ever thought about joining the Junior League? I joined mine this year, and I love it, but there are a lot of things I’m unable to do (certain volunteer shifts during the workday, certain meetings that occur in early evening that are too difficult to get to right after work, etc.) and I think you’d really like it, and you’d be a great asset in helping to mentor other members.

  26. I’ve always needed some kind of paper planner even as we increasingly share our calendars online. I have a visceral need to jot things down with pen and paper, I always wonder what that’s about considering typing is so much more comfortable for me and faster to boot. Notebooks forever! <3

    I'm working my way through Work Optional with some glee and it's already helped me over some mental hurdles that would have taken me so much longer otherwise – I appreciate it so much!

  27. Interesting point about moving back to paper planners/diaries. I have done the same since retiring – though my wife insists on mapping events into our shared online calendar too. I think the move to paper for me is to do with having fewer, bigger events in my diary than I had when I was working (when every 30 minute period during the day seemed to be booked out with meetings or preparation for meetings) and being able to think longer term. Now I only have 1-2 events per day to worry about but a month view paper calendar allows a big picture to emerge into which I can slot trips and aggregations of events. Thanks

  28. I turned 2018 into a Very Gay Year after dating a closeted woman for four years. It was balm for my soul. It also allowed me to force myself to spend money doing short trips to see friends. A thing it is easy to neglect when you are working towards FI. Part of my Rules For Breakups is to always have something good to look forward to (especially for events when you would normally be with that person or want to). Eventually you start doing it not to get over them, but because life feels extra lovely with something nice on the horizon. In 2019, I’m trying to do one “nice thing” for myself every month. A discounted theatre ticket, a nicer dinner alone, etc. I like it, a lot.

  29. Hi, All –
    I always wanted to retire before 60, so I just gave notice at work at the age of 59.5. With my son being on his own and paid-off house and car, no debt and sufficient savings I feel ready for the next phase of my life. This blog, Tanja’s book (reading still in progress) have been a great help, even if I am a bit “late” and not in my 40s anymore.
    Just wanted to thank Tanja for sharing!