Happy new year, friends! After a bit of a blogging break, I’m back today with a big rundown on all the lessons we learned in the first year of early retirement. The series continues next week with everywhere we went last year, and the week after with everything we’re going to change in 2019.
Something that I think takes a lot of early retirees by surprise is that the things you always dreamed of doing when you were slogging through those saving years don’t automatically happen just because you subtract a job from your life. The minutes, hours and days still slip away mysteriously if we aren’t intentional about how we spend our time, and for those things that mean most to us, we truly have to make that time, which happens to be harder than ever in our distraction-filled world? This is one example of an area where we’ve made up our minds to make more time for something important, and an interview with John Zeratsky, co-author of the new book Make Time that’s all about this challenge. (Plus a book giveaway!)
For a long time, I let myself go down the magical thinking rabbit hole, convincing myself that early retirement would cure everything in my life that needed fixing. And even after I recognized that magical thinking for what it was, I still assumed that early retirement would fix a lot for us, especially things related to work stress and limited time. So how has that actually turned out so far? Let’s take a look.
Building on the recent post on simple living, we’re working on going to the next level and living more slowly, which is as much a mindset as anything that anyone could see. The only problem? We don’t actually know how to live slowly, because we’ve never done it! But we’re not afraid to put in the effort to learn how. After all, we’ve never been retired before, so it’s bonkers to think we’d be great at every aspect of it right off the bat.
“Simple living” is a term that I resisted for a long time because it felt so prescriptive and unachievable. Maybe it’s all Instagram’s fault, but it felt like there was a way living simply was supposed to look, and that wasn’t for us. But I finally saw that it’s up to each of us to define what simple living feels like, and that there’s tremendous value in doing so. (Plus, enter to win Mrs. Frugalwoods’ new book!)
Our lives lately have looked slightly less than, er, adult. Some days we wonder why there are no grownups here to tell us what to do, instead just leaving us alone to do as we please with no structure whatsoever. It’s marvelous, of course, or at least marvelous for now, but we’re certainly wondering: At some point are we actually going to adapt to this new unstructured life?
After we realized that we would work in early retirement, we also realized that we needed an easy way to decide if an opportunity that came along was actually work we wanted to do. And we created what we call the “high school rule.” Here’s what that is.
The financial aspects of the early retirement journey are well trod at this point: reduce your expenses, save at a high rate, invest in assets that create passive income, blah blah blah. What’s less talked about is the emotional journey, which means that a lot of us are stepping off the map, and heading into uncharted territory. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s our take on navigating those emotions, and why the unexpected ones are so valuable in guiding your financial plans.
If you’d told me at the beginning of our early retirement journey that we’d be on the verge of retiring only six years later, and that we wouldn’t be miserable or feel like we’d lived a life of sacrifice to make it possible, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it’s true. And not because we haven’t dramatically cut our spending. We have. But because sacrifice is a perception, not an absolute, and we’ve managed to balance out cuts to our spending with additions to other parts of our lives. Here’s how.
Today we’re talking options, and keeping them open. Early retirement isn’t an ending, after all — it’s a beginning. And if we go into that beginning with a limited set of options, and no ability to change our course, we could be setting ourselves up for a less-than-ideal future. Here’s why it’s so important to have an exit plan from your exit plan, which really just means you’re giving yourself the financial and logistical resources to change your mind.
I definitely fell into magical thinking for years of our retirement planning, thinking I’d have time to do everything I’d ever dreamed of after we quit: travel the world, write novels, learn a gazillion languages, solve world hunger — you get the idea. But after talking to many early retirees, I’ve had to accept: Time will always be limited. And if I care about accomplishing goals or living a life of meaning, it’s crucial to go into retirement with an eye toward making time for what’s important, and ruthlessly cutting out what’s not.
We’ve talked a lot about health care lately, given the political climate, but not health itself. And health is super important to us. Why bother planning for a long retirement if we aren’t going to stay healthy enough to enjoy it? Here’s everything we’re doing and thinking about to increase our chances of reaching a ripe old age in good health.
The fact that we are retiring at the end of this year is getting more and more real for us, and some of that feels scary. But it also feels crazy exciting for obvious reasons, and for less obvious ones like the forthcoming opportunity to re-engineer our lives to reinforce better habits and avoid triggering the bad ones associated with our current work lives.
I never took a break between high school and college, or between college and starting my career. And so for years, I thought I’d missed my chance to do something awesome, as though that’s something only young 20-somethings can do. But seeing people in our mountain town piecing together lives of adventure in all different ways made us realize: we haven’t missed out on anything. In fact, we’re probably doing this the better way, because our life of adventure will be built on solid financial footing.
Thanks to thinking about early retirement pretty much all the time, reading lots of thought-provoking blogs about it, and of course writing about it in a few thousand words a week, our thinking has continued to evolve. Today we’re diving into how we’re now thinking about our time, money and purpose in early retirement.