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Does FIRE Make Life Harder?

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I was an avid reader of financial independence, retire early (FIRE) blogs on the path to my own early retirement. They served as inspiration and education.

However, I found them to be an echo chamber. Each tries to outdo the next in an effort to show you how to optimize your life. Then you can retire sooner to a lifetime of carefree bliss.

That’s all great. Except it’s not true.

Sure, there are elements of truth in every FIRE blog. Just as reality TV reflects some elements of reality.

Any time we tell a story, we share details to help convey the message we want. Simultaneously, we leave out parts that don’t fit the narrative.

My wife and I worked hard and planned diligently to achieve financial independence far earlier in life than most people. Last year, I retired from my career as a physical therapist at the age of 41. Seven months later we moved across the country to start a new life we had dreamed of for years.

I envisioned living a life of freedom, purpose and happiness. At times, that has been the case. But that’s only part of the story. In reality, the past year has been one of the hardest of my life.

Here are five challenges we underestimated. Consider them to better prepare for your own early retirement.

#1 What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Shortly after leaving my job, I was interviewed by Todd Tresidder on the Financial Mentor Podcast. He asked one question that stumped me.

“What price did you pay to achieve financial freedom?” I couldn’t identify anything substantial we sacrificed on the path to FIRE.

Todd made the astute observation that we didn’t experience sacrifice because our actions were in alignment with our values. That never clicked for me until hearing him say it.

Still, there is another layer to this analysis. Both my wife and I are natural savers, but that comes from a different place for each of us.

I’m driven by goals and purpose. I always felt that saving would enable a better future. This made it easy to save money in anticipation of that better tomorrow.

My wife is driven by a feeling of safety and security. Living well on only one of our incomes while saving the other fulfilled those needs.

She started cutting back her working hours about six years ago. Simultaneously, I was figuring out the technical aspects of investing and tax planning.

Even as her income dropped, our savings increased and our net worth grew considerably. Our actions remained in alignment with our core values.

Once we reached our savings goals, I was ready to move on to a new stage in life. For my wife, the idea of shifting from accumulation to decumulation is terrifying.

We realized the need to redefine retirement to line up with both our values. But taking this unconventional path in life is messy as we figure things out.

We’re in the best financial position of our lives. Simultaneously, we have more conflict than ever.

#2 Change is Hard

I’m fairly stoic. I can count on one hand the number of times I remember shedding a tear in my adult life. Yet on my last day of work, I found myself overcome with emotions.

For nearly fifteen years, I worked at the same clinic. Like any workplace, it wasn’t perfect. But it was very good. I was the third newest employee in the core team of eight in my office.

The career I invested so heavily in, the group of people who had become my second family, the place where I spent the majority of my waking hours; in an instant all were gone. With that, a piece of me died.

I found myself unable to fight back the tears as I said my goodbyes. When I left the office, it got worse. I sat in my car and sobbed for a few minutes until I composed myself. Then I drove the whole way home with tears rolling down my cheeks.

Seven months later, we took the next big step in our new life. We moved cross country from Pennsylvania to Utah.  

We envisioned our dream life. Living in the mountains. Pursuing our passions.

Again we underestimated how hard change would be.

Changes we thought would be easy were hard. A perfect example was selling a house we didn’t love. Still, that house harbored fifteen years worth of memories. It was the only home our daughter ever knew.

Changes we knew would be hard were crushing. Most challenging of all was saying goodbye to family and friends.

It’s important to realize that when you choose something, by default you are rejecting everything else.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid hard decisions. Nor does it mean we made bad choices.

But no matter how well you plan or how much you prepare yourself, change is hard.

#3 Transitions are Even Harder

I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the emotions that came with these major changes. But I assumed things would quickly get easier as we transitioned to a new phase of life. I was wrong.

When I retired, everything familiar changed in the course of a weekend. On Friday, December 1, I went to the same job I had gone to for over a decade. On Monday, December 4, I woke up to an entirely different role in life.

I had to learn how to prioritize my day when no one was telling me where to go, when to be there or what to do. I needed to learn an entirely new skill set.

As we just started to settle into new roles and routines, we put our house on the market and started preparing to move.

Life became chaotic. Everything we would take needed to be packed. Things we didn’t want, need or have room for needed to be sold, donated or trashed.

These acts took time and energy. The emotional toll was greater.

Once we finally made the move, we assumed things would get easier. They got harder.

Everything we knew was gone. The simple act of going to the grocery now took an entire morning of wandering aimlessly around an unfamiliar space.

We needed to build a social network from scratch. Yes became our default answer to every offer. In the process, we had little time for ourselves, our relationship and the activities we moved to the mountains for.

We’re now a year into my early retirement and five months into our move. I don’t know when we’ll feel settled. We’re not there yet.

#4 You’ll Never Have Enough Time

I worked a standard 40 hour workweek. I was required to take an hour unpaid lunch. My commute was about an hour round trip.

Add it up. That’s 50 hours accounted for every week.  Over the course of a year, that’s about 2,500 additional hours freed up to do what I want.

Darrow wrote a post several years ago about why you’ll become busier after retirement. He also cautioned me personally about not taking on too much too soon.

It wasn’t that I didn’t listen. Things just didn’t compute. How would I fill all that time?

A year after leaving my job, I still feel too busy. I’m waiting to experience my first day of boredom. I wonder how I ever got anything done while working.

A common refrain on FIRE blogs is you shouldn’t retire from something, you should retire to something. I agree. But for a person with a Type A personality who is most likely to put themself in position to be able to retire in their 50’s, 40’s, or for some even your 30’s, this advice probably isn’t necessary.

Here’s better advice. You should retire to something, but you can’t do everything. There aren’t enough hours in the day. You still need to prioritize your life.

#5 Priorities Won’t Magically Change

When I was planning early retirement, my mind drifted to all the things I would do with my free time. I would definitely ski more. I had plans to write more and reach more people. Both visions came true.

Despite a substandard season for snow last winter, my wife and I skied more than we had in years. We also got our young daughter out frequently with us. Over the course of one winter, we witnessed her progress from skiing between us with hands held to her leading us down black diamond slopes.

I had similar results with my writing. I finished the manuscript of a book, which I hope to have published by the first quarter of 2019.

My introductory post on this site was picked up by MarketWatch and continues to be popular. In May, I was shocked to find another of my posts syndicated by MarketWatch on the front page of MSN. 

But skiing and writing were already priorities. We always managed to ski at least one day a week and do a ski trip every year. I wrote my original blog for a tiny audience while making no money for 3 and a half years while working full-time. 

Other things I envisioned happening did not materialize this year. I’ve always wanted to be a better rock climber. I used my work and living too far from climbing as excuses for not climbing more and better. With no job and moving to the mountains … I climbed less than ever this year.

I also thought I would volunteer more of my time. By the end of the year, I’m embarrassed to admit that of my 2,500 new found free hours … I volunteered five of them this year.

This isn’t to say you can’t change and improve. But to think priorities will magically change because you have more time once you retire is a fallacy.

Financial Independence Makes Life Easier …

We all think life will be better and easier after retirement. To a degree, that assumption is correct. Otherwise, why pursue this goal?

When my daughter is up all night sick, it still isn’t pleasant. But I can catch up on my sleep the next day instead of having to go to work exhausted. 

She recently had a Friday morning field trip. Instead of having to work, I enjoyed spending the morning chaperoning her and her buddies at a local museum.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Snowbasin ski resort opened. Our family was there. It was the first time I ever got to ski an opening day. I was always working.

The following Wednesday night we got nine inches of snow. On Thursday morning, my wife and I were on the first gondola for a crowd-free weekday powder day.

There are many perks to an early retired lifestyle.

… and Harder

But there are also new challenges. Following the standard path through life provides a lot of convenient excuses. 

If you’re not being the parent, spouse or friend you should be, it’s easy to blame your job. You “have to” work hard to provide for your family.  

It’s easy to stop exercising, eat poorly or not pursue goals and dreams when you’re working long hours at your job. Who has time for working out, planning and preparing healthy meals or doing other hard things. After all you “have to” work?

Many people “have to” move away from their families to find higher paying jobs. When you choose to leave family to pursue a different lifestyle, it’s harder for those you’re leaving behind to accept your decision.

Creating financial independence means you no longer are beholden to a job or employer. This gives tremendous freedom.  

However, with that freedom comes greater personal responsibility. There is no “idiot boss” or long hours to blame for what ails you.

You own all of your decisions. The only person to blame if you’re not happy with your life looks at you every day from the mirror.

No Regrets

I hope this doesn’t dissuade anyone from following a similar path to the one I’ve taken. The freedom, security and options financial independence provides outweigh the negatives.

Just recognize that financial independence and early retirement are not some magic bullet that will fix your life.

You can, and should, learn to be happy wherever you find yourself in your financial journey. 

In some ways financial independence and early retirement will make your life easier. In other ways, FIRE creates new challenges that make life harder. Don’t underestimate that.

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Comments

  1. I like how there’s seems to be a competition of who can retire the earliest. The retiring in your 20s is now the rage 🙂

    I think the FIRE movement is in trouble, and we’re going to see the DIRE movement rise up instead. We’re at peak FIRE while the economy is heading south. Not good.

    Sam

    • Chris Mamula says

      I hope you’re wrong that FIRE is in trouble. I think there are many positives to teaching people to save more, live more intentionally, invest smarter, etc. I know I’ve been helped.

      I just hope that more people who have actually done it continue to write as we learn from our mistakes, so we don’t continue to build up early retirement to something bigger and more important than it is. I think FI is a really important concept. I’m not sold that retirement is all it’s cracked up to be.

      • I really liked these two points:
        1) teaching people to save more, live more intentionally, invest smarter, etc
        2) I think FI is a really important concept. I’m not sold that retirement is all it’s cracked up to be.

        If you get full value out of every dollar you spend, then it is a well spent dollar. “Value” varies person to person

    • Sam, I think you may be right. As a generation of spreadsheet wizards, planning savants and achievement-oriented strivers (with a healthy dose of FOMO thrown in) work to achieve FIRE like it is a cultural merit badge (out at 22!) hit their targets and choke the internet with their stories, it could collapse under its own baggage. Still, if we go back to the modern beginnings of this with Joe and Vicki, and review their guiding principals, the whole point was to get financially freed up so you could do needed social justice projects, etc. It was never about personal achievement or solving your own personal issues of self worth, etc. So I say: “Though the news sounds very DIRE, where there’s smoke, there’s always FIRE.”

  2. I wonder how I ever got anything done while working.

    Although I’m only semi-retired to half-time, this is exactly how I feel. I essentially bought back 22 or 23 hours each week by not going to work, yet I’m more busy than ever. It’s a good and bad thing. As you mention, a lot of it we put on ourselves because we’re type A personalities and we want to succeed at things. But at the same time I do think there is a time and place for slowing down and just relaxing, yet it’s easier said than done.

  3. Gee, after reading your article, the average joe might as well keep spending and living in chronic financial stress and misery with new cars, homes too big and useless crap that impresses no one, because according to your article, FIRE is NOT TRUE!
    How absolutely sad. I went to one of their meetings. This is not just an idea, they are forming communities and supporting each other. They are already discussing what they might do after FIRE. They may not have all the answers but they are years ahead of my borrow and spend generation.
    Give these kids some credit, let them make mistakes, but the idea of reducing spending is powerful and so counter-culture to the powerful media and its consumer mania. The facts are that the borrow and spend days of our boomer generation are over! It’s unsustainable.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Not sure I understand “FIRE is NOT TRUE!” You can save, you can retire early, you can give yourself tons of options. All are absolutely true.

      But FIRE is not some magical cure that takes away all your problems. I think it’s important to share that side of the story as well.

      • Hi Chris,
        We will have to agree to disagree. All that you write is true for you. But your mistake is that you apply it to FIRE. You said it’s “not true,” and you are putting words in their mouth about carefree bliss. Why share your side? It’s meaningless because we do not know how all of this will work out for them.
        Your “side of the story” is nice and might be informative for some but you are lecturing them, and nobody likes to be lectured. Their side is unknown, and the unknowns are always perceived as negative by outsiders.
        I have all the confidence in the world that they will work it out. So what if they make mistakes? Who here has never made mistakes, even some bad financial mistakes? I certainly have, and wrote a free book about them. But the one thing FIRE gets 100% is living frugally, and searching for something better than the chronic and horrific borrow and spend. My boomer generation never got that.
        Have you been to any of their meetings? No one said that they are only seeking “true bliss.” And so what, if that is what they ultimately want?
        Steve

        • Chris Mamula says

          Stephen,

          How exactly am I lecturing anyone? I advocate everyone making their own decisions and not living by societies’ unwritten rules. Have you ever seen how many times I’m criticized on this site as “not really retired” b/c my life doesn’t meet up to someone else’s standards of the word. I frankly don’t care what others think. Nor have I, or will I, ever tell anyone how to live.

          That said, there is absolutely value in sharing different viewpoints and ideas so people can make fully informed decisions. Everyone doesn’t have to drink the Cool-aide and join into the cult like mentality that FIRE is the right answer for everyone and the faster you get there the better.

          I have been to several meet-ups and I see a lot of positivity (which is awesome). However, there’s also a lot of naivety (which is easy to spot having been there and done that). I’ve found people like Darrow and Todd Tresidder (Financial Mentor) who have actually been there and seen the other side extremely helpful. I’ve also seen thoughts of FIRE bloggers like Brandon (the Mad Fientist) who wrote before and after FI evolve over time. I think it’s enlightening.

          My (minor) criticisms of the FIRE movement and FIRE bloggers, which BTW I consider myself one, is this cult like mentality that you have to fully agree with a religious like doctrine.

          Hope that clarifies.

          Best,
          Chris

          • Sharing your side is GREAT, it is nice to see that there are difficulties when you retire. It happens to almost everyone that retires no matter what their age, a sudden shift in your life will do that.
            It is nice not to see the “facebook” mentality in your writing, the look at me life is only great and I eat only good food and am happy all the time. It is refreshing to know that there will be some days that are better than other.

            I am selling the RE portion of fire to my wife and I need to know that it will not be a bed of roses that I am selling her on.

            Keep up the GREAT work

          • Chris Mamula says

            Thanks Rick. As noted, there are definitely roses. Just don’t forget that roses come with thorns!

          • Chris,
            I really enjoy your writings. I know that sequence of returns risk will wipe out a few retirees younger than 50. I also think that people grossly underestimate their expenses when using the 4% rule. I’m glad that you are not afraid to have opinions that don’t follow the MMM disciples to the letter.

          • Chris Mamula says

            Thanks for the positive feedback Steve. Personal finance is personal, so it’s important to share different perspectives and nuances.

          • Chris,

            I see you rounding out the FIRE discussion rather than negating it. These are important planning factors that ultimately make it an even better experience!

            I just discovered this post of yours thru POF. My wife & I are in our mid 50s & in the transition you wrote about! It was so helpful, I read it aloud to her & we had a fruitful discussion. We are learning new skill sets for the challenges & opportunities you mention.

            These are the realities of great, intentional change. Grieving the loss of what was, dreaming about what will be. It’s an exciting time, but also a soul-searching, sometimes lonely time. It will not always be that way, but is true of the process … even more so for those of us who have made big geo moves 🙂

            I appreciated your insight. Enjoying FI, but not retiring either. Happy Trails!

            Best Regards,
            Tom

          • Chris Mamula says

            Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Tom. Best wishes on your own transition.

  4. cynicalanddisgusted says

    I envisioned volunteering significantly in retirement (at age 48). That didn’t happen. Not for lack of effort on my part. I was ignored by The National Park service, a Local School District, a public library, and a senior center. I was told by one school district that before I could volunteer I had to pay 250 bucks for a background check. I was hesitant to spend money that, given my past experience, would be wasted.
    I did finally find work with the National Forest Service. I currently work as a docent for California State Parks. But, finding quality volunteer work is not as easy as it sounds.

    • Chris Mamula says

      I hope I’ve found my place to start giving back this winter. I just signed up yesterday to start doing some work with Ogden Valley Adaptive Sports. I’m hoping it will give me an outlet to use the physical therapy skills I spent so many years accumulating with my love of the outdoors and allow me to give back. Guess we’ll see?

      • I retired at 49 last year and thought I would only volunteer a little bit here and there. In reality I am now volunteering a ton of hours to the Red Cross with their disaster team. I even deployed down to Florida to help with Hurricane Michael! Imagine a little princess who has never even gone camping sleeping on a cot in a tent city 🙂 It’s so interesting to watch how our plans unfold into a different reality. I wouldn’t trade this new life for anything!
        Thanks for your article, I for one appreciate hearing how others are making the adjustment.

        • Chris Mamula says

          That’s awesome Roxanna. Agree that I wouldn’t trade this life, even if it’s not exactly how I envisioned it.

        • Great job Roxanna. Many readers (Chris?) may not realize it, but there are 2 SEPARATE issues here. One is FIRE, which I did in my late 50’s, 3 years ago. It takes brains and perseverance. Then there is retirement, which is up to the individual! You cant just expect to do more of whatever you were doing (skiing, climbing, etc..). You need to expand! I became a chairman of our church council. I joined 3 bowling leagues (bowled a 246 couple weeks ago), I joined 3 golf leagues and walk the course most of the time. I became a Disaster Relief person, trained in Mud-Out, food serving and chain saw operation (also went to Florida and helped cleanup Panama City). Talk about feeling GREAT, helping people! I joined MNVOAD and helped participate in a nuclear disaster “drill” for Prairie Island, along with Minnesota Homeland Security. I built a deck, landscaped my yard and helped plan a friends funeral (cancer) with him. I took a 15-day European river boat cruise with one sister & husband) and also vacationed in Cancun with another sister & husband. If you can’t think and do things “outside the box”, stay working until you are 66. So FIRE is great, but think beyond that “date”.

          • Chris Mamula says

            Dale,

            You make a great point about expanding. This is something I’ve been learning. For example, I mention not climbing or volunteering much. However, I started mountain biking and have found a new passion. I ride (or rode until winter came) 3+ days a week after the move. Trails are equally accessible to climbing and it is so much easier to get out and enjoy the outdoors without all the hassles of organizing gear, finding partners, and there is less risk of serious injury. My point was I wasn’t being honest with myself about why I wasn’t climbing and volunteering. A job is a convenient excuse, and once you don’t have a job you find other excuses if something isn’t a priority. And to be clear climbing and volunteering clearly weren’t priorities while working, or I would have already been doing them. I’ve recently started getting involved with the new church we’ve found in Ogden as well as an adaptive ski group and agree that growing into new things is what life is all about, but it can be hard to picture what exactly life will look like when you are stuck “inside the box”. Thanks for sharing your insights from the other side and congrats on what sounds like a happy and fulfilling retirement.

            Chris

  5. My husband was 55 and I was 60 when we retired. We both had high extremely high stress jobs our entire working lives. We did not feel the need to retire “to” anything. We were not afraid of having a lot of time with nothing scheduled. We moved south, made plans for a new home and to travel. We did not feel the need to schedule ourselves or to take on new jobs.

    Perhaps the younger generation has been so overscheduled that the fear of a large amount of totally free time is palpable. I love being able to do something or absolutely nothing, guilt free. Sure, we continue to have goals and dreams. But why put added pressure on ouselves to achieve? We left that life behind.

    • Chris Mamula says

      It’s a good point, and one I hope to explore more in my life and share in my writing. I think for most people, retiring to nothing is not a good thing. There is plenty of data (sure some is correlation and not necessarily cause/effect) about increased depression and other health conditions after retirement. Having worked in the same place for so long, I got to witness a number of people longitudinally as they transitioned from their working years to retirement. I also recently watched my parents go through this and talked about it at length with my dad. The key is finding the balance of having something in your life that gives you purpose and trying to do too many things.

  6. You may not have done your homework or preparation. You left your job cold turkey without going through an emotional withdrawal first, you moved out of your community to a new place without a gradual transition and time to check it out, and you set yourself up for high stress rather than a pleasant transition. Did you figure out how you would spend our time, feel engaged and useful before leaping into what you thought retirement was? Could it be your expectations and definition of retirement were a bit naive? Retirement is one of the biggest transitions in our life span and deserves proper preparation. Some self assessment may still be in order. Take a look at Victory Lap Retirement by Mike Drak and Jon Chevreau as you are not alone in the Wiley Coyote leap into thin air.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Donna,

      As noted in the post, I sat down and wrote about planning and preparing for early retirement for 4-6 days every week for three and a half years in preparation for it. If I didn’t prepare or do my homework, do you think others may be less prepared and it is an important lesson to share?

      Your comment is pretty presumptuous. I thought long and hard about ways to improve my work conditions. I fully appreciated how awesome my situation was, which is why I realized that if I didn’t enjoy the day to day there, I was unlikely to like it anywhere else better. This is why I stayed there and worked until I was in position to be able to retire rather than trying to job hop, try part-time work, etc.

      The same can be said of our move. We visited the areas we considered on vacation. We then spent a couple weeks embedded in the neighborhood we ended up moving to (in an AirBNB) to give the area a trial run. If anything, our new hometown of Ogden has exceeded our expectations with regards to amenities we moved here for and the awesome people we met. Still change is hard.

      And regarding spending time, if anything I spent too much time finding too many things to do. The fact is, you don’t know what things will be like until you make a leap. I’m simply sharing the lessons I’ve learned to help others avoid repeating them, or more accurately allowing more space to deal with these things we’ll all deal with on some level.

      • stephen kolnik says

        I really appreciate your candor and personal story.
        Its valuable to those of us thinking about these ideas and it just goes to show even RE is a challlenge that may surprise one.
        Thanks again

  7. To me the most important aspect of the FIRE movement is that it helps get people to look at the relationship between their spending and their values. Most people spend mindlessly. I certainly did plenty of mindless spending before starting to think carefully about what and why I was buying. I think about all my former co-workers who have large, fancy houses and expensive cars and are constantly stressed about money. They have high incomes and no savings. They will never be able to retire. The FIRE movement would do them a world of good even if they don’t end up retiring early.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Agree 110% David as I alluded to in my response to Sam above. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water, but we should stop glorifying early retirement as something more than it is.

  8. Excellent post once again. While I had little difficulty leaving my job as it had been an increasing source of stress in my life, the switch from accumulation to decumulation was (and still is) difficult. But while the time I got back to me was a big part, the ability to do all of those projects that I didn’t have the time or energy to do has been the most satisfying. 3+ years in and I still have many things I want to do or try. I may go to work again, but just to try something different for a while. Early retirement has its challenges too, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • Chris Mamula says

      No arguments with that assessment Jerry. I am keeping my PT license as an insurance policy against not being able to get health insurance, so I could go looking for a job today if I wanted to go back to that lifestyle. Despite the challenges of this first year, there hasn’t been one day I’ve been tempted to do so.

    • Jerry, this sentence in your comments,
      “the switch from accumulation to decumulation was (and still is) difficult”
      I’m with you friend.

      You and I retired about the same time and have lucked out with the stock market gains over the past 3+ years. Now it appears the market is going to correct and many economists are predicting a recession by 2020. After feeling comfortable withdrawing “more than I should” next year it’s going to be
      ” as little as possible without affecting or daily lifestyle”. I’ve declared to my wife we need to cut out travel, home improvements, and other some other descretionary spending to find out how LITTLE we can withdrawl. Declumulation can indeed be nerve racking; I’m going to try and get ahead of the next correction if it’s coming.

  9. Great post, Chris. The founder of this site, Straight Arrow Darrow Kirkpatrick, remains ( IMHO) the most reasoned and legitimate “F.I.R.E.” blogger and author out there ( with The Elephant Eater and his “Dirtbag” lore no slouch himself 🙂 ). He gives a full perspective while providing evidence based facts without a hint of self-congratulatory pretense.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Jon,

      I agree with your assessment of Darrow and I ended up here as a long-time reader of this blog before ever writing anything on it. Thanks for the kind words to both of us.

  10. I, OTOH, appreciate this openness about the FIRE and some difficulties. Of course, some will get upset saying that you’re trying to spray some water on their “FIRE” plans by scaring. Others will come out and criticize you and state that it’s your own fault that you’re not feeling the way you should because the person who blames you is feeling just fine, BTW. E.g. Donna above is kind of blaming you, but then you go on her website that tries to promote her own book. Well, how do I know this person, that she hasn’t even written anything for free. How can I spend $25 on her book and expect to learn everything magically and find answers to all my questions? I, for one, haven’t decided what this FIRE movement means yet because there are so many variations of it. I hope it will not implode on itself though because I do support the idea of saving and not spending mindlessly. This is the very first priority, IMO. However, after that priority, FIRE bloggers seem to be running out of steam what to write about and generate those clicks of cents and dollars. Some are trying to promote making/creating new businesses, others start promoting charity donations, and if other FIRE people do not participate or do that as well, now it seems it’s not right…not right to relax, not right to devote your time to your own family only as if you must go out and save the world, you must donate to charity and if not, that you’re greedy, etc. etc. In short, with so much information out there, FIRE is becoming too saturated and I think in a year or two it will be very boring to read those blogs.

    Sorry for my rambling, but yes, that’s how you feel after visiting all those blogs of FIRE. My new year’s resolution will be to limit such reading LOL.

    But I applaud your openness despite the backlash already.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for reading this blog M&S. Hopefully we can continue to provide useful information while challenging you to think about these important issues.

  11. Great article Chris, thanks for sharing your journey. As I am on the cusp of early retirement (which is what I’ve wanted) I realize how much I would miss by completely walking away from my career…..the cash flow and personal relationships. Your comments remind me that I can reinvent how “retirement” looks and to re-evaluate making a lot of changes at once. It’s becoming quite clear that I will “RETIRE TO” some freelance work that can I can travel with and SLOWLY back away til my retirement “pursuits” take over…..

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for the kind words Nancy. It would be great if there were simple answers and one size fits all advice. In reality, we all have unique financial, psychological, family, health, etc situations that factor into our plans. I think a gradual transition makes a lot of sense when you can do it, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

  12. RAY / JOHNSTOWN,PA says

    Hey chris great read. hope all is well with everyone. can’t wait to read your book. have a merry christmas !

  13. Today is my first day of retirement! A week ago this time I would be at my desk. Now I’m still in my pjs enjoying my coffee! So relaxed. I’m 65 so didn’t retire early. I appreciate your observations about your retirement. Everyone at work asked me what my plans are or what am I going to do and I feel this pressure that I’m supposed to have some grand plan. I don’t! Last night I was at a party where there were many retirees. Everyone of them said they loved being retired. They also advised taking a year to just adjust. Don’t take on a lot of activities or feel pressured to fill up every day. What a relief it was to hear that. I’ve decided this will be a year of discovery. I am concerned about going from saver to spending all this money I saved! I hope you’ll write some more about that.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Congrats on your retirement Laurel!!!

      I think having an adjustment/decompression period is wise and this is something I wish I could have done in retrospect. However, I also had other things I’ve been wanting to do (fell in love with writing the past couple years and was excited by book and blog opportunities, wanted to move x-country prior to our daughter starting school, etc) and it was all part of the timing of our early retirement, so I’m not sure how possible that was.

      The shift from accumulation to decumulation is a big one that I definitely plan to explore and write more about in the future. As noted in some other comments, it is a common concern.

      • I’ll look forward to those posts! Fortunately, I have some savings in the credit union earning nothing and a Janus Overseas fund (flat earnings for years) I’ll cash in, so I can hold off taking from retirement accounts, but mostly it’s fear that’s keeping me from touching those accounts! Please, please, please write something soon😜

  14. WOW! I didn’t expect to read the fire storm of ideas regarding early retirement. Each individual is different regarding their own circumstances and as a result will pursue different activities or non activities in their own retirement journey. The question is- Is today’s retiree both early and late equipped with the right tools, skills and knowledge to create and pursue a retirement journey on their own? Some plan their own retirement early and succeed to some extent but most of us don’t expect to live an extra 20, 30 or 40 years or more and as a result, we probably need some outside help planning the rest of our journey. I believe that in our own communities there is a real need to create and develop resources to discuss the real possibilities in the transition from a long-term corporate job, to a retirement lifestyle that fits the individual retiree. An efficient financial plan provides the basic foundation as per sourcing a financial advisor, however; the most important part is the right transition plan for the individual retiree that will incorporate your interests, skills, knowledge and resources in the most suitable way, to help you continue your life journey and succeed.

  15. A really great article IMHO with some very insightful observations.
    The first point “what got you here won’t get you there” really hit me. Both my husband and I have been surprised that a year into retirement our views on money have somewhat swapped. Whereas before he was save, save, save, I hardly ever thought about our nest egg. Now, he truly isn’t worried and I have become like a frantic squirrel realizing winter has come – MUST GET MORE NUTS!
    And, I have absolutely proven that time fills itself. Like so many, I imagined hours upon hours of gorgeous me time. I would sort through the house, create, paint, and read. I am consistently abashed at what I haven’t accomplished on the days we are not traveling.

    I appreciated the honesty and focus on the emotional aspects of FIRE. I didn’t get some of the comments. I have to imagine that the click-baitable title might have put readers into a very specific mind set.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for the feedback and insights Rachel. We often focus too much on the financial and forget the importance of the personal aspects involved.

  16. I think it might be helpful for FIRE folks to mentally separate the goals of financial independence and early retirement. Financial independence gives people a freedom to pursue all sorts of options, including a much more fulfilling career, if that is in fact what might end up providing the most satisfaction. I retired at 64 (wife was a homemaker) and we sold or gave away everything and are currently traveling the country in an RV. I look at this time as a sabbatical. We are quite secure financially (which is pretty easy once you hit 65), but I might want to work again. If I do, it will be completely about the work, with no need to consider the salary or benefits at all. (I had a very high stress job, and would not want to return to something like that!)

    • Chris Mamula says

      Doug,

      Agree completely with the idea of separating the FI and RE, and like you while I write that I retired as a physical therapist I’m not certain what role I want work to play in my future. I like your idea of an indefinite “sabbatical” rather than a permanent decision.

  17. Hi Chris – Very good article. I am 58 and working PT just enough to qualify for health insurance. Hubby and I have health issues that make the transition to full retirement very scary! I have read your articles on qualifying for health insurance but still haven’t been able to make the final jump to retirement. (And I still kind of like working). I am really looking forward on your perspective from accumulation to decumulation, and would love to hear your wife’s thoughts too.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks Carrie. Agree that health insurance makes the jump to full retirement scary. Like you we’re fortunate that my wife likes her work and is able to get our family’s healthcare working part-time. I’m trying to get my wife involved in the blog with me, but she really isn’t interested at this point and so you’re stuck with me and the amount of detail about her that she is comfortable with me sharing. 🙂

  18. I enjoyed the article and the thoughtfulness put into these five changes. I think these are very similar to the issues that happen to a person who learns to live as a single person on his/her own for the first time. Some examples include people learning to live on their own: (1) rather than with roommates in college or with roommates or other people after schooling, (2) who divorce or exit a long-term relationship and begin on live alone on their own (assuming they never lived a significant time on their own before entering the relationship), or (3) empty nest adults (whose lives have been dictated by following the schedule(s) of their children and may have never learned how to be single people or even a married couple without children).

    The best advice for these transitions will come from people who are in the situation or lived in that situation for a long time. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    • Chris Mamula says

      Agree Ben. Many people write about their journey to FI, but then go on to other things. I understand why, but think it’s valuable to hear how thoughts and feelings evolve over time and hope to continue to have the passion and interest to keep writing for a long time.

  19. Chris, this is a great post! I think you articulated very well the difference between how we imagine something will be, and how we actually experience it despite long and careful planning and preparation. I’ve been on both sides of this fence – 6 years “living the dream” then back for a similar stint in full time employment before truly retiring “to” a fine art career. That 6 year tryout was invaluable in learning many skills, not the least of which is the myriad daily structure choices one grapples with, if one has been in most forms of employment (where your hours, tasks and workload are externally dictated). Add to that a property sale, move, radical identity change (a retired friend recently remarked “I’m just a 63 year old with a dog, I need to face that!”) and there is simply no way to prepare, as you say, it doesn’t register. Thanks for breaking these issues down for people to take into consideration.

  20. “Over the course of one winter, we witnessed her progress from skiing between us with hands held to her leading us down black diamond slopes.”

    I’m still working, so it took my boy 2 seasons to get to that point.

    • Chris Mamula says

      🙂
      Definitely one of the highlights of this year is having all that time to spend with her while in preschool and over the summer. I definitely take time to be grateful every day for this opportunity that few parents have. It’s priceless.

  21. OldStubbyGuy says

    I retired 3 years ago and can relate to many of your experiences. Although I never shed a tear when leaving my job, I did truly miss the daily interaction with those people I knew for so many years. That part of your life will never be the same. But, interestingly, I have developed a whole new group of people that I truly enjoy spending time with. I did not go out of my way to make this happen, I just struck up these friendships by being open to developing relationships with people from all areas of my life, not just those I am forced to spend my days with at work. For me, retirement is liberating. I have no problem occupying my days and I feel no need to stress myself out trying to do to much. I have rekindled projects around the house that I kept putting aside for the last 22 years and feel that our house is much more of a home as a result. We might move from our hometown to live nearer better recreational opportunities but I am in no hurry to do so because I am enjoying every day as it is. I feel no need to post selfies online of all the cool places I now have time to visit for long periods of time. And I never experience that burning desire to constantly turn on the neon lights begging everyone to pay attention to me.
    A job is a great thing. It provides the means to be able to live off of your past hard work some day. It allows a platform for accomplishment. And it creates an environment in which you can build lifelong friendships. But leaving that job and now spending your time exactly as you please is priceless. It is the next chapter. It is time to turn the page and get on to the next adventure, or do absolutely nothing at all with no guilt if that is what makes you happy.

    • OldStubbyGuy, I love your last paragraph. It is exactly what I needed to read as I begin my first day of retirement today!

    • Chris Mamula says

      I was surprised by the emotions of my last couple days, and particularly the last couple of hours at my job. As noted in my post, after 15+ years, I was the third newest person out of eight in my office. All of us had been there for a decade. Our office had a true family dynamic, even if often a dysfunctional family. I still stay in touch, but you’re right in saying that part of your life will never be the same.

      I agree I’ve developed new friendships and relationships I simply didn’t have the time for when working. It’s nice to get to choose the people you want to be with, who share common values and interests. All of these are positives of the FIRE lifestyle I’ve chosen, and I tried to strike that balance in the post. As noted, I don’t regret the path I’ve taken or the decisions I’ve made. The good outweighs the bad by a large margin.

      As noted so some commenters above, I think part of the challenges we faced were making so many big changes at one time, and a more gradual transition would have been preferable if you can allow for it. However, there are a lot of personal circumstances that go into everyone’s decision, so that’s not always possible.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment.

      Cheers!
      Chris

  22. Couldn’t help reflect on a job change I was forced into when the company sold the business unit I worked for after 14.5 years. Same big crocodile tears you mentioned, not for the sale, but the investment of nearly 15 years of my energy torpedoed overnight. Also the challenges 5 years later of starting over from scratch as the result of a self determined move from OK to NJ to pursue a better job. All highly emotional transitions in pursuit of a better tomorrow. Looking back, they were beneficial and did in fact set a foundation for a better today.

    The insight is big transitions happen – often with out our say, but still with similar emotional impact…and it is so much better to be FI. Your point is appreciated that retirement is not nirvana…but maybe close?

    Still holding out till next May before pulling the plug after 50 years of work, (if I can get away with including a morning paper route at the age of 11) . Not thinking I’ll miss any of it at this point!

    Love your perspective…keep it coming. I am trying to learn all I can from you kids. Actually the only concern is your comment about conflict…that may be the most important item to investigate. Money becomes a negative when the thoughts associated with it are painful. Loved ones are more important and memories live long after we’re gone, we just need to make sure we are creating good ones.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for sharing TJ. Like you, I know that the challenges we face are building the foundation for a better tomorrow.

      Also agree that FI gives some space to figure things out without having to worry about money which is powerful.

      We’re working on the relationship stuff, but appreciate the sentiments.

      Best wishes as you make your own transition.

  23. Chris,

    By retiring early, one also needs to have a very clear understanding of “investing” time effectively. You need to stay active professionally, specifically those who are retiring at a very young age. One needs to stay mentally active and challenged.

    1) Continue to learn and develop new skills and be a life-long learner. Attend online classes or community college (for more in-person social networking experience) or industry seminars/conferences etc.
    2) Become an adjunct professor at technical school or county college
    3) Mentor the young by giving back your professional experience and help them navigate through the career and corporate workplace challenges. This is more gratifying and fulfilling !

    • Chris Mamula says

      VS

      Agree 100%. The point I was trying to make is that I, like many people who are able to put themselves in position to retire early, are Type A people. They’re already are doing what you suggest. Sure, there are some people that simply hate what they’re doing and they just want to retire to escape. But most of the people I’ve met are motivated enough to accomplish their goals b/c they already have the next 50 things they want to do lined up. Your suggestions are spot on, but it’s important to pick the one or two things you REALLY want to do, instead of thinking that you’ll now be able to do everything. At least for me, that just doesn’t work.

      Best,
      Chris

  24. Chris,

    Thanks for being willing to be so transparent about the often unspoken consequences of pursuing our goals/dreams of financial independence. Even good decisions often have unanticipated results. That doesn’t make them bad, it just makes them real.
    I applaud everyone who is pursuing FIRE, but can’t hep but think the ones who protest your honest observations of your own personal experiences may be heading for a rude awakening down the road.
    My opinion is that FI isn’t about wealth at all, it’s about freedom. My wife and I sacrificed and invested in order to buy the most valuable thing – Time. Time to travel, time to share in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives, time to reacquaint ourselves with each other outside of the pressures and demands of living a pedal to the metal lifestyle.
    I absolutely loved my occupation but long ago set a finish line to that worthwhile but sometimes exhausting race. In truth my occupation had in so many ways had become my identity and I needed to know how much of “me” was left.
    The good news is – at the one year mark – we are convinced we made the right choice.

    We are having a great time, but the issues you bring up in this article really hit home.
    I’m especially interested in your thoughts about decumulation strategies and building new social networks new places after relocation.

    Thanks again
    John B

    • Chris Mamula says

      I love your quote “That doesn’t make (decisions) bad, it just makes them real.” That was the point I was trying to make with this post.

      I agree 100% with your reasoning for pursuing FI and with the value FI can add to your life. Glad to hear your happy with your choice and are having a great time a year in. Also appreciate you continuing to read and learn. I hope my writing can continue to add value as we take similar paths through life.

      Cheers!
      Chris

  25. Chris…thoughtful article. I think most people fail to factor in what the next ten or fifteen years might bring
    As far as expenses are concerned. Particularly rise in health care expense. Every time we get a prescription filled it seems the cost has increased dramatically and many drug providers have done away with generic formularies. Rents also have been rising fast and just about everything keeps going up. A healthy cushion is a must and even then so much is out of our control, particularly health problems As we age.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Marjorie,

      I agree that many people underestimate health costs. I feel very confident in the financial part of our plan. We’ve found the psychological part is much harder to plan for. You don’t really know how you’re going to feel until you make the plunge, so trying to share that side of it as well.

  26. Hi Chris,

    I wanted to comment again to thank you for having the courage to write this article and lay your experience bare.
    I will be retiring very soon, and your post resonated deeply with me. I have thought of these concerns since I too will be moving to a new location with a significantly different culture . I appreciate your candor that life isn’t “all roses” once you are financially independent and leave your job. Now I know I’m justified in my concern 🙂 I agree FI is still a worthwhile endeavor, but one should anticipate some potentially difficult transitions ahead. I am re-reading your post, taking notes, so I can discuss them with my spouse.

    • Chris Mamula says

      As noted in the post, I don’t want to scare anyone or be over dramatic. There are definitely many benefits of FI and much more freedom once you pull the trigger and leave your work. However, we have to go in with eyes wide open that there are definitely challenges as well.

  27. Susan Hofmann says

    Just thought the latest newsletter on FIRE was great. Really hit home for me. I don’t usually respond but thanks for all your insight.

  28. Thanks for being so candid about your experience and being honest about meaning to volunteer more but logging in just 5 hours. I don’t think you’re the only one. I haven’t seen a lot of FIRE blogs emphasize volunteering or other ways of giving back, and I wonder why. I don’t write about it in my blog (so I should start with myself and promote giving back more!), but one of the perks of FIRE for me is that I can choose to work with non-profits, where pre-FIRE, I focused exclusively on private sector. I think the increased flexibility to give back is an amazing and overlooked benefit of FIRE, and I hope that giving back becomes more of a priority. Maybe it is behind-the-scenes, but I think it could inspire others if more FIRE bloggers shared how FIRE helps them give back. The FIRE community includes so many intelligent and hard-working people — it would be amazing to see what would happen if that energy were directed to social service.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Agree Caroline. Darrow wrote a very thoughtful piece about giving your money effectively earlier this year. https://www.caniretireyet.com/doing-good-better-with-your-money/ One of the things I’ve thought about recently is that maybe I just don’t have an outlet to use my time to have great impact, or a single passion to pour myself into. If I did, I would already be doing it. However, we’ve always given while saving for FIRE, and now that we’re there and still earning money, we’ve given more than ever this year even while giving up nearly 6 figures in income. Instead of volunteering my time, maybe I could do more good by working and earning more and giving it away. There are many ways to give back. This is definitely something I’ll continue to explore in my life and my writing. As this blog post show, I’m still (and always will be) learning and am far from having all the answers.

  29. Chris,
    Nice post. I like hearing of the challenges all types of people have gone through. Some make me think a little differently than I had in the past. I can also appreciate how plans don’t work out exactly the way you think they will. I thought I would be out exploring and fishing and hunting every day looking for new places. While I have done some of that, I haven’t done nearly what I thought I would right here in Utah. After a year and a half, I thought I would almost have the entire state mapped out. That just hasn’t happened.

    Also, welcome to Utah. I have been here almost 20 years and love it.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for the kind words Ward. While we’ve faced some unanticipated challenges this year, many things have exceeded my expectations. Moving across the country has been harder than anticipated. That said, I agree that I love everything about Utah (except maybe the air quality). The access to outdoor activities we’ve moved here for has exceeded my expectations. As noted in the post, I’ve not climbed much here. However a big reason is that I’ve gotten into mountain biking which is spectacular right in our back yard, so that has really filled that space in my life. I also have been blown away by how nice and welcoming everyone here has been, from our whole neighborhood helping us unload our moving truck when we arrived to getting invited to five different Thanksgiving dinners after having been here only four months. Definitely not complaining about my life, just trying to share a more full view into it aside from the “Facebook” highlight version to help other people make their own transitions.

  30. Spent my whole life doing. Pulled off on the off ramp and life went from 85 mph to 30, sometimes to 3. My life is no longer about doing but exploring the granularity of being. The life of doing is static. Accumulation is static. Go in, turn the crank crank put money in the bank, do it again tomorrow, pretend that’s living. Deflation (I don’t use de-accumulation since the processes are entirely different, not just a change in sign) is dynamic. If you haven’t rock climbed it’s likely you’re not really interested in rock climbing and rock climbing was just part of your retirement narrative same as 4 x25 invest in low cost index funds is part of the accumulation narrative. People don’t easily live narratives, they live reality, and you can either live in delusion or truth. The act of being is discovering the truth. The past is a memory and all time travel is forward moving. You never step in the same river twice so become acutely aware of the specific river you are in, not some river you used to be in. Where you end up is by your design.

    I would say give it 2 years to feel normal. I’ve had a blast in my retirement, but then I didn’t have any plans or expectations or drama to cloud my being.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Well said Gasem. Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom. It is a hard shift to make on many fronts.

      Figuring out how to build wealth, invest it, insure it, etc is pretty easy in the grand scheme of things. Figuring out what will ultimately make you happy and fulfilled and having the courage to actually go down those paths instead of following old narratives is much more challenging. And not enough people are talking about that.

  31. Hi Chris, thank you for your insights. As someone who hopes to FIRE in a few years time, it’s very helpful to learn from someone who’s much further down the road. I’d be really interested to read a follow-up post on what you might have done differently, and of course to learn more about how the transition plays out for you from here. I guess that a life-changing event like FIRE exposes us to new problems we haven’t faced before, can’t use experience to handle, and so there’s a testing/daunting/exciting period of improvising new solutions and developing new skills. Like being chucked into a river and scrambling to adjust to the temperature and current.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for the kind words. I agree that I found great value in blogs like this one (before becoming a contributor) and others that share a more realistic viewpoint of the challenges and potholes you may experience on the road to FI and after achieving your financial goals. I’ll certainly continue to write about things as I learn and grow if I can do so in a way to add value to others. That said, I don’t know that there is anything I would have done differently. Many readers have written that we took on too many big changes at once, but we considered things and there was no perfect way to do things. For example, it may have been easier on my wife and I to not rush into the move, but we’ve wanted to try living somewhere different for years and it made sense to us to time our move with our daughter starting kindergarten rather than uprooting her in a year or two. Another example is not taking on both a new book and blogging project simultaneously. However, each was a partnership that I was extremely excited about and despite the short term stress, I’m optimistic that they were both great long-term decisions. Bottom line, there is no single right or wrong answer that scales to everyone. We each have to do the best with what we have to work with and continue to grown and learn.

      Best,
      Chris