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Playing Offense in Retirement

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In a comment responding to my recent post about making better decisions in the face of uncertainty, a reader wrote: “Life is inherently risky. To try and compensate for every contingency is irrational. We can “what if” ourselves right into a straight jacket! You retired early … you won!”

As a lifelong football fan, this comment reminded me of Super Bowl LI. At the 8:31 mark of the third quarter, Tevin Coleman hauled in a six yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Ryan, putting the Atlanta Falcons ahead of the New England Patriots 28-3. 

Game over.

Even with future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady on the other sideline, there was no chance of New England overcoming a 25 point deficit in a game in which they were being dominated by a formidable foe.

Except they did.

New England scored the last 25 points in regulation to force overtime. Four minutes into overtime, James White ended the game with a two yard touchdown run. Final score: New England 34, Atlanta 28.

Atlanta took its foot off the gas pedal. They tried to run out the clock. And they lost.

There’s a valuable lesson there that we can all apply to retirement planning. . . It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. 

If you’re retiring at the traditional retirement age, you may only be in the third quarter of life. If you leave your career early, like I did at age 41, it may not even be half-time. You haven’t won yet.

Traditional retirement planning, assuming earning no more income and focusing on safe withdrawal rates, is akin to trying to run out the clock. It’s playing not to lose.

Let’s look at why you should continue to play offense in retirement, especially if you’re planning to retire early.

Preparing for White Swans

Author Nassim Taleb popularized the term black swan events. Wikipedia summarizes black swan theory as follows:

  1. The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
  2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
  3. The psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event’s massive role in historical affairs.

Many people talk about planning for black swan events, which by their very definition can’t be predicted and thus planned for. Conversely, my blogging friend Doc G writes on his blog about the idea of planning for white swan events.

He writes: “White swan events are much more common but can be no less devastating to a financial plan. So why do we spend so little time thinking about them?”

A few examples of what he calls white swan events are changes to your health or tax laws. This idea that life and thus spending is dynamic is firmly rooted in reality, in contrast to modeling based on the assumption that retirement spending remains fixed over time, adjusted only for inflation.

I would add another “white swan” that few people like to talk about to his list. Divorce. 

Divorce rates are generally decreasing. But for those age 50 and older the trend is strongly moving in the opposite direction. Researchers have termed this Gray Divorce

For those who think early retirees are different and early retirement is some panacea, I refer you to Mr. Money Mustache’s eloquently written post about his recent divorce.

In my own case, my wife and I didn’t go down the road to divorce. But the massive life transitions during the first year of my early retirement contributed to the most tumultuous period in our otherwise happy eighteen years of marriage.

Prior to going through the experience, I would have never predicted this happening. Which leads perfectly to my next point.

We’re Horrible With Predictions

Retirement planning requires making many assumptions. We have to predict the unknown. The longer our retirement horizon, the greater our errors become magnified as they are compounded over many years.

Before you try to forecast decades into the future, it is wise to start with a healthy dose of humility. This Freakonomics podcast reminds us of “The Folly of Prediction.”

You need to predict life expectancy. The Atlanta Falcons couldn’t hold onto their 25 point lead for 22 minutes! How much harder is it to develop a plan when you don’t know how long the game will last?

We need to predict economic factors which include future stock market returns, sequence of returns, interest rates and inflation rates. Few of us are economics experts. 

Even the “experts” are generally terrible at predicting these things. Studies have shown it is very difficult to predict recessions, interest rates, or financial markets.

We need to predict future political conditions that will affect tax rates, the health insurance marketplace, and social security.

Most political “experts” couldn’t accurately predict the outcome of our last presidential election the day before it occurred.

We also need to predict ourselves. What will make us happy? What do we really want for our lives?

This intuitively seems much easier than making economic or political predictions. But science tells us otherwise. Harvard psychologists’ studies have shown, “when people try to estimate how much they will enjoy a future experience, they are dependably wrong.”

As I approach two years of early retirement, the only thing I feel comfortable predicting with confidence is that my future will end up differently than I would have predicted.

Errors In Our First Two Years

Semi-Retirement Plan

My wife and I spent several years researching and planning for early retirement. Despite that, in just nine months between telling my employers I would be leaving my job on February 28 and before actually leaving my job on December 1, 2017, our plans changed dramatically.

My initial plan was to ease into retirement by finding casual part-time work or possibly working a couple weeks a year doing a travel rotation as a physical therapist. Doing so would allow me to test the waters of early retirement for a few years; easing financial strain, avoiding sequence of returns risk, and providing a more gradual psychological transition.

In spring 2017 I pitched an idea for a book I’d been wanting to write to the guys who created the Choose FI podcast, and they agreed to partner with me. 

A few months later, I read one of Darrow’s posts and sensed he might be burning out on writing and managing a blog of substantial size. So I proposed a scenario for partnering on the blog. He agreed to do it.

I decided to completely leave my career as a physical therapist to focus on these passion projects. I’ve spent my first two years of early retirement working much more and earning much less (at least in the short term) than I anticipated in our original planning.

Housing Budget

We closely tracked our expenses for five years leading up to starting our transition. Our goal for the first few years of our transition was to stop saving, but not draw down investments (plus or minus a few thousand dollars in either direction).

Despite our detailed planning, our projections have been off significantly.

In 2018, the biggest miscalculation was a positive one. We were able to sell our home without having to use a real estate agent. This saved us about $15,000 we expected to spend and gave us a significantly positive savings rate for the year.

2019 has been a far different story. We downsized with our new home, thinking it would give us the lifestyle we desired. We love our location and like having less space to maintain, but we hated how inefficiently that space was used in the dated floor plan.

So we’ve spent this summer working through a major home renovation. When it’s done, we’ll have spent over $30,000 we didn’t anticipate spending on renovations in the first year living in our “move-in” ready house. This means taking more from our portfolio than we anticipated. 

New Hobbies and Interests

We moved from Pennsylvania to Utah to be in the mountains and pursue a lifestyle of outdoor adventure. While we get out into the mountains with regularity as planned, we are not doing what we would have predicted in the mountains.

My wife and I envisioned doing a lot of rock climbing with abundant opportunities surrounding us. But the combination of having a young child and my wife’s struggles with repetitive hand injuries make climbing regularly a challenge.

So I’ve become an avid mountain biker, riding 2-3 days every week. My wife also has started riding a bit and she has also found a love of trail running.

We also decided to try growing our own food this year. This was something we have talked about for years, but never seriously considered until my daughter got interested after planting a garden at her school. It has turned out to be an incredibly fun and rewarding experience for our family.

New hobbies, even when pursued with a frugal mindset, come with costs. 

We bought a mountain bike for my wife. She also got running spikes for the months when the trails are icy. My “free” bike from a friend still has cost me close to a thousand dollars in upgrades and maintenance. We also bought a bike rack for our car, helmets and other accessories related to our new hobbies costing thousands of dollars.

We bought lumber to build garden boxes and had a couple tons of dirt hauled in before buying plants and seeds then spending the summer watering them. Our “free” vegetables cost us well over a thousand dollars as well.

Be Humble, Live Large

As I approach two years since leaving my career, I would advise others contemplating the retirement decision to be humble. Retirement planning comes with a lot of uncertainty. 

You have to embrace the fact that there is a lot you don’t know and can’t predict. The alternative is to spend your life trapped in fear. 

That fear can prevent you from leaving your career or it can manifest as constant anxiety around spending in retirement. Neither is desirable.

I would also advise that you live large. It doesn’t make sense to do everything it takes to escape mandatory work if you are going to trap yourself in a life constrained by a tight budget with no room to grow, explore, and pursue new opportunities as they present themselves.

These seemingly contradictory pieces of advice have the same solution. Don’t limit your view of retirement. 

Continue to play some offense. Never stop growing and learning. Consider fun and interesting ways to earn some ongoing income. Give yourself options.

Life is more fun when you’re playing to win, rather than trying not to lose.

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[Contributing Editor Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris' writing has been featured in MarketWatch, Doughroller, Business Insider and RockStar Finance. He is also the primary author of the forthcoming book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at chris@caniretireyet.com.]

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Comments

  1. Bruce Edwards says

    Agree with you comments. Good post

  2. Well said Chris. I have the same viewpoint also. Even though I am basically FI, at 50 I dont totally feel comfortable not at least doing some work and making some money. I view it as some extra insurance. I may even go back to work full time for a few years if I find a good situation. There are many large bills that can pop up with your house, car, health etc. and Im not comfortable just cruising on my portfolio for the rest of my life when I’m still able to generate some income and be productive. And like you mention, I dont want to live a constrained life on a tight budget and not be able to do or buy a few things I may want occasionally. Living a minimal existence just so I can not work isn’t a trade-off I’m willing to make at this point.

  3. Chris, your concluding remarks really hit home with me. I am in the end stages of a job that I have come to despise. I should have quit months (if not years) ago. Fear of the unknown has kept me working and the resulting stress has probably shortened my life expectancy. I’ve established an informal relationship with a planner/advisor who looks at my numbers and my approach and encourages me to get on with the rest of my life, whatever it turns out to be.

    Yes, I have options. Even if job stress has my brain so twisted up that I can’t presently imagine what they are, I know I have them. I don’t know exactly what it means to “embrace the fact that there is a lot you don’t know and can’t predict”, but I do know that continuing to worry about what I may not be predicting is largely wasted brain effort at this point.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Larry,

      The nice thing about your position of likely having worked a bit too long and saved a bit too much is that you can unplug for a few weeks, months or even years and really take some time to figure out what those options are and which are the most exciting and interesting for you to pursue. The part about finding ways to make more money may not apply to you at all, but the other parts about continuing to learn, grow and be open to new opportunities certainly do. I’ve noticed a change in the tone of your comments since you made the decision and am excited to hear what lies ahead as you make the transition and figure these things out.

      Best!
      Chris

  4. I totally agree with your assessment – great post and writing as always, but (for fun) I’ll argue about the Falcons/Pats game as a good example. Part of Atlanta’s downfall was trying to continually pass the ball after being up 25 – they should’ve taken their foot of the gas just a little. You could choose any number of plays and replace it with a run and I’d argue they would’ve won. Pats comeback was quite something to watch though.

    • Chris Mamula says

      OK CF, confession time. You got me!

      As a lifelong diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, my three favorite teams are the Steelers and whoever is playing NE or Baltimore on any given Sunday. So I may have started the celebratory drinks at half-time, and then continued the drinks to drown my sorrows as the game slipped away from Atlanta. Exact details of the game MAY be a bit fuzzy for me. 😉

      Still, the analogy applies to the many times that teams get a big lead and then get ultra-conservative on offense and play prevent defense to hang on for dear life, or don’t hang on and lose the game.

  5. Great post and thanks for the inspiration. I am one year free from “the job” and loving life. I’m turning 54 at the end of the month and I’m 20 lbs less of a man thanks to increased activity and smart decisions on a personal level.

    Still not missing work and I agree the location you choose is extremely important.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for writing and glad to hear that you found inspiration here and are doing so well.

      Agree that picking the right location for retirement is important. That is one thing we’re feeling very confident we got right a little over a year since relocating.

  6. Hikerprman says

    OK I got and agree. You must plan for outcomes whose probability might be slim and for outcomes you’d never have thought of in the first place. A lot of outcomes are in the wind, over which you have no control, like the stock market and political conditions. And you need to plan for catastrophic health events.

    But you do have a good deal of control over changes to your health. The best insurance against serious health events in later years that will statistically lead to less health costs down the road are: Eating a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc. Cut out excess sweets, ice cream, etc. Lose the weight now if that’s appropriate. We need to exercise even more as we age. Muscle loss is inevitable. But if you do weight training, flexibility exercise and aerobics you will for certain minimize white swan health events. Finally, your emotional and spiritual condition plays a huge role in your physical health. Save and spend well, but pay attention to your gut and inner world. Sit still and meditate everyday for a month and you will know what’s bothering you and what contributes to your gratitude level. Your overall health will improve.

    In my view, there is no amount of financial savings to deal with later health events that will substitute for an investment in good health habits starting right now. And this needs to be emphasized much more as an integral piece of financial planning. As an old Fram oil filter commercial advised, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” The video says all in 30 seconds.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHug0AIhVoQ

    • Chris Mamula says

      Hikerprman,

      I’ll agree and disagree with you on this one. Yes there is a lot of your health you can control, and you should absolutely 100% try. That said, there is a genetic component to health problems, there is little consensus on things like optimal diet, and even if you do everything right starting today and going forward (which I agree we all should do our best to do), it doesn’t completely erase years or even decades of stress, misinformation and/or bad behavior.

      Best,
      Chris

  7. My “free” Fidelity adviser said it’s quite common to have an uptick in spend during the early years of retirement (his typical client has invest-able assets of $2M – $4M). With lots more time on your hands, healthy bodies and new things to do, it’s very normal to spend more than anticipated (and more per year than you were when working). But over time, especially as you get older, he says folks tend to spend less as you’ve already bought the toys/hardware/equipment needed to engage in your hobbies, you start to tire of travel, you finally get your home set-up the way you want it and your body is not as energetic. Of course, everyone is different but I expect this to be true with us once we retire.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Agree Phillip and I’ve read this pattern in a number of places. I’ve seen this phenomenon referred to as the “Go-Go years”, the “Slow-Go years” and finally the “No-Go years”. We factored that into our plans which is why we were targeting a 0% savings/WD rate in our early years to give us leeway until we settled into a more stable routine/lifestyle. I’m certainly glad we made that choice and would encourage others to figure out ways to do something similar.

    • Very true. I had a well-planned budget and knew what I’d be spending for the next seven years, at which time I’ll start taking a second pension and social security. Well you know how plans go. The first month after I retired, I had $4000 unexpected car maintenance. In the next six months, I had to do two major house repairs, had a major car accident, and needed a new widescreen TV. Murphy was working overtime on me! Make sure your reserves are up to snuff before you pull the plug on your job.

  8. Good post Chris! Great to hear about your experiences the first transition years into post main career FI.

    I’m going to ping you, Fritz and Big ERN now about a podcast on this.

  9. Thanks Chris. Good timing for an article about unexpected events. Seems like right now there is more likelihood of black and white swan events than anytime in our lives unfortunately.

    I’ve been on offense with my ” more risky than it probably should be” portfolio since I retired. Recently though I doubled the bonds portion for defense. I’m the Falcons running the ball for a better chance at winning in the end.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Agree this is a challenging time to be an investor. With rates so low I’m not sure bonds offer a lot of defense. They offer little income or upside potential in a best case scenario and if rates increase substantially they can pose a substantial risk unless you’re holding short term bonds. There is certainly not an easy answer there.

  10. Enjoyed your analysis and info. Will pass it along to others hoping it will ease their anxiety.

  11. Unexpected events. Man I think that pretty much sums up my last 2 years. I was laid off twice in the last 2 years (restructuring…gotta love those corporate terms)..once at 49 and again just last month at 50. In both cases I quickly secured a new job…with the same company. In both cases I could have taken a pretty healthy severance and left, but a few things kept me on. 1) my wife is still working…so gilt about just bailing while she’s working especially when I knew I could land a new job 2) health insurance…it’s pretty good where I work and I have a preexisting condition. I think if most people saw my portfolio they’d be like what the hell are you doing…quit!…but it’s that feeling that I just need to grow that safety net a bit larger….that voice in my head just looms out there saying…a little farther, a little farther, keep going until there is no road left. That said, I keep reading your blog and one day…I will post that I took the big leap!

    • Chris Mamula says

      Wade,

      I look forward to reading that comment, but not until the time is right for you. Retirement is such a big decision and it goes way beyond giving up your income to giving up benefits like health insurance, giving up a part of life that can allow you to add value in various ways, and for some it means giving up a big piece of your identity. None of those things should be taken lightly.

      Best,
      Chris

  12. Really nice article. Well thought out. Well written. Hits the spot.

  13. Good post! What it comes down to is stay the course be consistent and have a plan. The plan should include saving money, eliminate debt, take care of your health (to minimize healthcare cost), and invest in dividend income investment vehicles. Let compound interest work for you, not against you. I am also a great advocate of residual income type investments, which is the centerpiece of my financial plan. And because of my plan I am doing very well financially and my personal net worth continues to increase!

  14. Mark Richardson says

    I was forced into early retirement by declining eyesight at age 52. I could no-longer pass the Federal medical requirement to do my job. I had not planned on retiring then. My wife is 3 years younger and still works on a mid-income medical career position. I have a decent level of retirement income now at age 62 of about $4500/month.

    We also own a 1-BR basement apartment that we have rented out for a spare $800/month in income. I haven’t yet taken my social security, and I also have several life insurance policies that I could withdraw from or cash out plus some other investments totaling over $100K.. My wife has a retirement plan worth over $100K. One of our two cars is paid-for. My 7 year old Grand Cherokee only has 52K miles on it as I hardly drive it any more. We also own a 5 year old 26-foot travel trailer outright but have to pay $40/month to store it. We have used it 7 nights this summer and plan to use it 3 nights in September.

    At age 52 I was a small minority part owner of a business that had grown from 14 employees to 175 employees in the 13 years I worked there but I had to sell my interest and spend it due to medical problems that unexpectedly cropped-up twice now over the last decade. I have applied for hundreds of jobs and have even completed my bachelor degree and a masters degree over the last decade but nobody wants to hire someone my age with medical problems as a rookie office worker no matter how well I did in school.

    At-least my wife and I own a nice single-family home in an upscale suburban Denver neighborhood with a majority equity position. Home prices here have risen by about 60% since 2012. I am more-worried now than I have ever been however, as concurrent with the home price rise our property tax has risen by over $2000/year since 2012, the cost to maintain our house is up by roughly half since 2012, utility costs are up by over half, and grocery prices are also up by at-least half, if not more. The cost of my health insurance is up by 275% since Obamacare started in 2014, but had also risen by 400% from 2000 to 2013. Just 3 more years until I can get Medicare if they don’t raise the age before then.

    So my retirement income is only buying 2/3rds or less of what it bought in 2012, and our house keeps rising much faster in value than local median household income, cutting-out more and more would-be home buyers. I don’t think that my wife and I could afford to buy our house today if we wanted to even though our combined income is over $135K and we had no problem buying it in 2012. We have done maybe $50K worth of improvements to the place but some of that was my own hard work.

    We would like to eventually downsize and I have been looking at age 55+ active adult communities and some other places. The problem around here where our youngest son and his wife live as does my little sister and her family plus lots of friends is that a new ranch in a north or northwest suburban Denver 55+ community half the size of our current house is going for $560K base. Just a few options like covered front and back porches, upgraded carpet and pad, and solar panels would run the cost up to $625K, and the house would still have an unfinished partial basement. We would have to get rid of half our stuff. Home prices are rising by 8% to 12% per-year here too. Here even a 1600 sq ft townhouse condo is $450K plus HOA, plus property taxes with the cost of living rising by 50% every 7 years.

    If we sold our house tomorrow for $750K after paying off our mortgage we would only realize $470K net less real estate commission plus $10K to move locally or $20K or more to move out of town. I would sure want to pay off our credit card debt and her car loan before buying another house too, figure another $35K. We might have $400K in home equity left to buy another place with. I wasn’t planning on having mortgage payments after selling our current house but home prices around here are up by more than double since 2007, when I made $65K plus banked 5% into my retirement plan and my corporate ownership value increased by 7%. I was planning to retire in my early 60s, not my early 50s. So much for long-term planning.

    I am worried because I watched what happened to a friend’s parents. They were solid middle-class and retired at age 65 in 1986. They owned a nice 4 BR 2-story house on an acre of land in an outer Detroit suburb, they owned a nice Airstream trailer, and owned a space in some Florida RV resort where they would spend several months every winter. They had a sizable 6-figure nest egg and $3200/month in retirement income in 1986. Unfortunately by the time that they were in their early 80s the value of their home in Michigan had tanked, more than half their nest egg was gone, and that $3200/month wasn’t buying 40% as much as it had in 1986.

    They sold their Florida property, then sold the Airstream for a fire-sale price because they couldn’t afford some repairs it needed, and finally sold their house in Michigan for half what it had been worth a decade earlier out of desperation. They downsized into a double-wide modular on 1/4 acre of land. Then they started having major medical problems and needed a caregiver at-first just a half-day then a full day, plus a nurse visit 3 times per-week after he fell out of bed and broke several ribs and she fell getting out of the shower and broke her hip. By the time they were age 85 their retirement income wasn’t making ends meet and their remaining nest egg was bleeding away rapidly.

    The old man made it to age 87 and his wife made it to age 91. After the old man died his wife sold the double-wide and a couple of her daughters took her in and babysat her 24/7 as the cost of a caregiver was up to $120/day by then. Their entire nest egg was gone except for the equity in the double-wide. They managed to retire middle-class until they were in their 80s and then almost nothing went right, and if it hadn’t been for the sacrifice that their own kids made the old couple would have been living under a bridge after age 85, even though $3200/month was a decent middle-class income in 1986 and they had several hundred thousand saved for retirement plus property equity.

    That is why I am worried as I already see some of the same parallels in my own retirement and I am only age 62 while my wife is age 59. If my wife works for 6 more years we will not be in nearly as good shape to start full retirement as the old couple I knew in Michigan were when they started retirement in 1986. If we stay here for 6 more years we might pay down our mortgage by another $60-$70K and our house might increase in value by another 60% but by then the price of the same 55+ retirement house that is $625K today will be up to $980K too, barring a major recession before then. If we move within the next year we will lose our tenant’s rent of $800/month too.

    How about renting with median rent locally at $1700/month rising by an average of 8-12% per-year? That is more than our current fixed-rate mortgage payment. I have recently looked in Cedar City, UT, St. George, and Mesquite, NV as well as in northwest suburban Detroit where I grew-up. There is lots of choice in new 55+ singles and new duplexes there in the $250K to $325K range for 2000-2500 sq ft. I still have plenty of old friends in north, northwest, and west suburban Detroit, and while a golf villa in Mesquite would be nice it would also be 105 degrees every day from May to September, with a record high of 123 degrees, and we wouldn’t know anyone there either. Cedar City would be the same elevation as Denver, much cooler than Mesquite or St. George, with a mid-size university there too.

    We really can’t move out of Metro-Denver until my wife retires from her big hospital job unless she could find a similar job there, nor does she want to leave this area with our youngest and his wife here just starting a family. I am worried that we won’t be able to afford to retire here after living here non-stop since 1991. We have a mid 6-figure level of home equity and retirement savings combined plus will have a decent level of retirement income, that under-reported actual retail price inflation is just eating alive. The crazy part is that we are doing better than 80% of Americans our age!

    • Chris Mamula says

      Mark,

      Thanks for sharing your story in that level of detail. It is an interesting perspective on inflation that many people ignore in these time when measures of inflation like CPI are so low, but that doesn’t necessarily give the complete picture.

      We live in a similar economic environment in Utah where it is comforting to know that our housing value is going up by a substantial amount each year, but that doesn’t do a whole lot of good if you don’t want to sell it and our taxes have gone up substantially in just the two years we’ve owned the house and the demographics of our area are definitely shifting.

      Definitely another reason to consider ways to have flexibility in your financial plans.

      Best,
      Chris

      Best,
      Chris

  15. A good, thought-provoking post, Chris! I have to say, though, that my perspective on your housing and hobby expenses is a little bit different than yours. You speak of them as “costs.” I consider them “investments.” The 30K you spent on your home renovation will allow you to make better use of your space and live in comfort for years to come. The money you and I “spent” on bikes (just like the money our family has invested in kayaks and a travel trailer) provides the benefits of spending time outdoors, adding relaxation to our lives and improving our health – a huge factor in retirement. The same holds true for your gardening. Those expenses you incurred were simply another form of investing in your future.

  16. Chris Mamula says

    Mary,

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I agree with you in principle, which is why we spent the money and are happy with our purchases. That said, no matter what you call it, it’s still spending that we didn’t anticipate and the money has to come from somewhere so we’re glad to have built some flexibility into our plans so we could invest in these purchases that are adding value to our lives. That was the bigger point I was trying to make.

    Cheers!
    Chris

  17. You need to define “retirement”. It sounds to me like you are still pursuing income producing opportunities, part-time jobs- blogs, writing, physical therapy gigs. That’s not really retirement. I think the entire concept of retirement is outdated and not congruent with the reality of the modern day society for probably 80% of people. I just left my tech sales career of 28 years in February at age 56. Because I was burned out, weary of corporate America, and wanted to pursue some fulfilling interests. I’m not retiring. Merely switching gears to a new phase of life. My wife and I run a sustainable cattle and sheep farm, have two lodging facilities to manage, and I sell rural land and farms part-time. I walk around our small mountain town and folks come up and ask how retirement is going. I’ve never worked harder in my life! Pursuing new goals, and certainly cant’ sit back and live on a self budgeted “retirement” stipend. True retirement seems boring and one step closer to the grave. Keep moving, true retirement is stagnation.

    • Chuck, that’s a constant argument on the so-called “FIRE” sites. Who is allowed to say that they are “retired”? IMO, the word already has an accepted meaning: that someone has left their (perhaps long-time) job and does not intend to work again.

      You’re right, most of the bloggers “are still pursuing income producing opportunities, part-time jobs- blogs, writing, [and other] gigs”. They’ve changed their career – probably intending to downshift from the stress and/or boredom of a professional or corporate job, even if the big-name blogger/authors earn more now than while working. I wish someone would make up a catchy new word for these folks and leave the word “retirement” alone. Then all that arguing goes away – however, then the new word would be argued over because there is just too much lifestyle variation among these folks.

      Arguing about who’s “true to The Movement” dominates many of the blogs nowadays. Not this one, fortunately.

    • Chris Mamula says

      No arguments with anything you say Chuck. Darrow has defined it on the blog. See: https://www.caniretireyet.com/early-vs-traditional-retirement/

      As noted in the post you commented on, my plan was to ease into full retirement from my PT profession, but due to other opportunities I fully retired more abruptly than planned.

      I agree the concept of retirement is outdated and I write about this all the time. See: https://www.caniretireyet.com/redefining-retirement/ and https://www.caniretireyet.com/cant-retire-yet/ and https://www.caniretireyet.com/pretirement/ as just a few top of mind examples.

      The fact is I say I retired in the blog header to draw people in and get them thinking about what retirement means to them and whether that is what they truly want. I started off down the path to retirement in the sense that you and probably most people think of it. No paid work, no income, live strictly off of investments. I realized that comes with a lot of undesirable downsides and risks.

      I’ve been able to design a lifestyle that gives me everything I wanted from retirement (time with daughter, time for outdoor adventure, time for projects meaningful to me) without the stress of worrying if I’m going to run out of money before I run out of life.

      If that means I’m “not really retired”, so be it. But honestly who really cares?

  18. Great article! I think there’s a lot of folks out there (including myself not so long ago) that believed that early retirement meant not worrying about money anymore. The fact is that you always need to stay vigilant as your personal conditions and the rules (tax law, health care, etc) will always continue to change. I have recently walked away from a lucrative job after 13 years. While we don’t consider ourselves “retired” this drastic step has encouraged us to take a fresh look at everything – especially the things we previously thought we had “solved”. If I could have stuck it out for another year, we would have likely reached the magic 300x our monthly expenses number, but ultimately, I couldn’t.
    While I will likely need to work again, it’s difficult for me to imagine going back to the soul-sucking corporate world. With this new influx of time to invest in things we’re more passionate about I’ve begun to dip my toe into this FI blogging world that I have followed for a long time without ever contributing my own thoughts. We’re also able to invest a lot more time on our existing side hustle (we’re a husband and wife, singer-songwriting duo in our spare time). Music isn’t going to make us rich and famous, but it can pay some bills when we’re really getting out and working it (and it’s work that doesn’t feel like work). Combining side-hustles and flexibility we’re hoping to extend this “sabbatical” as long as we can without digging into our existing investments.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Agree. Darrow covered this concept well in his book Can I Retire Yet? where he describes navigating retirement as using “a compass for direction, but only the sketchiest of maps.”

      It will be interesting to see where your projects take you. I considered myself a pretty terrible writer 5 years ago and wasn’t sure I could actually manage my own investments, let alone teach anyone else about this stuff.

      Now I’m preparing to release a book in partnership with the Choose FI guys who are getting 1M+ downloads per month to their podcast and writing here where an average post gets about 10k views, and they occasionally like this one go viral and are read by 100k+ people.

      It’s not an exact path that is replicable, but I’ve seen this manifest in a number of ways with different people. If you do something you’re passionate about w/o concern or need for making money in the short term, you tend to end up doing work that adds genuine value for others and thus can be financially rewarding as well when you play the long game. It’s not something everyone has the privilege to be able to do, but those of us who have built up some level of financial independence have it.

  19. Thank you for the post. Nice to read such insightful and varied aspects of the independent lifestyle. I grew up within a large northern Wisconsin farm family, so my upbringing was very independent and self sufficient from the get go. I never had much concern of investment loss or the future. We had learned the value of work and satisfying customers and to keep living expenses low. The siblings all enjoyed success as a direct result of this. Teachers, businessmen, engineers, etc. So, my opinion is FI is more of an attitude than a savings account. It reflects an attitude wherein one feels confident to follow a better thought out path for personal gain. Low cost of living and extra high savings is just basic get it together stuff. One has to have thick skin to avoid all the trappings of high lifestyle. Lol I stayed in downtown NY for a week on business trip and realised how entrapped these people are to attain the status quo. They were not happy, Conversely, in Michigan went to ag show. Hic farmers walking around with smiles. They guy next to me bought a million dollar combine as if he was buying a pickup.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Agree that money mindset is extremely important and is something many of us struggle with. Mark Trautman just covered this very well last week if you haven’t read it yet. https://www.caniretireyet.com/paying-it-forward-early-retiree-case-study/

    • I grew up in a farming area. My grandparents and most of my ancestors were farmers, and my parents grew up on farms. I’ll give farmers credit for being hard working and of generally good character. But their math and financial skills? No. Where city folks show their financial ignorance by buying McMansions and boats, many farmers buy those million dollar combines that they didn’t need. “Attaining the status quo” is very much a farm thing too. Don’t you agree?

      And when the farm business cycle turns down and they didn’t plan for it, and don’t know how to adapt, they either go bankrupt, or run to the government for yet another bailout program.

  20. Hi Chris, can you share more of your thoughts on raising your child has an early retiree? I’ve got a 2 1/2-year-old, and I’m trying to figure out how to utilize my time as he gets older. I’ve been a stay at home dad since he was born, And have not worked a full time job since 2012, but I’m thinking about taking a break from parenthood by going back to work or going back part-time once he goes to preschool this fall.

    How old is your kid now and how much time do you spend taking care of her?

    Thanks,

    Sam

    • Chris Mamula says

      Sure. So I worked a regular 40 hours/week job until Dec 2017 when she was 5 y/o. I hated it b/c the only time I had with her up to that point was a few minutes while eating breakfast and in the car taking her to daycare. Then we got home usually around 5:30 and put her down around 8. Most of that time in between was dominated by feeding/bathing/etc. so I felt no connection with her most days of the week. Then on weekends, I constantly felt torn b/c I wanted to be with her so badly, but also had other interests and passions I wanted to pursue. My wife had more time, b/c she was working about 30hr/week and had no commute, but she did most everything for our household (shop, cook, etc) so also was very stressed and busy.

      Since I quit my job, I spend a tremendous amount of time with our daughter and I’ve also taken over a lot of the household chores so while my wife continues to work about 30 hr/wk she has much more time as well. Our daughter did half day preschool that first 6 months. That was a perfect balance of having some time for myself and plenty of time for her.

      We moved cross country last summer, which was hectic and stressful on all of us. Once she started school last fall I was able to spend about an hour with her every morning eating, taking her to school, etc. I’m able to do most everything I want (outdoor activities, writing, etc) before she gets up or while she is in school, though I don’t think I work nearly as hard as you on the website. I typically write 2 original articles a month and we do little to monetize other than running ads which require no effort on our part. I’m basically free from the time I pick her up at 3:15 on, as is my wife, so we spend a tremendous amount of quality time together as a family.

      Summers are a bit of a challenge. This summer we had her in an all day camp for four weeks. Having her with us all the time makes it hard to get anything productive done or have any time for our relationship. We felt breaking it up like that gave us a nice balance as well as some needed structure in the summer months.

      Hope that helps and happy to chat offline if I could give more specifics that would be helpful.

      Chris

  21. Cool. Thanks for sharing! It’s great you get to spend a lot more time with her once school is out and before school now.

    Do you think it makes sense to spend as much time with your little ones as possible before going to kindergarten, and then working part time or full time again Wednesday and kindergarden?

    This is my hypothesis I’m trying to live right now. I’m trying to figure out what the right balance would be once I get extra 4 to 8 hours a day to myself again.

    Summer camp to break things up sounds great. What do you think about the idea of hiring an au pair to relieve the load as well?

    Thx,
    Sam

    • Chris Mamula says

      Yes. If I had it to do over again, I would focus less on early retirement as the goal and focus more on utilizing the level of financial independence I had already achieved to maximize spending time with a child when they are young.

      That said, I have a newfound respect for full-time stay at home parents and think a mix of part-time work and half-day daycare or preschool would be pretty ideal to maintain my sanity. 🙂

      Now that she is in full day school, I don’t want to return to my old career (physical therapist) that required too much time commitment. But I do plan to work more on projects that allow me to maintain control of my time. A couple hours a day of productive work, a couple hours to play/adventure, and then being able to give her my attention seems to be the right mix for me. Maybe when she’s a teen and the hormones start raging I’ll consider returning to full-time work or even a travel assignment to escape. 😉

      Haven’t considered an au pair to relieve the load any further. Think we’re pretty close to finding the right mix that works for us.