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Exploring the Pros and Cons of Retiring Before Your Spouse

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I recently made the decision to retire early. My wife did not. She continues to work the same number of hours at her same job.

Our path enables me to be free of a job I was burnt out on, improves family dynamics, and allows us to live with financial abundance.

No decision is without trade-offs. Having one spouse working when the other leaves their career creates new challenges at the same time it solves others. Retiring before my wife produces new relationship stress, limits financial and personal options that would be available if we were both retired, and creates unique risks.

There are major personal and financial implications for partners retiring at different times. They need to be considered to determine if this strategy makes sense for you.

Pro: Gaining Freedom Sooner

I burnt out in my career as a physical therapist. Working in a service industry locked me into a cycle of needing to trade time to make money. I didn’t think changing employers would improve my working conditions. Retirement looked like my best option to free myself.

My wife also wanted to retire early. After the birth of our child, these desires increased.

Three years ago, she took a new job that allowed her to to work thirty hours per week with benefits. Her new position had schedule flexibility and allowed working from home. Her company was family friendly, emphasizing a work-life balance for its employees. She enjoyed her new work and loved the company she was working for.

Despite her near ideal work conditions, she still lacked freedom. Because she was working less than I was and not commuting, most day to day activities to keep our house functioning fell to her. Though she enjoyed her work, the combination of work, parenthood, and running our household was often overwhelming.

We built substantial resources to give us financial independence, but were afraid to use them. Uncertainty around the health insurance market, current market conditions, and our long retirement time frame made the idea of retirement intimidating.

Retiring first gave me much more freedom. It freed up fifty hours per week which I previously spent at the office or commuting. I now spend my days focused on projects and hobbies that interest and excite me.

Part of my time now goes to the household tasks my wife used to do. So despite continuing her same work schedule, she has more freedom with her time now as well.

Her continued income provides us additional freedom. We’re able to live with an abundance mentality, with little financial worry.

Con: Freedom is Limited

When one spouse is retired and the other is not, freedom is limited. My wife’s working conditions are about as good as one can expect. Still, she often reminds me that just because I’m retired, it doesn’t mean she is. She has regular weekly meetings to attend, deadlines to meet, and required hours to meet her contractual obligations.

I’m working as well, producing content and promoting this blog, working on a book, and doing most of the housework. But I have total freedom over my time. Other than occasional meetings or appointments, I have no specific time constraints.

I can get outside any time I want. I can travel for prolonged periods of time. But I’m still limited, because the person I want to spend my time with most does not have that freedom.

It’s easy to romanticize retirement as the time when you trade your job for freedom. I know I did. Now that I’m on the other side, it’s become abundantly clear that freedom is still limited.

It’s vital to realistically think about what retirement will be like so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment once you achieve the retirement you’ve worked so long and hard to obtain. Retiring when your spouse continues to work limits your freedom.

Pro: Improved Relationship Dynamics

Since I retired, my wife and I both have seen an improvement in our relationship. When we were both working, days would go by when we couldn’t seem to find five minutes to talk.

Since I quit working, we spend quality time together every day. Most days we take a long walk together and talk. We reserve a day each week to be together by ourselves while our daughter is in preschool. Several nights a week we cook together, and we eat our meals as a family.

I also felt limited connection to my daughter when working. I would typically wake at 4:30 every morning to workout, write, and get myself ready for work. My wife took care of everything with our daughter. I would scoop my daughter up on my way out the door to work and drop her at daycare. I picked her up around 5:30 each evening. By that point, we all were tired and she still needed fed, showered, and prepared for bed, which occupied most of the time we had before putting her down around 8 pm.

Since retiring, the three of us spend the hour between waking her and taking her to preschool eating breakfast, talking, and reading books together. I usually pick her up early in the afternoon and we spend our afternoons on the ski slopes, at the library, or playing at home.

My availability and willingness to help around the house freed up more time for my wife to bond with our daughter as well. Only I retired, but our whole family dynamic has improved dramatically.

Con: New Relationship Strains

My retirement has been a net positive for our relationship, but having one spouse working while the other is not creates new stress. This is something we recognized could be an issue prior to me leaving my job.

We’ve worked hard to set and meet expectations of each other. We also work consistently on communicating and making adjustments.

Still, there are periods of resentment, frustration, and misunderstanding. My wife occasionally feels frustrated and resentful of the amount of time and freedom I have, while she still at times feels too busy. I get frustrated when her work restricts things we could otherwise be doing, or she is tired after working a full day when I’m eager to go do something. At times, we fail to appreciate the benefits of what the other is bringing to our relationship.

This could easily create problems in a relationship without careful planning and ongoing communication. Robert Laura covers these challenges well in the Forbes article, “When Husbands Retire First”.

Pro: A Working Spouse Can Qualify for Employer Provided Medical Insurance

The most common question and concern we get is how an early retiree can obtain medical insurance. The ultimate answer is always the same. There’s no good universal option.

Having employer provided medical coverage for our family solves this problem for us as long as my wife works and her employer offers this benefit. This may be the biggest advantage to having one spouse continue working after the other retires. My wife is required to work at least 30 hours per week to qualify for medical coverage.

Her situation is typical. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 21% of employees who worked less than 30 hours/week are offered health insurance by employers, compared to 72% of employees who work 30 hours or more. It may make sense to have one spouse work enough to qualify for insurance benefits.

Unfortunately, this is not an option for many. Many companies are eliminating health insurance benefits for employees’ spouses. This is consistent with a trend of trying to control costs by cutting health insurance benefits.

One working spouse can create challenges if that work does not provide medical insurance for the entire household. Even if it does, having one spouse work can produce additional risk for an early retiree.

Con: Income Can Make Medical Insurance Much More Expensive

If a household needs to buy medical insurance through market exchanges because employer provided coverage isn’t offered, there is great incentive to keep household income low. This is a good reason to work until you’re comfortable with very little income, ie., both spouses would retire or work little.

Kaiser Family Foundation provides a Health Insurance Marketplace Calculator that helps determine your subsidy and out of pocket expense based on age, family size, and geographic location. This allows you to experiment with different scenarios.

Using our situation with a family of two adults in our early 40’s and a young child, a small income of $24,000 would get us over 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). This would entitle us to a $1,371/month subsidy and require us to pay only $40/month ($480/year) for insurance coverage for a silver level plan available to our family in our geographic area.

The most we could earn and still qualify for a subsidy would be about $81,000. With this income, our subsidy would be $766/month and our out of pocket premium costs would be $645/month ($7,740/year).

If our income increased just $1,000 more to $82,000 year, it would push us above 400% of the FPL. Harry Sit terms this the “subsidy cliff”. There would be no subsidy and out of pocket costs for insurance premiums would jump to $1,412/month ($16,940/year).

ACA subsidies provide great incentive to keep income low in retirement. While health insurance is a big reason we elected to have one spouse continue working, health insurance subsidies could be a reason to opt for both spouses retiring.

Con: Relying on Employer Provided Medical Insurance Increases Risk Of Limiting Future Options

An alternative to traditional medical insurance for an early retiree is the use of health sharing ministries (HSM). A HSM is less expensive than traditional medical insurance premiums.

One reason HSM cost less than traditional medical insurance is because they are not medical insurance, so they don’t have to comply with regulations that govern traditional insurance. HSM can deny someone with a pre-existing condition.

If we had to make a decision today, we would consider a HSM. My family is healthy and would be able to enroll in a HSM at reasonable cost. Each year we kick the can down the road on making a long term decision on medical insurance is a year we could develop health issues. Thus, we are adding risk that by the time we may need a HSM, it may no longer be an option.

Pro: Tax Advantages of Having Only One Income

Many people reading this may be on the fence, unsure whether they have enough to retire. One option is semi-retirement. Having some ongoing income can decrease stress on a portfolio.

There are different ways to accomplish this. Both members of a couple could cut back simultaneously, or one spouse could leave the workforce while the other continues to earn income. In either scenario, substantially decreasing income has two major tax benefits.

The first benefit of reducing income is that earned income will be taxed more favorably. A couple filing taxes married filing jointly can earn $24,000 free of federal income tax using the standard deduction. They can earn an additional $19,050 taxed at 10%. The next $58,350 is taxed at 12%.

This gives a married couple filing taxes jointly the ability to earn $101,400 before marginal tax rates jump to 22%. If they earned up to this threshold, they would pay only $8,907 in federal income tax, an effective rate of 8.8%.

Earnings beyond this are taxed at their marginal rate, jumping to 22% and progressing as high as 37% for the highest earners. Every additional dollar is taxed at the higher marginal rates. This gives incentive to keep taxable income in the lower tax brackets to earn more tax efficiently.

There is a second incentive to keep earned income in lower marginal tax brackets. Qualified dividends and long term capital gains for those with income in the 12% marginal tax bracket or below are taxed at 0%. These same investment earnings for those in higher tax brackets are taxed at 15-20%. This can provide substantial tax savings for someone contemplating early retirement who is likely to have a sizable taxable investment portfolio.

Con: Having A Working Spouse Limits Retirement Tax Strategies

Conventional wisdom for those planning early retirement is to maximize tax-deferred savings. With a long retirement time frame with little to no income, you can utilize tax rate arbitrage, deferring taxation of money that would have been taxed in higher brackets when earned and recognizing it in lower brackets in retirement.

Utilizing Roth IRA conversions, a married couple with no earned income could convert $24,000 from a tax deferred account to a Roth account utilizing the standard deduction, and pay no income tax on this money. A couple could convert over $100,000/year, up to the top of the 12% tax bracket, and pay low tax rates as shown above.

When you have a spouse working, or otherwise earn income with semi-retirement, you fill up lower tax brackets with earned income. This limits or eliminates the effectiveness of Roth IRA conversions.

Remember also that while most people think of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as a health care law, it is essentially a tax law. It is advantageous for those obtaining health care on public exchanges to keep income relatively low (less than 400% of the FPL) to obtain subsidies and limit out of pocket costs. Having a working spouse or other earned income can make this a challenge.

Worth the Tradeoffs?

Several factors led us to make the decision to have me retire while my wife kept her job. My unhappiness at work was carrying over into our home. We had saved enough that we didn’t need the rat race and high taxes that came with a two income household.

At the same time, my wife’s continued work alleviates financial stress, provides affordable medical insurance for our family, and gives us most of the flexibility and freedom of full retirement. While not a perfect situation, the positives clearly outweigh the negatives for us.

Everyone has to decide what  is best for yourself and for your family. Having one spouse retire before the other is a strategy that can create a better lifestyle more quickly.

[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? You can reach him at chris@caniretireyet.com.]

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Comments

  1. I really relate to this post, being semi-retired for many years but having a husband who will never retire until ill health obligates him to, I guess, because he loves every aspect of his work and it is tied into every aspect of his life that he enjoys. I have resigned myself to that aspect (he has flexible hours so I still get to enjoy his company!) but what I cannot resign myself to is being stuck in the city we live in forever. We’ve lived here 25+ years and I’m ready for a change! The expense, the traffic, the noise, the weather, the population density are all becoming intolerable. Unfortunately, his work (and my part-time work) is tied to this place. So that is our dilemma. It would be insane to leave a job he loves just to move to a cheaper, more amenable area, right? And by the time he is forced to leave work, we will probably be too old to enjoy the amenities of a new city/town.

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Your story is a great example of the realities that we all face. Would either decision be insane? I don’t think so. Is your situation representative of the challenges we all encounter when making the retirement decision? Absolutely.

      I think too often we get caught up in oversimplifications. Every decision involves trade offs, which is the message I try to convey in this post specifically and my writing generally. We all would love easy answers, but they unfortunately rarely exist.

  2. Sorry, I don’t see this as retirement at all. You have nearly chose to leave a job that was no longer working for you until you decide what else you might do. Moreover, unless you have been able to set aside a remarkable amount of money from my mid-level position in the healthcare industry, it’s hard to see how you will be able to fund the next 40 ideas of your life. And even if you are able to do that it’s unlikely a path that many couples project with those with larger families would be able to envision. While you’re correct in outlining the challenges of asynchronous retirement, I don’t agree that that is what you’re experiencing. Good luck nevertheless!

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Gord,

      You certainly make some valid points. Some would argue that I’m not retired and am merely a stay home dad. The difference is that we were able to stash a large amount of money by saving 50+% of our salaries over our careers. I agree that few people could replicate this in their early 40’s b/c we were fortunate to get on this path early, but the article equally applies to someone in a similar position in their 50’s or even early 60’s. Agree?

      Chris

  3. You should become a stay at home dad! If I was your wife I would want you to be taking care of our daughter since you aren’t working instead of doing whatever you want while your wife if working! Talk about resentment!

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Vicki,

      That is in many ways what I am doing. As noted in the article, we worked hard to develop a plan that was best for our entire family, but still there is some occasional jealousy and resentment on both sides. I wrote this b/c many think this path is easy, which in some ways it is and in others it creates new challenges that should not be underestimated.

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation. Opposing opinions are always welcome as I want to enable real conversations that dive deep into these issues.

      Chris

  4. Thank you for this blog topic, you covered all the important areas. Even though we did not retire as early as you, my husband retired while I kept working. First I worked full time, then halftime then casual. This helped me to ease into retirement while at the same time testing our financial needs. We found out that we can comfortably live on gov. pensions, my public servant pension and withdrawing small amounts from my husband RRSPs (in Canada) that was put in a segregated fund RIF account (similar to an annuity).

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Vera,

      We originally envisioned both of us continuing some work (10-15 hours/week). I agree that in a perfect world that sounds like a great amount to keep you stimulated and engaged, while allowing enough time for other interests. For the reasons outlined in the post we chose this path b/c it allows us to get our health care insurance by having one person working closer to full-time hours. Having me work too would just mean more busyness, higher taxes, etc. For us it was about not leaving too soon that we were feeling nervous and worried about our financeas, but also not working too much and recognizing we were close to having enough, if we’re not already there.

      Thanks for sharing your perspectives and experiences.

      Chris

  5. I am 65 and retiring end of year. Husband will work couple more years. I was thinking about doing Roth conversion, but at what point can his income be before it’s not advantageous. He earns about 87,000 before any deductions. I do see a problem with traveling as now I can take as much time as I want, but he’s self employed and has no income if he takes time off so that limits how long he can take for vacations!

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Laurel,

      There’s no right answer to how much is too much. With tax cuts, even money that was earned in the old 25% bracket if now recognized in the 22% bracket is a small win. The key is the less you make, the more advantageous if doing Roth conversions. Taxes are one factor in planning, but not the only one. Also, you have look at the whole tax picture. If conversions push income from the 12% to 22% marginal bracket, that can cause you to pay more tax on investments. Look at the big picture and be careful to not let the tail wag the dog. This may be a great place to pay a fee only advisor or CPA if you need help with the calculations and planning.

      Best of luck,
      Chris

      • Since we’re talking about a FIRE audience here, if you have $1M+ in investible assets at one brokerage firm, you should ask if there are free advisors available (I know both Fidelity and Vanguard has them). I have had positive experiences with my Fidelity guy and I think he’s pretty unbiased (BTW, he explicitly brought up the Roth IRA conversion item without me asking) but I know experiences vary. Just a thought.

  6. This can work if both spouses are on the same page. I am so fortunate to have a wife who shares my interests and goals.

    I am 8 years older than my wife and I retired 16 years ago at age 59. We determined we had enough money to continue our lifestyle without working but she enjoyed her job and the social interactions.

    So, she continued to work until age 63 while I took over the household chores, with the exception of dinner prep. She really enjoys preparing dinner.

    It was no big deal to me as I had many years of living single and am plenty capable of performing the chores she had done when I was working insane hours and always on-call.

    This not only gave us more quality time together, it allowed her to max out her 401k while keeping just enough “earned income” for us both to contribute to Roth IRAs.

    We are now 3 times wealthier than when I retired. Who knew? My spare time was spent learning to be a DIY investor and move our savings from a major brokerage to Vanguard.

    Neither of us could be happier with the outcome.

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Ray,

      Your situation sounds very similar to ours. The only real difference is I have an interest in real estate investing so want to diversify some of our holdings out of paper investments into rental properties. It is encouraging to see your success doing pretty much exactly what we’re looking to do.

      Best,
      Chris

  7. Chris,
    Great perspective and insight. I think I will send this one to my wife. I would like to leave the Rat Race and work part time in similar work or help somehow in the family business. The insight you shared on tax advantages was helpful. I need to try to get my wife to see that we don’t need the amount of income we currently make and start to simplify and disengage from the corporate grind.
    Thanks again, I really liked the article and admire your courage and that of your wife.

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Dave,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. There are many ways to make this work aside from the full time work/ full retirement dichotomy, but it takes careful planning to consider both the financial and non-financial impacts of your decision. Understanding the tax code and how it in many ways incentivizes lower incomes and punishes higher incomes is a good reason in my opinion to do something like this where you take a more gradual more tax efficient path into full retirement.

      Cheers!
      Chris

  8. Chris, love your blog! Your situation has many similarities to ours so your insights are very relevant to us. Like you said, getting medical coverage is a tough nut to crack. My profession in tech requires full-time work (e.g. 3 weeks PTO per year) to receive family medical benefits. My wife works for a doctor with no benefits and gets paid per patient visit in order to get reduced hours and increased family time for everyone. When I retire, our plan is for my wife to work as little as possible but still get us health coverage (probably 30 hours a week but hopefully flexible hours like she’s getting now). The nice thing about working as a PA (Physician Assistant) for a nursing home is that you have lots of flexbility in a given week as to when you see your patients and when/where you do your charting paperwork. If I retire soon, I will become the stay-at-home dad and can help prep the kids for school, receive them when they get home and other family activities (non-family household chores can be outsourced as that’s part of my definition of FIRE but I have no interest in outsoucing certain parental duties). Like you said in your blog, even this arrangemnt has trade-offs. As for now, I will continue to work since even if I retired, we can’t do the things we really want to do (travel the world) since the kids are still in K-12 school. Oh well, I guess the extra money will come in handy when we eventually do retire. So for now, it’s a concious “sacrifice” that I continue working until I finally pull the trigger and retire (or get forced into it via layoff) and move into a world more similar to yours.

    Thanks for a preview into my future life 🙂

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Phillip,

      Glad you relate and can learn some things from my example. My philosophy is more one of lifestyle design than true retirement planning. As some of the comments above noted, what I’m doing is not really what many would consider being “retired”. I’m OK with that as many times it’s easy to get caught up in these definitions and playing by rules that don’t really exist. It gets interesting when you figure out that there are rules you do need to understand (tax code, social security, laws governing tax deferred accounts, etc) but you can make up the rest to build the life you want, rather than the one society tells us we should be living. Good luck in figuring out your plan and hope I can continue to be a resource for you.

      Cheers!
      Chris

  9. I am assuming that your writing and blogging is geared toward making income. I’d also bet that in spite of your listing all the advantages of keeping income low that in fact you are trying to get an income from your activities that will place you way over 400% of the fpl. I get that nobody wants to make 401% but if you can spend one or two days a week and blow way past those limits then the incremental cost of health insurance and capital gains taxes are pocket money easily covered by your hobby income. That’s how I designed my retirement and it is a much easier way to live when you actually like making more money rather than trying to avoid it.

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Steveark,

      Here is the tricky part with planning for health care. I don’t have a great plan, b/c I don’t know what the rules will be in 1,3, or 5 years let alone the 25 years that we have to figure this out until my wife and I are both Medicare eligible age (don’t even know if that will be the same for that matter). This is why our plan focuses a lot on flexibility and adapting to changes as they occur.

      I don’t like to share our exact numbers. I try to focus on principals, b/c everyone’s situation is different, so I think this is a better way of conveying a message that’s useful to readers.

      I will tell you I agree I would love to live a more abundant lifestyle, and if my retirement income blew past 401% of FPL while working the hours I want doing work I believe in, I’d be ecstatic and gladly pay full insurance premiums (honestly still wouldn’t be happy about them, b/c I think our system is wasteful, overpriced, and incentivizes the wrong things). However, I don’t see that happening at the moment. I know there are bloggers who report making 6 figures/month, but it is rare and requires a lot of work and effort. I would personally be happy if I could consistently make 5 figures/year doing something I love on my schedule. I don’t want to go out of my way to not earn money so I can get a handout from the government, but I’m also not going to make $1 too much and lose $5-10k in subsidies because I’m ignorant of the way the law is written.

      I guess I agree with your comment in principle, but in practicality it can definitely make sense to carefully plan how much income you recognize. I don’t love the system, but it’s the one we have so we need to plan accordingly.

      Best,
      Chris

  10. Very interesting post! In our couple, my spouse will very likely retire before me. Hopefully, I won’t be too far behind. This will likely create some strains indeed, but I think it’s really worth it!

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Thanks for reading. I’m not sure how long we’ll keep this arrangement. I think so long as my wife is enjoying the work she does, this arrangement works very well for us. If that changes, we’ll change with it, but for now agree the trade offs are well worth it. Best of luck on your transition!

      Chris

  11. Chris,
    This is exactly what we did when I left my mind numbing job in August at 49 (hubby is 46). Although we could easily leanFIRE right now, hubby received some unexpected promotions from an hourly employee to a salaried supervisor and he is LOVING it. He would like to spend a few years exploring this new position. I now handle all the household chores that we used to split evenly so he regained his weekends that we used to spend trying to clean/shop/laundry. Win/win in our eyes!
    Roxanna

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Agree 100% Roxanna. As stated above, I respect those that think I’m “not really retired”, but also think it’s important to point out that the ultimate goal is not to achieve labels like “retired” and instead focus on what really matters. For me that is building a life that allows me to enjoy my family while my daughter is young, get outdoors and pursue my passions while I have my health, and grow wealth from our current position of leanFIRE where we would be if choosing a more conventional retirement, to FatFIRE where choices in life are not restricted by money. It’s more complicated and doesn’t fit neat labels, but as you note you can build a life that’s rewarding, fulfilling, and allows you to pursue your passions. Like you, we’ve found the positives of this lifestyle far outweigh the negatives and so will stay on this path as long as that is the case, whether it be another year or the next 40 years.

  12. Lorraine says:

    Hi Chris! Great post!

    I’m curious what you are doing now to plan for your wife eventually retiring and you getting coverage on the ACA marketplace {hopefully, if it still exists!}. As you know, if you wish to avoid the subsidy cliff, you need to keep your MAGI low. We are developing a spreadsheet to help us plan out where we will get our non-MAGI income from. It is more challenging to structure than one might think. Although dividends and capital gains are not taxed if you have a low enough income overall, they still count towards MAGI, which is used to determine subsidy amount for the ACA. Rental income also counts toward it, as well as any 401K/IRA distributions, interest on savings accounts/CD’s, and of course any actual earned income.

    We sold our rental (wanted to get out of real estate anyways) and have moved a chunk of money into a money market account. We will use that as well as the principle amounts of anything we sell from our taxable accounts to make up the difference between the amount of MAGI we have to stay under and remainder of $ we need for our budget. Of course we can also access Roth’s and our HSA (with medical receipts) for additional monies that will not count towards MAGI – but those are a last resort.

    Just wondered if you are planning for this, and if so, what your strategies are. It’s a challenging thing to plan for!

    I have been semi-retired for years now with my husband still working full-time, but we really long to do extended travel together. With one spouse still working full-time for health insurance, you can’t go explore the world for months at a time. We are getting ready to take the leap of hubby leaving his full-time job next year….hopefully the ACA will remain in effect. If not, one of us will have to go back to work full-time. We can’t wait forever to see what happens with it. At 50 and 54…with enough money to FIRE … we can’t let fear of what will happen with health insurance stop us from living our dream fully together.

    Lorraine

    P.S. As a fellow PT I can relate to the burnout!

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Lorraine,

      Great question without a great answer unfortunately. I think ACA has many positives and many negatives, but the biggest negative is that neither side seems to have any real interest in developing a plan that will be agreeable to a broad majority and thus sustainable for the long term. This makes it really hard to play the game when you have no idea what the rules will be from election to election. For that reason, our answer feels like a bit of a cop out, but honestly it is flexibility. There are simply too many moving parts for me to feel confident with any particular long-term plan.

      My wife truly enjoys her work, so I don’t see her wanting to fully retire as long as we have our daughter in traditional school. I can see her wanting to work less, maybe 15-20 hours/week instead of 30. In that case, we would have several options. One would be to negotiate with employers to find a way to stay on their insurance. Another would be to use a HSM, possibly in conjunction with a non ACA compliant catastrophic insurance plan, which are not currently available, but may be in 2019 if things don’t change again. If we could get MAGI low enough, we would consider an ACA plan, but if we’re around the upper “cliff” it wouldn’t make sense to make an extra $1,000 if it would cost is $5,000-$10,000 more, which is where things get complicated. I hate the complexity, which is why I would prefer the transparency and simplicity of HSM. They don’t come without their own downsides either though, including pre-existing conditions as noted in the post and the fact that they have limits on how much they will pay out in a worst case scenario (which is the ultimate point of insurance in my mind).

      Curious about your decision to get out of real estate if worried about MAGI. One thing that attracts me to real estate in addition to diversifying away from paper assets, is that depreciation gives a paper expense that lowers recognized income. While I tend to be debt averse, using leverage gives another way to build wealth while limiting recognized income.

      These things are very challenging to plan for, which is why I am trying to be as transparent as possible with our situation to create better conversations. As noted in comments above, I’m not interested in litigating whether I’m really retired. I’m far more interested in figuring out how to get over the real fears and challenges that many of us face and figuring out real practical solutions to allow us to lead better lives. The cool part of sharing my story is I can help others while also forcing me to objectively reason things out in writing to clarify my own positions and get ideas from other readers with similar challenges b/c ultimately I don’t have all the answers.

      Agree 100% you can’t wait forever for a perfect solution which likely won’t emerge. Good luck finding the right solution for you and your husband and I tip my hat to you both for looking for a plan to do what matters to you.

      Chris

  13. Not emasculated yet says:

    Chris – No offense intended, but you are not retired. When I first read the name, “Chris”, I was thinking you were a woman. Women have been doing what you are doing for all of human history, except for the last couple of decades in our broken American culture.
    All through history, the man went to “work”. And the woman stayed “home” to take care of the young.
    This worked extremely well in the big picture, but ticked off a segment of spoiled feminists as they saw it as unfair.
    So we’ve launched a dangerous experiment in the US that tries to ignore nature – and 50 million years of human evolution.
    Good for you for figuring out how to get to play the “easier” role for a while.
    Just don’t call it “retirement”.
    Call it becoming emasculated.
    If you don’t like the term, man up and get a job.

    Stop spending your time trying to get others who still go to work, pay for your health insurance through “subsidies”.
    Sorry for the though love, brother. but wake up. Step up and provide for your family.

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Sorry. I’ll have my wife stop working and make sure to keep her home, barefoot and pregnant. Then I’ll run out to start plowing the fields or working in the coal mines, so you think I’m a real man.

      This is a blog about retiring sooner. It’s about thinking independently and living purposefully. It’s not about doing what you’re supposed to do, because others say you’re supposed to do so.

      I don’t like our healthcare system with it’s endless bureaucracy and misaligned incentives. That’s why I worked and saved aggressively for over 15 years, so I could get out of it. Sorry for not continuing a job I didn’t’ like to make money I didn’t need for another 25 years because that’s what real men do.

      I didn’t design the system or make the rules, but I am going to do what I can to ensure that our readers understand them and know their options.

  14. Not emasculated yet says:

    Genuinely not trying to pick a fight, but its not really called “retiring” if you are simply getting others to pay your bills.

    Your wife is paying for your fruit loops. And I am paying for your health insurance.

    When you correct those two deficiencies, then you will have something worth teaching others.

  15. Not emasculated yet says:

    Chris — How ironic that you deleted my above response — just after NOT deleting your above sermon about the virtues of “thinking independently”.

    So here’s some more independent thinking.

    Darrow is “allowed” to give early retirement advice because he actually retired early.

    You are NOT retired.

    Whether you delete my comments or not, it is extremely clear to everyone reading that your wife is sponsoring you. (e.g. You are a kept man, not a retired man).

    Nothing inherently wrong with this arrangement I guess as long as it works for both of you (though not my cup of tea)….but it comes off as extremely disingenuous for you to “teach” others how to do something you really haven’t done for yourself.

    Now if you want to give investment advice, like your earlier article about investing when valuations are high, that’s fine. Its something you are actually doing (e.g. you are investing when valuation are high) and you brought some legit insights to that topic.

    But don’t waste my time teaching me how to play the guitar, unless you actually play the guitar.

    Feel free to delete this one as well – unless you’re trying to generate some “real” discussion.

    • Lighten up. Chris isn’t trying to tell other men to live like he does. It doesn’t matter whether the one working person in the couple is Chris or his wife. The educational aspects of the article are valid. Thanks Chris.

      • Chris Mamula says:

        Agree Michael. If you go back to last week’s post, our plan was to have us both continue very limited work (10-15 hours max) as a hedge against sequence of returns risk. My wife getting her current job 3 years ago was a bit of a happy accident where she found work she enjoys, gives tremendous lifestyle freedom, and solves (at least for a while) the healthcare dilemma. The fact is we face a situation many face where we have enough to leave the rat race and have much more freedom far sooner than the typical work to 65, early retirement means retire at 60 crowd. I am very transparent that I simply don’t know if we have enough to make it forever, and don’t want to live a life of worrying about it. These are the real challenges real people face when trying to design a better life for themselves as noted in the majority of comments.

        Best,
        Chris

    • I can attest to the fact that Chris is fully retired. I have seen a summary of this guy’s books and he is capable. Believe me. He is doing this blog because he enjoys it, is passionate on the subject, wants to stay engaged, and if he can make some money, hey why not.

      • Chris Mamula says:

        Dave,

        Thanks for chiming in to help validate what I’m doing, but I don’t mind dissenting opinions at all, with the caveat that they’re respectful and helpful to others. It was my mistake to allow the first comment through and try to engage with someone with no interest in learning or helping others. Thanks for reading my friend.

        Cheers!
        Chris

  16. My husband and I were just having a spat on the kept man conversation. Can you undelete ‘this guys comment? Unless there is something he said that is just too ugly to be spoken out loud. But isn’t that what the internet was invented for?

  17. Chris,

    I agree with all aspects of your article. Though not fully retired, my part-time status has lead me to encounter some of the same things – both pos and neg.

    I do have more time, but as you know, I try to use some of this time to grow my RE biz. Dont get me wrong, I dont HAVE to do this, but its an interest and financial goal of mine to build it. Who doesnt want their existing businesses to grow, right? My wife has other uses for this time!

    On the other hand, the extra time has afforded our family and household much less strain regarding schedules, duties, and everything.

    Like you, net total = positive!

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Life is full of trade-offs. It’s easy to see things as black and white, but when you can learn to look at problems differently, there are many things you can do to live a better life sooner. Like you, I’m much more interested in finding balance in life and enjoying my time when I have my health and my child still around, rather than delaying life for 10-20 years in the name of security or meeting someone else’s expectation.

  18. Thanks for your perspective on this topic that is important for so many people–of either gender. My husband and I read both your post as well as the link to Robert Laura’s Forbes piece, and we appreciate what you both have to say.

    On the whole, you provide a balanced perspective with nuance and honesty, and we thank you for that.

  19. So excited to find this blog as I was googling “healthcare insurance for early retirement”. I’m 53, my husband 55 and he plans on retiring next year and I will work part time. My husband is grandfathered into some coverage from his work however we still paying substantial premiums (which have planned for). My biggest concern is my son who goes to school in California while we live in Mass. Will I be able to get his coverage on our family plan? He is only 20 however I don’t think he plans on moving back.

    Keep up the good work! Everyone looks at my like I’m crazy when I say I’m going to retire early (or work part time). I can’t wait!

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Barb,

      Assuming you have an ACA compliant plan, your son would be able to obtain coverage until age 26. That doesn’t necessarily mean you will like what it may cost, the options of providers he has available in his area, etc. You’ll need to research those key details.

      Congrats on your pending early retirement. Glad you found us.

      Best,
      Chris

  20. Not emasculated yet wants you to man up and play by his rules. I could join a HSM, even though I might have to misrepresent my religious beliefs in order to qualify. I could keep my income very low, by living on savings, in order to qualify for ACA discounts. I could also convert to ROTH and pay little or no taxes. Some might question the ethics of some of these decisions. Exactly how is this different than our current president avoiding taxes for years by using the existing rules of the tax system? He is not alone. Most individuals with high net worth have used the rules of the system to avoid as many taxes as possible. Many have been able to lower their tax rate below that of the average working person. I hear no calls for them to man up.
    The tax system is not fair. The healthcare system is not fair. I have no reason to believe either will be any time soon.

    • Chris Mamula says:

      W Fred,

      The thing I’ve always enjoyed about this blog and I am doing my best to continue is to present the conditions to the best of my ability as they exist without politicizing or judging. I have my opinions, particularly about our health care system having worked in it for over 15 years. At the end of the day, sharing my opinions on this blog doesn’t help others to live a better life. What does help is to understand the laws that govern us and then doing what we can to design the best lifestyle we are able while playing by the rules. Avoiding taxes legally by choosing to start working less sooner, doing Roth conversions, investing in real estate, etc. is not the same as evading taxes illegally, committing insurance fraud, stealing, etc. I don’t like all the rules, but I do play by them and recommend everyone else do the same.

      Best,
      Chris

  21. Emasculated says:

    It says “speak your mind”, so here goes. I have read this article and all of the comments. First off, according to Chris’ definition, I have been “retired” for nearly 20 years. I had an 18 month-old daughter, a pregnant wife and and a great career in the residential construction business when I “retired”. At the time, we were at a crossroads as to whether we would continue with both of us working full time with daycare (possibly nanny) for the kids. I have been a stay-at-home parent ever since. We ended up with four children in a span of just over 5 and a half years. They are now teenagers.

    I can cull some of the phrases from Chris’ brief “bio” above and use them to describe myself: “After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning….wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement”. The only difference is that I don’t have a blog.

    Chris, you are a stay-at-home dad, whether you like the term or not. The term “retired”, in the minds of most people, is used to describe the time when they are no longer employed and the children (if any) are grown and they are free to do as they wish, when they wish. Currently, your freedom is limited more by the fact that you have a young child than it is by having a wife who is still in the workforce. You have quite a ways to go, believe me, I’m living it. We have been financially independent for several years now and my wife can stop working whenever she wishes, but why would she when we have to stay home and raise kids? (She likes her job anyway.) I still speak of “retirement” as a time in the future. Rest assured, I can promise you that when the last kid is out of here, so are we!

    Now, I must address “not emasculated”. Although not stated, I assume this person is a male. I have run into this person many times over the last 20 years and have dealt with them in myriad ways. When I was younger…..well lets just say I was a bit “rougher” around the edges when dealing with this type. As I stated above, I do agree with his assessment of the term “retired” and do not refer to myself as such. But, emasculated? As emasculate is descrbed in the online Merriam Webster dictionary: “to deprive of strength, vigor, or spirit”? Ah….no. Emasculated because we are fortunate enough that I can stay home and raise the kids rather than put them in daycare? The “easier” role? I agree, it’s not hard work – busy, very busy at times, but not hard. Hard work is pouring concrete or roofing or digging a ditch – I’ve done plenty of all of it. Everybody thinks that they work hard. Good luck finding anyone who, no matter what they do, will not use terms like “I worked hard all day.” or “I have a hard day of work ahead of me.” Technically, I do make money (lots of it actually) through years of diligent “work” budgeting, saving, prudently managing household finances and, investing and building a portfolio that can already support us for the rest of our lives. My wife doesn’t do any of it, so I guess it’s part of my “job”. I will tell you, it’s hard to get motivated to go out and get a traditional job when you don’t need the money. Once you get to that point, you work for other reasons, namely avarice or because you have ego issues.

    And the antiquated, simple minded reference to gender roles in today’s society? Wake up son. This is not the 1950’s. Everything has changed, especially for women. Women matriculate at ever increasing levels compared to men. Even a fool can see that this translates to more and more women in the workforce and (God forbid!) a woman may be your boss some day. Do you have a daughter? A niece? Any young female in your life that looks up to you? What do you impress upon this girl in regards to her potential future employment or education? Barefoot and pregnant indeed.
    Also, “not emasculated”, I can assure you with a 100% degree of certainty that you are not subsidizing or otherwise paying for my health insurance. You pay me nothing, ever, and never will.

    Which leads me to the other comment that I feel compelled to expound upon. “W Fred”, everybody, (or at least every prudent manager of their personal finances) uses “the rules of the system to avoid as many taxes as possible”. And the inference that “most” high net worth/high income individuals pay little or no taxes is absurd. You stated: “I could keep my income very low, by living on savings, in order to qualify for ACA discounts. I could also convert to ROTH and pay little or no taxes.” I regards to the former, it is obvious that “living on savings” is not the best plan for you as you have no doubt run the numbers. Convert to a ROTH and you pay taxes on the conversion as it is considered ordinary income for the year that you convert. Uncle Sam gets his money one way or another.

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Emasculated,

      Are you retired? Ok. Are you a stay at home dad? Ok. Doesn’t really matter to me what you call it.

      What does matter, as I think you’ll agree, is that you don’t have to live by societies normal definitions and patterns. What does matter, IMHO, is using your money to build the life you want for you and your family. I focus on having enough, not too little that we’re scrimping and worrying about money all the time, not too much that I’m trading away my valuable time b/c I’m afraid to pursue a different path. I think it’s a more intelligent way to approach life than worrying about whether you, I, or anyone else thinks the other is “really retired”.

      A valid point you make is that when writing publicly, it’s important to be transparent and not claim to be anything you’re not. I try to be extremely transparent in my writing in an effort to help educate others on both technical aspects of personal finance/retirement planning and learning to think differently.

      As far as the degrading comments, it was my mistake to ever engage him. Those types of comments will just be deleted in the future to avoid wasting time on them.

      Best,
      Chris