Lessons from Five Years of FIRE

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April 2024 marks five years since I quit my corporate job for a life of financial independence.    With that anniversary approaching, here are five lessons from nearly five years of financial independence and early retirement.

Be Careful Using the Term Retired

I was excited to use the term retired.   It was like a celebration of a near two decade achievement in adulthood.   Looking back now I regret ever using that term beyond the personal finance community.  Now the advice I give most often now is for FIREy people to say “I’m taking off for at least eighteen months” instead of using the term retired.   From my personal experience and five years of discussing this with others, eighteen months is the perfect amount of time to announce publicly.   This says “I’m responsible with money” without flaunting wealth to the outside world.   It also calms the urgency from outsiders who think they are helping by pushing jobs on to you.

Normal Tuesday Morning

There’s just a large portion of the population that can’t compute someone voluntarily leaving a seemingly good job before the age of 62 to not work.  I promise you it’s not worth the hassle of dealing with the “does not compute” barrage of questions from colleagues that can’t understand.  The ones who will be positively impacted by you will see that impact 

Full Control of My Time

I tell people the most difficult thing to adjust to in retirement is not having another adult tell you what to do.   It sounds exciting, but as humans we are hard programmed as humans from birth to have another adult tell you what to do all day.  It starts with parents, then reinforced with more than a decade of school, followed by getting a traditional job with a manager.   This traditional job dictates half or more of a human’s waking hours for five out of seven days. 

Removing this structure is an adjustment.   It’s why many retirees quickly go back to work or recreate their job or the structure of their job.  My transition process involved a couple of months of chaos with a move, six months of “pinch me I can’t believe this is real”, followed by a weird transition period that included 2020 before settling down to having full control of my time.    The eighteen month recommendation from above is good guidance for getting through this transition. 

Money Is Less of a Concern.

If you’re an avid reader of Early Retirement Now’s Safe Withdrawal Rate Series, you know the biggest risk of an early retirement financial failure is from a prolonged bear market that occurs in the first five years.  To mitigate this, we started with an Equity Glidepath and slowly shifted our allocation up in equities.  We’re fortunate that the S&P 500 has seen an 80% increase over the last five years, but it hasn’t been an easy ride.

Since quitting work, the following happened:

  • March 2020 Shutdown drop
  • 40yr High Inflation 
  • Negative Bond Market for the first time since the early 1980s.
  • 2022 Bear Market
  • 60% to 100% Home Price Gains

Large cap growth was also the highest performing sector.  Most portfolios are more diversified and sectors like Small Cap Value (+30%) and Emerging Markets (-3.81%) did not perform as well as large cap growth.   With all of the above, we’re still slightly better off financially than we were in 2019, even if it would be better for society to not see as much inflation as we’ve endured.

This is a theme I see with FIREy people who left their full time profession around the same time as me.   Almost all of them unanimously worry about money less.

Earning Money After FIRE is Natural.

I’ve earned some money since April of 2019, from helping a former client with a finance project to delivering groceries out of boredom during the pandemic.  I’ve helped a small business sell, helped another one buy new locations, and advised a couple people on real estate investments.  In 2022 and 2023 I represented a few real estate investors acquiring debt. 

I enjoy productive work, but FI has given me the freedom to pick and choose both the people I work with and the projects I take on.  Financial Independence also gives me the freedom to avoid any business development activities.   Those used to be a means to an end, but when I don’t need to generate money, I don’t need to actively go out and sell.  That’s far different from bosses and companies guaranteeing me a “safe” W2 in exchange for all these sales goals that I either meet or face termination. 

The financial tradeoff from my disdain for sales and limited time is clear  The combined earnings over the last five years has equated to less than a year’s compensation in my old job (plus crummier health insurance) 

Expect the Unexpected.    

You can go into the next phase of life with all of these plans and ideas, but you might find different priorities later.   There’s advice out there that says “retire to something”, but the point of being free from mandatory work at a relatively young age is the freedom to figure it all out.  Sometimes things will go according to plan, sometimes they won’t.  Some random examples we’ve had:

  • We lived in two different areas that were never on any list before quitting.  We visited one two weeks after I left the job and decided on it shortly after.  The other we became more aware / familiar with based on a friend moving down here and us visiting a few times a year before having our lease terminated.   It was just an easier market for ownership and we decided we like a warm ocean.  
  • We knew we wanted to spend more time with family and initially were closer.  However this fell down the priority list on our next move.  Why?  We can still travel and spend as much time as we want whenever we want to.   Unless we were going to move within an hour (we weren’t), the distance wasn’t really a big deal.   We also completed a few trips with my inlaws before age and mobility became a bigger challenge for them.  
  • My dad unexpectedly passed away in December or 2020 and it was a messy situation since he was in the middle of a divorce with his third wife.  Resolving a bunch of issues relating to his untimely passing became a part time job for the better part of six months.  There’s no way I could have handled this without financial independence between the time and proximity required. 

Goals can change with time, what you expect / plan / dream of may not be reality.   There are a number of FIREy people I follow that thought full time travel was for them, only to drastically reduce travel in favor of a quiet routine after trying full time travel.   Others I see are nearly half a decade into adventuring.   Neither is right or wrong, but they had the freedom to figure it out.   We fall into the camp of quiet routine with an itch for some shorter trips throughout the year.  

Wrapping Up

I wouldn’t trade financial independence and freedom from my corporate job.   Two years later, someone asked me if I would go back to my corporate job for a million dollars a year, and the answer is no.  Half a decade after quitting, my answer remains the same.   I simply don’t want to trade that level of control over my time for money we no longer need.  It’s not necessarily about the alternative of “I’d rather be doing X than work”, it’s the freedom to choose.  That’s what we frontloaded the decade and a half of savings and investing to be able to enjoy today. 

5 Replies to “Lessons from Five Years of FIRE”

  1. Solid list man, I agree on the “does not compute” group. I just say I’m an aerospace supply chain consultant. Live & let live.

    Sorry to hear about your father. I agree the unexpected tends to keep happening but I’m greatful to have the freedom to address issues as they come up with my full attention vs stressing about work on top of a tough situation

  2. Very interesting reading, for a Swedish reader who is now approaching RE quickly after having been FI since 2022. It will be exciting to see if I share your experiences a bit into RE. The first lesson I really share so far and I’m not even there in RE yet.

  3. This is a great article and great insight.thank you. Sorry to hear about the loss of your Dad. I’ve been out of corporate for about 3.5 years now- taken a couple of odd jobs in the meantime, hoping to not have to go back- but certainly shaken by 2022- and still nowhere near the safe withdrawal rate. The practicalities worry me less than the mindset and I appreciate what you have put out there- thanks!

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