March 17th 2022 marks three years since I turned in my retirement notice. My last day of W2 earnings was April 19th, 2019, then I took the actual and proverbial ride down the corporate elevator.
Some things have gone according to how I thought, other things have not! The most surprising part about all of this is how unrecognizable my old life looks. I don’t recognize the old me, always being in a rush to go from place to place, well versed in corporate speak, and trying to meet 25 or so different and conflicting goals as a sales manager. Most weeks were a constant state of stress.
Today control over my time is priceless. I don’t know how to explain it, other than it was a weird process to go through. From the time I was born until the age of 37, I was programmed to have adults tell me what to do. I went from parents to school to a career. Every day adults told me where I had to be and what I had to do. This was accepted by me as completely normal. The process of adjusting to this looked something like:
Stage 1: Pinch me, I can’t believe this is real. This lasted at least six months
Stage 2: Uhhh, what is this? This was an on and off feeling between stage 1 and 3 that I experienced from month six until eighteen.
Stage 3: This is normal, how did I ever give up control of my time?
Today I will never cede control of my time again. I can’t imagine an amount of money that would be worth trading 40-50 hours of my week to others for 48+ weeks a year. There are little things I do today to maintain control of my time, including sticking to a rule of no more than one appointment per day. It is so rare to feel rushed at anything and I appreciate it every day.
Travel / Moving
I can’t say I would have predicted just how the first three years of early retirement would have gone. Travel has been far less due to a virus that showed up in March of 2020 and created additional friction for much of the past two years.
We are happy to have moved near the beach in the Southeast. It’s the best place we’ve lived thus far, but I’m getting the nomadic itch again. This itch hits hard once things turn cold from November through March, then dies down until October, and the process repeats itself. Are there other places we’d like to try to live? Yes. Are we willing to go through the pain of moving to make that happen? Maybe, but the immediate urge to do this has died down. The answer might be a decade of travel instead.
The last three years have involved going from 37 to 40 and suddenly having more time than I’ve ever had. I’m exercising 6+ days a week and enjoy the feeling, to the point where I feel bad on days I don’t exercise. We also walk the dog 1-2 miles per day.
One adjustment to all this I’ve learned is managing the aches, pains, and tradeoffs that come with accepting I’m getting older. For example, I had an early retirement goal of running a marathon, but I no longer want to sacrifice weight training for three to four months and risk one of the nagging running injuries showing up that could sideline me for months. I also oddly enjoy the occasional leg day at the gym, but the consequence is challenging trail running for a few days in recovery.
I’ve taken up surfing, but live in an area where the conditions are only good three to six days a month. Two plus years in I’m still learning and love the exercise and challenge.
Food is the one area I still struggle with; I’ve always carried a little extra weight and for years I ate almost whatever I wanted and controlled that through exercise. That strategy works less and less as I age and have to pick and choose what I eat. Add in some family history of things like diabetes, high cholesterol, and alcoholism and I have to be conscious about the food. My personal vice is sugar and bread. Once I start eating it I tend to eat quite a bit. Pizza and Ice Cream also rank high on my list of favorite foods. Fortunately early retirement immediately reduced the number of meals out for work which helped as it immediately reduced both food and alcohol consumption.
All this is to say no matter how much time I have, I am unable to exercise away from a poor diet and must be careful about what food I buy and put in the home.
I was beyond burned out at work prior to retirement. Much of that burnout came from a constant state of rushing, poor management, and working for a company that was deteriorating into mediocrity. The deal business is stressful, managing people has challenges, and I worked for an employer that lived to create fake emergencies. I was glad to rid myself of all of the stress.
Over time I realized what I missed was being valued for my knowledge, experience, and problem solving ability. I eventually found a good balance with some hobby consulting I’m doing on transaction work. So far I’ve been able to find a balance of this without giving up autonomy over my time. If it throws a few dollars my way, all the better. This mostly meets the rule of things I would do for free because I enjoy looking at deals.
Money: The investment, inflation, and housing roller coaster.
Investments: We retired at a comfortable FI number, only to see things go up 10% from our number, bottoming out more than 25% below our FI number, and now to sit 20% above the original target after March and April 2022 declines. The positive to all of this is even with three years of living expenses, we’re still up nicely. The bond allocation at retirement was above 30%, this has been trimmed to 15% over the first three years and that seems like a comfortable amount.
Spending: Thus far our monthly spending has remained roughly consistent around $6,000/mo. This is likely going to creep up as life overall gets more expensive, but we haven’t noticed any major changes since retiring early. Things are starting to creep up due to inflation.
Mindset: Learning to care a little less about money over time has been beneficial. I’m comfortable with our asset allocation, the funds we own, and the individual stocks we hold long term. Any of the changes or “fun” stuff I’m doing in the portfolio are limited to a smaller and smaller percentage of our holdings.
Housing: We’ve settled into renting for an extended period of time. This is a lifestyle choice verses a financial decision. We just don’t want the hassle that comes with ownership, don’t want to be locked into an area, and are fortunate enough to be in a financial position where we can afford years of rent increases. If we ever stumble across a property that can also work as a rental if we move, that opinion could change.
Inflation: We haven’t changed much of anything related to inflation risks*. Long term ownership in companies or income producing real estate are the only two assets that beat inflation over an extended period of time. Our portfolio increased 20% or so over the last three years and that should be more than enough to cover the increased costs. If we continue running above 5%, that’s probably a concern. While I have concern about government policy, I think long term demographics and deflationary pressure will get inflation below 5% soon, then it’ll be a slog to see the number move from 5% to 2%.
The only real debate I’m thinking about is should I add some securities at today’s prices that pay a safe 5% to 6%. if inflation can calm back down to 2%, this income stream is both attractive and I would pick up some capital gains as rates normalize.
Three years in and I have no regrets about achieving financial independence or retiring early. I may not want to pinch myself every morning, but I still pause occasionally and take in the fact I’m living the life most only experienced on vacation or on Saturday. This is my everyday life and has been for over 1,100 days from the time of writing this. It’s amazing to me that there are critics of FIRE, the worst thing that can happen is Financial Independence Retire Early can become Financial Independence Recreational Employment. It allows someone to do what they enjoy doing, but work from a position of strength and confidence. It has been a great decision for us.
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* I do have some concern for the country as it relates to controlling inflation. Some demographic trends over the last twenty years covered up the reality that deficit spending creates inflation. We now have a generation of politicians and voters of all political leanings that are struggling to understand that the government expenditures can’t run at 22-25% of GDP while tax revenue is only 17-19% of GDP without consequences.
Instead of inflation being addressed by our elected officials, it is ignored, evaded, blamed on outside factors and denied, probably because cutting services or raising taxes is political suicide. The consequences leave us with an implied regressive tax. This culture of evading and ignoring reality is so bad in today’s political environment that it’s somehow become a controversial opinion to require student loan repayment for professionals with graduate degrees earning six figures. The US Treasury already borrowed this money to send to colleges, not requiring repayment of $17 billion to $25 billion a month is inflationary.