FIRE Series Part #4: Life as an Early Retiree & Lessons Learned
I thought Retiring Early would cure all my problems and make me the happiest girl in the world. I’d travel, get outside, make jams from scratch, and explore all the world has to offer. But when I finally pulled the trigger, I was smack in the middle of COVID, unable to do very much and wasn’t able to see many friends. I put a lot of time and energy into building Yield & Spread, which was definitely fulfilling, but I didn’t imagine myself continuing to be at a computer all day.
My official retirement was underwhelming, with little to no fanfare. No balloons. No party. Just went outside into the backyard and read a book in the sunshine.
What I realize now is that many people experience confusion when they retire, even at a traditional retirement age. Many feel they lose their identity, and become lost and depressed. Honestly, I felt no different. The actual transition was…weird. I was unplugged from the Matrix and trying to navigate this new world while everyone continued to live in the old one.
A wise early retiree once told me that it probably takes 2-3 years to ease into my new lifestyle. Now that I’m three years into this gig, I would agree. The first few years I felt anxious, like I always had to be doing something or be productive, a hangover from 30 years of working my butt off. And then to top it all off, I was hard on myself for not loving that I was an Early Retiree. Sometimes I’d even question why I had chased this path.
But with time, I eased into the process. Joe quit his job 4 months after I left mine. And today I realize I don’t think I would be as happy as an Early Retiree going at this alone, and I much prefer to have a partner that isn’t working.
So what does life look like for me now as an Early Retiree?
I’ll try to summarize the core differences:
I am diligent about my finances, but not obsessed. Joe and I sit down the first of every month to discuss our finances. Only then do we really check out our spending and our portfolios. On the contrary, I was obsessed with checking my net worth while I was on the path to FIRE. I set the building blocks up, and now I’m just following the path.
I’m hesitant to mention I’m an early retiree. Three years in and I still haven’t figured out my elevator pitch. If someone asks me what I do, a rarity in Utah but quite common in Boston, I typically say I’m the founder of a non profit that teaches financial literacy. This is obviously true, and I spend A LOT of time on Yield & Spread. But I’m clearly choosing to not always tell people I’m an early retiree. It’s not that I’m embarrassed or uncomfortable, it’s just that most of the time it leads to confusion. Responses range from “I don’t understand, but ok” or “Are you some rich person or something?” or worse, complete silence. It seems like more hassle to tell people, and also as we’ve already discussed, can be quite polarizing. And I personally would prefer to not have all my meet and greets be complicated. By letting people know about Yield & Spread, I still leave the door open to a conversation about learning about finance if someone wants to pursue that! We tend to share our story as we get closer to people, but really only if they inquire.
I’m the captain of my own ship. I am totally in charge of how I spend my day and my time. When I have a bad day, there is no one else to really push the blame onto. I am wholly responsible for how I live my life now. There is no boss or client who determines when I wake up or how much work I do. The world is technically my oyster. Overall, this is awesome, but it also brings challenges. Lack of a formal schedule means it’s easy to form bad habits. For example, I meditated regularly while I was working, but three years into this thing, I still find it hard to keep a regular schedule for this. Carving out 20 minutes in the afternoon was almost needed during the workday to meditate and take time for myself. Now, it’s much harder to find those 20 minutes because I no longer need to “break away” from the mundane.
We live by the seasons: Since we moved to the mountains in 2021, we are now officially ski bums in the winter. We check the snow forecast and ski when the snow is best, meaning our schedule revolves around a weather app. This is of course amazing because we get the greatest snow, but it can also be frustrating in that it’s hard to keep up good habits when your days are unpredictable. In the summer we usually do long distance travel (last year we went to Europe for two months). And then the Spring and Fall tend to be our seasons for house projects and free time, with intermittent hiking and camping trips.
I stay fit, but in a different way: I always told myself that when I became an early retiree and moved to the mountains, I would never work out. I would just be fit by way of my lifestyle: skiing, hiking, house projects, biking to get places. And I find that’s largely true. I can go weeks without properly working out (like going to the gym and lifting weights) and I largely stay in shape simply because I’m always out and about instead of sitting in a computer chair.
I have less patience for people. In the commercial real estate world, I spent time with people every single day that I would have been happy to never see again. Maybe I’m being blunt, but I don’t think I’m alone here when I say this. At my job, I had to play nice in the sandbox with everyone, regardless of how they treated me. Nowadays, I have a little less patience for people I don’t like simply because I am not being forced to work with them. I cringe now to think I actually allowed an older colleague to say “Sexy skirt Rebecca, you should wear that again”. If that happened today, it would be a very different story. The irony here is that I actually really valued my ability to handle just about any challenging situation while I was working. But now that I’m unplugged from the matrix, this seems wholly unhealthy.
Sometimes, I just totally slack off. Or shall I say, I can pivot easily. I may have a whole day of plans ahead of me, but if a friend messages “Hey, wanna go for a hike?”, I'm much more willing to drop my agenda and head out with good company.
Early Retirement Left to Right
One of our first home renovation projects, removing linoleum floors. Not my favorite!
A snap from our two month trip to Italy and the UK
Scaling up No Name at Snowbasin for some fresh ski tracks
Midweek hikes for exercise. Waterfall canyon is a short bike ride from my house.
And then there are things I wish I knew before FIRE’ing
Carve out your own finance path and early retirement expectations as a couple. There are endless resources on how to get to FIRE, but very few that explain the mechanics of being an early retiree beyond how to access tax-advantaged accounts. I found there is little info on how to combine FI plans as a couple, how to prepare for children, and how to actually navigate the 4% rule in the real world. Joe and I built a 10 page document which outlines our agreed approach to our finances – it includes how we should handle selling assets each month, how we track our expenses, which accounts we should focus on, and so much more. Our approach is not everyone’s approach, but it works for us. But it required a number of in-depth challenging conversations as a couple to make sure we stay on track and can pivot if need be.
Try something on before committing to it. Turns out DIY is not really my thing. I always thought I wanted to work with my hands because I never did in my career. I worked behind a computer studying real estate trends, but rarely on the ground dealing with buildings and construction in the flesh. Joe and I bought a fixer-upper three months after moving to Ogden. I genuinely thought I would love fixing up our house. But turns out, I don’t really. I’ve found I like a house project here and there, but not under time pressures and not when the list seems never ending. I actually much prefer renting and to let someone else take care of our house and yard. But I simply assumed I would like spending my time this way as an early retiree. For the time being, we’re gonna continue to push forward on our home renovations because frankly speaking it would be a shame to try and sell this thing half-renovated. But I absolutely see a world in which we decide we want to take another path. And if we do decide to rent, we’ll certainly have to tweak our finances to accommodate that.
Just because you have time for it, doesn’t mean you’ll do it. When I first left my job, I felt like I had all the time in the world, and sometimes, too much time. But slowly that time got gobbled up by simple things: getting more sleep, making more meals from scratch at home, or riding my bike to do errands. I simply adapted to my new time allowance. So when I try something new or learn a new skill, it can still be hard to find the motivation to do it. Building uphill habits are hard, even if you have all the time in the world. Have you always wanted to make sourdough bread but never found the time to build that starter? Don’t expect that you’ll do this in your early retirement just because you have more time. If you are waiting to eat healthy, work out, see a therapist, or do whatever you think will bring you more joy, just know it will still take effort. And it’s best to start prioritizing the things that make you happy and healthy now. P.S. F*ck you money can help give you the confidence to do that.
So there it is! My FIRE life on paper. I bet my views will shift and change significantly over the next few years, and I’m pumped to see what’s in store next. I always love to hear from readers, so if you have any questions on FI, reach out!
Lastly, since Yield & Spread’s sole focus is not achieving FIRE, I wanted to point you to some of my favorite resources out that helped me on my journey. Enjoy!
Mr. Money Mustache: Pioneer of the FIRE movement, GiveWell Advocate
Rich & Regular: Paid off 200k of debt in 5 years
The Mad Fientist: Lots of technical resources for early retirees
Our Next Life: FIRE from a socially conscious approach, lots of good insights into healthcare in retirement
The FIoneers: Promoters of Slow FI, building freedom and flexibility into your lifestyle
Playing with FIRE (Scott Rieckens): Easy intro to the principles & lifestyle elements of FIRE
Quit like a Millionaire (Kristy Shen): Amazing how-to-FIRE handbook
Meet the Frugalwoods (Elizabeth Willard Thames): A family explores what matters most to them
Afford Anything (Paula Pant): Best all around FI podcast, with a number of episodes focusing on real estate
I Will Teach You To Be Rich (Ramit Sethi): Finance for couples
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