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It’s crazy to realize that I retired at the age of 43 two years ago. December 31, 2018, was my last day of “working for the man” hopefully forever! Now it’s time to present some lessons learned during that time.
In the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community, you tend to read info from a lot of folks who are on the path to financial freedom but aren’t there yet. While that’s great and can present a lot of great information and motivation (it did for me!), I think it’s fun to learn what actually happens once you reach early retirement.
I think we all have some exciting dreams in our heads of what happens when we reach the point when we can leave our 9-5 job…
Is it like a magical unicorn coming to sweep you away into this next phase of your life?
Do people bow their heads in reverence at the amazing feat you’ve pulled off as you walk down the street?
Do all your dreams suddenly become a reality the day after you leave your job forever?
I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but that’s a big “no” on all counts. Life goes on – you still have to do your laundry and pay your bills. All your responsibilities are still right there in front of you. Oh, yeah, and almost no one cares that you’re retired.
However, the three factors that do change are some of the most important…
- Any stress you had from work is now gone.
- You don’t need to think about money as much (though it’s still important).
- You have a lot more time in life.
Those three changes are a pretty big deal. What you do with that last one though is probably the most meaningful. You can sit around and watch movies or play video games all day. You can pursue new hobbies or start a new business. A lot of folks like to give back to the community through volunteer work.
You decide how each day is going to go. By far, that’s the biggest blessing of FIRE. For me, it’s also been a new kind of stress that I’ll talk about shortly.
So with over two years of early retirement under my belt, I want to share with you the lessons learned so far.
Lessons learned… #1) Spending is still relevant
Of all the lessons learned in our early retirement life so far, there’s really only one that’s involved money… our spending still has to be kept in check.
First of all, know that this will be different for everyone. Some folks have paved their way to Fat FIRE and are living it up to a point (awesome job, Physician on FIRE and Fritz from The Retirement Manifesto!). Others are killing it with their side hustles (nice work, Joe from Retire by 40 and Steve from SteveAdcock.us!). And then other early retirees do a fantastic job of living on a lot less regardless of what their net worth is (congrats, Mr. Tako Escapes, Justin from Root of Good, and more recently, A Purple Life!). The list could go on and on with awesome early retirees.
Regardless, our situation is that we budgeted for up to $55k per year in expenses (adjusted each year for inflation). Even so, because I’m concerned about the sequence of returns risk, we’re keeping our budget much lower.
When we moved to Panama in the summer of 2019, I anticipated our expenses to be around $35k/year. I was off – we’re more on track to spend around $42-45k/yr. Still pretty good though!
But, throw in a random pandemic and our numbers are really off. Additionally, we bought a 2012 Honda Pilot for a spur-of-the-moment road trip while back in the U.S., and all told, we spent just over $56,000 in 2020!! Oops.
That said, we received our stimulus check, had a little income that came in from the blog, the stock market was on a roll, etc.
And if you’re not using Empower (formerly Personal Capital), you’re missing out on an easy (and FREE) way to track your expenses and net worth. Their integrated fee analyzer tool alone helped me save over $50k in stupid fees in just a few minutes.
In other words, I’m not fretting over-spending this past year. I think we can all agree that it was one crazy and unusual year.
What does weigh on my mind a little though is the thought of if/when we move back from Panama. Are we going to be able to easily cut back on some non-necessities to get our costs down? Probably, but it’s still something we need to be aware of when the time comes.
On the plus side, moving back to the U.S. would also present more income opportunities though so that can also help offset things.
Overall, while money is no longer a big cause of stress in our lives, it’s still highly relevant in our choices in life.
Lessons learned… #2) Figuring out your path in life is hard
When it comes to lessons learned, this one’s been the biggest struggle for me… and still is.
I don’t want to waste a minute of my early retirement. I have so many different hobbies I want to try my hand at some point – some that could bring in some income and some that won’t.
Then there’s that lingering feeling that I’m meant to do something more for the world. I want to give back. I want to make a change, a difference.
Guess what – I haven’t been able to make a lot happen so far. But it took me a while to realize why. Now that I’m retired, I have nothing but time on my side – so why do I still feel like I don’t have enough time in my day?
It all comes down to priorities. And the biggest priority for me right now is my family. I have a rare opportunity to spend my days with my wife and daughter without work getting in the way.
And that’s where a good chunk of each day goes… but that’s a good thing! I might not be getting anything “accomplished” during those times, but it’s the reason I wanted to retire early in the first place. I simply didn’t want to miss my daughter growing up.
It just took me a while to learn that you can’t do everything – there are still only 24 hours in the day. So even though I still have a list of things I want to try my hand at, I don’t stress (as much) about not getting to them.
Instead, one of the big lessons learned is to simply enjoy our time together. In the meantime, I can start with a couple of things on my “to-do” list to fill the gaps.
Route to Retire is my biggest time-consumer. Even just writing one post a week, I generally spend about 25 hours/week writing the post, answering comments and emails, marketing and social media, and all the other fun that comes with it. It doesn’t pay well so it’s a good thing I enjoy it!
The other two things I’m currently doing on the side are learning Spanish and working out. I’m able to work out while Faith’s doing her homeschooling. And learning a new language like Spanish is perfect because I can do a little bit when I first wake up and then more right before bed.
So I’m not changing the world yet but I’m also no longer letting it keep me up at night. It will happen eventually, but it’ll likely need to wait until Faith is grown up and moved out. Early retirement with kids is different, but it’s a good kind of different and I’m glad I get that now.
Lessons learned… #3) The excuses for not staying in shape are gone
This one’s specific to me but I would imagine it applies to a lot of others who are still working as well.
Just like anything else, what you decide is important in life will float to the top and be what you spend your time on. It’s all about priorities.
I’ll be upfront, I put exercising on a lower rung than other things. I convinced myself that I didn’t have enough time for it. And if you have kids, you already know that time is a more precious commodity. Kids occupy a lot of your time. That’s a good thing – but it does leave less time to focus on other tasks in your life.
So between time with Faith and working a full-time job, I gave myself the excuse that I didn’t have time for working out. Deep inside, I knew that wasn’t true – hell, I’ve found time to work on this blog every single week since 2015 so I obviously chose this over the idea of exercise. But it still made me feel better about it – a little mental justification if you will!
Once I retired though, that excuse could no longer cut it. And that’s great because I want to be in better shape. Health should be a priority for all of us.
My excuse was gone and I’ve been very good at staying on top of working out. With the different moves to an apartment and then to Panama and then visiting the U.S. (including our big road trip), I’ve had to adapt to each location and equipment available.
However, I’ve been consistent about working out 5 times a week, especially this past year. On top of that, we’ve done fairly well with walking and hiking here in Boquete. That’s just a “fairly well” grade due to the stupid pandemic throwing a wrench in the works with the lockdowns here. Hell, we’re in one now as I’m typing this (the past couple of weekends have been mandatory lockdown as will next weekend). We’re still getting out though when we can even if it’s just to walk to town or around our neighborhood.
I’m still no Jim Wang, but I’m more fit now than I probably ever have been in my life. I’d like to say that I would have been motivated to do the same while I had a full-time job, but I don’t think that’s the case. So I’m glad that one of the lessons learned is that I don’t have a “lack of time” as an excuse anymore.
Lessons learned… #4) The freedom FIRE brings is amazing!
We moved to Boquete, Panama in 2019. We sold almost everything we owned and came to this amazing country without a care in the world.
It’s been such a great experience for all of us and I’m so glad that we decided to move here.
But… we’ve been talking about it more and more and we’re trying to decide if we’ll be staying here past August of 2021 when our lease ends. Being away from family is tough for Lisa and Faith (I’m made of steel 😉 ) but more importantly, is staying here longer the best choice for Faith as she grows up?
This post is all about lessons learned and Faith’s gotten her share of new lessons by living in another country. She probably never would have had this opportunity if I was still working. Now we just need to decide if it would be better for her to be around other kids more, have more activities available, etc.
Moving around and deciding where to go and how to pull off something big like this would be a nightmare if jobs were involved. Trying to coordinate everything would probably be one of the most stressful processes and all the cards would have to fall into place just right to make it happen successfully.
Guess what, though – we’re retired! And the freedom that comes with FIRE means we have a lot more flexibility. Sure there are a lot of details that still need to be considered. However, we don’t have to report to anyone and we don’t have many possessions anymore. We can move to the Caribbean for a few months if we wanted to without too much thought… I doubt we’ll do that, but how cool is that?!
Freedom is good, my friends… freedom is real good.
If the idea of moving to Panama is on your radar, you should really consider the Complete Panama Relocation Guide. It’s an excellent resource filled with tips and tricks along with contact information on everything from lawyers, Visas, and healthcare to cell phones, pets, and real estate. And those are just a few of the topics! The information is frequently updated and can be invaluable in making the relocation easier.
Life’s a journey…
Early retirement isn’t a finish line. Life doesn’t simply stop when you no longer need to work.
Life’s responsibilities are still there and always will be. There will always be ups and downs, tears of joy and sorrow, and plenty of things that don’t work out the way you want them to.
However, not needing to work again if you choose so is a huge blessing. The additional time it presents, along with not being anchored down to a J-O-B, provides some much-needed freedom in life.
Being able to choose how each day will be spent might be the ultimate of all lessons learned.
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!