4 Lessons Learned After Two Years of Early Retirement


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4 Lessons Learned After Two Years of Early Retirement

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.

Not a bad way to end the year – our net worth is up over $379k since we retired two years ago! I don’t expect it to stay that way, but it’s super helpful when the sequence of returns risk is a concern!

And if you’re not using 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.

4 Lessons Learned After Two Years of Early Retirement - Dinner at Boulder 54
Dinner at Boulder 54 for the evening…

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.

4 Lessons Learned After Two Years of Early Retirement - Duolingo 2020 report
I did pretty well at Duolingo (one of my methods of studying) throughout 2020…

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 πŸ˜‰ ) 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.


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34 thoughts on “4 Lessons Learned After Two Years of Early Retirement”

    1. Not working at a job you don’t enjoy anymore is much better than the alternative for sure. That said, the lucky ones are those who’ve found a purpose (through work or otherwise) and wake up every day knowing they’re making a difference.

      Regardless, I’m loving life right now and being able to spend so much time with my family every day and be there for my daughter as she grows up! πŸ™‚

      1. Well, turns out I am rich! I wake up everyday excited to be a Park Ranger and knowing that I make difference, usually in ways that I didn’t intend. But, I am still looking forward to retiring early after 15 years of rewarding ranger work. Even rangers need a holiday. πŸ˜‰

  1. I love hearing what others are learning once they’ve crossed the FIRE “Starting Line”, Jim. Yours is an amazing journey, and I enjoy your weekly updates on your fascinating life. Thanks for the shoutout in your post. This retirement life is, indeed, an amazing way to live.

    Whether you FatFIRE, FIRE, or LeanFIRE, it’s all good, and it sure beats working for a living!

  2. Curious though in the email you mentioned possibly moving back to the states in August. For those of us that havent moved to Panama or elsewhere yet, why is that a consideration? Was hoping the post would yield light. Thanks for sharing this post. A great read and some lessons learned. All the best.

    1. Hi William, that’s correct that we’re considering moving back to the States in the fall. It’s not a for-sure yet, but it’s something we’re debating mainly for two reasons:

      • The opportunities available here for our daughter are a lot leaner
      • It’s tough being away from friends and family, especially for Lisa and Faith

      I wrote a post with more of my thoughts on this subject recently: Making Plans for the Future – Stay or Go?

      Cheers!

  3. Thanks again for the shout out buddy, I’m not nearly as fit as you think but I am getting fitter! Been running a lot more lately, something I always had trouble doing as a kid and younger adult, but it’s growing on me. I always love seeing your updates on Facebook and makes me just a *little* bit jealous of all the fun you’re having (I did not get jealous of your COVID back and forth and hard decision making though).

    1. Oh, crap – you’re getting fitter, Jim?! I’m never gonna catch up now! πŸ™‚

      I’m with you on running… I hate it with a passion so I just jog home from the gym every day but that’s all I’ll do. I’ll stick with walking and hiking – more up my alley!

      It’s been a helluva lot of fun here in Panama for sure, but you’re right about the challenges COVID brought about being a non-resident in a foreign country.

      Here’s a plug, too… for those reading this who don’t know, Jim Wang and JD Roth (two of the OGs in the personal finance realm) have an awesome daily newsletter they send out. This is one of only two newsletters I subscribe to and I look forward to seeing it every morning. Check out Apex Money here.

      1. I think there are a handful of physical skills you need if you want to age gracefully and one of them is being able to run. My goal was to be able to run a 5k every day and not be sore, stiff, etc. later that day or the next. Next, I want to be able to run a 10k and be fine the next day. There’s no speed associated with this though, but my competitive nature always pushes me to want to be faster… the goal is just being able to achieve that distance physically and, almost just as importantly, mentally.

        Thanks as always for the love!

        1. Ugh, that sounds horrible – I don’t want that skill! πŸ˜‰ Just kidding, that’s awesome that you’re on track to do this and I definitely can relate to the competitive nature that comes into play. Best of luck to you!

  4. I wouldn’t worry about the money aspect of moving back. We live on about $40k after tax per year. You make the adjustments you need. You figure out what is important and what is not, real quick. Plus your wife might pick up a job to make it easier. Just pick a place where you will be content for the next 10 years to get Faith through school (including college). We keep looking at staying in Ohio longer than we anticipated. With aging parents and wanting to get the kids through college. Now the oldest has switched to accounting and will go to CSU. It is one of the closest where he can still commute. If you plan on picking Ohio I would bake in some extra vacation money to get out of here a couple times a year. Boy is it dreary here now…… πŸ™

    1. Thanks, Scott! Yeah, I think we can make adjustments as needed. It’s funny though because we’re starting to get used to getting a lot of things for cheaper here so we’ll have to throttle back. For instance, in Ohio, we rarely went out to dinner, but it’s so much cheaper here that we do it probably a few times every two weeks. Not the end of the world, but still a change that will most likely need to be made.

      I can hardly argue with your thoughts of you and the family staying in Ohio for the time being. It’s extremely tough to uproot and leave a place, which is why so few people do it. Time keeps on going and more roots get planted (aging parents, college, etc.). The good news is that Ohio’s a wonderful place to live… except for a few months out of every year! πŸ˜‰

      1. You can still go out to eat pretty cheap here but here is the key….. DRINK WATER! I see all those frosty beverages in your pictures! That is where the cost is. We still go to the local Mexican place and get steak fajitas for 2 (even though there are 4 of us) and get out of there full for $30. So it all depends on what adjustments you want to make πŸ™‚

        I take it that the word “few” means 4-6 in your eyes…. πŸ™‚ We have had 2 big storms so far this season but is pretty quiet right now. Just cold and dreary… You know the drill….

        1. Mmmm… beer.

          You do bring up a good point – it’s the alcoholic drinks that usually crush you in restaurants. They’re usually only a buck here so it doesn’t really add much into the cost. But yeah, maybe we’ll have to stick with water in the States… ok, maybe just one beer! πŸ˜‰

          You’re right that I usually consider a few months of bad weather in Ohio to be more. It’s not necessarily the storms that bug me, but rather just the cold and dreary weather just like you mentioned. You gotta take the good with the bad though, I guess.

  5. Great job so far! πŸ˜‰
    Early retirement sounds a lot scarier when you’re working up to it. Once you’re there, you realize the finance isn’t that bad. As long as you continue to live the same way, your net worth should keep growing. It’s a good surprise. Great job on staying fit too. I didn’t do very well on that front in 2020.
    Thanks for the mention!

    1. Funny how focused on the numbers you can be on the path to FIRE, but then you get there and it’s not the center of attention anymore. As far as fitness goes, 2020 was a mess for most of the world so everyone gets a free pass. But there’s no time like the present to get back on track! πŸ™‚

  6. Got a love it when you can make more money after retirement!

    Because we had children laid, I’ve decided to grind it out and try to make more money before taxes go up or before we get vaccinated. I don’t expect to get vaccinated for another 6 to 8 months.

    But after that, it’s back to early retirement life baby!

    Sam

  7. Happy New Year, Jim! I love all the pictures you share here and on FB. It’s so great to see you guys back thriving in Panama.

    I finally got a publish date for the book – May 4th! I hope you enjoy the section featuring you and the many benefits of geo arbitrage. πŸ™‚

    And I definitely need to get back down your way for some more Panama fishing!

    1. That’s awesome on the publish date, Michael! I know you’ve been excited about this (and rightfully so!). That’s cool I made the book – I’m blushing a little over here. πŸ˜‰

      That would be cool if you came down here again. Do you know I haven’t fished at all since we moved here? After seeing the photos from your post, you’d think I’d be out on the water every day!

  8. Thanks for the mention Jim! Even though you guys overspent a little this year, I think you’re doing great (all things considered!)

    And you’re totally right — Retirement isn’t a finish line! It’s actually more of the ‘starting line’. Once you’re free from the J-O-B, life’s horizons really open up!

    Congrats, and Happy New Year!

  9. Amazing stuff Jim. Given the difficult circumstances of 2020, I think you guys overspending a little bit is totally OK. You did get a really cool road trip with the family. πŸ™‚

    Working out consistently five times a week is very impressive. Congrats on being very active.

    1. Thanks, Bob – it was one heckuva year, wasn’t it?!

      I know you’re working out, as well. I saw your 10,000 kettlebell swings challenge… now that’s impressive! I imagine it was much harder than anticipated (especially at the beginning). Why can’t we stay fit by just sitting on the couch and watching TV? I feel like that would be much easier! πŸ˜‰

  10. Hey Jim, enjoyed your post. Looking for guidance on a specific plan. Have a PC account, keep my own spreadsheets, but calculating FI# and the bridge between early and normal retirement funds is new to me. Am a few years younger than you, looking at Panama and Boquete specifically as an early retirement destination. Will be headed down that way to explore once COVID allows. Feel like mentoring a noob, or at least pointing me to some useful tools (beyond your blog, which I’m already devouring)?

    1. Hi Brian – glad to have you aboard! Some of my favorite resources for learning the details of FIRE (financial independence, retire early) include…

      • Mr. Money Mustache and his Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement
      • The Choose FI podcast
      • The Stock Series by JL Collins or his book, The Simple Path to Wealth
      • The Afford Anything podcast with Paula Pant
      • The Mad Fientist – posts and podcasts are great
      • Bigger Pockets – if real estate is something you’re into (or want to be), this community is awesome from the podcast, to the content, to the forums.
      • Clark Howard – I only have time to listen to one podcast religiously anymore and this is the one I never miss. I think I learn something new every day still on this show.
      • You can also check out Michael Kitces, Wade Pfau, and Karsten (Big ERN) Jaske from Early Retirement Now

        The list can go on and on. You’ll find more of these as the resources lead you down the way. You’ll also find good retirement calculators out there as well. The one in Personal Capital is excellent and my favorite. But cFIREsim and Flexible Retirement Planner are good too. There are a ton of these out there – just start Googling.

        As far as Boquete and Panama go, feel free to check out a lot of my posts over the past couple of years. If you go to “All Posts” in the top menu, you can also see posts by category, of which I have one that’s specifically for posts about Panama. I’d also recommend following along with Jackie from Panama Relocation Tours. Get on her mailing list and start listening to her Q&A calls she does on a regular basis (she’ll let you know via email when they are) – you’ll learn a ton that way. Her Panama Relocation Guide is costly but filled with so much valuable information that can easily make up for it.

        Hope that helps get you started!

  11. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    Life is a journey (as you say) and it feels like a person can realize it only being on FIRE, being free from obligations to work from 9 to 5. The feeling that you’re not bound by obligations to work gives the flavor to your life, as you take over. You become the creator of your life.

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