Is This Stay-at-Home Thing a Taste of Early Retirement?

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Is This Stay-at-Home Thing a Taste of Early Retirement?Stay at home.  Those might end up being the most spoken words of 2020.

This COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic has caused a whirlwind of change in an instant.  Businesses have had to figure out how to adapt quickly or close, unemployment has reached record numbers, and social gatherings have all but disappeared.

On top of all that, a large number of people have suddenly become telecommuting employees.  And many surprised parents became homeschooling teachers at the drop of a hat.

Some people might have been somewhat prepared for a disaster (hello, preppers!).  However, only a small group might have been ready for a pandemic like this.  For most folks, this was just a blind-sided mess.

You might now be sitting at home with a monster headache from everything going on.  Or maybe you’re completely bored to tears with nothing to do.  Perhaps, you’re just absolutely loving being at home with all this extra time.

And with that, this stay-at-home experience might have you wondering if this is what early retirement is really like.  Lucky for you, I’m here to give you my take!


Our situation right now

I won’t go too much into this since I’ve talked about how the lockdown in Panama is going in my post “Random Thoughts in These Unusual Times.”

But for my new readers, know that January 1, 2019, was my first day of freedom.  I’ve been retired for almost a year and a half now and love it.  Sure, there have been some adjustments during this time, but I just can’t imagine going back to a full-time career ever again.

Not losing close to 50 hours a week to a job is wonderful.  Being able to spend so much time with my wife and daughter is awesome (of course, they might disagree!).

We moved to Panama in the summer of 2019 and have been loving it.  It’s been an adventure and a great opportunity for all of us to be a part of another culture.

Right now though, things are pretty interesting for us.  Our stay-at-home requirement has been strict.  We haven’t left our little gated community in over a month… yeah, at all.  That’s a long time.  We can take our daughter out to play right behind our apartment building, but that’s about it.

Is This Stay-at-Home Thing a Taste of Early Retirement? - Faith blowing bubbles
Faith blowing bubbles right outside our building…

Technically, we can leave on certain scheduled slots to go to grocery stores, pharmacies, or banks.  Women can only go for 2 hours based on a schedule using the last digit of their cedula or passport on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  The same goes for men but on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  However, the past few weekends have been total quarantine so men lose out on a day every week.

Regardless, we’re not taking any chances.  Being in a foreign country without residency and having a young daughter means we’re just fine playing the stay-at-home game 100%.  If Lisa or I (or both of us) ended up going to the hospital (about 45-60 minutes away) with COVID-19 symptoms, it could be messy.  Or if one of us died from it during this lockdown, what a mess it would be.

So we’re just staying at home… one big happy family spending 24 hours a day together.  We do fine together and have fun, but sometimes we want to strangle each other.  That’s when we all go to separate rooms for a break for a while.


How doing the stay-at-home thing is similar to early retirement

So my stay-at-home situation here in Panama might be a little different than yours.  But the gist of it is that most of us are spending more time at home than ever before.

That leads us to the comparisons of how this might be like early retirement, particularly if you’ve been laid off.

No work

Here’s the big gimme.  If you’re not working, that’s about as close as you can be to retirement, right?  I mean, by definition, retirement is:

[T]he action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.

Granted, it’s usually assumed that you’re not going back anytime soon, but either way, not working is basically retirement.  The big difference is that you’ll hopefully be able to get back to work once all this clears up.


No alarm clocks

Assuming you’re not working or homeschooling kids, you likely no longer have to get up at a certain time.  Permanently turning off my alarm clock on my phone was one of the happiest days of my life.

It’s such a liberating feeling not to be on a strict schedule.  Can’t sleep because something’s on your mind?  Who cares – sleep in!

Playing video games, reading, or doing whatever and it’s leading into the middle of the night?  No biggie – sleep can wait!

You can wake up naturally and then decide if you want to jump right out of bed or just lay there for a little bit.  The ball’s in your court!


Less on-the-job stress

This one depends a lot on your situation.  But if you have a stressful work life and aren’t working right now, obviously, a lot of that particular stress will dissipate while you stay at home.

I’d say my job had a medium level of stress on average with some months of high stress sprinkled throughout each year.  The good news for me though was that I could leave a lot of that at the office.  When 5 pm hit, I was able to mostly check out for the day and not have to think too much about it.

My work stress though would be knowing that I had to start it all over again the next day.

Now that I’m retired though, that’s completely gone – a nice weight lifted!


More time

Yup, we all know this one… if you’re not working, you’ve just freed up a lot more of that valuable resource.  That’s more quality time with your spouse or kids if you have ’em and more time to spend working on other fun.

My main motivation for retiring early was to be able to be with family more.  Being able to be such a big part of my daughter’s life is huge for me.  Whether it’s learning together or playing together, it’s an experience I’m grateful for in life.

Is This Stay-at-Home Thing a Taste of Early Retirement? - Getting ready to watch House Hunters International
Look at these cool cats without a care in the world!! We were getting ready to watch the premiere of the our House Hunters International episode!

I probably have a few more years before she gets to the age where we’re ruining her life and she doesn’t want to be around us.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying every minute that we have together.

However, if you don’t have kids, you could be using this extra time for all sorts of goodies.  Maybe you’re knocking out some to-do’s around the house, learning a new language, or just catching up on TV or video games.  Those last two aren’t very productive, but hey, it’s your choice!


So this stay-at-home lockdown does have a lot in common with early retirement.  However…


How the stay-at-home ordeal is different than early retirement

Being out of a job and staying at home indeed has some similarities to retirement.  But, it’s got some major differences as well…

More stress

I think this might be the biggest difference during this time we’re in a “normal” retirement.  For most folks, being out of a job means a loss of income.  Not knowing how you’re going to pay the bills is such a huge burden that is likely keeping many folks up at night.

There’s also the stress that so many people have right now of finding a new job.  Although some companies will bring back employees they furloughed or some who were laid off, that’s not going to be the case for a lot of companies.  So many people were unexpectedly laid off that will need to find a new job… it’s a really rough time!  If you’re in that position, I feel for you.  That could be an opportunity to move onto something better but it’s stressful nonetheless.

And of course, there’s the stress of the wild ride that the stock market’s been taking us on.  If you don’t understand the stock market and start panicking and selling or you’re forced to sell at lows because you need that money, that’s going to add even more stress to life.

As a side note, if you’re in a boat where you want a better understanding of investing and want to skip all the BS that Wall Street tries to sell you on, it’s time to do a little learning.  I recommend to all my friends and family that they read the Stock Series on the blog by JL Collins.  It’s outright fantastic and changed how I think about things completely.  He also wrote a book called The Simple Path to Wealth which is just as good.

But when you consider these stress factors, they’re ones that most early retirees aren’t experiencing.  If you’ve planned well, money becomes less relevant in early retirement.  It’s just not thought about as much – at least that’s true in my case.  The system’s already in place to give us our monthly paycheck so we’re not worried about where the money’s going to come from.  And what the stock market does day-to-day doesn’t concern me much (although I do enjoy checking on it periodically).


Pandemic / Socialization

So I can’t say that this isn’t something early retirees aren’t worried about.  But I can tell you that it’s not what any of us would call a normal part of retirement.

If we’re trying to compare having to stay at home to a real taste of early retirement, this ain’t the norm!

In a typical retirement, you’re free to move about the world as you want.  Traveling, shopping, socialization, etc. are more of a common part of life.  If you want to travel to Europe (or Panama!), do it.  If you want to go to the store or take in a movie, go for it.

And depending on where you live, socialization during non-pandemic times we’ll say is just slightly easier.  It’s common for us to take a walk to town almost daily and we almost always run into people that we stop and talk to for a little bit here and there.

Jim, Faith, and Lisa... and their cooler cart
Just us out and about before the pandemic getting some fresh fish from Miguel the fishmonger…

During the COVID-19/Coronavirus mess…. not so much.


Time to plan

In an ideal transition, you create a bridge to take you from the work-life to retirement.  That can be through various hobbies, projects, or even some type of side work.   That means you already have something in place when you do leave your job.

During this stay-at-home period though, chances are that a lot of those fun things aren’t happening very much.  Telling people to do something productive right now can be like a real slap in the face.  It’s hard to start doing something from scratch with so much other stress going on right now.  If this drags on for a lot longer, maybe that’ll be easier to do down the line, but it could be a real struggle for most people right now.


More time (in general)

Just because you have to stay at home and might not be working doesn’t mean you have all the time in the world to pursue what you want to do.  Unless you’re financially independent and planning to turn this into an actual retirement, chances are you’re spending a fair amount of time job hunting.  You gotta have an income, right?

That might mean time brushing up the old resume and spending time applying to different jobs.  It’ll also mean time spent preparing and doing interviews (hopefully virtually right now!).  I do hope you find an even better job than you, by the way!

That’s not the norm for an early retiree though.  Your days are yours to do with as you choose.  Time to paint your blank canvas in life!


Unexpected homeschooling

I have to throw in the word “unexpected” here because some early retirees have already been homeschooling their kids (that’s us!).  If you have kids, you’ve likely been thrust into this fun.  In an instant, you just became homeschool teachers.

That sucks.  Not the homeschooling portion itself – it’s got a lot of great benefits – but rather, having this happen without being able to plan for it.  Teachers have had to figure out ways to communicate and work with you and you’ve had to figure out how to teach kids who aren’t thrilled with this whole idea.  So yeah, that sucks.

In the early retired world, my wife was able to plan for homeschooling months in advance.  It was frustrating to figure out, but probably a lot easier to plan for over the course of months versus days.

My friend, Joe, will tell you his thoughts on why homeschooling is hell.  We felt some of that at first as well (and still periodically do!), but again having time to plan it out in advance helped.  It made the transition for all of us just a little smoother since everyone knew it was coming.  Then it sucked for a couple of months, but eventually, it’s become a little more normal.

Now homeschooling is a regular part of the day in early retirement.  It’s not perfect, but it’s still a far cry better than having the stress those enduring it over this short time have had to endure.


Adjusting and adapting

The last difference I need to mention is the period of adjustment in early retirement.  It’s hard to compare not working during a relatively short stay-at-home pandemic to the possible decades you’ll have in retirement.

It took me a long time to adjust to early retirement… and I’m still not there yet.  I didn’t sleep a lot during that first month and then I still struggled.  I think I’ve recently figured out my problem and with any luck, I’ll be much better off in the long run once this pandemic is in our rear-view mirror.

But my point is that each of us will adjust differently over time once entering into retirement.  Thinking you’ll know what it’s like from this short stint isn’t even close to giving you the full picture.

There you have it, my friends.  Yes, there might be some similarities during these times to early retirement.  However, the differences are much greater than a time when you’re simply not working.

It’s a whole different ball game to actually be early retired.  I probably missed some differences so feel free to throw them out there in the comments.  Regardless, I hope you’re doing well during these uncertain times and I wish you the best!


Are you doing the stay-at-home thing right now?  Do you think it could be a taste of what early retirement is like?


Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

28 thoughts on “Is This Stay-at-Home Thing a Taste of Early Retirement?”

  1. I can’t wait to be able to turn off the alarm clock permanently! I like my sleep lol.

    Glad your family is doing well during this and hope you continue to do so!

  2. Rich Engelhardt

    Other than not being able to have my morning swim, go out to eat (& of course, swill beer!)(keeping in mind, I don’t drink beer at home – only when I go out) and I do miss my bowling…..the lockdown hasn’t changed much – as far as my daily routine.
    What has changed & for the worse – by far the worse – is that the people in charge (the government) has gotten all too comfortable giving us orders as to how our daily lives will be lived. That aspect does not bode well for the future of our country.

    1. That freedom of not being able to get out and do things like the few you mentioned are what I think makes the difference in this not being a taste of normal retirement. Maybe when we get back to the U.S., if the bowling alleys are open again, we could get together for a couple of games and beers there!

  3. I have a couple of friends who are not retired yet that after all of this will never retire! Some people just do not like to be home. I’m not an early retiree but this time has been trying for us as we had to give up quite a bit of activities. We are in Florida at our winter condo and 804 square feet is pretty close. Our pools, beaches and golf courses closed so we have been walking more, literally in circles. I did buy a ukulele and started to learn how to play it. Fun for me but probably not for hubby! But, on the plus side, we are blessed not to have the virus. We’ve been wearing our masks and washing our hands, etc. and enjoying the sunny weather. Do you have any regrets now as to not getting the house so you could have been using the yard more? I couldn’t believe you got the dog! Hope you are enjoying being a pet owner!

    1. I love that you’re making the most of the situation, Nancy! It’s tough to do, but it is what it is. I like that you got a ukulele to do something productive – learning a new instrument is a cool way to pass the time (ok, true, maybe not for your husband!).

      No regrets on being in the condo… we’ve still been able to play right behind our building. Unfortunately, we just popped the only ball we have so that’s no fun. I ordered another but with the state of things, I don’t imagine we’ll see it for at least another week. We’ll just have to make up other games in the meantime! 🙂

      Stay safe and keep making the best of things!

  4. After getting FI, I left work about a year and a half ago (similar to you) and I’ll be honest. For me this pandemic kind of feels like going back to work. The stress level is high and there are some days I just want to get through. I’ll also offer that a big piece of enjoyment can come from state of mind when not working a traditional job. Earlier in my career I was leaving one startup and looking for another. During that couple months I didn’t enjoy it at all. However, my first 2 months after leaving my last job were straight up awesome. Stay healthy and thanks for sharing Jim.

    1. That’s a good take on the stress level being high almost like work right now. With so many unknowns going on, most of us just aren’t in a very relaxed state-of-mind.

      Glad to hear your first couple of months after leaving work were so good. I loved it as well but just felt off-kilter while I was adjusting.

      You stay healthy as well and hopefully we can get back to some normalcy in the near future. 🙂

  5. I find it interesting how each country is handling their own quarantine. Following the news from the US, it seems Costa Rica got freaked out really early and put several strict rules in place, which helped impressively keep down the number of sick. When I wrote about that to a former work colleague of mine who lives in Panama, (he is from Panama originally and moved back there after working many years in New York) I was shocked when he shared with me the rules in Panama, which are way more strict! Hopefully it has helped, and things can slowly get back to normal.

    1. Costa Rica seems to be doing a really great job on managing the virus. I haven’t followed along too closely as I’m watching Panama and the US more closely than anything, but I did see that they only have 697 cases as of right now. Hopefully, that’s with a fair amount of testing, too.

      Panama’s definitely been very strict, but it seems like every day I read that they arrest hundreds of people for not following the rules. This is usually around the Panama City area and I think that’s part of the reason why the numbers in that area are so high. They carry most of the numbers of cases for the country.

      I’m sure you’re itching to get back to Costa Rica soon – stay safe in the meantime, Scott!

  6. Seems like the main overlap between retirement & pandemic-inflicted change is how to use time that was formerly more structured or fixed/constant/inescapable in your schedule. For some, it’s a gift; for others, it’s a struggle/unwanted consequence, especially if the time gain is because of unemployment. For many parents with school aged children, that time’s become consumed by home schooling & maybe work from home arrangements. I encourage everyone who’s not in the throes of intensive child rearing to use this plot twist to re-examine how they’ve been spending their time and money and determine if/how it aligns with their priorities/needs/wants.

    1. I can see how this could be a struggle. I think the main couple of differences are that there are some limits as to what you can be doing because of the lockdown and the stress that a lot of folks are facing. I agree with trying to figure out how to better use their time right now but I also wonder if the anxiety of things is making it hard for many people. Although things are tighter here in Panama, I know that I’ve been very depressed lately even though we’re so lucky to be in the position we are.

      It sounds like things are going to start opening up in the U.S. very soon. Hopefully, that eliminates at least some of the anxiety and can be a push for folks to get back on track.

  7. Just happened to watch your HHI episode last night. Thought for sure your wife would get you into that third house. 🙂

    But I also know, those shows are ‘fake’ in the sense the house has already been chosen and the two others are lined up after the fact for the shoot.

    So my question is, if you really had the choice, would you have gone with that house? No worries if your nondisclosure prevents answering this.

    Oh and thanks for the shout out. Much appricated!

    1. What an honor to have you here on my site, JL! Thanks for catching our episode – it was really fun to shoot. And you’re right, I can’t talk too much about it due to our NDA. But, if money was no object, I think house 3 had a lot of advantages.

      But when we talked about not needing a car for the condo, that was legit. With the exception of this pandemic, being able to walk to town is wonderful. A big point to us being in Boquete, Panama was that the temp is 75 every day… we want to be outside enjoying that. Without the car, we get to stop and smell the roses a lot more… quite literally actually!

      The other thing not mentioned is that the condo is in a gated community with 24×7 security, 2 pools, a hot tub, full gym, racquetball court, and more. That added more value to the place for sure!

  8. Great post Jim!
    I gotta say that the implications from this Pandemic are nothing like early retirement!

    Losing income (before you are prepared), forced to stay at home (as cabin fever deepens), and fearing for your life every time you step out is not how most of us envision our retirements.

    Having stated that, it’s still a wake up call for how will you spend your time after retiring?

    1. That’s a great point, Shannon – this is a great opportunity for reflection. I have a feeling that the FI community will start to grow as folks aim to take better control of their money after this passes.

  9. I’m not sure if I am retired or just unemployed, but I do enjoy the lack of alarm clock. If I am unemployed, then I must be good at it since I got the largest percentage raise of my life when they added $600 to my benefit. If I am retired, then I must be ok at that too as I am getting in a lengthy walk most days and am spending way below my budget (not hard to do when everything is closed). As for getting sick, I am I’m not as freaked about catching it as my bride – maybe because I think we both had it in February following a trip to Savannah with our daughter – who was sick from a Caribbean cruise the week before!

    Just read today that Sicily will be paying half air fare and 30% of lodging for trips there the rest of the year. We were going to be there for 2 weeks in June. Now I am wondering about October. Maybe if we can get that virology testing…

    1. Haha, you’re a glass-half-full guy for sure – I love it! That’s insane that you might have already had the virus, but getting through it could hopefully only make your immunity that much stronger. I bet you’re going to be getting a fantastic deal for Sicily if you go in October!

      I’ll be intrigued to see how the speed and efficiency of testing will pan out. We still have our flights back to the US booked for June. Whether or not that actually happens will be interesting, but if so, I’d love to be able to get ourselves tested and know the results fast. Otherwise, we’ll have to quarantine ourselves once we arrive and that really sucks for everyone.

  10. Thanks for the mention!
    I agree with you. There are some aspects of this lockdown that are similar to being retired.
    Some days in retirement will be like this. If you really hate lockdown, retirement probably won’t be that much fun. But, you never know.
    Homeschooling is better, but we still have bad days. I can’t wait for it to be smoother. I don’t know if we’ll get there, though. Our son is so volatile. Your daughter seems like a much nicer kid.

    1. Good point that some days will be like this in retirement. Hopefully, for most folks in early retirement though they’ll find some fun to keep them busy throughout most of their days.

      I’m glad you’re finding a little better flow with homeschooling. I imagine it won’t be “great” for the rest of the year, but at least you’re getting a system working. I like what you said about him just answering the math questions he knew without needing to work them out… smart move.

  11. I’m working from home so not technically retired per day but it does give me a glimpse of what retirement might look like. The biggest thing for me is the lack of commute and be able to eat all 3 meals with my family. There’s definitely a lot of adjustments with staying at home all the time.

    1. Those are some great upsides for sure, Bob! Saving time and frustration every day and getting more time with family are some good perks… though being at home all the time can add its own bit of stress. 🙂

  12. Similar to Panama, we’ve had an intense lockdown in South Africa. Some seriously stupid rules, like no eCommerce because it wouldn’t be fair to brick and mortar shops that cant open, like lol wat?
    But on the bright side, we’re going to be able to walk, jog and dog walk starting from tomorrow 1 May, between 6am and 9am after finally being allowed out after 5 weeks of lockdown. We’re super excited, how funny to be grateful for such small mercies, but we do feel grateful compared to how bad some folks have it. In a slum near us, people queued for 4 kilometers to get a small food parcel because they have nothing. So in that comparison we cant complain really.

    1. Wow, that’s a strange rule on having no e-commerce right now. But that’s exciting that things are opening back up for you – I think we’re still a couple of weeks out from that. At least it’s given us a newfound appreciation for being able to be out and about!

      We see something similar with people going hungry now because they’re not able to work. On the plus side, an expat here recently started a GoFundMe to help raise money to try to at least provide some food for the locals in Boquete who are unable to work. It’s good to see the community come together here.

  13. I am working every three weeks for the entire week in the office then off for two. I work in a public safety job so my job is pretty essential. What this time has told me is when I retire I need to have developed more hands of hobbies. My plans have been to read, volunteer, maybe work a day or two a week and travel. I need to develop something I can do at home that is more physical whether that is art, baking crafts etc. Just something to fill in some of the gaps that may be in my plan. Full retirement hopefully the end of May in eight years.

    1. That’s the way to do it for sure! Find something that you can bridge your way into retirement and you’ll be much happier. It’ll make the transition less dramatic and give you something you now already know you enjoy to keep yourself occupied.

      Here’s an early congrats on the retirement down the line! 🙂

  14. I think the unexpected home schooling and surge in WiFi usage was the biggest change. We certainly have more time to spend with the family. We are also cooking at home way more. I guess that is healthier and we are saving money. -DP

    1. Yeah, the homeschooling aspect was probably the biggest shock to everyone’s systems who have kids. Becoming teachers overnight is crazy but it sounds like most folks adjusted as best they can – even though it sounds like even the parents are counting down to summer break this time around! 😉

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