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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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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!
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!!