What is early retirement like?

Early Retirement

This weekend was a special anniversary for me. It marked two years since I left my last full-time job. I thought it a good time to share some reflections on those past two years.

What is retirement anyway?

Retirement is a pejorative term. I’ve encountered that hostility enough to realise not to say “I’m retired” to most people I meet. These days I usually say I’m “semi-retired”, a “freelancer”, a “house husband” or a “lady who lunches” (the latter two particularly useful when meeting someone with a, let’s say, ‘traditional’ worldview).

The weirdest thing is when people tell me I’m not FI/most handsome man in London. It’s kinda like saying Dinosaurs didn’t exist because you call them giant reptiles instead. I’m still not sure why people get so upset about what a random guy on the internet says. Anyway, I digress.

So what is early retirement like?

1. Freedom!

It is great to be free to do what you want. Even if what you want to do is nothing. It’s liberating to not follow orders or have to bend to others’ will. There is a joy in being free to think and reflect in a way, and at a time, that suits you.

2. Going against the flow is great

It feels like everyone else is in such a rush. When you are retired it’s like you are in reverse bullet time. Everyone else is whizzing around you whilst you stroll about. One of the most joyful things is being in a train station and observing people stressfully scurry to and fro whilst you calmly plan your journey. What once was an immensely stress-filled environment is now invigorating.

Early RetirementOnce my least favourite place in the world, now an oasis of calm

You become detached from the rush. You go the opposite way. As people rush home, you are heading out. As people beaver away in their offices, you pound the pavements. You start to live in your own time-zone. One designed for your life. Not one forced upon you.

3. You realise most people don’t work ‘9 to 5’

Most people don’t do the standard full-time office job. In fact, less than 50% of the UK population works at all and only about 35% work full-time. Trapped in an office you forget about the world that most people inhabit. One of schoolchildren, retirees, mothers and fathers. You lose sight of the people who work in a different, hidden way that keep the lights on for us all. I’ve come to greatly appreciate those people.

4. You have more time for the important things

Both in the sense of time and physically and mentally. I had too little time to spend with loved ones. I was too physically and mentally tired to be much fun. Now I’m less tired, less worn down. When I’m there, I’m actually there. Not some shadow of my true self.

5 There’s beauty in doing nothing

I’m not a big plans kind of guy. I don’t want to rule the world or be important. I no longer feel the burning pressure to ‘be the best I can be’ (I think that’s a deliberate ploy by employers to make you feel insecure). I can let my mind wander and escape into my own thoughts. It’s beautiful and precious. I’ve been able to discard many things I used to think because I no longer hide in a self-imposed ignorance. The world of ‘knowledge work’ (perhaps an oxymoron) eats away at your mental creativity. You’re bombarded by information, news. Being retired you can step away from that.

6 You will be alone with your thoughts

UN experts now consider solitary confinement to be torture. If you take full-time work out of your schedule, then a big gap appears where there used to be (forced?) social interaction.

Retirement won’t magically stop you from being a worrier. It won’t suddenly make you get less bored. You will be left alone with your thoughts. Sometimes for long periods. Some people, myself included, have a, let’s say, slightly dysfunctional relationship with their brain (think a bickering couple). Be prepared to deal with that on a daily basis.

7 The thing I miss the most

Without any irony the thing I miss the most is work. Not the people, as you might expect. That’s because I try to speak to them and meet up with them regularly. That, I think is vital, as social isolation is an incredibly damaging thing.

The real thing I miss is the work I did. I miss valuing companies, reading financial statements, thinking about complex problems and trying to explain those to a layperson. Even writing about those kinds of things (like Patisserie Valerie or about the Pensions Lifetime Allowance or the Annual Allowance) isn’t quite the same. Least of all I don’t get paid to do them! (Do, however, get in touch if you’d like to give me lots of money to do so.)

I also notice I’m not as ‘sharp’ as I was when I was working full-time (despite no longer suffering from the same levels of sleep deprivation). It’s why I continue to push myself mentally and professionally. And thus my, what appear, random, deep posts I torture readers with.

From time to time I’ve looked at somehow trying to do the ‘work’ without the ‘job’. But it seems like the bullsh*t stuff is inextricably linked to just doing the work. The annual appraisals, the compliance regimes and network and marketing ‘to grow the business’ (i.e. make more money for very wealthy people that you won’t see a penny of). Perhaps I’m too much of an idealist on these things. Luckily, I’ve found a few gigs that aren’t like that. I’m trusted to do some work and deliver it – nothing else.

A few tips

If you’d indulge me, I’ll share a few tips for those thinking about retiring:

  • Have a structure: Both short-run and long-run. On a short-run basis, I usually go into Central London around twice a week to meet people or go to events. I’ll spend around a day a week writing, a day studying and a day or two doing housework and running errands. This gives me a regular flow of life. Long-term, I want to help our world get better at personal finance, particularly saving for retirement. I want to invest more into my family and friends. The first long-term goals in my first year were to learn to ride a bike and learn some new professional qualifications.
  • Learn to embrace waiting: Delays and waiting are part of life. In the stressful work-world, these are painful. But they needn’t be when retired. You choose how you feel. You can still value your time, but learn not to get upset by things going wrong or things outside your control.
  • Keep meeting people: Don’t socially isolate yourself. Keep meeting people. It might seem crazy for me to spend a two-hour round trip just to meet someone for a half-hour coffee or lunch. But it is 100% worth it. I am so much happier when I do. This is not some kind of extrovert thing. I am definitely towards the introvert end of the scale. There is much joy in chatting with friends and meeting new people
  • Enjoy the little things: Now I didn’t know what this meant when people kept saying it. In fact, I still think it’s a bit vague, but I’ve used it for the title here. Enjoy things that used to fly past you during the day or were perhaps even misery-inducing. For example, I used to hate train stations. They are busy, dirty, noisy. They were a barrier between where I was and where I needed to be. Now, I can have this immense smugness knowing that I’m in a pretty unpleasant place that is no longer unpleasant for me. Sure, train stations still suck, but they suck so much less. I can harness joy from that. I can watch the cleaners, attendants and the security staff quietly going about their job, helping thousands of people each day without any thanks or recognition. That is a beautiful thing.
  • Retirement isn’t a salve: You won’t become a better person. You won’t become fitter and stronger. You won’t become happier. The path to those things comes from within. Retirement is a tool to help you with those things. A wrench on its own will not fix your leaking pipes – you still have to put the effort in.

 

All the best,

Young FI Guy

 

For those wanting to learn more, I highly recommend Indeedably.com‘s post: Lessons from retirement. [It’s one of those posts I wish I had written!]

30 thoughts on “What is early retirement like?

  1. It is fascinating how much can be learned about oneself, once the noise and distractions have been stripped away. You offer some thoughtful insights here, well done.

    I second your sentiment about how great it would be to do the work, without the bollocks that comes with having the job.

    Thanks for the generous shout out, high praise indeed!

    1. I think I mentioned this to you before Indeedably, but I’ve had some clanger interviews since I left the job. To a fault, I can be quite blunt. And I wanted my interviewer to know that I ain’t in the ‘game’ for the networking and politics and all that. Unfortunately, that often translates to an appearance of: “I don’t want the job”. Which in some cases and some respects is quite accurate if I’m gonna chafe under the artificial constructs of The Office!

    1. Hi Ms Zi You. There’s very little I’d want to change about my life. I guess that comes partly from being incredibly fortunate and from learning to become content. I enjoy the simple life (though I imagine it would drive many others to despair). There’s a great joy to be found in simplicity.

  2. On a Monday in the middles of the long unbroken work run into Christmas this is just the motivational post I need!

    Lots that I could comment on but I’ll restrict myself to two things for now.

    Firstly I’ve often thought that we office workers really are in a bubble. Most people don’t work in offices they are in healthcare or cleaners or shops or teaching or in the trades or retired or, learning or, or…Sitting in front of a computer or in meetings makes us the odd ones out. I particularly dislike the whiff of snobbery when some people suggest that office works is somehow better than other types of work.

    Secondly, I completely relate to the lack of sharpness. In fact soon after leaving university I realised that I missed the sharpness that came from education when you could remember what you needed to crack out multiple exams on a variety of topics. It was why I have carried on doing some form of formal qualification for more than half of my work career – and in latter years I haven’t even bothered with things that will help my career just things I want to do.

    Anyway I’m not FI yet and lunch break is nearly over so back to it!

    1. Hi Caveman great to hear from you. Completely agree on the ‘bubble’. Even us in the ‘FIRE movement’ are guilty of this. The reality is today’s Full Employment actually means only 75% of those of working age are actually in work. Only 50% of the total population actually ‘works’ and in total 36% work full-time. The 9 to 5 is the minority! Hope you had as good a November Monday as you can.

      1. When you see the numbers it really puts it into perspective doesn’t it?

        And thank you for asking! I actually had a great day (and not just ‘cos I’ve just come back from some fireworks…). One of my ‘things’ is that being happy is a choice and despite my moan earlier I chose to be happy today and lo, it came to pass!

  3. It has never occurred to me before that most of the country doesn’t work! But of course it makes sense when you think about it; children, retirees, parents, etc. I also did not realise that only a third will work full-time, 9-5. Certainly an eye-opening statistic!

    I especially like your final point, “retirement isn’t a salve.” I think it echos similar things I have read and have often thought myself. Retiring early isn’t the end goal, it’ll just give you more time. I believe I read on Indeedably’s site that (paraphrasing) “there is very little that you could do during retirement that you couldn’t do now.” Wise words, I think, from the both of you. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great post but as a couple have already mentioned, shocking statistic about the number of people actually working 9-5! Us office workers are in a bubble a lot of the time, because that’s mostly who we mingle with so that’s what we equate with ‘work’.

    During my period of unemployment, I practised some of your tips, in particular the structure of days – what I didn’t want (and knew I would lapse back into) was every day being a weekend, with late nights and lie-ins! I still wanted weekends to be different from weekdays.

    Whilst I found that I couldn’t relax properly as I knew that at some point I needed to get back to work, I got a taste of what could be and I liked it, including doing nothing, which I too enjoy!

    It’s brilliant that you are getting to experience all this now – it’s just something I look forward to doing (again!).

  5. I’m in the 35% of people who work the 9 to 5. Next time you’re in central London it’d be great to meet for a coffee or beer after work!

  6. For those curious about the percentages, they’re from the ONS.

    Total population (2017): 66.0m (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates)

    Employment numbers (Jun-Aug 2018, seasonally adjusted) (https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/uklabourmarket/october2018)

    Full-time: 23.9m
    Part-time: 8.5m
    Unemployed: 1.4m
    Economically inactive (16-64): 8.7m
    Economically inactive (65+): 10.6m

    Employed as % of working age (16-64): 75.5%
    Unemployed as % of working age: 4.0%

    Employed as % of total population: 49%
    Full-time as % of total population: 36%

    Full time as % of employed: 74%

  7. ‘thinking about complex problems and trying to explain those to a layperson’.

    You certainly succeed in this and it is an exceptional skill. Your post on ‘The state pension NI fiasco’ finally explained the figure I was given by the DWP when requesting a pension forecast. The DWP communications, especially their ‘Your state pension statement explained’ (no it doesn’t) were impossible to understand and worse still confusing.

    Its a shame government departments don’t use your skills when communicating complex financial issues to the general public.

  8. Looking at the stats, I would suggest in reality the number of productive hours is less than full time hours.

    Many people go to their employers address for 40/50/60 hour weeks, but many don’t work half that! UK productivity is poor compared to other western nations, not saying its the fault of the employee but so many people spend far too much time in meetings / pointless training / metrification related processes form filling / etc – its a wonder any works gets done.

    I am convinced the pareto principle is at play here, that is 20% of employees get the ‘real’ work done to support the other 80%, look around, how many people are in non jobs.

    Some people however of course work incredibly hard, not always but often its the poor souls that are paid the least that work the hardest. Think of a care worker for example.

    Since becoming FI I choose to work as I enjoy what I do and the people I meet (mostly), and ignore the crap the non FI fear controlled people have to do to keep their jobs. Although I have not retired early, it does not feel like I am employed in the traditional sense with the freedom to go at any time, being in control is what counts more than being retired IMHO.

  9. Another awesome post YoungFiGuy! I think your ability to show appreciation for those ‘other people’ is really cool. I honestly believe the route to creating a better world (and being a better part of it) is having the ability to transcend our own personal experiences and put ourselves in the shoes of others. That’s what I try to work on in any case :).

    For me, the reason I save as much as possible is because I equate money with opportunity. I don’t know if that money will be for ER, to be able to send any future kids to private schools, or whatever.

    And the DipFA was with LIBF (much cheaper than the CII!).

    Thanks again for the post,

    Sam.

  10. Very insightful post, thanks. “Retirement isn’t a salve” – Very true. Early retirement or FI isn’t an instant key to happiness (or nirvana for that matter). As you say, the person who’s retired or become FI has to make it happen. It must come from within…

    Enjoy the early retirement!

  11. Very interesting post. I’m just over 2 years to early retirement so a lot of what you write really echoes. One thing I’ve done is travel – cycle camping around europe. I was away for 3 months this year. You are alone a lot in that situation but I enjoy it. Coming to terms with my thoughts and living with my brain is not easy as but I am getting better at it. Concentrating on what is around me helps, rather than living in my head. The mindfulness trope seems to work. Just cycling by the river/mountain and concentrating on the view, telling myself wow! I am so lucky to be here and the scenery is gorgeous. The power of being grateful.

    I am volunteering at my local credit union, so I hopefully can use my financial skills there.

    You are so right – early retirement is not a magic bullet to happiness but life is better.

    Matt

  12. Thanks for a thought provoking post. I am about 7 years from FI and the thing I most look forward to is the freedom it will give me. Time is the most important entity to me, so being able to choose what I do with my precious time is the biggest driver I have to keep going and hit my goal. I really like your suggestion of making the effort to stay in touch with people, and I too think this is very important.

    1. Hi Corinna, thank you! Since leaving work, I find I’m much more willing to meet people and I enjoy talking to people much more. I’m naturally a grumpy sod, but I was a lot grumpier at work. I’d avoid talking to people and I wouldn’t enjoy it. I won’t ever become a massive extrovert. But this blogging lark has given me the great opportunity to meet cool and interesting people!

  13. Being of a similar age and status to yourself, it’s a good list.

    I know you’ve looked into this already, but given you’ve said “I miss valuing companies, reading financial statements, thinking about complex problems” you seriously need to try P2P.

    Looking at LendingCrowd. They currently have a promo where you will earn an additional 5% cashback on top of any returns you earn. To do well at self-select, you will have to/want to forensically dissect hundreds of companies’ accounts and then make a balance between quality and diversification. Surely this is for you?!

    Drop me a note, can also add a £50 referral bonus into the mix.

    DYOR, not advice etc etc.

  14. Just to add, I agree that the thing I miss most currently is ‘work’, but came to a similar
    conclusion as you.

    Going to the office for me in reality was:

    -20% work.
    – 20% meetings (of which perhaps a quarter were of any value/interest)
    – 20% obligatory work ‘banter’
    – 40% sweet FA whilst waiting for real work to arrive ( never tolerated ‘busywork’).

    I detested this. I would have loved work if it could have been:

    – 70% work
    – 5% meetings
    – 5% banter
    – 20% – Just go home rather than stick around pretending there’s something to do to fill a void of time.

    Ah well.

    1. Scarily similar to my thoughts FatCat!

      With p2p, it comes down to two things. One is that you have the hassle of dealing with the platform and all that. That’s the un-fun bit. The second is I’m pretty bad at putting my money where my mouth is. I weasal out of stock picking too. A lot of that is because I’m a natural worrier. I did (in the past), and think I still would, fret too much on my investments.

      I’m curious about your circumstances. How did the FI bug bite you? Were you working in the City? Don’t feel like you have to respond. If you’d rather, you can drop me an email.

  15. Excellent post and great comments. I appreciate the bit about keeping the mind sharp. I have approx 3-4 years till retirement at 61 and am already planning what to do. Top of the list is to finally organise decades of Family tree research into some coherent form, a daunting project given the amount of data involved. Maybe three months a year as a volunteer teacher in Tanzania, my favourite African country. They are absolutely desperate for English teachers there, and it’s a great place to live! Maybe something with the Open Uni to keep my small brain working. If you’re more into the Humanities and Arts, the OUDCE is great for short accredited courses that actually make you work. Yes, I’m a grumpy sod as well, and am getting grumpier every year as the amount of admin, silly meetings, audits etc increase with less ‘real’ work being done!

      1. — “Steven would you do volunteer teaching through an organisation or do you have contacts?” —
        Preferably through contacts. There are organisations but most of them seem to be geared towards American students wanting something to do during their gap year. There are religious organisations that will always be glad of any help and which are often run by ‘sisters’ who are ruthlessly efficient. On the drive from Mbeye to Dar es Salaam, we sometimes stay overnight at a large community run by an italian order of sisters and the place is amazing; everything well organised, clean, tidy and their Primary school looks hardly any different to a small village school in the UK, unlike most of the others that are pretty grotty. I can’t stand Dar es Salaam and my personal preference is for the Mbeye area, but it’s a big country! Mbeye has a nicer climate and there’s Malawi lake not far which is great for a break, but if you prefer the coast, there’s a really nice place in Tanga called ‘Fish Eagle Point’, the owner of which is involved in community projects in the area.

Have some thoughts or comments? Please share!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.