As September was wrapping up I realized the anniversary of when I quit my last job had just slid by again. Since I don’t celebrate that day every year I had to check some notes to remind myself of exactly when that was. My last day as an employee was September 4, 2018, when I was 44 years old.
That realization inspired me to start journaling about our first 4 years of retirement and my brain quickly pitched out around 15 pages of thoughts about all kinds of stuff. That journaling exercise started with a one page ranty-blurt on what I most disliked about my last 2 jobs, which isn’t worth sharing. Then I covered 14 pages with what I most loved during life after financial independence. Once I got through all of that I started thinking about what I might want to share in this post, probably just a few personal musings without a list of achievements.
Before I dive in… I’m not trying to brag about my situation. I recognize the privileges I’m enjoying as best as I can. I know most people won’t have enough money saved to retire at any age. And lots of people with enough money to retire wouldn’t choose to quit working early or at all, for various reasons that are personal to them. I also know my willingness to live on a tight budget in order to make retirement possible wouldn’t appeal to everyone.
We are not certified financial professionals, nothing we share is professional advice. For more info read our Disclaimer.
And now I’ll jump ahead and answer the first few questions people ask the most these days. The questions are obvious so here are my answers…
No, I’m not bored in retirement.
No, I don‘t miss having a job.
Yes, I’m still glad I quit my last job in 2018.
Our first few years of early retirement have been pretty darn good. They’ve also been a wild ride full of changes. If I was going to pick a theme for each year I think it would go a little like this… Year one was full time travel. Year two was year one of the COVID pandemic. In year three we built our compound. Year four was the year we got back into travel (and the longest market downturn since we retired).
It’s True, the Market is Waaay Down
The S&P 500 is way down this year, and not just in a relatively quick bear market bounce like we saw in 2020. So far 2022 has been a consistently down year and that sucks for everyone, me and Alison included. The market was actually crazy high for the first three years of our retirement though, and that was good for our investments.
Of course things like market corrections, black swan events, bear markets, and recessions will have a big impact on our investments. But this scenario is exactly why we were cautious and financially conservative with our retirement planning process and our decision to quit. We waited until we had 33x our inflated annual expenses before setting a timeline for quitting our jobs. We also waited until we had a written plan, our own Personal Money Statement, to help us make thoughtful decisions about our spending and intentional choices about our drawdown plan. We aren’t reacting to the market out of fear, and we aren’t checking the market or our investments every day or every week.
It helps us stay calm to know our portfolio isn’t down as far as the market because we only hold index funds and 20% of our investments are in bonds and cash-like holdings. It also helps us to remember that we haven’t actually experienced any realized losses because we haven’t sold any funds at a loss. And it definitely helps us to know we still have about three years of living expenses in cash and cash-like holdings so we can wait while the market does its thing.
On a related note, our investments only include these same four ETF funds: SCHB, SCHF, BSV, and MUB. People keep asking us if we’ve changed our investments in reaction to this wacky year of market craziness, and the answer is no. We aren’t buying I-bonds or anything else that’s trendy. We have no intention of dropping any of our existing funds or adding any new funds at this time. And if we had any new income right now we’d be investing our new money into those same four ETFs while they’re still on sale.
When our friends tell us they’re feeling anxious about the market we basically say: Try to think of market downturns as something to expect and plan for. Market downturns are not something to react to from a place of fear. Try to avoid sudden investment decisions that don’t jive with your personal finance plan, and especially try to avoid unplanned selling in reaction to the downturn. Most importantly, if you don’t have a written plan to help you make decisions during this kind of scenario, this is the perfect time to slow down and make one. Also, talk with someone about money who isn’t trying to sell you anything so you don’t feel alone.
When Alison and I started our investing adventures back in 2005, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. But over time we both found our rhythm as investors and started feeling like CFO’s of our own lives. And now I think we’ve settled into being the sort of mellow, confident, optimistic, realistic investors we were hoping to become (*wink*). I don’t worry about money, I’m not afraid of investing, I’m not afraid of the stock market, and I’m not afraid of running out of money during what I hope is a very, very, very long retirement. I don’t fear market downturns, including this whopper of a downturn right now. Alison and I have spent 18+ years together so far and all of them were at least partially focused on building financial confidence.
My brain is securely in long term investor mode and low information mode when it comes to money (and politics) these days. I don’t focus on daily market ups and downs, or even monthly ups and downs. Even though the market is down this year and we spend money every year, our portfolio is still up from when we quit our jobs in 2018. The overall direction of the market is up, and the market will come back up again, hopefully sooner than many people think.
What I’m Most Afraid Of
When people ask why I chose to retire when I did I admit that fear was one of my main motivations. The night is dark and full of terrors (*wink*)! And I am afraid of dying. I’m confident I can survive in a zombie apocalypse, but my family medical history is full of physical and mental health issues that motivated me to quit working early so I can enjoy life now.
I’m afraid of getting Alzheimer’s like Grandma Dorothy who raised me and did her best to protect me. I was very lucky to be able to move in with her when I was 12 years old, to be loved and accepted by her, and to stay safe with her until I was 18. Grandma taught me that learning can be self-directed, having an active imagination is essential, saving money for retirement is critical, and travel is the ultimate goal. Grandma encouraged me to leave home as soon as I turned 18 and graduated from high school. She pushed me to set off on my own because that was just as important as moving in with her was before that. And it was terrifying to watch as Alzheimer’s took Grandma’s ability to read and think and speak, to manage her health and her money and her house, and eventually to walk and eat and drink, and survive. Grandma died of Alzheimer’s in 2012, and I was grateful to be with her when she passed. But that whole Alzheimer’s experience absolutely terrified me. Especially because I have the late-onset Alzheimer’s gene just like Grandma Dorothy.
I’m also afraid of getting cancer like my Aunt Mary. When I left Grandma’s house I moved to Aunt Mary’s city to practice adulthood there with lots of trial and error. I was lucky to have Aunt Mary as a safety net and to be able to live with her on and off again when I was in my 20’s. We loved planning big trips to Europe together but we weren’t able to follow through since she got very sick with cancer for the 3rd time immediately before our first big trip in 2014. Aunt Mary died in 2016 from pancreatic cancer, after two different types of breast cancer before that. It scared the daylights out of me to see her suffer a massive heart attack and three types of cancer while she was planning for retirement. Thankfully, I was able to help Aunt Mary with lots of things as I matured and her health declined, instead of just benefiting from her as I did with Grandma. Aunt Mary trusted me with tasks relating to her retirement, house, money, and health. And she gave me a really important-to-her task to work on after her death, managing a relatively small amount of money with a mission to make it grow and last as long as possible for her son. That task is much more complicated than I realized it would be, but I’m grateful to still be working on it for her today. And I’m selfishly grateful I don’t have the same BRCA gene mutations Aunt Mary had because I’m absolutely terrified of getting any kind of cancer.
Important Note: If any vampires are reading this, please come find me! I would love to be friends and request your assistance with immortality, as well as the ability to avoid health issues and heal from physical injuries!!!!
What I Don’t Appreciate About Work Culture
Another thing that made it easy for me to retire early was the work culture I experienced. I didn’t/don’t appreciate the “I live to work” culture. And I don’t appreciate bonus-obsessed competition or competing for raises and promotions. I don’t think a person’s success in life is based on their career path. And I don’t think the best job title, biggest bonus, or highest salary make someone a better person. Working hard and giving my time and energy to my jobs didn’t give me a sense of purpose or meaning, it just helped me save enough money to quit. Working hard also caused stress and anxiety and took my focus away from Alison and the people and things we love. I’m also not trying to judge people who think differently about their jobs.
What I Do Appreciate
I appreciate an “I work to live” culture. And I appreciate the way that type of mindset can allow people to focus on what they love and value. Each year I spend in retirement makes me even more grateful that I was able to switch my focus to what I love and value. I also appreciate that I’m much healthier now compared to when I was working, especially from an emotional perspective. I appreciate life after financial independence.
And even though I’m a huge introvert and some social situations freak me out, I really appreciate other people. Yesterday I was thinking about a conversation with one of our siblings when we told family members we were retiring. That sibling was concerned for our happiness when she said quitting our jobs and leaving our home in Seattle would mean losing all of our friends. She couldn’t see all of the benefits we were about to enjoy back then but I knew we’d keep some old friends and find new ones.
It has been amazing to meet so many new people literally all over the world since we left Seattle. Now that my brain isn’t absorbed with job-life it’s much easier to make new friends based on my genuine interest in them, not because we share the same employer. And I’m thrilled to reconnect with a random assortment of people I used to work with or share a home town with, whenever they pop back up again.
Having a Home Base Again
When we left Seattle it was thrilling to decide not to have a home to return to, and that worked perfectly for us for two years. And it felt good and also wise to choose to create a home base again, even though it felt super weird to move into our new house in January of 2021 and start buying regular home-related things again. All of a sudden we were trying to figure out what kind of hangers to buy, what kind of sheets to buy, whether our mattresses were comfortable enough, whether our pillows were the right thickness, and whether we had enough towels. Consumerism isn’t something I enjoy, but I’m very glad we have our own home again!
Buying a new home was an emotional decision. We remembered the advice we got from Vicki Robin back at our Ecuador Chautauqua in 2019, to focus on building community and being present for people who were counting on us instead of just being money rats. We’ll always be grateful to Vicki for those conversations. Now we have a home we can spend as much time as we like in, a forever home for our housemate, and a room for Alison’s mom to stay in as much as she likes. And we have new responsibilities that come with blending our lives in a healthy way with family. Alison and I have a third person at home we can count on, and our housemate has two people he can count on. Alison and I get to grow food in our backyard garden to share, we all get to watch our housemate’s puppy run around like a nut in her front yard, and we all get to enjoy family dinners together on Sundays when we’re at home. It’s pretty cool to have turned the old “We should build a compound together!” dream into a reality.
From a financial perspective, buying our house and building an apartment for our housemate allowed us to move a big chunk of our money back into real estate and diversify. We obviously didn’t know the stock market would drop this year, but our decision to take some of our old condo cash and move it into another strong real estate market feels like a great decision now.
From a spending perspective, we’re glad building the new apartment for our housemate is finished along with our major spending for the compound. And we’re glad we can share the costs of monthly utilities with our housemate. Now that the market has dropped it’s important to me and Alison that we avoid spending money to improve our own house. We won’t use our cash or our investments to repair our fixer upper while the market is down. We’ll make sure to prioritize food, gas, and other regular living expenses over a pretty kitchen and more comforts.
And from a goofy perspective, having a home of our own also brings out some wacky behaviors in me. That includes much stronger germaphobia-type-creeps, which is why a year went by after we cleaned and lined the old cabinets before I was willing to put our flatware in a kitchen drawer. And there are behaviors that just feel silly and not stressful, like making sure my clothes only live on white hangers in my closet and Alison’s clothes only live on black hangers in her closet, and “never the twain shall meet!”
I’m glad we had a chance to travel to Europe again this year since some good friends hooked us up with a pet sitting gig in Lisbon. We loved the chance to do some travel hacking again by staying in Lisbon for a month for free while we took care of 2 little doggies, and it was fun to fly almost for free to Europe and back again using points.
I seriously love international travel. But I don’t need to visit every country in the world and I’m not accumulating a list of countries visited like I’m in a travel contest. I’m also not looking for a country to live in full time. I love exploring in different locations, learning about other cultures, and being respectful guests in other people’s countries. Travel makes it easier for me to be flexible in situations I can’t control and I waste less energy on things that don’t matter. Like the quality of the towels in the bathroom, the color of the hangers in the closet, and the condition of the kitchen cupboards.
Travel reminds me to be open minded, curious, and humble so I can focus on things that do matter. Like respecting other people and their cultural norms, no matter who they are or where they’re from. It’s fun to be able to leave one place in a big aluminum tube that can float, travel backwards or forwards in time, and arrive like magic in another place far away. I love when people around me don’t look like me or dress like me, and speak in a different language from mine. And I love when we can’t understand the conversations around us.
I’m curious about other people and I love how different and also similar we all are, so I love meeting people everywhere we go. These are some of the questions I like to ask local people we meet in different places…
- What do you love about your home town and country?
- What’s one of the big problems in this place?
- Do you like to travel?
- Do you plan to move to another place some day?
And these are some of the questions I like to ask other travelers we meet…
- Where are you from originally?
- What do you love about this place we’re in right now?
- Have you learned about any big problems in this place?
- Where are you traveling to next?
International travel has also taught me how to be a better person in our home town (and everywhere else). I always remember that in Paris it’s important to respectfully greet a shopkeeper or server immediately after stepping foot in their shop or restaurant. And that’s how I behave now whenever I enter a store or office, walk up to a cash register, or anything like that. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a hurry or if they are distracted while helping me, and I don’t need to be treated like I’m special or like they’re there to serve me. Actually it’s the other way around, I’m a guest in their workplace and I need to be courteous and respectful of them.
Visiting other countries has also taught me a new level of appreciation for traveling in our home country. I’m so glad we found our Bessie Basecamp trailer on January 5 this year. If we had come up with that idea after the market downturn started we would have decided to save that money, which was only in cash because we were planning to fix up our house a bit. I’m glad we repurpose our house money for a trailer so we could travel around the USA independently. That was a really good decision for us and I can hardly wait for the next camping trip this winter. I love tiny living in our little tin can! Who needs decent cupboards and drawers in the kitchen when there are National Parks out there to visit!?
Appreciating Our Blog
Last year Alison and I quadrupled the amount of time we were spending on our blog and on personal finance coaching for anyone who reached out to us. The number of people we helped by listening, sharing ideas, and crunching numbers with our own spreadsheet tools surpassed 50, and we were happy to spend so much of our time focused on more than just ourselves. We were also honored (and awkwardly embarrassed) to receive our first blogging award in 2021 and our 2nd award in 2022. Earlier this year we realized we had gotten into a habit of spending as much as six hours a day on video chats talking money, plus time spent replying to emails and updating spreadsheets, and that was too much. So we decided it was time to set new social boundaries and time limits for our personal finance related projects.
I still enjoy writing about money for our blog and I really enjoy sharing information and ideas with other people. It always feels good to hear from someone directly when we’ve helped them think differently about their own personal finances, or gain a new level of confidence in their own ability to manage their money. And our blog has had tons of benefits for us that we didn’t fully expect – we’re grateful for the people we’ve met through our blog.
This year Alison and I have been refocusing on ourselves a bit more and remembering something really important – that “All Options Considered” was and still is our personal family motto. We didn’t come up with AOC for blogging. We came up with AOC back in 2007, to remind us to take our ideas seriously, consider all of our options in life, and that we’re capable of changing direction when that’s what’s best for us. AOC is really just us!
What I Like to Spend Time On
Lately when I think about the blog I’m reminded that I’ve always enjoyed writing. What that really means is that I’ve always enjoyed writing my own stories, ever since I was a kid hanging out in the library where my Grandma worked. I want to focus on my own stories again and make that kind of personal writing a priority. I have a book idea I started toying with when we were in France for almost 2 months in 2019, which has nothing to do with money. And there’s another book idea that Alison and I came up with together this year that we’d like to write together, which also has nothing to do with money. I want to make both of those personal writing projects a reality, sooner rather than later.
As we spend more time in our own home without jobs to distract us I’ve realized that I love tinkering, dabbling, trying new things, and constantly changing what I’m doing. I don’t need to become an expert in or at retirement, I’m not trying to win anything, I haven’t mastered 12 languages, I haven’t visited 55 countries, our blog doesn’t have huge numbers of followers, and I’m still not interested in starting a new business just to earn more money.
I might wake up naturally at 5am, or 6am, or 7am. I enjoy drawing one day, cross stitching the next day, spending a day outside, spending a day in the kitchen, or spending a day learning about a place I’ve never visited before. I think it’s fun to practice some Japanese one day, some Spanish the next day, and some French the day after that. I flourish in total solitude one day, and I’ll awkwardly reach out to random people I’ve known well or met by chance the next day. And I love spending an entire day reading, writing, and dreaming.
My first two years of retirement were happily focused on international travel with no home base to return to. And the next two years were mostly focused on building stability for me and Alison and our family, because we want other people to be able to depend on us too. It might seem like Covid spoiled our thrilling nomad life, but I’m glad we were pushed to settle back down again because of the Covid pandemic.
In our first year of retirement we got to know a bunch of other travelers and retired couples, and I was surprised that so many of them asked something like this: “How do you handle spending all of your time with your spouse? Isn’t it hard to be with your spouse 24/7?”
Every time I got that question I thought it was odd, and I totally blew those types of questions off. I was living in a pretty intense state of bliss at the time so I didn’t even understand the question. After all, we retired for the purpose of enjoying our happy marriage and my primary goal was spending time with Alison.
Having said all that, something changed in 2021. Building the compound meant that Alison and I needed to learn how to negotiate with each other at a new level. And I was feeling some culture shock from settling back down again after nomad life. When things got complicated with slow construction and increased costs due to inflation, our stress levels were high. And focusing so much of our time and energy on other people through the blog and financial coaching was also causing a bit of stress, plus I was absorbing extra fear and anxiety from others because I’m a sponge for emotions. I took out some of my stress on Alison, even though she was already dealing with all of the same pressures herself.
On the bright side, we picked up a new trick that helps with our communication styles by having Alison say, “I’m done talking” as a clear signal that she is actually done talking. That really helps when we’re having an important conversation. Alison has a more thoughtful analytical style so she takes her time to think about what she wants to say before she speaks, and there are long gaps between ideas sometimes. I have a more blunt driver communication style so I often blurt before she’s done talking and then start thinking about whether I even meant what I just said. When I interrupt and Alison doesn’t have time to say what she wants to say that obviously makes it tough for us to communicate effectively. Especially if we’re both feeling emotional or intense about whatever the topic is.
When we’re stressed it helps to give ourselves space, take a neighborhood walk alone, go into town to run errands alone, or take over a room or outdoor space on the compound all to ourselves. We both need time to be introverts, to tinker on our own, and read and write on our own. And as a bonus I’ve learned how incredibly satisfying it can be to spend weirdly long periods of time alone in the kitchen, slowly chopping vegetables, literally for hours (*wink*).
Figuring all of that out helped me understand at least a tiny bit of what other people meant when they asked if it was hard to be with my spouse 24/7. And if someone asked me the same question today I wouldn’t be so cavalier and blow them off. My life isn’t perfect and I’m certainly not perfect either. There is no such thing as a perfect person, relationship, place, or situation.
And most importantly, after more than 18 years together and more than four years really together without jobs to distract us, I still want to spend my time with Alison. She’s my partner, side kick, and travel buddy. And I’m still not interested in taking trips without her unless we need to split up so we can handle all of our complicated commitments.
What Does the Future Hold?
I’m excited about 2023, which will be year 5 of retirement for us. Most immediately, the future holds our next nerdy annual planning summit to talk money and all the things for next year. It’s time for us to start talking about next year, including our budget, planned spending, cash for unplanned spending, Roth conversions, health care premiums, withdrawal strategy, and a million other things.
We’ve already decided we won’t be spending extra money to make our house pretty next year. And we’ve already declared we’ll keep a bigger percentage of our time and energy focused on our selves, our relationship, our physical and mental health, and our family and friends as well. And I want to keep a big percentage of my focus on experiences, movement, and change because being in motion gets my brain buzzing.
We want to spend plenty of time at home on the compound next year, enjoying our personal home and time with our housemate. I’m looking forward to cooking our favorites for Sunday family dinners, and I’m excited about cooking more adventurous new recipes inspired by our travels as well.
I’m optimistic about an upwards direction and recovery for the stock market next year. And I’m excited about some ideas we’re considering to help cut regular living expenses and preserve cash. One idea we’ll dig into during our next AOC summit is renting out our house for some strategic periods as a way to earn a little bit of income. That would also help with our other big goal – spending more time on camping adventures in our little trailer. That includes more National Parks so I can fill more pages in my nerdy National Park Passport with stamps.
We’ve also been invited to three weddings next year, two family weddings in the USA and a friend’s wedding in Australia. I’ll be looking into some travel hacking ideas, including pet sitting and credit card points so Alison and I can make it to that 3rd wedding next year.
And another idea, since I know Alison’s mom reads all of our posts… I’d love to plan a make-up trip to Ireland and Scotland, or anywhere you want if you’re interested Mib! Just know there’s a first class seat on a plane to anywhere if you want it!
I recognize that every moment is unique and no moment can ever be repeated. And I feel completely safe and at home wherever I am, as long as Alison is with me. I hope next year includes fluidity, mobility, and adaptability. And I hope next year includes seeing the same faces I love that also love me, and the chance to get to know new faces as well. That’s what will make our 5th year of retirement a success!