Why I Am Not Retiring Early

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Mrs. R and I have recently become big fans of financial independence and early retirement blogs and podcasts. We’ve been so busy living our frugal lives that we didn’t notice there are a bunch of people online talking about how they are doing the same. We were also unaware that the way we have chosen to live our lives had been given the cool sounding acronym F.I.R.E. Some of our friends occasionally comment about us being good with money or call us frugal, but we don’t have in-depth conversations like the ones we see and hear on-line. Maybe we’ve misread our friends and they were trying to open up a conversation about money, but overall it has been our experience that most people where we live aren’t comfortable talking about personal finances. Also, as I’ve stated before we are pretty guarded about letting people know the full extent of our financial affairs. So retiring early definitely is outside the norm for our local peer group, but not retiring early also feels outside the norm for our online peer group. Which has recently led me to ask myself, “why am I still working as someone else’s employee?”.

Based on the math we can retire now. We own our home, have no debt, live on less than $30,000 per year, and have $1.5 million in investment accounts. I think the prevailing message from the F.I.R.E. community is that we should not be working, at least not in the traditional sense as an employee. I’ve wrestled with this idea of early retirement because I don’t exactly enjoy working a job, but I don’t completely hate it either. There are aspects of my job that are rewarding and have a positive impact on others, which gives me a sense of satisfaction. Over the past couple of years Mrs. R and I have had many discussions about my job and early retirement. Not all of these discussion have been easy for us to have either. I’m sure if a stranger listened to us talk they would want to slap us for having serious “first world problems”. It’s ironic that we didn’t have heated money discussions until we actually had a lot of money. However, we have gone through the process of clarifying our values and developing a vision for our lives for the next ten to fifteen years. Part of that vision is a mutual decision to delay early retirement for another 4 to 5 years. Here are the key reasons why I am not retiring early.

The primary reason is that we still have teenagers living in our house. High school is a very important season of life and our kids are in the middle of experiencing it. So we aren’t going to be taking advantage of geo-arbitrage and slow travel in Central America while our kids’ calendars are filled with academics, sports and other extra curricular activities. Our family vacations are typically one week long, but sometimes longer during summer break. We are going to encourage them to study abroad in college or do other extended travel while they are young, but we are not going to deviate from the academic path they are on now. Since extended travel or living abroad are not on the table at this time it makes little sense for me to quit my job now. The kids are busy Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to at least 5:30 p.m. (often later). If I retire now, what am I going to do all day while they are at school? I think my typical day would look like this: workout, drink coffee, blog, take a walk, read a book, cook dinner, and have a drink. Theoretically I could also work on household projects that are currently relegated to the weekend. This would then free me up to spend more time with my kids when they are not in school. Notice I said theoretically. The reality is that our kids are teenagers, which means they’re progressing toward adulthood and spend less of their free time with Mommy and Daddy. We still do a lot together as a family, but it’s nothing like it was when they were in grade school, and that’s okay. What’s important is that one of us is available when they need a parent. Mrs. R has been “retired” for a long time and continues to play the role of available parent Monday through Friday.

As parents we have also talked a lot about what message we would be sending the kids if I quit my job while they are still in high school. They are at phase of life when it can be hard to balance fun time with hard work. When I was a teenager all I wanted to do was play sports, hang out with friends, and make money. In my mind, academics was just a necessary evil. My parents have a great work ethic and I saw that growing up in their house. Even though I didn’t like school work, I understood that I had to work hard at school in order to get to enjoy the things that were important to me. Teenage years are formative years and much of the learning comes from observing and experiencing. So it is important to me and Mrs. R that our kids observe a strong work ethic and experience hard work during their high school years. Our current plan is for me to retire from corporate America after our youngest graduates high school and has started college. We believe this will allow us to communicate a very strong message to them as they enter adulthood about the importance of making smart financial decisions early in life. We plan to sit them down at that time and explain what we have accomplished and how we did it. Hopefully at that point in their lives it will give them a vision of what is possible and help shape some of their money decisions. In my early twenties I was fortunate to get to see a friend’s dad retire in his late forties, and I started to catch the vision. I didn’t know all of the details of his finances, but I did know that he was an employee who consistently invested, not an entrepreneur. We want to give our kids both the vision and strategies to achieve early financial independence should they choose to do so.

Home life is the primary driver for not retiring at this time, but that doesn’t mean I have to be an employee in corporate America. I could start a small business, do consulting work, teach, work for a non-profit, etc. So, it’s important from time to time I remind myself that I’ve made the choice to keep working in my chosen career. This mental exercise helps with stress and keeps me grounded. Recognizing that we are financially independent has also been the catalyst to both accepting and rejecting job opportunities in recent years. Once I understood that we truly have “F-you money”, I started taking bigger risks with my career. I left a company that I had worked at for a decade in order to gain a specific experience I always thought I wanted. After discovering that it wasn’t what I wanted, I parlayed that experience into other positions that have significantly increased my annual income. I have also turned down several job opportunities in major cities that I’m sure would have accelerated my career. Saying no to these jobs wasn’t easy at first, and I wrestled with the feeling that we were missing out on new exciting experiences. However, over time I’ve come to realize and embrace the idea that having options and choosing the path we are on today makes me happy. So now I’m saying yes to work that I think will be interesting and have impact. I also understand that every job has annoying and sometimes stressful aspects to it, but I’m choosing to do the job because of the things I stated earlier, plus I’m being paid well to do it. I’m getting better at recognizing when I’m becoming annoyed by something or someone at work, observing the disturbance in my emotions, and then letting it go. I’m no Zen master by any means, but having gone through the process of clarifying our values and defining our future goal helps me act like one occasionally.