One year left of this cubicle life. This is the time when all of those crazy questions start to pop up. “What the hell am I doing?” or, “This is crazy. I can’t afford to lose my paycheck!” or, “I’ll be bored out of my skull! Gotta stay sharp. Gotta stay working!” If I’m going to retire early at this time next year, I have some homework to do before I drum up the courage to quit my job.
Anecdotal evidence points to a number of early retirees reaching financial independence, only to linger on at their work. Others, like my friends Fritz and Gwen, set their targets and exited stage left when their big day arrived. Part of me is leaning towards what the Green Swan suggests in his excellent write-up: Why not stick around for another few years (or even 5!) and build up your stash some more?
What Holds Us Back from Breaking Free?
There’s a handful of hangups that would give most of us pause before giving our notice. For one, there’s the constant and steady stream of money flowing in. You’ve been churning paychecks for years and years. You think all the sudden you’ll just walk away from payday? What about those nice benefits, like health care, cheap life insurance, stock purchase plans, and employer co-funded accounts (401K and HSA)?
Every other week there’s a nice, tidy sum of money that magically pops into the checking account from the job you’re ansty to walk away from. You’ve been chain smoking paychecks for years. There’s no patch you can slap on your shoulder to break this addiction.
Routine is another factor. This might surprise you, but humans love routine. We tend to function best when we have a predictable pattern to follow, day in and day out. Sure, give us sufficient breaks to recharge on weeklong vacations. Great! But give yourself six months and you’ll start getting a strange, unexpected 9-to-5 itch.
We spend our days in cubicle land fantasizing about sleeping in on Mondays and taking naps in the middle of the week day. We joke with our colleagues about “being in the Bahamas” when we’re caught not paying attention on conference calls. Oddly, when it’s time to walk away from the grind and that cursed cubicle, we start to lose focus and direction. Our pattern is no longer there to keep us on the rails.
Do you worry about a loss of prestige when you hang up your career? It’s a real thing. Those who’ve risen up in the ranks have these little imaginary stars on their uniform shoulders, like a dime store army general. Quit your job and the only people you have influence over are the kids, and even they start to give you shit for being unemployed. What’s an early retiree to do? I know I know – get a dog I guess.
Loss of status can be a hard thing to adjust to, particularly if you’ve enjoyed a healthy climb up the corporate ladder. I suspect this is why former presidents have typically worked just as hard after leaving office, to keep up some level of authority after their White House days are over.
How to Muster the Courage to Quit
The good news is this. For many, if not most, retirement does not suck. The earlier you quit, the easier it is to adjust to a life without steady paychecks, cubicle routine, and loss of status. Consider it an incentive to retire early. Before you get so addicted to work that you can’t possibly imagine sitting around the house all day (a common dilemma for those in their late 50s and 60s), consider my friends, the early retirement.
- The earlier you retire, the easier it is to transition to a different life. You haven’t been strapped to that seat so long that you’re clueless when your freedom finally arrives. “Routine rigor mortis” has set in. In my case, by the time I retire early, I will have been in the workforce a good 25 years. That’s certainly long enough to have grown accustomed to cubicle life. Imagine 45 years – which is the now standard retirement age of 67.
- The earlier you retire, the less of a hit you take to your ego. Over time, our work defines us. In many ways this is a good thing. We learn how to tackle different challenges, how to work with and get along with others. We learn new things and “keep sharp” by competing with peers. Eventually you attain status through a series of promotions. When you retire, “poof!” you’re simply “Honey” and “Dad” (or “Grandpa”). Nothing wrong whatsoever with those titles, but you may feel like one leg of the stool is missing.
The x-factor in all this is the money. Building up your stash until you’re Financially Independent (FI) is the most important thing you can do. F-You! money. And the single easiest way to reach that goal is to invest 50% or more of your income, avoid silly debts and frivolous spending, and super charge your earning power.
I’m still toying with, or engineering, my daily routine when retirement arrives. Some of the things I’ve been longing to do more of:
- Exercise an hour each day
- Take a nice half hour nap
- Dedicate more time to the blog
- Read books
- Be outside – walk or bike to errands
That list alone constitutes at least one half of a working day. During the next 12 months of the countdown to freedom, I’ll be watching my friends who’ve already retired a little more closely. I want to learn what tactics they’ve come up with, to avoid boredom and the longing for paychecks, prestige, and routine.
By this time next year, there will be no more mortgage payments. Our cash flow situation can then support our 50K – 60K per year annual expenses. I already know I’ll miss the paycheck. But having the rental business and this blog, I’m not worried about losing any sense of routine. As for prestige? I’m nowhere near executive status at my day job, so nothing sacrificed there…
I’ve had an office for all of four years during my tenure in the workaday world. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Granted, farting with the door closed has its perks. Will someone start a blog called “Abandoned Office”?
Questions for the audience:
- Do you have any hang-ups about quitting your job?
- Do you know how you’ll spend your days in freedom?
- Are you even planning to retire early?