If early retirement is your goal, it’s awfully easy to get caught up in the journey and the anticipation of escaping a dreaded day job. Still, with an eye on both present and future, there’s nothing wrong with daydreaming about your first day of retirement.
Before setting an early retirement goal for myself, I hadn’t put much thought into what I’d do with my freedom at the “normal” retirement age of 60-something. I suppose there were random visions of doting on grand-kids and tending a garden or traveling overseas. There wasn’t any thought put into the hour-by-hour day in the life of Cubert, the retiree…
A recent research study suggested that the most enjoyment we get from travel occurs during the lead-up to the trip, not the trip itself. That “anticipation window” is what powers a boost in happiness or contentment. Now, based on that notion, I’m left wondering if the same is true of early retirement.
Live for Today, Before You Retire
We all know we ought to slow down and appreciate the little things in life, no matter what our journey happens to be. But it’s hard to smell the roses when your nose is stuck in a cell phone or computer screen all day (fully warranted self-indictment!)
Even before we start to think about and shape a post-retirement life, we need to take stock in the present. We need to put energy into the relationships and joys of today.
I suppose it’s natural as we age, to reverse our earlier longings for time to pass to reach some way-out-there-goal. As a kid, I couldn’t wait for my birthday, for Christmas, and for school to be out for summer.
In college, I enjoyed my time away from home, the new friends, all-you-can-eat dorm food, and mid-day naps (among other things). And still, I kept looking ahead to graduation and taking on a profession I knew little about.
As I approached middle age, I started wanting time to slow down. The time-train is moving a bit too fast now, and these achy 40-something knees are annoying on 5k runs!
Knowing that I need to keep my anticipation in-check, and appreciate life in the present, I can afford to look ahead and shape my first day of early retirement.
What to Do on Your First Day of Retirement
5:00 AM: Wake-up time (Yawwwwn.) Man, it’s sure nice to get up and not have to deal with office politics today. Now back to that dream where I’m retired early and…
6:45 AM: Let’s get some coffee and breakfast going. While I’m at it, I’ll check in with the twins to see if they’re up and around, getting ready for another day of first grade.
7:30 AM: By this age, the twins should be pretty self-sufficient getting their breakfast going. But I’ll probably help pack lunches. That’s right, lunch-lady, a brown bag only for these two!
8:00 AM: Walk the kids to school. Can’t beat a nice little five-block scamper to campus. Thank you, city neighborhood!
8:15 AM: Back home. What now???
8:15 AM: I know, I know, I had this figured out back in 2016 while writing some blog posts about what I’m supposed to be doing. I know it doesn’t involve going back to bed or knitting. I got it, I’m volunteering!*
*Alternative day-time activities will include, when not volunteering: Working on our rental properties (maintenance and improvements), working on this blog, and working on our house projects. Sneak in a run, maybe some kettlebell action at the gym, or a rare, cheap lunch (or coffee) with a former co-worker.
8:20 AM: I’m off to a Habitat For Humanity work site, ON MY BIKE. I’ll spend the better part of a regular working day here, putting up siding, painting, caulking, or whatever tasks my experience in houses will safely allow. Hard hats not optional.
9:30 AM: While nailing in another piece of siding, I start to wonder whether I’d rather be back in my cubicle, safe from the outside elements, safe from heights, and safe from the pneumatic nail-gun that the job-site foreman is now letting me use without supervision.
9:31 AM: No longer wondering. I’m glad I’m doing siding.
10:30 AM: Nail-gun nearly takes out the left thumb. Still not daydreaming about the old cube…
2:30 PM: The ice-cream truck pulls up. I’ve easily spent 2,000 calories with all this macho construction work by now! Okay, maybe once a week I’ll indulge. Sugar kills, so I take it in small doses. Most times.
4:30 PM: The workday is over (maybe an hour earlier, depending on how early school gets out.) A lot of good, tangible work was done that will contribute to a safe and sound dwelling for a family in need. I will repeat this work-day two or three times a week, especially in the warmer, construction-friendly months.
5:00 PM: Start getting ready for family dinner. I get to be a chef!!! Now granted, I have impressive skills when it comes to combining random foods into a more or less edible dish. But now I’ll have time to get even crazier with that “everything and the kitchen sink risotto!” Muhahaha…
Note: I am extremely fortunate to have a lovely cook in Mrs. AC, who will have paid her dues and then some, by the time I retire in 2020.
5:30 PM: The Brussel sprout and bacon pizzas are ready to serve! I pop open a craft beer or pour myself a small glass of boxed wine. The kids get milk. Whole milk.
7:00 PM: Help the kids with any homework they might have. Confession: I detest homework. I still think it’s stupid. Families these days don’t get enough time to bond, and then you throw in homework?
I did maybe half of mine when I was in grade school. If I had to go back and do it all over, I STILL wouldn’t do all my homework. Nevertheless, I’ll gladly help the twins with theirs, and call it bonding time with Pops! Plus, scholarships are nice, right?
8:00 PM: Kids in bed. Whew.
9:30 PM: Lights-out.
What to Look Forward to on Your First Day of Retirement
I mean, we get all keyed up about retirement fun, and ultimately, we’re still obligated to fill 16 waking hours of our day. The biggest difference with cubicle life though can be summed up accordingly:
- outside, not stuck inside when beautiful weather strikes
- active, not glued to a desk chair
- free from office politics and able to focus on producing, not drama
- spending more time with my family
- happily becoming a less-stressed version of myself than the cubicle-bound imposter
- contributing skills and labor in a more direct, tangible manner, to a meaningful cause (Habitat for Humanity)
(Oh, and Mrs. Cubert is free from some of her current household tasks, allowing her to focus more on her business. Win-win!)
This particular day in the life is just one example of what tomorrow might hold for us. During summer breaks for the twins, I would expect a mix of outdoor activities, biking, and family travel to be had. But I also expect the kids to join-in on chores, house projects, and some light rental work, to build a good work ethic and money-smarts.
Side-note: My little fantasy retirement activity is to read all the books I’ve been meaning to crack open since before the kids arrived. I’ll find a slice of beach near one of our neighborhood lakes and read until I start to doze off. Then home for nap-time? Ahhh, naps. Remember those, college guy?
Update: August 2019
First thing’s first: No. I haven’t retired yet. But I do spend a lot of time daydreaming about Day 1. What does my daily routine in retirement look like? Will I be bored off my rocker, or will I have enough work on my plate to keep me both occupied and productive? Today’s topic covers one of the most crucial retirement coping strategies: creating a daily routine.
We’ll revisit my earlier post above where I dared to try guessing my daily routine, a good four or five years ahead of my early retirement target of 2019 / 2020. Based on my penchant for blowing money lately, it’s looking more like 2020 or 2021 for THIS blogger.
In fairness, the money part still looms as a big dragon over my early retirement schemes. I still need to “pad things” a bit, and get to the point where I’m not worried about missing out on life, just because I’m not pulling a big salary anymore. Damn you, Disney Cruise!!!
Once the money part is solved, there’s the “what now?” factor. This is today’s problem to ponder. What tasks and projects will help me grow, learn, and produce something of value, while collaborating with good people in the process? See what I did there? I just described nearly everyone’s dream job…
Of course, very few of us get to experience that dream. There are moments, to be sure. We land a good boss for a few years, and when the stars align, we get to work with wonderful colleagues on challenging, but manageable projects. More often than not, sadly, we can’t pick our boss, our colleagues, or our projects. We can influence and adapt, sure, but it’s a stressful grind.
The Benjamin Franklin (Retirement) Routine
Benjamin Franklin is often touted as the OG early retiree. He side-hustled through most of his famed, long-lived life. Although never a president, he adorns the hundred dollar bill. Not too shabby! And of all the founding fathers, he’s probably the least sourpuss of the bunch. The man knew how to live life to the fullest.
Part of what gave Franklin the juice to live such a full life was his schedule. As J. Money originally posted a few years back, it all starts with waking up early every day. 5 AM early. I love this old post. My wife started her own 5 AM habit well before I stumbled across J.’s article, so I had a little more motivation to give it a shot. And thanks to the inspiration, this blog lives on.
Because honestly, if it weren’t for the 5 AM wake-up call, I would have ZERO time to write. My job doesn’t allow for pretend work time, friends (and neither should yours!) Like J. Money, I struggled at first with balancing the excitement of the productivity gains before daybreak with just plain winding down at night.
I made the mistake of watching stupid TV shows right before bedtime — giving myself nightmarish imagery from Game of Thrones when all I wanted to do was catch Z’s.
Franklin didn’t have to worry about that nonsense. Not only did he avoid watching GoT (thanks to slow internet speeds), he also benefited from a candle-lit environment. And when it got too hot in Philly, he bolted for parts north to cool off, like the rest of the gentry did back then. (It was more out of necessity since malaria and yellow fever were common summer companions. Yikes…)
How Do You Pass Time After Retirement?
Back in October of 2016, I figured the daily drill would look something like THIS:
5:00 AM: Wake-up time
6:45 AM: Breakfast and wake up kids for school.
7:30 AM: Pack lunches.
7:45 AM: Walk the kids to school.
8:15 AM: Off to volunteer job (Habitat for Humanity?)
ZONE OF OPPORTUNITY (8:15 AM – 4:30 PM)
4:30 PM: The workday is over (maybe an hour earlier, depending on when school gets out.)
5:00 PM: Start getting ready for family dinner.
5:30 PM: Dinner.
7:30 PM: Get kids ready for bed.
8:00 PM: Kids in bed. Now it’s time for husband and wife to catch up on each other’s day, and take in a little Netflix (maybe “The Office” re-runs, to remind myself of what I’m missing)
9:30 PM: Turn in.
There’s nothing new here that I’m not doing today, right? All I’ve done is change my surroundings, replacing the office environment with a more appealing one — a construction zone. I haven’t reaped the benefit of time that’s the promise of early retirement. And where’s the window to work-out and exercise? And wait? No naps???
Some major adjustment is necessary:
5:00 AM: Wake-up time — BLOGGING
6:45 AM: Breakfast and wake up kids for school
7:30 AM: Pack lunches
7:45 AM: Walk the kids to school
8:15 AM: Back home
NEW: Go for a run, or bike ride. If it’s winter, I may drive to the gym (free membership, so long as Mrs. Cubert continues to work there)
NEW: 9:30 AM: Back to the BLOG! Maybe get a haircut?
NEW: 11:30 AM – 12:00 PM: Lunch and midday Franklinesque reflection
ADJUSTED: 12:00 PM – 3 PM: Off to volunteer job (Habitat for Humanity?), OR, household errands (e.g., attempt to haul groceries with the bike trailer)
NEW: 3:00 PM – 3:30 PM: Afternoon coffee break and some afternoon reflection (or nap!)
FORGOT THIS: 3:30 PM: Pick up kids from school — time to have fun with them! (hoop it up, bike rides, board games, etc.)
5:00 PM: Start getting ready for family dinner (with help from kids!)
6:00 PM: Dinner
7:30 PM: Get kids ready for bed. Coerce with hugs, kisses, and threats of losing privileges
8:00 PM: Bedtime for kiddos! Mom and Dad can finally connect. We still watch a little TV, cuz, you know, NETFLIX!
9:30 PM: Turn in.
This is a bit better. Still crazy how quickly time can be eaten up by the accumulation of many small tasks and events. Franklin’s system doesn’t create time, it simply helps you optimize what little time you DO have. Alas…
A Fulfilling Daily Routine
I consider the 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM time frame as the “Golden Window of Opportunity”. Catchy, no? At any rate, this is where I’ve had so much heartache about early retirement. I have no problem filling this time frame in my cubicle job – there are emails to read and meetings to attend. On weekends, there’s laundry to do and blogging to catch up on.
Absent a paycheck though? How about focusing on this crusty old blog?? Maybe writing a blog is a passion project I can turn into something really useful? I chomp at the bit to think how much better the quality around here would be if I had three hours a day to crunch away on Abandoned Cubicle. The possibilities are marginal, at least…
Let’s poke at the 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM slot in the Golden Window. This is where I could choose to help out in my local community, fix up our own house, or work on beefing up the rentals (assuming the tenants don’t mind…) I have thought about spinning up a property management business, and possibly getting a realtor’s license.
But this sub-slot is a time window I need to nail down. If I don’t have something steady going on here, I could easily lapse into daily naps and reading interesting books I never have time for. I could venture into oil painting, like George W. Bush or Sylvester Stallone (a few of the contemporary greats).
Staying Busy on Your First Day of Retirement
The curse of too much time isn’t as much of a problem when you’ve got golf leagues, world travel, bridge club, and grand-kids to watch. Sure, there are countless traditional retirees still bored as hell, and often health issues can be a root cause, or, a consequence.
For early retirees, this is the curse of all curses. If Mr. Money Mustache retired at age 30 without a clue how to wield a hammer, write a blog post, or ride a bike, what the heck would he do with all that free time?? Kids eventually go off to school. You blink and all a sudden you’ve gone from changing diapers to walking junior to his first day of Kindergarten.
I can relate to the sense of accomplishment MMM says he feels when he gets sh*t done efficiently. That’s what makes me tick too. Granted, it took me a while to figure that out. A lazy kid can become a productive grown-up with the right incentives (money, mating, and a keen understanding of the finite amount of time life offer us all.)
The risk is that we put all this energy into saving money, building our retirement stash, cutting the cord, and trimming the bills. And then, we retire early into a blank slate of “Well, what now??” If you’re not destined to become a rock star blogger traveling from expo to expo, camp to camp, or publisher to publisher, watcha gonna do with all that free time, mate??
Let’s just distill the daily routine down into three keys for a good retirement, early or otherwise:
1. Keep busy – after that initial 6-9 month “honeymoon” period, you get antsy. Time to engage. Be PRODUCTIVE. Volunteer, work part-time, and learn something new!
2. Keep social – there is a part of everyone’s cubicle job they will miss to some degree. People. Even some of the most introverted colleagues among us have a few others to confide in at work. Unless your EQ and social skills are royally abysmal, you’ll have people you at least marginally appreciate being around, day in day out.
3. Keep active – if you let your health go to pot, the game is up. A daily exercise routine is required. Get your daily 10,000 steps (or aim for 15,000 like the indigenous tribes who never suffer heart failure).
EASY STUFF, Right???
Retirement Coping Strategies: Importance of People
This is why we see more and more camps and meet-ups and transatlantic adventures. Early retirees need a community to survive. It makes sense. Traditional retirees often live among other retirees (exhibit A: Florida). Early retirees, on the other hand, have no one else around them.
If I hung it up tomorrow, I’d be one of three people on my block still at home on a given weekday. A few neighbors are retired and a few are stay-at-home moms. I’ll be the jerk running a table saw out of my garage while the baby is trying to sleep across the way.
I can appreciate so much more how the early retirement (FIRE) community has become a replacement for the cadre of work friends and acquaintances from those working years. If you’re fortunate to live in a big city, you could connect in local meetups as part of a routine. Kind of like those old farmers in Iowa who sit around the diner for hours drinking bad coffee, bitching about why no one else gets “it”.
But I want my “farmers” to be a mishmash of people from all different backgrounds, who prefer good coffee and can inspire me to take on new ideas and projects.
Remember though, retirement is also an opportunity to build stronger bonds with those around us today, who’ll still be around us tomorrow. Early retirees have the gift of extra time, whereas traditional retirees start to lose friends as age advances.
So yeah, go to FinCon and go to CampFI, but remember to put as much enthusiasm and intent into your current non-FIRE friendships and of course, your family, FIRST.
I hope to get to FinCon myself one day. I think the current mishmash of early retirees and FIRE escapists are my kind of tribe. A bunch of misfits who won’t be hemmed in by boredom and monotony in cubicle land. Maybe one day I’ll have a few of these living on MY block, and this whole daily routine conundrum becomes an easier riddle to solve?
Your First Day of Retirement Is a Work in Progress
I’m not so naive to think that all this will work out according to some master plan. I am, however, a firm believer that goal setting and envisioning outcomes can shape our future reality. Spoken like a true project manager, right?
I enjoy following several bloggers on early retirement and have learned a ton from this community. Many of them are fully committed to supporting important causes and volunteering in their community.
With an abundance of time, it’s expected that many if not most early retirees commit to helping others. Traveling the world is fun, but what if you combine travel with offshore volunteer work? That’d be a stamp on the passport to be proud of.
So, readers, tell me what do you envision for your first day of retirement?