Some days you feel like you’re stuck in the middle of a Tough Mudder, crawling through mud and muck of your plan to retire early , virtually smelling the next guy’s dirty socks, while trying to keep under barbed wire. Retirement is so far out of reach that you feel like giving up, or worse, giving in to a parade of joyless happy hours and weekend shopping sprees.
Then you start hitting milestones. Time does have that wicked tendency to keep ticking away, doesn’t it? And if you’re not careful, you’ll do what many in this early retirement space are notorious for – not living for the moment.
But hey, why so wistful, Cubert? 500 days to go, man! Cheer the f*ck up!!!
Okay okay… A milestone like this is worth a little retrospective. Let’s review how I put the pieces together to retire from employment-at-will, in my mid-40s.
When my journey began in the fall of 2014, I had had enough. Without a clue, I must have Googled something like “How to retire early.” You can guess who popped up at the top of my search results.
Digging In – The 1,942 Day Countdown
The very first thing I did was to study my butt off. And the best place to start was to read MMM’s blog from top to bottom, TWICE. Some posts seemed to know my exact situation and gave me instant hope. I found MMM’s case study posts the most entertaining and informative. Face punches and Debt Emergencies – good humor, with an applicable message.
Some of the first actions I took:
- I switched to Geico. Course, I later switched to Western Mutual after learning how much MORE I’d save using an insurance broker, with the rental property homeowners policies in the mix.
- I ratcheted down our life insurance policies. The main thing here was to make sure in the event either of us croak unexpectedly, that we’re covered, i.e., status-quo. There’s no reason to correlate a death with winning the lottery.
- I refinanced our home into a much lower 5 year ARM mortgage. This locked us in at a very low 2.625% interest, and gave us the incentive to pay off the mortgage within 5 years. Sort of a “sh*t or get off the pot” kind of thing, with the biggest pile of debt most of us carry.
- I went on a crusade to pay off our debts, using the cash flow index to prioritize and pay-down all of our 4.55% interest student loans.
- I sold my Honda Accord in a private sale, and replaced it with a much more functional and fuel-efficient Honda Fit, for a mere $500 difference.
Phase Two – Going Big F’ing Rocket on Early Retirement
In 2015, I decided to add to the rental portfolio. We already had two houses that were cash flowing pretty well, earning us around $500 each net profit per month. I learned a lot in that first year and a half since taking on Rental A in 2013. Particularly, how to avoid broken leases, and how to more seamlessly (and effortlessly) find new tenants.
So in the summer of ’15, we added Rental C. That one was a real treat to set up. If a house were a fingernail, this would be the one with dirt and grime stuck under it. As I always preach though, 90% of long term rental effort is getting it set up for the very first tenant. Today that house brings in $550 a month, net cash flow.
A year later in 2016, we added Rental D. This time, the market was really heating up. I must’ve been beat out on 10 offers before finally landing on “D.” The neighborhood wasn’t quite as sparkly as A, B, or C’s, and I had to settle for a single bedroom home, but the property was very well-maintained, CLEAN, and with a tiny yard, perfect for a tenant to maintain.
Good news was, I was still landing rentals with sub 5% interest rates, at $150K max price. But I knew that as the market continued to overheat in Minneapolis, and the economy recovered as well, housing stock would become even more overpriced, and interest rates would eventually go up. That’s where we’re at today. (And hence, the Airbnb Experiment.)
By the end of 2016, with four long-term rentals in the mix, I found myself two years closer to my goal: 1,200 days to freedom.
Taking stock in Cubicle Country
When I started on this journey, nearly four years ago, I had a decision to make: I could either mail it in and coast through the next five years, or I could keep on leaning in. I’m glad I chose the latter. Working smart, not just working hard, allowed the bonuses and raises to continue to flow, year after year.
I had two opportunities during this span to accept a promotion. I turned both down, wanting instead to perform well in my current role, and keep a healthy work-life balance. I have no regrets looking back, but admittedly, I wouldn’t mind taking on that next level now, to capstone my career.
An early retirement goal, I’ve since learned, gives you more impetus to bust-ass. And as you close-in on your goal, your confidence in the workplace soars.
Trusting Your Decisions
The question can dog you sometimes: “Am I trying to retire early to escape from something?” Often, you’ll come across comments or entire articles that drill you on this. Heck, I even posted last year about Why you should never retire! Yep, we all have our moments of weakness.
Sam over at the legendary Financial Samurai wrote a really excellent post a few years back about what you won’t miss when you retire early. Here’s my simple list – inspired by Sam:
What I won’t miss in 500 days, by Cubert
- Friggin’ commutes. Just last night I was stuck in a half hour crawl-fest to get home. I like to “do the math” on this kind of sh*t while I’m stuck in traffic. I figured that at an hour a work day (half hour there, half hour back), I was giving up nearly 500 days of my life to commuting. That blows.
- Sitting on my ass all day, staring at a screen. Or lately, standing and leaning there like an idiot all day. We have stand-up workstations, but I’m not convinced that’s a cure all for staring at a screen all day in a cubicle. F*ck. If I’m going to stare at a screen, I’d rather do it during my chosen window of time and produce something I care about (e.g., a blog.)
- Office politics. Even if you’re a really good operator, you can’t avoid this one. I don’t let it bother me like it used to. But then, I’m probably shell-shocked now twenty-plus years into the corporate scene. Ultimately, it is taxing on the brain to witness really bad decisions by really highly paid executives, on an all too frequent basis.
- Being stuck inside all dang day. Sort of in-line with number 2. But honestly, I wouldn’t mind starting at my screen as much, if I had a cubicle outside during nice weather. Practically speaking, I’d rather have the flexibility to get outdoors when I want and for as long as I want, with no technology involved. Health is Wealth. Yeah, we have a gym on campus, and yeah, I bike to work (after the ice melts.) But I’m a firm believer that optimal health and fitness is very hard to achieve, while working a full time job. If you are pulling it off today, what else are you sacrificing to make it happen?
- Being bored. Funny I should put this one on the list. I just wrote about the fear of being bored in retirement. What a gas, huh? Well, it turns out that boredom can afflict even the most dedicated office trooper, well-before a traditional retirement “strikes.” Half the time for me anymore, the work itself just doesn’t inspire, even if the stated mission of the company does.
What I might well miss
- The comradery. People are pretty neat, most of the time. There are a number of peeps at the office I enjoy chatting with, going for walks or a coffee. We commiserate and complain together. And sometimes there are fun happy hours. Volunteering in the community with your colleagues is fun and supremely rewarding. I will miss this aspect of the job most.
- The pay. The bonuses. The benefits. But that’s why we all follow these bloody blogs, right??? …To get the mechanics fully understood and in place, so we don’t end up in a van down by the river.
- A wee bit of prestige. Sometimes it’s nice to don the sport coat and/or tie. Not often, but sometimes. And the chase up the ladder can be rewarding / thrilling, if you manage to pull good reviews, and you know you’re on the radar for promotion.
A plan to retire early: Making the best of 500 days
I’m honestly super excited. But also impatient.
As someone who’s learned the value of preparing and planning (I’m a project manager for Pete’s sake!) I feel I’ve got a good handle on what I need to do to pull this off. Mr. Money Mustache is clear about this: You have to have a margin of safety in your plans, to account for the unknowns.
With that in mind, I’m excited to share with all of you over the next year and a half any and all “gotchas” that may emerge. How will I handle the unforeseen? Will something come up to throw the timeline way off track? Should I hire Fritz, or my other sensei, Carl, to make sure I don’t F it up?
If you’re on a path to early retirement, I salute you. It means you have some other passion in your life that you want to pursue outside of your current day job. It means you’ll be a MORE productive member of society, after you’ve left behind your employment-at-will situation. Go get it. We’ll make it happen together. Team Cubert!