Two years in – how’s that early retirement working out

It’s soon coming up to two years since I checked out of the rat race, a good time to take stock and look at what I’ve learned. This is particularly long. I did think about breaking it over several posts, but what the hell, it is a long story. I’ve collected a few pointers to some things I’ve heard people being interested in over the years as a table of contents

  1. become an opportunist
  2. A lot of early retirement is about reducing living costs
  3. Retirement is a different phase of life. Making it like work without the work is not the only choice you can make
  4. Not having a regular income is scary
  5. what it feels like to live off ‘drawdown’
  6. The extra win a 40% tax payer gets from pension saving is much higher than that for a basic rate taxpayer
  7. Work and all that
  8. The distinction between work and not work is peculiar to the non financially independent
  9. Grow within yourself – or else
  10. The tl;dr summary

Overview

First off, I am not using any of my retirement savings – my pension remains deferred along with my linked AVC savings.What I am using now to live off is saved cash, though I also have income from ISA savings but these are reinvested. If I were to draw it now, my pension is notably above my annual running costs.

Three things contributed to this –

getting the mortgage monkey off my back

Paying off my mortgage eliminated much of the static drain of housing from my finances.It was a long job paying down the debt over twenty years. It’s not always a wise thing to do for an early retiree – anybody who is retiring before they can access their pension savings may want to consider keeping their mortgage and saving into pension savings with the aim of paying off their mortgage with the pension commencement lump sum. I didn’t do that because I was reactive and fearful. It’s a mistake that’s fail-safe – I live off less at the moment but will have more later on. It so happens that I was able to save the maximum worth saving into my pension savings and pay down the mortgage, after which I tossed what would have gone into the mortgage into ISA savings because I also saved money by

shooting the consumerism monkey

Breaking the cycle of mindless consumerism has helped me no end. Initially I did it because I was desperate to win freedom from The Man and needed to save every pound I could. I’m not going to bullshit, the first six months are hard. I never borrowed to buy consumer crap, but I wasn’t above buying Stuff because I thought it would make me happy. Only after about a year did I come to the awful realisation that

Stuff very rarely makes me happy

Now the validity of this varies across one’s life-cycle. When starting out, and you have very little, of course Stuff makes you happy, from you first iPad/kettle/car/bed/chair whatever. It’s later on, particularly in the upgrade cycle where the wheels come off the whole spending money on Stuff thing. People started to realise this, so there are some classes of Stuff that are deliberately engineered to become worthless or hard to use over time – the way Apple manages IOS to depreciate their historic gear is a classic example. Other examples are cloud services. I am using a 10-year old copy of Quicken because it does what I want it to – the rental versions introduced after 2004 have become worthless in the meantime.

I say very rarely because some Stuff does make me happy. The key to achieving a decent balance with consumerism is to know why you are buying something, and to evaluate its likely impact on your life without the spurious trappings of advertising. One of the simple rules to help with that is to wait 7 days before buying it – the initial sugar rush of ‘this will change my life’ decays over a couple of days, leaving me with a clearer head.

Mr Money Mustache has an entertaining read on this topic, titled recovering from the Pack Rat years. I came to a very similar conclusion to him independently – all the way down to no longer having a broadcast-TV capable viewing system. The only area I disagree is that I have no smartphone, because a smartphone is an absolutely shit digital camera and equally crap audio recorder 1, and it seems I am more demanding of these functions than usual. However, all my camera and recording gear was bought before 2007 – I am still the limitation there. In the event that my skills and creativity become honed to get better results out of better gear and I can turn that into profit I will consider it.

savouring the moment

It took a long time to realise this, and it wasn’t the result of any conscious decision. Perhaps it’s the result of having more time – when I was working I was always chasing after being somewhere else, in space or in time. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the ‘anywhere but here’ of a drone, I spent too much life energy wanting what I didn’t have rather than wanting what I did have. I need time to appreciate what I do have, and maybe it was time I didn’t have before I retired.

There’s a corollary to this, which is

become an opportunist as a retiree. It’s cheaper, and more fun

Many of the costs associated with life are to do with controlling your world. As a wage-slave you must control your world to fit in with the strictures of your job. You have to make sure you are somewhere for specific times. Even if you are a freelancer you have to work a certain amount of the time unless you are financially independent. You have to arrange a lot of things to be just so, you have to take your holidays within so many days, often people have to match their availability with the requirements of other people’s jobs and childcare etc.

All of this takes optionality out of your life so you need to control your non-work life to fit in, and control costs money. If you have to be at work you have to pay someone to look after your children in the day. You have to pay commuting costs. And so on.

It takes a long time to realise that there are other ways of living, that are far less structured if you let go of the inner control freak that had to fit in with work. Roll with opportunities.

A lot of early retirement is about reducing living costs

As we go through the many decades of a working life, we tend to see some lifestyle creep. We are social animals, we spend money on things that other people do because no man is an island, entire of itself. Others may spend money on things that really matter to them, and often we end up apeing these or hankering after stuff because, well, if it’s valued by others it must be good.

In the first couple of decades of working this social pressure is stronger – as time goes by there are more differences in the way people live their lives and this pressure is less. In my twenties most of my peers lived similar lives, often flatsharing or in digs. As time went on they paired up, then many had kids. The differences in living styles diverged more, and these divergences add up, reducing the social pressure. I should add that being childfree means I don’t know about child-related social pressure, though I suspect this is high. The way people work themselves up about schools indicates this child-related peer pressure is of a quite stupendous nature!

The key to early retirement is to look at how you are living and to ask yourself how much of this spending matters to me or people dear to me, how much does it enhance my quality of life? Then stick with that, and start to eliminate the rest, and simplify things. Complexity begets cost and dependencies. And take a wider systems approach to your living – how far you are living from work, how big a house you have.

For instance I took the shaft from housing early on, so I am in a lower grade of housing than most of my ex-colleagues. There is an indirect upside to that – my house is smaller than theirs, easier to heat, less to decorate and furnish, and less council tax to pay. Year on year on year, and that adds up over time. Some of this shows in the result – I discharged my mortgage in 20 years despite buying at a stupid time, taking a hit on a relationship breakup and buying with an endowment. My ex-colleagues often still had big mortgages on their big houses as they entered their 50s. Obviously I don’t get to spread myself out over such a wide area. Unlike them, housing is not the largest capital ‘asset’ I have.

A lot of consumer complexity I seem to have avoided by a combination of luck and the fact there were fewer temptations in my formative years. ERE has a nice wiki article on this for people who want to design their lifestyle by intent rather than by happenstance. Like starting to save for retirement, ideally you try and design your life consciously by the end of your twenties, because a lot of big lifestyle costs start to get baked in to your life after that.

You can reduce living costs further by ignoring differences that don’t really matter to you. MMM has a great rant on Cure Yourself of Tiny details Exaggeration Syndrome which saves me the bother of explaining that. It often staggers me, when talking to people who in theory would like to retire early how much they cling to things like being able to run new cars every three years and regular high-cost things like the fast and furious skiing holidays of the cubicle slave. As for golf – it seems designed to be the nemesis of economy, with high course fees, club fees and equipment costs plus the depredations of the 19th hole.

Now if they have sat back and asked themselves does this really matter to them and the answer is yes, then of course that’s intentional living and to be saluted. But often if you scratch a little harder it is because they fear the loss of status. The obvious question is who are they living for, because the Joneses don’t really give a shit. But to ask it would be unkind – people can only shift their world-view at a certain speed, and it’s always better if that shift comes from within.

Retirement is a different phase of life. Making it like work without the work is not the only choice you can make.

Retirement is a different phase of life. The tradeoffs are dramatically different. If you want your retired life to look exactly like your working life but without the work, then fine, you gotta do what you gotta do, generally working to 65. You will be able to broadly maintain the same spending, provided you have paid down your house. But you owe it to yourself to at least challenge the assumption and examine alternatives. Many people at The Firm have this pathology – they’ve been there so long they struggle to imagine anything other than the same life they have, but without the work. Some indeed fear that subtracting work will subtract meaning from their lives. These types of people should never stop work – because Nature abhors a vacuum. It goes along with the general thread that flexibility and openness to new ways of doing things is important to retiring early successfully.

Not having a regular income is scary

Two years ago I went from being a wage-slave with a steady income to being some odd combination of drawdown retiree and investor, I’m not even an honest pensioner because I’m not drawing a pension. I am doing what any early (pre-55) retiree has to do for some of the time. It’s impossible to overstate how different that feels to having a regular income. People who have been self-employed or otherwise handle a variable income will find that transition easier, but I find it scary.

The problem is that the job of squaring the financial circle is easy to define to a wage-slave. Keep at it, don’t do anything to lose your job without lining up another, and don’t spend more than you earn, with some notable exceptions (housing and education).  Summed up pithily by the distillation of my parents’ wisdom

Don’t spend more than you earn, son

The definition is easy, though the implementation isn’t. What you earn in a year is a number, written on your P60, and what you spend is a number too, in my case available from Quicken. Take one from the other, and Wilkins Micawber is your man

Tools of a typical office-based trade

checking in the tools of a typical office-based trade

So the Ermine checks in his computer, phone and staff card and all of a sudden the inflow stops. Now I got a year’s salary as redundancy, so the intuitive answer to ‘how long to go before I have to draw my pension’ is one year, but all of a sudden everything gets more complex.

For starters I had to toss a significant part of the redundancy into my pension AVCs to avoid paying tax on it. I also want to fill an ISA’s worth every year, so doing that for a couple of years means all of a sudden I am left with less than the minimum full-time wage for a couple of years. And at the moment I don’t use any of the income on my savings; the reason for that is that at the moment I cannot turn a useful return on cash savings so it makes sense to run my cash reserves down and reinvest the dividends from the ISA.

Many aspects of finances are easier for a wage slave, with their steady flow of income. For instance I have to hold much higher cash reserves against the unexpected – fortunately this is held with NS&I so at least it doesn’t particularly depreciate over time. If you have a regular income you don’t need to do that, so simply need enough slack in the system to be able to cut back if something untoward happens like the roof leaking. You simply cut down your partying until you’ve paid the unexpected bills down. I have to hold the cash to address these hits up front.

But the hardest part of having no annual income is that it’s hard to qualify what a sustainable annual spend would be. If  you ask Wilkins Micawber he’ll shoot back

expenditure > income, result misery, wrong way, do not enter, turn back now, don’t go there bud

I don’t have any of my retirement capital available to me, as I am deferring my pension to raise its annual value once paid. So my AVC savings are also quarantined by that. In one limiting case I am okay now – if I drew my pension now my spending is lower than the net amount, and that also excludes any value from my AVCs or existing share portfolio. The job of bridging this gap has also been made harder by some of the opportunities that the Chancellor has made – the greater flexibility of taking a DC pension pretty much mandates saving about a personal allowance-worth of DC pension because HMRC toss a fifth of it in the pot and the new increased ISA allowance needs filling up.

Fortunately I have a shedload of The Firm’s shares purchased under Sharesave and Share Incentive Programme, all unwrapped. These can get sold over time and the proceeds bulk up the ISA. Once I get hold of the pension the I will have the AVC funds to shove into ISA savings over a few years. In the long run my ISA savings will be about half the capital value behind my pension which is RPI linked to a point. The ISAs  job is to fight inflation in the medium to long term.

what it feels like to live off ‘drawdown’

So I’m easy with the long term strategy. But obviously, I am running down the cash at the moment. And that’s not a good feeling. I fought against the depreciation of my net worth intially after I retired, before coming to the conclusion that wasn’t possible. At the moment it turns out that it was possible – this is a zero based networth chart, excluding the value of my house and any pension associated savings.

Ermine instantaneous networth excl house and pension

Ermine instantaneous networth excl house and pension

It looks okay, but I’d also have to deflate this by inflation, two years of inflation roughly knocks 10% off the real value. I don’t have an excel version of this so I used the shear function in Photoshop to drop the right hand side by about 10% 2.

inflation-adjusted version

inflation-adjusted version – the original baseline is shown by the dates

What is, however, happening is that the balance is shifting from cash to equities, which looks in Quicken like a madcap 20-something’s asset allocation. Although the equity allocation is getting on for three-quarters equities, this also explains the strange image of networth increasing while drawing down some of the capital. I need to remember the good men in white coats (hat tip to Monevator) who rock up just in the nick of time with their ‘this too will pass’ ring and remind me that this is illusory.

Observe the increase, and increasing volatility with time. That, my friend, is what the stock market does to you. In exchange for a little bit of real return, it gives you a hellaciously rough ride with a massive noise signal to bamboozle any attempt at rational thought. Remember there isn’t any income in here 3, there is some spending, and the equity ratio is increasing. And stock markets have been on a tear for the last few years, only last year people were asking ‘I don’t know what the ‘king hell we’re doing up here mate‘. Twice

Three-quarters of my current asset allocation is in equities, and in a bad year, equities can fall by 50%. In a different world it could look like this

the retired in 2007-ish version

the retired in 2007-ish version. Okay, falls happen more sharply than rises so it isn’t that realistic. There’s only so much you can do with Photoshop ;)

This sort of roller-coaster ride is what awaits anyone with a DC pension who does not annuitise any part of their capital on retirement or shift to some safer asset class. In particular, the good people who the Pensions Minister exhorted to enter drawdown rather than go buy a Lamborghini are going to be facing this. Yes, they don’t end up getting a fixed crap income of 5% of their capital, non RPI linked. But they have to accept that bronco ride. And every time an IFA asks Joe Public about his risk profile the answer comes back that he hates risk. I am in the stratospheric nutcase end of the risk tolerance (because my risk tolerance is balanced by the bond-like nature of a final salary pension)

An Ermine's risk profile

An Ermine’s risk profile

And I don’t like it. Am I drawing down at a sustainable rate? The 4% SWR is an article of faith, and that faith is easy to come by at the moment, as the good doc said. It was probably harder to find in 2009. If it mattered greatly, I’d have to ‘fess up that I have no idea to that sustainable question. However, since I have a pension that is greater than my rate of spend waiting, plus an AVC fund that is in cash and larger than my ISA I will probably get away with it.

The takeaway is that living off a large equity based capital allocation feels like a very rough ride indeed, and let’s face it, I’ve only have the upside of that ride. For someone who has drawn a steady salary for 30 years, that is not a peaceful feeling. I have other options, and perhaps I am more fearful than others, but it would totally creep me out to rely on that 4. I don’t know what the answer to that is, but I am happy to say I don’t need to find out, because I will get some of that steady income back.

I am probably underspending

It’s not a common observation in the PF universe, but I am probably running below my financial capacity. I had expected to reach the zero cash line between a year and a year and a half out (that would have been end of 2013), and to be drawing my pension already or imminently. I am six months into extra time. The reason for the underspending is because I extrapolated from spending at work, and it was also cluttered a little bit by spending on establishing a business.

Now if you’re going to err in retirement, err on the underspending side. However, da yoof is not totally wrong with YOLO and at some stage I need to review this. Even after two years, I am still in the recovery phase from a pretty rough experience of the last couple of years of work. So this spending pattern fits my needs at the moment.

The extra win a 40% tax payer gets from pension saving is counterintuitively high, compared with the BRT win.

We all know the pack drill. When you save £100, you put it somewhere and you can’t spend that £100. Easy – that’s pretty much how your ISA works, and almost all non-pension saving. The deal with pensions and taxation is different – you save some amount x and you don’t earn £100 net. The net effect is the same – you have £100 a month less to spend on beer/chocolate/paying off your mortgage.

It’s very counterintuitive, but forego £100 of net income and you get to save £166 in a pension. That’s because the £100 has been taxed at 40%, ie your net £100 is 60% of the gross amount, so the taxman gives you back 40/60 ie 2/3 of the amount you have foregone. Everybody thinks oh it’s only 40%, but in truth of the amount you can forego it is 66% – for every £100 net you don’t earn, you save £166 in your pension, a 66% bump up compared to if you earn it and bung it in an ISA.

Compare that with the basic rate taxpayer – they forego £100 and it’s made up to £125. Okay, it’s still a 25% boost but it’s nowhere near the boost the HR taxpayer gets. It was a little bit better at The Firm because they used salary sacrifice, so the BRT payer gets 32% (20% tax and 12% NI) so for every £100 he doesn’t earn he gets £47 added, which is nearly twice as much.

I hit this hard, and I started investing in a Global:FTSE100 50:50 fund from March 2009 on, so I got a 20% uplift in my AVCs from the stock market and the depreciation of the pound. But even so, I look back at my AVC savings and wonder how the bloody hell did I manage to save a year and a half gross salary in pension AVCs in three years. And fill my ISA each year and save a third of a year’s gross from net savings into NS&I ILSCs. I still don’t really understand it, but that tax relief did a lot of the heavy lifting, and the stock market played its part too, in that lift from March 2009.

This is why old gits at the end of their working lives can karate-chop the much vaunted magic of compound interest and bust its ass. They’re more likely to be higher rate taxpayers, they have more chance of having paid down their mortgage and they are a hell of a lot closer to getting the win so they are much more motivated because of the effect of hyperbolic discounting – loads of wedge in five years is a damn sight more interesting than loads of wedge in four decades. I saved a quarter of the total value of my work pension in the last three years, which is roughly an eighth of my time there.

Work

I retired early because I was stressed and became increasingly out of sync with the way work was being run. I am still recovering from that. It is only recently that I can reliably hear what is good in music, and there’s still a while to go before I will have recovered this to what I once had. In a myriad of small ways I am still reminded that I pushed my luck flying into the storm for three years, and indeed to carry on after I had been off sick. To a large extent the emotional centre shut down, and what was left was fearful; I retained most analytical capacity. Emotion gets a lot of flack in the PF world, and people draft long lists of ways it leads us astray. And yet it relates us to others of our kind, it gives us the hope to carry on against adversity.

Emotion is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.

Carl Jung Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype (1938)

The old boy had a point, try living with that function shattered – you attempt to strike lights and they sputter and flare out, never overcoming the steely greyness of undifferentiated days. The analytical capacity did refine my investing behaviour and this was easier with a spanner jammed into the works of some of the biases. But it’s no fun, because I would see how to do things but not why. Motivating yourself when you know how but not why is sheer effort of will, not inspiration.

 

It’s also interesting that ERE observed

On an anecdotal note, I vastly prefer less stress to the low level stress that is present in most modern life. The stress I feel now is the “original” stress of a boat about to crash. Not the continuous stress of not being able to meet deadline after deadline.

Because the world of work changed slowly, I did not realise the low-level stress increasing at work with the gamification of the workplace. That sort of continuous stress is bad because the response of increased heart rate and adrenaline has nowhere to go, it doesn’t help. Whereas when some stupid twat got pissed up at lunchtime last year and came round a corner fishtailing on my side of the road then yes, that is stressful when you see a dark Jag incoming at 12 o’clock. But it did some good, because it did the time-dilation thing and I was able to see what was happening, brake and pull way into the side, turning a head-on crash into a glancing blow. That is one of the correct uses of stress, because it did some good in improving clarity of thought and reactions for a short while where it matters.

ERE is much younger and fitter than I am, so if he noticed that it took a while to adapt  then it isn’t surprising that the results of the work stress is still washing out of my system. I crossed the finish line exhausted and no reserve capacity. I didn’t expect to be still recovering two years on and to still have significantly impaired capabilities but it is better to roll with it than fight it. It’s also a warning call for all those ‘one more year to comfort‘ merchants. You will almost always be financially better off working for another year. But you may be running out of other resources that occasionally matter more. And everybody is running out of time, 24 hours in every day.

The two years since retiring has given me some space to see where the working world and I drifted apart. The obvious reason is a combination of the 2008/9 financial crisis and changes in the way The Firm was being run. The obvious reason is not always the whole reason.

I’ve avoided the vexatious issue of making money myself, largely because I don’t want to enter the world of wage-slavery and I have no desire to fill in an income tax return for lousy itty-bitty amounts. However I haven’t avoided directed action of the sort that sometimes goes under the title of work, I’ve taken these to add value to other people’s projects. And I look at them, and I realise that there was one big thing that I missed where I was diverging from the world of work at The Firm.

I am a generalist, and worse than that the sort that Firestarter identifies as both Renaissance Man and dilettante :) This runs terribly against the way work is going, which is specialising, knowing more and more about less and less. This applies particularly to IT, which was the way The Firm was going.

As they drove their way down the value chain they became much more prescriptive in structures and methodology. As a research facility it was a very wide-ranging operation for much of my career but as this was moved to become an outsourcing jobbing shop it narrowed. Specialisation is an aspect of the IT contract world too, it would be unfair to blame The Firm purely for this. For illustration, as a generalist since retiring I have programmed in assembler, JAL, Python, Perl, PHP, C and VB. I code in whatever suits the application and the platform. Raspberry Pi? That’ll be Python then. Arduino – C, Pic microcontrollers? MPASM or JAL. The Firm was trying to make everybody code in Java, and only Java. I am dilettante in seven languages and not master of one ;) In my last project for the London 2012 project I also didn’t focus in IT – CATV was from legacy electronics and system design. Indeed, at work the one thing I didn’t do much of was Java, that policy was instigated just before I got onto the 2012 Olympics project…

When I retired I had thought that if I were to sell time or skills for money it would be in the field of engineering. But it isn’t likely, because I am running against the tide with that generalisation.

After leaving work I built wooden shelters and fixed tractors, I’ve designed an irrigation system (the design part is being able to operate through winter, it’s not just going down to B&Q and buying up a load of hozelock connectors). I’ve produced and edited video. I have electronics design facilities, but this is at a fairly modest level. I have produced some IoT environmental sensors and the like. But only as part of a system design to do something else. This may point the way in future - don’t do stuff, do capabilities and services. I’m not going to be hidebound about it – a lot of the problem with Stuff is regulation; small fry can get away with a lot and if you get bigger you can afford the overhead. No small business became a big one by following all the rules…

Where I’ve actually made money, is photography and sound recording.  I’ve managed to work a little bit harder than my ISA, though these guys will pay me in dollars so I have to wait until the exchange rate is better. Unfortunately this is impaired because the stress nearly wiped out any creativity I had.

But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth (Carl Jung, the psychology of individuation)

I actually see some of the recovery in the improved popularity and profitability of the photos I take…

The fact that I can tell the agency to pay me when I’m good and ready means I am safe from the Internet Retirement Police – I haven’t done that for the money and it forms no part of my financial planning. But even as a cold-turkey retiree I haven’t totally avoided the four-letter w word. But I didn’t seek it out, indeed the problem I have with work is the whole bad power play of it. Perhaps I will have to reconsider this and view that I have achieved manumission through financial independence as opposed to retiring. It’s not really catchy though, is it?

The thing that runs through these things is that there isn’t any single thread running through them, and if there is something running through them then it was only incidentally engineering, indeed much of it wasn’t even left-brain stuff.

Google will save serious office space when they get to this stage

Google will save serious office space when they get to this stage, though they’ll need to improve connectivity

I am probably unemployable now because of this hopeless sprawling generalisation, it’s just not what the modern workplace wants. The reason for this is the concentration of power to capital and the improved communications. Companies can concentrate the work to hyper-specialists, the distribute the results to the proletariat virtually cost-free. Look at the setup at Google. These will eventually become brains in a jar with multiple redundant high capacity optical fibre data connections. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet with Google Glass. Google employees can’t cook for themselves or do their own washing, which is why Mama Google sees to it to fix their household requirements. Free food, free laundry, free haircuts. free cars. If you want to see where white collar work is going, look at the leading edge – it’ll be most places in 10-20 years. Hyper specialisation has a dark side. I am nowhere near bright enough to work for Google. Nor are many of my fellow Britons. Specialisation is where it’s at, but it will need fewer and fewer people and require more and more of those it does need.

Generalists work well in a small scale – there are often opportunities to use knowledge across unrelated fields in small-company operations. They are more flexible, there isn’t a structure of existing practice to adapt, and they can get away with short-term fixes for temporary requirements as long as they trust their generalists of they have seen enough track record. But I have no desire to work full-time as a general fixer. The 21st century technical workplace is no place for a generalist Ermine, because of this culture shift towards specialisation and narrow but deep skillsets. But then that’s the whole point of becoming financially independent. I don’t have to give a damn.

The distinction between work and not work is peculiar to the financially dependent

because you’re financially dependent (usually on a job). So you have to do what The Man tells you, and that division is clear-cut and non-negotiable. Contractors and the self-employed soften this distinction a bit. It seems to easily end up with work taking over their life, however, because work is still not elective, it is when they work that is more elective than someone working for The Man. Not that they work.

Philip Greenspun posted an interesting article on early retirement way back in 2006. I used to read his site as photo.net just before the the turn of the Millennium, the empty dreams of a cubicle slave dreaming of making shitloads of money on the stock market from the dotcom boom and then making pin money shooting picture and travelling, those heady days when Momentum was King.  And that’s when I really enjoyed work. Anyway, I came across his article, and the comments as he was seeking feedback on the article. Although I’m normally of the opinion comparisons are vexatious, part of the insight from the article does come from the differences and the similarities between two different journeys.

I’m nowhere near as rich as Greenspun and I earned less. There’s at least one order of magnitude in it, probably two, possibly more. This is not something that particularly bothers me, I don’t have the desire for flying. However, I can see it gives you more options in the US, where distances are much greater and people disperse over a wider area; Greenspuns college pals are more important to him (Even for couples/people with kids they get a little more important to people after most have gone through the baby/children tunnel of 30s to early 50s)

He is/was single and is about 10 years younger than me. He had to take special measures to address the social life issues that I just don’t have – he’s clearly given it some thought and does it well. He’s more outgoing that I am. In particular his angle on that being single has a very strong effect on where you choose to retire to have a decent chance of stimulating human interaction is quite an eye-opener. I didn’t appreciate there was this difference, but what he says makes sense. A single early retiree (~40) probably does need more money than someone who has a partner. However, since the single fellow probably doesn’t have kids he probably does have more money, so there’s some auto-compensation.

Time management (pinched directly from Greenspun)

How much work does the average college student get done? Almost none. Yet the same person, injected into a corporate bureaucracy, becomes a reasonably effective worker. Why? Most people have terrible time management skills. This limitation is of no consequence in public school. The school tells you where to sit and what to do and when, at least for six hours per day. This limitation is of no consequence at most jobs. The employer tells the workers where to sit and what to do and when, at least for eight hours per day.

If you’re retired, however, nobody tells you how to organize your life. If you have goals that you’d like to accomplish and your time management skills are poor, you might end up disappointed in yourself.

Now an ermine isn’t an enormous fan of the self-help industry, though I’m happy to accept it helps a lot of people and occasionally indulge. There’s a very heavy thread of self-discipline and virtual Calvinism in the personal-finance world, but it is nothing to the apotheosis achieved by some of the American writers – Steve Pavlina is over 1000 times more effective than I could ever be, and it’s not like I disagree with the efficacy of what he says. But to me seems me as a joyless way of living – life needs dynamic contrast and empty spaces for reflection and understanding. I didn’t stop work to reproduce the problem again in a different place. Each to their own.

However, Greenspun has a point. I found it helpful to take the time out in the morning to centre and actually write down what I wanted to achieve that day. The idea is roughly pinched from a book The Artist’s Way at Work, which I bought way back as a cubicle slave looking for a way out. It didn’t work for me, I produced trash because I was trying to make money which shuts down the playful creative side. Presumably people who work in the creative arts don’t have this problem, or the fact they start off with a damn sight more talent makes up for it. It was in the box of to get rid of books until I read How to get Unstuck, and figured I should reread it from a point other than desperation.

That rough orientation is generally enough for me. though I have used the basic tools of project management for longer projects, such as the open source Gantt Project, and of course Excel has its place in the finance area. It’s not mandatory to leave all the useful tools untouched when you stop work.

Work, cold turkey, rentierism, aristocracy and the Ermine

I went cold turkey, or so I thought, because the word work became associated with a traumatic experience. This made the transition easier. And unwittingly, I overlooked some of the positive aspects of making stuff happen in the world for pecuniary reward, because it was associated with having to suck up to stupid crap. The two aren’t inherently linked, provided you don’t need the money. The money has some value – it is an estimation and recognition of exchanged worth.

And I’m left with a load of inconsistencies and conflicting attitudes because I have simply buried this subject and left it, so it is still linked with outdated psychological forms. To live intentionally I need to dig this out, untangle the knots and live my values.

The trouble is I have spent 30 years being motivated to work for money because Bad Shit would happen if I didn’t. That’s a terrible way to motivate anybody – it’s the Bad Shit that puts the slave into cubicle slave 5.

for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone

Thoreau, Walden, delivering a message for the 1% that they will not hear

And now, curiously, I have the edge on a significant part of the 1% – who all earn far more than I did. But they spend more, whereas I am within spitting distance of becoming a rentier. Much of the secret, as Thoreau observed above, is to reduce spending. If that works for you, of course!

So the whole reason I worked for money has gone. The empty space still speaks – I cannot relate to some of the ways the retired ‘work’. I don’t volunteer. I don’t understand it, and at some level I find the concept demeaning, of working for nothing . Maybe I am just a bad person, maybe I will chill on that in time, though I doubt it. There’s still the echo of work being a four-letter word, and ending up in a situation where other people tell me what to do still reminds me of that fateful February day in 2009 in a one to one where I realised that the Ermine was out of luck, out of time and out of options but needed to suck it up for long enough to buy freedom.  I have added value to other people’s projects without being paid, because of this

Still, it’s hard to suddenly turn off an educated brain.

Gail Buckner, Fox Business

What I really want to avoid is an ongoing commitment. It’s far more satisfying to start in the morning, get some tools together and wrangle something into a more useful form and then get out.

irrigation system under construction

irrigation system under construction

That favours Stuff and kind of runs counter to the Don’t. Do. Stuff  argument, but most of the objections are lifted when other people have the problem of buying the Stuff and storing it, and all I have to do is show up sometime and turn it into a working system.

So there are loads of inconsistencies and conundrums in my approach to work. None of them are urgent, though resolving and drawing the sting from the psychological hangups is probably worth the investment of time. I want to live intentionally, and not shadowboxing the psychic wreckage of past injuries is part of that goal.

Grow – or begin to die within

You have more opportunity for self-development and individuation when you own your time, but you have to engage and work at it. Many people really hate that – they feel they are adults and have it all sorted, that was the whole point of the first 20 or 30 years of their life. Individuation involves being more reflective, writing about what you feel or even things like the Artist’s way journaling. There’s often not enough time to fit that sort of thing into a busy working life, so it easily gets put on hold. It takes time to unstick that.

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart … Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.

Carl Jung

I’d really like to say I had done well there, but progress is slower than I had expected. I have started, and of course the process of individuation does not have an explicit end target. Journey, not a destination etc. There’s no point in wasting too much time trying to describe this because it’s very different for different people. Just remember that

the day you stop growing is the day you start to die.

William S Burroughs, Junky

Observation shows that one of the big ways people go wrong when they retire is they stop growing, because most of their challenge was at work. Too much TV and too little curiosity kills the cat…

Luck plays a big part in the story

More than I had realised, and while it’s easy to point at the things that went wrong far more went right. I had rotten luck in two big areas at the beginning and at the end of my career – I bought a house at a terrible time, and I lost the last eight years of earnings by retiring early. I’ve had good luck in other areas – joining a final salary pension and getting nearly 24 years out of the design 30 in it is a large stroke of luck as is never losing a job since getting my first one 6. And if I was going to bail out 8 years early, then being a higher-rate taxpayer and recognising the open goal of the stock market next to me and taking the opportunity was another piece of luck – if I started now my ISA and my AVC savings would both be a lot lower after five years, assuming we aren’t about to enter the mother of all bull markets ;)

The tl;dr version

Looking back after two years I have spent about half of what I expected, and largely got away with retiring early. I am still not drawing on my retirement savings. I have a decent measure of what running costs are in retirement, I am probably underspending and have space to adjust upwards. Cutting costs helps greatly – it helped me save more when working and reduces the drawdown when retired.

I have learned that being a generalist is also very bad for the way work is going, particularly in big firms. And the recovery from getting knocked out of the workplace by stress has progressed but by no means finished – even after two years.

Retiring early is good  -I can allow the generalised interests that were becoming toxic in the workplace free rein, and they help me live cheaper than would otherwise be the case because of the various reasons skecthed out by ERE

Flexibility and openness to new ways of doing things seems key to retiring early successfully.

Notes:

  1. a smartphone has no optical zoom, and is preset for a good first-person shot of a human-sized object about 2-5m away. Which is what most people want and makes great Facebook posts. Audio recording seems to be stuck in mono and doesn’t take external microphones. Again, great for facebook video. To make a smartphone into a good camera or audio recorder, you end up with a great big smartphone which is stupid as a smartphone
  2. which is obviously a linear interpolation of an exponential function, but it’s okay with such a short period and relatively modest inflation
  3. this isn’t strictly true, as the HYP ISA pays a shade under 5% dividend and there is some unknown amount of capital appreciation too. But I don’t spend this
  4. This is a peculiarity of the short timescale of my DC savings of less than a business cycle. If my savings were the result of a typical DC pension this concern would be softened because I would have entered the market over many decades, the 4-5% SWR would have greater validity because I would have a better idea of what the true value of my savings really was after saving across many business cycles
  5. I use the Americanism cubicle slave because it is common shorthand in the personal finance world. However, the enslavement is just as much for anyone who has to sell their time or skills for money to keep Bad Shit from happening in their life – whether they’re a office worker, a CEO, a coal miner or a Big Issue seller
  6. there is a year’s hole when I took time out to do an MSc but I was sharp and did that in an economic boom so it was easy to get a job afterwards
18 Jun 2014, 11:54pm
by dearieme


“I don’t volunteer. I don’t understand it, and at some level I find the concept demeaning, of working for nothing” : it’s just as well you didn’t have children, then.

19 Jun 2014, 10:10am
by Grumpy Old Paul


I suspect that you don’t have a great desire for status as expressed in externally visible trappings:

– material, yacht, house, car, clothes
– social as in membership of expensive clubs or being able to talk (or post on Faecesbook) about one’s expensive holidays or other experiences. Private schooling, Michelin-starred ponsy restaurants and private healthcare all fall into this category

I believe that this “status” is hugely important to most people to the extent that it has become the core purpose of their being. Therefore quite apart from having the wherewithal, discipline and intellectual capacity to achieve FI, FI will only ever be a minority voluntary pursuit. However, many people may be forced into a subsistence lifestyle.
How much the desire for this form of status is innate and how much is a cultural product is impossible to say. Maybe some anthropologists can shed some light on the subject.

Congratulations! It’s nice to hear the reflections of someone actually living the ER reality, and making a good job of it.

I’m also in full agreement that the control of the desire to purchase is one of the most important (and I suspect) overlooked parts of this whole FI game.

This was a great insight into how early retirement shapes your thoughts and activities. I’ve often wondered why you never put ads on your blog, but I guess the annoyance of reporting fiddly bits of income from a source like that out weighs the benefits.

@dearieme – while that was an elective choice I meant more the Greenspun angle – I’d struggle to work for free for an organisation where the head honcho was earning £100k+. It doesn’t somehow bother me when giving money to a charity but working for them, just can’t do that. There’s clearly something conflicted about how i think of work ;)

@GOP there is something about that status thing – all those mahoosive yachts must be compensating for something. It’s not that I wouldn’t like a private island and a helicopter, it’s more that I’m not prepare to do what it takes to get there.

> FI will only ever be a minority voluntary pursuit

I hope so – because some of the assumptions underlying equity investments needs people to do otherwise. Which is the majority view, and hopefully delivers value to the consumers in some way :)

@UTMT certainly reducing outgoings was the way for me, and I suspect would work for many people. I do know one lady in NYC who has a monthly expenditure that amazes me but earns a decent wedge and finds high spending lets her earn more. I didn’t initially believe it but her skillset is such that while the job is very stressful she can earn more by outsourcing things I’d never do. And I salute that too – she is living intentionally. It’s the unthinking spending that clobbers people, and I fear I’ve done my share in the past.

@Sandra I used to run Google Adsense but canned it for the reason outlined in Hasta La Vista Adsense – basically on a PF blog I was advertising payday loans every so often. Now hopefully nobody reading this needs or would countenance that but nevertheless I am not living my values if I promote tripe like that – I use ad-block so I didn’t realise. The Amazon stuff is usually things that were relevant to a post.

One of the aspects of FI is you can afford some kinds of integrity. I may occasionally talk rot through a lack of knowledge and possibly mislead that way, hence the disclaimer but to advertise products that are toxic to people’s finances is just not something I’m prepared to do. Sadly, most of finance related ads on Adsense fall into that category in my opinion!

Great read and congratulations on the 2 years!

Interesting to note that you are underspending, as I would have thought with so much free time, this would be the hardest part to keep to, ie keeping busy and not spending money to keep yourself busy!

@weenie I haven’t done as much travelling as I thought I would do, although I am more ready for that now. ERE Jacob highligheted some of the ways to reduce costs – choose interests and activities where you create rather than consume, and ideally where you can make money as a byproduct. The photography and sound recording fall into this category – there is endless capacity to improve my skill in either.

If I build something, like say the irrigation system, then I get the challenge of learning something new, add value and can look at the results but do it on somebody else’s dime; I get to drink beer with them afterwards too and they get the advantage of the end result. Things like the sensor network I’ve done as a joint venture because there may be opportunities.

And some travelling I’ve just tagged along – I drive, which Mrs Ermine doesn’t have to do and I get to poke an inquisitive snout in somewhere new. Last weekend we were at an organic farm near Basingstoke for one of her meetings and a party. She didn’t have to drive, total cost to me was £10 (beer and camping) and I got to take a look round the watermills of Whitchurch near where the river Test rises. I had no say in where or when, but that’s absolutely fine with me, and if an opportunity doesn’t interest me I pass.

A very heartening recap of your retirement at the biennium my mustelid mentor. It gives me encouragement as I try to wind down my own working life in the next two years. I’ve convinced myself that, barring an apocalyptic event in the equity markets, I’ll have adequate financial resources. The final challenge is believing that I’ll strike the right balance between idleness and finding new, as-yet-undetermined opportunities for learning and practicing meaningful skills. I am determined, as I hope you are too, to remain committed to the generalist’s approach to the world. May future years be as smooth or smoother for you.

very good indeed – a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I’ve made some notes – too unedited to post here – will have to crib / critique / reflect

Nice post. Congratulations as always! A couple of observations:

1) As you say you’ve been helped out by the stock markets tremendous run. You explicitly cite this, but I hope potential early retirees don’t generalize from this. It was entirely likely your net worth would decline.

2) As always I am going to tout some way you can make money. I guess I see this as part of your recovery too, especially after reading this post. Plus I know you are canny enough to know the value of even £100 a week. (At least £100K in capital terms).

You write: “When I retired I had thought that if I were to sell time or skills for money it would be in the field of engineering. But it isn’t likely, because I am running against the tide with that generalisation.”

…and as usual on this score when we discuss it I disagree.

I reckon you could easily charge £25-50 an hour and help out local people/businesses with IT needs, where your generalization would be a strength.

Four hours a week on average (less than 1/4 of one waking day!) would give you £5K more to allow a little more fat to go with the lean.

And you’d be in control, because you know you could lump it on top of the fact it’s inherently flexible.

I also think your age and empathy could be very valuable here to a certain demographic, compared to the usual IT sorts.

This is just one idea, there are probably numerous related directly to your skills that would be more lucrative.

Hasn’t work ‘beaten’ you, if you can’t stroll up like a cocksure pickpocket and take a little bit of what you fancy before you head back into the crowd? ;)

p.s. I meant to add that I think this blog may be a source of creative satisfaction, pride, and even status for you. (And rightly so! :) )

Really interesting to see how life has panned out over the last two years. I started reading your blog about 18 months ago and it is one of my favourites.

I tend to agree with Monevator, for someone with obvious skill across a whole range of different interests, I actually think you may have a lot more opportunities than you give credit to. I think you’d be suited to setting up your own business, or any host of other creative endeavours. The corporate world is manufacturing specialists, but I think the creative, entrepreneurial or self employed world need to be generalists now more than ever.

@Maus It’s interesting that of it is the

believing that I’ll strike the right balance between idleness and finding new, as-yet-undetermined opportunities for learning and practicing meaningful skills.

that holds you back. I have found the world full of interesting stuff since retiring. That’s even more so now there is a “multimedia firehose pointed at your face” as opposed to needing the resources of a university or research library to find information. It’s really never been a better time to get into almost anything, and the likes of ebay mean you can get tools and supplies at decent prices, indeed resell stuff you outgrow or find not to your taste

Go for it, if this is the case. It’s all out there. The problem is not so much too few opportunities to be curious. It’s working out which ones you can drop with least regret – because there’s still too little time. You get the eight hours a day back, tbut they really could do with taking a few more onto the day. Particularly the magic hours between 10pm and 1am im my view, I’d like another three or four in there ;)

@Monevator I absolutely agree, and it’s why I made the effort to spin the chart in Photoshop. I started off with a load of cash and an ISA, and as I spend down some of the cash and fill the ISA each year I paint myself into a corner with less cash and more ISA, from spending and saving with nowt coming in. The ISA at the moment inflates itself, but it could just as well deflate. I’d initially estimated the cash would run out after a year to two years, but I can get another year out of it. Then I will use a SIPP to live on for a year to win back a couple of grand of tax when I get my savings back…

You, and Mrs Ermine, and an ex-colleague and MattDB all share the save view on working, and that view may be right. I have to first untangle the conflicted view of work, but even after that I have the problem of being over 50 and the last job interview I had was over a quarter of a century ago. I don’t even know what you’re meant to put on a CV these days.

There’s a second issue that is possibly material for a future post. I am a digital cleanskin – most of my Web 1.0 stuff has decayed or disappeared and I am an anonymous ermine or similar on Web 2.0, because being an opinionated S.O.B. on Web 1.0 meant I valued people not being able to target me and people I was associated with.

That runs against the ethos of Web 2.0, presumably GenY were unable to outrun their realname youthful profiles so they made a virtue of necessity. If I were somebody looking to hire someone these days I’d Google their name. It would bother me to see a small string of anodyne Facebook posts from a couple of years ago, a few technical articles scattered around the Web and not much else. I’d perhaps wonder if this fellow hadn’t been spending some time at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

So I’m trying to work out a digital presence policy ;)

@MattDB I’m surprised in that the entrepreneurial/Self employed would need to be generalists but that is because I worked in an industry where the self-employed consultants were either closet unemployed and looking for work or were hyper-specialists.

There are clearly mental blocks and conceptual limitations in me. When I left work I did consider spending money on career change/outplacement advisers which would probably have worked out at about a grand. Although I could live with that if it were a dead loss I wasn’t that convinced I’d have a good chance of getting a decent ROI so I left it…

Hi Ermine

It was great to read your articles; I have read a number of your previous ones and have been a follower of them through Monevator for a couple of years now.

Your post has resonated with me, although our circumstances are somewhat different, but in some ways similar. I don’t think I have experienced the issues in the same way you have, but I have experienced my own issues. I found myself out of work in 2006 and fell into Consultancy work at the age of 48, that took me through to age 52 and then found that with the financial crash that work had dried up again. We had always(My wife and I) a target of £1m to early retire(Say sod it to the world); We still found ourselves short of the target and so I took a succession of interim roles (mostly not that great) to keep things flowing along, until I was in a role that was doing my head in and I realised in late 2012 that we had achieved our aim. I said sod it, I have hit my target. However, my final point is that I still find work trickling through that keeps topping up the finances, and I hope it continues until at least I’m 60, the difference is that now I do it on my terms and not theirs and that is the key difference

Cheers

GDH

22 Jun 2014, 10:38am
by Grumpy Old Paul


I suspect that you folk don’t appreciate how pissed off Ermine was with the Firm and how the scars have left him disinclined to ever again get involved with the formal world of paid work.

After I made my great escape at the age of 53 I was asked to do some consultancy. I named a ridiculous daily rate and got one half day’s work – actually about 2 hours – which I regarded as a success! I then asked myself whether I’d go to work if someone offered me 100k per annum and the answer was a firm ‘no’. Repeating the question to myself with increased amounts elicited the same response.

And I have nothing like a million in savings and neither do I have an inheritance coming.

IMO work is a vastly overrated experience. To repeat the old cliche: ‘How many people reflecting on the lives regret not spending more time in the office?’

22 Jun 2014, 11:01am
by Malcolm Beaton


Hi-using 2004 Quicken like you on Win 8.1-never been a programme to match it!
A bit worried about you having so much money in Firms shares-is this not a very exposed position?
11 years into retirement.
xxd09

22 Jun 2014, 12:28pm
by Honeybadger


I actually felt quite emotional reading this, which seems bizarre for a financial blog. It is an extremely well written piece, which clearly comes from the heart. I only found your site recently, and have enjoyed trawling through your archive. I think this resonates with me as I decided 26 months ago that I would claw as much cash together as possible to leave in 5 years. Mostly I’m doing well, but there are days when I feel like it’s a self imposed sentence. I have no idea how I will fill my days at the end of this, but I guess I have another 34 months to come up with a plan.

Just to be clear I’m really not proposing Ermine should go back to full time work. Or even an inflexible part time schedule! Or maybe not even formally “setting up”.

I’m talking about bits and pieces, little side hustles, “hobbles” as the old boys of my youth used to call them.

A few hours for a few weeks and there’s an extra £500 in the buffer, plus another way of being engaged with the world and staying fresh. (Not the *only* way! But another way.)

Nothing doing for a fortnight? Who cares! It’s not in the budget and it’s all gravy.

Also you can eat too much cake. It’s good to do a little bit of what you don’t 100% fancy in my view. Eustress, the Greeks called it. :)

Perhaps the Web 2.0 dichotomy is an issue, though you have a website which is far more than most your age. Plus as Matt says we’re shooting in the dark with what your skillset is.

You know what you can be paid for! Do a bit of it, get paid for it, flex all that skill and learning and experience, and perhaps it will also help detox the past?

And if it doesn’t, then stop! (And stop if you start doing too much, too, eh? ;) )

@GDH It’s good to hear the work sorted itself out in the end. The power play is what did my head in, in combination with micromanagement, and I can appreciate in a theroetical and intellectual way that having the FU money changes a lot. Not sure I can feel that yet…

@GOP with you on work is overrated. I never understood in the first place why there was a general fear of ending work, though it seems prevalent, particularly among hte successful. It’s being short of _money_ that is a bastard, and I experienced that at the start of my career for six months. It made me very reluctant to have have gaps between jobs, though I got over it for the MSc.

@Malcolm – glad to hear it’ll run on Win 8 – I am on 7 at the moment. Totally agree nothing touches it IMO. Been using it since the late 1990s.

I have a lot in The Firm’s shares, but it is now outweighed by my ISA. And my AVC savings are in cash. But it’s still too much; I am thinning it out by a CGT allowance each year and then shunting the proceeds as cash into my ISA for deployment elsewhere.

@Honeybadger thanks – and all the best for your journey. I found the halfway point the hardest – too far from the promise at the start of the journey and not close enough to see the finish line as real. That’s when it’s time to focus on just taking one step at a time. It did get better.

@Monevator You are a more entrepreneurial fellow :)

> You know what you can be paid for!

I don’t – because remember I’ve been a wage slave for 30 years. Yes, I did run a multimedia company on the side in the early Web 1.0 days because it was new and I happened to be at the leading edge then. And indeed I can still (again?) hand code websites because I educated myself in responsive design when someone moaned one of my old estates wasn’t usable on a smartphone. But as a generalist it’s terribly hard to see what specifically I can offer in a world of specialists. I look at where colleagues and indeed my year Imperial alumni went, and with few exceptions of which I was one, the late 40/50 somethings go into project management.

It’s a worthy calling, but not one for me ;)

I was particularly interested to hear about how long it has taken you to deal with the emotional aspects of work. I had just realised this week that I’m still steaming about the corruption in my last job. I used to think my professional colleagues were good, well meaning people who worked for both their families and humanity but then discovered in my last year that they had bought into and justified a whole field of corruption of immense scale. While I can understand that 12 years of training and many years of work experience coupled with the financial handcuffs of working in a specialised industry does keep people in place I found that their two faced micromanagement of staff to make sure that noone stepped out of line and start to describe the elephant in the room was despicable. I was just so relieved to leave and I mostly didn’t think about the corrupt behaviour. Now after 4 years circumstances have brought me face to face with the corruption again. it takes time to digest what has happened to us. Thanks for your blog.

Instead of working for cash, consider trading services, especially for things like hotels, spas for your wife and whatnot, where the service would go unused if not traded. I don’t do this myself but there’s a guy I follow in Australia (hobohome.com) who funds his adventures doing website design for cash. Trading services should make getting customers much easier than asking for cash.

Travel is not for everyone, but for many it is far and away the best way to fill time in retirement, and not that expensive if you go south. Try the Camino de Santiago in Spain for an alternative form of travel (the walking vacation). Though be warned, once you experienced a good walking vacation, it can easily become an obsession. Ditto for bicycle touring or caravaning (I believe that’s the British term for the American RV’ing).

Should have said you were by Basingstoke, 10 minute drive north and you’d have been in my beautiful parish and i’d have bought you a pint :)

Thanks ermine, a really comprehensive piece. People can take away whatever they choose, for me however the interesting and difficult stuff has all been in the head, everything else just falls out as a consequence.

Given the choice between occasional freelancing or making irrigation mud pies I’d choose the mud pies every time.

@GOP, spot on imo.

@Hilary, you’ve no responsibility for other peoples self destructive behaviour, it doesn’t deserve headspace.

[…] but I think it does capture the essence of what we’re trying to do here. Ermine published a lengthy, honest, and worthwhile read recently that I thoroughly enjoyed and indeed took notes […]

Interesting comments and I’ll second @Monevator that you’re putting yourself down. Change your mindset from “selling yourself” to “helping others fix a trivial problem”. Just think how many people and business near you have teeny weeny technical problems that you’d fix in a blink. That’s not work. They’ll “pay” you (in wine, in meat, in kind) but it’s not work. And that’s the mindset that I think all of us scarred ex-corporates need to get into. It’s a different world: no governance, committees, papers, audits, controls, kpis, etc, etc. But it’s the world that ERE and MMM took us to.

Once you start seeing the world in a different way, it’s *really* hard not too!

Oh, and some comments on your great 2y report: http://mistersquirrel.com/the-key-to-early-retirement-is-to-look-at-how-you-are-living-and-to-ask-yourself-how-much-of-this-spending-matters/

25 Jun 2014, 1:34pm
by Grumpy Old Paul


@mistersquirrel,
I’ve very occasionally fixed people’s technical problems in the locality without any expectation of reward and the odd bottle of wine has been a bonus on top of seeing the relief on their faces!
Agreed that it’s a different world to the corporate game without any of the management garbage.

An interesting and thoughtful post that gives a good insight into leaving the world of work. I suspected that ERE wasn’t all it was cracked up to be when Jacob went back to work and, much as I enjoy Mr Moustache, methinks that it can’t be all as ideal as he sometimes makes it out to be (especially when it comes to cars!) Still, it’s good to have a variety of views even if, in the end, the question of what early retirement will be like at an individual level seems to come down to “It’s up to you!”

27 Jun 2014, 8:31am
by BeatTheSeasons


I see the internet retirement police have arrived on the scene. I wonder if this is the same “Jim” who once wrote on Monevator:

I just don’t recognise the evil tyranny of the office as often described and I never have. I’ve always enjoyed going into the office. At the moment, I work from home as well as at the office and, being honest, I prefer the latter.

27 Jun 2014, 8:38am
by BeatTheSeasons


He also added:

Also, as a director of a company, I suppose I am “The Man” for quite a few people at work … If you feel your choices are being taken from you in the working life, then try to choose another direction. But don’t blame the office. It’s not them. It’s you.

Imagine having someone as mentally unhinged as that as your boss!

The legacy of work-related stress is something that I have also encountered. Nine months on from stopping working I have so far been able to lead a varied and relaxed life for most of the time but in the past fortnight two factors have coincided to disturb my calm; several slices of driving in rush-hour and juggling annoying tasks with associated (perceived) tight deadlines. Procrastination is being applied to the latter (which does not help) to add to the mix.

I can’t believe how ratty and stressed-out I have become as a consequence. The notion of being in recovery from work-related stress might have been something I played down until experiencing these triggers. It has been horrible how rapidly the feeling of stress escalated and is a urgent spur to review my personal stress triggers and coping strategies. It does however act as a reminder why I was so eager to retire and just why I don’t wish to repeat the experience of being beholden to the whims of ‘the Man’. Whatever the arguments for careful financial planning in order to reach an early retirement goal, the over-riding decision needs to be mental and physical wellbeing. Sod the plan if the body says it has had enough; get out if you have the opportunity.

@Hilary I’m with Nathan – you can’t take responsibility for other people’s character or lack of it!

@revelo – touring using our small motorhome is something I do want to do more of in future, and it matches the recording and photography interests well. I found your article on how to deal with aggressive dogs interesting, BTW!

@Reue that would have been nice – I was very pleasantly taken with some of the area around Whitchurch.

@GOP and Mistersquirrel I seem to have acquired hangups re the whole work and payment scneario, and there has been a lot of interesting food for thought in this thread – thanks to all!

@Jim, BTS – there is great variability. I come across more people discontent with the constraints of work rather than content with it, but clearly you have to take the path that works for you. The comment BTS refers to is this one. I’m not totally in disagreement inasmuch as if something is really hacking you off then it’s good to take the battle to the enemy and change it. For me, no spending tasted as good as freedom from The Man is, but it’s different for all. And probably better if you are The Man ;)

@Hamzah be gentler with yourself – you may get some sort of flashbacks if there are resonances with the previous negative experience. As long as you are taking more steps forward than back over time, you are getting ahead…

@ermine – with respect to recurrent stress, I would say the main element for me was the cumulative effect of commuting. Ten years of crawling suburban London driving followed by twenty years of a 50-mile daily round trip up and down the A1M when the company moved. I always worked flexible hours, so could avoid the real grind by travelling after 9am and leaving work after 6:30pm, but it sucks the life out of one in the end. Last summer, as everyday I literally pulled myself out of my car when I arrived at work I’d ask myself “will I miss this”? Despite the vista of pleasant grounds and the prospect of generally being the master of my own day, the answer was always “no”.

This sort of existence can’t be healthy in the long term. Moving close to a job isn’t always possible (my wife commuted by train in the opposite direction) and I had memories of colleagues relocating only to face redundancy soon afterwards. If we bookend our working day at either end with commuting, it should not be surprising that work-related pressure is going to be hard to tackle.

This article was extremely useful. I realised that I am also a generalist, something that hadn’t occurred to me in quite that way. I work in the IT department of a Big Firm, one that outsourced most of its technical IT functions a few years ago.

This may not always be the case with outsourcing (I have no experience of it, having worked at the Big Firm for over 25 years), but here the effect was to change the way that problems are solved and things get done quite radically. Each of us used to recognise how our contribution was valuable and how team work was important, but outsourcing replaces that with a contract, service targets and processes. The aim of the exercise was to reduce costs, and it achieved that, but at a cost to those of us who remained in the organisation (after re-applying for our jobs, mark you). I’m pretty fed up with it.

I enjoyed reading this so much, thank you. I am 6 months in to medical retirement aged 52. I have been frustrated by inertia and found it really helpful that you feel even after 2 years you are still recovering from work. I had been suffering from fatigue for over 4 years from an as yet (then) undiagnosed neurological problem. I took no time off work at all althought did try half time working 2 years in (it didnt help!). Finally last year my problem was diagnosed and although not curable should now not get worse. Even once diagnosed I did not take any sick leave until I needed to for my surgical intervention. In retrospect I completly worked myself past exhaustion. I would fall asleep in work during lunch and was not functioning at home (takeaways etc) I have been lucky as I get a good pension paid immediately, but hadn’t been terribly good at saving. We had been using extra money to pay down mortgage and buy houses to let. I have been learning how to invest (lump sum / endowment pending). I have been saving money by cooking at home much more effectively but other than that don’t feel I have achieved much. I did go on a weekend training thinking about volunteering but it was not going to be a good fit for me.
Anyway thank you again. I was hoping to feel recovered by a year post work but I don’t think I’ll hold myself to that at all now.

[…] finding work, and the concept has been linked to the yoke of wage-slavery. Something about writing that post,  the different perspectives and indeed MMMs angle there helped me shuck the outdated form. I have […]

4 Jul 2014, 9:24am
by ermine


@Kevin The issues you note are a fundamental problem with outsourcing, because you have to draw a clearly defined interface between MegaCorp and SupplyCorp, whereas the internal division supplying the service had a more flexible interface and knew the business.

The Firm outsourced a lot of stuff to India, and brought over some of the guys from Mumbai. These guys were bright, but very careful to stick to the terms of the contract – and sadly the cotract drafters are often bean counters without knowledge of the problem space, so some of the things specified weren’t useful. Overall the job got done cheaper, but it was less satisfying fof people at The Firm and I guess for the outsourcing guys too – if they had been solving the same problem at their own company they would have done it differently and more creatively. I guess you’re seeing a similar thing.

One of the things I really grew to hate at the workplace is it became more rigid and process-bound, with stupid metrics introduced to feed the processes :(

@Julia Glad it helped give a bit of perspective – go a little easier on yourself. The small steps do add up over time, but it is still a healing process, things don’t spring back instantly as soon as you take the problem away.

Just came across your site via Mister Squirrel – love it man! Especially this one… I usually don’t have the mental fortitude to read an article this long, but you kept my attention the entire way :)

I’m currently sharing it on one of my projects right now:

http://rockstarfinance.com

It’s where I showcase my fave articles on money to help intro my readers to other great bloggers out there. So hopefully it sends you some new subscribers!

1 Aug 2014, 6:29pm
by ermine


@J.Money thanks! It was far too long, but OTOH reports from beyond the event horizon of quitting the rat race are few and far between ;)

10 Aug 2014, 12:07am
by 10,000 Angry Vegans


I stumbled into an August entry a few days ago and have been working backwards from that point. I’m now curious. While I’ve enjoyed everything you have written, it having been written in a very engaging, robust sort of style and on matters which interest me greatly, I do get the feeling that what you’ve done and what you describe wasn’t actually that hard, and that much of your rhetoric is borne of frustration at others in your age group who’ve come to terms with rather than rejected their shallow, rat racing, consumerist lifestyles.

It hasn’t helped much reading comments above from people with a million quid in savings, whose real problem is rather evidently that they don’t want the simpler life you promote. They quite like having a set of Callaways in the boot of a convertible parked behind automatic double doors; simpler life to them is a cheaper set of clubs, not a vegetable patch and charity shop Nokia. When the average salary wouldn’t pay for a new Honda Accord, what to do with £1m slopping around in a high interest account is a conundrum almost nobody faces.

I am younger than you with a wife, a mortgage, three young children and a dog. With what I have, and with whom I must support, I still believe reasonably early retirement is attainable. But it is a significantly trickier, riskier business than you describe, and I am given to wonder if hearing from Generation Jonesers – people who took out and subsequently paid off much smaller mortgages on much cheaper homes, who still cash cheques from pension and share schemes, and whose reason for dropping out is in part down to failures of their own expectation management – is actually not that relevant. Good read, yes, useful, not so sure.

Boomers continue to account for a staggering three quarters of all personal financial assets, and later generations like mine simply do not have savings. We pay mortgages and energy bills and council tax, so when reading about the likes of your current asset allocations I found my eyes wandering. Like you I realised long ago that careers are overrated and Amazon parcels don’t make you happy, but while I can stop buying shit online immediately, and indeed have already done so, the other thing is much, much, much harder to get out of – and without wishing to sound rude, I’m not sure you’d understand.

Incidentally and on a lighter note, while I too despair of consumerism I don’t share your view on smartphones. The cameras on recent devices are really very good; good enough for me to eBay my old Olympus SLR and 35mm snappers. Plus I get to make telephone calls, receive emails and watch my overdraft in real time!

P.S. Please take this merely as an indication of my frustration with my situation written in a tone that is in line with your posts. Not an attack. We share the same goals, but I do think early retirees like yourself are in a bubble and dwindling in number. Unless you’re very wealthy, it’s just not an affordable option any more.

@1000 A thoughtful comment, and worthy of reflection. FWIW I share the view that early retirement is possible for later generations, but the form of doing it will be different.

A blog is by definition a first person narrative and indeed I don’t have the experience to speak for later generations. However, the Press doesn’t serve them well telling them previous generations had it all. They had some things, but a lot of things were much worse. It’s almost worth a post of its own.

Re assets remember that the greybeards have all the bloody money because they have been saving it over their working lives. I wondered why I was skint and couldn’t get anywhere in 1988. It was because I didn’t have the miles on the clock…

But in the round, yes, it probably is more challenging now. Partly because of the shift of power from labour to capital, but also partly because there are far more choices available now. Not all of them are improvements :(

10 Aug 2014, 1:03pm
by 10,000 Angry Vegans


I’d be delighted to read any reply you’d make on the topic. I find so little of interest on the web these days, most of it being aimed at attention deficit twenty-somethings with two dozen GCSEs but the IQ of a table lamp, so it’s nothing short of great to discover a little corner such as this. Perhaps in a few years you can write a book, make a lot of money, go on signings and get a posh set of golf clubs for that two-seater Jag you secretly covet.

Just quickly, yes, Boomers get a lot of stick and not all of its deservedly. But financially (see earlier comment) many are just plain better off than subsequent generations, and while they tut over the top edge of their Daily Mail from empty £1.2m nests and moan about the fact they can only afford one foreign holiday a year, the rest of us would quite like them to shut up, sell up, and hand some of it down before H.M. Govt gives 40% of it away to complete strangers – many of whom are so poor they can only afford the 16GB model iPhone.

 

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