Rethinking the “Early Retirement” portion of FIRE

Up in Mr. A, Busay, Cebu City

FIRE–Financial Independence, Retire Early. No particular person is credited with starting the movement but it is here and now a lot more mainstream than before. Since 2014, I always thought, FIRE was the goal.

But as I’ve previously written, I’ve been having doubts on whether FIRE can be possible for me as my employer’s pension plan only vests upon turning 65. We don’t have the typical government GSIS* retirement pension thing going on, I’m afraid. Still, I wrote that perhaps I can waive my government pension altogether (by retiring early) and self-fund my pension from PERA, and personal investments. But I keep having doubts.

In the Philippines, there is only one money blogger (that I know of) that has ever retired early–in her early 30s(!). She’s that Cebuana chick over at Pinasforgood. Post-retirement life has been good to her. Her last post was at the end of 2019.

I’ve also been following Anonlawyer, who’s been retired for about three years. Mr. Liquid over at FreedomThirtyFive achieved financial independence last year and is contemplating quitting working altogether this year. ERN at earlyretirementnow jumped the gun about 3 years ago. Fortunately, he still writes helpful posts every now and then. His series on safe withdrawal rates have been bookmarked for future use.

Retirement from blogging

A common thread among these early retirees is their inevitable retirement from blogging, which is unfortunate as there’s plenty of lessons to be learned from them. It seems logical that once you’ve achieved financial independence, you’d have less need to rant about the finances of the world. =) Retirement should already keep you occupied. You now have the time and freedom to quit your job, pursue your dreams, and fill your days with whatever passions you couldn’t pursue with a regular 9-5 job.

Fortunately, some bloggers never stop writing. ERN and Anonlawyer still take time to write a post or holler an update every now and then. But most will probably disappear into the void. Or others merely wax poetic about early retirement life without giving us, the readers, a warning on the things that could go wrong.

So I’m always left curious, what is life really like after early retirement?

It’s not all rosy and green on the other side.

Thankfully, livingafi wrote a candid and vulnerable post on his experience 5 or 6 years after retiring early. If you’re like me and contemplating or actively pursuing FIRE, his post is a valuable read. He writes in detail about his life and all the things that went wrong. It’s a long read, but worth it. It ends on a happy note and with an update on how he is doing better.

Spoiler alert: He didn’t run out of money, nor did the recession adversely affect his finances. In fact, he reports that his wealth actually grew in retirement. And he isn’t even one of those working-part-time kind of early retirees (i.e. Mr. Money Mustache, financialsamurai, financialpanther).

Livingafi started his retirement life in the usual way. He quit his job, travelled to Hawaii, Portugal, and France with his partner. He still managed to hang out with his old friends, when they found time during their office breaks. He read books, and wrote. He spent time with family. The first year of retiring seemed great.

Things fizzled out as early as the third year of retirement. Livingafi lost a sense of connection with his work friends, who worked a lot. I guess once you remove the common work situation and circumstance of seeing each other every day at the office, you tend to lose touch, unless you’re very longtime friends. The latter are also less likely to judge your frugal habits.

Things went downhill from there. Livingafi details how his partner struggled with the early retirement lifestyle, and suffered depression as a result. She said she was happier when she was working but refused to find a job anyway.

Livingafi is diagnosed with an illness which restricts his movement and requires physical therapy. His life partner lost her way (as a result of quitting her job), strayed (cheated) and the couple breaks up.

The Unhappiness officially kicks in (with a capital U, as he says), and eventually, depression. Now a single income household, living becomes more expensive** than previously projected. With rising medical costs with the recent diagnosis, livingafi gets a job consulting and works from home 5 days a week.

Luckily, his life gets better. Livingafi meets someone else, a librarian with similar frugal habits. He also finally found a therapist that he jibes with. He is now engaged to said librarian. His net worth actually grew in the interim!

Reconsidering “Retiring Early”

The thing about life is that money problems are the least of your worries. You CAN always make more of it. I’ve found that once you’ve removed money from the problem equation of life, a person has more time for introspection. You tend to analyze every little thing that seems to go wrong in your life. You have a tendency to not let the little things go. You allow these little bothersome things to marinate, simmer, and eventually explode into a little mental breakdown. And once you go down that road…

Things are totally different for a person who has no time for the little things. You need food, water, and shelter and have little means to buy them. There’s just zero time for introspection when a person is struggling to survive. There’s no time to think about the bigger problems of the world like war, famine, or global warming. Is this why a poor country like mine (the Philippines) is up there among the countries with the higher level of happiness even when most Pinoys are barely making enough to eat and some even eat pagpag (recycled dumpster food)?

Livingafi’s post gave me an honest and vulnerable insight into life after early retirement. It’s making me reconsider the “Retire Early” portion of FIRE. The biggest stumbling block for me will probably be the fact that most of my identity is tied to my profession, like most people. Try spending almost a decade getting a law degree, preparing for the bar, and taking it! Hell, the blog website name speaks for itself. Haha.

I have a vague idea of how I’ll spend my life in retirement, but nothing specific. Without law practice, and quitting a job or business altogether, how do you plan to spend your early retirement days?

Livingafi advises to phase out your work situation–switch from a full-time to a part-time job and get a feel of things before deciding whether quitting is for you. Maybe part-time work will be a nice middle ground. We can’t deny that having a job/profession/business gives us plenty to fill our retirement days with and provides a reason for being. It will make us feel like we’re still productive members of society.

But then again, in my case, pension only vests at age 65. Right now, after reading livingafi’s experience, it doesn’t seem so bad to keep working even after reaching financial independence (FI) and even until 65. I truly fear getting bored, having too much time for introspection, or becoming depressed in early retirement. I fear losing my identity and sense of self or becoming isolated from the rest of the people in society, who continue with their 9-5 jobs or still conduct business. Livingafi was even ready with a list of things he planned to do to fill his time but still failed.

So until conditions change, I may be pursuing only FI from now on.

Merits of only pursuing FI

There is still merit in aiming only for Financial Independence. First, it gives a feeling of security. It’s essentially F.U. money, right? That in case your employer kicks you to the curb or your business loses steam (as most have this pandemic), you’re set to say, “F.U.” No need to scramble for any cash hidden under the couch cushions or begging your boss for your job, or assembling the relatives to ask for a little family utang (loan). (Thank god for the Filipino culture of “close family ties,” though.)

Times are uncertain and we don’t know when another pandemic will hit. The job market and business landscape can be volatile. Being financially independent should allow you to ride the storm of uncertainty in life.

Second, feeling secure should have a secondary effect on your self-confidence. You have nothing to prove to society. No need to adhere to society’s standards of luxury dressing, or the law profession’s standard of “costuming” or avoiding public transport like the Pinoy jeep or taking the bus.

Even now, as your net worth slowly rises, you start to give less and less care about what others think of you (i.e. DGAF when people chide you for being kuripot (frugal) or for not upgrading to a new car with your bonus because you opted to buy a house instead). You care less about keeping up with the joneses who have buried themselves in debt just to look rich, instead of being actually rich.

Lastly, ERN or Karsten said it well, that happiness in early retirement doesn’t jump from 0 to 100. Happiness is already priced in, while you’re slowly moving toward financial independence. The mere pursuit of FI, should gradually increases your happiness.

How about you? How do you feel about the FIRE movement? Do you have a concrete plan for filling your early retirement days?

George

*Under GSIS (Government Service Insurance System), one can avail of optional (early) retirement, after serving the government for at least 15 years (your pension therefore “vests” after such time). But you only start receiving your pension payments at age 65. I don’t have that luxury of optional retirement.

**Part of his retirement nest egg came from selling his house, so he was renting in retirement and now had nobody to share expenses with.


12 thoughts on “Rethinking the “Early Retirement” portion of FIRE

  1. Hi George,

    You raised great points. I myself am more focused on the financial independence part than the early retirement part. I’m lucky to be in a profession that I love and fulfills me intellectually. I have no plans on retiring before I have to but I want to have the option, just in case. Life is full of surprises, after all. I noticed that among those who already achieved FIRE, many are bored and are looking for meaning. Many people can find fulfillment in activities that make our lives richer, such as volunteering, advocacies, the arts, etc. Money is only a multiplier. If your happiness was already at zero before FIRE, multiplying zero to your FIRE amount would still be zero.

    KS

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    1. That’s true, Katie… Money is a mere multiplier, not only to one’s current existence or state of happiness, but one’s attitude towards life, career, and money in general. I am ambivalent about retiring early, but do like having the option, which is really the major perk of pursuing FI, I guess. Options. We can never underestimate the power of having the option to quit upon one’s own fancy.

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  2. The pandemic makes me want to pursue FI even more.

    I don’t want to be forced to work again to earn enough to, firstly cover the bills, secondly emergency fund and investment.

    I would like to be able to work anywhere (preferably with Wifi), anytime. Since last year I became more aware of why I want to pursue FI and that is to keep on learning and sharing without having to worry about expenses. The goal is to have enough and not necessarily be a millionaire (in Canadian dollars).

    My goal is to become a stoic gardener, living a simple life in province close to nature and occasionally travelling. While working on reaching FI, I decided to have a piece of my dream wherever I am. Whenever possible I like to go out for a walk in the park and read and take photographs. I am a minimalist plantita with few succulents; I haven’t named my plants yet so I guess I haven’t fell into the rabbit hole, yet.

    I wish to keep on writing and would love to read updates from my favourite blogger like Pinasforgood and Freedom35. It makes the journey to FI more attainable no matter how long or short it is.

    As a gardener I love this saying from Voltaire. I’ll try to practice its literal and figurative meaning in my day to day life. https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/cultivate-own-garden-voltaire/

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    1. Sounds like a pretty peaceful life-plan for you, PP Gal! I’m loving the idea of living in a place sa province, but it’ll have to be somewhere close to a decent hospital, coz old age care and all. Hehe

      I’m curious. Does your plan include quitting work/ business / no longer making active income in retirement?

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      1. I agree. Proximity to hospital is a priority or own a fast car (an EV maybe). We can’t rely on PhilHealth alone; we should have health insurance as well. By that time I am probably done paying for a critical illness insurance.

        I plan to live off of dividends which will be tax less (in Canada) if that is the only source of my income. It would be nice to continue earning from blogging or other source of online side hustle (like forex which I am still learning).

        My day will probably be spent drinking lots of homemade kombucha and learning new things (eg. foreign language, veganism, sustainability) and pulling out weeds (and making it tea, maybe). I often say that my job right now gets in the way of pursuing my hobbies, but my job later on will help me achieve FI so it’s a tradeoff.

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      2. That’s right. Healthcare will be critical in our old age, that’s why I have maintained paying for separate annual health insurance (more like hmo), despite getting free healthcare from an employer, as this insurance covers way beyond 60+ years old.

        If we stopped and tried to get in at 50+ years old, the barriers to entry are huge i.e. health checkups, labs, pre existing illness not covered. There’s greater chance of not getting approved for this healthcare provider if one is too sick / has high cholesterol (as one usually is at old age).

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  3. Naalala ko tuloy yung sinabi ni Mark Manson, “nothing kills a dream like achieving it”.

    Coming into this journey, I already know I don’t want to really quit working. When I was a kid I remember asking my dad kung anong ginagawa sa langit. He said ‘singing and dancing and eating and worshiping god’ (for eternity) and I thought, ‘that seems boring’.

    I still don’t know what I want to do once I achieve financial independence and that’s something I have to figure out soon pero no pressure 😅. I think I need to have something to solve or work towards pa rin whatever that may be.

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  4. Livingafi’s post scares the hell out of me. To successfully retire, you have to factor the “what could get wrong” in the equation. It sucks being dumped by your significant other. I’ve been in the same situation, but it turned out to be a blessing… It’s way more difficult to retire early in the Philippines because of limited income and investment opportunities. But you do have lower cost of living (including health care and education costs) going for you.

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    1. It is way more challenging and riskier to retire early here. Once you retire and (god forbid) run out of money, it may be difficult to get back to work, with the meager job opportunities here.

      Pinoys also lack that safety net that people from richer countries have–free healthcare, unemployment insurance (our sss version of it isn’t enough), welfare programs, and generally the ability to find well-paying jobs.

      All that being said, it’s so much cheaper to live here and life is generally less stressful. The beach is minutes away and the people so kind… iba talaga living in one’s own country where one will never be treated like a second-class citizen. =)

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