I mentioned that I went on a brief early retirement kick a few months ago.
At the time, I had just switched to a new job that was proving to be completely unfulfilling. The pay was amazing, but I’ve learned that no amount of money can really make up for a boring job. Although I knew realistically that I could leave whenever I wanted (my old bosses wanted me back, and I had offers from another company), the day-to-day reality of waking up and going to that job wore me down.
The timing for this malaise was especially bad since we’d just bought our house and wanted to try for Baby #2. I punched number after number into J Money’s Retirement Calculator, tweaking the numbers for every possible eventuality. I started reading blogs like Freedom 35 and Early Retirement Extreme and even Mr. Money Mustache, at least until the hyper-frugalism and frugal smugness grated too hard.
Early retirement is only slightly easier to plan for than regular retirement. Would we keep the house or sell and move to a lower cost of living area? Would we downgrade to less demanding jobs or work part-time or just be bums? Every set of numbers had a different set of assumptions, and this can make the answer really different.
Interestingly, though, one truth became clear: people can retire – are retiring – on what we currently have saved.
And like a baby sucking its thumb or hugging a teddy bear, my calculations were soothing to me.
I’d done something similar when I hated my first job and considered going back to school full-time. Calculating living expenses vs. savings and knowing that I could quit at any time and still finish school made it easier to go to that soul-sucking job every day.
(Of course, I’m older and wiser now and more skilled and more likely to speak up for myself. I went to my boss and told him it wasn’t working. He immediately changed my duties to be more in line with my experience and the job I hated quickly became a job I loved. Early retirement suddenly seemed way less important.)
Still, the knowledge that I really wasn’t tethered to a job – any job – was a little eye-opening.
Realistically, I get way too many of my feelings of self-worth from working. I also have a pretty neat job in a really cool industry where I get paid a healthy salary. And even if admitting this makes me a terrible mother, I’m also way more partial to working than to childcare (sometimes it’s just nice to sit and drink a whole cup of coffee while it’s still hot, you know?), though Mom Guilt often sneaks in and it’s hard to balance everything.
So what do you do when you’re sort of financially independent except you’re risk averse and not interested in not working?
I was inspired by a former coworker who worked 2 days a week for about 10 years. Her resume has no gaps, and I doubt any future employers will ask her if she worked 40 hours per week during those years. I wasn’t interested in working quite that little (plus we depend on my benefits too much).
Our solution is for D and me to each work 4-day weeks. This gives each of us a chance to get chores and errands done, or to spend an extra day with the kids. With the arrival of Baby #2, it was a good opportunity to ask our bosses for these reduced schedules.
My concern in the short term will be my control freak tendancies at work and the lack of understanding from our coworkers. I found that three days a week was too hard – too hard to get my work done, too hard to meet with other employees, and too hard to be as involved as I wanted to be with our projects. I also got a little bit of pushback from some coworkers. Why can’t we have a meeting on [day you’re taking off]? Can you cover XYZ that’s not only on your day off but also at 8pm? How long are you going to be part-time? Etc.
In theory, this does make our nominal budget very tight, especially since the two biggest line items – mortgage and daycare costs – are relatively fixed. That said, we can always work more if money becomes a problem. Right now, the lowered stress and extra time with our kids seem to be in far shorter supply.
What would you do with almost financial independence but with a lot of uncertainty?