Note: The winner of the book giveaway from last week will be announced at the end of this post
Happy New Year! Hope you are all warm and comfy in your homes and celebrating with your families and friends.
Guess what? 2024 is the 10-year anniversary of Financial Independence for us! It also means that from this point on, we’ll have been retired for longer than we’ve worked! Whoa. Mind blowing. So, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the last decade and tell you about the 10 things we learned after our permanent exit from our 9 to 5s.
#1: The goal of Life is to Maximize your time spent being healthy
Whenever I have a tough time with a money decision, I have to remember that money is just a proxy for the only resource that can’t be bought, borrowed, or recovered: time. When you work, you’re spending your time labouring to make money, and when you retire, you’re exchanging that money you’ve stored up and invested to buy your time back.
The mistake most of us make is that we spend way too long toiling away for money, these slips of paper, in the hopes of someday retiring at the ripe old age of 65. And if everything goes perfectly, maybe that will work out great for you. Here’s the thing. None of us know when we’re going to die. You might live to be 100, or a random disease might kill you much younger.
My dad was a super fit guy, hitting up golf courses 3 times a week and playing badminton or dancing the other days. And yet he still got brain cancer out of the blue. He should have been in the prime of his retirement right now. You just can’t predict these things.
And not only that, even if you don’t get some fatal disease you could still get something that debilitates you. If you’re confined to a hospital bed, that’s not great either. The time that you have, while you’re healthy and can physically do all the cool stuff you want to do, that’s the most valuable resource in the world.
And yet we spend most of that time that we could spend climbing mountains, instead sitting at a desk doing work for someone else. Some of this is necessary in order to build your FI portfolio, but once you have it, take your valuable health and time back and stop selling it! Retire as soon as you financially can and don’t look back. That’s the only way to maximize the healthiest years of your life: the ones spent travelling, with your loved ones, doing stuff that makes you happy.
That’s also, conveniently, exactly what FIRE allows you to do.
#2: Raising a kid is way easier after FI
So we got a heck of a gift this Christmas: The Plague.
Not the actual Plague from the 1500’s, but pretty close to it. We caught it at a family gathering on Christmas Eve and all 3 of us have been hacking up unmentionables ever since. Yay, it’s our baby’s first disease.
There is no experience quite like having to take care of a sick baby when you’re both sick yourselves. Dealing with crying fits every hour in the middle of the night because they’re coughing up phlegm, while sleep-deprived and with a pounding headache yourself is not an experience I would wish on anyone. Oh and you keep forgetting to eat because you’re so busy trying to keep the baby alive that you ignore your own bodily functions. And forget asking for help, because no daycare will take a sick baby, and in our case, our family’s the one that got them sick in the first place, so they’re all hacking too.
But then, somewhere, in the middle of our sleep-deprived haze, we remember that this is parenting on easy mode. We don’t have to work. We don’t have to get up at 7 AM to trudge into the office. But most other working moms do. Yikes. Pour a stiff drink out for those bad-ass bitches, because right now, I honestly have no idea how they do it.
But on the normal days, being able to spend all day with Little Matchstick as a couple has been really great. We get to pause and appreciate all their milestones as they figure out the world around them. The other day, our baby started noticing his hands for the first time, and was like “Ooh! What are these?!? I can control them!”
I told my doctor this and she said most people don’t have the time to appreciate the little things like that.
Parenting after FIRE is a very different experience to parenting before FIRE. It really is parenting on easy mode.
#3: Making Money After FI Isn’t That Hard
When we retired, our plan was to make an honest go at FIRECracker’s childhood dream of becoming a professional writer. But we knew how difficult it was to make money as authors, so we estimated that maybe we’d make a modest $5000 year for the two of us in retirement, just doing passion projects like writing children’s novels, maybe building some websites here and there.
We were being deliberately conservative in our estimates, but not by much. Statistically, authors make on average only $10k a year, which is way below poverty level. If you had to try to live off of that? Good luck! That’s why so many authors have other jobs in order to make ends meet.
But when you’re FI, any money you make after retirement is bonus. Fun money. It can be spent as frivolously and as wastefully as you want, and even Mr. Money Mustache can’t punch you in the face for it, because it’s completely optional spending that isn’t part of your normal day-to-day living expenses.
Want to buy a fancy purse? Go for it! Take a cruise to the Bahamas? Sure, why not!
When you make money after FI, your target income level for success is no longer “enough to live on.” It’s “Anything above $0.” And you can spend whatever you make guilt-free on whatever your little heart desires. It’s way more fun.
#4: FI Helps you find your Chosen Family
If you’re super close with your work friends, that’s great. But if not, FI allows you the freedom to get out of your cube and find people based on your interests, passions, and beliefs, rather than just the location of your cubes.
Location-based friendships tend not to survive a change of location, in my experience. When I switched from primary school to high school, then to college/university, I kept in touch with a few of my old friends for awhile, but I would form new friendship at the new place. It’s just how things go. I mean, how many of us still talk to our friends from grade school?
Work friends are like that too, because people change jobs. The nice thing about finding a group of friends based on something other than the building you hang out in is that it won’t be disrupted when an unexpected reorg happens.
We met our chosen family through the conferences we spoke at, and even though they’re scattered all around the world, we are all united by our fanatical devotion to our religion…Math.
#5: Retirement Isn’t as Scary as it Seems
Retirement can seem scary because quitting feels like jumping out of an airplane. But remember, you can always get another job later. It’s not like you’re setting your skills on fire. You’re still the same person, you’re still just as qualified for your job as before, and if you try it and realize you don’t like it, just go back.
The dreaded “One More Year” Syndrome is something very familiar to many on the FIRE path, but the funny thing is that you can flip it and make it work for retirement rather than against it. What if you decide to retire, just for a year instead of forever? Take a year off, maybe negotiate a sabbatical, travel the world for a bit with the family, see how you like it. If you hate it, then just slide back into your old life, no harm no foul.
But if you do like it? Well then, what’s the harm of retiring for just one more year? Your portfolio can support it, so why not? Take another year off! It’s just one more year.
Think forwards and backwards — invert, always invert. Many hard problems are best solved when they are addressed backward.– Charlie Munger
The same psychological snag that might keep one man chained to his desk forever out of fear can be used to keep the same man enjoying life in retirement indefinitely because he’s just having too much fun. Think about it.
#6: FIRE allows you to be there for others
FIRE is often depicted in the media as a frivolous, somewhat self-indulgent movement of smug 30-year olds retiring from their jobs and cavorting around the world, and to be honest, we may have contributed to that stereotype a teensy bit. I mean, look at our Travel Series. We did a LOT of cavorting.
It wasn’t until 2023 that the true value of FIRE revealed itself. When my Dad’s condition started to really decline, FIRECracker and I were able to drop everything (which was very little, since, you know, retired) and move back home to Toronto so we could help Mom take care of him. Seeing him decline like that up close was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, but I’m so grateful that FIRE gave me that option to be able to commit my time and efforts 100% towards someone I loved without having to worry about deadlines at work.
#7: We obsess over the 4% rule too much
The 4% rule is both the foundational principle of the FIRE movement and subject to endless debate. Should it be 3%? 2%? What if we run out of money? How do we truly know that we’ll be safe in retirement?
We can argue about the math all day until the end of the universe, but the truth is, it’s fine 95% of the time, and for the other 5% of retirements that fail, there are things you can do to fix it down the road. You can always downsize or relocate to save money, you can cut costs, or you can earn a little bit of money as a side hustle or on the gig economy if you really need to.
Early on in our travels, we met up with fellow FIRE bloggers Rob and Robin in Iceland, who write WhereWeBe.com. They had retired right before 2008, which is pretty much the nightmare scenario for 4% rule doomsayers. So did they commit ritual seppeku?
Nope, they told us. They simply found a contract job in their old field, went back to work for a while, and then when the contract had repaired the damage the Great Financial Crisis had done to their retirement, they re-retired again. That’s it. No eating catfood, no selling organs, they just did a bit of contract work for a while.
The 4% rule is a guideline. It’s not a guarantee, and there are failures in the model, but we in the FIRE community are probably obsessing over it a teensy bit too much.
#8: The secret to building wealth is a lot simpler than you think.
Becoming rich seems like an impossible task to someone just starting out in their financial journey, and it seems like something possible only for geniuses, math gurus, or the insanely lucky.
FIRECracker and I are none of those things, but our journey to Financial Independence started when we were living in a small, but comfy 1 bedroom apartment for $800 a month. We were looking at real estate prices in the neighborhood, and realized that even a starter home cost anywhere between $500,000 to $1,000,000. “No way,” FIRECracker shot back, glaring at the real estate agent. “That’s a shit deal.” The real estate agent laughed, assuming we were too poor and moved on to the next buyer. Staying in that $800 a month apartment, which was way underpriced for that area, for the next decade, put us on the starting path to FIRE.
Being able to recognize a good deal from a shit deal, whether it’s an apple, a degree, an apartment, or an ETF is the real secret to building wealth over time, and anyone can learn it. It’s all about cutting through the noise, ignoring the hype, and drilling down to the math of every single financial decision you make.
If you can do that consistently, you can’t help but become rich.
#9: Retirement without travel is like a cupcake without the icing
When we first retired and started travelling the world, everyone thought it would be a temporary thing. Something fun and frivolous we would do until we came to our senses, got the “travel bug out of your system,” and returned home to settle down.
Here’s the secret though: The travel bug never gets out of your system.
We were put on this giant spinning blue rock filled with natural wonder and beauty, and once you venture outside the bubble of your home town, you quickly realize how much you’re missing. There’s a whole new world out there that you can see just by moving around a little? What else can I see if I keep going?
When we travel, it allows us to see things we would never see, meet people who we would never meet, and see how they solve problems we would never encounter. We’ve visited over 50 countries, met lifelong friends, and created profitable business ventures (like the one you’re reading now) because of where we travelled to and who we met along the way. Travel is, by far, the best (and most fun) investment we’ve ever made, and that’s why we love it.
The travel bug is never getting out of our system. It’s part of us now. And that’s why we’re always on the lookout for the next destination to jet set off to.
As long as it’s a good deal, of course.
#10: FIRE gives you the time and the space to work on yourself.
Everyone thinks they’re unique, but at the end of the day, we all just want to be happy. And the modern consumerist society has developed a very sophisticated system to convince us that happiness is just one purchase away, if only we would buy this gadget, or that sports car.
It’s all a lie, of course. It might make you happy for a little while, but that’s just novelty. Over time, the feeling fades, like it always does, and then we go searching for the next thing that they promise us will surely fill the happiness void inside us, and so on and so forth.
I can’t tell you what will make you happy, because that’s unique for everyone. Nor can I promise that FIRE will make you happy, because it won’t. Not on it’s own.
The beauty of FIRE is that it detaches yourself from the system that requires you to constantly work, and frees up your time and your energy so that you can go searching for that answer on your own.
That journey can take you to some weird and wonderful places. Since we’ve retired, we’ve met our heroes like J.L. Collins and Mr. Money Mustache, started a whole new writing career, eaten countless mouth-watering meals sitting on everything from plastic stools on the side of the street to the Best Restaurant in the World (Centrale in Lima, Peru), hiked to the top of Macchu Picchu, earned our PADI certification, and attended a movie premiere starring ourselves.
And somewhere along the way, when our friends gathered to celebrate FIRECracker’s birthday and asked her to make a wish, she simply said “I don’t know what to wish for. I’m just…happy.”
So that’s it. My 10 reflections on 10 years of retirement. I hope they’ve been as enjoyable for you to hear about as they were as enjoyable for us to write. We’ve come so far and done so much in such a short amount of time, I can’t wait to see what happens next. Come join us, will you?
Announcement: Here’s the winner of Jamila’s “Your Journey to Financial Freedom” book:
Congrats! We will contact you via e-mail to claim your prize.
If you didn’t win, you can still buy a copy of Jamila’s book here.
Happy New year, everyone!
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