Reflections from 10 Years of Financial Independence

Wanderer
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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.

They never did specify what kind of contract though… Photo by Glenn Davidson @ Flickr

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.”

Conclusions

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?

Cheers.


Announcement: Here’s the winner of Jamila’s “Your Journey to Financial Freedom” book:

AY.

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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55 thoughts on “Reflections from 10 Years of Financial Independence”

  1. Great stuff!Hope to FIRE in 5 years as we are around just over half a million now. Compared to my family and relatives who all have high paying jobs in the finance, pharmaceutical, real estate, engineering and IT sectors (very typical jobs that Asians c choose as I am sure you agree) , they are already millionaires in Canada, the U.S. and HK. I am just a humble teacher at a university in Tokyo and my husband a salary man making way less than everyone in our family. Both of us have a bit of health issues in our mid−40s, so totally agree that health is wealth. Also, very excited the Japanese government has expanded their investment program that ups the tax free contributions limit this year. Thanks for starting us on this journey in Dec 2019 when I picked up your book!

  2. I must say, I enjoyed reading this article as much as anything you have ever published! It really brought the big picture of why we pursue FIRE back into full focus. Wonderful way to start the New Year, and thanks always for your insights.

  3. “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 would like to add to what you said in point #10: Over time, the “happy feeling” not only fades but it gradually gets desensitized altogether until it completely disappears. So the next thing you find to make you happy progressively gets bigger and more expensive until nothing gives you a high anymore.

    It’s like an addictive drug. It’s no wonder that advertisers target the 18-55 age group. The older audiences have given up on buying and hoarding more stuff. Instead, they are on the road to downsizing.

  4. Congrats on 10 years of FI.

    But I’m not sure why you’re so insistent on labeling yourselves as retired when it’s very clear that you’ve only switched careers.

    1. This is also how I feel reading this.
      That’s the big hole in FIRE – what if you can’t find a source of income after you’ve retired? And you still have 2 kids to feed?

  5. This post really hits a spot for me. Very thoughtful and inspiring. It helps me make the leap as I am trying to persuade me out of my comfortable three-day-workweek into full FI to spend even more time with my wonderful wife and our baby.

  6. Congratulations! I am big fan of you and your adventures! Bought your book multiple times for friends as well.
    Prices are gone significantly up over those years and as I re read your book where rent is 800 and now no less than 2000$ in Canada….
    Some book update for people who just starting require ( just my opinion). Also, would be nice to add to book some current examples of ETFs you switched over time to.
    We follow you guys already for 4 years and you DID change our life for sure! I hope to retire at 50 ( in 8 years) and my husband in 2 years (when he is 55). We are immigrants and started fire late enough.
    Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for your support, it means the world to us!

      We’re actually in the process of updating the Investment Workshop for exactly that reason, so we will send out an email when it goes live.

  7. Great piece. Tracks a lot with my experience after eight years. I would only add that the transition from work can be hard on your sense of self if you had an intense job. Took me a while to make that transition for sure!

    1. That’s definitely true, identity is a HUGE deal once you leave your job since we define ourselves so much by “what we do.” I actually identify more as an author now than an engineer, but that took a long time for me to let go of my old identity. How did you do it?

  8. What?! Movie premiere starring you! When? Where?! I want to watch- please share more. Loved your article, as usual. Hope to meet you on the travel journey somewhere in the world!

  9. Love it!! You guys were the one who introduce me to FI. Thanks for all the amazing posts. Keep writing so we can stay on this journey with you. Will you do a year end porfolio performance post? 🙂

  10. This is probably the only time that I’ve read the word “cavort” twice by someone describing having cavorted!

    Dan V
    Taipei, Taiwan

      1. It is! I don’t have time to cavort because of my busy university teaching schedule, but I do find time to frolic from time to time! 🙂

        Dan V
        Taipei, Taiwan

  11. oh #9 really worried me now…I don’t like travelling not because of the destination, but because of the journey. Airports currently are like overcrowded bus stops. Going thru TSA is almost like a prostate exam, and flying is stressful as hell w/ family. idk, maybe i won’t fire anymore

    1. You think travel is stressful because you’re forced to travel with everyone else. When you retire travel becomes a very different experience because you fly in the middle of the week and travel to places that are off- or shoulder-season.

  12. I think it’s pretty scary! I think I have, though only barely, enough money to retire now, but can’t find the courage to pull the trigger! I don’t there’s any going back for me, I haven’t set fire to my skills but have largely set fire to my references because, as my FI number has gotten closer and closer, my quiet quitting has gotten louder and louder! Maybe I’ll get fired and then have to retire

  13. You should do a follow up book on this content and also on the everyday living a retired life and the logistics of managing your portfolios. I think you have a variety of articles on this blog that you could collect and summarize to build chapters out of to do a “Stay Retired Like a Millionaire” follow up book.

    1. That’s a great idea, but a book is a TON of work. Might have to wait until the newborn phase of parenting dies down a bit. If it ever dies down…

  14. Happy New Year to the three of you 🙂

    These reflections are an excellent way to kick off 2023, and we couldn’t agree more.

    Personally, one of my motivation to FIRE & live the life I desire while in my 30s stemmed from losing my aunt in her late 30s (due to cancer, despite her decade-long battle with it). Many assume we’ll live until 65 or even 80+, but in today’s world, with the daily intake of toxins, air and water pollution, our bodies bear the brunt much earlier than our predecessors. And even that won’t protect us from a bad roll on the dice that could stop our live tomorrow!

    Life is short, so why not make the most of it today?
    Glad you guys got to enjoy is these past 10 years and looking forward to seeing what the next decade will bring to you all!

      1. Since December, we’ve been back in Chiang Mai. After that, we will joined some Chautauquans for a delightful two-month stay in Penang. In April, we will be heading to Japan to experience the beauty of fresh snow (I can’t wait!) and after that likely a few months in Taiwan as we need to wrap up Mrs. NN’s citizenship application! We’ve got a bunch of citizenship application for her these past few month 😀 (Gotta collect these passports right? :D)

  15. Congratulations on not only your 10-year FIRE anniversary but also for the birth of your son! Wanderer, I’m also sorry about the loss of your father. I clearly haven’t read your blog in a few months (like you I’m a new sleep-deprived parent), so I’ve been catching up today. So much has happened to you this past year, wow. Wishing you all the best for 2024!

  16. You guys are great, and I like all of your content.
    The only mistake you have made though, is the constant negative mental framing of working. Maybe that is a sincere belief you have, or maybe it is marketing for your book, etc.
    The reality is that WORKING can be an amazing and meaningful experience for those of us who have interesting work, which uses our talents, creativity and intellect. If you constantly beat the drum of “work is a cubicle” that is a mental distortion that harms your life.
    So that is the only mistake in your model, but again maybe you do it as marketing for all the people who hate their jobs.
    Its much healthier to figure out a way to do interesting work, at the same time as all of the rest of the FI stuff.

    1. Yes, you’re right, we use “working in a cubicle” as a short hand for a soul-sucking corporate drone job, though to be fair, most of them are like that. The work we do now involves just as much typing into a computer, but we can choose when and where we do it, which makes all the difference.

      Definitely not in a cubicle.

      1. Except that I know tons of people who love their jobs and find them very interesting. Every time I read the negative beliefs you guys put forward about working, I cringe. As that negative belief is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        But perhaps your target audience is people who hate working, and dream of loafing.
        But whatever, I think your overall approach is good, but the hatred of work is a huge negative. In fact, I have suggested your website to people and they were extremely turned off by your negative portrayal of work.
        But whatever, to each their own.
        Its much better to embrace work and to carve out work that has meaning for the person.

  17. As a long time fan of your blog, this was probably my favorite post of all time. It really resonates with me, as did your recent interview on the Earn and Invest podcast. I really appreciate your honest, introspective, and enlightening discussion. Keep up the amazing work!

  18. All valid points, I especially resonated with 1 and 10. Too many people focusing on living a long life, whereas maximizing your time while you’re healthy is truly the key. You can’t do the same thing in your 80s as your 30s, no matter what people say.

  19. This was a really nice article to read. Especially Kristy’s birthday wish at the end.

    Happy New Year, everyone!

    Sincerely,
    ARB—Angry Retail Banker

  20. Happy 10 year FI-nniversary! Such a well-written piece! My husband and I are 4 months into the second year of our early retirement. A lot of what you’ve written really resonated with us, especially #5 about taking that leap of faith and not letting “One More Year” syndrome happen (spoiler alert: SO glad we pulled the trigger!). We’re currently experiencing #6 and loving it!! Going through #10 though, especially the first year, was no joke… quite existential at one point TBH, but thanks to you guys (I believe you had a post that directly addressed post-FI issues…), we were mentally ready to face the challenges after achieving FI.

    I’ve long been a lurker of your lovely blog, but felt compelled to drop a note today to congratulate you both and to thank you for what you do. You, JL Collins, and MMM were instrumental in helping us achieve the life we wanted! Appreciate you all so much! 🙂

    1. Aww, thanks so much. And huge congrats on making the leap! It can be a scary journey at times but you will come out a better, richer person because of it 🙂

  21. Your reflections resonated on so many levels with me, thanks Wanderer and Firecracker for the inspiring article. It is a great reminder of why we work towards FIRE (1.5 years to go!) and helps keep us focused on our goal. Wishing you three a wonderful 2024, if you’re ever in San Diego please hit us up!

  22. By the way, I am to the point where I have to work about 2 hrs a week to break-even, so am very close to FI. Technically I am in FI when I include RRSP’s etc kicking in.
    But at the same time, I still work all the time, as I enjoy the work that I do, for the most part.
    I think its better to combine the principles of FI and investing, dividends, deferred tax etc, and at the same time to engage in work that you find interesting and enjoy that has meaning.
    And stop doing the work that is toxic and negative, and shift into work that is more productive.
    But maybe that marketing message doesn’t work as well.
    But its much more healthy.
    On a job the other day, people were talking about how most people are a few paychecks away from doom. I did not mention that I am 600 paychecks away from that, and when including RRSP etc, then double it to 1200 paychecks or more. (of course bad things can still happen to anyone, so have to keep that in mind)

  23. I am always amazed (and envious) at how well the two of you write.
    Thanks for writing mind-opening, interesting articles (and your book).
    When is your next book coming up?

  24. Thanks and congratulations for your 10 year FI-nniversary! 🙂
    You guys are my motivation for reaching my FI number (1M portfolio in 7 years) just before pandemic and paid of house with $2k/month basement rental income in GTA.

    During the pandemic, i lost my job and i was happy at that time as trigger was pulled automatically and relaxed when the world is in panic.

    Unfortunately, after 6 months into my retired life, my FU money is not sufficient to weather the storm and cannot rely on 20k dividends 24k from rental income and cannot sell my portfolio as its already 30% down.
    This is due to unexpected health issues with my spouse who got diagnosed with MS (aftermath of covid ??) and have to pay $2k/month for meds (Aubagio) by “pharmafia”

    Now back into work force and determined to increase the FI number to 1.7M (25X$65k)

    Thank god that these life altering events occurred while i am still young (50) and have decent portfolio to support my spouse and bump the portfolio to cover our needs.

    Icing on the Cake is that our son (19yrs) is realized the importance of FI and life in general and bought your book and read the whole 300 pages 🙂

    Now he himself opened TFSA/FHSA in QT and started buying XEQT using his part time job earnings. The best part is he became so studious and matured, getting 3.9 GPA all the semesters so far (UTM) and determined to finish under grad in 3 years in stead of 4 and pursue medical studies.

    Once again thank you for the motivation/guidance given to people like us.

    Looking forward for your next post to see what changes made to your portfolio and any suggestions for us who mimicked your workshop (VAB/VUN/VCN/XEC/XEF) so far.

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