7 Lessons and 2 Mistakes From My First 3 Months of Early Retirement

The first few months of early retirement have been amazing – but not exactly what I expected. In this post I take a look at how expectation differed from reality, along with a few mistakes I made along the way.
Adam

Written by Adam on March 18, 2019. Updated April 24, 2019.
14 min read. Financial Independence, Personal. 4 comments.

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I left my job about three months ago now, on December 14, 2019. You could call what I’m doing early retirement or fully-funded lifestyle change – we have the cash to have options and I’m going all in on finding out what to do next.

One thing I’m making it a point to do is to try to document and understand what I want to stop, start and continue doing during this time period. Building a single habit is hard, but trying to build habits to fill 8 new hours of your day is a completely new challenge that I’ve never experienced – but a fun one!

lily-rose-trail

After my first month off work, I documented 7 things I learned during that first month. I knew right away I wanted to continue self-reflecting on the transition and writing about it. Here’s part 2 of that series – looking my first three months of early retirement.

1. It’ll Take Experimentation to Get The “Right” Schedule

A few months before I left my job, I tried to map out what my perfect week would look like. Every single week since leaving my job has been wildly different. What stands out though is how important is it to try new schedules, new routines and iterate on your schedule.

You’re not going to get it right immediately. There are days I’ve felt extremely productive, and others where I just want to stay in bed and watch Netflix (and I have!). Try everything out and see what you enjoy the most.

All Life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.

Ralph’s Waldo Emerson

You don’t have to have a set schedule where on this day you do X and on this other day you do that.

I’ve spoken with a number of people who have been retired for years many of them have mentioned schedules like this. I think it takes time, and there’s no need to rush into any schedule that doesn’t make you happy.

Iterate on your schedule and make it work for you.

2. You’ll Need Keystones to Help Add Structure To Your Day

I’ve always loved the idea of keystone habits. These are the core parts of your day (or week) you plan everything around. They don’t need to be anything major, but they help guide your day.

Duolingo gets me
This Duolingo phrase was spot on.

I’m honestly struggling to add these since every day has been so wildly different. There are a few pillars of my day/week that have felt right and just clicked so far though:

  • Reading The Daily Stoic every morning with a glass of water.
  • Walk my dog once or twice a day.
  • Do a Duolingo Lesson
  • Make a large meal every Monday with leftovers.

There are so many other things I’ve tried, but haven’t stuck yet: exercise, diet, productivity time, outdoor time, creativity time, reading time, video game time. I’ve enjoyed sprinkling these in, but they aren’t a core part of each day.

One mistake I made was trying to add a bunch of these habits all at once – which led to me doing things that didn’t match when I really wanted to do. By switching this up and being OK with the idea that sometimes what will make me happy isn’t the thing on my to-do list is an important takeaway.

3. Fun Activites Can Quickly Become Chores

Let’s say it’s the weekend. There are two things you want to do. One of those things is time-sensitive and you could miss if you don’t go now. The other you want to do more, but you could do it whenever. Which do you choose?

That’s part of how my days have been lately. I been split between fun activities I enjoy (namely skiing), and just relaxing in front of the TV while doing a little programming.

Most people who retire early fit into the “high achiever” category. You kind of have to if you’re leaving the workplace before age 55 – putting you in the top 0.1% of people already.

For me, this instantly meant trying to reconcile what makes me happy with what I feel would make me happy based on what I’ve read, researched, or heard from others. Trust yourself and follow that — not Instagram likes, flashy photos or great stories.

Skiing my first black diamond
One of the first black diamonds I went down at Alta.

It’s surprised me that I’ve actually enjoyed hiking a lot more than skiing. I got to the point this season where I was able to make it down some black diamond runs while staying in control (and on my feet), but I have a long ways to go before I’d consider myself a proficient skier.

Some of the things I didn’t plan on ended up being much more fun than the things I did plan. Randomly sledding at a local park or volunteering at Sundance for example. I’m trying to keep my options open and do what feels right while trying new things.

Sundance lounge

4. Making Food Takes A Lot of Time

For a number of years now, I’ve been eating breakfast and lunch at the office. Usually this would involve a protein bar, oatmeal or cereal for breakfast, followed by a sandwich or some leftovers for lunch.

Having two more meals to make each day is a lot. I’ve been out to eat (or drink) with a number of friends in the area, but for the most part I’ve been needing to cook and eat a lot more than every before.

Luckily I have no complaints about eating the same thing over and over, which has been great for cooking large portions (curry and chili have been my goto so far, and are a great in this cold weather).

What has been tough has been when I’m in the flow (usually programming) and taking a break to make a meal from scratch. Having a few protein bars is handy, but not exactly healthy.

I’m still figuring this one out. Partially by experimenting with new meals, making enough to have leftovers and getting better at planning ahead. I have a feeling this is something someone with kids needs to worry about 3x as much too!

Dim sum at home for valentines day.

We love eating out. As much as I’d love to eventually be able to create every cuisine I love, we’re not there yet. We also only moved to Salt Lake City a year ago, so we have many many places to explore!

With that in mind, we’re trying to go on a weekly date night where we try out a new restaurant. For our anniversary in February (13 years!) we headed out to a delicious Log Haven Restaurant – a cabin hidden away in the woods with a mix of upscale, Mexican inspired American traditional meals.

Log haven entrance
The entrance to Log Haven
Bison dish
Bison Dish
Venison dish
Venison Dish

Eating out is obviously a lot more expensive. The more dishes we can recreate at home the more money we can save. We’re OK continuing to eat out while we learn to make more dishes.

5. Think Big, Then Think Even Bigger

When deciding on what projects to work on, I’d instinctively limit my dreams based on the time it would take to accomplish them. If you only have nights and weekends to work on something, it’s important to be strategic, and tackle things that you can make progress on to accomplish in a reasonable timeframe.

Writing a blog is great because a single post can be written in an hour – perfect for someone who has other responsibilities.

But how does that chance if you don’t have a job? Are there major projects you would want to tackle?

For me, I knew I wanted to do something here on Minafi. It took almost two months to land on a big enough idea that excited me and gave me butterflies in my stomach.

I’ll be talking more about this later, but I’m working on a number of major projects that would have taken me months or years to accomplish that can instead be checked off in a month or two.

So what am I working on?

  • Revamping The Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence
    • Creating a way for other people to add their story
    • Allowing people to get a printout / dashboard of their FIRE status
  • Revamping the entire front-end of Minafi to use Tailwind.css and Rails with a WordPress JSON backend (which has been insanely fun).
  • Creating a course structure to organize content into series.

There’s quite a few other things, but these are some of the big ones. I’m more excited about what these changes will enable:

  • Dynamic interactive content that can be included in any post on Minafi (since they’re written as Vue.js components).
  • Faster performance server response and performance by a lot.
  • More fun development of new features, since the entire site will be using Ruby on Rails.
  • I’ll be able to continue to write using WordPress, but the posts will be served from the Ruby side.
  • A course structure that will encourage tackling larger topics that span multiple posts while keeping them organized.
  • More opportunities for getting Minafi readers involved and sharing their stories!
  • Maybe later a more in-depth FI calculator? We’ll see.

That’s a lot. None of this is about writing 3x a week or spending a ton of time on Pinterest. There’s nothing wrong with those routes – people who do those likely get a lot more traffic than me – but it’s great having time to prioritize what I’m enjoying.

I spent a good day learning how to draw arrows using d3.js for future update to the interactive guide. Every new thing I learn like this pays dividends for the rest of my life – adding one more tool in my toolbox.

Minafi V2 has a ways to go still (maybe a release in April?), but I’m excited to see where it goes. After years of working as a product manager, I have a tendency to super-prioritize what to work on.

For Minafi, I’ve tried to let things live in an incomplete state and work on what I want – at least within the scope of tasks that will be part of V2. This has meant tackling a lot of fun parts when I have lower energy levels and more challenging areas when I’m more focused.

Sneak peak at Minafi menu

What was important for me was playing to my strengths. I love product creation and education. I want to focus on growing those parts of Minafi for now and letting the other parts grow over time.

Want to know when the new Minafi launches? Join the Minafi Mailing list to be the first to know.

6. Your Pets Will Get On Your Schedule

Our dog Lily has always been on our schedule. She’s been accommodating in staying calm throughout the days when we’re at work. Since I started staying home more, she’s decided to stick a foot away from wherever I am.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading/programming in bed lately. If I get up for even a minute then this happens.

Far
Medium
Close

7. Some Planning Time Helps

The amount of time you spend planning what you do is proportional to how much free time you have, and how much of a routine you have developed.

Being in a situation where I suddenly had a bunch of time and zero routine, I instinctively went to trying to plan out my time. This wasn’t the best idea (spoilers for the mistake below). Trying to get the right balance for how much time I spend planning vs just going with the flow is an ongoing struggle.

2 Mistakes I’ve Made

I’ve made a lot more than 2 mistakes. I’m still making these mistakes actually. These two mistakes stand out:

I over-planed. By having a huge list of things to do, I never feel like I’m able to go with the flow. I’m still waking up and trying to accomplish a bunch of things each day on my todo list. Luckily I don’t feel as let down if I don’t accomplish these things as I used to, but I’d like to put less pressure on myself and go with the flow more. This is something I’m trying to work on.

I haven’t gotten outside enough. Retiring in the winter in a cold state means outdoor activities are limited. From my time tracking my activities, I know I am happier when I work out or spend time outside. When it’s snowing or has recently snowed, outdoor activities are limited. Finding new ways to get outside is going to be important for not feeling like I’m shut inside all the time. This means a few things: reaching out to friends more, doing more non-ski outdoor activities (snow shoeing maybe?), camping and even just driving around to explore.

Looking Back on The Last 3 Months

These first three months have flown by faster than I could have ever imagined. In my working career, the longest time I ever took off was a month between jobs when I was 28. During that time I decided to work on a personal project morning to night and launched it in that time – not exactly a break.

The first ~2 months I didn’t have a major side project and that time seemed to go by much slower. For this last month since I started working on Minafi more, time has just flown by. I’ll wake up, do a few things around the house then start programming while watching some Netflix/YouTube. Next thing I know the entire day has passed!

It’s the same with any job or passion – time will fly by faster than you know it. One of the most common concerns with leaving the workforce is “I’d be bored all day”. I can honestly say that’s never crossed my mind. If anything I still have so much to do (that I want to do) that it will take months or years to accomplish.

The way I see it is if you’re bored at night or on the weekend, you’ll be just as bored with more time. If you struggle to find things to do, that’ll be no different. Figuring out how to not be bored is a prerequisite to retiring early. If you can tackle that, the next steps will be much more fun.

Adam

About Adam

Hi, I'm Adam! I help millennials invest to reach financial independence sooner than they ever thought possible. Want to see what you could do to reach FI sooner? You're in the right place!

4 Comments

Sounds like an awesome first 3 months Adam. It’s kind of weird because the habits of being ambitious and working super hard as well as being methodical with financial planning are what get you to being able to retire early but those same habits kind of make it hard to relax or get out of the comfort zone after getting there. At least that is the way it was for me at first anyway. Looking forward to hearing more about your journey. Also, the tech projects you have planned look cool but a word of caution from experience, if you find yourself putting together sprint plans for this side project, and working to hit your own velocity goals, watch out, it could be a remnant of pre-retirement refusing to die. haha

Haha, good point. If I start creating my own one-man sprints that’s a probably a good indicator that I’m maybe going a little too hard — at least for now.

I totally regret missing the opportunity to get to know you better before you stopped coming into the office.

At least we’re still in the same city! Plenty of opportunities for lunch now too. Planning to reach out to some people about that soon!

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