Whew, it’s hard to believe it’s been an entire year (to the day) since I left my job at 36 years old. December 14, 2018, was my last day before retiring early and beginning to figure out what a day looks like without 8 hours at a desk.
The transition from coding, meetings (most of which I was running), constant Slack & email and relying on a todo list to now having near-complete flexibility was a massive shift.
I wrote about some of my initial reactions after three months of early retirement and again after six months. During the last six months, I’ve attempted to slow down more, spend more time enjoying life, play more video games, spend more time with friends.
A big part of that is trying to deprogram myself from the idea that I need to constantly be working on things that are productive. After a lifetime of that belief, it’ll take some time to change my mindset! I still want to do productive things, take up new and fun projects, and challenge myself – but it’s OK not to work on them like they’re due at the end of the quarter (*shiver, that word*).
With that in mind, here’s a look back at a few things from this year that have worked well, not-so-well, and what I’d do differently (or will try to do differently going forward).
What’s Worked Well?
Know, or define, what you’re retiring to. One of the most common gripes against early retirement is the question “what will you do with all your time?”. I haven’t counted the number of times I’ve been asked this question, but it’s absolutely been over 100 in just the first year. My answer is usually the same:
Since I left my job I’ve been doing the same things I did at night and on weekends – only slower.My answer to the question “What do you do all day?”
I had so many things I was working on at night and on weekends that it’s been easy to let those fill all available time. It’s meant not needing to make tradeoffs like “should I go to the gym after work or make dinner”. Now I have time for both!
Having a bunch of hobbies, goals, and interests is helpful. For me, that’s involved programming projects, working on Minafi, catching up on TV shows and movies, hiking, skiing, CrossFit, learning how to create and edit videos, learning Japanese, learning more recipes – and quite a few other things.
I didn’t start doing these when I left my job either – I was doing them all before that. Now I just get to plan my day around them!
Limit commitments. After leaving I didn’t have anything specifically lined up to take up my time. If I had committed to too much right out of the gate that would have put off unwinding after a career. For example, I’m glad I didn’t commit to writing a book, attempting to grow this blog into something that makes money (it loses money every month), or seek out other activities that would eat up all my time.
Focus on one thing. The times this year when I was the happiest and most productive, was when I picked a single thing and focused on it. At the beginning of the year, I decided I wanted to focus on my physical and mental health and used that to influence what projects I worked on. Picking a focus has the added bonus of being able to look back at the year and see where my time went:
- December – February: Using my Ikonpass to the fullest and skiing a few times a week
- February – April: Revamping Minafi from WordPress to Rails
- April – June: Hiking mountains!
- May – July: Training and running a half-marathon
- August – September: Learning and experimenting with Data Visualization.
- October – December: Working on and launching the Minafi Investor Bootcamp!
One activity I love is setting a focus for each month right before it starts. That focus can be simple: running, drawing, hiking, cooking – something you want to keep in mind throughout the month.
Having that focus helps make those small decisions that add up over time. “Do I work on training for a marathon or write a blog post” can be easily answered if your primary focus is “Train for a Marathon”. You can still write that blog post but do your training first.
Make time for friends! We’ve been fortunate to find a number of friends here in Salt Lake City since we moved to Utah two years ago. Between a constantly active group WhatsApp message, watch parties for Game of Thrones/Watchman and a bunch of board games, we’ve seen friends more this year than any other.
In the past, I’ve skipped out on a lot of outings because I was too tired, or drained from the week. That still occasionally happens, but it happens a LOT less than it used to.
Have a creative outlet, an educational outlet, and a physical outlet. In other words, don’t pit your interests against each other. If you want to learn how to program, learn a new language and learn a new instrument you’re gonna to have a bad time. The same problem happens when you buy 10 video games and can only play them one by one. Don’t pit your interests against each other.
Be OK iterating your schedule. Once you know what to focus on, it all comes down to execution! If what you’re doing isn’t making progress then be OK switching things up. For example, I was having trouble working out at the end of the day so I moved that up from 4 PM to 12 PM – which has been great so far. Knowing that I always work out just before eating lunch creates a cornerstone to plan some of my day around.
Before I left my job, I tried creating a “perfect week“. After a few months of not working, I compared my actual schedule to that idealized week. The results were clear: I slept a lot more, I had less focused time and a lot more “flexible time” to do whatever felt right.
The same iteration helped when I tried a month-long digital declutter without social media. I love having the option to just try out new days and new schedules and see how it feels. Whether it works or not you’ll know if it makes you happier, healthier or more productive!
Create strict rules when you need them. One of the most important things you can do is keep promises to yourself. If you develop a habit of keeping your agreements – no matter what – builds grit, character, and confidence. The times in my life with the most personal growth have been when I made a lot of agreements to myself and then kept them. I set out a few personal rules when I left my job that has been extremely helpful:
- Don’t drink/smoke at home during the day – only at night.
- Exercise at least 3x a week, ideally 5x.
- Have a date night out with my wife every week.
I’ve had other goals for sure, but these ones are non-negotiable. By practicing these daily they become clear habits where I don’t even need to think about doing these actions – they’re just part of my days. As I grow older I’ll likely add to this list, but only when I can do something (or need to do something) every single time, no matter what.
As part of this, I workout MWF without question – sometimes TR as well. I’m playing with the idea that I’ll set MWF as “productive” days too. The idea is that on these days I’d force myself into action – writing, programming, housework – whatever needs to be done. Then other days are flexible to do whatever I’m feeling.
What Hasn’t Worked Out?
That unproductive feeling. This isn’t new to FIRE. Whenever I have a project I want to work on – whether that’s a coding project, a creative one, a fitness one, or something else – I feel unproductive when I’m not making progress on it. Having more available time in the day only amplifies this feeling for me, as I have far fewer reasons for not progressing.
Doing too much. Even though I didn’t commit myself to too many things, I still quickly overloaded myself with projects, hobbies, fitness activities, books, things I wanted to learn and more. While all of these were fun things I loved doing, when it came to making a notable change it didn’t happen until I cleared my plate and focused on one thing.
Volunteer work hasn’t magically appeared. I have a confession: I haven’t done much volunteer work in my life. I wasn’t raised doing it, and I’ve struggled to find ways to help that I enjoy and feel like I’m honestly helping out. I didn’t go out of my way to find somewhere to volunteer, so it’s no surprise that I didn’t find something. This is something I want to figure out in 2020. Do you have any recommendations here? Either a way of finding a place to volunteer, or things you’ve done and enjoyed?
Flow has become more difficult. Do you ever have those days when you’re deep in the work on something and time flies by? That happens most when you’re working on exactly one thing and you’re able to put 100% of your attention into it.
Since having more flexible time, I’ve struggled to force myself to work on one thing at a time. I’ll program while watching TV (I’m currently rewatching Lost), I’ll cook new recipes while listening to audiobooks, or I’ll write a blog post while listening to impeachment hearings. In all of these cases, I’m getting things done, but I’m not getting that euphoric feeling of flow that comes with rapid progress.
What Would I Change?
Use Your Time to Recreate Your Values
One of the best uses of my time this year has been learning how to cook some of my favorite recipes. Learning how to cook one of the best returns on investments. The amount of money saved by eating home-made meals using ingredients from Costco is just insane. I see why there are so many frugal blogs that embrace this idea.
What’s valuable to you that you could recreate? It could be something fun like cocktails or homebrew beer. Something functional like furniture or dishware. Something fun like art or photography. Evaluate your spending and find out if there’s something you’re spending money on that you could replace by making it yourself.
Not every attempt at this is going to be a winner. I made Char Siu Bao this year (BBQ pork buns) and it was entirely too much work to be worth it. I’ll stick with the $1 frozen ones and save myself the time.
A few years ago I tried my hand at gardening for a season to grow some of my favorite veggies. We had tomatoes, carrots, jalapenos, cayenne peppers, watermelon, cilantro and more. Talk about a lot of work! I was out there every morning watering the plants, picking off bugs and making sure they were healthy. In the end, the total haul from our 48 sqft of garden could have been picked up at a farmers market for under $50. I wouldn’t do it again, but I left with an all-new appreciation for farming.
Set More Ambitious Goals
The times I’ve been happiest this year were when I set big goals and worked towards them over weeks or months. Redesigning Minafi, running a half marathon, launching a series of courses – all took months of work. I loved seeing these progress!
There were other times when I perhaps should have set more ambitious goals. When I was learning to ski, some of the best advice was to go AS MANY TIMES AS POSSIBLE. I only went weekly and I didn’t make as much progress as I could have. Setting an ambitious goal would’ve helped progress even more.
This goes back to having a solid list of what you want to know, have, do or be. With a clear list, it becomes obvious why you’re putting in the work to get there.
Take a look at your goals and check if they’re ambitious enough. If you accomplish them would you continue working on them, or would that be enough?
What About Money?
Oh right, this is a financial blog. To be honest I haven’t thought much about money this year. I’ve continued to track our spending in my custom spreadsheet and do quarterly write-ups here on Minafi, but beyond that it hasn’t been on my mind much.
My investment approach continues to focus on long-term buy and hold investing, which has meant I haven’t needed to do much of anything. During the year I did sell about $500,000 in company stock (more about that in my investment reports) which resulted in some of that in cash but most of it reinvested in the stock market.
Our spending for 2019 has stayed roughly the same as 2018 – around $7,000 a month for the two of us. That always seems like I lot when I say it. It’s more than many bloggers state. For us that looks something like this:
- $2,500 for Home: Apartment rent, renters insurance, utilities, home improvements, household supplies.
- $1,000 for Food: Groceries, dining out, coffee shops, lunches.
- $1,000 for Travel: Flights, hotels, food & drinks, experiences.
- $750 for Adam’s Expenses: Clothes, health, fitness, personal care, electronics, software – anything specific to Adam.
- $1,000 for Mrs. Minafi’s Expenses: Same as Adam’s expenses. Mrs. Minafi’s expenses are slightly higher because personal care for women tends to cost more (eg: haircuts, makeup).
- $500 for Entertainment: Including movies, TV, music, alcohol, and bars.
- $250 for Transportation: We downsized to one car in 2018 which helped! Insurance, parking, fuel, maintenance, and the occasional Lyft.
Side note: this doesn’t include Minafi’s expenses. I exclude those from our budget and think about it more like an investment that may pay off someday.
Is there room to cut? Yes! Obviously. Looking back 10 years ago we were spending about $2,000/yr on travel – now we’re dropping that on a single trip. What we are doing is spending in accordance with our values. We’re spending more on things that when we look back at our budget we say “Man, that was so worth it!”.
In doing that we eliminated other expenses that we didn’t enjoy: spending time and money to keep our house in shape (which is why we love renting), paying for landscaping, having two cars sitting in a garage, reducing the need for new clothes. Those cuts to our budget are just as joyful as the money we spent.
This has been an amazing first year. Having the time to explore hobbies and interests has been just as fulfilling as I imagined it. It hasn’t been all roses though. There are days, or even weeks, when I just want to stay in bed rather than go for a run. Times I want to binge-watch TV rather than program something envisioned. There are times when I feel incredibly unproductive and other times I’ve celebrated success.
It’s an incredible privilege to be able to retire early and set your own course in life. Fewer than 1% of people retire before age 50, with most people working into their 60s.
Have you retired? How was your first year? What went well and what didn’t?