Monday, February 17, 2020

Maybe We Won’t Retire Just Yet?

Mrs. Done by Forty and I have always been planners. Early on in our relationship, we created a New Year's Day tradition of going to The Olive Garden and planning out the upcoming year over salad and breadsticks.

The restaurant has changed but the routine is the same: we both bring our notebooks, we ask for a booth, we eat too much, and just talk about everything that we think would be cool to do with this one big life we’re making together. By the end of the meal, we have a few pages of things we both will try to make happen: travel, work goals, money goals, family goals, all of it.

For most of the past decade or so, an early retirement has been part of those plans. While there are parts of my job I find fulfilling, after working for Fortune 500 corporations for over a decade I think I’m ready for something other than this sort of desk life, Monday through Friday. The pay is fantastic and working at home is a joy for me. There’s no micromanaging and, when this job is good, it’s really good: even a bit purposeful.

But when it’s bad, it’s real bad. The stress from work spills over into my home life. I find myself having trouble sleeping when I have too many projects, as I lie in bed worrying about how I can possibly get it all done in time. I’m not as connected with Mrs. Done by Forty or Baby AF when work is like that: only giving divided attention to everyone.

So, for the past nine years, the plan was to eventually leave this sort of traditional full time work. To actually retire, at least for a while. We talked about living abroad for the first year. Maybe getting a little 13 foot Scamp and towing it around the country for a while, before Baby AF went to school. Spending a month visiting family, and helping out with their kiddos or with family members who could use a hand.

Mrs. Done by Forty decided somewhere along the way in her PhD program that she didn’t want to pursue a tenure track position. Academia was pretty rough on her for the years she devoted to the program: she wasn’t sure she wanted to go back for a second helping. And we have a community of close friends here; she didn’t want to pick up and leave for a new state, just to have a chance at maybe getting tenure after another few grueling years.

So her plan was to avoid full time work as well, and maybe when the kids went to school we’d both decide to work part time for an organization we liked, or volunteer. Still, when we could, we thought we’d take a nice long break from work.

But something changed last year when Mrs. Done by Forty was invited to interview for a post-doc. At first, she was sure she wouldn’t take the position: she only interviewed to be polite. But then when she learned more about the job, she was excited about the possibility. We’d have to put Baby AF in daycare for the first time, but he was already over a year old and it seemed like it might be a good thing for him.

Turns out, the job was a good thing for Mrs. Done by Forty, too, as well as our relationship. She got some time away from being ‘on’ as a mom 24/7. She got some time to put her skills and knowledge to use in a professional setting where her contributions were valued. And as weird as it might sound, we got some time alone from each other, too. Since I work from home and she wrote her dissertation from home, and Baby AF usually doesn’t leave the house on his own, we were all together. All the time.

Of course, we like spending time together. But we probably got too much of a good thing, literally being around each other every hour of every day. It took Mrs. Done by Forty working outside the home for us to realize that.

But ever since she took the job, we’ve been kind of dancing around the issue of what this means for our initial plan for early retirement. The post-doc is technically a contract position, only open for two years. But there’s talk of offering a permanent role. If they offered that, would she take it? Would she want to continue working full time or part time? And for how long?

And we’re planning on growing the family, adding the yet-to-be-named MC Baby to the mix. Would she want to take more than the twelve weeks of maternity leave they offer? (Privilege check: twelve weeks paid is pretty amazing here in the States. Hashtag blessed.)

I’m looking at these things from a slightly different perspective. I am totally cool with my partner choosing whatever career path is best for her. But the kind of early retirement we’d been talking about had us all hanging out together (even if not 24/7). Would I want to try to be a stay at home dad, or keep the kids in daycare? Would I still want to leave traditional work if it meant I wouldn’t have my best friend around each day to play board games with and take day trips and eat meals with and maybe day drink with sometimes?

What about living abroad for a year? What about towing that Scamp and camping in state parks all around our nation before the kids went off to school?

These are very lucky problems to have. The kind that revolve around the preposterously fortunate thing you’ve been working for not necessarily turning out exactly the way you thought.

Still, they are our problems, if we can even call them that. It’s just proving sometimes tricky for us to make all the pieces fit together perfectly once one of us finds out that we maybe want to do something different with our lives.

Welcome to marriage, right?

I’m genuinely happy for Mrs. Done by Forty in that she’s found something that is fulfilling for her, in her field, and right in our backyard, too. (The office is like two miles from our house.) I can see how much happier we are with this new set up, how Baby AF is thriving in his pricey daycare, and how my partner is thriving in her new career.

But that also means I need to start thinking more about changing my plans for a work optional life. I have some ideas, some very high level ones. Maybe writing about them will help figure out what path I ought to take.

Idea One: Stay at My Current Job

Upsides: Good money, good benefits, work-from-home, autonomy, can pad accounts quicker/to a ridiculous degree.

Downsides: Too much stress, lacking general feelings of purpose, been there so long it is a bit stagnant.

Idea Two: Leave work as planned, Lean into Creative Projects (podcast, make a board game, more blog posts or new blog, building a teardrop/campervan interior, etc.)

Upsides: Creativity, autonomy, flexibility, novelty.

Downsides: A little too focused on the ‘self', potential to spread too thin on too many projects, potential to be a bit lonely/isolated.

Idea Three: Leave work as planned, but work part time as a substitute teacher.

Upsides: Flexibility, earning a bit of side income, getting back into the classroom and using teaching credential a bit, potentially may like it and could have a second act as a teacher, feelings of contributing to the community/doing good/purpose, could still leave time for family &; projects listed above.

Downsides: Teaching was the most stressful thing I ever did, so there’s that. Very low pay, possibly no benefits, likely not being seen as a ‘real teacher’ by the rest of the faculty/staff, may not get many of the ‘feeling’ upsides above if so.

Listing all these things out, I wonder if it sounds like I’m complaining, or mourning the loss of a dream or something. I don’t want it to come across that way, at least. I’ve never been great at changing plans, and this one is proving difficult to get my mind wrapped around. Usually with financial independence, I feel a spark of enthusiasm. I like that there will be options and freedom and being able to do whatever sounds like it will be fulfilling next year.

But these changes, since they’re coming from Mrs. Done by Forty’s desire to work in a career she’s passionate about, mean that I’m coming to terms a bit more with the compromises that we'd have to make. It’s less about embracing a feeling of total freedom, and more about the hard choices involved building a life together with someone else, this person who's not you. The choices we make are independent, but linked, too. The things one of us decides to do impacts the other.

I am trying to learn to be more flexible. Plans change. They often have to, and sometimes these unexpected changes end up being better for us in the long run. That was the case with Mrs. Done by Forty working in the first place. At first we were worried but, after a few months, we looked up and we were happier, less stressed, and just in a better place in our relationship.

So why I am I so apprehensive?

I guess I’m bummed about missing out on some of the dreamy, insta-worthy sort of things we might have done immediately after hitting financial independence. Living abroad for a bit, doing some slow travel in a little van or something: the sort of things only possible when we didn't have jobs tying us down, and before Baby AF started kindergarten.

Would we have even done those things?

Should I really care if our early retirement seems particularly cool to other people?

And why am I worried about what people think when, if we have the chance to retire, Mrs. Done by Forty and I just decide to do other sorts of work?

I guess as we approach financial independence, the hazy dream of freedom and possibilities is coming more in to focus. It looks different close up than it did years ago, when it was still on the horizon. And now that it's nearly here, I guess both of us are trying to figure out what that means for us on a daily basis. I'll have to bend some, and Mrs. Done by Forty will, too. Even with all the possibilities, there's going to be some meeting in the middle, for sure.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

As always, thanks for reading.

*Photo is from i_yudai at Flickr Creative Commons.

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  1. I think you'll have to make plans as you go. You never know what's going to happen in the future. From what I see, it's actually a good thing. You get time apart from each other. You could stagger your retirement so you won't worry about health insurance. It's more options for everyone.
    Also, you could probably still take a year off to travel at some point. It won't be a huge deal to take the kids out of school when they're young. Your wife might be able to take a year sabbatical or do a year of research oversea. Our neighbor went to Sri Lanka for a year and had a great time. They're in academia too.
    Good luck!

    1. Good point about making plans as you go, Joe. There's too much life left to know how it's all going to turn out, and that's a very good thing.

      Staggering our formal retirements is a neat idea that could have some benefits, even if I end up working a bit part time.

      And I love the idea of a year sabbatical: could be the best of both worlds there. Thanks for the idea!

  2. i think it's tempting to "go for it" and do those insta-worthy things you mention. i have wondered something similar if we should retire just because i write about personal finance and we "can" retire right now. the things is this: life ain't bad right now. we seem to have a good balance and jobs we don't mind and plenty of free time.

    i guess you gotta ask yourself for whom you would be doing it if you pull the plug? kids complicate things compared to our situation for sure.

    1. Freddy!

      It seems like we're in a similar place, where we could retire but, then, things are pretty damn good right now, or at least pretty darn good for Mrs. Done by Forty's career. Maybe sticking with what's working isn't so bad.

      I'd like to think that I'd be pulling the plug for me, and for us, and for Baby AF, too. I mean, that would be the ideal. But reality shows that some of the options cannibalize the others.

  3. I like that you have these choices!

    Is there the possibility of Option 4 where you combine Idea 2 + periodic sabbaticals for Mrs. DbF to do some of the cool retired life travel? Or Option 5: mimic Retired by Forty's pattern of doing SAHP life plus some of your own projects plus some travel with the kid(s)? PiC has traveled with JB a few times solo and they seem to really love it.

    1. Hi Revanche!

      Yes, I agree that a combination of idea 2 plus a year sabbatical is a very tempting one. I have to run this by Mrs. Done by Forty (and eventually her employer) to see if it's something that would fly.

      The stay at home dad thing was part of the original plan and has a lot of appeal. But the way I was imagining it was that Mrs. Done by Forty and I would both be there, tag teaming the two kiddos, giving each other breaks to get out of the house and do adult things, stuff like that. It certainly feels different if I imagine it all on my own...

  4. Let me share some of my thoughts:
    1. You can take Baby at 6 or 7, or whenever really - on their summer holidays. Now I know US employers are RUBBISH at giving leave for lengthier durations, but if you're FI, if shouldn't matter if they fire you right? (Can you tell I'm Australian?)
    2. Maybe 'lean out' of your job. Keep taking their sweet sweet cash for as long as you can, but don't worry. Easier said than done. But work on boundaries, work on knowing the buck truly doesn't stop with you in a big company. You're a cog in the wheel and they can live without you - and if you get 'too bad' then you might be RE by them (again, not ideal, but also, not the worse, you're FI, or near enough. You have an alternative industry and qual!)
    3. Oh man, I feel ya - I'm single and it's shitty at times, but my life and plans are entirely mine. I can see myself feeling like you, if I was to find my plans evolved cause of my SO, even if I loved them, cause, well I'm used to having autonomous plans!

    FYI, I'm not FI, but I took 6 months between a ridiculously well paid but frustrating and mostly boring Govt contract. And then went into funerals with a considerable pay cut - which sucks cause I have baller tastes. But I have minimal stress (sure, things go wrong), but I have walk to work-ability. I have good hours. So, my mortgage isn't paid off. Meh. I have a long life ahead, and I could see me paying off that mortgage, and having all the money, but still days to fill. And having tried six months, it's nice, but it ain't the utopia I see some people think it might be. I got bored, I was lucky to have friends on maternity leave... but yeah. Work is good for me, in more ways than $

    1. Sorry for the late reply, Sarah! And good to hear from you again.

      Summer holiday, once Baby AF is in school, will surely be part of our plans. They've gone and reduced summer break to 2 months instead of 3, but still: probably enough time to do a little travel, even slow travel.

      I do think leaning out is an option, though the problem for me personally is that I feel a lot of stress when work piles up. I tend to do better from a stress perspective when I stay on top of work.

      I definitely hear you on being single. There's some very nice things about having more control over your life. Having been on both sides of that, I personally prefer being with my partner, and by a good bit, too. But to each their own!

      It sounds like you have a good work situation, and good on you for taking a break! I, too, have a very nice commute (from the bedroom to the office...and then a bike ride to the library each day just to get a change of scenery). I like work, but am not sure I'd take a position that put me back in a real commute. :0)

  5. I coined a new term last month that makes me happy. The term is "financial flexibility" and it is my current goal (replacing financial independence). It means that I still need to work but the need for income doesn't drive my choices. You both have achieved this. !

    1. Hi, T!

      So cool that you came to the blog and commented. Thank you!

      I like the idea of financial flexibility and you're right, it's a good thing and something we've achieved. I should count the good things along with those that are more difficult. :)

  6. I am somewhat biased but I think #2 sounds like a far more rewarding life to me :)

    The loss of the extremely slow travel thing is the biggest downer for me here but you could still do some "slow travel lite" as others have commented on as well.

    You are right that these are nice problems to have compared to others, but they are real to you so no need to be apologetic about it. I look forward to reading about how everything pans out, your overall happiness seems to be increasing as time goes on so you are definitely doing all the right things so far, it doesn't matter so much if it turns out different to how you thought it would.

    For example, I thought about travel etc years ago when starting the FI stuff, but now we are parents it's a massively lower priority (we still go away a lot but it's far more local and low key)