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The problems with early retirement

The problems with early retirement

Are there problems with early retirement? Can it really always be the wonderful experience that most of the early retirement blogs describe?

Andrew wrote in a recent comment on one of my posts:

“Seems everyone who blogs about Financial Independence/Retiring Early is either fairly, very or insanely happy. I wonder about those for whom it doesn't work and why? Those who go back to working? Maybe a post on the things which you found most difficult would help balance the perspective.”

As to why FIRE bloggers appear to be so happy and positive. Is it because the vast majority of early retirees find it good? Or perhaps they're simply more inclined to write about it, whereas those finding retirement more difficult tend to keep it to themselves?

My Experience

It's tough to write about what I’ve found difficult because my early retirement has been a positive experience so far. But if I must think of problems, I'll start with the list of possible issues that I worried about pre early retirement:

  • Money - do I have enough to do what I want, and will it last?

  • Will I be lonely?

  • What will I do, will I be bored?

Since retiring, money hasn't been the worry I thought it might be. It turns out my spending is comfortably less than my income, and I actually spend less now than before I retired. That’s just me, others may not find the same.

As to loneliness and being bored, there have been a few instances where I felt something like this, but they’ve been the odd exception and I’ve snapped myself out of these pretty quickly.

Retiring early while my wife continued to work created some minor challenges. Sometimes I wanted to do something, but Sally couldn’t because of work. Or I was mindful of our spending, but Sally didn’t see why she should budget as she was still earning. We worked through these and didn't let them become big problems, but they were things that I hadn’t expected.

There are other things that I believe helped minimize the downsides, and made my early retirement experience positive so far:

  • I had 9 months between deciding to retire early and the start of full time early retirement and I used this time to plan. I checked our financial situation as best I could, thought through the boredom and loneliness risks, and came up with some ideas and activities to combat them.

  • I eased into early retirement over four months, reducing my working to 3 and then 2 days a week. This let me build up other activities and routines gradually, which may have been easier than going from full time work to no work in one hit.

  • I identified some tricks that worked for me. Routine is one example. I know it sounds boring, but it keeps me organized and helps me do the things that I want to (and prevents me from sitting around doing nothing).

Here are a couple of previous posts I wrote that also talked about early retirement difficulties:

What Have Others Found?

I don’t know many other people who have retired early. Just three that I know personally, and they’re all finding it good. In common is that they’ve developed interests that keep them busy – none of them sit watching TV all day.

But I have come across two people through my blog who are finding early retirement more difficult:

  • Person A is an un-planned early retiree having been retrenched from a senior business role. A finds a lack of direction and purpose in day to day life compared to their previous business experience. School age kids and a partner’s career are limiting the choices that A feels are available to them.

  • B always resented full-time work. Later, she was able to retire early, but it’s produced a different issue. She finds many people judgmental about someone her age (49) not working and has started dreading the questions "what do you do?", "where do you work?", "what's your profession?". She realises a lot of people define others by their profession but finds it uncomfortable. She also finds the phrase "lady of leisure" quite offensive which some acquaintances jokingly say when they hear she doesn’t work anymore, even though she continues with volunteer work. These are the main reasons why, after 6 months of not working full-time, B has started to feel unhappy .

B goes on to say that coming across my blog has helped her start viewing things from a different perspective. I don’t take credit for that, but rather credit B for searching for the changes that will give her the life that she wants.

A Google search mostly some generalised lists of retirement challenges, but not many real life examples. I did find a few sites, and made a rough analysis of seven people who had written about their retirement problems:

  • Six of the seven had retirements that were not planned (company downsized or closed)

  • Four talked of money worries

  • Four missed social contact

  • Three had partners who were not supportive

That six of the seven early retirements were unplanned is striking. Does this suggest planning for retirement in advance gives a far better chance of a successful and rewarding early retirement? It seems the adage "failing to plan is planning to fail" may well apply.

Good planning will give more certainty about your financial position, test ideas for keeping busy, for a feeling of purpose as well as plans for social interaction. I'm sure that planning ahead for these things increases the likelihood of early retirement being what you want it to be.

However, the planning process may reveal that you aren't quite ready for early retirement. Perhaps finances are too tight, or you don't feel you've sufficient interests or social opportunities in place. If this is the case, you may want to ask whether now is the right time for retirement, or is it better to delay it.

At the same time, remember that plans are rarely perfect, and won't capture everything. My own early retirement planning was fairly high level, with the final early retirement decision requiring a leap of faith, but the planning certainly gave me a very good head start.

Summing up

Even the upbeat and positive FIRE bloggers have off days now and again. That’s just how life is. And early retirement won’t be the same for everyone – what works for one person will be different to what works for someone else.

There are however some things that can make the transition from work to early retirement easier. I'm sure that planning is one. Perhaps easing into early retirement by gradually reducing the work week may be another. And of course, being as certain as you can that your financial position can support early retirement is critical.

Sometimes easier said that done, but keeping a positive mindset and outlook is important. Transitioning from work life to retired life is a big deal, and it won't all be easy. Don't be afraid to try things, it doesn't matter if they don't work, you have the freedom to move on and try something else. And don't worry if someone says something negative, it's most likely because they're jealous. There's no right or wrong way to do early retirement, and so long as you're happy with it, then it's a success.

It would be useful to hear comments from others who have had early retirement difficulties, and hopefully have managed to overcome them, as well as from those whose early retirement has worked well along with the reasons they attribute this to.


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