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What if early retirement doesn't go to plan?

I couldn't be more pleased that I made the decision to retire early. The first three years have been great and I can't imagine stepping back to my old corporate world life. But that doesn't mean that everything has gone to plan, it hasn't.

One of my targets for this year is to figure out where we'll live. When I posted my targets, I received a comment saying "I thought you moved to Morzine, France to stay. Why are you reconsidering where to live?". The short answer is that things don't always go according to the plan.

Not trusting the plan can be a big barrier - the dream of retiring early will remain just a dream if we're afraid to make the leap. Worrying that the financial plan or what to do in retirement plan might not work - is it best to not leap?

Maybe my experience is a useful example. There are things that didn't go to plan, but they haven't stopped my early retirement being a success. I worried a lot whether early retirement was the right decision, but it didn't stop me making the leap, and I haven't regretted that leap for a second.

My original early retirement plan

Once I'd given notice to my employer in February 2016, these were some of the big things on my plan:

  1. July 2016 - start of early retirement

  2. July 2017 - start one year of around the world travels

  3. August 2018 - Sally planned to return to work, perhaps in Asia or Africa

Comparing plan to actual

I was glad to have a plan, but that doesn't mean that things went according to it. Here are three important parts that didn't go according to plan:

Planned: July 2016 - start of early retirement ❌

Actual: That didn't happen. Instead I was persuaded to return to work on a part time consultancy role🤦‍♂️

Planned: July 2017 - start one year of around the world travels ❌

Actual: Another thing that didn't happen. Sally and I had got our wires crossed. How, I don't know, but I was thinking we were off traveling while Sally was wanting to carry on working her job🤷‍♂️. We've subsequently done some traveling, four months at the end of 2018 and another three months at the end of 2019, but it's later and not quite what I had imagined in my original plan.

Planned: August 2018 - Sally planned to return to work, perhaps in Asia or Africa, and I would go with her ❌

Actual: Sally changed her mind and decided to extend her career break. Instead of moving with her job, we moved into a small vacation/rental apartment that we'd bought in Morzine, France.

Does it matter?

Those three things were important parts of my early retirement plan and all three of them were either delayed, changed a bit or changed a lot.

Does it matter? Perhaps a bit for some elements but overall, no, it doesn't matter. Looking at the items individually:

  • The consultancy was a mistake, I shouldn't have let myself be persuaded to do it, but I was out of it after six months. That's not the longest of time.

  • Our travelling isn't quite how I'd imagined, but we've still had two wonderful trips. I'd rather dwell on the bits we've done, not the bits we haven't, and remember that we can do more travelling in the future.

  • We haven't relocated to somewhere like Asia or Africa because Sally hasn't returned to work. It's turned out to be positive as I've since realised I don't want to set up a new life in a far off land for just a couple of years (the length of time Sally expected her contract to be). We also got the chance to spend time in Morzine, have two ski seasons plus a summer in the Alps, and consider whether this is somewhere we may wish to stay longer term.

So does it matter that some things haven't gone to plan? Not really. Plans get made, circumstances change, we adapt and move on. Plans are good, but we shouldn't look upon them as being cast in stone. By the way, change can be good too.

Final thoughts

So how about those who think or dream about retiring early but are loathe/afraid to take the leap?

The reality is that most things will work and, when somethings goes astray, we can usually make adjustments. I figure that if we've been smart enough to get to the point where early retirement is a real option, then we're smart enough to deal with some changes to the plan.

Also, I suspect for every example of a deviation from the plan, there are many more things that work out. For me, the financial plan has been a success, my worries over whether we'd have enough money were unfounded. The social side has worked out too. Where things deviated, I've made adjustments. I guess I could complain about the few things that haven't quite panned out as expected, or instead I can think of how I successfully managed the adjustments and also of the many more things that have been wonderful and which I wouldn't have done if I hadn't taken that early retirement leap.

So is Morzine going to be a longer term home? As I write this, I don't know. It wasn't even a consideration in the original plan, but it does have plenty of plus points as well as a few challenges too. We need to think it through and make a call, hoping that we make the right one, but knowing that if it turns out that we err, then we'll simply adjust again.

One of the plus points...the awesome view from our apartment as we mull over our choices😀


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