Starting at the end
I'm going to start with the conclusion. My early retirement plan was remarkedly sparse. Even so, it seemed to work, in that it gave me enough of a framework to make my early retirement decision, to give me some direction in those early days, and to find my early retirement feet.
I've realised that while we might like to have a bigger and better plan, it's quite difficult for something we've never done before. With a less detailed plan than we'd want for such an important matter, we may require a compensating bigger leap of faith to make the early retirement decision. My experience is that can be OK, it worked out just fine for me. If you find yourself in that position, you're not alone, so don't sweat it.
I've also found that the initial sparse plan (perhaps I should call it a "big picture plan") can be supplemented as we go along. Each year, I set myself targets, in effect, mini plans, incorporating ideas from my original big picture plan if they're still relevant, as well as introducing new things, more recent ideas or things that are perhaps smaller.
In summary, we don't always need to know all the answers, and trying to overthink things isn't always helpful. Listen to your head, but listen to your heart too, don't worry if you don't know all the answers, and be confident if you need to take a leap of faith. These are some of the things I've learned since I sat down to try to make my early retirement plan almost six years ago.
Back to the beginning
This is how my early retirement decision went, it might be a little different from most others:
I had never heard of FIRE, but I was taking steps to provide financial security for my family which took us to financial independence almost by default.
Despite having an enjoyable career, my work environment in 2016 wasn't fun. One particularly bad day, I asked myself if I really needed to put up with it.
I don't think I'd intended it to be a serious question but, that evening, I did some back of an envelope calculations. I was shocked to realise that perhaps I had a choice - work might be optional. It was my lightbulb moment.
Within 24 hours, I'd decided to quit to retire early. I literally went from not even thinking about early retirement, not even knowing it was a possibility, to deciding to retire early. As I said, all within a 24 hour period!
It took me another two months to find the courage to commit and hand in my notice, and five months in total until my last day as an employee¹.
I used those initial 24 hours and the time between making my early retirement decision and my last day as an employee to make an early retirment plan.
¹ I was persuaded to return on a part time consultancy basis for four months...it was a mistake. My heart wasn't in it, and for the first time in my life I was simply turning up for the money.
Below is the early retirement decision making and planning whiteboard that I made. I cringe when I look back at it, surely I must have had more to make my decision on! The reality was that I found it extraordinarily difficult to imagine what early retirement life would look like, after all, I'd never done it before, so perhaps it's not unreasonable that my thoughts and ideas were rather limited.
Almost six years on from the start of the process, I decided to see how the reality of my early retirement compares to the whiteboard plan.
For - reasons in favour of early retirement
✔️Summer with family - this was a short term thing for sumer 2016, and yes, I spent the whole of that summer with Sally and the kids. Since then, I've also been able to spend much more time with family than I would have if I was still working.
✔️Less stress - I didn't realise how heavy it weighed on my shoulders until it was taken away. Less stress feels so good.
✔️Kickstart to something new - my life is now completely different to what it was five years ago. I live in a different country, I've done some exciting (for me) things, I've discovered new interests, and I somehow feel I have a different outlook. I'm not sure if that's what I meant by "kickstart to something new", but I'm very happy with it so far.
✔️Don't want to work for current company - I'm not! In fairness, they were generally a good company and I enjoyed most of my time with them, but things change and it wasn't the right fit at the end.
Against - reasons against early retirement
✔️Less money - I haven't thought about this since retiring, at least not in an "it's a problem" way. We do have less income than when I worked, but we have enough (probably more than enough) to do the things we want, so it really doesn't matter. We are very fortunate.
✔️Bored - No, I haven't been bored. I guess there are a few occasions when that isn't true, but that was the same when I worked (after all, I was an accountant, which wasn't full on excitement all of the time🤣).
✔️Don't panic about it, I can earn again if I have to - I'm not panicking because I now realise our money situation is OK, but I still believe that was the right thing to put on the plan. If I did need to earn money, it would just be to top up, so perhaps one day a week and doing something I was happy to do.
✔️Can tighten our belts a little if needed - again, we haven't had to do so, but I still believe it was the right thing to put on the plan as I know we could cut our costs if required and still have a great life.
Things I could do in early retirement
❌Learn to swim→do a triathlon - I tried, took a few lessons and spent quite some time practicing before realising that I wasn't enjoying it and it didn't make sense to continue doing something that I wasn't enjoying. By the way, I can swim, just not that well.
✔️❓Round the world trip - If I'm honest, my original thought was that we'd travel for a year. What we actually did was travel for four months one year and another three months the following year. So I'd say this one is still a work in progress, there are plenty more places that I want to see.
✔️Start a blog - as you can see, I did start a blog and I'm still doing it.
❓Sustainability/recycling interest? - I didn't really know what this meant when I wrote the plan, and I still don't know now. However, I still have an interest in the topic and, with a few exceptions, I continue to increase my environmental awareness and hopefully decrease my environmental impact.
Maybe there are some things that, with hindsight, should also have been on the plan. It's not something I've thought about, but the one thing that comes to mind is that I didn't take sufficient notice of what Sally's plans might be. I thought I had, but subsequently found that I hadn't.
As we approach the end of the year, I'm starting to think about what targets to set myself for 2022 - what will my mini plan be? I'm also wondering whether there's a benefit of trying to imagine a longer, perhaps five year, plan. The trouble is that I'm not sure what should go on it. That sounds familiar, similar to when I set out to prepare my original early retirement plan. I wasn't sure what should go on that either, it ended up being rather scant, but it also turned out to be a useful framework. Based on that, I can't see any downsides to attemptingt a five year plan, and it might be a good idea.