Downsides to early retirement
I like FIRE blogs that I find relatable - normal people describing their early retirement lives, experiences and thoughts.
She's FIRE'd is one. I commented on one of her recent posts, to which she replied:
I do worry about gushing too much about how awesome retirement is in every post. Am I gloating? I did try to come up with a post about some downsides to retirement, but there wasn’t a whole lot of material…
I feel the same - but there must be some downsides. So, based on my five years of early retirement, I picked the first four items that came into my head, no more scientific than that.
Spoiler alert! For me, the downsides are far outweighed by the positives of early retirement. I've included a little about how I deal with each downside, believing that most problems can be overcome with a little thought and effort.
Downside #1 - more alone time
"Would I be lonely?" was a question during my early retirement decision making. At work, there was an office full of people but, once retired, I immediately spent much more time in my own company. This was particularly true in the beginning when Sally was still working, but now she's also stopped work, there's normally two of us in the house.
Whether more alone time is a problem will depend on the individual. Some need company, while others are quite content by themselves. I fall somewhere in the middle. Having spent time alone on business trips, I discovered that being comfortable alone was a skill that could be learned. That's served me well, both during those business trips and now in early retirement.
It's rare that I feel lonely, partly because of how I am as an individual, but also because I can take some actions to avoid it. For a start, I keep myself busy when I'm home alone, or I might arrange to meet friends for coffee or lunch or go for a bike ride or a run. I've been surprised by the amount of people who work shifts, have their "weekend" on a weekday or also don't work and are therefore available to meet up. At other times, simply taking a book or laptop to a coffee shop, wandering around a shop or two or visiting the barber was enough to give me the bit of social contact I needed.
There's certainly more alone time in early retirement compared to my old working life but, if it is a problem, then it's a minor issue only - partly because of how I am and partly because I take steps to get enough social contact.
Downside #2 - less mental stimulation
My job came with a whole heap of tasks, challenges, problems to resolve, deadlines to meet. There was plenty of stimulation, which was often accompanied by a corresponding amount of stress.
Removing the stress has been amazing - only when it wasn't there anymore did I realise how heavy it sometimes weighed on me. But I suspect the reduction in mental stimulation is not such a positive. It's healthy to keep our minds active.
Work was an easy place to get a good brain workout, but it's daft to think that a good mental workout can't be achieved outside of work. Doing this blog, managing our finances, my tax returns, research ahead of booking my health check, planning our trip to The Philippines and setting up a run training plan all exercise the grey cells. While the type of brain activity that came with work has reduced, there's an argument that the mental activity that has replaced it is more varied because I now have the time to be interested in a wider range of things.
If you want to read some more of my thoughts on this subject, head over to retirement = brain mush and is early retirement making me slow, and does it matter?
Downside #3 - changes to the partner dynamic
When we're busy working, and perhaps raising a family at the same time, it seems we hardly have any time or need to check whether our ideas still match those of our partner.
As mentioned earlier, Sally was still working when I started my retirement, so while I was thinking about the exciting things to do in this new phase of life, Sally was not. Some of the plans I thought we'd make together had to be put on hold before they even got off the ground.
I had ideas to travel the world, apart from Sally wasn't nearly so keen. There are other differences too - in fact, I sometimes wonder what interests Sally and I now have in common. That's something that hadn't been apparent when we were living our fast paced lives.
This is the number one downside I've found with retiring early. It wasn't something I expected and it's the one I've had most difficulty dealing with. In reality, I think it's me that has changed, but as a couple we both have to find the solutions. We've found some compromises, for example, we've done some of the travelling, not as much or quite as I initially imagined, but in smaller bite sized pieces that Sally's happier with. Perhaps we also simply need a reality check - even if I'm not able to do everything I'd like, exactly on my timeline or in the way I'd imagined, I'm still doing a ton more stuff than I would be doing if I was still working. However, fully figuring out this downside is probably still a work in progress.
Downside #4 - financial constraints
I received my last salary cheque in June 2016, and for the last five years we've lived off the income from our rental properties. We also have some ETFs, but haven't had to draw any income or capital from them yet.
That tells me that we're financially okay, better than okay in fact, because there's a reasonably significant element of our investments that we're not even drawing on. I also don't generally have a desire to keep up with the Joneses - a good thing!
Despite knowing that our finances are OK, since retiring I feel an increased need to keep a keen eye on expenditure. Perhaps that's because at 53 (and Sally's just 48), our money could have to last another 50 years. But I suspect a bigger reason is because I read other FIRE blogs and feel we should be keeping our costs down at their level - a pressure to keep down (instead of up) with the Joneses. Perhaps also, by choosing to blog and publish our costs, I feel that I might be judged harshly if it's perceived we spend too much.
My reasons for feeling some financial constraints are rather niche, coming less from our actual financial position and more from a perception of what we should be spending and a worry that I'll be judged if we spend differently. That's pretty stupid, but then I never claimed to be smart. If it really worried me, I could stop posting about our monthly costs! While my reasons may be slightly daft, for someone on a tighter budget, finances could be a very genuine concern, particularly given the current inflationary period.
So that's it, the first four things that popped into my head when I thought about downsides of early retirement. The good news is that with a little effort, they can mostly be eliminated or managed, and it's a short list compared to the upsides of my early retirement.