Is there a best way to live early retirement life? I'm friends with a couple who have retired early but have a different approach to me. I wonder if their way is better?
They treat every day like the weekend. Wake up whenever, no set schedule, do what they want when they want. Monday, Tuesday or Saturday, Sunday, it makes no difference, they're all days, the same, to do whatever they want.
My early retirement life is different. I have structure and routine. Heck, I even kept a timesheet to check what I was doing, not once, but twice!🤦♂️ Monday through Friday are days to get things done, I even follow a nine to five schedule. Weekends are different, if I want to laze around, that's fine, it's the weekend.
Why I choose structure & routine in my early retirement
Here are some of the reasons why I've opted for my early retirement to have structure and routine:
I don't want to be lazy: I'm sure those that know me wouldn't say I'm lazy but, trust me, I can quite easily sit around doing nothing. I'm certain that's not healthy for the body nor the mind. I therefore use my structure and routines to keep myself busy and active.
I don't want to waste my opportunity: I worked hard to reach financial independence, but still feel fortunate that whether or not I work a job is my choice. Having decided not to, I don't want to waste the new time I have. I want to do things, and I'd hate to look back in the years ahead and realise that I'd wasted the opportunity.
It's a good transition strategy: Switching to life away from a corporate job was a big deal. I'd had structure and routine ingrained from when I started school aged five right through my career until I retired at forty seven. To suddenly scrap forty two years of brain trained structure and routine to go "commando" could be a recipe for disaster. Humans generally don't like change, so keeping routine in our lives as we enter early retirement limits the change from what we've been used to. We had routine when we worked and if we still have routine in our early retirement there's a similarity to help us with the transition from work to retirement.
It prevents boredom: During my pre early retirement planning I was worried I'd be bored. In fact, people told me I would be and that retiring early was a mistake - I'd regret it, they said, and quickly run back to a job. In those first days of early retirement, I put structures and routines in place to guard against that risk of boredom, and it worked.
A tool to help me do the things I want: My target tracker might sound dull, but it's a great aid to help me achieve the things I want to do. My routine of checking in with my target tracker at least once a month keeps these things at the front of my mind to give a better chance of getting them done.
Treats and exciting things can be included: Just because structure and routine sounds boring, it doesn't mean it has to be. My routines include running, cycling, skiing, meeting friends for coffee, and my targets tracker (part of my structure) includes travel and soon will hopefully have my camper conversion build added to it. At least in my world, they're not boring.
Why my friends prefer an every day's a weekend early retirement
These are some of the reasons my friends told me they prefer their every day's a weekend approach:
They're rebelling: The same as me, my friends also had a bunch of structure and routine through school and work years. But they've chosen a different reaction, rebellion. All that time following structure and routine, they've had enough of it, so they've kicked it into touch
Having earned the freedom, they want to enjoy it: Why confine yourself to doing things on certain days if you don't have to? They prefer to be flexible to make and change plans as they go. That's what early retirement freedom lets them do.
It's less limiting: They feel too much structure can create boundaries which can be constraining. Maybe you stop when you reach a fence, without that boundary, perhaps you look beyond the fence and find something interesting and exciting on the other side.
It doesn't have to be "seat of the pants" though: Even with an every day's a weekend approach, it’s not always making it up as you go along. They do set general goals, but they're not as fixed on how or when they get achieved as I am. Sometimes it's just a case of seeing how they feel the day before, what's the weather like, before they decide what to do.
It's a good mental shift: Early retirement is their new life. That's not to say that the old working life wasn't good too, but there are new opportunities to look forward to. Structure and routine was what they did in the old working life so a mental shift away from that for early retirement life can make sense. A new way for new beginnings. Simple things such as not setting an alarm clock, because they no longer need to, is recognition that life has changed. It’s part of the mental shift into something new.
They have the discipline to do it: It sounds counter intuitive, but they can live with less structure and routine because they are more naturally disciplined. My discipline has to be worked at, otherwise I could easily laze about and do nothing, so I use structure and routine to guard against this. My friends have enough "get up and go" discipline to still make the most of their time, even with less structure or routine.
So who's right, which approach is better?
I'm sure it's no surprise that neither one is better that the other, they're just different approaches. We simply select the one that works best for us. What that will be depends on our personality and possibly a bit of trial and error.
In fact, whichever approach is chosen, I suspect the difference in outcome is quite small. I might be more disciplined on start and finish times and spend more time thinking about my targets than my "every day's a weekend" friends, but how we end up spending our days probably doesn't differ much. Yesterday, I stuck to my weekday nine to five approach, but how different was my day compared to a more flexible approach? This is what we did:
Took our neighbour's car (he's locked down in a different country) for a drive and got stuck in a cow traffic jam!
Stopped off for coffee and a crepe. It's great that the cafes are starting to open again.
Baked some biscotti and granola.
Went for a walk with our "every day's a weekend" friends
The pictures aren't what every day looks like, but it still fits into my definition of structure and routine. It's quite like the type of day my every day's a weekend friends would have. No wonder I feel the difference between the two approaches is small.
There'll be a middle ground of course, somewhere between the two, and I suspect my approach might change over time. For me, structure and routine has been an important tool for the transition from work life to early retired life. It's helped make the step manageable. Nearly four years on, I still find this approach comfortable and I plan to keep using it. But I can also imagine becoming a bit more relaxed in my approach as time goes by.
If you're retired, where do you fit - structure and routine or every day's a weekend? And if early retirement is something you're planning, what approach do you think will work for you? Let me know in the comments.