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ESI Money's Five Crucial Retirement Categories - a Framework for Retirement

Who is this post for?

  • The person thinking about early retirement?

  • Someone already retired, but finding it isn't as straightforward as they'd hoped?

  • Those who reckon they've got retired life pretty well figured out?

My view, it's all of the above.

ESI Money's five crucial retirement categories provide a good framework for a retirement plan, which is useful if you are considering early retirement, or are already retired but still trying to figure out how to make it work in practice. And for those who reckon they've already got it all figured out, there's always room for improvement, so perhaps some additional reflection can lead to an even better best retirement life!

I wish I could say that I came up with this framework, but I'm just not that smart. However, the next best thing is to spot when someone else has a good idea, which is what happened when I stumbled across ESI Money's Huge List of Awesome Retirement Activities.

After extensive reading, talking to retirees, interviewing retirees, and living in retirement himself, he's created five categories that he believes make up the best retirement life for most people.

  • Health and Fitness — Getting and keeping your body in good and healthy shape.

  • Fun — Entertainment and enjoyment and relaxing.

  • Work and Work-Like Activities — Work itself or activities that resemble work in form and function.

  • Social Interaction — Regular connection with others.

  • Mental Stimulation — keeping our minds engaged and sharp.

So if you are thinking about early retirement, you might want to use these headings as a framework for your planning. And if you're already retired and finding it's not going quite as swimmingly as you'd hoped, perhaps check how you fare against each category to see if it identifies some gaps that can be plugged.

My early retirement is going well, but I've still taken time to reflect on how I'm doing within the five crucial retirement activities framework. Hey, why not? It will either result in a congratulatory self pat on the back as I tell myself how awesome I am to have got everything so perfect, or highlight something that could lead to an even better early retired life. There's no downside!

It might be a little dated, but I've used my What I do and am I bored post from 2019 as a basis for completing my five crucial retirement activities assessment:

Health & Fitness

I run, cycle, alpine ski and ski tour. I also try to walk places when I can. My diet is mostly healthy, and I'm now into my third year without alcohol.


I enjoy my exercise activities, particularly when done with other people. I also enjoy doing my blog and planning and researching items of interest. Going to coffee shops with friends. And planning for and taking trips/travelling is fun too.

Work & work like activities

My blog, looking after the finances, investments and rental properties, getting to grips with life admin in France, researching items of interest such as travel, campervans, tiny houses(?). Doing chores such as housework or grocery shopping. Training for a specific running event may even count as a work like activity.

Social interaction

I enjoy social interaction, but I don't need a ton of it to be OK. Exercise activities with others is one source, coffee with friends another. Time with family & friends.

Mental Stimulation

Most things in the work & work like activities count as mental stimulation. Trying to learn French. Also travel, particularly when I travel to somewhere or in a way that is outside of my comfort zone.

In case you're interested, the chart below shows how many hours I spent on each type of activity over a two week period back in April 2019.

Back to the framework of five crucial retirement activities, one thing that's evident is that topics can appear in more than one category. That's a win in my book, you can do one thing but score two benefits.

An additional takeaway is that I seem to keep plenty busy without having huge lists of things that I do. This is different from my expectation ahead of retiring. I thought that filling the ten to twelve hours a day that I used to commute or be at work would take a lot of activities, but the reality is different. I wish I'd known that when trying to make my early retirement decision.

There is another aspect that I find useful in my early retirement. I like something to plan for, perhaps a big idea, maybe an aspirational or dream event or activity. It gives me a target, hopefully gets me excited, and also takes time in the planning or preparing for it. A big trip is an example. The excitement, planning and preparation for our four month trip to Asia and Australia, or our three month trip to California, Costa Rica and Colombia kept me busy and entertained for hours/days/weeks on end over a period of many months.

So, having tested my early retirement against ESI Money's five crucial retirement categories, I think I'm doing OK, which is probably why I'm enjoying my retirement. Has the review been a useful exercise? It has, it's reminded me that I enjoy planning, and like to have something big to look forward to, which is something I'm missing right now. In fact, this ties back to an item on my targets for this year, "imagine a new adventure for Sally and me". It's a target that I'm not making much progress on, and one that perhaps needs to be pushed up my list of priorities.

One last thing - my experience is that if there is something that you think might be interesting, that you might enjoy, that might keep you gainfully occupied, but you're not completely sure, write it down, put it on your plan or retirement framework somewhere. It's better to record the idea, give it a try, and if you later find it's not for you, discard it and pick something else. Doing something is always better than doing nothing, and that applies in retirement as much as in other parts of life.


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Hi David, thank you for this post, a great way to think about early retirement and activities we should be spending our time on :)

Now that countries are opening up again after Covid, have you and Sally any plans for more travel, e.g. quick trips or perhaps a longer 3 to 4 month stint?


Replying to

Hi Ian, I thought that ESI Money provided a good balance of what makes a successful retirement. As to travel, we recently had 11 nights in the campervan, mostly in the South of France and are spending most of May in the UK. I have two trips to Berlin for running events in August and September, and want to visit Birkenau-Auschwitz and Krakow linked to the September trip. Sally's not interested in that though. Then in mid October we head to the Philippines for 6 weeks. Plus Sally has a week in Cornwall and a week in Spain too. It sounds quite a lot when I write it down!

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