I’m fascinated to read how other people have got to financial independence and early retirement.
These stories were the inspiration I was searching for while trying to make my own early retirement decisions. I wanted to know what they did, were they bored, about the money situation and what their family and friends thought. I was looking to perhaps steal some of their ideas and find some confidence and reinforcement for my own plans.
Now over four years into my own early retirement, I still enjoy hearing these stories and I’m also still not above borrowing ideas – we all do things differently and there’s always something to learn.
So I was thrilled when Andrew agreed to share his experience. He’s from Sydney, Australia and we met when I visited the city during my four months of travel in Asia and Australia. We had a wonderful meal with his family and I was delighted to repay his hospitality when he visited us in the French Alps earlier this year, when he first told me about his early retirements plans.
So, this is Andrew’s retiring early story, with a twist:
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a 53 year old engineer. Grew up in country Victoria, Australia, moved to Sydney where I met my wife, then moved to Vietnam for 5 years when I was 30. Came back to Sydney to raise two kids who have just finished school. I love keeping fit and doing outdoors stuff, as well as reading your blog!
What did you do as a job?
Initially I was a technical engineer, building things etc. In Vietnam I commissioned a large chemical plant on behalf of Shell. Most recently I was CEO of a company supplying speciality chemicals to the aviation industry.
What made you decide to retire early?
At about age 49, I realised I could afford to stop working. Once I realised this, my motivation to put up with the usual unpleasant aspects of my job disappeared. I was left wondering why I was doing something I didn’t enjoy. It was a difficult decision, I kept a diary about my feelings and it took 2-3 years to finally make the move.
Was there anything specific that made you retire when you did ?
2018 was a brutal year travel-wise for me. I did over 400,000kms of air travel and spent far far too long away from my family. That, plus completing a big project, made it an easier decision to make.
What did your family, friends and colleagues think when you told them you were retiring?
Well here’s where I diverge a little from your questions. I couldn’t imagine myself retiring as I was nervous I would be bored. At the same time I didn't want or need to stay working, and didn’t want to change jobs and do more of the same in a different place. So I decided to go back to study a Masters of Sustainability which I have been doing part time. This felt like a safe thing to do, it gave me some structure, it was an area that interested me and I could dip my toes in the water of retirement so to speak to see how I felt.
Have you had any negative comments from people about your decision?
None at all. Everyone was very supportive and there was a lot of admiration for doing something out of the box. Perhaps from my wife who was working there was a slight bit of jealousy but only minor!!
Is your wife joining you in early retirement or will she still continue with her career?
She is working 4 days per week and thinking of dropping to 3. She likes to have the contacts, and the income and to use her training, but I am sure it will not be too long before she stops.
Assuming you didn’t win the lottery, how did you manage to save enough money to allow you to retire early?
Spending 5 years with both of us working as expats in Vietnam was a great start. This meant when we came back to Sydney, we could buy a house without a mortgage. I have always earned a reasonable salary and neither my wife nor I have been very big spenders. This meant as soon as we came back we could start making regular savings which built up over time.
Was there one thing in particular that helped you retire early? Any top tips to share?
I have never made any money fast. All my investments have been slow and boring and I have tried not to let lifestyle creep affect us. Towards the end of my working life, we were saving about 75% of our combined incomes, which meant the last few years were very good for us. My tip is to start early, take advantage of any tax effective schemes you can, and be patient.
What are you doing/planning to do in your early retirement - how are you going to fill your time? Do you get bored or sometimes find yourself at a loose end?
I am studying part time, doing a small bit of consultancy work for my old job and doing a lot of fitness and yoga. Prior to Covid I did some great trips, including visiting my early retirement guru in Morzine! I also do a bit of volunteer work, business coaching for a friend and working in a community group.
One of the best things is that I was not working when both of my kids went through their final school year exams. This was an absolute joy to be able to hang out with them, discuss their life plans, chat over coffee, teach them to drive etc etc. If I was still working/travelling I would have missed that. Above everything, this was why I stepped back from work. My son left home to go to uni a few months ago and my daughter will leave soon. I am so glad I had this time with them.
Have you found that you've been lonely or isolated since retiring early?
No not at all. I have always had enough to do, although I do feel that without the study and the small amount of work, I would be at a loose end.
Are there things that worry you about retiring early and, if so, what are they and how are you dealing with these things?
As above, I am still not at all confident that I could keep myself busy and occupied without some sort of structure. That’s why I love reading your blogs, as you seem to manage, whereas I am sure I would be bored/lonely/unhappy.
What changes in your life have you made, or are planning, since you retired?
Pretty much everything. I exercise much much more, I go to university or study online, I volunteer. Today I made some sour dough bread - yes it’s a cliche but I’m proud of my bread. I used to think that my job took the best 90% of my time and energy. What was left was for my family, friends and fitness. Now I have close to 100% for things I like.
Where does your money come from to pay for your retirement?
I have four main income sources. Two apartments we rent out, some boring ETF type shares which generate some tax free income, and an investment scheme we call superannuation which I can start to access as a tax free pension when I am 60 (I’m 53 now). And a hard working wife who is still happy to keep going for a while.
Do you still work at all, or have any side hustles to earn some additional income, or plan to return to work in the future?
Ahhh, this is where I have to confess. I feel like I am letting the team down, but I have taken an offer to go back to work. Basically I was chatting over coffee to a recruitment guy who reached out to me and who I hadn’t seen for 14 years. I explained how I was studying sustainability and wasn’t really sure what to do with my life or if I could be happy once my part time study finished and my part time work stopped. He told me about a renewable energy start-up that was looking for a CEO and suggested I have a chat. One thing led to another and I start later this year.
Why am I going back I hear you ask. There’s a lot of reasons. The job itself is incredibly exciting. I have never worked in a startup and we are trying to help transition the world to renewables which feels very worthwhile. Secondly, as I said earlier, I am still not confident in my ability to keep busy and be fulfilled. Particularly now the kids will both have left home. Lastly, I feel that I have some skills and not using them feels a bit like a waste.
A big part of me is really worried that after having a year and a half off I won’t be able to rejoin the workforce. There is so much I have loved of my retirement/sabbatical - we will have to see.
Do you worry that you won’t have enough money to last for your full retirement?
No, even if I didn’t go back to work and my wife stopped working, we would be ok. And if something really bad happened like a global pandemic - oh wait…… I could always go back to work somewhere somehow.
Now I am working again, we will be able to build up a bit more of a buffer, although to be honest it’s not at all the reason for going back.
Looking back, would you have done things differently?
Honestly, no. Maybe I could have left a year or two earlier and maybe I could have worried and agonised less about the decision.
What are your plans for the future?
For various reasons, it is likely that this new job will not be a long term one. This is great as it will give me an insight in how I feel about going back to work, and then can re-evaluate. My wife and I had planned to travel for a year in 2021 but that is all on hold now. I definitely want to spend some time travelling, but the timeframe of this is now a little less clear than it was.
Do you have any advice for others thinking of retiring early?
Keep a diary of how you feel, I found it very helpful to reread and reflect on how I felt at different times. Read the blogs, I found other people’s experiences very helpful. The other thing which helped me was to brainstorm “what’s the worst that can happen”. If the worst you can come up with is that you will be lonely/bored/broke and will have to go back to work, then that isn’t the end of the world. Worse is that you stay in a job you dislike for years and years.
Thanks Andrew for sharing your story. Maybe in due course you'll let us know how the back to work experience feels. In my opinion, financial independence is the best part of the FIRE equation - it's what gives us choices. Already it's enabled Andrew to study a Masters programme that he has a passion for, what has turned out to be a mini early retirement, and now an opportunity to be involved in a start up work project that wouldn't otherwise have been on his radar. No wonder people call financial independence a super-power!
By the way, if anyone else would like to share their financial independence / early retirement experience, please get in contact with me via the comments.
And lastly, if you enjoy reading about people's FIRE stories, you might want to check these out:
David's (not me, a different David) adventurous early retirement
Andrew's (a different Andrew) international relocation early retirement