It's four years since I started my early retirement journey. I mistakenly (hindsight's a wonderful thing) started with six months of part time consultancy work but, once that was out of the way, the three and a half years since have been great.
Early retirement has meant freedom to visit our kids more often in the UK and Switzerland, run marathons or ultras with friends in the USA, Czech Republic, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, spend four months travelling in Asia and Australia and another three months in Costa Rica, Colombia and California. Not forgetting moving to a ski resort in France to have fun in the snow and then on the bike once the snow melted - that's when we did our Route des Grandes Alpes cycle ride from Lake Geneva to Nice on the Mediterranean coast. These are just some of the highlights, I haven't even mentioned our "try out" campervan trip in Germany or cycling from Berlin to the Baltic Sea with my friend. I could go on, but I'm sure you've got the picture, I've probably done more in the past four years than in the previous twenty! Oh, and work stress, what's that? I like this life.
Why a new early retirement plan - if it isn't broken, why fix it?
So, if I'm enjoying life as described in those first two paragraphs, what's this talk of a new plan? Why not simply keep doing the same things, if it ain't broken, why fix it?
I wish I had a better answer. What I do have is a feeling of wanting to change things up a little. If I have to try to rationalise (and I do try) where this feeling comes from, this is some of the stuff I come up with:
We haven't followed our original plan, so (obviously?) need a new one
We did have a plan for when I started early retirement. In rough terms, Sally (a teacher) would continue working to the end of the academic year (✔that happened). After that, we'd travel for four months (✔also happened). Then to France to receive our apartment and stay over winter for skiing (✔this happened too - so far, so good). After that, more travelling (❌oops, we've done some, but it came later). The final part of the plan was Sally wanting to go back to work, probably somewhere in Asia or Africa (❌nope, not happened, and no longer on the agenda).
Instead, after our 3 months in the ski apartment, we stayed another 3 months, and another, and another, in fact 18 months so far. I'm certainly not complaining, it's been a fun 18 months of drift, even if it wasn't part of the original plan. But I feel that drifting isn't what accountants (even when they're retired) naturally do, they feel much more comfortable when there's a plan, well, at least this retired accountant does!
Our past has been a bit nomadic
We're not really nomads by the strict definition of the word, but we have lived 20 of the last 27 years away from our "home" country.
Living in Jamaica, Hong Kong, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates were all great experiences and I wouldn't change any of it. But perhaps that life lacked a feeling of permanence and created a mindset of always looking to see where and what's next, kind of like I'm doing now.
It's also made us question where "home" is, or more to the point, where do we want it to be? Should it be the United Kingdom where we were born, but only spent a fraction of our adult lives? - we're not convinced. What about France, where we have an apartment and have spent much of the past 18 months? There's a lot we like about it but it doesn't yet feel properly like home (language probably being the biggest challenge). Or is there another location that we haven't yet discovered? Somehow, I feel our "where's home" conundrum is connected to me wanting to make some new plans.
I'm still figuring out early retirement
It seems strange to say that despite being four years in, maybe I'm still discovering my way in early retirement. While much in that time has been the stuff of dreams (I pinch myself to check that it's real), and we've met some wonderful new friends, there have been some things I've missed too. For example, my running club, my running friends and the events where we'd race each other is one thing I miss.
Plus, those adventures of the last four years have whetted my appetite. There's more out there to be done, more adventures to be had and maybe I worry that if I sit still, I'll get lazy and not do these things.
I suspect though, that the part of early retirement that I do need to get better at is that sometimes sitting still and being lazy is okay.
So what's the new early retirement plan?
After the build up, this will probably be underwhelming! Anyway, here goes...the main change is where we'll live. We're going to split our time between the UK and France. Broadly that will be winter (ski season) and summer in France and spring and autumn in the UK.
In terms of pros and cons:
We're hoping we get the best of both living in France and the UK
We'll be tax resident in the UK, a tax jurisdiction that we (mostly) understand (I've given up trying to get tax advice for France, nobody replies!)
Close to both of our kids (one's in Switzerland, the other in the UK) at different times
Easier to do my camper conversion project while in the UK. I concluded that I likely wouldn't do it in France
Can join a running club in the UK (there isn't one close to us in France)
Can be a test run to find out whether we like UK life. After all, it is the country of our passport, and I'm at least passable in the language😉
It was Sally's preferred option when we looked at our what's next plan one year ago (mine was to build a camper in Canada and spend a year touring North America - we seem to be really suited to each other!)
It's expensive to operate two homes
It's more wasteful to have two homes - two sets of furniture, appliances, utensils and garden equipment, etc. I'd prefer to be more environmentally friendly
We'll most likely have to carefully manage our days in France/the Schenghen area to stay within visa rules (thank you Brexit🤦♂️)
I have a concern that we could end up being part time strangers in both places
I'm worried we'll have less time for other travel and adventures too
As well as alternating between France and the UK (starting this September), I haven't forgotten my camper conversion project (aka my wife's idea of hell). That's now penciled in to start in April 2021. It will be a major project given my disastrous DIY abilities, so if I finish that by the end of 2021, I'll count that as both a surprise and a success.
I'd love to plan some more medium length travels (two or three months), but a combination of Covid-19 and re-inheriting the cats makes that unlikely in the foreseeable future. I guess I'll just have to get the camper project started and finished and travel that way, with the cats.
That's it, the rough plan, at least through to the end of ski season in April 2022. Phew, this ex-accountant can start to relax, there's now a plan!
Some thoughts on one more year syndrome
I don't know whether we've made the right decisions with our plan, but I do know that we're fortunate to have the opportunity to make these choices. I also know that if they're not right, we can change course and make a new plan. This doesn't come free though, for a start, there's a hefty cost to operating two homes.
Initially we'll move into one of our rental properties, meaning the rental income on that property will stop. We'll have to buy furniture, new flooring, and have two sets of utility bills and property taxes - between lost income and additional cost we're talking an extra £13,000 (€14,500 or US$16,500) a year to operate two homes. That's a chunk of money - a lot of one more years would be needed to cover that!
For me, one more year syndrome wasn't really a thing because, weirdly, I never really thought about FIRE before I retired. Instead, my focus was to get to a position of financial security where our family would be OK if I lost my job. Almost by default, that also got us to financial independence and then the discovery that early retirement was an option.
But since retiring early and starting to read FIRE blogs, I've thought about one more year syndrome. Initially, I couldn't see the sense - if you want to retire, why work longer for extra money that you probably won't need? Starting early retirement as soon as possible seemed a much better idea. Each to their own of course, but our new plan of splitting our time between two homes costs money, and wouldn't be an option if we hadn't worked some "one more years" (even if we did so inadvertently). While I don't know if splitting our time between two places is a good idea, I love that our financial position means we can choose to try it. That's what one more year can contribute, that little bit of extra money that creates an option to try something - perhaps one more year isn't always a bad idea?