Is this a dream? Has it really been 7 years since I retired from my engineering career? Time sure flies. Pretty soon, I’ll be retired longer than I was an engineer. These days, I only mention my former career when I meet a new parent and they ask what I do. My answer – I’m a blogger, but I used to be an engineer. That’s to put their mind at ease so they’ll let their kids come over to play at our house. Most of RB40 Jr.’s friends’ parents are still working in traditional jobs. They might not like sending their kid over to a SAHD/blogger’s house. Our home is much more modest than most of their houses. The kids don’t really care, though. They always have a lot of fun when they come over. I wonder if that will change as they grow older.
For the most part, early retirement is going pretty well. However, the last 12 months have been more difficult than the previous years. While early retirement is still way better than working, life is still full of problems. Unfortunately, early retirement doesn’t magically solve everything. Read on to see why it’s been a tough year for me.
Early Retirement Recap
First, let’s do a quick recap.
Before ER – I worked in chip design for 16 years. In the beginning, engineering was great and I enjoyed working on the technical issues. Eventually, I became more senior and the job wasn’t a good fit for me anymore. Personally, I think every engineer should plan for early retirement.
Year 1 ER – I retired to become a SAHD/blogger in 2012. Our son was 18 months old. That first year was the toughest year for me. Being a SAHD to a toddler is a lot of work. At that age, they don’t listen very well and they’re constantly pushing boundaries.
Year 2 to 4 ER – Life became a bit easier once RB40Jr started preschool. In the beginning, he went to preschool twice per week for 4 hours. Eventually, he attended 4 times per week. I had more time to work on my blog and my health. It was a good balance.
Year 5 and 6 ER – RB40Jr started elementary school and life turned awesome. I had a lot more time to myself and he made a lot of friends. These have been the best years of early retirement so far.
Year 7 ER – We had more challenges than usual and I’m a bit stressed out.
Early Retirement Challenges
Getting rid of my stressful career was the right move. Life is much better now that I don’t have to commute for 2 hours/day and work in a job I hate. However, early retirement doesn’t fix everything and there are still problems. That’s just life.
I’ve always been an optimistic guy. I’m very lucky and things tend to work out in my favor. But my lucky streak has been temporarily suspended. Things haven’t been working out like they used to. That’s why you can’t depend on luck too much. Once it runs out, you’ll have to muddle through until it picks up again. Here are the challenges I had over the last 12 months.
My mom’s dementia worsened considerably last year. Previously, she lived with us for 9 months and then with my brothers for the remaining 3 months of each year. This worked very well for many years. When she was with us, she shared a room with our son. Our old condo only had 2 bedrooms. It wasn’t a big deal because our son was young. However, she began to have hallucinations and became more confused. She kept waking him up in the middle of the night. Once, she thought he was possessed by a ghost and spanked him at 2 am. (Apparently, that’s how to chase away the ghosts in Thailand…) I moved our son into our room for safety’s sake.
We went to many appointments with the doctors and tried various medications. Unfortunately, her condition didn’t improve. It became very stressful to live with her. We couldn’t get a good night of sleep and I had to be with her 24/7. One time, when I was out running errands, she thought there was a fire and panicked. She tried to get out of the condo, but couldn’t unlock the door, a regular deadbolt. She called the police and they sent an officer to check on her. That was the last time I left her alone.
While I could take care of her for a few years, the real problem is long term care. She was beginning to lose her English comprehension. Eventually, I won’t be able to give her the care she needs and she’ll have to go to a long term care facility. That won’t work if she can’t speak or understand English.
Moving to Thailand
After deliberating with the family, we decided to move her to Thailand. Her siblings are there and she could go live with my dad. Last December, RB40Jr and I took 5 weeks off and helped relocate her to Chiang Mai, Thailand. She has lived with my dad for 6 months now and it’s been a mixed bag.
- She doesn’t have hallucinations anymore.
- She can socialize with other people in her native language.
- My dad is taking good care of her.
- She is getting a lot of exercise. In Portland, she didn’t want to go out when it was raining. That doesn’t work because it’s wet 9 months out of the year here.
- She is less stressed. Dementia made her suspicious of my wife and it stressed everyone out.
- Healthcare is almost free. However, wait times to see a doctor are ridiculous.
- My dad is tired and stressed out. Previously, he didn’t believe in dementia and thought it was some kind of psychological issue. Now he knows dementia is real and it is very challenging.
- Her condition continues to worsen. She needs 24/7 supervision. My dad has to pick out the clothes for her or else she’d wear the same outfit over and over. He can’t leave her alone at all. She is afraid he abandoned her if she doesn’t see him in the same room with her.
- We haven’t found a good dementia care facility in Thailand. I visited a couple of nursing homes when I was in Thailand. They were geared toward infirm older seniors who need physical assistance. They weren’t a good fit for my mom because she is still physically active. I saw one dementia patient who was confined to her room. It wasn’t a good environment. We’ll visit more facilities and try to find a good one for the future.
- Surprisingly, dementia medication is very expensive in Thailand. I had to order her medication from Canada. It was made and shipped from the UK. It’s more affordable that way, rather than buying medicine in Thailand.
Life has been better for us after my mom moved to Thailand, but I’m still very worried about her. I don’t think my dad can be her caretaker for many years. It’s too much work and pressure for him. We need to find a good dementia care facility soon. I plan to move to Thailand and help out once RB40Jr moves out, but that’s 10 years away. If Mrs. RB40 retires early, I might be able to spend more time there. My dad is getting older, too, so I don’t know how long he can carry this burden. He probably will need more help himself at some point. It’s a tough situation.
Last year, I thought we needed to move to a bigger home so we can take care of my mom better. She couldn’t share a room with my son anymore due to her dementia. There’d be plenty of room for all of us if we moved to our duplex and took over both units. That reason disappeared when my mom moved to Thailand. However, the wheel was in motion by then. I already gave our tenants some warning. They moved out so we decided to move in. Anyway, moving in has always been the plan when we acquired the duplex in 2014. Our cost of living would be lower and it will be easier for Mrs. RB40 to retire.
We had 3 rental units and we’re consolidating to just one unit at the duplex. However, it’s not working out as smoothly as I planned.
Duplex – We moved into the bigger downstairs unit and continue to rent the upstairs unit to our long term tenant. This is working out pretty well so far. RB40Jr is getting along very well with the neighbor kids and they play together often.
2 bedroom condo – Our old condo has been on the market since March. We had a great offer right when it went on the market. However, the buyer got cold feet and backed out. Ugh!!! Then we had a low ball offer which we didn’t accept because it was a big contrast to the previous offer. After that, it sat on the market for a long while. The condo market has slowed down tremendously in Portland.
Also, our condo has a huge issue. Because the building was built in the 60s, it cannot support individual unit hookups for laundry. The residents have to do their laundry (free) in the basement laundry room. Oh my god! This is a deal-breaker for many buyers. Jeez, are you kidding me? It’s not a big deal to take the elevator to the laundry room. Why is this such a huge problem? I guess most people don’t want to step out of their unit. Anyway, it doesn’t make sense to me.
Then, we had another offer, but their financing fell through. After that, there was a 1031 exchange and their buyer backed out. This is why I feel like my luck has disappeared. It just didn’t work out like it usually does for me. Anyway, we have an offer and a backup now. Hopefully, we’ll close in a month without any more issues, fingers crossed. We didn’t get the price we wanted, but at this point, I don’t want to stress out about it anymore.
1 bedroom condo – This rental condo has been on the market since April. It had a good view previously, but now there is a building under construction right next door. Buyers don’t want to move into a unit with that kind of activity. There hasn’t been much interest in this unit at all. Recently, we lowered the price more, but I’m not too optimistic. I might have to rent this one out until the building next door is complete. I’ll give the realtor a chance until August.
So the consolidation plan isn’t coming together as I envisioned. The Portland real estate market has cooled surprisingly quickly. That’s not a huge surprise for me, but I was hoping the boom would last a bit longer. A few years ago, Portland was one of the top destinations for in-country migration. Now, population growth has slowed to a trickle. I guess the Portlandia craze is over. The building boom continues, though. There are a bunch of apartment buildings under construction in Portland. They are overbuilding like it was 2007. I have no idea how they’ll fill these units, especially since not all are exactly “affordable.” That’s another reason why I want to get out of the landlord business. The rent will probably stagnate for years while demand catches up to the supply.
Early Retirement is still awesome
Life has been more stressful than usual over the last 12 months due to various challenges. However, that’s just life. These issues would still come up even if I was working full-time. A stressful year in early retirement is still way better than a good year in a job I hate. Overall, early retirement is still awesome. I haven’t had to go back to an office job yet. For that, I’m very thankful.
Early Retirement finance
This year, I became a lot more conservative with our investments. Last year, our asset allocation was 80/20 (equity/bond & cash). This year, it’s 60/40. There are a few reasons why I’m more conservative this year.
- The stock market has been doing very well for too long. I’ve been through 2 big crashes and I’m afraid to go through another one. At this point, I’d rather miss out a bit than lose too much.
- Rental properties consolidation. We are paying 3 mortgages. It’s stressful. I wanted to have a bit more cash cushion than usual.
- Mrs. RB40 may retire next year. I’m not sure if she will retire or not. We’ll have to see how it goes.
Even with a more conservative outlook, our net worth hit a new high this month.
It’s pretty amazing. Our net worth doubled about 5 years after I stopped working full-time. We have Mrs. RB40 to thank for this. She is still working and that means we can save and invest a huge percentage of our income. In fact, our saving rate is around 50% this year. Once she retires, we won’t be able to save nearly that much. It should still work out fine. Our passive income + my online income should be enough to pay for all our expenses.
Our financial success is largely due to investment gains. It isn’t all luck, though. We put ourselves in a position to succeed by investing and minimizing expenses since I started working in 1996. Here are the things we’ve done to get here.
- Early retirement dry run– We saved all of the income from my old job for one year before I retired. This gave me the confidence I needed to retire early. It also acclimated us to living on a more moderate income.
- Part time self-employment – I make some money from Retire by 40 and that income is very helpful. I highly recommend working part-time on something you enjoy after retirement. A little active income goes a long way in retirement and it keeps life interesting. At this age, you don’t want to stop using your brain.
- Mrs. RB40 still works – Mrs. RB40 is considering her retirement options, but she is still working full-time at this time. You’ll have to stay tuned and see if she retires next year.
- Minimize lifestyle inflation – Our spending was very low in 2012 when I retired because I cut back on everything to minimize our annual expense. It’s up a bit since then because we are doing well financially. We still spend much less than our income so it’s all good. At this point, we are very comfortable with this level of expenditure.
- Keep track of our cash flow – I track our income and expenses in detail every month. I don’t want to start depleting our funds yet so our income needs to be higher than our expenses. Tracking your monthly cash flow is a very useful exercise for everyone. You can evaluate your expenses monthly and see if your expenditures really increase your happiness.
- Keep investing– I invested all our excess cash flow and took part in the stock and housing market gain over the last 7 years. This year, I’m more conservative, but I’ll get back in the market more next year once things settle down.
- Monitor our retirement projection–I have been using Personal Capital’s Retirement Planner to monitor our retirement plan. It takes all our real expenses and investments into account, then calculates our chance of having a successful retirement. Things look great for now, but it can change if our expenses increase too much or if too many investments fail. This is a good way to look ahead so you can make adjustments as needed.
The combination of all these efforts put our finances on a good foundation that should last for many years to come. Even if the economy stumbles, I’m sure we could adapt and adjust accordingly.
Early Retirement purpose
The last 7 years have been great financially because Mrs. RB40 was working and we had excess cash flow. It wasn’t difficult to invest and grow our net worth. Once Mrs. RB40 retires, then we won’t be able to invest as much. However, I’m pretty sure we will continue to save as long as I keep blogging. Finance was actually the easy part of early retirement for me because we didn’t have to change our lifestyle much.
The tougher part of early retirement was to find a purpose after retiring from my engineering career. Many retirees feel adrift after they stop being a part of an organization. It’s a big adjustment especially if you’ve been working for many years. Personally, I think all retirees need to have a few big projects to keep life interesting. Doing nothing all day long is a ticket to Depressionville. Luckily, I have a couple of long term projects to keep me very busy.
Stay at home dad
Being a SAHD was pretty good last year. RB40Jr is behaving better in school and he didn’t get into as much trouble as in previous years. His hearing impairment is still giving us trouble, but that’s just the way it is. He’ll have to live with it and do the best he can. We’ll make sure the teacher knows about it and arrange for the hearing disability people to work with the school. Luckily, he’s doing fine academically so we don’t have to worry too much about that.
This summer, RB40Jr is spending most of his time with me. It’s a throwback to my earlier days as a SAHD. It’s not too bad, though. He’s a little more independent now and I can tell him to leave me alone for an hour so I can catch up on my blog. Unfortunately, he’ll spend that hour on the tablet. That’s not good so I make him read 30 minutes for every hour on the tablet. We also have summer projects and play dates with his friends. All in all, it’s going pretty well so far. He’s enjoying summer and hasn’t caused a lot of problems. Check out the skateboard swing we put together.
Another project that keeps me busy is blogging. During the school year, I spend 20-30 hours per week on the blog, but I’m cutting way back for the summer. Now, I’m working 10-15 hours per week. Being a SAHD is job 1 during the summer break.
The blog traffic has been pretty stable over the last few years. The traffic varies from month to month, but it’s pretty much the same on an annual basis. The blog income is a lot more volatile, though. 2017 and 2018 were great years for us. But 2019 isn’t as good so far. It’s still not bad so I can’t complain too much.
I still enjoy blogging so I’ll keep working these hours for now. In a few years, I’ll probably cut down to 10-15 hours/week year-round especially if I spend a lot of time in Thailand.
Thank you to everyone for following my early retirement journey and making this blog a success. I really appreciate all your support.
*See my guide – How to Start a Blog and Why You Should. Starting a blog changed my life. It provides some income after retirement and it’s a great way to build a community. Those are the two biggest problems after retirement. It’s a great way to use some of your free time.
Future project – parents
I suspect the next big project for me will be taking care of my parents. My mom needs a lot of help and my dad can’t handle that load for too long. He’ll probably need help at some point too. Once Mrs. RB40 retires, I’ll be able to spend more time in Thailand to help out. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a good long term care facility for my mom. That will make life a lot easier for everyone. My dad doesn’t like the idea, but he’ll have to come to terms with it. Taking care of a dementia patient is very difficult and it won’t get any easier.
Mrs. RB40’s parents are getting older, too. They probably will need more help in a few years, no matter how independent they claim to be. This is why life is tough in the 40s. You have kids, parents, jobs, house, and a bunch of stuff to do. It’s responsibility overload.
Early Retirement Health and Fitness
Health is another big reason why I decided to leave my engineering career. The job wasn’t right for me anymore. I was stressed out all the time and it was negatively affecting my health. You can read more about my health issues in this post – I handed in my 2 weeks notice.
Anyway, I feel much more normal now. I can think clearly and I don’t have panic attacks anymore. It’s inevitable for our health to decline as we age, but stress will accelerate that decline. I’m very lucky to be able to age in a less stressful environment. If your job is really stressful, you need to figure out how to decrease that stress. I think high stress is bearable for 2-3 years, but not much longer than that.
Over the last few years, I’ve been going to the gym to exercise. I go right after I drop RB40Jr off at school. It was great because it’s a routine I could stick to. However, I’m making a little change this year because we moved. I’m going to try working out at home instead of going to the gym. I installed a pull-up bar and gymnastic rings. RB40Jr is having a lot of fun with the rings. He’s on it all the time and he’s got the calluses to prove it. I also picked up a stepper and a plush yoga mat. Those are all I really need to exercise. Now, I have to make it part of my daily schedule so I’ll exercise consistently. It’s tough in the summer with RB40Jr distracting me. I’ll need to get into the routine once school starts. Exercise has been sporadic this summer.
Anyway, I feel much healthier than when I was an engineer. This alone validates my decision to retire early.
Early Retirement is Good
I stole this tag line from an apparel company.
FIRE isn’t easy. FIRE isn’t perfect. FIRE is good.
That’s how I feel about life this past year. It wasn’t easy or perfect, but it was good. Eventually, we’ll find a good long term care facility for my mom. Our condos will be sold at some point. Then I’ll be less stressed out and my good luck will come back. Mrs. RB40 will retire early and we can spend more time together. We’ll travel and enjoy life more. I’ll keep on blogging and make a little income online. Of course, all these will take time to accomplish. It’s just life.
Anyway, the last 7 years really flew by. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since I left my engineering career. If I hadn’t made the decision to go after FIRE in 2010, I’d probably still be stuck in the same old gray cubicle. That’s the real key to early retirement. You make it your goal, and then put all your effort into it. Let’s not wake up at 60 and wonder where all the time has gone. Time flies so make sure you’re living the life you want.
Thanks again for following my early retirement adventure and good luck on yours! I really appreciate every single one of you.
Sign up for a free account at Personal Capital to help manage your investments. I log in almost every day to check on my accounts and cash flow. It’s a great site for DIY investors.
See my guide – How to Start a Blog and Why You Should. Starting a blog changed my life. It provides some income after retirement and it’s a great way to build a community. Those are the two biggest problems after retirement. It’s a great way to use some of your free time.
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Joe left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle. See how he generates Passive Income here.
Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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