When we think about early retirement, we tend to focus on the money. That’s natural because we need money to retire early. Building a portfolio is a crucial step to early retirement. When I was trying to retire early, it was all about how much we spend and how much passive income we need. However, it takes more than money to retire early.
We have done well over the years and saved up a good amount. That’s true for lots of people. There are over 11 million millionaire households in the US now. Most of these millionaires are still working hard. Clearly, money isn’t the only requirement for early retirement. Some people just aren’t a good fit for early retirement. Finance is a big part of the equation, but there is more to it than that. I thought it’d be interesting to see what that elusive something is. That’s why I’m doing this interview series.
Today, we have Brian from Lazy Man and Money, my east coast doppelganger. I met Brian in 2014 and found that we are very similar. We both retired from an engineering career, became a stay-at-home dad, and our wives kept working. Also, he’s one of the few bloggers that started before me! I’m a big fan of his blog.
Can you give us a brief background about yourself? What career did you retire from?
I was a software engineer. I started programming when I was 8 or 9 back in the mid-1980s. In 2008 (age 32), I transitioned from full-time software engineering to blogging.
At that time, my military wife was working in Silicon Valley, which sounds like a perfect situation for me as a software engineer. However, Silicon Valley demands 12-15 hours of engineers’ time (hence the Google/Facebook/Apple campuses). That doesn’t work for a military spouse, because the military commitment has to be the main priority. The competing priorities wouldn’t work if we were to start a family. Now we have two boys ages 7 and 8.
Early retirement means different things to different people. Many people don’t think I’m “retired” because I blog a few hours per day and I’m a stay-at-home dad. That’s perfectly fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. What does early retirement mean to you? Do you work at all?
I’m not retired, but self-employed. I blog, run customer service for a small Silicon Valley company, and sit dogs while their owners are away. It sounds like a lot and it can be, but I can mostly choose when, where, and how much I work. It has those elements of retirement, but it keeps me busy.
Like many FIRE bloggers, I prefer to focus on the Financial Independence (FI) rather than the Retire Early (RE) of FIRE.
What were your financial goals and how long did it take you to achieve them?
My main financial goal was to be able to “retire” with my wife when her military pension vested at age 44. We’re 45 now and I think we reached the goal of financial independence.
FI is a difficult calculation for us because we have three rental properties and our primary residence with mortgages. The kids go to an expensive (but great) private school. We get a very good military discount making it a reasonable investment.
We could choose to be FI now, but we are not by most measures. If we sold the rental property with the most equity and paid off the other two and our primary residence we’d reduce our expenses and generate rental income. This would supplement my wife’s pension if she retired tomorrow. We could choose to send the kids to public school.
In 2015, I calculated that we’d have around $200,000 a year in retirement income between side hustles, pensions, our savings nest egg, and Social Security. It’s probably closer to $275,000 now. With long-term necessary expenses (mortgage paid off, kids gone) of around $40,000, we should have plenty of money for travel or whatever else we can come up with.
When I was planning my early retirement, I was consumed with the money part of it. I didn’t put much effort into the other details. I’d say it was 90/10, financial/non-financial. What about you? Did you put much effort into the non-financial side of early retirement planning?
I put all my focus into personal finance as well. That’s another one of the reasons why I moved from software engineering to financial blogging. I was reading, writing, and connecting with financial bloggers. Personal finance was more interesting than software engineering in the corporate world.
Nowadays, I spend more time thinking about investments and a lot less time focusing on the basics of personal finance. I need to work on developing outside interests more.
Where are you in your life cycle? Most people retire around the traditional age – late 50s to early 70s. Their children are grown, their partner and friends are stepping back from work, and their parents may have passed. In short, you have a lot fewer obligations at a later age. To go against the grain and retire in your 30s or 40s can be lonely and challenging. Do you think it is difficult to retire early with all these obligations?
We’re both 45. Because I have the side hustles and much of the responsibility to get the kids ready for school and after-school activities, I am still full of obligations (unfortunately). That’s another reason why I don’t label myself as retired – taking care of two kids is a job itself.
I still have the loneliness of early retirement, simply because I don’t have one career that people can identify with. The parents at my kids’ school are CEOs, doctors, lawyers, etc., so it’s difficult to explain my blogger/dog sitter/customer support career. It’s mostly the men making the big money to afford the school. Some of the women work, but others seem to go to yoga class or meet for coffee to gossip. The private school parents and SAHD cultures are nearly complete opposite circles of people.
It takes more than money to retire early
Now let’s focus on the intangibles. To be blunt, lots of people have more money than you. Most of them aren’t retired. They still work and contribute to the economy. What make you special? How can you retire when almost everyone else in your position continue to work? Why are you different?
I don’t know why those people with more money than us continue to work. I think they must either like their job (or aspects of it like CEO power) or have the inertia and habit of doing it. I’ve asked some of my college friends and they mostly answer something like, “What else would I do?”
We’re in Newport, Rhode Island, and I see a lot of people caught in lifestyle inflation. About half the kids in my sons’ class live in houses that are worth more than $1.25 million (we bought ours for $400,000). Maintaining their old, historic homes is not cheap. They have fancy cars, send kids to an expensive private school, plus a beach and/or yacht club membership. In short, they aren’t focused on FIRE.
I don’t think we’re special other than my wife accidentally getting me hooked on FIRE in 2005 when we were dating. She’s special because of the military pension, which also paves the way for cheap healthcare and a GI bill that will support much of the kids’ college expenses. I wish I could bottle that retirement formula and give it to all our readers, but I can’t. If not for the military pension, we would still likely be FI, so I hope readers don’t make the military pension the main take-away.
Instead, I would say focus on either loving what you do (and being great at it) or developing multiple income streams to help you transition to something else.
What was your biggest challenge after early retirement?
I wrote about it before, but it’s the non-financial aspects of early retirement. Right now I can throw my time and attention into the kids. They probably won’t want Dad around much when they are teenagers. My wife should be well-retired by then, so maybe I’ll do less of my side hustles and spend more time with her. She’s been on hampster wheel of trying to get a promotion at work for the last 5-6 years. There are limited number of positions and tough competition, so it requires a lot of long hours. She doesn’t have the personality to just coast like me. When she’s done we might have to both re-discover who we are.
Would you change anything about the way you retired from your job? Sometime, I wish I stuck around for 6 more months. I could have worked out a deal and get a severance package instead of walking away with nothing.
I thought that leaving my job and working on my own terms would be fantastic. It was for a while. Looking back, I gave up on software engineering to go to full-time blogging too early. It would have been better if there were 40-hour a week engineering jobs in Silicon Valley.
How much time do you spend (per week or month) reviewing your finances, or reading about retirement finances/investment/etc., now that you’re retired?
I don’t spend a lot of time reviewing our finances because I know them so well at this point. It’s only about an hour or two every month. However, I am genuinely interested in business and investing as hobbies. I also have to write about them for the blog. I spend about 15-20 hours a week on all that.
What’s your next big dream?
I’m so focused on kids and money these days that it only makes sense to me to combine them. I’ve got a start on a new website blog KidWealth.com that I’m hoping to launch in September. Long term, I want to make it more than a blog. If you want to contribute, please contact me.
Thank you Lazyman!
It’s interesting that Lazyman thinks of himself as self-employed rather than retired. We’re both in a very similar position in life and finance. I think of myself as more retired than self-employed. It’s been a gradual process for me. When I retired from my engineering career, I spent a lot of time blogging and being a SAHD. I was busy, but I was so much happier than when I was working full-time. It felt like being retired. Over the years, I cut back on work and now life is even better. Now, I think I’m 75% retired and 25% self-employed. Heh heh. It’s all in the mindset. You just have to find the right balance for yourself and don’t worry about anything else.
Thanks, Brian for covering for me. I’m camping in Yellowstone this week. It’ll be great to getaway from everything.
Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!
Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.