DW and I are now just 7 months from early retirement. I recently posed a question to a group of early retirees about the adjustment that takes place between the full-time working world and a life of early retirement. During my many cups of coffee with friends over the last year, I regularly heard about a need to take the first full year of early retirement to adjust to the new lifestyle. I have even heard it described as like the adjustment that comes from “leaving a bad relationship” or divorcing one’s longtime spouse.
I asked specifically about how long it took to adjust to not working?
And, was there anything you did to help you prepare?
Here were the top line results (based on the input of 29 early retirees):
Time It Took To Adjust To Early Retirement:
- 30% = A Year or More
- 30% = A Few Weeks or Months
- 40% = Just A Day or Two
It was surprising to me was that so many people (~40%) said that it took them almost no time (a day, a few days or a week) to adjust to not working. They went from a full 24×7 work life to a dead stop in no time at all. These tended to be the people that had thought about early retirement for some time and had done significant preparation for it in a quite in-depth way. Relatively few people (~30%) said it took them a year or more to adjust to not working.
Much of the adjustment seems to be influenced by one’s attitude toward work and it’s contribution to your self worth. If you define yourself and your status by your work title, then staying home and having your spouse ask you to empty the dishwasher will make you wonder what you’ve given up. At the same time, if your work title is one of many you value (along with spouse, parent, athlete, musician, philanthropist, photographer, or sailor), you may find the transition easier. (although one person said they felt those other identities feel “less legitimate” than the old work one.
Many people talked about the need to separate the financial side of early retirement with the lifestyle choices. The financial side is quite obvious and there are a lot of simple tests that you can do to determine if you have enough $$$ to retire (here are my seven tests). The lifestyle piece is more nebulous, requiring one to think about what you are “retiring to” rather than “retiring from”.
Here are SIX ways that people suggested helping to prepare for the lifestyle change that early retirement brings and the plans we have been making (with just over 6 months to go):
- CHALLENGE YOUR LIFESTYLE PHILOSOPHY – Read Ernie Zelinski books Joy of Not Working or Retire Wild, Happy & Free. Many folks talk about how these books helped them reconsider their lifestyles. I preferred the second one, but they are both good and help you think about structuring your life around your needs and interests (instead of MegaCorp’s).
- CONSIDER THE HOME FRONT – Have some discussion about roles/schedules with your spouse – a lot of adjustment comes from the change in being around each other all day. Will your jobs around the house change? Will you become a night person vs. the morning person you have been? My DW and I have been starting to talk about this and how things will be different as we both “retire” (her from work-at-home Mom status) at the same time. Part of this discussion is where I will keep my “work” stuff.
- START YOUR LIST – Many early retirees make a lengthy list of projects & activities they are looking forward too (mine has over 150 ideas!). Even if you don’t get to many of them (many people report not making much of a dent), writing the list helps get you in the right mindset. In true Type A mode, I have now made my post-FIRE list detailed month-by-month. I’m not sure I will even look at it when I retire, but I’m glad I have it!
- DON’T WORRY ABOUT LONG TERM – Many people talk about the need to reinvent their retirement every 5 years. Don’t worry about having the next 20-30-40 years planned out in advance. So much can change in retirement (just as it did in your career) that you can only look out so far. I’m making plans from age 50 to 55, given that i have a lot of friends that will be joining my in 5 years (and more 5 years after that).
- EXPLORE OPPORTUNITIES – Even while you are still working, begin to explore the activities and roles you can play in retirement. Spend the extra time you used to spend giving that “extra effort” at the office on yourself. Start perusing what classes, clubs, meetup.com groups, and volunteer activities are available in your area? I’ve been doing this and am surprised to kinds all kinds of activities I had no idea about.
- LOOK AROUND – Even if you are not planning on moving your primary household, think about where you might stay for a month or two (or six), now that you are not tied to your work location. Most feel that renting is a better place to start than buying. We’ve spent some time in Florida this year thinking about what it would be like to escape the cold for a few months each year. We’ve found for the price for winter rentals more affordable than we expected.
All in all, most of the folks that I chatted with spoke about the immense contentment that they had found in retirement after adjusting to the change. They spoke with great satisfaction about having successfully created a new life uniquely suited to their interests and personalities.
How else are you preparing for early retirement?