Loving Nine Months Of Early Retirement

After another month of early retirement, I have to say I’m a big fan. I fill my days with things I want to do, not things that I have to do to earn a paycheck.

I have heard other early retirees say “I’m so busy now that I’m retired, I don’t know how I ever had time to work!”.  That’s a sentiment that’s very familiar to me these days.  In a good way.

On a recent afternoon after enjoying a leisurely lunch with an old friend, I saw a stark reminder of the busy busy rush rush lifestyle some people experience.  A lady in a nice shiny new Mercedes was driving aggressively and trying to pass me while we were both in the turn lane near a traffic signal.  I wasn’t in a particular hurry, but I know I was at least doing the speed limit.  Eventually she overtook me and managed to arrive at the red light a few seconds before me.  I imagine she was pretty pissed that she had to wait along side us ordinary people.

She hurriedly whipped out her lipstick and impatiently applied another thick coat of veneer to her lips.  Then the finger tapping began.  Eventually she turned to checking herself out in the mirror.  Then more finger tapping and some email-checking on her phone.  By this time, the light had turned green, and I was watching her grow smaller through my rear view mirror.  She was so busy on her phone that she forgot she was inside of her car driving somewhere!  Eventually a friendly horn beep from behind her brought her attention back to the road.  She must lead a very hectic life!  It’s little encounters like this that make me appreciate the laid back lifestyle I have created for myself.  On the rush versus relax continuum, she’s doing a great job representing the “rush” side, and I hope to maintain my role as the poster child for the “relax” side.

 

Early Retirement, Nine Months In

If you want to see a full chronicle of my early retirement adventures, I produced summaries at onetwo, three, four, five, and six months.

Here’s what I’ve been up to in the months since my last update:

Learning

I think I’ll be a student of some sort forever.  I like learning, and I think it’s a good habit to expand your knowledge throughout life.  Whether I’m reading a book, watching a documentary, attending a lecture, or working on an online course, I keep my mind active by absorbing new information all the time.

In April, I finished up the Coursera course on Financial Markets with Robert Shiller.  I spent a few hours each week watching the online lectures, reading supplemental materials, and answering the quizzes.  Some of the material is a review of what I already know, while other parts of the course cover areas of finance in much more depth and breadth.  In the closing weeks of the course, I enjoyed lectures on options, banking, and real estate.

We were asked to write an essay on behavioral finance and the 2007 housing bubble. Our essays were then peer reviewed by other students.  Surprisingly, all of the other essays I read  were written very well (probably better than my own essay for which I received a grade of 8.5 out of 10).  I was really curious if all the students in the course were taking the class seriously, and that is my answer.  The five essays I read demonstrated that the students were reading supplemental materials, analyzing, interpreting and applying what they read and heard in the lectures, and understanding the concepts enough to craft a well-organized essay on a complex financial topic.

The most interesting part of the course was the guest lectures.  Famed investor Carl Icahn spoke on the collective incompetence of the Fortune 500 corporate management.  Andy Redleaf, founder of Whitebox hedge funds, spoke on his view of market efficiency (or lack thereof) and risk and risk management.  Perhaps I’m an information elitist, but I always appreciate learning from actual experts who have accomplished big things.

Since finishing the Coursera Finance course, I have returned to studying French at Duolingo.com.  It’s slow going right now, but it should come in handy this summer since we’ll be in French-speaking Canada for almost a month on our big summer trip.  I can say things like “I like to eat butter” (j’aime manger du beurre), “he dies alone” (il meurt seul), and “which girls eat the chocolate?” (quelles filles mangent le chocolat?).  You can probably tell I still have some learning to do.

I also reached the limits of photo editing and manipulation using MS Paint, so I downloaded a free copy of GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program).  It’s like Photoshop, but free (which is within my price range).  I have never used Photoshop or any similar type of program, so I’m what they call a complete novice.  I found a good series of instructional videos and spent a few days learning the basics of using GIMP to edit images, shrink them, and combine two images together (among other useful tricks).  My “one month of groceries” article would have crashed my server if I didn’t shrink and compress the photos first!

Learning how to use a photo editing package is one of those things I’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time to pursue while working.  It’s pretty awesome to block off a few days of my schedule to devote to learning a new skill like that.

 

Playing

I can’t be a brainiac all day.  I like to have fun, too.  Right now that often means enjoying the fleeting time of Mr. RoG’s rapidly expiring toddlerhood or setting up fun social engagements for the older kids.  Play dates should be fun for parents, too.

We hosted a combination birthday party and sleepover for our oldest daughter in March.  We are about to repeat the party with an end of school slumber party for a few of our kids’ friends and their parents.  The parents won’t stay for the sleepover part – just dinner.  We tend to keep these events low key.  Adults can sip some wine and grab a bite of pizza while kids will hopefully stick with pizza.

For less than the price of a modest meal out with the family, we can entertain about six adults and the same number of kids.  And we get to enjoy the company all evening.  The weather is looking pretty nice, so I expect the kids will play outside while the adults lounge on the lakefront patio.  We paid a lot of money for a house with a yard ($110,000 is a lot, right?), so we might as well get some value out of it.

Having the time and energy to throw your kids a random end of school sleepover is just one of the advantages of early retirement when you have kids.

 

picnic-in-the-park

A little picnic in the park with the RoG family

 

Relaxing

Spring time here in North Carolina means some really nice weather outside.  That also means I can avoid the indoors and computers.  Notice there were only three April posts and five May posts here at Root of Good?

Lately I’ve established a morning routine of laying outside in my hammock for an hour or two and reading something light.  Now that he’s two, Mr. RoG Jr. handles playing independently pretty well.

Finding people to hang out with hasn’t been a problem.  Many professionals don’t work a strict 9 to 5 schedule and have Fridays off or work shift schedules (in industries that operate 24/7).  Or they have a long lunch break and drop by for an hour or three since we live near downtown.  People seem to look for a reason to take a long lunch.

One fear of early retirees is that they will become socially isolated.  I have found the opposite to be true.  I see a lot more of my friends and family now than I did when I was working full time.  When you are working, you see your coworkers (who you don’t get to choose) more than your real friends (that you do choose).

 

Doing

At this point, the biggest thing on my to do list is to finish planning our trip to Canada this summer.  Mrs. Root of Good worked out an extra five weeks of paid time off and we will be hitting the road in late June and returning to Raleigh in early August.

We have the basic schedule worked out.  All hotel rooms and apartment rentals have been booked now.  We booked a nice two bedroom apartment in a quiet neighborhood for eight nights each in Montreal and Quebec City.  In Ottawa, we booked a one bedroom apartment just across the river from downtown Ottawa in Gatineau, Quebec.  The one bedroom rental was slightly cheaper than the two bedroom apartments.  On average, we are paying $55 per night, which compares very favorably to the $100+ we would expect to pay at hotels that could accommodate a family of five.  Not only are the apartment rentals cheaper, we will also have a full kitchen and living room so we can spread out and relax.

I used AirBnB.com for all the apartment bookings.  They seem to have the widest selection of properties available and they have a map-based search tool that makes it easy to find inexpensive (but nice) rentals in good locations around every city I have looked at so far.  If you want to check them out for your next trip, you can use my airbnb referral link to get $25 off your first reservation.

Using that discount, I saved $25 on my rental in Quebec City, and I’ll end up getting the entire stay for free using the $400 bonus offer for the Barclay Arrival Plus card.

 

Helping

I just helped some good friends extract themselves from the tentacles of Ameriprise.  I couldn’t figure out exactly what the fees were on their accounts, but let’s just say they were high.  Maybe 2% or maybe more.  I consider myself a moderately skilled forensic accountant, and I still couldn’t nail down all the fees they were paying (there were so many!).  Load funds, high expense ratio mutual funds with 12b-1 fees, wrap fees, and annual fees to name a few.  While the overall asset allocation was reasonable (a high percentage of US and international equity investments with a small bond/cash allocation), the fees were completely unreasonable.

Financial advisers at Ameriprise and other similar full service brokerage firms have no fiduciary duty to their clients.  They just have to recommend “suitable” investments.  It’s okay if they recommend very expensive investments that greatly compensate the broker.  As long as the recommendations fit the legal definition of “suitable”.

My friends switched to Vanguard (one of my recommended brokerage firms).  I haven’t circled back to find out their exact portfolio allocation, but I think it was going to be somewhere well under 0.20% (compared to the 2% or so they would pay at Ameriprise).  On a $100,000 portfolio, this would save an investor $1,800 per year.  On a $500,000 portfolio, they would save $9,000 per year.  Every year.  Just for picking a better investment company and set of mutual funds.

I also helped my mother figure out the travel hacking game.  She’s an avid train rider and wants to accumulate as many Amtrak Guest Rewards points as possible.  I pointed her in the direction of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, the Chase Ink Bold card, and the Starwood Preferred Guest card (check out those cards and more).  Those three cards offer a combined 125,000 points as a sign up bonus that can then be transferred into Amtrak Guest Rewards.  Roughly 70,000 points buys you a round-trip ticket across the entire United States in a bedroom sleeper car (a $2,000+ trip).  You can take quite a long train ride (or perhaps two long train rides!) just by signing up for a few credit cards.  You could also take the 125,000 points and redeem for two or three international plane tickets to anywhere in the Americas or Europe if train travel isn’t your style.

 

Looking Ahead

The school year is winding down for my kids.  I started my journey in early retirement on their first day of school, and it’s hard to believe an entire school year has almost slipped by.  This summer we have a fairly busy schedule for the kids.  They will have about ten days with no programmed activities, and then a week of summer camp.  After that, we depart for Canada at the end of June.  Once we return in August, the kids have two more weeks of summer camp and a week of free time before returning to school once again.

My plan is to provide travel updates while we are on the road this summer in the northeast US and in Canada.  It’s going to be a busy summer so we will see how that goes!

 

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What was the most fun thing you did last month?

 

 

32 comments

  • I’m two years in and still cannot believe how busy I am. I always joke that I need to go back to work so I have some free time again!
    Just about every minute is allocated and weeks are flying by. It’s actually a little bit scary.

    • That’s why I make sure to clock in some “doing nothing” hammock time first thing in the morning (after getting the kids out the door and walking them to school and making breakfast for the little guy and coffee for me). Otherwise downtime might not happen!

  • Enjoy your summer!

  • Enjoying the posts! Keep ’em coming!

  • Loved your story about the lady in the Mercedes. I’m still several years from FIRE, but I’ve managed to similarly slow down while working 9-5. I have been biking to work and on the other side of that coin, it amazes me the things you miss when you’re driving around in a hurry all the time.

    My favorite is the kid I call RTFO (rock the f*** out) kid. Every day he is waiting for the school bus by himself, with earbuds in. He is jumping up and down, air guitaring, head banging, and just having a blast. I love biking past RTFO kid. I bet not a single driver even notices him!

    • I notice the small things like that while I’m out on my morning and afternoon walks. I have my own version of RTFO kid, except I always see him get off the bus right in front of my house as I’m walking out the door. He sings (snarls? growls?) death metal lyrics while wearing big headphones and walking/sulking up the street.

    • Pura Vida Nick

      I also love the story about the lady in the mercedes, speeding up just to get to the red light. “I imagine she was pretty pissed that she had to wait along side us ordinary people.” I love it!

      It reminds me of a funny thing the comedian Louis CK said on Conan (“Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy!):

      • Glad you enjoyed the lady in the mercedes bit. She probably wouldn’t find much humor in the anecdote, although she probably doesn’t have time to read it.

        That “Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy!” clip from Louis CK nicely sums up my philosophy. If you step back and take a look at all the good stuff you have going on in your life from tech toys to time saving devices to anything you want to eat or drink (for a price), and add it to “free” things like friends, family, and the beautiful natural or man-made environment surrounding us, it’s pretty amazing. Why isn’t anyone happy? 🙂

  • Sounds like a lot of fun. I totally get the point of FI. I have my mid-year company review coming up, and I think about how pointless it is. My success is being measured on these arbitrary KPIs that someone above me chooses. The KPIs aren’t even motivating to me and that is what KPIs are suppose to do: motivate you….

    • I had a set of nearly meaningless KPI’s when I worked for the state. They didn’t really mean anything though. Now my KPIs are “Am I happy?” and “Am I doing what I want to do?” and “Is there any better way to spend my time”. Meeting these KPI’s doesn’t take too much work. 🙂

  • I am actually jealous in a good way. Knowing that other people have done it is very motivating for me. 37 now, so already late

  • You are living the life I am dreaming and striving for. Have a great summer!

  • We just got back from a ‘long weekend’ trip to the Houston/Austin area for a family graduation. It was fun to get out, see an area of Texas that I hadn’t seen before, and take in our niece’s graduation.

    What struck me though, is the clear pace of living difference between where I live and Houston. For instance, when we left our hotel this morning at 5:30 to get to the airport for an 8:00 flight, I was absolutely floored that the freeways were already packed. 5:30 in the morning… That’s just crazy to me.

    • Traffic – everything’s bigger in Texas.

      I live in the big city of Raleigh just a few blocks off of a 8-10 lane major road, and it’s amazing how many people are driving at the wee hours. Traffic is only really bad for a few hours per day, but I can see how traffic and business and the pace of life is all relative. I enjoyed a nice break on the back deck today with the 2 year old watching the steam rise off the play area in the back after a heavy rainstorm. It’s nice and slow back there, even though we aren’t far from the hustle and bustle.

  • So cool to hear you’re still enjoying the life after 9 months. I think it’s terrific to be busy, as long as you’re doing stuff that you love, and it certainly seems that you are. Jealous on the Schiller course. He’s an interesting economic mind. I take it you’d recommend the course to others?
    I’m getting closer to putting my job to sleep as well. It’s looking like March 2015. Soon I will be as awesome as you. Soon, I tell you!

    • This is pretty much what I expected to do in early retirement, and yes, I’m loving it so far.

      I’d recommend the Schiller course if you have an interest in financial theory and the markets. The guest lectures were up there with TED talks but focused toward students of finance. I felt like some of the material was review for me since I already knew it, but you can always fast forward or skip a lecture if it doesn’t interest you (I did this for 1-2 30 minute lectures when I was busy or wasn’t interested).

      March 2015 huh? Can you make it? 😉 I think you’ll do fine in ER, since you seem to have enough things and interests to keep you busy. And if not, you can spend some time adding games to your queue.

  • Glad you are having a wonderful time. It’s nice to be able to do what you want, when you want ;0) . It has been 13 months for me! And it still feels like yesterday. I have slacked off my Duolingo Italian lessons, I need to rectify that, as well as start German!!! Leaving for Berlin tomorrow.. A little late l guess..but “I’ll be back”. My favorite French saying is ” il pete plus haut que son cul”. :0)) say it about some snotty SOB!!!

    • My my, how time flies when you’re having fun.

      I had to google that expression in French. Nice saying! 🙂

      Hey, enjoy Berlin. I’d like to get there some day. And I’ve been interested in learning German, too. Maybe I’ll start German once I get back from Canada in August.

  • Wow, you’re really busy AND productive. I’m busy but unproductive. 🙁
    I want to take more classes at some point. That Finance course sounds great. I really need to take something like that.

    • It’s hard to think of what I’m doing as productive, since I don’t feel like I get a lot done, but I’m certainly busy! 🙂

      You’ll probably like the finance course if they offer it again. It’s a step up from “basic” but not really advanced, so it’s easy for someone who is familiar with investments and the markets to follow along, and you’ll learn a lot more about insurance, real estate, markets, and the historical background for all those mechanisms. I had coursework in most of that stuff during law school, but I still learned a lot (perhaps some things that I had forgotten!).

  • Justin,

    Sounds really awesome – you certainly seem to be living the life. Much more than the Mercedes girl in a rush. It’s great that you are taking time to really get the most out of life and live each day to the max. I will be in your footsteps in the next 5 years – cannot wait 🙂

  • Just discovered your blog. I’m following it now! Great stuff! As a side not the Barclays Arrival Plus card that comes with 40,000 bonus points is actually worth $444.44 because you get 10% of redeemed points back. It means the card gets 2.22% back on all purchases. It’s my favorite credit card for every day spending.

    • Good point, and with the $3,000 required minimum spending you get another 6,000 points. That plus the 10% bonus on the 40,000 points at redemption yields a $500 travel redemption for signing up and meeting the minimum spending requirement.

  • Sounds like you’ve been very busy and enjoying your early retirement. That’s awesome! Early retirement is a goal of mine but if I had to sit around all day doing nothing then I’d be bored and want to go back to work. 🙂

  • Awesome, Justin!!! Can’t wait till Mr. Frugal Farmer can join you in the “early retirees” group. 🙂

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