I was driving to work the other day thinking about all the productive things I wanted to get done once the working day was over and done with. Suddenly I started to think about what would happen if I won a life changing amount on the lottery. Now I’d be quite surprised if that happened, on the basis that I don’t actually do the lottery. I used to play with husband number one when it first started. I remember watching the lottery show as they drew the numbers. It was a double roll over, so we were excitedly watching thinking this could be the answer to our lack of money problems. We watched with increasing excitement as the first four numbers out were ours. We were going to be rich beyond our wildest dreams. Or maybe not. Four numbers was as far as it went. A measly eighty pounds or so came our way. That was it for me. The joy of the lottery was ruined. I was never interested in a bit of extra cash to splash. I wanted to have my life changed. So I haven’t played the lottery since that day.
Anyway, let’s run with the lottery winning scenario. Or it could be an inheritance or some other unexpected windfall. It happens all the time in the films, but I guess it must happen in real life too. On face value it sounds fantastic. We’re all working away towards FIRE, trying not to get too obsessive about it, but probably failing miserably. You try to make sure you savour every moment of life as it’s all about the journey, not just about the final destination (which let’s be honest, ultimately is death, so probably not a great thing to focus too much on). But anyway, we’re all working away trying to grow our income, spend less than we earn and invest the difference. We look for ways to cut our costs and develop side hustles to bring in extra cash. We read blogs and listen to podcasts to get ideas from other people who are on their way to FIRE, and try and emulate those who’ve already hit their magical number and are living the dream.
So on the face of it suddenly coming in to a big dollop of cash that gets us to FIRE is a wonderful thing. No longer will we have to scrimp and save (although actually I think this becomes an ingrained habit that would be pretty difficult to be able or want to break) and we’ll be able to walk down the happy path to early retirement. But thinking about it seriously I’m honestly not sure how I would feel about that. I really like to work for things, and striving to achieve something is usually more rewarding than the actual moment of getting what you want. Maybe I’m just not quite enough of a stop and smell the roses type of girl. Maybe that’s something for me to work on. By the time I get towards the point where I’m about to achieve a goal I’m already planning the next thing that I want to work towards.
So if I was handed FIRE on a plate would I feel cheated of the achievement of reaching there by my own endeavours? It’s possible. I think there would most likely be a significant period of readjustment involved. Although actually thinking about it, I wonder if that is likely to happen even if you’ve got to FIRE through your own volition. It must be a little strange to be working away getting your finances to a point where you can choose your own work situation and then get to where you’re just needing to maintain your money and in fact are having to spend it to support yourself. No matter how much you’ve managed to accumulate I imagine it must go against the grain to be dipping in to your money. Clearly that’s what it’s there for, but still it can’t be an easy shift of mind set.
I can’t quite make my mind up if reaching FIRE is going to be this euphoric moment, with a metaphorical throwing things in the air and skipping off in to the sunset, or if there will be a bit more soul searching involved and quite frankly a period of depression whilst adjusting to the new frame of mind needed to enjoy your new found freedom. Maybe a mixture of the two. Maybe a halfway house is a good way to try and smooth the transition. I’ve been thinking about this route quite a bit recently, and what FIRE can realistically look like for me.
I think I’m pretty much at the point where I’m fairly certain I’ll be fine to retire at 60. I think I need a new acronym to describe my quest. Financial Independence retire a tiny bit earlier than some of the population(FIRATBETSOTP – catchy eh?) So this is hardly ground breaking, but it’s a better position than I was in before I stumbled upon FIRE – so that’s all to the good. My plan now is to be able to change my life around the time I’m 55 (so just over 6 years away). If I can get the bulk of my mortgage paid off by then (it’s quite a big ask, but I’m really going for it) I’ll be in a much better position to be able to reduce the income that I need to live off. My current thinking is that maybe part time working at that point might work quite well for me. A four or even better a three day working week sounds pretty civilised to me. That would give me time to adjust to a life that didn’t revolve so completely around work.
I think I’m pretty good at making use of my free time just now. I have a nice mixture of running, family time, friends, FIRE stuff, boxsets, cooking etc etc. Quite frankly there just aren’t enough hours in the week. Part time work and then eventually no time work will free up plenty of extra time for me to expand the time I spend doing things that I love. Thinking about that timeline though it’s quite likely that around the time I would be hoping to reduce my working hours is probably the time I’m quite likely to be experiencing empty nest syndrome with the kids leaving home. Although I often crave more time to myself, I imagine having the house to myself is going to be pretty tough to deal with. So that’s going to be an extra dynamic to contend with.
I do think that easing yourself out of the workplace is probably not a bad idea. Maybe not quite as dramatic as going in to work one day and handing your notice in just because you can, but maybe a slightly healthier way to do it. I remember when my dad retired a few years ago there was a definite period of adjustment for him. It can be tough to go from a full on working life being constantly busy, to suddenly having all the time to do what you want. Saying that, now when I speak to my folks they’re always out and about doing things and seem to have lots of projects on the go.
As well as dealing with how to fill your time post FIRE, I guess there will also be an element of your identity being tied up with your work to a certain extent. I would hope that us FIRE folks are in a slightly better position than others in this respect. We know that we have an end goal in mind and that work is a means to an end. Now saying that, we still have to actually be present at work and it’s easy to get caught up in all the nonsense that happens. Office politics anyone? No, I can’t be bothered with it either, but it is so easy to get sucked in to that rubbish.
Work has always been an important part of my life. I wouldn’t say I’ve particularly enjoyed the jobs that I’ve had over the years, but I’ve always taken pride in doing my jobs well and being a hard worker. I’d like to think that I’m professional and conscientious, and that’s very much a part of how I think of myself as a person. If I’m no longer working do I just lose that part of my identity? I’m guessing not. I would imagine that part of your personality just carries on with whatever projects you decide to fill your post FIRE life with.
When I was heading out for lunch the other day at work I overheard a conversation in the corridor. There had obviously been some sort of team training session going on where they’d been asking people about why they come to work. One of them said to the other “Am I allowed to say that I’m just here for the money?” I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have been a massive shock to the person running the session to hear that money is a motivating factor in getting people to work in the morning. The majority of people have bills to pay and work is the way that we get the money to keep the wolf from the door. But it got me thinking. What is it that motivates me to keep coming in to work day after day, year after year?
So yes, money is definitely a factor. But I don’t have to work where I do or in that same job within that organisation. There must be more to it than the cold hard cash. And of course there is. So for me other monetary factors come in to play. So I’ve got my salary that I need to come to work to earn. But also I have my staff mortgage that is a massive factor in me keeping working for the same company. I love seeing my mortgage balance come down, and it wouldn’t be coming down nearly so quickly if I didn’t have such a beneficial mortgage rate.
The company share save schemes are a big thing for me too. I throw the maximum amount in to those and obsessively check the share price to see what I’m worth. I’ve talked before about how I have too much tied up with the company I work for, and I’m going to address that. With the discount that gets applied to the share option price it’s definitely worth taking advantage of for me. So moving forward I hope to keep participating in the scheme, cash the shares in as soon as the scheme matures and invest the whole lot (including a hopefully sizeable profit) in low cost index tracker funds.
I also have my defined benefit pension scheme that keeps me locked in to the company. Although it’s not nearly as good as it could have been had it not been capped a number of years ago when my salary and working hours weren’t where they are now, it’s still worth £10k a year if I can stick it out to 60. The good thing too is that because it’s capped at what I was earning years ago, if I was to go part time further down the line I don’t think it would impact what I would get in the future too much. I need to check that out a bit more, but I reckon that could potentially work in my favour if I do want to go part time at 55.
So these perks of working for this particular company are what keep me where I am. Already a lot of these benefits are being phased out for people who joined later, so I imagine if I moved to another company I’m less likely to get these sorts of deals. Also, after 18 years working for the same company the thought of moving is somewhat terrifying. Although if they offered voluntary redundancy on the current terms I worked out that I’d get about £45k. I reckon I could face a bit of fear of the unknown for that sort of a pay-out.
So there are lots of financial reasons why I get out of bed in the morning. Of course other factors come in to play too. When the alarm goes off at 6 am I might not be delighted at the prospect of getting up, but I know I have customers that I don’t want to let down and colleagues that I don’t want to leave in the lurch by not turning up. In the longer term though I reckon I won’t feel any compunction in waving goodbye to those colleagues and leaving them to get on with it. After all, it’s their choice to fritter away their salary rather than investing for the future. Harsh maybe, but everybody makes choices in life that impact their future. For me a future without a 6am alarm call is most definitely worth spending less now. Getting to a point where I can choose to get up early because I have exciting plans that I want to work on is more important to me than wasting my money now on distractions that don’t add value to my life.