Choosing Our Own FIRE Adventure
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I’ve been trying to figure out how to best put all my scrambled thoughts into coherent words, since this has been the slowest whirlwind of my life. That’s part of why I took so long to share this news. I’ve been slowly dropping morsels of my plans by commenting on other blogs or Reddit threads, and I mentioned it in my Women on FIRE interview. Today I’m excited to let you all in on the secret: I quit my job, even though we aren’t fully financially independent. We will need to pad our investment accounts a bit more before I can comfortably say that we are early retired, but…
Wow, it’s still crazy to say that. When I discovered financial independence early retirement (FIRE) a few years ago, I didn’t think I would quit before reaching the finish line. Maybe I’d jump jobs a few times to get some big raises, but we’d tough it out since our path really was never too long.
But over the past few years of diligently saving, tracking our spending, and hunting for happiness it became evident that I needed to quit. Well only evident after considering all my options over an excessively long period of time. I debated finding a new job and was even offered one, but I turned it down. I knew I needed a break.
I’m not sure what to call this current stage of my life*:
- Risky Early Retirement
- Starting a new super small business/Entrepreneur
Honestly, I don’t think finding the exact word is really necessary, but I’m finally taking control and choosing my own early retirement adventure.
Jumping Off the FIRE Fast Track
Just a few months ago our pack’s FIRE date was three years away, but then Mr. Kiwi quit and took a 60% pay cut. That means our date got pushed out a bit. Now, a few months later, I quit to take a ~99% pay cut. Our FIRE date will totally be up to the whims of the market now. But that doesn’t feel very important, since we’re looking to build the “OR” part of FIOR (financial independence optional retirement).
In theory, FIOR sounds perfect. Build enough wealth to be financially independent, but still enjoy your work and keep at it purely by choice. However, at the start of 2017 neither one of us were in jobs that made the retirement side of the equation feel very optional.
And three years to FIRE feels like a long time when you aren’t having much fun with ⅓ of your time (especially considering you sleep close to another ⅓). Yes, I realize that sounds a bit melodramatic and extremely millennial of me. But I am still shocked that we are so close to full financial independence. I suppose I shouldn’t be since the math is shockingly simple.
The Painfully-Slow Drawn-Out Decision to Quit
My decision to quit was not done on a whim – basically as close to opposite of that as you can imagine. This whole debate (or at least some version of it) has been raging on in my head for the past 1.5 years. Remember when I wrote this article about how to quit? Well, the plan was being set way back then.
I needed to quit because every day of work, I questioned my values. No matter how much I controlled my spending decisions, I couldn’t resolve my internal conflict. My daily work involved making choices that I didn’t support. Unfortunately, that wasn’t super obvious. I wasn’t running around egregiously contaminating the environment. In reality it was many small daily decisions that left me feeling agitated in the evenings.
I studied engineering to protect the environment and improve quality of life. But my work wasn’t fulfilling that mission.
Unfortunately, financial stability is one of my biggest cravings, and a mini retirement would mean compromising some of that. Giving up my guaranteed bi-weekly paycheck was going to be a difficult thing to leave behind. A bunch of questions ran through my head ferociously:
- Could I happily go from being a DINK home to a SINK home?
- Am I giving up for all women in STEM if I abandon my day job to pursue a more creative life?
- Will I be strong enough to put myself out there, take risks, and fail?
*Picture super Mrs. Kiwi the feminist fighting for women to truly get to do what they desire.*
I’m a feminist (duh, isn’t everyone?), and by choosing the life I want and making it happen I can be my best feminist self. Sadly, many women leave engineering around my age, and it’s still a little hard to be part of that statistic.
I weighed pros and cons of quitting/finding a new job/taking a mini retirement. Talked to Mr. Kiwi for hours(/days/weeks) on end, and I finally made a choice. (Being decisive is not one of my strengths, but I excel at being intentional.)
Finally, after months and months jokingly telling Mr. Kiwi that I may just walk into the office today and quit. I picked a quitting date. I would get my choose your own adventure lifestyle a little before my 30th birthday. (Ah, I don’t know what to call this!) And I would earn an extra couple thousand dollars since I would stick around to get half of my employer 401k retirement match. (Plus the salary I earned by showing up every day and putting in the work.)
No More Wishing Away My Life
That all sounds great right? And picking a firm mini retirement date worked. It even worked on the bad days. It made sitting in tedious meetings a little more manageable. I started working harder, my job started feeling better, but then I started counting down the days.
Counting DOWN the days of your life is no way to live. So, my best friend’s wise voice popped into my head about not wishing my life away and enjoying my work. I dug my heels in, and rewarded myself with promises of upgrading our kitchen with the extra money I was making (a project I’ve been aching to do since we bought the house).
Then I was able to focus on what I want my life to look like after I said goodbye to the 8-5. I took some online courses, had a mentoring call with Jillian (thank you!), and invested in myself and my blog. Mr. Kiwi and I tried out some new hobbies and did some woodworking.
I finished the weeks out still counting those days down, but dreading them a bit less. And before leaping into the nothing, I started projects while still fully employed. I think I accomplished more in those last two months of working than I did all last year.
I used my evenings and weekends more productively. I forced myself to stop watching Netflix (and am saving $7.99/mo!), and I exercised more. Mr. Kiwi and I have sat down to have more focused and meaningful conversations. We discussed projects and goals for this new time in our life. I may not have gotten all the answers I wanted, but we are moving forward and towards a shared vision (compromise is key).
My whole life I’ve been scared of failing. I still am. But I’m the only one who can define what failure really means to me.
I know that this mini-retirement will come with its own set of challenges. As much as we’d all love to blame our jobs for any discontentment, it wasn’t the only cause of my stress. But I have eliminated one source of contention, and I’m excited to be a better blogger, friend, daughter, sister, and partner.
Funding My Mini Retirement
My husband and I have shared our finances since we moved in together, so we plan to live on his income during my mini-retirement. I am so grateful that I have a supportive partner in this journey, and recognize that made my choice much simpler.
When thinking about a mini retirement in the US healthcare could be a major obstacle. Fortunately, Mr. Kiwi’s traditional job provides our very affordable health insurance. But to quell my nerves we both got our annual physicals to get clean bills of health before I quit. We’ve opted to self-insure our dental and vision coverage and made sure to get up to date on those appointments before I left my job. (I even had a cavity filled on my last workday.)
If something were to happen with Mr. Kiwi’s job, we have a few other financial options. We have a robust emergency fund and if needed we could tap some of our investments. Obviously, I’ll have the option of going back to work and getting a job at any point. Hey, I’ve already made almost $100 dog sitting. 🙂
Finally, we have some money set aside for my mini retirement projects. I know I would hesitate to spend money during my mini retirement if I didn’t think about it before leaping into the unknown.
Since we’ve both changed jobs in the last year, I plan to write up all the steps we took to prepare for those transitions. With all this change it’s felt like we were juggling lots of optimization options!
The Mini Retirement Plans
Now for the fun stuff. What am I going to do with this newfound time? I’m leaping into the unknown and don’t want to build too much structure immediately. I mostly want to focus on my work, home, and garden.
The thing I’ve been craving most is to find a way to not choose my job or my life. I hope to build an income around work I value as Vicki Robin described in Your Money or Your Life. Yay, I’m launching an Etsy shop, volunteering in my community, and focusing more on Kiwi and Keweenaw.
It all means balancing saying both no and yes more, as I still have limited time!
We also have some major home improvement projects planned this year. I love diving into a new project, learning skills, and DIYing everything. Which is good since I’m tackling all of that these next few months. We’re tearing apart half of our house and updating our master bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and maybe family room this year. Plus, while the inside is being renovated we can’t neglect the outside too! The roof gets to join in on the party and get replaced this summer.
I’m going to take the lead on all of those projects – project management is my jam. After toiling away in a cubicle working on some hands on projects will be fun. And hey, we could hire out these projects, but where’s the fun in that? We’ll enjoy the improvements so much more if we slowly tackle them ourselves.
In keeping with my crazy impractical tradition I am planning on doubling our garden again this year. We love growing our own food and all the learning that comes along with that. Our current garden keeps us well fed in the summer. The new expansion will allow us to grow MORE FOOD (variety and quantity) and eat more garden food in the winter and spring. As an added perk we’ll save even more our our grocery budget, maybe we’ll spend less than Kris.
Choosing Our Own Early Retirement Adventure
While we aren’t financially ready to stop running the financial independence race, we are changing the rules a bit. (Guess what!?! You get to set your own FIRE rules too.)
- I quit my job to enjoy a mini retirement and find more value.
- Mr. Kiwi shrunk his salary to build a more satisfying career.
We’re going to play our own game, and finish the race at a slower pace that will be easier to maintain. We want to live our best life, so we might as well start today.
Have you taken a mini retirement? Or left a job without a defined plan? Are you saving towards FIRE or FIOR? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
*My husband, the PhD student, wants me to call it a peri-retirement, but I don’t think anyone would understand that. I’ll try to explain. Have you ever heard of a peri-urban area? Well it’s the area at the edge of a city, the periphery. I’m on the edge of early retirement, but not quite there. Thus, peri-retired.