If a genie emerged from a magic lamp and granted you 2 extra days a week to do whatever you wanted - what would you do with that extra time? Do you even know?
If this scenario sounds improbable, think again. It happened to me at the start of this year. Well, ok... it wasn't a genie but my principal who granted me the extra 2 days, though I was so happy when she said yes that the moment appeared magical! I'm a secondary teacher and I decided, after 30 years in the classroom and 6 years on the FIRE path, that now was the time to go from full-time to part-time work.
Think of it - that's 2 full workdays suddenly transformed into "me" time. Instead of the job taking over the lion's share of my week, I'm now there for 3 days. Over the course of a year, that's a LOT of extra free time.
Now put yourself in that picture. Whether you decide to slow down as I did or to pull the pin entirely from your job, there's going to come a time when you have lots of free time in every week, month and year. Those weeks, months and years are going to keep on coming. It's important to start thinking NOW about how you're going to use that time in ways that bring joy and fulfilment to your life.
You've read plenty of good advice about money, numbers and spreadsheets in the chapters before this one. It's important to get your head around these things. But ultimately, money is only a tool to facilitate every other area of your life. I'll say it again - money is a tool. It's the other areas of your post-retirement life that often get overlooked in the planning stages. Yet these are the very areas in which our lives are built.
Let's assume your financial plans are in place - one day you'll be able to enjoy many decades of life in retirement. Terrific! Now... how are you going to fill your days?
I don't mind admitting that this question still fills me with a creeping kind of fear. I know I'm not alone. The questions of "But what if I get bored?" and, "But what will I do all day?" are real. Our jobs take up a huge part of each workday, especially when the time spent on commuting is taken into account. Many people leave home in the dark and get home in the dark, only having the weekends to race around to get everything else done.
Given this, it makes total sense that people might be a bit leery about what life in early retirement will be like. And yet, that's precisely why we should be looking towards that time and building relationships, friendships, investigating possible interests, and building expectations about how we'll design our lives once we're the ones deciding how our hours will be spent.
There's no point running towards having total freedom over our time if we don't know what we'll do with it once we get there! That's why I've shared some ideas that'll maybe inspire you, specifically under the sections:
This sounds fabulous but really; what does "early" even mean? Depending on where you currently stand on the continuum between the cradle and the grave, "early" can mean anything from 25 to 65.
Speaking as a woman who's heading into the shady end of her fifties, "early" to me means anything a few years before pension age. Anyone who has been able to get their financial act together and retire before they "have to" is doing alright in my book. But to someone in their thirties or forties, the prospect of retiring at 60 might seem impossibly old. It's all relative.
An important consideration about early retirement, especially if you're on the younger end of that continuum, is that your plans need to have the flexibility to pivot and change as your interests and situations evolve. My wishes and needs as a single parent of 4 small boys, back when I was on the Sole Parents Pension over 20 years ago are now very different as my family has grown and I've reached FI. Same person, but different life stages. You won't remain as you are now - take my word for it! Beware of remaining too rigid in your plans and expectations - it's smart to allow some wriggle-room in your plans for how your retirement will appear.
Whether you're aiming at 20 or 50 years of retirement, those days will have to be filled. We've already assumed that you have your finances in order, so before you actually pull the pin and charge off into the sunset, it's an excellent idea to put some serious thought into the core beliefs and values that underpin your life.
In other words: what brings you a deep sense of satisfaction - of a day well spent?
Who (or what) brings laughter and joy to your life?
Are there any skills or creative endeavours that you've always had a yen to master but simply never had the time?
Think of travel. Which destinations lift your heart and make you want to pack your bags to head out there?
Do you feel a desire to give back to the community in some way? Our society is run on the work of volunteers in so many different areas. Is there a niche where you've always had a sneaking suspicion that you'd enjoy working in?
Maybe you don't want to create works of art, but instead, you'd like to be a consumer. Are there books you've always wanted to get lost in? Galleries that you'd love to wander around in, unfettered by time? Bands or orchestras that you've always wanted to hear? Sporting teams or events that you'd love to be able to soak up the atmosphere and get lost in the excitement?
Retirement is definitely the time to dust off those dreams and start living them. If not then, when? And if you've set yourself up for 'early' retirement, that's even better! Imagine all the possibilities...
Isn't that a great term? PASSION PROJECTS! How could you not want to sink your teeth into something like this?
For me, a passion project is something that you do for yourself. I'll be covering voluntary work next - but a passion project is an activity that you've always hankered to spend more time on but had to back off from, due to the pressures of life and work. Now - as you leave work, time is no longer a barrier.
What do you want to achieve?
Just let that question sit with you for a bit...
Can you feel your spirits lift as ideas start to rise to the surface?
Creative types can dust off the woodworking tools, the paintbrushes or dive headlong into their stashes of crafting materials. A guy I went to school with retired a little while ago and has turned his garage into a studio. In his youth, he went to art school but then spent decades in the police force in order to support his family. Now, he finally has the time to spend honing his craft - and he loves it.
My cousin chooses to spend a lot of time on the golf course. She's always been active throughout her life but golf is a game that takes up a fair chunk of time. She's happily engaged in improving her game as often as she likes now - her job is no longer standing in her way.
People with itchy feet, whether for local or international travel, are in for a treat. The world is almost literally their oyster. This is something that I'm definitely looking forward to exploring. I'm an English history buff and it was so thrilling to actually walk in the same rooms and streets as the people I've been reading about my whole life. My trip to North Korea, by contrast, was fascinating (and a little unnerving) in very different ways. The world is such a wide and wonderful place and I can't wait to see more of it.
So many passion projects that revolve around the home! Gardening, pottering around the shed and doing projects around the place - all bring a great sense of pride and satisfaction.
My father spent years doing up vintage cars. His passion was for an English brand - the Riley. It was his first car, so naturally, he has a warm spot in his heart for them. He'd find old wrecks, bring them home in boxes and spend the next few years painstakingly restoring them, one by one, back to their former glory. Along the way he taught himself many skills such as rebuilding motors, painting the exterior, rewiring them, varnishing the woodwork dashboards and door features. He spent HOURS in the garage, happy as a clam. He now has some beautiful cars to drive - almost like works of art. Without a doubt, he counts those hours as time well spent.
Ultimately, the people we love and care about are what our lives revolve around. Our friends and family are a passion project in themselves! This can run the full spectrum of just chilling and having fun to becoming caregivers. When my mother fell and was very frail for a long while afterwards, I realised that the time spent with her is something to be cherished as it wasn't going to last forever. One of the reasons I decided to work part-time was so I could see her more often and enjoy little moments that we'd otherwise not have had. Looking after grandchildren is definitely a passion project - apparently, people who have grandchildren are quite fond of them and like to spend time developing that relationship. Not something I know much about as of yet!
These passion projects are one thing, but what if you take it a step further and push these interests out into the wider world? You have the joy of doing things you enjoy, with the added benefits of working with other people and adding value to the community.
I have a friend, Mandy, who retired a couple of years ago when she was 56. She and her husband downsized to the Peninsula, where they were nearer to their grandchildren and a more relaxed lifestyle near the beach. Even before she left her job, she said to me a couple of times, "When I retire, I'm going to find a dog shelter and walk the dogs. Not the little dogs; the big dogs that no one wants to walk."
This is what she says about the role of volunteering in her life:
"I spent 12 months volunteering at 2 animal shelters and recently decided to discontinue one of the roles. I was feeling overcommitted, (overcommitted in retirement! Haha!!), and my role at one of the shelters was very physical and rather thankless. I kept going for the sake of the animals but ultimately decided to focus my energy on the shelter where I feel my contribution has the most impact and is more valued. If I want to increase my shelter volunteer work again in the future I can easily commit to additional shifts at that same shelter."
Her voluntary work also has a little bonus - Buddy, one of the dogs she walked eventually found his way home with her.
Mandy also volunteers once a month in a local group that picks up rubbish at their local beach. She sometimes takes her little grandchildren with her, which reinforces the value held in their family of looking after the environment while also doubling as a fun afternoon on the beach with Gran.
You can see by Mandy's example that volunteering needn't be a huge time-suck. She walks the dogs on Monday mornings and is home for lunch. The beach clean-ups are once a month for an hour or two, yet doing these things means that she satisfies a need to be useful and valuable in society. She's also naturally building new friendships and ties with her town, avoiding feeling isolated or lonely.
Mandy chose her voluntary work based on her love of dogs and the environment. You, too, might have interests or values that would lend themselves beautifully to a voluntary gig or two.
Religious? Why not teach a Sunday school class, or do R.E. classes at primary school? Many churches seem to have opportunity shops, so a few hours a week in one of those would help raise much-needed funds for charity.
If you're sporty, then there's a myriad of community sporting groups that need coaches, people who look after the sporting equipment and people to run the canteens.
As a teacher, I know for a fact that schools are always looking for people to give their time to help out with kids who are having trouble with basic literacy and numeracy. Volunteering your time in a task like this can literally change a kid's life for the better.
I have another friend, Libby, who is a keen advocate for social justice. When she retired a few years ago, she put her hand up to help out at a charity for refugees. She collects and assembles food parcels and clothes for families who have arrived here after escaping the most horrific conditions. Libby lives in the inner suburbs and has a beautifully busy social life, but her face lights up when she talks about her days at the charity. She absolutely loves it.
As for me, I haven't really thought that far ahead when it comes to volunteering. I've vaguely thought that I might teach a class in literature or poetry at U3A - the University of the Third Age, which are classes run for and by retirees. I'll probably knit warm hats and scarves for the homeless - I hate the cold and I like making quilts and knitting things to keep my loved ones warm.
But who knows what may emerge? The beauty of volunteering is that there is literally something for everyone. It's just a matter of being open to possibilities and keeping your eye out.
I don't know about you, but almost every retired person I've talked to laughs and says, "I don't know how I ever found the time to work!"
Don't you hate that? Especially if you're at work and the person has dropped in to gloat to visit their old work-mates.
I asked Mandy about whether the pace of life has changed for her since she left work two years ago. She said, "One by-product of retirement is that I’ve finally learned to slow down – most of the time anyway. It took quite a while to wind back to a gentler pace, but generally, I no longer feel the urgency to get everything done today, not when I can see a whole bunch of ‘todays’ in front of me. Life is not lived at the same frantic pace as before and there is more time to enjoy the small moments. Interestingly too, having learned to slow down, I just don’t need as many things to fill the day. Compared to my pre-retirement life, I now feel like I do a lot of “nothing”. It’s not really that I’m doing nothing of course, but I’m going at a slower pace and enjoying more quiet moments."
The FIRE lifestyle has so much going for it! Free of financial constraints and with years of extra time to spend on what you decide, it's a lifestyle that's hard to beat. When you fill those decades of extra time with activities that mesh with your core beliefs and values, you have the recipe for an extremely rewarding life.
For me, that's worth striving for.
About Frogdancer Jones, Burning Desire For FIRE | burningdesireforfire.com
Frogdancer Jones is incredibly interested in Financial Independence, having been a single mother of 4 boys for over 20 years. Raising that many children on one wage is expensive! She is on a glide-path towards retirement, having dropped back to part-time teaching in 2020. Single people can FIRE too.
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