In February 2012, I decided to negotiate a severance to break free from corporate life. By mid-June 2012, I had received a severance check and the last of my three months of WARN Act pay. Ten years of fake retirement later, I want to share with you some of my biggest takeaways.
Overall, it’s been an incredible journey. However, I’m also melancholy I’ll never get back these past 10 years. The greater your appreciation of time, the less you will want to waste it.
For those of you thinking about permanently leaving your day job to go on a great adventure, this post is for you.
Why Use The Term Fake Retirement?
Let’s start with the obvious question. Why I used the words “fake retirement” in the title of this post?
I consider myself a fake retiree because consistently publishing three-to-four times a week for 13+-years takes work. Even though I enjoy writing, I’m still spending about 14 hours a week creating instead of consuming. Then I spend another six hours a week responding to comments and e-mails. Unfortunately, they are never ending when you run a website.
Since retiring from a day job in 2012, I also did some consulting work at several startups for three years. Although I only consulted for 15-20 hours a week, it’s still work. I had this itch to experience the tech startup life given I had lived in San Francisco since 2001.
Another reason why I use “fake retirement” is that since 2017, I’ve been a stay-at-home dad. Despite working in banking for 13 years, I think being a stay-at-home parent to two young children is at least 100% harder. You’ve got to always be on, otherwise, something bad might happen. The amount of patience needed to raise toddlers with kindness is monk-like.
Finally, since the beginning of 2020, I’ve been writing a new personal finance book. During this stressful time period, I would often wake up by 5 am in order to write in peace. Once the little ones woke up by 8:30 am, it was family time for much of the day.
The combination of being a parent and writing every day since the pandemic began has burned me out. Real retirees shouldn’t feel burned out. Real retirees should feel way more relaxed than when they had day jobs!
I haven’t told anybody I’m retired since 2013, my last year of extensive traveling and goofing off. True retirement was nice for a year. But it sure got boring real quickly as a thirty five year old.
Lessons Learned After 10 Years Of Fake Retirement
I’ve been writing about achieving financial independence since July 2009 when I launched Financial Samurai. Since then, the financial independence movement has become more mainstream.
Terms such as Coast FIRE, Lean FIRE, and Barista FIRE have popped up to help those still far away from financial independence feel better about their progress. Achieving financial independence takes discipline. And if you can use a term that fits your situation, this may help motivate you to keep trying.
When the going gets tough, it’s sometimes easier to quit saving and stop investing aggressively. However, after all these years, I still maintain that to be financially independent, you must have enough passive income to at least cover your basic living expenses.
If your passive income does not cover at least your basic living expenses, you are not financially independent. And that’s OK! You just have to keep working on your financial journey.
This brings me to the first lesson I’ve learned after 10+ years of fake retirement.
1) Only you will know whether you are truly financially independent or not.
We can come up with terms to make ourselves feel better about our progress. However, deep down, only you know whether you are financially independent or just faking it. Faking it until you make it can sometimes work at your job or entrepreneurial endeavor. But faking it ultimately doesn’t work when it comes to living the life you want.
If you run a podcast about achieving financial independence, but had to ask for donations in 2020 to support your business, you are probably not financially independent. A reader brought this interesting example to my attention.
If you retire with only $600,000 but have to relocate to another country and teach English, you probably aren’t retired either. You’re probably more like me, a fake retiree, who is on a new adventure.
If you are a man who retires with $4 million and two kids but has a working wife who makes over $400,000 a year, some may just smirk at the situation. Despite all the talk about equality and inclusion, society still has a difficult time accepting a stay-at-home dad as a retiree.
The thing is, it really doesn’t matter what anybody thinks about your financial situation. All that matters is whether you are doing what you want or not. If you are able to do what you want without fretting about money, then you are financially independent. You know your situation the best.
2) Your financial needs and desires will change over time.
One of the main reasons why I’ve published posts such as 401(k) by age and target net worth by age is because time is a huge component of wealth. You can’t compare a 25-year-old’s financial situation with a 45-year-old’s financial situation. Instead, it is more relevant to compare the financial situations of similar ages.
When I left work in 2012, I was happy with $80,000 a year in passive income. My next goal was to generate $150,000 in passive income by the time my wife joined me in early retirement in 2015. We made a pact that if things worked out with me fake retiring at age 34, three years later, she could also retire from work at age 34. Our passive income goal was achieved and she retired as planned with a nice severance as well.
However, after we had our first child in 2017, my desire to earn more passive income increased to $200,000+. If we wanted to raise a child in an expensive city like San Francisco, we needed to earn more to pay for rising healthcare and preschool tuition expenses.
My wife doesn’t think she’s a retiree either given how much she works taking care of the kids. She also ensures all the accounting and other backend requirements are done properly for Financial Samurai.
The reason why I share my passive income figures is because it helps to have some transparency. I’m on a financial journey as well.
Our current goal is to consistently generate at least $300,000 in passive income to live a relatively middle-class lifestyle in San Francisco or Honolulu with two children. Whether you believe we’re financially independent or not doesn’t matter. The numbers are the numbers.
Just because you think you’ll need X amount of passive income to retire early doesn’t mean that amount will stay static forever. Family sizes change. Health issues arise as we age. Accidents happen. Tastes change. With inflation eating away at our purchasing power, the need to generate more income has increased for everyone.
Be open to generating supplemental retirement income once your day job is done. If you can do something you enjoy that brings in extra income, you dramatically increase your chances of living a comfortable retirement life.
Not only do you generate income by doing something purposeful, but the income generated also alleviates the need for you to spend down your capital as quickly.
3) You will adopt a dynamic safe withdrawal rate and be more flexible overall.
Because your financial needs and desires will change over time, you should also be flexible with your safe withdrawal rate. The best safe withdrawal rate is a dynamic safe withdrawal rate that changes with the times.
Contrary to what academics might say, there is no one fixed safe withdrawal rate to go by. As a practitioner who let go of a day job’s security in 2012, I’m telling you staying flexible is important.
One way is to follow and use the 10-year bond yield as your withdrawal rate guide. This economic figure is an important starting point that tells you the state of the world. In general, as the 10-year bond yield increases, so can your safe withdrawal rate and vice versa.
However, every economic situation is different. For example, you might think the Fed will go too far in raising interest rates, leading to a devastating and prolonged bear market. If so, you may want to lower your safe withdrawal rate to be more conservative. Your dynamic mind will make adjustments accordingly.
4) You will eventually take your freedom for granted.
The hedonic treadmill is the main reason why achieving financial freedom won’t solve all your problems. Even though it feels amazing to do what you want whenever you want, you will gradually begin to stop appreciating your freedom.
For example, while you were working, you might have felt giddy leaving work at 3:00 pm to have a drink with a colleague. Getting paid to drink is awesome! However, once you have total independence, you might actually get annoyed meeting up so late. Why not be more efficient and booze it up during lunch instead?
You will naturally create your own routine once you are financially independent. This routine will replace your old routine while you had a job. If you have to make commitments outside your normal routine, then you might feel agitated.
For example, I love to take a nap any time between 1 pm – 3 pm. As someone who always wakes up by 6 am, I’m always sleepy after lunch. Therefore, it’s a bummer when a friend wants to play tennis or a prospective online partner wants to do a call during these hours. I usually won’t say no because I try to accommodate friends or prospective partners who have less flexible schedules. However, I am still annoyed.
Just like how eating too much cake isn’t good for your body, having too much freedom may not be good for your soul. The path of least resistance is to do nothing. Therefore, having some structure and commitments in your daily life are important.
5) You will likely have a recurring desire to return to work.
Once you leave your day job you will most likely start to second-guess your fake retirement decision, especially if you retire very early. If you don’t retire to something purposeful, the greater your desire to return to work will be. After years at the office, you may miss the camaraderie and working on a mission.
Since 2012, I’ve battled the urge to return to work at least three times. The first was within the first six months after I left my job. I interviewed with competing firms just to make sure I hadn’t made a grave mistake.
The second time was in 2018 a year after my son was born. I felt I needed to start earning again to better take care of my family. Getting subsidized healthcare insurance was also something that crossed my mind. At the time, we were paying about $1,850 a month in healthcare insurance. Today, our healthcare insurance bill is about $2,200 a month.
I also thought going back to work might feel like a nice vacation! You might scoff at this notion. But I truly felt like working 60 hours a week in banking is easier than working 40 hours a week as a father.
I was trying my best to always be present for my boy. However, during his first two years of life, he would often rebuff me for his mother, probably because she was a main source of food. Therefore, if I could earn more money while feeling more relaxed and less disappointed at being a father, I thought this would be a win.
Working From Home Rocks
The most recent time I fought my desire to go back to work was a year into the pandemic. Given so many people were able to work from home, it no longer felt as special for me to work from home. There were people working only two hours a day and still getting paid full time! Meanwhile, there were others making double pay working two jobs from home.
Before 2020, I could always play tennis between 10 am – 2 pm because there were always free courts. Today, I usually have to wait 15-30 minutes. Many of my friends who made handsome amounts of money were hitting me up to play in the middle of the day.
On warm weekdays, the beaches are always crowded with people working from home. Therefore, I figured, if I could work from home and not really work much, I might as well get a day job again!
If I hadn’t been required to come into the office five days a week or travel twice a month on average, I’m pretty sure I would have worked until at least age 40, instead of leaving at 34.
One of the main reasons why I left work was because I truly felt I was wasting about 50% of the time sitting in the office. But I had to be there because my bosses were there.
6) You appreciate time more, not less.
You would think having more time would make you become less appreciative of time. After all, increased supply generally leads to a decline in prices. Instead, the opposite happens once you become financially independent.
Because you can do whatever you want, you’re no longer forced to do things you absolutely don’t want to do. Therefore, every minute that is wasted has a greater opportunity cost.
For example, while I was working, clients would sometimes show up 30 minutes late. To me, it was no big deal because I couldn’t go anywhere else. My only choice was to continue waiting.
However, today, if a person shows up 30 minutes late, I am agitated because I could have spent that time playing with my daughter, writing on Financial Samurai, playing tennis, or napping.
You might be playing the world’s smallest violin right now. But I assure you the value of your time goes up, once you have more freedom. When you’re able to optimize your time by only doing what you want, spending your time sub-optimally starts to feel especially bad.
7) You realize how strange it is to take instruction from other adults all day.
The longer I’m away from work, the more peculiar I think it is that over a billion people voluntarily listen to other adults for 40+ hours a week. Then, once the work hours are done, we are all equal outside of work.
You can see your scary boss at the supermarket one Saturday and feel at ease saying “what’s up.” He doesn’t get dibs on the ripest mangoes in the aisle! Yet, come Monday, you will fly out to Denver to meet with a client last minute per his request, even if you have a sick child at home.
Obviously, the reason why many adults toe the line at work is due to the need for financial security. Hence, the questions I ask all of you are:
- What would you do if you were already financially secure?
- What are you burying inside to conform?
- Which truths have you suppressed so you don’t jeopardize your status?
One of the biggest benefits of FIRE is being able to be who you are without as much fear of persecution. You’ll always fear a little bit of judgement. However, you will be able to live much closer to your true self once you don’t have the need to do anything for money.
8) You will lose and then regain your identity.
Given our work is a big part of who we are, once you leave your job, you will lose a part of your identity. The longer you work, the harder the transition to retirement or fake retirement will be. The negatives of early retirement can be debilitating during the initial transition.
If you are truly retired, you might start feeling useless to society. And if you start feeling useless, the chances of feeling sad or depressed go up. At the end of the day, we all want to feel like we’re contributing something meaningful. This purpose keeps our happiness meter high.
Therefore, nobody really retires early and does nothing. Instead, early retirees eventually find something they would do for free because they enjoy it. In my case, that something is writing and connecting with people online.
Sooner or later, you will develop a new identity that will replace your old identity due to gaining a new purpose. And when you do, your highs will feel higher than while you were working because money has become less of a factor than what you do.
9) You start thinking more about what type of legacy you want to leave.
Along with wanting a sense of purpose during fake retirement, you will also want to accomplish something you are proud of. In other words, you will want to leave behind something positive others will benefit from after you are gone.
One of my main goals is to help people live better lives by achieving financial freedom sooner. Over the years, it’s felt great to get positive feedback from readers. Sharing blindspots to help people make more optimal decisions on their journey is important to me. Losing money is really about losing time as time is the most valuable asset of them all.
My soon-to-be-released book, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom, has the potential to help a new segment of the book-reading public. I’m confident the book will change the reader’s life for the better. I can also die easier knowing I did everything possible to try and help others with their finances. Financial independence is worth fighting for!
When looking back on your life, you want to have some defining moments you’ll always remember. Such wonderful moments might include graduating from high school or college, getting your first job, starting a company, winning an award, and having a baby. Further, the more difficult the environment, the more you want to create fond memories.
When I look back on the pandemic period, I will happily remember three things. 1) my wife birthing our daughter at the end of 2019, 2) keeping our kids safe and providing them with lots of love and attention, and 3) publishing a personal finance book that positively impacted everyone who read it.
10) Nobody really cares what you do, so make sure you live for yourself.
The only people who may criticize your fake retirement are members of the Internet Retirement Police. They’ll try to arrest you for doing anything that generates income. Even if you say you are a fake retiree, they might still lob grenades, especially if you spend any time on social media.
But the reality is, so long as you aren’t hurting anybody, everyday people don’t care how you live your lifestyle. Most are too busy worrying about their own. The only people who get bent out of shape about how you describe your situation are those who want what you have.
To reduce criticism, accept your fake retirement in all its glory! Once you accept another’s criticism, there’s nothing left for them to criticize. But really, your main goal is to conserve as much life energy as possible to do more of what you want.
If you have the money to do as you please, please do so. Don’t conform to someone else’s expectations of you. Exercise your free-will to its fullest! At the end of the day, you are only letting yourself down if you don’t pursue what you want.
11) Your courage will continue to increase.
The fear in your head is often worse than reality. In fact, fear is one of the key ingredients for achieving financial freedom. Without fear, you won’t be motivated enough to plan for the various unknowns. Fear of failure also makes you try harder to reduce your chances of failure.
As your fear dissipates, your courage grows! With regards to early retirement, courage first starts with giving up a paycheck and realizing being jobless isn’t so bad. You will most likely figure out a way to make things work by trying new things. Remember, your financial independence number is not real if you don’t change a suboptimal situation.
Once you conquer many of your money worries, you’ll find your courage will continue to grow in other aspects of your life.
I’ve grown a greater courage to be disliked by speaking my mind more often. I’d much rather be authentic and lose readers than act like a power-hungry politician to grow support. It feels amazing not to have to pretend to be someone you are not.
In competitive sports, I just realized I’ve played 22 USTA tennis matches in 2022 after taking a two-year hiatus thanks to the virus. The fear and frustration of losing are still there. But apparently not enough to prevent me from competing so many times. Bring it on!
Gaining more courage to be yourself might be the most valuable personal development gift of this entire process.
Fake Retirement Is The Best Of Both Worlds
As a perennial optimist, I think fake retirement is wonderful.
On the one hand, you can assimilate with other retirees by taking things easy given you don’t need to work for money. On the other hand, you can do work that’s meaningful to you while also making supplemental income without criticism. In other words, you can have your mochi and eat it too!
Doing nothing all day is boring. Don’t be tricked into thinking you’ll want to live a leisurely life post-work. Sorry, but once you’ve seen five European Gothic churches, they all start looking the same! The same goes for exploring the great sweltering-hot countries in South East Asia.
Instead, the earlier you retire, the greater the chance you’ll embrace the takeaways from this post. Time will go faster than you think. Please make the most of it!
Readers, is anybody else in fake retirement? What are some things you are doing post-work that are bringing you joy and money? Will there be greater acceptance of fake retirees going forward?
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