A Semi-Retirement Update, Father’s Day 2017

okaydadI’ve been told that my blog isn’t personal enough. Father’s Day seemed like an appropriate time to share how our efforts towards financial freedom have altered our day-to-day lives.

Guiding principle. When I first started chasing the idea of “early retirement”, it was mostly about escaping the chains of a 9-5 corporate job for the next 40 years. These days, I am driven primarily to avoid the most common deathbed regret:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This is beautifully phrased, as it will mean something different to everyone. You have to push away the expectations and noise coming from society, your co-workers, even your friends and family. Some people call it mindfulness or meditation, I just call it that quiet voice inside you. Another good take on this from Anthony Bourdain:

It’s a quality-of-life issue with me. Am I having fun? Am I surrounded by people I like? Are we proud of what we’re doing? Do we have anything to regret when we look in the mirror tomorrow? Those things are huge to me.

Choosing semi-retirement over daycare. Up until 2012, my wife and I were dual, full-time earners with a healthy savings rate used to steadily accumulate assets. We spent our free time eating at new restaurants, traveling, hiking, skiing, and playing with our two dogs.

When our first child arrived, we weren’t quite ready to live off our investments but we still wanted to spend a lot of time raising our kids. We decided that we would both work roughly 20 hours a week (“half-time”) and share the stay-at-home parenting duties between us. Technically, we both semi-retired at age 33. At the same time, it was nothing to brag about because many families have a single income parent and a stay-at-home parent. We just happen to split it up. Today, we continue as 50/50 parents and somehow accumulated three kids: a 6-month old, a 2-year-old, and a 4-year-old.

For a many couples, it is simply financially efficient to keep working full-time and pay for daycare. For others, both individuals want to maintain their career trajectory. Both are a valid options and we don’t pass judgment. For us, giving up essentially one full income was also a big decision. We were concerned that we would be giving up current income now and likely stall our future career growth.

Ever since growing up as kid with a dad working long hours, I made a promise to be different when I had children of my own. I never want to utter the words “I wish I spent more time with my kids”. As a direct result of our aggressive savings rate in our 20s and early 30s, we felt comfortable taking an unconventional path. We are thankful every day that we don’t have to drop off our baby at 7am, work all day, come home, and only see them for an hour before bedtime.

Snapshot of our daily lives. We are not the most frugal family, but again we try to live aligned to our values. Our home is not overly big – two girls already share a bedroom and eventually all three will share one bathroom. We cook dinner at home more often than not. We rarely eat out. Our frequent flyer points are mostly idle nowadays, but we did take our 1-year-old and 3-year-old to visit the UK and France last summer. One of the highlights was feeding free-ranging reindeer in Scotland.

reindeer

Is semi-retirement all sunshine and rainbows? Yes, we’ve never had to deal with daycare or hire a nanny. Either my wife or I have been there for every single bathtime and bedtime. One of us has been present for all the first laughs, first words, first crawls, and first steps. But we also feel physically exhausted at the end of every day. I’m definitely more worn out now than our time as DINKs (dual income, no kids).

You really start to appreciate working with adults again after wrestling with three little tyrants children under the age of 5. Yesterday, my oldest child decided to stick her finger down the youngest’s throat. Guess who got to clean up projectile vomit off a shockingly-high blast radius? I’m pretty sure the comic Fowl Language installed a hidden camera inside my house (check out the book as well):

used

There is a huge difference between doing something difficult and aligned with your personal values, and doing something difficult and not aligned with your personal values. Sure, we could spend our free time doing a million other easier things. But perhaps happiness is being able to choose your hard thing and then spend your time working on it. For now, parenting young children is my hard thing. I’m not terribly good at it, but I try… This is a precious time and I want to savor it before it ends.

You may think I’m crazy. That’s okay. Remember, the point is to live a life true to yourself and ignore what other people think. Now excuse me while I clean the vomit stain off my shorts.

Comments

  1. I agree with you to be true to yourself and live your life as the small voice inside you leads you to. I have been fully retired from a teaching job since age 50. (now 56) People are always asking me where I am working now, or what I am doing now as if it is not o.k. to stop working. I usually respond that I do what I want. lol I am so glad that I set the course to retire early by planning for it in my early 30’s. Wishing you your best life!

  2. Excellent post Jonathan. I am pretty much in the same boat as you are with 2 toddler kids and am going through similar experience. I wish I had made similar headway on investments and retirement savings, but am slowing working towards it. Happy Fathers Day.

  3. Ann-Marie says:

    Kudos. I’ve been following your blog for several years now. Your and your wife’s commitment to your values has been and continues to be inspiring to me. Happy Father’s Day.

  4. Great post, Jon! I’ve been reading your blog since early 2000s. You keep saying that you “somehow” got more kids along the way. Is this the result of all that extra time off? 🙂

    Due to my high income, we are lucky to have my wife stay at home with our 1 year old. While we don’t do 50/50 split like you do, one thing that has worked great for us is having me do a flex schedule at work (every other Monday off) and the ability to get home by 2pm. By getting to work by 5am, and with the kid sleeping ’till 8am, I’m only missing about 5hrs of the mischevious little guy. That gives me about 6-7hrs of playtime with him and the chance for my wife to have a break. For those that can’t do 50/50, I think this is a great alternative (and more feasible?) for most folks.

    • I definitely wouldn’t attribute 3 kids to “free time”, ha. More like being used to not having any free time and willing to extend that even longer.

      That sounds like a creative way to design your life to be more aligned with your values. I think that is a great lesson, that again there is no single mold and you have to be flexible and creative.

  5. It’s probably a person question, but can you share a “pie chart” of all the expenses & revenue. Your blog inspires several folks like us.

  6. Thanks for changing gears and giving us a little peek into the life of the MMB family. I guess it’s not surprising that people who value the idea of financial independence and early retirement also share similar goals and dreams.
    Although I am a couple of years away from being able to reduce my work hours to part-time, it is a goal of mine. One of my motivations is to spend as much time as I can with my 6-year-old son who is growing up too fast. I look forward to more days that are filled with hiking, camping, biking, playing, volunteering, learning, and just exploring the world with my son. If I can live a life that is “true to myself”, maybe my son can learn by example and will choose to do the same.
    Thanks for opening up and Happy Father’s Day!

  7. Jonathan,

    You have one of the best blogs out there, as it aggregates a lot of useful information from a variety of topics. I have learned a lot from your site, benefited from recommendations, and been inspired by your ideas. I think you are personal enough, but looking at other sites, perhaps it may further boost you up if you talked about your situation in more detail.

    I am happy that you are using your nest egg to get the flexibility needed to be a good dad, husband, employee. You deserve it, because you have work incredibly hard for over a decade to get to where you are today..

    On a side note, i have been reading you for a decade..

    DGI

    • Thanks DGI, it’s funny because only recently have I found the time to do more research about dividend investing. I enjoy being able to continue learning more and incorporate different information into my various mental models for investing. Thanks for your continued hard work on your blog and providing useful educational content for free.

  8. This speaks to me, and many other people I’m sure, more than you probably imagine. People like to let themselves be ruled by all of the things they think they need when the things that truly make them happy are right under their noses the whole time. Pick the things that are important to you (the “hard” thing, as you say), ignore the haters and the noise, and live your life.

    Long time reader. Thanks for your blog.

  9. Having the ability to select the lifestyle you want is what it’s about. I have 4 kids ranging in age of 22 yrs to 13 yrs which we currently homeschool 2 of them with the help of our flexible career schedules and tutors. I’ve always decided to keep working as I love my career. My husband augmented his career by working part-time and building a business as a Realtor for about 10 yrs before he changed careers to do IT work and just Real Estate part time. We’ve always augmented our schedules to raise our kids and had awesome grandparents and nanny’s that covered for various days we had other schedule conflict. We started taking mini-retirement vacations of 15 to 21 days off of work every year about 10 years ago. Now we decided that if we decided to keep working, we’d work where we’d want to retire and vacationed the most. It was the best decision of my life. Truth is, now, I don’t mind working since I like my job, my co-workers, love where I live and don’t feel the need to vacation when my schedule is so flexible. It’s about having the freedom to live your life on your terms.

    • Thanks for sharing. I give you props for homeschooling your kids, I try to do educational activities with my kids but it is tough to come up with activities that are both fun and engaging.

      If you don’t mind sharing, where did you end up retiring to? I understand if you’d rather keep it private. A vague answer like beachside town, SE Asia, Central America, or whatever would be okay too.

  10. I love your blog and have been reading it for years!

  11. Same boat as you. Wife works part-time as do I. We never miss a single event, bath time, bedtime, playtime (we have a 4 year old). Both of us worked a lot and accumulated enough, now we get to enjoy our child and that brings us true happiness. Over the last 3 years, I have started trading a lot of options (about 7-10 trades/day) and the 3-4 hours that I do that a day, should be enough to for me to not work at all (fingers crossed).

    I will tell you this – I was a senior executive at an investment bank, worked 60-80 hours/week and was very type A, ambitious, and trying to always achieve more. Once the baby came, life changed, as did our priorities. Over the past 4 years, I have not once regretted making the career decisions that I made. (As an aside, Rad Reads is a guy who was also in the same predicament when his child was born and he has a new calling – Oprah for Millennials!)

    Happy fathers day.

  12. Nice post and lots of nice comments. Happy Fathers Day!

  13. what’re you guys doing part-time?

    Was in a similar boat, wanted to scale back. Hand was pushed when I had lost my job a year back. Having a super hard time finding part-time work that pays more than what you’d get as a dishwasher.

    The other issue that’s coming to the forefront is health insurance. Getting a little worried that that rug might be pulled out as well.

  14. Aria Mendoza says:

    We want to retire by 55. But we worry about health insurance coverage. Right now, our employers cover our health insurance (health, dental, vision). Medicare doesn’t kick in until age of 65, right? How do you work out the health insurance part during early retirement years?

  15. I love your blog too. Visiting your blog has become my daily routine. I learned a lot of good financial and life advice from you. Thank you so much.

  16. Excellent post as usual. I am glad you are talking about your children for they truly are the best investment. Money comes and goes. I found your blog about 10 years ago and at the time was only concerned with the financial aspects of retirement. Now that I am married with children, I spend less time worried about retirement savings and more time living in the present with my kids. What I like about this post is that it seems your priorities changed over the years as well.

    P.S. – because of the path you put me on 10 years ago. I am WELL ahead of my friends/coworkers in retirement savings. I may not be able to retire as early as you did but I will be able to retire early and in comfort.

  17. People asked about health insurance. That is a tricky one. If you are a high user of health services, your options could be limited and working for a company that provides health insurance may be the only option.

    In our case, we went on the BCBS website and picked a HSA plan. Not the best in Illinois because BCBS changed the hospitals that were in the network. So now to go to any academic hospital, we need to get referred by a physician. In the past, we could go to any specialist. Hopefully, the new plan, if one is passed, makes things better. We pay about $1300/month for our family.

    In summary, I would imagine look to your marketplace plans. Every state will be different. Some better than others.

  18. I’m hoping to do the same when I eventually have children – my career would allow me to stay at home most days; and I’m hoping to stay close to home, to stay close to family. I know my Mum’s going to want to be babysitting any chance she can get! Semi-retirement sounds like a great balance to strike 🙂 Happy Father’s day to you!

  19. Great update. I think that’s the bigggest power you have having established great financial baseline – to choose how you want to proceed when circumstances change.

  20. Midwest Nate says:

    Thanks Jonathan. Happy Father’s Day. I am in a surprisingly similar boat and have been following your blog for years. Our kids are 6, 3, and 6 mo. Both of us at 35, we feel good financially (always tweaking the little things and learning) and I’m contemplating some creative options for future work. Being in software and web design, I have some flexibility on my hours, jobs, and would love to see where that could take us. I never would have thought of the possibilities in career paths as a young out of college. My wife is a teacher with summers off and we have thought often of at least a month-long excursion abroad in the summers while our kids are young. Thanks for teaching others and sharing! Best of luck to you.

  21. I’m trying to convince my husband that we should do this when we have kids! It’s really important to me that our kids are as close to dad as they are to mom. Plus I think there is value in both parents getting adult interaction at work.

    His hang up is that he doesn’t know that we can both find jobs that will let us only work 20 hours a week, jobs that don’t include hot oil or a drive-thru. Was it hard to scale down your hours at your jobs?

    • I think every family has to find what works for them. We were both fortunate to be in areas that are more conducive to flexible work hours (tech, self-employed, healthcare). I can imagine it being much harder in other areas of work. You might ask for a special arrangement (see Four Hour Work Week book) or go self-employed/consulting if that is an option. We also both wanted to keep our options open so we would be able to go back into the full-time workplace if we wanted to.

  22. What a fantastic perspective Jonathan! Kids are hard. But they are so worth it! i have two in the same age as yours. These are the good old times!

  23. My older (of two and only two) daughter just turned 7 and I was thinking at her party: in just 2 more years, she’ll be 9, half way through her life at home with us. It’s cliche but true, the years just fly by.

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