Separation Anxiety in Early Retirement

Separation

Parting doesn’t have to be such sweet sorrow, does it?

“And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
–Khalil Gibran

While I am fully aware of the possibility of jinxing myself by writing this article, our plan is to become PIRE within the next few years. Although I have the business model that I do because I think it’s the right one – offer a fully-contained, self-sufficient personal finance course so that you can create your own soup-to-nuts financial plan, and for the people who are not DIYers, offer hourly financial planning with the intent of teaching you everything you need to know for the rest of your days – it also enables a rapid transition into retirement. I don’t have to tell you to rebalance yearly or tell you how to value cost average and have check-ins with you like most financial planners set up their practices. This was all done with an exit plan in mind. If you’re starting your own business, you should start with the end in mind and work backwards.

I’ve also become quite aware that we’re going to be retired at a much younger age than most of our counterparts will be. Had I remained in the Army, I would have had a cohort of fellow retirees who could share in the retirement adventure. I didn’t, so we’re going to face a potentially different social dynamic for many years; all of our friends (at least, that I know of) will still have working careers and we won’t.

It’s a topic that my wife and I have begun to broach, although, admittedly, we don’t talk about it very often. We have a clear idea of what we’d like to try for the first few years – living part-time abroad and part-time back in the States once the dog is in the great treat factory in the sky. Beyond that, though, we haven’t really fleshed out many of the ideas beyond me reading great forums like early-retirement.org and Expat Forum. We’ve sort of narrowed down the list of places we’d like to try and I know the visa requirements for most of them, as well as the costs (Numbeo is a fantastic resource to get ballpark estimates for costs of living in many places in the world). Beyond that, though, it’s still a blank slate.

The other blank slate is what we’ll do when we’re in the States. I’m not necessarily worried about answering the “what will you do all day” question (which Doug Nordman at The Military Guide has so adeptly answered), but I am concerned about how I’ll build up a social network of peers. Sure, we’ll continue to have the friends that we’ve always had, but I admit (now publicly) that I wonder how our status will change the relationship. I think most of our friends will be happy for us that we’ve reached the next phase in our lives, but who knows?

I even tried to look up the statistics for what percentage of Americans retire in their early 40s, just to see where I’d stand. The numbers don’t exist. All I got in results had to do with calculating how much you need to save for retirement and my article about how the media wants you to think that you can never retire (thanks, Google!). Tim Ferriss wrote about the phenomenon (if you can call it such) in The 4-Hour Workweek, usually telling the stories of people who had founded Silicon Valley companies and sold them at a young age, reaching financial independence, if not outright wealth, and then being somewhat alienated, as they’d reached levels that none of their peers had, and they wouldn’t reach those levels for decades yet.

Beyond answering the financial questions of early retirement, such as whether or not investment properties are a viable path or early retirement withdrawal strategies, there are the social and emotional questions that, I readily confess, remain unanswered, at least for me:


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  • Will our status alienate our friends and family? We’ve told family and very close friends of our plans and relative timelines, and long-time readers of this website can infer some details, but it’s not something that we’re out and out talking about. Part of it is uncertainty. You don’t know how long it will take to get to the finish line until you’re really close, but we have a reasonable timeframe assuming that we stick to our plan. Once the scenario changes from possible/probable to actual, though, I don’t know how people will react.
  • If we embark upon the itinerant vagabonding lifestyle, how will we maintain connections? I’ve moved enough to know that you only keep a small percentage of the friends you once had after you move. Even with technology enabling everyone to be a Skype call or Facebook status post away, in-person bonds are the strongest. What will happen to those bonds when we’re only physically around for intermediate periods of time?
  • Can I, by force of will, help accelerate retirement for any of my friends? My parents used to joke about us “working stiffs” after they retired (both by way of state retirement systems, as my father was a state trooper and my mother was an elementary school teacher). They were teasing us gently but also reveling in their status of no longer having to get up to go to work every day. We’d love for our friends to join us on our adventures, but we also don’t want to be nags or, worse yet, have it appear that we’re boasting. Finding that balance is going to be important, but if I can find a way to move their retirement dates up so that they can join us, by goodness, I will!
  • Will I become detached from reality? If all goes according to plan, we’ll soon be living a life that others dream might happen once they reach retirement age. Yes, we’ll have earned that right (something I have to remind myself of occasionally), but it may still seem surreal that we’ll have achieved the goal that we’ve finally been working towards. I want to remain grounded and hope to be humble about it.

For those of you who are working towards early retirement, have you thought about the non-financial issues associated with it? What are your worries? What are you doing about it? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

About Jason Hull, CFP®

Jason Hull, CFP®, is the Chief Technology officer of myFinancialAnswers, an online comprehensive financial planning service.

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