I was talking last week in my blog about when to take cash from investments, or swap out of equities into cash. There’s something about having money in the bank that’s almost comforting compared to having it fully invested in equities, which sometimes feels like you’re chained to a madman. Okay, with money in the bank you know you’re probably losing out with the pathetic interest rates on offer, but inflation is low at the moment so perhaps now is the least-worst time to have some cash to hand.

Last year I was forced to cash in equities in order to live, and it wasn’t all that nice to do it. On the other hand, it forced me to think about where my money sat, and why. After all, I’d invested for years partly in anticipation of taking the money when I wanted it, or needed it, to fund life after work. It was just that this had come a bit earlier than I’d expected. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it, mentally or financially, but I found that cashing in your savings to fund the monthly expenses that your wages used to cover was quite a painful experience.

When I returned to the workplace I resolved that I’d try not to be such a tightwad with my investments going forward and would start to unwind them in order to enjoy some of the psychological freedom it might give me. I sold out of a few odds and ends investments that still sat in my portfolio and placed the cash released into a savings account, where it currently sits waiting patiently for me to dip into as and when I choose. And, as I say, I like the security of having it there. It’s a bit like the “emergency fund” that quite a few financial bloggers and gurus would recommend that everyone has to hand – you know, a fund of money that would cover your monthly expenses for maybe three to six months? The advice goes that only when you have that sum readily available in cash should you then think about serious investing.

I never used to bother with that concept as this “emergency fund” seemed like dead money to me. I wanted my cash to be working and was prepared to accept the risk that in the short term it might be working for me and sometimes against me. In the long run, however, I was betting heavily that it would pay dividends versus any standard savings account which, I felt, was akin to stuffing money into a mattress.

I have to admit that I haven’t completely shaken that notion and thus I haven’t sold any investments recently to place any more into cash. But that changed this weekend when I read one of my favourite financial columnists, Hunter Davies, going on about Premium Bonds in the Sunday Times Money section. “Now there’s a thing”, I thought as I read. “It’s like having money in the bank that’s not doing much day to day, but is having the odd flutter on your behalf once a month.” I liked the idea, it’s almost even better than Matched Betting.

Suddenly, although I’ve known about them for decades, the idea of Premium Bonds appealed to me and, pretty much within half an hour of reading about them, I’d bought a substantial amount with the cash that was sitting in my savings account. As yet, I haven’t decided if I’ll sell an equivalent amount of equities to replace that cash, but I’m thinking about it with the markets being where they currently are. As I said last week, I swore that when the FTSE hit 7,000 I’d cash in my UK Index funds. The trouble was, if I did, what would I do with the money released? Well, I think I’ve found part of the answer through ERNIE. I don’t know yet how much actual comfort he’ll give me, but he won’t rob me blind and he’s not a madman. In an uncertain world, he’s not too bad a bet.

Spend Spend Spend

Hasn’t Brexit been great? The FTSE is back above 7,000, the fabled point that I swore, if it ever reached it again, I’d flog my UK Index funds and buy…and buy….what? Dollars? Euros? A Ferrari? Maybe I’ll wait and see if it hits 7,500?

I have a bad habit of checking my funds on a daily basis when the markets are going up. “Wow! I’ve ‘earned’ another five grand this month!” is a nice reminder of how clever I am. Meanwhile I can ignore all the furore about Sterling falling through the floor as I have only a vague notion about the ramifications of that, including that it’s connected to the rise of the FTSE. I know that this “head in the sand” attitude on currency is probably not the best approach, but after years of investing I’ve become bored with so-called financial “catastrophes”. After all, I was riding out the storm of 2008 when my investments probably tanked if I’d bothered to look that closely at them, but I just kept saving away, telling myself that it was a good time to amass more units in my chosen funds. (Although I check the markets daily when they’re on the way up, I can ignore them for weeks when they’re going the other way). I remember one night in 2008 just after the collapse of Lehmans, standing in a London pub with my mate, a fund manager in the City who was looking much paler than his normal self, when he suggested to me that I should remortgage the house and buy as much of the American market as I possibly could. In his view, it couldn’t go any lower. Hmmm, maybe, but I had another pint of London Pride instead, and continued with my chosen investing strategy of steady as she goes. And, as far as I know, he didn’t remortgage his house either.

I tell myself that I “invest for the long term”, while avoiding the question of what duration the long term actually is. The need to try and answer that question becomes more pressing as you enter into your fifties, and you increasingly wonder when you’re going to choose your moment and cash in your chips? One of my pension funds is doing fantastically well right now in terms of growth, but it’s three years before I can take it. I wonder, if I was 55 today, if I’d be cashing it for the tax free gain? Or would I hold on, wondering if better things were coming? I was reflecting the other night that the state pension seems quite far off in the future to me at the moment, kicking in when I’ll be 67. On the other hand, when I reach that age I’ll be looking back at my current 52 year old self and thinking it was only yesterday. “I was young then”, I might reflect, “Why didn’t I spend some of the cash then when the markets were great, Brexit was still a dream and I was young enough to enjoy it?” Of course, I might be saying, “Thank God I didn’t sell at 52 when the FTSE was at 7,000, given it’s at 21,000 now.” But you can’t take it with you and at 67, really, how much cash do you need? I won’t even be able to get into a Ferrari at that age, even if I could buy one.

This is a question I’ve been vexing over recently, how much do I need for a comfortable retirement? And how much for each stage? Thanks to my recent year out, I think I can quite solidly budget for the years between 55 and 60. I can have a decent stab at 60 to 65 too, but 65 to 70? And beyond 70? My mum is 77 and, after covering the essentials to live, spends about a tenner a week – never mind a Ferrari, we took the car off her as she wasn’t safe to drive. She’d love to go loads of holidays too, but she’s just not fit enough for them.

You can’t see into the future and I suppose you have to stay positive and think that you’ll be one of the lucky ones still throwing cash at cars and holidays well into your eighties. That’s my plan anyway, but it’s not something I focus on too much because I think that doing so might hold me back from enjoying the moment today in preference of having plenty of cash for tomorrow. I’ve had about thirty years of that, and I increasingly want to break the habit of saving for the rainy day and start spending while the sun’s still out.

This is easier said than done and it’s a path I’ve walked before. I sometimes look back and think that I didn’t enjoy the fruits of my labour when I was a serious earner, forever on the “Save Save Save” track as opposed to the “Spend Spend Spend”. But now, in many ways, I think that tomorrow might have arrived, and it’s time to break that savings habit of a lifetime and start spending. My first attempt at “de-accumulation” wasn’t very comfortable, and was part of the reason I went back to work, but at some point I’m really going to have to take the plunge and take some cash.


Posted Missing

Three things I miss about the retired life – firstly, not being ruled by the clock (I’m writing this in a bit of a rush because I know I have to leave for work in half an hour). Secondly, the level of fitness I had last year, which I’ve blogged about before. Since returning to a desk, I’m shockingly less fit than I was last year. And finally – something which was the inspiration for this post – I really miss being able to read all the papers, articles, blogs and books that crowd in on a daily basis and attract my attention.

I feel bad about not reading blogs because it was these that helped inspire me to take early retirement in the first place. Not only did I used to read a lot of blog posts from Mr Money Moustache, Early Retirement Extreme and to discover and enjoy a slew of British FIRE bloggers, I had the time to read the comments too (sometimes even leaving my own, something that has also fallen by the wayside.) Through browsing the pages of Monevator and the always helpful weekend links to further reading, I felt I was becoming a more savvy investor too, even when I found it difficult to practice what others preached.

I like opinionated pieces and, although I’ve no chance these days of even getting through a third of The Times, I seldom miss a day of reading the columnists. I wish I had the time now to browse some of the other newspaper opinion pieces I used to look up, from The Guardian to The Spectator. I never buy men’s glossy magazines like GQ or Esquire, but there’s some great journalism I’m missing out on there too – I know because my gym has them lying around, free to read, if you have the time. Which I used to have in abundance. I really miss settling down with a coffee on a Tuesday morning in the gym’s cafe after an hour’s workout and finding a decent piece of editorial journalism to give my undivided attention to.

I could say the same for reading non-fiction too. One of my favourite reads of last year was “Sapiens”, one of those books you find yourself putting down so that it will last longer. It wasn’t exactly light reading but that was fine – intellectual stimulation was something that I sought out last year. I’m still into finding similar books to get into but last night, after returning from work, walking to the gym, swimming fifty lengths, walking back home, and finally settling down with a glass of wine at the back of nine, it seemed so much easier to just veg out in front of the box than to pick up a book. And then the evening was gone in a flash, the alarm was buzzing in my ear and the working day was about to start again.

I’m fortunate, however, to be able to acknowledge that going back to work was a choice I made. Nobody forced me, and neither did circumstances. Much as I enjoyed many aspects of the retired lifestyle, I missed the benefits of employment more. I tell myself that I still have a choice in my free time and that a natural prioritisation will happen when I mentally decide it is required. With the dark nights drawing in, for example, I’m already picking up the pace on the reading front.

It’s strange for me to think that when I had endless time available to me in retirement I feel actually became more disciplined with it and used it in a more personally effective and satisfying way. I’m not sure if this is now a sort of sentimental hindsight as the clock hollers at me to head out the door and hit the road to work, or just that I had the time to manage my time last year and I’ve lost a bit of that in going back to employment. It’s good to know, all the same, that if I increasingly need to get some of that back, then at least I can consider alternatives in a more knowledgeable way than I did before. If I know that I’m not yet ready for full time retirement, but work is back stealing too much of my life, then part time employment could be the next route to choose.

Financial Swing

I’ve been promising to write about what it’s like to start “de-accumulating” the funds you’ve invested and saved over the years as it’s a fairly massive part of everyone’s retirement plan. I’ve already drafted a few posts talking about the subject but, to be honest, they’re almost too depressing even for me to read! That’s how painful I found the process of cashing in investments on a monthly basis as opposed to salting them away.
Why though? It’s not as if I hadn’t knew this day was coming. It’s not as if I hadn’t planned for it and it’s not as if I didn’t have countless spreadsheets predicting what my future funds might look like under various financial scenarios. From that point of view, and depending on my mood, things did actually look quite comfortable. On a rational and logical level, my financial situation seemed to be relatively secure.
The trouble is that money is an emotional subject. You can have a rational and logical approach to it for sure, but we’re not Vulcans. We have “feelings” about money that aren’t necessarily connected to any rational or logical part of the brain.
One of the hardest things I had to handle about cashing in investments was something that I didn’t see as either rational or logical on one level but, on the other hand, really felt on an emotional level. I called it “financial swing”. Let’s say I had to pay myself an income of three grand a month to cover all my expenses. In order to do that, I had to sell a portion of my index funds every month, regardless of where the markers actually were. I needed to “cash them in” – just to live! This was hard enough, but let’s also say I used to earn the same amount and was used to having three grand a month coming in. When I put both these facts together, it felt like I was six grand a month worse off!
Now, I know that the reality was actually that my if my total monthly outgoings were three grand, then that’s the sum that I was “worse off” by. And that three grand was actually buying me freedom from work – from that perspective surely it was money well spent? Unfortunately that perspective was lot less intense than my “financial swing” one. (I’m not quoting the actual figures here of what my monthly budget was, and I know that monthly income is probably  top end for retirement, but it serves to illustrate a point. Whatever your working income now, it’s unlikely you’ll want to totally slash that when you step off the working life treadmill. I know I didn’t.)

So, this figure became stuck in my head and I couldn’t shake it: my retirement, my non-working, non-earning lifestyle, was actually costing me six grand a month. Net. What kind of salary would I have to be earning to compensate that?
I’m back to work now and I sometimes compare my current “pay day” to the same one I’d marked up in my Google Calendar with the same notation last year – at that point, “pay day” was the day on which I’d have to sell a portion of my investments to see them appear in my bank account the following week. I came to dread that day each month. I’d open up my Fidelity account and scan the various funds that I could sell to release some cash – should I shave a portion from the fund that was returning great growth, or just dump that underperforming one instead? Past performance is no indication of future, after all, and what if that Emerging Markets fund suddenly emerges? Should I continue to ride the wave of my best performing fund or take profits from it? Were the markets peaking, and should I take six months income before it crashes? Or are we at the start of a boom time that I need to benefit from? As ever, there was no answer to these questions. I had to make up my mind and take action.
“Had to”. That’s another key phrase when it comes to deaccumulation. When you can choose to sell, or not sell, your funds in a given period then these financial projections are quite a nice, comfortable piece of speculation. “Wow! If I sold that fund today it will have returned me over thirty percent on my investment! Fantastic. On the other hand, that dog that’s losing me ten percent, maybe I should just shoot it? Oh well, I’ll go and have a cup of tea instead and check again next month”. Not when you’re in deaccumulation you won’t. You have to choose, and if not today then definitely tomorrow. You still have bills to pay. You haven’t quite escaped that rat race yet.

Je Ne Regrette Rien – Yet

I’m a bit late with my blog post this week: pressure of work. I must admit, I now doff my hat in admiration to the regular posters who have held down a job while maintaining their blogs. When I was “retired” blogging was a task I looked forward to, with all the time in the world to write a post. I now find it’s quite a commitment to fit in with the working life, as it’s often very easy to find something easier to do at the end of the working day than sit down and write!

One of the things I “struggle” with, however, is that I’m a morning person. I’m generally up and about by the back of six and my routine is: shave (get that over with), make some breakfast, read The Times on my iPad, check the BBC, Facebook and maybe do any bank transactions that need doing. Following that, I write up my daily journal (or diary, as it seems increasingly unfashionable to call it.) And that’s if I don’t head to the gym: if I do, my routine is shave, head to gym, have post-workout coffee while writing up my diary.

You can see that my daily jotting in my journal is a fixture, and it often gets in the way of blogging. Sometimes I write a few paragraphs, sometimes I write the equivalent of a page of A4, but I very seldom miss it. I’d be surprised if I ever miss two days win any month. I’ve kept this routine going since March 1994 and I almost cannot imagine my life without including this aspect of it.

And what a tonic it is. Recently I’ve been reading back through my experiences of “early retirement” as I lived it day to day last year. From this it’s easy to confirm that my year out broke into four distinct phases:

Quarter One: sheer euphoria, loving every day of freedom and worrying not one whit about finances or anything else. Several headhunters call with prospective leads and possible interviews, but I’m not ready for that because I’m just not sure I’ll be going back to work. Ever.

Quarter Two: I begin to look for constructive ways to fill my day, joining some Voluntary groups, proactively picking up with my old work colleagues and friends and speaking to headhunters about what might be out there. I start to think about maybe doing something for myself, starting my own business and looking at franchising.

Quarter Three – increasingly I’m writing about boredom and a lack of fulfilment in the days and beginning to wonder why, with almost nine months unemployment, I haven’t had even one interview with any company for any work whatsoever. A possible franchise I was looking at falls through due to the required six figure investment and ten year tie-in, but I was seriously considering it by this time.

Quarter Four – I begin to look for work in earnest, calling headhunters, networking, searching Linkedin on a daily basis, making direct approaches to local firms and generally putting my shoulder to the wheel in an effort to return to work. Because, by this time, the endless days were beginning to drive me a bit nuts! As my diary tells me they were.

Then, across those four quarters, there was the financial situation. I’m going to write soon about the reality of financial de-accumulation after a lifetime of saving and investing. I’ve already had half a dozen attempts at this, but so far I haven’t quite captured what it felt like. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy.

I’m not yet regretting my decision to return to full time employment in what is turning out to be quite a demanding role. Perhaps my recent trawl through of last year’s entries reflects the growing pressure of work – did I make the right decision? If I only read the entries from those first three months I’d have to conclude that I was mad to rejoin the fray of employment and management, but when I read the turmoil of the final three months – when I wanted to get back to work and found it much more difficult than I expected – it puts my mind at rest. I wasn’t ready for retirement and, overall, the 365 entires I made last year build a convincing picture for me that I’ve made the right decision.

The American Way

If you’ve ever been to America and driven on the highways, it soon strikes you that there seems to be no lane discipline anywhere in evidence. There’s no fast lane, no slow lane. Everyone seems to do as they please, overtaking and undertaking and varying their speed accordingly. It feels like a rubbish and dangerous way to drive, and I used to tell myself that it was a reflection of the sloppy, carefree attitude to life that many American’s lazily adhere to.

I recently read of an alternate view that appealed to me though. Have you ever noticed on our motorways that the fast lane tends to be hogged by the Beamers, Mercs, Jags and Audi’s? The flash motors that tell you to know your place? Get out of the way and let the important people past. Working men, symbolised by trucks and white vans, are allowed in two lanes only, causing the vans to permanently sit on your arse in the middle lane at 80mph. Pensioners, as useless and annoying as children, and with the poorest level of status, toddle along in the slow lane and shouldn’t even be allowed on.

Our motorways reflect our obsession with hierarchy and status, devolving from our old class system where you play the game to the rules. Know your place and stay in it.  

On American roads, on the other hand, everyone is equal. Everyone has the chance of going as fast or slow as they choose. Everyone gets a bite at the apple, big or small, fast or slow. You’re in it together on the highway, and you have the same chance as everyone else of getting ahead. This reflects the ideals of the American Way.

It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? I sometimes ask myself why the FIRE blogs we tend to refer to and enjoy sprang up in America? I’m thinking of course of Early Retirement Extreme and Mr Money Moustache. Initially, they seem to be a rejection of the American Dream, don’t they? These guys have dropped out, albeit in a seemingly constructive way. They don’t want to strive for monetary success, they don’t measure themselves by bling and material gain, they reject the consumer society that America, more than any other country, has built.

True enough. But they’re very much still infused with the “anyone can do it” mentality. ERE and MMM often focus on how the little guy can make it to early retirement too. It’s not the sole preserve and right of the rich and richer still. In fact, they’re almost evangelical about this: you, yes you, lowly engineering cubicle guy working for The Man, you can get out of this rut in ten years if you apply yourself. Here’s how.

We (in the UK FIRE community) seem to like this refreshing, positive approach that stresses that you can do it too. Although we’re pretty interested in saving and investing, it often seems to be for its own sake – no doubt many of us have enough in the bank to go out and put the deposit on a new Porsche, but we’re not that type of people are we? We have a different goal in mind, which is more about having financial control over our lives. Buying a Porsche would just symbolise the complete reverse of that ethic.

In Britain though, I often feel that when it comes to things like savings, investments and pensions, taking control of our own lives is way down the agenda for most people. When it comes to pensions, I bet the majority of people are focused on one main element: what is the State going to provide? In a way, I feel we’re more conditioned to think this way for a variety of reasons, including the “knowing our place” one that means that places and concepts like The City, stockbroking and merchant banking are just not environments for “people like us”.

I’d love to turn all this on its head and see everyone in Britain help tip the old establishment model into the bin. I invested money in Zopa in the hope that it might upset the (financial) status quo in the long run more than any other reason. I suspect that many members of the FIRE community do likewise, but I’m afraid we’re just not “normal”, are we? Not in the financial sense anyway. How many of your friends take an interest in finance? One in ten? One in twenty? Are you frightened to ask? After all, it’s really not polite to discuss our financial circumstances in public, is it? We can leave that to those vulgar Americans, Chinese, Indians and the rest of the rabble.

Mind you, if that’s the case, how come London is classed with Wall Street as the financial centre of the Universe? When I think about it, I begin to suspect that we British are, in reality, obsessed with money more than any other nation, possibly because it’s tied in with our idea about class and social standing. But we can’t talk publicly about these subjects because to do so just wouldn’t be British, would it?

And you can say the same thing about Sex.

And Death.

Damn, I knew I didn’t have the title of my blog nailed down. It’s just struck me – “Sex, Class, Money, Death – the Four Unmentionables of the British Middle Class Apocalypse.” That’s what it should have been.

Gym and Tonics

“So what’s the biggest change since you’ve returned to work?”, I’m asked. That’s easy. It’s the physical one. The title of my blog was meant to reflect upon themes that should interest mostly middle aged men and women. Any read of the national daily newspapers would tend to back this up (although maybe I should have included “Celebrities” to be accurate). I didn’t rank them in importance, more by order of potential interest, and I felt my experience of early retirement might re-order them in my own mind.

But, now I’ve returned to work, the earliest indication of change is mostly related to the subject of Health. Being retired, I was aware that I was spending a lot more time in the gym compared to when I was working, usually at least an hour a day and at least five days a week.  I wasn’t committed to any particular programme or regime, but tried to focus on things that would improve my aerobic capacity – the treadmill or rowing machine – or physical strength – free weights – and flexibility – stretching or yoga routines (based on an excellent Ryan Giggs DVD, in case you’re interested). And I’d swim quite a bit as a good all rounder.

The gym was a major part of my daily routine, and I generally enjoyed going at about eight in the morning, walking or biking past the lines of cars transporting people to work which reminded me of how lucky I was not to be doing likewise. I actually snipped a quote from Mr Money Moustache that I’d read as an  inspiration and reminder that I was leading the good life:

As a retiree, I have a special place in my heart for Monday mornings, because that’s when I would have had to go back to work if it weren’t for the joy of early retirement.  Despite the option of complete leisure, I woke up at 5:30 this morning because the sky was starting to brighten and I was too excited about the new day to let any of it go to waste.

I’m writing to you right now, but later on I’ll be building stuff, riding bikes, meeting with people and teaching kids. Later on as bedtime approaches I might fiddle around in the music room, read a book or listen to a podcast. It’s my idea of the perfect life: self-directed activities in pursuit of knowledge, self-improvement and even getting a chance to help others if you’re lucky.

This was the great thing about it. Going to the gym really felt like a choice because I had the ultimate flexibility to change the routine – a late evening sauna and swim was every bit as enjoyable when I decided to do that, for example. Or, on a rainy afternoon, putting in some time on the treadmill while I listened to a podcast or watched something on iplayer felt like a constructive way to put in an hour or so.

It wasn’t just the gym though. With time on my hands, I’d walk and cycle way more than I ever had. Two or three times a week I’d meet up with my DOH for lunch or coffee and I’d either walk or bike the three miles into town to do so. Seriously, Monday to Friday in the working week, who can fit in a three mile walk? I certainly can’t any longer. My Fitbit already attests to this fact – last year, 10,000 steps a day was a breeze. Back to work, and already the 3,500 days are back on the dashboard.

WIth the bike sitting in the garage I’m now back in the car everyday for a half hour commute to and from work. I’m lucky, I have a lovely drive through splendid Yorkshire scenery to work, but that’s an hour a day in the motor that takes five hours out my week that it didn’t used to. That’s not the killer though, and it’s not the main thing that’s brought my body to moan and groan each morning as I get out of bed. No. The main culprit and contributor to my new sedentary lifestyle is the desk, the chair and the PC screen. I can hardly bare to acknowledge that I might now be sitting six hours a day at a computer! Thirty hours a week! My God, that’s an outrage. Is it any wonder that I’m physically struggling with it? In my retirement days, I never spent even two hours sitting on my backside, unless it was in the evening with a good book and a glass of red.

I’m now trying to compensate by making my gym visits almost compulsory and at least that makes me feel a bit more “worthy” when I’ve managed to complete a session! It is hard though. Do I really have to get out of bed at six in the morning to go for a swim before the office? Do I really have to swing the car into the Bannatyne’s carpark on an evening when I’d much rather be heading home to unwind after a hard day at the office? That’s the change in the question: “Do I have to go to the gym?” instead of “What time do I fancy going to the gym if I don’t go this morning”?

Still, there’s a lot to be said for “self discipline” and I find that structuring your interests around the working day can actually help you get things done. And, having done my run at the back of six this morning before heading into the office, I’m really looking forward to settling in with a good book and a glass of red tonight. I’m certain I will feel as if I deserve it.

Where Can We Live But Days?

There’s a poem by Philip Larkin that I used to reflect upon often during my early retirement days (Entitled, as luck would have it, “Days”!)

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

I used to muse over this in my mind when the days turned colder and I’d find myself on a Tuesday afternoon, standing at the radiator in my kitchen watching a sleety rain patter against the windows. I’d have already been to the gym that day, walking there and back wrapped up against the cold. The freezer would be bulging with dishes I’d cooked up to fill previous hours, and the Monday shop in Lidl had already been done. I’d not be in the mood to read books. I pretty much have never watched much telly, so I certainly wasn’t going to sit down in front of Loose Women. I’d be alone in the house and conscious that my wife would soon be coming in from work and looking for her “me time” – the last thing she’d be looking for would be my hangdog company. I’d slurp my tenth cup of tea in the day and try to resist the temptation to have another biscuit. What to do with the rest of the day? And what if the rest of the week was going to be similar?

I can already sense some readers swooning with the thought of having a day like this. Or more than one. Really? “Be careful what you wish for”, is what I say, and I’ve been there and got the T-shirt. My old dad used to tell me not to wish retirement on because “It will be there soon enough”. I used to think that what he meant was that “old age”, being 65, left you wondering where the time had flown to, but I was starting to wonder? Was he bored with it? His big hobbies were the garden and the golf, not exactly British winter pursuits. Were his retirement days stretching out? Was he finding them a bit repetitive? Was he missing his work? I was young and just starting out on the employment ladder and I looked on his comments in the same way as when he told me “School days were the happiest days of your life”. Yeah, right Pop. If retirement was all I thought it was cracked up to be, then he must mean something else. Perhaps it was going too quick for him, or maybe it was ushering the Grim Reaper in a bit too quickly. But surely he couldn’t be bored?

You can’t associate boredom with retirement, can you? It’s not allowed. “Only boring bastards would get bored with retirement”, as one of my mates said, when I told him I was having trouble filling my days. I agreed, and fretted about my inability to find something fulfilling to fulfil myself with. If it wasn’t Philip Larkin haranguing me in my mind, it was Bruce Springsteen:

Stay on the streets of this town
and they’ll be carving you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I’m just about starving tonight
I’m dying for some action
I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book…..

I’m not really sure what The Boss was referring to when “Dancing in the Dark” but some retirement days it felt like this summed up how I was feeling. I wanted some “action” too, you know, but for me (given I was beginning to suspect I was really beginning to annoy my working wife) this would be a project, an objective that was set outside of myself. Something that involved other people, working with them, persuading them, cajoling them, or even doing what they were asking me to. Taking direction, following a leader. The kind of challenges my work used to supply on a daily basis.

Setting goals and objectives for yourself is all very well, as is having hobbies, pastimes and all the hours in the day to pursue them. Ermine waxed lyrically, as ever, over this subject on his blog this week, and posted examples of how you might fill your day in retirement. Yes, okay, but once you’ve considered all of them, and more, and found you’re just not in the mood or in the position to tackle any of them, what else are you going to do? Read another book? Go another walk? Build a radio set? Surf more FIRE websites telling you to follow your dreams? Well, what if your dreams merely taunt you about your inability to take steps toward them? For a time, I thought my dream job would be to be a writer. Seemingly it’s a lot of people’s fantasy job. There’s a cure for it: take a week off work; sit at your desk at a time of your choosing and write. Oh, and “Just write anything!” as the books and blogs advise. See how long it takes you to (1) become seriously bored (2) run out of things to write about (3) find yourself weeping at the sheer crap you’re producing (4) if you think it’s quite good, wonder how you can commercialise what you have written and then wonder if that’s not, like, a job? (5) Get up every day and repeat the process.

Listlessness affects everyone, and there’s something about having every day to fill – that’s every day – that seems to make you more prone to it. I seriously underestimated how little I could achieve between the hours of seven in the morning and eleven at night and often wondered where they’d gone and what I’d done with them? I knew I wasn’t alone. In his book “Fit, Fifty and Fired Up”, Nigel Marsh wrote:

I knew all too well the dangers of sitting at home with not enough to do. It’s easy to become soft and directionless without a focus – a “park bencher” as one of my friends calls it. You can even find yourself reading junk mail or writing To-Do lists comprising of things like “Clean teeth”. I remember an occasion during a previous hiatus from work when I’d only one thing to do in the day – buy pork chops for dinner. As I ran to the butcher in my pyjamas at 5pm before he closed, I was thinking “I haven’t got time for all these jobs! I mean I’ve got to clean my teeth and then there’s the pork chops!”

Well, Nigel wrote a few books about his experiences and hats off to him for that. But, make no mistake, writing a book must be one of the hardest things you can do – unless you find that it’s one of the easiest. I suspect there’s not much of a middle ground. If it’s the former, I suspect you might want to be paid for it and…wait… isn’t that a priest or a doctor, in a long coat, running over a field toward me?

The Returned

In order to maintain integrity on my blog, I feel I have to admit this….I’ve returned to work!

Hopefully this won’t come as too big a shock to people who have been following what I’ve been posting. If you’ve read a few of my ruminations on retiring you’ll no doubt be aware that I plunged into “early retirement” after I exited the workplace aged fifty one, with enough funds invested to see me through four years until the first of my pensions kicked in. You’ll also be aware that before long I was struggling a bit with the retirement lifestyle, and finding the change from a full on, full time working week to a zero hour one quite difficult to handle. I just couldn’t shake the notion that I was too “young” to put my feet up, that I should be working and that I should be out there earning money. I might not have “needed” the latter, but it never quite felt that way. I would argue that unless you have millions in the bank you’ll never be  a hundred percent comfortable with your financial future. Even then, you might still fret about some monetary catastrophe ruining your best laid plans.

It wasn’t all about the fretting over money though. I felt that the working life had brought more to me than just a wage. I’d reflect that surely I wasn’t alone in this? I mean, why does Paul McCartney keep writing songs and releasing them? He doesn’t need the money and he doesn’t need to expose his compositions to potentially critical and public disdain. He could live forever on his back catalogue, but he keeps producing.  I can only think that he feels that writing songs is his job and, as such, he wants paid for it, just like everyone else does.

Work is such a big part of your life and I imagine it can be  almost intolerable if you find yourself in a role or company that you literally can’t stand. I was concerned that I was heading that way in my previous job, although it was more the lifestyle that I had sickened of, working long hours in the office to head back to a hotel room instead of home. That wasn’t the balance I was looking for and the money increasingly failed to compensate for my time.

It becomes a slightly different proposition when you can effectively choose to work or not. Having to go to work can be a miserable proposition, but having the ability to choose to leave it, or return to it, gives it more appeal.

That’s why I’m never going to knock anyone who has the goal to retire early, because it’s having the ability to choose to do it that’s the important thing. I’ve written here before that I think people who are focused on FIRE might struggle with retirement unless they can construct fulfilling goals and objectives to achieve once their financial ones have been realised. “Retirement” is pretty much just a concept anyway.  I used to get frustrated reading Early Retirement Extreme and Mr Money Moustache because, in my view, both were “working”. Jacob was writing his book and curating his blog and Mr Moustache was taking on construction projects. Neither were doing these things for nothing, although they probably could have.

So what is “retirement”? We might just be arguing over words and conceptual definitions here, but I was very clear in my own mind that, for me, “retirement” would mean pure and simply that I would not work for money again. Voluntary work, therefore, could be part of a retirement plan, but not any type of endeavour that paid. No matter how much you enjoy leisurely building dolls houses as a hobby, if the plan is to sell them at craft fairs then, as far as I’m concerned, that’s “work”.

It’s not all about money though. Writing this blog wouldn’t be work, I felt, because I was choosing to do it. I wouldn’t advertise on it and I would write for it when I chose to. To be effective (productive) however, I felt I did need to commit to a regular publishing schedule and, quite quickly, this began to feel like “work” too, and I found myself beginning to wonder how and if I could generate some income from it. If I “have” to do it, can’t I gain something for it? If I’m producing the content, shouldn’t I be charging for it? Seemingly people who are into e-publishing think that the majority of bloggers are nuts – why create all that content and then give it away for free?

So I’ve returned to full time, paid employment. I’m still thinking about retirement, but my experience has put a different perspective on my plans. In fact, I’m thinking that maybe I should be planning to work in some way, shape or form until I’m either mentally or physically unable to do it! It’s likely that this will be part time (and it’s likely that I’ll want it to be part time too) so I need to make plans. That’s what I failed to do last time ‘round. I’d only planned the financial part of early retirement, not the rest of what to do with my time. Hopefully I won’t be repeating that mistake going forward!

I’m not sure what I will do with this blog. I don’t feel that I can write much more about “early retirement” when I’m back working and there’s only so much I feel I can add to what I’ve already written about the “challenges” of it. But I’ve enjoyed writing it, receiving the feedback in the Comments, and am still interested in some of the “work life balance” questions we all face. More importantly, I’ve just renewed my annual WordPress subscription, so I want to get some value from it! So I intend to keep posting, and see where it takes me.

Health Thoughts from Abroad

Technology, pah! A slight problem with my WordPress payments, combined with being on holiday, has prevented me from posting for a week or two. Has anything been happening while I’ve been away?

I was “across the pond” in America, on my annual jaunt to the land milk and honey, which seems to be suffering from a souring of the former and a lack of the latter. It’s good to go away, but it’s always nice to come back too, even if it’s to a Britain that is undergoing a transformation that America might be going through itself soon. Melanie Phillips in The Times is clearly thinking along those lines, and she wrote an excellent Opinion column on the American interest in Brexit this week. Clearly she moves in different circles to that which I do while on holiday – it appears she was fielding questions about geopolitics while I was only regularly responding to the query “Would you like a large fries with that sir?”

Much as I enjoy holidaying in America, I can categorically state I will never retire there, or anywhere else abroad. I doubt I’ll even spend the winter months in any of the P(I)GS (Portugal, Greece, Spain – I’m omitting Ireland as beyond consideration.) I never fancied living in France, and Germany isn’t for me either. If I was heading anywhere for the winter, it would be the Southern States of the good ole US of A, providing President Trump will still let me in. I daydream of happily being a British Snowbird in Miami, and often find that in my mind I’m going to Carolina. Just as long as I don’t get ill – or get shot – while I’m out there. It sometimes feels there’s an equal chance of both.

The thought of falling ill in America must be quite terrifying as you must surely wonder whether or not your insurance policy will cover whatever it is that ails you? Your health is something that you find yourself thinking about a lot more as you head into the retirement years. Fortunately we didn’t have to avail ourselves of any medical services while we were in America, but a friend of ours who suffers from epilepsy made the mistake of forgetting some of her prescription pills on a recent trip to Florida. To cut a long story short, she finally managed to obtain a week’s supply – seven single tablets – for which she was charged $700. Her shock at the cost was only matched by the American medical staff when she told them “But I get these free in Britain!”

This month we’ve heard of two couples we know who “retired abroad” but have decided to return to Britain. I haven’t yet had the chance to talk to them to discover why they’re coming back, but I’m quite interested in finding out. It could be for the NHS, it could be that they’re concerned about us “Brexiting”, it could be that they’re finding Britain offers good value for money these days on a number of fronts, from pension tax breaks to the price of consumer goods. Whatever the reason(s) I suspect that the thought of healthcare might be one of the factors taken into consideration.

I don’t know of anyone who’s successfully emigrated to the US, possibly because it’s actually quite hard to get in there but, as you grow older, the thought of what healthcare you might eventually need to access starts to loom larger in your plans. In America, that just has to be a big worry.

It seems I’ll be reliant on the NHS as a pensioner. For almost thirty years, the various companies I worked for paid into a variety of private health schemes which, as an employee, I was able to access. Fortunately I seldom had to, but that facility literally stopped the same day that I stopped employment. My track record of good health and “my” long history of contributions into private healthcare will count for nothing if I choose to seek out another private policy.

It’s the NHS for me then, just as it is (and will be) for millions and millions and millions of others. But what’s the alternative? Or rather, what alternative do I have that doesn’t cost a mint and acknowledges the money I’ve already paid into the private system and the lack of claims I’ve made on that system so far? When it comes to health in retirement, it seems to me that the private sector is playing in a game where it’s “Heads they win, tails they don’t lose”. Meanwhile the majority of us, who are undoubtedly going to need the NHS at some point in our retirement years, are left reliant on a system that can hardly find a coin to play.