Going All In

With all the shenanigans involved over tax affairs and investing this week (and I won’t get into the politics of it) it did occur to me that maybe David Cameron should consider Early Retirement. He certainly seems to have the means to be able to do it and, really, does he need the hassle? Tony Blair’s another one – not short of a bob or two. In fact, there are countless thousands of people (probably) who have the financial means to retire but continue to work.

The exciting thing about being Financially Independent is the choices that it gives you, of which Retiring Early is but one. When you’re working in a job you hate it may well seem like the only choice worth taking and I know it became an overriding ambition for me that blotted other options out as I considered how I might reach that goal. I spent a lot of time on the Usual Suspect websites that waved flags for Early Retirement (you know who they are) and all my financial calculations were geared toward funding that lifestyle. What kind of house would I need to live in? What kind of car should I drive? How much should my weekly shop come in at? Should I darken the door of a Starbucks ever in my life again?

This was all an amusing and diverting distraction while I was employed and the wages were coming in. In a way, work allowed me to indulge in the fantasies while building a bank toward realising them, and I sometimes felt a bit guilty about it. But, to quote the legendary Jack Bauer, “I had no choice”. It was work, or no work. There was no middle way, at least not for me in the job and position I was in.

Although I thought long and hard about the income side of my retirement equation, the option of working less, or at a lower level, with the same employer wasn’t one I was willing to spend much time on. It just wouldn’t have been an option, and despite my fantastic selling skills I wasn’t about to pitch for a three day week. Nor did I feel I could raise the subject of “downgrading” my career with my boss – taking a “lower level”  role with less pay, but hopefully less stress and more time at home. How could I broach these subjects without it sounding like, “Hey, I fancy an easier life with you lot, doing a bit less work for a bit less money but retaining most of the benefits – you know, the medical care, the car, the pension contributions and all that. I want a better work/life balance, more time with my family. How about it?” To me, no matter how I framed it, this is how the pitch sounded.

Then there was the ego side of the equation. If I was granted my request, would I be able to handle the loss of status in the workplace hierarchy? Could I see those less talented than myself (i.e. the whole company) promoted ahead of me?  Was I underselling myself? Was I frightened of change? Of growing old? Was asking for a less stressful job or a shorter working week just an admission of failure?

This is a possibly more a male problem because often women are forced into this discussion early on in their own careers if they decide to have a family. But eventually it becomes an age thing too for both sexes. Taking time out to have a family is almost completely accepted and encouraged. A young thruster taking a sabbatical is almost always admired. Old “pops”or “granny” in the corner wanting some time out? Feed them to the dogs.

So, for me, I felt I had to be “all in” or retire from the table. Perhaps things are changing though. Last week I spoke to a friend still in employment who was somewhat surprised to find himself working alongside an old boss who’d taken a voluntary demotion. My friend wasn’t quite sure how to handle it, but I was surprised that this was even a workplace option. It’s one that I now sometimes think I should have explored with my own employer, but I have to say my own prejudices and insecurities might have prevented it. Perhaps I was part of the problem and therefore I had to follow the traditional route of work versus retirement. To anyone thinking of going “all in” on the retirement plan, however, you might want to consider an “alternative options” discussion with your employer first. What do you have to lose?

30 thoughts on “Going All In

  1. I’ve had similar thoughts recently. With less than two years to reach FIRE, unless something drastic happens we can achieve this on current salary levels; I’ve not taken into consideration any annual rises or bonuses between now and then. So I was thinking that next year, I might ask for an extra week’s leave instead of the pay rise and see about taking 3 weeks’ leave in one lump to enjoy a longer campervan trip in Europe. I’ll see how I feel about it nearer the time.

    Our company floated last year and the Directors are now all millionaires. I find myself thinking why they don’t just retire and enjoy the fruits of their labours. Instead I see them moving to far bigger houses in the more exclusive parts of Cheshire, buying the ‘next up’ sports car and taking exotic holidays to the far-flung. I think I’ll keep my thoughts to myself!
    Paul

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  2. I have been thinking something along these lines myself – about reducing to a three-day week, if my employer will let me (I think they will). Five days a week is such a hamster wheel – basically all you ever do is get ready for work – work – or decompress from work. Three days a week maintains the lifeline to an income for the time being and confers the benefits of a job while allowing time for other things. Anyway, still mulling over it.

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    • Three days a week employment is now one of my fantasies. However, I’d be going from zero to three. When you’re going from five to three, you have to guard against not doing 5 within 3, which happens a lot. In fact, I’d argue many white collar jobs are now 3 day a week jobs with 2 spent playing on the internet, chatting to friends, lunch breaks…..when will we recognise this reality though?

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      • Where did you work??? In my world most jobs seem to be 7 day jobs crammed into 5. Yes, there are inefficiencies and make work, but the curse of the modern workplace with ‘always on’ e-communication means it feels like there is hardly any slack time – or indeed, time to do the work itself in between fielding emails…

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      • Hmm, yes, I used to go into work on a Monday morning and laugh at the amount of e-mails sent over the weekend from fellow Directors that I never even bothered to read. Did the world end? No. I once worked in a business that opened at nine and closed at five. Anybody who couldn’t get their job done between those hours was seen as not up to the mark. It was the most financially successful company I ever worked for (they also banned meetings). Work can be what you make it.

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  3. About 6 years ago I started working compressed hours – basically a 9 day fortnight, with every other Friday off. At first I felt guilty about not being at work on alternate Fridays, but this soon wore off and I came to value the extra time at home – soon I couldn’t do without it. 18 months ago I reconfigured things further so that I only went into the office for 3 days a week. This has also helped beat the daily grind. I’m now 3 weeks off early retirement and those increased flexibilities have paved the way to stopping work entirely, and I’ve been grateful for this transition. However, I’m now ready to stop completely.

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    • I used to have every other Friday off as well. It was great! I got so much done. Then they decided to take that option away from us and life feels so much more like a grind. The change in office policy is actually one of the things spurring me to save ever more for early retirement. “They think they can take away my days off?? I’ll show them! I’ll have more time off than anyone!”

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  4. The terrible difficulty is that unless you have a defined benefit pension, defining how much “enough” money is enough for financial independence cannot be calculated with any degree of certainty

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  5. Ha, strangely enough I am in the middle of trying to negotiate a graceful trajectory out, having for a long time been stuck in the black and white work/not work dilemma which seemed just too big a decision. Though I have been working part time for many years (the kind of 4 days a week part time that isn’t really) so I’m kind of used to it.
    It will be interesting to see how effectively I can prune my workload, and whether I feel it have enough time for other stuff. My suspicion is that it won’t be very long before I am ready to go completely…
    I have to say though, actually doing the pitch (which, yeah, did sound a lot how you describe) was far less painful than making the decision!

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  6. A very good article. You provide an approach I did not yet consider to be free sooner. A demotion seems to have such a bad connotation. In fact, it could allow to work less to better balanced, while trying out financial freedom. Thx for opening my eyes.

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  7. You have projected your value system externally, and work validated that projection.

    If you wish to maintain this state of affairs, I fear that you will find it hard to square the circle, from the description you appear to gain your sense of self-worth from the reflection the outer world holds up to you. For most of your life that has been your Job. In support of this thesis I cite

    > If I was granted my request, would I be able to handle the loss of status in the workplace hierarchy?

    Even in the way you say the workplace despised part-timers corroborates this. You aimed the gun at the wrong target. FI was not what you wanted. It is meaning that you wanted.

    There are other ways of finding meaning, but they often involve a long period of adjustment. There’s nothing actually wrong in going back to work 😉

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      • You have a deep and unbeatable advantage over others of your age cohort, the ‘Finished at Fifty’ set. You have options, above all else the option to walk away, which is very, very rare, rare enough that few interviewers will have come across it at all. That gives you confidence, and confidence isn’t just attractive in the mating game. It is attractive in the interview and indeed in the people approaching you with opportunities game. I have walked away from several work opportunities because I value my time. But I always try and point these guys at alternative places for help with their problems, because, well, it doesn’t cost much to be a nice guy.

        You will hopefully find ‘getting back into the workplace’ easier because of that confidence and the fact you have a choice, paradoxically although not working due to FI was perhaps not what you really wanted the FI may be an asset to getting the sort of work you do want.

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  8. Lol…that constant internal searching question…
    I worked so hard and such stupid long hours, it meant that when I stopped I didnt know what to do with myself. I had unknowingly judged my self-worth from my work. Having had a ‘break’ last year, I found it hard to get into a personal ‘work free’ mode as I didnt have hobbies so my leisure time was empty other than bike rides and gym sessions. I needed that at the time to cure my burnout.
    I ended up going back to work to find some routine to my day. Living on my own I found the lack of social contact a real downer. I forgot that work gave me a routine.

    Being FI for me means I can chose whether to work or not. Having just finished yet another 10 hour day, I do a job role that never seems to allow me to drop to a 3 day week. Its more like the cram 7 days into 5 and work all hours and if you dont – expect to lose your job.
    That was the point of FI, to enable me to say – “so what if I dont do the long hours – sack me” I want some personal time now. I have worked hard, now I want some leisure time. I want the scales to move towards more leisure less work.

    I am now wondering how long I continue to do this job before I quit and take another break.

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    • Working 10 hours a day and putting 7 days into 5 just isn’t acceptable. Tell them nicely you aren’t doing it. I saw people at work doing this all the time. I’ve watched a female staff member stand up in the middle of an important meeting, state, “I’m off to collect my kids from school”, and exit. She latterly got promoted.

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  9. About three years before I pulled the plug entirely, I took a sort of demotion. I was utterly sick of commuting to our head office and, with no future plan, offered my resignation. To my surprise (as I’d been convinced that my pre-FIRE ennui must have been apparent in my work), my boss suggested that rather than leave, I could take a role doing my thing for one of our divisions – with a divisional head office 3 miles from my home. I couldn’t say “deal” fast enough. And bought an MrMM-compliant bicycle.

    But I never really settled into rustication. Being out of the strategic loop sucked. While I was theoretically the same grade as I had been, I was out of sight and out of mind. And as the size of projects reduced with the move, so did my interest and commitment. For some reason, my sense of self, achievement, and pride in my work also diminished. Pure pride, I’m sure – but whatever you call it, it didn’t feel good. I also found uncomfortable the way in which people who’d known me for years still deferred to me as a Head Office God – leading to me develop a variation on imposter syndrome.

    When a VR programme came along last year, coinciding with my pot hitting a 3% WR[1], I was there at the front of the class with my hand up saying “Me! Me! Pick Me!”. Fortunately, they did.

    I suppose the lesson from my experience is that demotion may work if you’re a psychologically secure ubermench but if, like most people, you take a degree of self definition from your role and status then tread carefully. Also, if you’re used to the challenges, the resources, and responsibility of developing strategy for worldwide widget production (or whatever), then having your domain reduced to running one small widget factory iaw *someone else’s* methodology may well be demoralising, boring, and entirely sucky.

    On the upside, I did get fitter. I found a really beautiful 10 mile e/w bike commute that I did day-in, day-out, rain or shine for three years.

    [1] Depending how you add things up. There’s an estimate of an equivalent capital value of some DB years in there, for example.

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    • Very true. It’s not a sin to admit that you actually like the status and competitiveness of the workplace environment. It can add an enjoyable depth to life. That’s not to say you buy into the “red in tooth and claw”, win at all costs, capitalist system. You just like to be involved, voice your opinion, push to make things better for you and your peers. You can still bike to work, you don’t need to turn up in a Maserati. Work can be fulfilling, satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable, and some mug even pays you to turn up and do it. This should be said a lot more.

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    • Uh oh. I already suffered from imposter syndrome before I took the step down! People still ask me stuff exactly like you said and now I just don’t even pretend to know. I just say I don’t know and send them on their way. So far no problems with that 😉

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  10. Part time is just a longer leash,(In the company I work for anyway) In fact it can be more constricting as there are fewer lucrative and convenient part time roles. I gave notice this week, will take the summer off and see how it goes. On breaking the news to my colleagues I’ve encountered continual shock, as I have shared my FIRE aspirations with very few, but on more than one occasion been asked about my position on the parking space list, this list is currently 12+ years long, is there no limit to the man’s diversity in shackling the masses?

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    • Classic! It reminds me of one place I worked where an esteemed, long-serving and well-liked colleague was fired out of the blue. This was announced to a shocked sales team before the start of the monthly sales meeting. There was a stunned silence, a long reflective pause while the Sales Director shuffled his notes, before a lone voice piped up, “Ehrm, what’s happening to his parking space”?

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  11. Workplace culture, or your bosses view on that, can be critical.

    A clampdown on flexible working and an attitude of presenteeism encouraged me to make my exit move, and let me know that a 3 day week wouldn’t be an alternative option.

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  12. Having done exactly that, stepping down and also going part time, I can say it’s been one of the best things I’ve done since I started working. Obviously the finances have to work out but if you have a large sum of money behind you (or even a modest amount with the caveat that FIRE will take longer as in my own case) and not sure about full retirement yet then what have you got to lose.

    It’s the best of both worlds you get a regular income: security, plus work place validation and fulfillment, plus a boat load of extra time to really look forward to.

    Plus I kept all those benefits you talked about. Maybe it was a bad deal for my employers but they said yes so they must be happy with it, if you don’t ask you don’t get as you quite rightly point out 🙂

    Cheers!

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