The Option of Early Retirement

Oh financial independence; the holy grail of monetary freedom. The ability for our passive income streams and current assets to cover our expenses without another day of work. Thanks to FI my husband and I could throw in the towel on traditional employment. We’ve saved, invested and earned the right to step away from the rat race once and for all. We can now choose the option of early retirement.

We’ve reached the mecca of financial independence, yet here I sit pondering a new job search. The voice in my head says, “Wait. What? Excuse me. Repeat that! I don’t think I heard you right. Get a job?”

I have to admit the statement doesn’t always make sense to me. Why would I want to return to work when so many people are desperately trying to escape from it?

Leaving the Workforce

Seven years ago I left corporate America to become a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t plan to leave the workforce after the birth of my first child. I was forced out, just weeks after announcing my pregnancy.

After the initial shock I made the best of my circumstances and came to view my layoff as a blessing, but let’s be clear there is a HUGE difference between walking away from something and being sent away from it.

Those first few years of motherhood were tough for me. I struggled with exhaustion, isolation and a deep struggle to find an identity beyond motherhood. My husband and I fought a lot about roles and responsibilities. During that time I failed to carve out the space or energy to help run our family business, which rocked our marriage and our company.

Thankfully, time heals most wounds. As our boys have gotten older they need less supervision, hand-holding and support. Over time I’ve felt a slow, but steady sense of freedom emerging. As the clouds part and the sunlight shines I feel invigorated and renewed. With the boys in school I’ve also gotten a sneak peek into early retirement.

A Glimpse Into Early Retirement

Now every stay-at-home parent is collectively gasping at this statement. How in the world could child rearing feel like retirement? Sleepless nights, diaper changes, ridiculously earning mornings, and rarely finding a minute to myself. Yup, none of those sound like early retirement. I won’t disagree with that.

But I do think there are a few similarities. As a stay-at-home parent I don’t report to anyone, have to prove my worth, sit in an office all day or feel pressured by hard-nosed deadlines. At some point my children will be old enough to attend school for six hours a day. That will give me a few hours to do what I want.

Sure dinner needs to be prepared, the house cleaned, groceries purchased, finances journaled and my kids chauffeured back and forth to school. Not to mention all the other stuff that needs to get done. I don’t have an entire day to waste, but I do have a whole lot more time than I did when the boys were young.

This is a glorious feeling, so why in the world would I want to give up my free time for work? Shouldn’t I choose the option of early retirement instead?

What I Miss About Work

I read plenty of early retirement blogs that focus on the unpleasant aspects of employment. Despite the bad stuff there are still parts I miss. At work I enjoyed solving complex problems, writing code and doing nerdy stuff.

It was fun to analyze issues, discuss business needs and implement changes that brought new features to life. I enjoyed cooperatively bouncing ideas and solutions off of my teammates and bringing individuals together to form one united group.

Work was not all fun and games but I do miss the sense of connection. Quite frankly, I miss feeling connected to something larger than myself or my family.

Returning to a Technical Career

When I think about work I consider returning to software development or studying to become a data scientist. I deeply enjoyed writing code and learning technologies in my old job. I’m also a sucker for data, numbers and patterns.

The trouble is that my technical skills are outdated. To return to software I’d have to train myself to use the latest technologies. That’s not a problem, but it will take additional time and effort.

On the plus side technical jobs often provide utmost flexibility. The last time I worked I didn’t have children waiting for me after school. Now I need to think through the complexities of school schedules, work schedules and commutes.

Blogging as a Career

“Why don’t you become a full time blogger?,” a long time friend recently asked me. It’s always a possibility, but providing a steady stream of content isn’t easy.

In the beginning the journey to financial independence was incredibly gratifying. My husband and I reached new goals with such excitement. Our salaries grew. We received big bonuses. We eliminated mortgage debt. It was all so fun, but after awhile it became a boring routine.

We saved in our 401ks and HSAs and stopped buying things we didn’t need. As time moved on our investments grew and our bank totals reached higher heights, but as our chores became automated our need to discuss our finances disappeared.

About a decade after I began this blog I took a short hiatus to clear my thoughts. I returned reinvigorated and excited to write about money and financial independence, but I don’t want this blog to be my only creative outlet.

Teaching Others About Money

When I started this blog I had no idea who would find it. Over the years I’ve formed virtual relationships with some amazing personal finance nerds. Some of them cite my story as the inspiration for taking control of their finances and searching for better ways to save and invest.

That feels unbelievably fulfilling and rewarding and I am forever grateful for that. Maybe my calling involves teaching financial awareness. It’s among the list of options I’d like to explore.

A Teaching Career

My oldest son currently attends a private school that our whole family has grown to love. I currently volunteer there a lot, but I would love to find a more permanent position. My youngest attends a super cute preschool that might be able to use my help too.

Tuition is expensive and receiving a reduction in fees would be helpful. We are financially independent but shelling out $40,000 for tuition still doesn’t feel good.

Finances Are Still a Factor

Actually that brings up a whole other issue with work. I’d like to say that money doesn’t matter anymore, but I’m afraid it still does. As a software developer I earned a six-figure salary. Am I wiling to sacrifice my time and energy for a job that pays significantly less?

This is a tough question to answer. If I am trading my life energy for work am I willing to get paid very little to do so? I’m not sure.

I might prefer volunteering for free. That seems like a better option than a job with specific expectations, time constraints and low pay.

The Option of Early Retirement

My husband and I never set a goal for FI. Similarly we have not set a specific date for early retirement. Those objectives may seem unbelievably important, but in reality they are just dates on a calendar and numbers in a bank account.

So to be honest I don’t know what’s next. That’s the beauty of financial independence. We can choose the option of early retirement or we can choose to continue working.

That’s what FI buys us. We don’t have to work and we don’t have to retire. Instead, we have the option to make a choice. We can do what we want with our time.

We can also choose one thing in this moment and make a completely different decision in the near future.

The power of FI is not in leaving our jobs or finding new ones. The power is deciding what we’d like to do next.

8 thoughts on “The Option of Early Retirement”

  1. I’ve thought about going back to work as a software engineer and the idea of studying data science even got me to click on an ad for a Syracuse online degree.

    The good thing about it would be solving problems and feeling that I created something useful. The downside is the deadlines, lack of flexibility, etc. I’ve decided that won’t work for me.

    I wouldn’t mind working at my own kids’ private school, but I’m not a teacher and they are good with their IT people. I volunteer for stuff, but it’s clear that since I’m the only dad in a sea of yoga moms, I’m not going to fit in.

    Maybe there are part-time or entrepreneurial options. (We need a new as you mentioned.) I have a whole list of 5 others that I’m just too busy to work on. In fact, I’m going to reach out to you about one idea over email, because I think you’d find it interesting.

    • I hear you on the downsides of a job in software. I have to decide if the upsides outweigh the bad stuff. I figure I could always try it out and then quit later if I don’t enjoy it, but you’ve also gotten my mind ticking on working on my own projects. When I have some time this fall, (after the boys go to school for a few hours a day), I’d really like to explore the possibilities of what I can build and how out of date my technology is.

      As for the teaching comment don’t sell yourself short. A lot of small schools like the diversity of male teachers. A few parents in our school have been asking for more male teachers at the elementary school level.

      I read your email and I’m pondering the ideas as I type this 😉

    • Oh I love those stories. The ones where a woman says “I want to become a doctor at 35” and then they do it. So inspirational to know what you want and to go out there and do it!

  2. Have you ever considered becoming a certified financial planner? There are classes that require only nine months of study online and just one big exam to pass. After 2-3 years of work, you earn the CFP credential. I worked in the IT field in the 90s and have been a stay-at-home mom since my first was born. Getting back into that field has too much competition from 20-somethings fresh out of college.

    You have a passion for personal finance. You could follow that into a financial planning career. Teaching is also a good area, but only if you have a similar passion in working with children.

    • I totally agree on the 20-somethings willing to work for less, with more up to date skills and eagerness than I might have at this point in my life. I will look into the CFP credentials. It might be fun to do even if it’s just for myself! To be honest I would love to go back to school. Just audit a few classes. There are so many things I’d love to learn even if I didn’t earn money after educating myself. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hi OFG,

    Just revisited this post and I’m wondering how your thoughts on this have evolved? Are you still considering going back to some sort of work?

    • Hi Shirley,

      Life keeps getting in the way of any return to work. First COVID left me homeschooling my kids, now my dad is ill and I need to spend my time managing his care. I haven’t ruled out the idea of returning to work, but life needs to settle down first.


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