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Early Retirement Update: Notes from the Other Side

April 28, 2023


On this blog, my aim is to give you a blend of content around personal finance and practical wealth-budling, while also covering the important philosophy and mindset behind it.

From time to time, I’ll sprinkle in updates and stories from my own life.  Not because I think my life is particularly interesting to other people (it’s probably not!).  But simply to offer some perspective and real-life glimpses into what early retirement is actually like.

Side note: if you’re still hung up on the idea of retirement meaning to sit around watching tv, while doing nothing productive except playing the odd game of golf, read this.

Anyway, I’ve had multiple requests to share more about life after leaving the workforce, since it’s such a rare situation.  So, in this new experimental blog series, I’ll do a quick zoom around our life and share how it’s all going and what we’re up to.

 

Plants and Turtles

We’ve still been doing our occasional tree planting days with FOY (Friends of Yellagonga Regional Park), trying to revegetate some of the wetland areas.

As an unexpected bonus, we received an invitation to a volunteer appreciation dinner by the local council, which was very nice!

In other news, it’s now turtle hatching season.  This means each day I’m checking the 9 turtle nests in our yard to see if there’s any activity or hatchlings emerging.

Here’s the first one from a couple days ago, where I was just about to take it across to the lake.

 

 

From theses 9 nests, I’d estimate we’ll get hopefully 50+ hatchlings.  From experience, nests seem to vary in size from 1-13, likely depending on the size, age, and health of the female.

One of the reasons for staying in this exact location when we bought a house was to continue helping the turtles.  The house we bought was just 6 houses down from our old rental 😂

After moving in last year, I immediately cut out the bottom section along our 40 metre fenceline, so the female turtles could come in our yard.  This way they’d have a safe place to dig a hole to lay their eggs, without them (or the nests) being attacked by ravens.

I’ll be sure to report back later with how this hatching season goes.  And I’ll probably post a few pictures on Facebook / Twitter, if you want some more timely updates.

 

Writing

This casual blog has slowly evolved into what could be considered my ‘work’ now.  If a stranger asks me what I do, my typical answer is “I just do some writing part time.”

The truth is, I love spending time playing with different ideas, looking at topics from various angles, and fleshing out my thoughts.  But I can’t bring myself to write about (or even read) anything that doesn’t interest me.

I enjoy the act of writing such that I get quite grumpy if I haven’t written anything for a few days (like when we’re on a trip).

It annoys me for two reasons: I like to feel productive, plus writing is like a release of thoughts and a form of expression.  So writing is therapeutic in that way.

In everyday life, I usually commit to 1-2 hours per day, often more.  Despite that, it still feels very much like a hobby that I’m still playing around with.  And I think that’s what keeps it fun and interesting.

If you’re still working towards financial independence, here’s the important bit..

I had never considered writing at any point in my life before leaving work.  I’d never even thought of it as a possible hobby on the side of my warehouse job.  So I obviously had no clue whether I would like writing or even be any good at it.

The idea that you should (or would even want to) forecast what you’ll be doing a few years after retirement is ludicrous.  The whole point of leaving work is so you can find other ways to spend your time which deliver you more meaning and satisfaction than your current setup.

Some of that will be obvious, like time with family, focusing on hobbies and your health.  But that still leaves space in your life, and space is the point!  Space is not emptiness, it’s freedom.

You can then experiment with what you want to use that space for.  Rather than seeing it as an anxiety-inducing hole in your life, see it as space for play, experimentation, testing, trying, changing, and pivoting, until you finally find something (or a group of things) which form the right sized puzzle piece to fit that space.

Anyway, I still have a big backlog of article ideas to draw on, which I’m now getting stuck into.  As for the book it’s going well.  Feedback of its usefulness (which was my main goal) has been wonderful.

The emails and reviews coming through are really heartwarming – I’m extremely grateful!  It’s sold around 5,000 copies so far, which is amazing to me.  My book guy Jed Herne even made me a little graphic for the milestone!

 

 

What I call an amazing result is probably what Barefoot would call ‘a slow week’ 😁

“That’s still a lot though, you’d be making a killing!”

Ahh, not quite.  Books are far less profitable than most people assume.  Since a number of you have reached out to ask for more info, I’m going to write an article on the book writing / publishing process and the numbers behind it – stay tuned!

 

Trips

In March we loaded up the car and headed to Esperance.

For those unaware, it’s a beautiful beachside town about TEN THOUSAND LIGHT YEARS AWAY FROM PERTH.

Haha, nah it’s an 8 hour drive, which ends up being 10 hours with breaks.  Not a fun drive, unless you like that sort of thing, but worth it when you get there!

It gave us a chance to get away from all the, um, stress, of daily life, while also spending time with my mum who lives down there.  She actually used to live in Perth but got sick of suburban living, visited a friend in Esperance and decided to stay!

I can’t imagine why 😉

 

 

Later in the year we’ll probably do another in-state trip, maybe to Dunsborough this time.  We’ve passed through there before, and last time decided that a future stay was in order!

Other than that, it’s likely we’ll both also do family trips in the second half of 2023.

 

Dog

Our boy turned 10 years old earlier this month!

He’s still on his cancer tablets and seems to be doing pretty well, aside from a few minor side effects.  At this stage he’s beating the odds, having survived past the 12-18 month mark which I believe only 50% of dogs manage.

So we’re very thankful for two reasons: the fact that we can afford treatment without it affecting our financial situation or life in any noticeable way.  And the fact that he’s still with us, active, and has just beat the life expectancy for his breed (8-10).

I obviously do have some dark thoughts given this situation can’t last forever.  But all we can do is focus on the controllables, enjoy his life, and accept whatever happens.

He got a lovely new Flamingo toy for his 10th birthday, which he proceeded to hump, shake, chew, and eventually tear apart 😂

 

 

House stuff

As you might remember, we renovated the bathroom of our 50 year old house late last year.  Before / after pictures are in this post.

There haven’t been any works so far this year.  But there are a couple of things planned.  We’ll be getting the outside of the house fully painted (currently it’s a horrible old dark brown brick).  And we’ll also look at getting solar panels!

Mrs SMA continues her passionate pottering in the garden.  And it’s now paying dividends!

This year we’ve been able to harvest a lovely assortment of a huge range of stuff, some of which is below.  Alongside that was kale, spinach, coriander, blueberries, spring onion, lemongrass, and chilli!

I think she’s tried to grow everything at this point – everything from A to Z, apples to zucchinis.  She also helps out at a community garden which is just round the corner from us.

 

 

Finances

Despite the share market pullback since last year, our wealth has remained intact, and has even grown a bit.

That’s partly because Perth property prices have remained solid and have been rising this year.  Another reason is that there are 4 mortgages being paid-off, so the equity in each property (including our home) increases each month.

As for our investing habits, we’ve been investing regularly into our portfolio when spare cash is available.  Only recently did we hold off due to build up cash for upcoming house works.

Our dividend income is higher again this year compared to last, after we sold an investment property, and moved to being fully invested.

Mrs SMA is still doing her 2 days per week in government admin.  Still enjoying it, and from the stories I’m told, still doing more socialising than actual work 😉

The job was actually re-classified as a higher-paying position recently, which is a nice (small) bump to her income.  She had to go through a stupid process of re-applying for her job though, along with the nerve-wracking interviews to make it official though.

The rents on our properties have gone up, but not as much as the media would have you believe.  And nowhere near as much as the mortgage repayments!  I say that for perspective by the way, not sympathy.

Rates have changed so many times that it’s actually hard to keep up with whether you’re on a decent deal or not.  And offers are changing all the time, with the cashbacks, etc.

By the way, if you’re looking for a helpful mortgage broker to wade through the home loan universe for you, feel free to check out mine – more details at the bottom of this post.

 

Other

Life seems to have sped up a bit in the last six months or so.  I’ve been doing a fair bit of socialising recently (for me anyway), especially meeting readers, and friends.

Like a recent dinner with some fellow FI enthusiasts visiting from Toowoomba who I met last year when they visited.  This was also my trip to a Cambodian restaurant, and it was delicious!

 

 

While I do enjoy it, being busier and filling my life with activities is actually not the style of living I like best.

The busier I am, the less free I feel.  Even if most of those things are optional, I just love having huge chunks of time that are left wide open to do whatever the hell I want.

Whatever I end up doing is irrelevant, I just love the luxury of time and space.  Ultimately, to me, the most freedom and enjoyment tends to come from a life that is relatively simple.

As I wrote last year, I got a bit slack with my health and eating habits.  I also developed a semi-regular drinking habit.  Nothing major, but I would often have a drink (just one) while working on the book in the afternoon.

It helped my mind slow down and I was able to concentrate better.  Obviously not the best strategy… but I can’t say it didn’t work.  These days I’m back to normal, having 1-2 drinks on a Friday or Saturday and that’s enough.

I’ve been doing some rehab exercises for a stubborn elbow injury, which has made things surprisingly restrictive.  It’s starting to come good now, so I can hopefully increase my exercise levels again, but man it’s been frustrating.

 

Final thoughts

That’s about it!  I hope you found this little collection of notes interesting.

The next instalment will probably be in a few months time, when I have some more things to share.   As you can probably tell, I approach early retirement with a healthy sense of flexibility and openness.

I don’t rigidly plan the next 5 years of my life.  And I don’t set specific goals, yet still manage to get shit done.  I just try to focus on what’s important to me and what I want to do and head in that direction.

To be clear, that doesn’t happen automatically when you leave work.  It takes time, and requires a good dose of self-questioning, reflection and experimentation, to construct a path and a life you’re happy with.

Which is the whole point of freedom and financial independence in the first place – a happy life that’s meaningful to you!


My personal mortgage broker:  For help with home loans, I can happily recommend More Than Mortgages – I’ve used these guys for about 10 years now, and the service has been excellent.  They’ll review your interest rate against 40+ lenders to make sure you’re not getting screwed, and help you refinance or negotiate with your bank if you are.  If they end up helping you get a loan, this blog may receive a referral fee as a thank-you.

26 Comments

26 Replies to “Early Retirement Update: Notes from the Other Side”

  1. “But that still leaves space in your life, and space is the point! Space is not emptiness, it’s freedom”

    So well said Dave. This is exactly what I needed to hear!

    It’s not easy to get your head around having space when you’ve sent your life reporting on and being rewarded for your daily accomplishments in the corporate world. It really takes a mindset shift to realise that having space is having freedom.

    1. Glad you like my ramblings 🙂

      Definitely a mindset shift, and one that isn’t easy for many people. But it’s a necessary and healthy shift to make, especially at the point where work is optional.

      1. Thanks sir, totally agree , love your thoughts and I feel you totally,as Mrs M still can’t see the meaning of retirement, good luck 🤞 Dave. Sincerely Len majeks

  2. “The busier I am, the less free I feel. Even if most of those things are optional, I just love having huge chunks of time that are left wide open to do whatever the hell I want.”

    I resonate so much with this Dave. Being ‘busy’ has become such a status symbol and it’s so over-rated.

    Anyone who experiences the gift of time realises that busyness is a HUGE waste of time and nothing more than a socially accepted means of distraction from what’s really important to YOU.

    1. Thanks Kris!

      Oh, ‘busy’ is incredibly overrated. It’s effectively self-appointed productive slavery at this point. I love that statement “busyness is a huge waste of time” I may have to steal that, haha.

  3. Thanks for sharing Dave! Sounds like you have a fantastic lifestyle.

    Nothing less free than having an addiction, even if it’s socially acceptable. Nice work on cutting down on the booze. I’d be interested to see how you feel after taking a month off. I started with dry July last year and have no intention to go back to drinking. The lack of hangovers is an obvious benefit but my overall health has really improved and would recommend.

    1. Cheers Bludger. Well I like it!

      Nice work mate, that’s great to hear. I usually only have 1 drink, so definitely no hangovers to worry about. Restricted to weekends now and I do feel fresher!

  4. I retired at 52 which I know is late for you, but I can totally relate to your “busy” comment. I try to only have one or two things that I must do in a week and then space out everything else to give me my CHUNKS of time…….Still loving it this way 6 years later….

  5. Thanks for sharing. Sometimes we get so busy working that relaxing is something we have to practice. I love your philosophy and are working towards setting goals on chill health and wealth.
    Eve

    1. That’s a good point about relaxing. I read a quote recently that said something about the point of work being so we can afford leisure. We can often get lost in striving that we forget what the point of it was.

  6. Sounds very fullfilling retirement, a balance between being busy and space. This sounds very similar us, wife working part time, community garden, conservation, trying sell a property, older dog. I haven’t started writing about FIRE yet ☺️ Congrats on the book 🎉

  7. Whenever I think about what FIRE means to me I’m reminded of a song called ‘my list’ by Toby Keith. Do yourself a favour and look up the lyrics then congratulate yourself on making the right decision to ENJOY living.

  8. Hi Dave, long time reader 2nd time commentor.

    Bit off topic, I was going through the posts again.

    Does using self wealth make it easier at tax time when selling for some reason, when using a DRP? They would have a record of the price and amount that which you bought and when, so would simplify the process, also over riding human error as such, and my strong point- the need of accurate record keeping.

    I hope you can understand what I have typed, because its not overly clear- even to me and I wrote it.

    1. Hi Graeme. Do you mean the broker Selfwealth or the portfolio tracking tool Sharesight?

      If so, yes, Sharesight can make it easier as long as the correct quantity of shares are recorded it will spit our an accurate summary of income for the year to help with tax. Using DRP only makes taxes complicated when you go to sell any of those shares, because there’s so many different little parcels to calculate tax on. But for just holding the shares each year, tax isn’t very complex at all, just income and franking to declare.

      Your broker – if it’s Selfwealth – has purchase prices, but likely won’t have a record of dividends paid, so won’t help with tax. If this is your setup, you’ll just need to keep the divided statements that get sent to you during the year. Otherwise, connect your portfolio to Sharesight, or fill in the holdings manually on there. It definitely helps, otherwise it’s quite a few things to tally up by yourself. Hope that makes sense.

  9. Another excellent post Dave!

    “The whole point of leaving work is so you can find other ways to spend your time which deliver you more meaning and satisfaction than your current setup.”

    Couldn’t have said it better… Once we’ve got freedom, then we can work out what we do or don’t want. For me, I’ve wanted to ski a whole season (managed 33 snow days last year), and would gladly do it again.

    Other things that I’ve wanted to do, such as cooking certain foods, it was good to do, but I now know that it’s not something I want to be doing regularly.

    Life is so much better without being tied down.

    1. Exactly! A lot of it is experimentation, knowing we won’t like everything and it’s actually good to find out. We learn more about ourselves.

      That’s a pretty cool goal to have (no pun intended lol), how many days in a ski season?

  10. Hey Dave,

    Really enjoyed reading this and gaining an insight into life in early retirement.

    Can I ask what sort of income you have been able to do this with? and does it consist purely of dividends, rent and Mrs SMA’s income?

    Cheers.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post Max 🙂

      If you’re asking what level of income we’re on, these days our investment income (purely dividends) is about $50k. But if you’re asking what it cost to live our ‘retired’ lifestyle, more details on our expenses here: https://strongmoneyaustralia.com/our-household-spending-in-2022/

      We’re continuing to transition out of property into shares, so that income figure will rise over the next 5 years. But we also have part-time income coming in from both Mrs SMA and myself. The rentals are a cash drain due to expenses + P&I mortgage repayments. Hope that helps.

      1. That’s perfect thanks Dave. It’s good to know two people can still live relatively comfortably on $50k, which is what my Mrs and I are targeting. We are also looking to transition out of property and into shares, so I’ll be continuing to follow your journey and hopefully we can emulate it!

        On a side note, WA looks to be an incredible part of the world. No need to travel anywhere else when it’s all on your doorstep.

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