What if I Quit a Year Earlier?

This post was inevitable. Now that I am entrenched in the world of early retirement blogging, the idea consumes a growing percentage of my gray matter. Occupying space at the forefront of my mind, early retirement is something I write about or discuss with my wife more days than not.

A couple months ago, I wrote a post about part-time work that had me pretty well convinced that half time was the best option for me. While my wife was at our second home, I had what I thought was an epiphany. When we got together and reviewed the numbers and the implications, it was clear that I liked the idea, but we weren’t in love with it. Also, the option doesn’t really exist in my current job, and I’m not about to look for another.

More recently, I shared all the reasons why my original plan to work another five or six years had been cut in half. In fact, it could be even shorter if it weren’t for those golden handcuffs that I decided were too valuable to consider an early jailbreak.


alcatraz. tough to escape.

About Those Golden Handcuffs


The other night, a good twenty minutes past my bedtime, I was tossing and turning and contemplating the next few years. I needed to know more about those handcuffs, and exactly what I might lose if I were to leave even earlier than planned.

The handcuffs are not as Golden as I thought. Silver handcuffs, really. Each year after the first year, my employer gives me a profit sharing 401(k) contribution worth $15,600. I am 25% vested after two years (done) and fully vested after five years. I learned that I am fully vested in the employer match to my 401(k) from day one, which I hadn’t realized.

What am I giving up by leaving early? About twelve thousand pre-tax dollars for each year of employment after year one. If I finish the full five years, I get to keep all of the profit share. If I leave after four years of service, I will have received about $47,000 in profit sharing, but only get to keep about $12,000 and will give up $35,000 (pre-tax).

What else do I give up if I leave a year early? A year’s worth of making a great salary at the best job I’ve ever had. With a savings rate approaching 80% of net pay (calculate yours here), we’re talking about $240,000 plus the $35,000 of profit sharing that I could keep. That $275,000 could be close to ten percent or our investment portfolio. Not bad for one more year.

When I see a number like that, my mind wanders to the Rule of 72. In twenty years, it could easily double twice. Now it’s about a million dollars. Twenty years after that, when I’m in my eighties, the money from that extra year could very well be worth $3 million to $5 million if left untouched. Will I need it? Unlikely. But that would be a tidy sum to donate to a favorite cause.

As far as “one more years” go, I’ve already put one in since becoming financially independent. In order to implement our plan for what’s next, we need at least a year of lead time, and we’re not going to yank the boys from school mid-year, so we’re looking at another year and a half of work at a minimum. By then, I will have worked 2.5 “one more years” and while we may not have met our goal of having 40x expenses saved up, I won’t be done making money for good when I leave my primary job.


What’s Next


Next is New Zealand. Or Australia. Maybe both. Tasmania, anyone?puerto rico beach

Our plan is to look for outpatient anesthesia work in faraway lands. While the exchange rate isn’t great, and the pay will be less, I should be able to earn more than enough to cover our living expenses.

The school year runs early February to mid-December with several breaks, including a two-week winter break mid-July. We would plan to enroll our boys in school after the mid-summer winter break in 2018 or 2019.

I could work additional locum tenens jobs upon my return. If money is the main thing holding us back, I could always earn more of that in the future. I’ve had a couple discussions with a team that will soon be launching a robust locums platform that could do for physician staffing what Uber and AirBNB have done for transportation and lodging.

I wish something like Lucidity had been around eight to ten years ago, and I may be interested in working with the flexibility and transparency offered via this platform in some form of semi-retirement. The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact may make nationwide locums a more viable option.

I also plan to continue writing and growing this blog throughout our adventures, and while it doesn’t generate doctor revenue, and I give half of it away, there will always be money in this banana stand.


Pros and Cons


I would like to leave my job in the springtime, after I’ve earned enough to contribute the maximum to both my 457(b) and 401(k). The timing would give me at least a couple months off to do what needs to be done to embark on our family adventures in July.

There’s a good chance we’ll sell our home and make our second home primary while we globetrot. If you’ve read this post, you know about our plans to live in a Spanish speaking country and travel the United States in a motorhome. Even one home is more than necessary during these years, but our second home would give us a very low maintenance home base.

My wife and I sat down and made a list of pros and cons for leaving my job after March, 2018 versus March, 2019.

Current Plan (Done March, 2019)


Fully Vested = $47,000 bonus

Additional $240,000 saved

Older son finishes grade school

Financial goals likely met (40x expenses)

More time to plan and minimize our belongings


Working another 30 months

Waiting is the hardest part



Quit Earlier (Done March, 2018)


Done in 18 months

Start making real plans in 6 months

Able to communicate plans

Homeschooling easier when younger?

Earlier = better for foreign language

Easier to uproot boys?

Blog topics galore


Lose $35,000 from 401(k)

Younger son only 2 years in grade school

Financial goals still in progress

Leaving best job I’ve ever had

Too soon to uproot boys?



This is where we’re at. While there are certainly some financial advantages to waiting, I don’t think we’ll be hurting financially in either scenario.

a better kind of surfing

a better kind of surfing

Also, I fear we are afflicted with a condition knows as “ants in the pants.” Once the ants have established themselves in the pantaloons, they can be very, very difficult to eradicate. Plus, Terro can leave a nasty rash when applied to… ummm, nevermind.

We’ll be continually evaluating our prospects, and I despise the thought of walking away from free money, but 2018 looks like it could be a real possibility. I’ve been surfing overseas locums websites, we’ve toured some motorhomes, and read about other families who have taken a gap year.

Sometimes it feels like I’m writing the next chapter of our lives, but it’s too far away to be considered anything but a work of fiction. Accelerating the timeline will make our story more closely resemble non-fiction.

Now we are contemplating working One Less Year. In six months, we could begin the process of sharing our plans in real life, getting serious about downsizing, and preparing for what’s next.

I don’t think I’m ready to be a short-timer, and we feel our boys might benefit from one more year in their excellent school, another year of piano lessons, and the stability before we pull the rug out from underneath it all. On the other hand, we could reason our way into a lifetime of waiting. Either way, after one or two more long, cold winters, we’ll be planning our escape.

How exciting is that?

My cell phone is on Republic Wireless. I pay closer to $25 a month for 2 lines. How much are you paying?


  • How exciting is that? Super exciting! I say you go for the early departure, just because I’m looking forward to the great blog posts along the way!

    Seriously though, being so close to getting out, I can imagine that it’s tough wait. But, with the kids, you have to take their timing into account as well, making it more tricky.

    I think it’s a win either way, so just look at it that way. In the big scheme of life, the one year will not have made a difference either way. I’ll be looking forward to reading about your progress the still undecided date draws nearer!

  • The Green Swan

    Glad to see you are looking at this very closely. I personally would lean toward March 2018. I wouldn’t really consider the financial goals in progress since you’ve reached FI, you’ll earn an income when you move to the southern hemisphere, and you’ll have very good and high paying prospects still upon return to the states via locums if at that time you think you need it. You have great optionality if you are done in 2018.

    Just my thought, but I look forward to following the journey. Thanks!

  • I would definitely consider March 2018 because while you may not be exactly at your 40x living expensesm because you are still planning on working after March 2018 and not relying solely on your investments, then why the hell not? I mean, it would still be a really safe choice to make.

    Similar to our “one more year” or not debate, we will most likely have some income from Mrs. SSC and since that will cover most of our expenses, we won’t have to be necessarily solely dpendent on our investments and they can grow while we get used to a pseudo-retired – SAHD mode.

    I hear you about Golden handcuffs though. My company does long term incentives on top of our yearly bonuses and they vest 1/3 each year starting the year after they are awarded. This year I got 1/3 of my first one, next year I’ll get another third plus a third of last years, and then 2018 I’ll have 3 hit at the same time… It’s like “Holy crap, that’s a lot left on the table if I leave…” Except that they will always be there and something will always have to be left on the table. An extra $60k or so on top of my salary and yearly bonus does make another year of working seem like it could be worth it just to pad the savings a little more though. The LTI bonus alone would be a whole year of our FIRE costs. It’s a tough call…

  • Mr Crazy Kicks

    I also got the ants in the pants, and left a few years earlier than we originally planned. We could have padded our accounts with a few hundred thousand more, but I decided to cut it closer. I do have an option of consulting if I really want, but this not working thing really suits me.

    I don’t think you’ll regret making your move early 🙂

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      You point out one of many ways to overcome a “too early” retirement. You could work again! For your sake, I’ll hope there’s no need.


  • Oh the waiting is hard! Especially when the next chapter starts to feel very real. Another exercise you could try is a timeline of everything you need to get done before you go. We just finished decluttering and it took us 3x the amount of allotted time. Maybe it will shed some clarity on how soon you can feasibly finish thing up to move! Also, for me, when I am actively knocking things off my “go” list, it helps the ants simmer down. =)

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      Great tip, Ms. M. I know we can easily stay busy these next couple years. Congrats on completing the decluttering. It is strangely satisfying to have less.


  • We are doing a very similar analysis and with the kids , a lot of familiar considerations.
    We are conservative and perhaps too much. We are running numbers and taking a hard look at 2017 summertime instead of one year later. Our conservative nature says 2018. The desire to further activate our happiness receptors says one year earlier. The devil and the angel at work big time.

    Another year of bonus, stock option grant and of course regular savings is hard to walk away from for us when it could fund a few years of living expenses at our planned WR. Ugh, analysis paralysis…..

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      Yes, Dr. PIE. After a lifetime of doing the reasonable thing, the responsible thing, it seems wrong to contemplate a departure. I go back and forth on a daily basis.


  • Your plans of adventure will definitely be hard to fend off for another year I think. If I was a betting man I say you do it one year earlier. You’ll still be earning an income in Australia/New Zealand so your nest egg will continue to grow.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      True, FF. I need to solicit a guest post from someone who has worked overseas. That might help me make up my mind.


  • Personally, I think the stability of the longer wait may be better for the kids, but that also means you are working full-time, whereas if you leave early, you have a lot of time to spend with them which I’m sure they would also benefit much from. Awesome job in getting to a place where you have such tremendous choices and opportunities.

    cd :O)

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      Indeed, Chris. As far as dilemmas go, this is a great one to have! I’d like to maybe get the kids’ input, too, but once we start talking with them, they’ll probably start talking. We don’t want the cat out of the bag just yet.


  • It seems like leaving early is definitely a feasible option. You still have ways to bring in additional income as needed. If that income is enough to cover your living expenses, then I your still in great shape and your savings keeps growing. Either way though, I’m jealous!

  • Seems that leaving early is a good option but the income from an extra year is always good for extra buffer. If I were you I’d stay on a little extra time to get the stability.

  • ChooseBetterLife

    There will always be the option for one more year, and it’s hard to let go.

    What if you start talking about it publically as though you’re quitting at the earlier date, and see what your group says? They might want you around so much that you do get to work part time for the extra year. If they don’t make any offers, then you can leave early as planned.

    • This is true! I planted the seed I was leaving in August even sending my letter of resignation. My division heads encouraged me to create another option. I will now be working as a 0.5 FTE. Never would have imagined it and for now it’s the perfect option for me as leaving early was cutting it quite close.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      Interesting idea… Part time to finish out the 5 years might be a good compromise. It still delays our adventures, though… Thanks for the thought, CBL!


  • Hey Doc! To Wait Or To Go….the dilemma every Early Retiree faces!! We’re having the EXACT same discussion. At this point, it looks like we’ll achieve FI by early 2017, but we’re going to wait one year for the “RE” move, targeting mid-2018. It’s a decision only you can make, and you’ll live with the consequences either way. Enjoy it – how lucky are we to even be able to face this decision!!?? (PS – I’ll see you in New Zealand – on our list after we FIRE).

  • Something to look into is whether there are ways to leave early and still get the deferred compensation. In my case I’d still get my golden handcuff if I were laid off or retired. There might.be a way to engineer a layoff to quote financial samurai. I’d personally stay for the consistency for kids, but if the ants get bad remember there might be loopholes.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      That occurred to me, but I’m not sure what incentive the hospital would have to alter my vesting timeline. But, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Thanks for the recommendation, FTF.


  • Matt @ Optimize Your Life

    That’s really exciting! It’s great to have two wonderful options from which to choose.

    I have friends who went to big law firms planning on only going for a few years to pay off their loans before moving out to something less stressful, but the golden handcuffs held them in place. It is the ultimate first world problem, of course, earning so much money and having such great benefits that it is difficult to leave, but it is still a powerful factor.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      True, Matt. I’ve heard of golden handcuffs much more valuable than mine. If the value were double or triple, I don’t think we’d be having this discussion. I guess I’m lucky in that regard as well.


  • How exciting! For any of us to even have these dilemmas and discussions — how fortunate are we?

    I may be a bit biased because we hopped on the FI bandwagon late — but my feeling is if you can swing the numbers in 2018, go for it. Whatever you do keep writing, please. Love your blog.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      Thank you, pink kitty!

      I will keep writing. Pinky swear. In fact, I’m reading Steven King’s “On Writing” so I can write more better. Or sumthin’ like that.


  • Very nice analysis!
    My concern is that I might retire at or near the peak of the stock market and then everything unravels right after that. Or we’d have a correction already between now and 2018 (my projected pull-the-plug date). Both would be a reason to wait another year.
    But doing the PoF calculations about the tradeoffs every once in a while is important, too. Otherwise you’re on the hamster wheel and keep delaying and delaying the retirement date. Most people procrastinate when it comes to starting the retirement savings. Some of us here might procrastinate starting retirement itself, as crazy as it sounds.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      Thanks, ERN. There’s a spreadsheet to accompany this post, of course, but I spared you the details of that.

      I actually felt kinda silly taking the time to compare the two scenarios at a variety of market returns, when the difference between the two ended up being equal to my anticipated investments over OMY plus the vesting. Should have been obvious.

      The decision probably won’t be a money one, but if we do see a major correction in the next six to twelve months, that could make the decision for us.


  • I’d stick it out until 2019. The extra year’s worth of income plus the $35,000 gives you just a bit more breathing room. I wouldn’t stretch it out year by year indefinitely, but if 2019 was your original plan and there’s a $35,000 penalty for cutting it short, I wouldn’t cut it short. That one extra year will give you a lot of extra dough that you can use to put the kids through college, or take a life-changing crazy trip, or something. Again, I wouldn’t stretch it out indefinitely, but I’d stick with 2019 and be counting down the days!

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      Good point of view, rich abominable snowman. The original plan was 2021 or 2022 when I started blogging and thinking about it! Taking it one year at a time at this point.


  • S.G.

    I’d stick it out. Ants in the pants is hard, but not really a compelling reason to cut things short. I agree with the poster who suggested working out a timeline of tasks. Selling and shutting down your primary home is a big deal. Have you spoken to a realtor? Do you even need one? If not what is involved? Have you gone through your stuff? Is your place ready to show? Have you gone through your things and moved keepsakes to your second home? There is a lot of work you can do before leaving to set yourself up for success. Personally I could make a list a year long just to go through stuff to declutter for show and storage.

    OMY can be a problem, but so can pulling the trigger too soon. I have known people who have regretted retiring too early because of ants in the pants. And is there any psychological feeling that that extra year of salary and vesting will be part of your portfolio? You don’t want to feel compelled to work more in retirement to make up the balance sheet in your head.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      Lots of good questions here. It could take most of two-plus years to fully prepare. A timeline is a great idea.

      Answers: We bought without a realtor, but I would want a professional appraisal. We just started minimizing our stuff. It’s a big project! Even with the shorter timeline, I would be working another 18 months, and in the country a few months after that. It’s doable, but a little scary to think about.

      Thanks for the insight!

  • Oh yeah, once the ants get in there, I think it’s impossible to get them out. 😉 We too are wrestling with a similar question, though the difference is a matter of months, not years. We’re fully vested, so there’s no problem there, but we think we’ll hit our big number sometime in the spring, and the question will be whether to finish out the year. Pros and cons both ways, but when you want out SO BAD, it’s hard to think about working longer than strictly necessary.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      I hear you, ONL. If you can stay long enough to max out all retirement accounts, that would be best. I’ll keep my fingers crossed the markets cooperate so you can reach your target on schedule.


  • financialibre

    Two good options means you’ve already won!

    Can’t go wrong. Your financials seem pretty solid either way. And I’m sure you’ll have plenty of good blog material, regardless. 🙂

    Nice post, and congrats on the strong options… Buena suerte in one of those Spanish-speaking countries!

  • Hmm…when working another year can add 10% to your portfolio, I would definitely work another year.

    It’s only when you start talking about single digit percentages from working that I think someone should give notice. Just my opinion!

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      It is a big chunk, no doubt. One good thing about my career is that the money’s been pretty steady. In anesthesia, there’s no “building up a practice”. You hit the ground running.

      Thanks for weighing in, Mr. T!

  • This is a tough (but obviously awesome!) situation. I’m in a very similar boat financially and have a planned 2018 retirement. It’s a strange limbo state where the money still matters in your mind (even if you rationally think the money part is already solved), but you’re also excited about the time and what you will do with it. For me, since I don’t have as clear a vision for “retirement” yet, it’s easier to manage the one-more-year (or few years) syndrome. I don’t think I’ll regret working a little longer (my job is pretty nice) and by doing this, I expect I’ll have enough excess savings that my next phase will truly be based on what I want with very little focus on the money side. For now, money is still too big a part of my thinking. In the end, based on where you are at +/- 1 year, I think either option is a good one and I doubt that you will have significant regrets with either choice. So while it’s a tough decision, you’ll probably be happy with either path when you look back a few years into your next phase.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      That’s a great perspective from someone in a similar situation. Thanks!

      In my mind, we’re good either way, but I also have this concept in my mind (future post content for sure) about financial freedom being something beyond financial independence. FI is being mathematically able to maintain a current lifestyle indefinitely. Financial Freedom is to be less concerned about the cost of things, which requires more. I’m not sure how much more, but having 10% more would put us closer!


      • S.G.

        I think that’s an excellent point: Financial Freedom vs Financial Independence.

        In some ways you argue for a version of the same dichotomy during your working years. No matter what your spending level it’s about coming up with a lifestyle that is well within margin of your means, be they income or savings. When you’re working you want to be saving a good chunk, but you don’t want to feel like a slave with your future self as the master, living in a hovel eating food you don’t like and denying yourself even small luxuries. And you don’t want to live like that in retirement either. Being a slave to another version of yourself still isn’t freedom.

  • Joe

    Wow, that’s a dilemma. I left a couple years earlier than I planned as well. My job situation was bad and I couldn’t hang on anymore. You’re in a better position than that.
    If I were you, I would try to focus on something else. You don’t know how things are going to turn out in the next 2 years. The stock market will probably have a big correction and it might throw your numbers out of whack. Figure out ways to make your job better so you can stay with it for a couple of years. Working part time is a really good option too. Good luck!

    • PhysicianOnFIRE

      Thanks, Joe. I think the time would whisk by if I weren’t so focused on it. Blogging about early retirement will do that to a man, I guess.

      The job is what it is, and not that bad. The only way to make it better is to work less, but that would just delay reaching our goals further. Moving the goalposts might be the best solution. Time will tell!


  • Gas doc

    I personally think leaving that much money on table at this stage is not prudent. I work in your field. I don’t see the doom and gloom of the medical field that some of my co-workers do, but I am personally not expecting increased reimbursement 5 and 10 years from now. The profit sharing is something you have earned and you will essentially be working for an after tax bonus of 20% for that year. The thought of possibly returning to the world of 3:00 am stat c-sections and angioedema intubations in a few years seems a lot more depressing to me than another year in your 30’s or early 40’s in a setting that you like. Just my 2 cents from someone who is completely supportive of FI but who doesn’t drink the cool-aid of RE like the majority of your posters. I’m guessing that the WCI crowd would have different opinions than a lot of your responses to this post. I really enjoy your site and keep up the great articles.

    • Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, doc. I’m not expecting doom or gloom either, just trying to figure out how much is “enough.” It’s those emergencies you describe that also make me somewhat reluctant to work another year, despite the monetary reward.

      If I were to work some after leaving the full time job, I could be selective, choosing only surgical centers for example. There is still risk there, but nothing bad happens after 5 p.m. I got a chance to preview the Lucidity locums platform that I mentioned in the post. It actually rekindled my interest in locums a bit, which I hadn’t expected.


  • Tough call PoF, if you take the money out of the equation your pro column gets pretty short for continuing to work (unless you had long term plans for the extra cash – travel, college, charity, etc)

    Looking forward to continued updates!

  • I too would lean towards 2018. Money is one thing but the experiences and memories that you’ll get from leaving a year early for me would totally be worth it especially in light of your FIRE and your plans to continue to work. I’ll be interested to know what you end up doing as you get closer to the date.

  • Good post PoF, and a tough question. The way I see it is maybe you should take money out of the equation. You are going to earn money going forward through either locums or blogging or…whatever. If your current situation brings you joy then keep doing it. If you will be happier bailing out 1 year earlier then do that. Most of the time when we hang on one more year in spite of having enough it is subconsciously rooted in fear. You seem pretty darn happy with your job though. Tough to get away from a year of income. I can relate to this.

    I’m a huge fan of part time as you know, but it’s gotta be the right situation. I had a few cool insights reading this and will dig into them. Stay tuned 😉

    • Always happy to hear your philosophy, sir. Taking money out of the equation makes the decision easier, I think. I would be OK not working the extra year, but I also want to do what’s best for the boys. Decisions, decisions…

  • Fascinating! I’m in a similar situation (although, tech, not medicine) & the handcuffs get really serious now that I’m in this far. Seriously considering quitting at the end of the year, and taking some time off. I’m in San Francisco, so the job also requires an insane cost of living. We may move back to Seattle at the end of the school year. . . decisions, decisions!

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