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Early Retirement Doesn’t Have to Suck

Monkey typing

Allow me to introduce you to an early retiree with 13 years of early retirement experience. For perspective on that timeline, this Dude has been retired longer than I’ve been an anesthesiologist. And the Dude’s not even 50 years old.

I could carry on with the introduction, but I don’t have nearly as broad a vocabulary or as keen a sense of wit, so I’ll let the author of today’s guest post complete the introduction. From the monkey-loving man with a whole lot of time on his hands:

Early Retirement Dude was once clean-cut and corporate. But having retired at age thirty-six and being forty-nine now, he looks like he oughtta be leading an Entmoot. He has a wife, a daughter, a cat named Satan, and however many dogs his family happens to be sheltering that week. Oddly, he’s cool with it all.

ERD releases whole cavalcades of dexterous FIRE-centric BS at his blog, EarlyRetirementDude.com. Please also follow him on Twitter at @RetireEarlyDude and/or his mailing list.

Early Retirement Doesn’t Have to Suck

I was way too young for Vietnam, but recently during a midnight run on an ill-lit sidewalk I stepped off into a knee-deep rebar-spiked gravel pit that some fudgewit contractor had seen fit to conceal beneath a sheet of grey cement-crusted plastic. A utility excavation?

At any rate, I climbed out of this punji trap and sat on the curb oozing blood and badly in need of a tetanus shot, thinking about what anybody would think about in such circumstances: whether catch-up contributions fall under the IRS 415 limit for qualified retirement savings plans.

Ha-ha. No…what I thought about was that even fitness can kill you. And the realization immediately followed that since retiring in 2005 at age thirty-six, I’ve whipped myself into the best shape of my life…and what exactly did that mean, sitting on the curb with flayed shins??

Well, nobody ever writes about the downsides of FIRE. It’s all high praise of sleeping in and daytime grocery shopping; of rum and hammocks and afternoon quickies, yes?

This being a blog run by a physician—at least I gather he’s a physician because his masthead says “physician”—as well as being a blog about FIRE, the negative effects of FIRE on one’s well-being merit discussion. So let’s discuss them.

Monkey typing
the early retirement dude hard at work

FIRE and Self-Discipline

First, FIRE can destroy your self-discipline. Like it or not, I imagine you’re skilled at rising early, attending to your morning toilet, dressing yourself passably, commuting, arriving at your job promptly, etc… You don’t WANT to be doing this stuff at oh-God thirty in the morning…you do it because you’re a self-disciplined professional.

So when you’re no longer a professional, your self-discipline is apt to suffer. You’ll be able to sleep in late, hit the pizza buffet for breakfast, play video games all day, watch hours of coin pusher videos on YouTube, surf social media until your eyeballs char…

And then what? Well, back when you were still working, your every task had a single metric: how is what I’m doing helping the company make money? So in FIRE you have the opportunity to apply that metric to your own life: how is what I’m doing helping me in the long run? Ask yourself that question and see if you’re comfortable with the answer.

But look, don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Don’t believe in suddenly committing to an enormous life change and trying to achieve it by willpower alone. That only leads to failure and concomitant guilt. Instead, I recommend you try micro-change—each day completing one or two five-minute tasks that eventually lead to strong, healthy habits.

Like working out. Gyms make money because people join and resolve to go regularly and quit after a few days or weeks. But if you hang a simple set of gymnastics rings in your garage and do a few dips followed by a few burpees twice a day, and gradually increase your reps, you’re gonna gain strength and conditioning whether you notice it or not…and in the near future you’ll be able to use your now-established habit to push yourself into the gym for, say, a thirty-minute workout twice a week. These things have a way of building on each other.

FIRE and Your Social Life

Second, FIRE can blow up your social life. You should NEVER depend on your job for your social life. And yet we do, because the ever-lengthening workday leaves less and less time for building and enjoying more personal and more validating relationships in the few off-hours we have.

Consequently, the majority of those work-based relationships will vanish the moment you FIRE. Back in the day you didn’t have time to socialize outside work, and when you’re gone your friends who are still working won’t either. Leaves a big empty hole.

But if you used to go out drinking with your coworkers a lot, now’s a fine time to cut back. If you have family out-of-state, now’s a fine time to visit. If you want to meet people who share your interests, now’s a fine time to join the local craft guild, the monthly backpacking club, the volunteer group, or whatever. The relationships you’ll build won’t be so evanescent.

I've got my 2 acres of non-leveraged, crop-producing, cashflowing farmland via AcreTrader. Get yours.

And on the subject of relationships:

FIRE and Your Relationship with Your Partner

Third, FIRE can damage your relationship with your SO.

Here’s the example everybody dwells on but nobody brings up: sex. FIRE, as you might expect, gives you a LOT more time for the wubba-wubba. But since no two people are perfectly matched in their sex drives, even minor sexual disconnects can cause major resentment.

The maxim “Improve everything else and the sex will follow” is true, but if you should find yourself in sexual disconnect, how about meeting each other halfway? Here’s an opportunity to practice generosity with your SO. You may not be in the mood but at least be willing to be gotten into the mood…not just for sex, but for any chance to grow closer. And if your partner definitely isn’t having any…OK, maybe next time.

Sheesh, man…this subject puts me in mind of several years ago when I was at the beach and there were all these middle-aged wives in their folding chairs reading—nay, mesmerized by—“Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Meanwhile, of course, their husbands were ogling the college girls. I remember watching and thinking, “Come on, you two…Smith & Wesson sells a damned fine set of nickel-plated handcuffs, and you can buy cheerleader costumes on Amazon for fifty cents a ton…” And I generously shared that joke with my wife, who generously LOL’d. Wow, that was an instructive vacation.

FIRE and Fitness

Fourth, FIRE will wreck your fitness if you let it. I have a very high tolerance for pleasure. As I mentioned, rum & hammocks are a particular vice. But having said that FIRE attacks your self-discipline and that micro-change is a great way to defend it, check this out:

Two weeks ago I conducted a couple of informal social media surveys on that subject and got back answers I wasn’t expecting. My question was, “After retiring early, did your weight change?”

I expected people to put on some pounds, and granted there was some selection bias in the responses, but the majority of those who replied said they’d either maintained their weight or gotten leaner…and one case, lost a lot. Went from morbidly obese to a normal body-mass index, in fact. And several said they’d used FIRE to get back into the shape they’d been in college.

So you know what? I’d been selling people short, but I was happy to be proven wrong. Ain’t the FIRE community great?

FIRE and Mental Health

Fifth, and most importantly, FIRE can harm your mental well-being. What? Did I just say that? Escaping toxicity can be toxic?

Yeah, it can. Let me share something I once wrote about how achieving FIRE can rob you of the joy of achieving FIRE.

You wake up in the black hours of the morning and lie there afraid that you peaked a long time ago; that you abandoned your career out of selfishness; that you’re little more than a dilettante scattered thin with too many interests and not enough commitment; that you haven’t found your vocation yet or even done anything that matters; that you never will; that what keeps you from doing so is that you’re too preoccupied with gratifying your own ego to accomplish anything of any meaning; that you’re getting older; that you’re going to die someday and it’ll be too late.

So you get up and come out into the kitchen and get a handful of walnuts to eat and sit down and type stuff like this. And it helps you a little, and eventually you go back to bed.

Again, therapy. But the best way to stop focusing on yourself is…stand back, folks…to stop focusing on yourself.

Sound simpleminded? It’s really not. That statement hearkens back to everything I’ve written in this article: assess yourself, exercise your self-discipline to engage in healthy and productive pastimes, build and/or maintain good relationships, and keep physically fit.

These things help get you past the self-destructive inner dialogue we all suffer from; the kind I shared with you just now. I wish I’d been thinking, I screwed that up, but I got this, this, and this right. So maybe it’s not so bad.

And when you turn down the volume of that little voice, you can hear what goes on outside yourself much better.

Welp…there you have it. I have to split now so I can call the local 311 line and explain to the city works people why concealed punji traps on sidewalks are hazards to public safety and especially mine…so I leave you with this thought: FIRE can indeed suck. It’s up to you to make sure it doesn’t.

[PoF: Thank you for enlightening us with your tips on sucking the suckiness out of early retirement! FIRE is supposed to be life-changing, and we should make sure it changes for the better. If not, we’re obviously better off focusing on FI and leaving out the RE part.

I want to thank ERD for abandoning the FI/ER acronym he once insisted upon and for teaching me how to make my Amazon links into Amazon Smile links to help my readers support charitable causes when clicking on my affiliate links.

For more monkey pictures and musings from a FIRE veteran, be sure to head on over to visit the Early Retirement Dude]

***If you’re in the Twin Cities, we’ve got FI meetups planned this evening.***

Contrary to popular belief, early retirement isn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and “wubba-wubba.” How do you plan to ensure your retirement doesn’t suck?

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20 thoughts on “Early Retirement Doesn’t Have to Suck”

  1. Great post ERD. You touched upon factors why I find quite a few colleagues unable to RE despite long being FI. They very well know they are FI, and even occasionally read FIRE blogs if only to feel good about how much better they are faring financially than the blog authors. Money to retire isn’t a factor for them at that point, but it becomes a metric to merely keep “score”. They are so driven that even a 3 week vacation feels like they are losing their professional edge so they cram everything into 1-2 week vacations in a year. Some of these colleagues will one day undoubtedly earn the title of being the “richest man in the graveyard”. I often tell myself not to fall for that trap. I just wanted to share another flavour of the demons that some FI’d crowd deal with, and why they are afraid of RE. The grass ain’t greener there for sure, though it looks greener.

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  3. Trying to figure out why Early Retirement Dude’s voice is so appealing. There’s a rawness combined with disinhibition, like Hunter S. Thompson without the psychosis, that is immediately endearing. There’s the bawdy humor. And then there’s just the vulnerable human being that projects through it all.

    Long-time follower, happy to see you reaching the PoF audience. Shine on you crazy diamond.



    • Aw, man…that is SUCH a nice compliment. Just saw it this morning. I’ll never be in the same league with HST, but it’s nice to at least be playing in the same ballpark. Made my day.

      And a Floyd quote to boot? Sweet.

  4. As a guy about to FIRE in 4 months, this was a truly timely post for me! And you’re right – most of the FIRE posts out there deal with only the dreams of early retirees. This is what I like to read – the meat and potatoes of what to really expect.

    I appreciate the honesty, ERD, and I’ll try to bear in mind your advice as I find my way out of the rat race! 🙂

    — Jim

  5. Man, that’s such a good post. Never thought about the setbacks of RE in that way. Even though I am still 13-16 years away from RE, I will make sure to remind myself of these throughout the journey to make RE a more solid and enjoyable decision. Thank you for the post, PoF and ERD.


  6. Great read as I close in on early retirement at 36. All is very relatable, especially the social circle through work and loosing the sense of purpose.

  7. I’ve been retired/repurposed for a year and a half now and I can relate to the self-discipline issue. Since I don’t have any deadlines anymore, it is up to me to get things done that don’t HAVE to be done. I seemed to get more done when I worked full time. I found that if I only have one hour to do something, I get it done in an hour. If I have two days to do it, it will take me two days. Everything takes longer to do now. (but I have read more books, seen more states, visited more countries, watched more movies, hiked more miles, and had more fun since I retired) I have learned to make a schedule for the day and much more is accomplished. And yes, you do need to accomplish things after you retire. I did write about what I learned after 6 months of retirement. You can read it here:


    There are ups and downs to everything, even FIRE. Just be sure you understand them both.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  8. LOVE this post. The first time I FIREd, I lost all motivation… was so burned out and exhausted from 12-14 hr days, 7 days a week, for 2 decades, PLUS 3 months of ill-mom care right when I retired, that I was sleeping late, taking naps on the couch mid-day, watching movies, farting around doing mindless things on the internet, and NOT exercising like I’d planned. I did lose 10 pounds, do a whole lot more healthy cooking, and did a few home cleanup tasks before the summer inferno hit, but once it got hot, forget it. I couldn’t take the heat that year thanks to hot flashes every 15 minutes, so I holed up indoors much of the day. I do have a horse farm so I had daily AM/PM chores and lots of mowing to do, so I wasn’t totally doing nothing, but it wasn’t the schedule I’d planned on.

    Before I knew it I was working again when opportunity called with a deal I could live with – telecommuting, my choice of hours, which I could bookend twice daily horse chores around. But it was kind of like pre-FIRE lite! Back to 12 hour days this summer and working like a maniac on weekends to do mowing and personal things. Gained those 10 pounds back. This gave me a chance to think about the way I want to RE this time around, which supposedly is happening 9/1, yippee. Only 10 more days to go…

    ERD shares true wisdom when he suggests to add incremental fitness tasks and make other incremental changes until they become your new healthy habits. And to be mindful about one’s personal relationships and how those can change when you leave the work force. The biggest joy I had during the first RE interval was that I had way more time to spend with friends having fun. I could do very little farm-wise on weekends and be available for working friends, and had time during the week for non-working friends. It was FUN.

  9. I never expected to hear so many downsides to early retirement. My Wife and I are just in the beginning stages of our FI journey. We never had plans to add the RE part to our plan but I do want to quit to corporate job at some point to pursue entrepreneurial aspirations, such as blogging and a financial coaching business as well as getting back into ski racing by starting a team or coaching a school club. This article provides alot of insight to other aspects of RE that I should take into consideration. Thank you for the real side of early retirement.

  10. Interesting take on early retirement and its potential “pitfalls”. However, I never saw these as potential pitfalls at all. Maybe it depends on the individual or it’s a case-by-base basis but I imagine all of these aspects (self-discipline, social life, relationships, fitness, and mental health) vastly improving after FIRE.

    Or maybe because I’m not FIRE’d, my perspective is sorta skewed? (Grass is greener mind set?) I’m not sure. But I really can’t imagine these aspects getting worse in my retirement. I can only see them getting better.

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  12. Your commments are spot on, and reflect my experience after 8 months of FIRE. My self-discipline has waned, as have my feelings of accomplishment and contribution to the world. Left instead is the sense that I am living for myself, which sucks the meaning out of life. Especially after such a consuming career as medicine. So RE is a project in which you remake yourself.
    One thing I would add is that in an effort to fill up time and fill the void, one spends more money than before. In our case, on travel and classes and even a new RV. So not only is no money coming in (besides passive income), but more is going out. It will be sobering to run the numbers at the end of this year.
    All that said, I constantly remind myself how lucky my wife and I are to have the FIRE option, the time to relax in the morning, drinking coffee and reading blogs on-line, and going to the gym after rush hour. The rest of it is wondering, “How can I be of help today?” and making that happen.

  13. I left my career last month at the age of 39 due to FIRE principles and a high earning spouse. I can absolutely agree with physical and mental health challenges. For me the physical was easy and getting more time to schedule workouts has been a massive win and I am getting into the shape I haven’t seen since I was a Marine! The mental health part is the hard one in my opinion; you need to have activities and some structure planned before pulling the trigger on FIRE. The other aspect is it can be challenging trying to talk to people about how you left a good job and promising career at 39 because you don’t need the money/stress/or whatever. Finally, there is the sexist perception element of being the stay at home dad (especially being transplants into the south).
    That being said, nearly two months in and I wouldn’t change a thing!

  14. Definitely plan on doing other hobbies in a part-time capacity. Nobody wants to lose their purpose in life! That’s why some people retire and then go back! Great post.

    • >Nobody wants to lose their purpose in life!

      And FIRE is a great avenue for people who haven’t found it yet.

      >Great post.

      Much obliged!

  15. It is refreshing to hear a post from someone who not only speaks about early retirement but has actually done it. Wow 13 yrs already and you are juts a couple of years older than me.

    I would have thought that there was a great potential to be less physically fit as an early retired due to lack of discipline when your whole life becomes island time. Glad to hear your survey results refute that.

    Another not often talked about hazard is the significant other relationship. Increasing time with each other if both are not working can actually be detrimental if you start to get on each other’s nerves. Too much of a good thing can make it bad.

    All great points to consider as I hope to approach early retirement in with my 5 yr plan.

    • >It is refreshing to hear a post from someone who not only speaks about early retirement but has actually done it.

      Man…I once had a guy who was just starting his career tell me he wanted to write a book about how to retire early. I gave it to him straight: doing so would be like writing a book on how to quit smoking when you haven’t yet been able to quit smoking.

  16. These are my favorite kinds of post. No holding back. Keeping it real. And giving an honest look into something that most people might often consider Taboo.

    Well done, early retirement dude. For many of the reasons you mentioned I am much more excited about partial FIRE (part time work) than full RE stuff. I want some of the freedom, but am full on scared about getting the whole full-time retirement thing handed to me.

    As with anything, it’s all about balance, I presume.



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