Post FI Notes 010: A Chemically Engineered Transition to Retirement

As he realized how he could easily afford to retire, this oil man, who goes by the name of Steveark, found a slick way to work less while still earning six-figures on a very part-time basis.

That was six years ago, and he now keeps himself busy with a variety of hobbies plus paid and volunteer work, including a couple of Board chair positions.

Like many of our post-FI interviewees, he and his wife could spend at least twice as much as they do, but they do not see a good reason to do so.

If you’re interested in participating in one of three interview series, please download the most appropriate form for your life situation: FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes. To see other posts in the series, visit our Q&A archive.

 

 

Getting to Know You

 

You’re financially independent. About how much does your household spend in a typical year? How much could you spend while still abiding by the 4% rule?

Our net worth is a little bit over $4 Million.  Almost all of that is liquid net worth, meaning it is in the form of index funds, stocks, bonds and cash.  We spend between $80,000 to $100,000 a year.

Our portfolio would support $160,000 without taking into account Social Security.  In five years when I start taking Social Security, the portfolio will support $221,000 of annual spending in today’s dollars.

It may seem strange to spend so much less than we have, but we have rich lives and we do not deny ourselves anything we really desire.  We just already have all the things we need for our hobbies.

Those numbers also assume I won’t be earning any self-employment income. I’m not looking for work, but I’m well known in my areas of expertise, so work sometimes comes looking for me.  Right now, I’m getting paid to do some expert witness work but I’m only doing it because it is saving a friend of mine a lot of money and I believe in their cause.

 

Tell us about your household. How many people and at what ages? Are you supporting anyone outside of your home? Where do you live?

I’m that guy who has lived that long-forgotten lifestyle of having one wife, one job and one house for his entire life! I’m either very lucky or I’m in the world’s longest and deepest rut.

My wife and I are in our mid-sixties.  We’ve got three kids aged 30, 33 and 36 years old.  They were very bright kids.

One has a chemical engineering degree and after a few years of doing that he went to medical school and now is a resident radiation oncologist in Virginia.  Our middle kid has two engineering degrees in different fields and is between jobs right now.  Our youngest has a B.S. in business and a Masters in Adult Education and works with Division 1 athletes at an East Coast university.  She is working on her Ph.D. in her spare time.

 

Are you still working? In what career? Did your work schedule or attitude towards work change once you knew you were FI?

I am a licensed Professional Chemical Engineer and I retired from my 9 to 5 almost six years ago when I turned 60.  I had worked for the same oil and chemical company for 38 years.  I started as a summer intern and was running the company when I retired.

A couple of things changed my attitude toward work.  One was becoming financially independent. I started reading and listening to blogs and podcasts from the financial independence community including early retirement proponents. I realized I already had more money than I would ever spend, and that was before my parents passed away and left me an additional one million dollars of inheritance.

About the same time work became less fun, a lot less when the money stopped mattering to me.

The other thing that pushed me into action was the realization of just how much personal liability my job entailed.  I had a couple of friends — ethical, good guys in similar jobs at similar companies who were indicted because of things done by their employees that they were not aware of.

I had 712 people I managed and the same kind of thing, unlikely but possible, could have happened to me.  The only thing a federal prosecutor has to do is to convince a grand jury that you “should” have known about a subordinate’s illegal acts.  And a jury of my peers would have no way to know what I should have known. Plus, oil companies are not popular in today’s world so that might have influenced how I was seen.

I decided to leave on my own terms and I have never regretted it.  But I do not regret the long career either, it was so much fun!  I literally looked forward to Mondays most of my career. Weird, I know.

 

Was financial independence a long-term goal of yours? Did you think you might retire early or be able to do so when you first got started in your career?

Financial independence was never a goal of mine, it was just inevitable because we lived far below our means by the virtue of our lifestyle and my relatively high income.  I actually planned to work as long as they let me for most of my career.  I loved work, it ranked right up there with tennis and fishing as a favorite hobby.  It was only at the very end that it stopped being fun.

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Investing

 

How is your nest egg invested? Approximately what percentage is allocated to stocks, bonds, real estate, and alternatives?

I’m glad I’ve got Personal Capital to do the heavy lifting, it makes answering this question fairly easy.

My portfolio is invested as follows:  10% cash, 32% bonds, 53% stocks and stock funds, 5% alternatives.  The bonds/bond funds are 11% international and 21% US.  The stocks/stock funds are 19% international and 34% US.

Almost all of the portfolio is managed for me by Vanguard, Personal Capital and Betterment with the largest portions at Vanguard and PC.  The small REIT exposure I have is part of the 5% I listed as alternatives.  There are some gold stocks in that portion also.

 

Are your investments primarily in tax-deferred, Roth, or “taxable” post-tax accounts?

My wife and I actually have twenty different accounts, but taken as a whole we have 38% in taxable accounts, 55% in IRA accounts that are tax-deferred, and 7% in Roth accounts.  We own our house debt-free, and it is worth somewhere around $200-250K.  I have not yet made any Roth conversions but may do so over the next five years. [PoF: If, and that’s a big IF, they are still allowed and not income-tested or means-tested.]

 

Do you have investments in an HSA? How about 529 Plans?

We are no longer eligible for an HSA account and have spent ours down on health care expenses to less than $1,000 remaining.  I’ll miss that account!

We never had 529 plans and never had to pay college expenses. All three of our kids had totally free rides even though we were already millionaires.  Did I mention they were bright kids with a great mom who convinced them that learning was fun?

 

What has been your best investment?

My lifetime partner, my wife.  Her frugal skill set has allowed us to live richly on one income while still saving and investing more than enough to fund a luxurious retirement.  She’s amazing!

As far as monetary investments, my 401(k) with a 3% match and good low fee funds has been the single largest compounder of our wealth.  We retired with well over a million in just that one account.

 

Your worst investment?

I can’t remember a bad investment. I never bought individual stocks.  I cannot think of any investments that turned out badly.  Certainly, things were a little scary during the many bear markets, crashes and corrections I’ve experienced, but we never sold a share, so we never lost a dollar.

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Post-FI Life

 

What do you like to do with your free time? How much free time do you have these days?

I have a lot of free time to spend any way I choose.  For the past five years, I chose to spend some of it, about eight hours a week, consulting as an engineer. That earned me six figures which kept our withdrawal rate at zero.  The last few months I completely retired from consulting although I do have one very small case I’m still getting paid to finish up.

That five years of light-but-profitable consulting felt like an off ramp from my 9 to 5.  I kept my credentials and my skill sets polished and I knew I could have gone back to work easily.  That made me feel better, but I do not need it any more.  I may not have needed it then either, but I think it eased the shock of going from my old life to my new one.

Most of our time is spent on hobbies now.  My wife and I are fortunate to have several shared hobbies.  We run three mornings a week with a group of friends ranging in age from 40 to 72.  My wife ran a full marathon earlier this year(she won the grand masters trophy), we’ve run a couple of dozen of those.

We both are competitive tennis players on several tennis teams and play on a mixed doubles team as partners.  We love to fish for everything from largemouth bass to freshwater trout to yellowfin tuna in the Gulf.

We ride our Polaris RZR off-road all over our state and across the country.  We hike and bushwhack, we spent this last weekend bushwhacking to a waterfall, off-roading and tent camping in North Arkansas.  We play pickleball three times a week with a group of 16 players. We occasionally snow ski.

We travel domestically and overseas, road trips of over a week and several thousand miles are common for us.  We drove to New Mexico to have Thanksgiving with our son and his wife, a three thousand mile drive by the time we tacked on some adventures along the way.

My wife volunteers helping older seniors stay active and I chair a couple of large nonprofit boards.  That takes up a lot of time with committee meetings in addition to board meetings and the required continuing education.  I also mentor engineering students at the university we graduated from. We are active in our church with me teaching groups sometimes.

I blog frequently on my site and have been a guest on quite a few podcasts.

We cook most of our meals at home and alternate the entire cooking thing, including shopping, meal prep and clean up every other week.  That way one of us gets gourmet meals with zero effort every week! It is also teaching me to be a much better cook and shopper, things only she did for decades.  Now I realize what a world-class homemaker she is.

 

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Do you enjoy travel? Tell us about a favorite trip you’ve taken.

We love to travel, we are active and prefer trips with hiking built into them.  It’s a branch of the travel industry called adventure travel.  Our favorite trip so far was hiking Tuscany and the Italian coast with a group of twelve others.  I think you get to see more things close up when you hike the countryside instead of just visiting the bigger cities.

And, as I already mentioned, we love road trips here in the US.  We have been tossing around the idea of a road trip from here in the deep south to Alaska, but Canada had closed the border to that kind of trip.  We will see about that in the future, maybe.

 

Do you incorporate giving (money or time) into your post-FI life?

We always made it a habit to donate 10% of our gross income to nonprofits, faith-based ones, mostly.  A lot of my time goes to the nonprofits I volunteer with and to the mentoring I am doing. It isn’t unusual for us to just give some money or gift cards to families we see that have a need.

On paper, we’d have an extra two million dollars had we invested what we’ve given away, but math doesn’t capture the fact that money seems to flow toward generous people and away from greedy ones.  I think being generous made us somewhat wealthy.

 

If retired, do you miss work? Do you get bored?

I do not miss work, and in fact, if I add up all the hours I spend working as a volunteer I’m still employed, I just don’t get a paycheck!  I loved my job but it was time to leave it behind and I’ve never missed it once.  That really surprised me too!

I do get bored sometimes, not often.  But even when I worked fifty hours a week, I still sometimes got bored.  Being bored at times is just part of the human condition in my opinion and isn’t something to be feared.

 

What advice do you have for others hoping to achieve the financial success you’ve found?

It is so simple if you have a good income.  Just give 10% of gross and save 20% or more of gross and invest it in low-cost stock funds or real estate, if you enjoy real estate (I don’t).

That might mean keeping your cars longer and not buying the most expensive house you can “afford”.  Oh, and marry well and stay married!  It is huge to have harmony when it comes to your major values, and everyone has their view of finances as a major value in life.

What piece of advice would you give to anyone considering retiring?

Prepare in advance the life you plan to lead in retirement.  If you want to do some part-time work, like consulting, get that set up before you retire.  If you want to volunteer, then start that well before you leave work.

All my consulting and volunteer work was in place before I retired, so I had a safe useful place to land.  I wasn’t disoriented at all; it just felt like I left the stress behind but kept the best parts of my life.  I would have gotten here anyway but it would have taken a while and might have made me anxious.

Build your hobbies and find your hobby buddies now.  If you do not share a lot of activities with your spouse then start now, don’t wait until you leave work.  And make sure you both have activities and friends you don’t share too. My wife and I always had both joint and separate friends, hobbies, trips and vacations, and we carried that into retirement.

 

PoF: Catch all the future interviews from those just getting started, at a crossroads, or at the end of their FI journey with a free subscription to Physician on FIRE.

 

 



 

I thank today’s interviewee for sharing their story, and I’ve shared my feedback privately with them. I wouldn’t want my opinions to influence yours. Please give your take and answer any questions they have had in the space below!

Again, if you’d like to partake in a future Q&A, please download a FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes interview form.

 

7 thoughts on “Post FI Notes 010: A Chemically Engineered Transition to Retirement”

  1. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  2. Seems like he’s winning at a high level. Love the fact he’s done it with a simple plan similar to mine (and no real estate!) He mentions a blog, any chance we could get a link?

    Reply
  3. The similarities between Mr. Chemical Engineer and me are striking. I also retired (age 62) when i realized that no one in the administration had my back. Successfully fought back (after firing the attorney admin got me and finding my own) but never got over it. When you have enough and you have had enough, give them 2 weeks notice. My two cents.

    Reply

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