FI Personal Finance

That Time My In-Laws Grilled Us On Our FIRE Plans (Part 2)

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As us anything—Part 2

Note to readers: I shared a full introduction and more details in That Time My In-Laws Grilled Us On Our FIRE Plans (Part 1).

When my husband M was on the brink of FIREing, we revealed the exciting news to his parents…and they got nervous! 😱 To ease their worries, I asked them to email us their questions and concerns.

My in-laws eagerly accepted the assignment and sent a long, detailed message. I was more than happy to address each point and sent them an equally detailed reply. And now, about a year later, I’ve decided to share that email conversation with all of you (with their permission, of course)!

My in-laws grill us on our FIRE plans 

As mentioned in Part 1, the post was getting very long (8,000 words). So, I decided to break it into two posts:

Part 1 (last week’s post)

Part 2 (this post)

With that, let’s jump right into Part 2…

Why not keep working?

In-laws: Right now, M is earning good money, and it will only increase in time. I know he says, what is the point of more money when you guys don’t need it, and that is another year of his life wasted on working. He has every right to think of that. If he is unhappy in his job, then quit and move on. But it sounds like he still enjoys his job, so is this the right time to just quit?

Chrissy: The issue isn’t so much that M’s unhappy at his job. It’s more that he would prefer to spend his life with the people he loves, doing the things he loves. This is our reason for FIRE. 

This article, The Tail End, poignantly explains how precious and short our time with our loved ones really is. (Scroll down to the graphic he made to represent how much time the author has left with his parents. It saddens me to think about the limited time left with you and Dad, my dad, our boys, and many other loved ones.)

Related: This beautifully-done video of “The Tail End” is also worth checking out.

We also think of my mom, who was diagnosed with cancer at 57 and died at 59. That’s only 14 years older than M is right now. So, let’s say he works five more years and retires at 50. 

If M was in my mom’s situation, that could mean he’d only have nine short years of freedom. That’s not nearly enough. When we look at it that way, it’s even more apparent how short life is and how precious our time with our loved ones truly is.

Another concern we have is M’s eye problems. He already has very little vision in his left eye. We fear that he’ll eventually lose all sight in that eye, which could make many things in life harder. M would like to enjoy as many years as he can with the vision he has left.

The thing is, we know we have far more than enough saved. More money means nothing to us if it means M might miss out on more time to spend with you and dad, the boys, and other family and friends. It’s just extra money that he doesn’t need and is unlikely to spend. 

What’s the point of more money if it means working until you’re sick or dead? Or the loved ones you want to spend time with are sick or dead as well? Or, in the case of children, they’ll be grown and too busy to spend time with you. More money is not a worthwhile trade-off for us. 

Chrissy: I recently heard about a book called Die With Zero. While I don’t agree with everything in the book, the general premise expresses exactly what M and I are after by having him retire early. 

This review of Die With Zero from Debt-Free Doctor beautifully sums up many of our reasons for retiring early, for example:

“Most people will agree that it’s NOT money that makes them happy, but it’s experiences with others that do. It’s these relationships with people that have more importance than material things.”

“If you spend hours of your life acquiring money and then die without spending all of it, then you’ve needlessly wasted too many precious hours of your life. There’s no way to get those hours back. If you die with $1 million left, that’s $1 million of experiences you did NOT have.”

“It makes NO sense to let experience opportunities pass us by for fear of squandering our money. Squandering our lives should be a MUCH greater worry.”

“Life is NOT a game of Space Invaders—you don’t get points for all of the money you rack up in the game but many people treat it as though it were. They just keep earning and earning, trying to maximize their wealth without giving nearly as much thought to maximizing what they get out of that wealth—including what they can give to their children, their friends, and society now, INSTEAD of waiting until they die.”

“People who tend to save actually save TOO MUCH for TOO LATE in their lives. They’re depriving themselves now just to care for a much older future self that may never live long enough to enjoy that money.”

“Many of us delay gratification and SAVE for the future. By continuing to work day after day, we run the risk of waking up one morning and realizing that we may have delayed TOO much.”

M and I couldn’t agree more with these points. That’s why we’re prioritizing his life experiences and enjoyment now. But we can only do that safely at this point because we prioritized earning and saving for a long time before this.

Now that you know we’ve saved more than enough, I hope you understand our confidence and determination for M to retire sooner rather than later.

Chrissy: As a side note, M wonders if another issue may be the reason behind your worry—could it be that it just feels ‘wrong’ for him to retire so young? When the standard age of retirement is 65, and early retirement for most is 55, 45 must seem ridiculously young!

If all you see around you are people who retired in their 60s or later, it doesn’t seem possible or safe for M to retire so much earlier. I get it. In fact, that’s how I felt when I first discovered FIRE. (Not long ago, M also said that he thought FIRE was too good to be true.)

But it’s been seven years since I started learning about FIRE, and I know it’s the real deal! I’ve met or read about: 

Related: Did We Retire at the Worst Possible Time?

In all the cases mentioned above, those FIREees retired young, are still retired, and doing well. (Yes, even the ones who retired in the 1980s and 1990s and lived through several market crashes!) They did the math, saved and invested well, and planned for their retirement.

I would argue that these young retirees have a more secure retirement than many who retire in their 60s, 70s or even 80s. I hope these examples show that you don’t need to reach a certain age before it’s safe or okay to retire. 

In-laws: Retiring makes it easier to travel—what is the most vacation M can take in a year? We worked long days with hardly any real time off, but we took off every 3 months for at least 3 weeks, and that gave us the stamina to keep going and build up our money. 

Looking back, I don’t regret it because it gave us a good living, and we still could travel (even though I had to stay in touch). Is there a compromise that you guys can consider for travel plans, like once a year renting a house in Honolulu for a month, and M can work remotely for some parts of a day and still enjoy being away?

Or what about a cruise with good Wi-Fi to work during the boring days at sea? Or renting a home in Japan and working some of the time while enjoying seeing more of the country that you love so much?

Chrissy: Those are all great ideas. But right now, travel isn’t a huge reason behind M’s retirement. The time off he can get from work is sufficient for him to do the travelling we want. 

We’re actually more limited now by Mika and the boys being busier with school. Even though they could learn remotely, it’s not easy fitting in schoolwork while trying to enjoy a vacation!

Once the boys are out of the house, that’s when we’ll really start to travel more and go away for extended periods. So, as you can see, travel actually isn’t much of a factor in M’s reasons for retiring.

In-laws: M mentioned that he wants to do more volunteer work—can that be fit into his current work schedule? I forget what else he wanted to do in retirement but is he able to pursue those even if he retires in 5 years (at age 50)?

Chrissy: M could indeed fit more volunteer work into his schedule. (And, in fact, his company rewards employees for volunteer work by donating to their charity of choice!)

However, for M, it’s about having more time freedom NOW. He just wants more hours to do what he wants. In particular, he wants more time to spend with the people he loves. (Even simple, everyday activities like walking with you and dad would make him happy.) Who knows how much longer any of us have with each other? 

So, while M can fit some fun and enjoyment into his work schedule, it’s simply not enough. After a long work day, he’s thoroughly exhausted and has little time and energy left. Weekends don’t help much either—they aren’t long enough to really feel relaxed. 

We have more than enough money saved, so why keep working and saving, “just in case”? We’d hate for M to one day regret earning another year of salary that he didn’t need. That extra year could cause him to miss out on time with someone he cares about. 

For us, that’s not a worthwhile trade-off.

In-laws: I remember when dad and I were getting sick of the long hours and demands of real estate. At one point, we finally saved more than enough. That felt good because we had the option to stop. It felt good enough that we could stop if we wanted to, so we told ourselves to keep going for the time being. 

Chrissy: I believe you! It does feel good to have more than enough. It’s very powerful to know that you could stop if you wanted to, but you are choosing to keep going.

However, we’re also mindful of a phenomenon known in the FIRE community as “one more year syndrome.” It’s when someone has reached their FI number but can’t bring themselves to pull the plug on their job. 

Whether out of fear of the unknown or a need for “just a little more” money, they continue to work for “one more year.” The problem is, even one more year of working often doesn’t assuage their worries. So one more year can become an infinite number of years.

In-laws: That time stretched on, and before we knew it, we worked another 11 years and have no regrets at all when we look back. It does not feel like we wasted another 11 years and could have enjoyed ourselves sooner rather than later. 

Even when dad started collecting OAS and CPP, we continued to work but knew we could retire anytime. We kept the OAS and CPP in another account and called it our FUN account—that was to fund our travelling when we did retire. Then I started to collect OAS and CPP three years before we retired. Well, all those CPP and OAS payments added up, and that is all our future travel money!

Chrissy: So I guess you and Dad had “eleven more years syndrome.” 😆 Fortunately, it sounds like it was the right decision for you. I’m so impressed that you saved up a nice travel fund solely through CPP and OAS—that’s nothing to sneeze at!

I’m also relieved to know that you don’t regret working longer. It would be terrible to look back and wish you’d done things differently. That tells me you’ve lived true to your values, which is excellent and so important. 

Unfortunately for us, CPP won’t play nearly as big of a role in our retirement. I earned very little and didn’t work many years, so I’ll get almost no CPP. And M didn’t work nearly as long as most retirees, so he also won’t get that much from CPP. 

However, we do have some factors that’ll work in our favour. For one thing, we’ll be more tax-optimized than you and dad (and most traditional retirees). That’s because we’ll have time to draw down our RRSPs before mandatory RRIF withdrawals come into play. 

We’ll also have a lot of flexibility as far as which accounts we draw from and when. That means we’ll be more optimized with our taxes than most people. So, even though we won’t receive nearly as much CPP as you and dad, we’re confident that our investments will still provide more than enough income for us.

Living too long

In-laws: We retired at 68 and 71, figuring we have 30 years left at most—based on our parents’ lifespans. Plus, each generation seems to live longer. Our money will last us the 30 years, according to the retirement calculators presented by our financial planners. I certainly hope we do not live beyond that and run out of money. 

Chrissy: I always think it’s prudent to plan based on a longer lifespan, so it’s great that you and dad did just that. You’re right that each generation seems to live longer, so so we also plan on living until at least 100.

However, retirement researchers have found that a longer retirement doesn’t necessarily mean you need a lot more money. What you do need is the ability and willingness to be flexible, and revisit your numbers and plan often. (Ideally, at least once a year.)

If you do that and adjust your spending as needed, you’ll mitigate the risks and be able to change course long before you come anywhere close to financial trouble. Chances are actually very high that our money will continue to grow far beyond what we’ll ever be able to spend. 

Well-prepared retirees who are careful with their money management rarely come close to spending every last dollar. Instead, many underspend and end up with far more money than they started with.

In-laws: You two may likely live beyond 100, which means that you still have at least half your life ahead of you. That’s at least another 50 years that you have to be sure you have money to last that long and no unforeseen disasters that will take a chunk out. 

Nothing is absolute and simple in life. There can be many curves and unexpected trials in life. The positives take care of themselves, but the negatives are there lurking and can pop up anytime when you least expect it.

Chrissy: I absolutely agree. There are many issues and problems that retirees need to be aware of and plan for. No one should head into retirement with rose-coloured glasses—us included.  

That’s why we’ve planned for a wide range of scenarios and have saved more than enough. We aimed for a retirement number that will cover:

  • Our regular spending, plus
  • A generous amount of travel, plus
  • Extra luxuries, plus
  • More spending than we actually need, plus
  • Large expenditures in the future.

In addition, we’ve surpassed that goal by a significant amount already. This extra buffer will provide a lot of extra spending per year—FAR beyond what we need.

That buffer is extra money that we won’t be using, but it’ll stay invested and working for us. Even better—every year we don’t spend it, it’ll continue to grow. So… I think we’ll be more than okay!

In-laws: Many in our generation have pensions and extended health coverage. These people have a much more secure retirement because their income is guaranteed. 

Chrissy: It’s true; many in your generation are set for life with generous pensions and benefits. It’s hard not to envy them! But even though M and I don’t have pensions, I wouldn’t say our situation is necessarily worse. To be honest, pensions aren’t the be-all, end-all when it comes to a secure retirement. 

For one thing, knowledgeable investors can easily achieve higher returns than the pension funds they pay into. In other words: if you were to invest the same amount yourself, you’d very likely end up with more than your pension would pay out.

In addition, there’s no benefit to your heirs when you die with a pension. Your spouse may get partial payments, but everyone else gets nothing. If you’d instead invested that same amount of money, you’d be able to pass it all on when you die.

Finally, pensions aren’t guaranteed—look at Sears. Many retirees lost most or all of their retirement income when their pension funds or former companies went bankrupt. I don’t know about you, but I prefer maintaining control of my retirement investments!

You and dad may not have pensions or extended health coverage, but you still have a very comfortable retirement. You’re more than fine, and we will be too! A pension is undoubtedly comforting and nice to have, but it’s not the only or most ideal way to have a stable, secure retirement. 

Healthcare concerns

In-laws: Healthcare costs are mentioned as one of the surprises. Our meds cost us $400/month, and that will keep going up.

Chrissy: I agree. We’re aware of the potentially high cost of medication—partly due to what you’ve experienced. I’ve looked back at our spending in the last five years and have accounted for extra medical expenses in our numbers. 

Additionally:

  • Both boys will finish school in 10–11 years and hopefully be working. They’ll likely have their own health benefits by then, which will halve our medical costs. Even so, we’ve still saved enough to pay for all four of us forever.
  • I used the BC Government Fair Pharmacare calculator to calculate our annual out-of-pocket medication deductible. (This is the maximum amount we’ll need to pay before receiving coverage.) Based on the amount I worked out, we’ll easily be able to afford the deductible. 
  • We could save money on medical equipment by renting, which is free or very affordable. If renting isn’t an option, we could buy used, then resell the item when we’re done with it. 
  • If we had to purchase new, we could simply redirect the money we saved for discretionary spending and other large expenses (e.g. clothing, entertainment, new appliances, etc.).
  • If we wanted to pursue expensive experimental treatments in another country, we could cover that with what we’ve saved for extras/luxuries (travel, renovations, home upgrades, new vehicle, etc.)

In-laws: What happens if one of you gets something like a major disability? Government only helps up to a point—like 3 hours a day for home support. That is why I made sure we had funds to take care of Grandma in her home.

Chrissy: If this were to happen, the healthy partner could look after the disabled one. And if we need to pay for more help, we won’t be travelling, socializing, or going out much (or at all). So there would be money there to pay for help.

There’s also the option to downsize our home, which would pay for excellent care for a long time (maybe forever). If we needed even more money, we could downsize AND move to a lower-cost city within BC. As an absolute last resort, we could live out our final days in a lower-cost country (e.g. somewhere in Southeast Asia).  

There’s also another important point—while government support and benefits aren’t much, they’re not nothing! If one of us was that badly disabled, we wouldn’t need much to live on (outside of the care costs). We could and would live a simpler but still very comfortable life. 

The government benefits could pay for some food and basic expenses, and our savings could pay for care and everything else. Of course, it wouldn’t be the same standard of living we’re enjoying now, but we’d be far from destitute or out on the streets!

Worst-case scenarios

In-laws: Our parents went through the war and told us when there is a major crisis, cash is king, as well as real, solid gold. It may not be the right thought process, but it gives us comfort that we will never have to borrow to pay a bill.

Chrissy: As mentioned previously, we all need to know ourselves and what we need to sleep well at night. Everyone is different, and if cash and gold do it for you, then maybe that’s what you should hold, even if it’s different from what we would do. (Though I’d argue that getting more knowledgeable about investing would be a safer, more effective way to protect your assets!)

Personally, I can’t sleep when we’re holding a lot of cash! I know cash doesn’t keep up with inflation, so that would stress me out to no end. As for gold, that would be even worse for me! Gold isn’t widely accepted as a form of payment, and I’d worry about losing my gold coins or being ripped off if I tried to sell them.

Chrissy: Since you bring up war, here are my two cents on that… if we lived in a conflict-prone country, then yes, we’d hold a lot of cash and make other preparations in case of war. Similarly, if we lived in a drought-stricken area, I would find ways to be prepared for famine. 

But we have to be realistic about the actual risks for our specific situation. In our case, we’re fully prepared for likely risks such as leaky pipes, medical issues, or appliance breakdowns. We’re also prepared for some unlikely but possible catastrophes like fire, floods, and earthquakes.

Still, we have to draw the line when something is highly unlikely, such as war, famine, or nuclear fallout. Those issues are so huge and far out of our control that preparing for them would end up harming us financially. Additionally, given that there’s almost no chance of us ever needing those preparations, our efforts and resources would be wasted.

We might consider ways to guard against even the unlikeliest threats if we had unlimited resources. But, like most people, there are limits to our resources. So, to put our time, effort and money to best use, we need to focus on risks that are likely or unlikely but possible.

Even so, like most of the issues discussed in this email, there isn’t really a right or wrong. Each individual or family needs to assess their own risks and tolerances. We each need to determine our ability to handle our specific risks—then do what allows us to sleep at night.

This is precisely what I went through in my post, You Don’t Need an Emergency Fund (You Need an Emergency Plan). Granted, the plans I worked out in that post were for our accumulation phase, not retirement. 

But we’ve since repeated the process for our post-retirement plans (on our own and with our financial planner). In doing so, I’m 100% confident that we’re prepared and ready for just about every scenario. (War, famine, and nuclear fallout excepted. 😉) 

In-laws: Here are thoughts that worry us:

Major disasters—we knew so many retirees that downsized into condos in the 80s. The Leaky Condo Crisis reared its ugly head around 1990 (lasted for at least 10 years), and many retirees had to find jobs to pay the huge assessments. $100,000 was not an unusual amount of special assessment, and it was so sad to see. Many people had to walk away from their homes that went into foreclosure. This is just one example of an unexpected problem.

More recently, condo insurance in Vancouver jumped hundreds of percent. We know of one building where it jumped from $12,000/year to $58,000/year with no end in sight. This means owners have huge increases in maintenance fees that are totally unexpected. In fact, this building has a major issue they’re still fighting the contractors/developer over. Many owners cannot sell their units and have no idea what the legal cost will be and how/when the building can be repaired. It will cost around $2,000,000 to repair at today’s cost. I’m telling you this as an example of what can happen.

Chrissy: These scenarios are all awful and, sadly, very much possible—they could happen to anyone, anytime. If we lived in a condo, we’d be very cautious and prepared for these kinds of issues.

(But honestly, after hearing about these scary stories, maybe we’ll never own a condo. It might be better to rent and let the landlord deal with all the headaches!)

Fortunately, we’re better protected since we live in a detached house. We have far more control over our property, for one thing. And if there are issues, insurance would very likely protect us.

Still, it’s important to think this through. I did that, and I honestly couldn’t think of any issues that would be uninsurable and similar in scope to the disasters you’ve mentioned. If you can think of any, please let me know! 

Before I finish off, I did think of one potentially huge, unexpected risk you haven’t mentioned: lawsuits. While they’re unlikely (in Canada, at least), I’ve included several million for liability coverage on our home and car insurance. The coverage is neither expensive nor onerous to add, so why not?

Closing thoughts

In-laws: Please don’t get us wrong. It is ultimately your decision, and we respect any decision you make. As parents, we just want to share our concerns and experience with you.

Chrissy: We know you’re just voicing your concerns because you care and want the best for us. I’m happy you opened up to us and allowed me to address your concerns. We don’t want you to worry! 

I hope you now understand that we have solid plans and have carefully calculated how much we’ll need. We’re also prepared to change course and correct things before we get into trouble. In addition, we’ll monitor our money and investments closely at all times and review our plan and numbers with our financial planner regularly.

Let me know if you have any additional comments, questions, or concerns. I’m happy to answer them, so feel free to send them our way.

Love,
Chrissy and M

Share your thoughts

Do you agree with my in-laws’ worries and skepticism? Have you wondered about some of the same things? What about your family and friends—have they also expressed concerns about your FIRE plans? 

Also, let me know if I’ve missed anything or if there’s anything you want to know more about. I’m open to questions about our FIRE plans and would love your feedback—leave a comment below!

Don’t forget Part 1!

As mentioned, I decided to break up my email conversation with my in-laws into two posts. (As a single post, it was clocking in at 8,000 words!) Check out Part 1 for:

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Max
    September 30, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    You’re lucky to have in-laws that care for your future wellbeing, they’re wise parents worth listening to. They have lived through different times and have seen ups and downs of the various markets that younger people think will never happen again. To really understand the long term, you should spend a few hours studying every decade since your in-laws were born. Look at how the stock markets, real estate, inflation, interest rates, unemployment and government debt behave and correlate. You will find a few decades that don’t look very pretty. Please don’t say “this time is different”, maybe it is but you never know what comes next.
    It sounds like you have considered all kinds of scenarios before you decided to FIRE. In hindsight your timing was unfortunate, by that I mean retiring when markets are falling since your living expenses now represent a higher percentage of your net worth.
    Like some comments in part 1, I am also concerned about using the smith manoeuvre at times like this because it is a form of leverage and unfortunately leverage amplifies not just gains but also losses. As you say, you should be able to handle all outcomes, you seem to have done your homework. I hope your correct and everything works out great for you.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      October 1, 2022 at 10:49 pm

      Hi Max—my husband and I are very lucky to have such loving parents. Some people are surprised by my in-laws’ direct questions to us, but as you’ve said, they’re very wise and very much worth listening to!

      Thank you for sharing your own wise advice. When I started learning how to DIY invest, I spent some time researching the rise and fall of decades past. However, it’s never a bad thing to revisit these historical events, so thanks for the reminder. You’re right that it’s easy to only look at what’s happened recently and believe that “this time is different”. Too many people do that, to their detriment.

      You’re also right that our timing was unfortunate! I openly lamented about that previously. It’s about as bad as it gets, ha ha. Our situation is certainly not ideal. But as you’ve said, we’ve thought things through very carefully. We’re still 100% confident in our plans, but are always ready to change course if needed.

      Regarding the Smith Manoeuvre, I’m certain that most people feel the same as you! It’s an aggressive strategy—especially in retirement. But yes, we’ve done our research and planned very, very carefully. So I know we have multiple safeguards that will allow us to continue the strategy safely.

      You’ve given me lots of food for thought and an even greater appreciation for my in-laws and the types of financial markets they’ve been through. I very much appreciate the time you took to share such a thoughtful comment!

  • Reply
    Maria @ Handful of Thoughts
    October 15, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    What thoughtful in-laws you have Chrissy. And it’s great that your relationship is so open. While I think others may face similar concerns in your situation without that strong relationship foundations these conversations would never occur.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      October 16, 2022 at 10:41 pm

      Hi Maria—you’re right that a strong relationship foundation needs to exist for these types of conversations to occur.

      Had we not built up the trust and caring that we have for each other over the last 25+ years, these questions from my in-laws could have felt very confrontational.

  • Reply
    Jean
    November 13, 2022 at 12:31 pm

    Every person’s living situation and expenses is different….even if the person leads a modest life and manages their money carefully.

    Health and trying to stay healthy is also another wild card. But we should aim for in this area, is high quality of life, no matter what the disease/physical problem would be. Another quality “experience” that one needs to budget long-term accordingly with necessary guard rails, ie. disability insurance while one is working.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 14, 2022 at 7:48 pm

      Hi Jean—you’re right that every person’s situation is different. As is often said, that’s why personal finance is personal! There are a myriad of factors each of us must take into account for our own specific situations.

      I love your optimistic view on life and your reminder to live as best we can, no matter our situation or challenges.

      I’m glad you mentioned disability insurance. Many people overlook this and tend to focus only on life insurance. That’s often to their detriment as it’s much more likely that we’ll be sidelined by illness or injury.

      As always, thanks for your insightful comment!

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