FI Lifestyle Personal Finance

One Year of FIRE: Ask Me (Almost) Anything—Part 1

protection island beach

A pretty beach on Protection Island, which we visited during our first year of FIRE

It’s official!

I can’t believe it, but my husband M and I have reached one year of FIRE! On November 18, 2021, M signed out of his workplace Zoom account for the last time and started his FIRE life with our kids and me. And what a year it’s been!

To mark the occasion, I asked all of you to send me your questions—and you didn’t disappoint! I’m thrilled with the number of questions I received (39!) and how thoughtful and interesting they were. Thank you so much for taking the time to submit your questions. 

Below is Part 1 of my AMA. (You can find Part 2 here and Part 3 will be coming soon.) I hope you find them all interesting, helpful, and informative!

Notes

  • The questions have been organized in the order that they came in.
  • Some readers included additional info with their question(s). This info appears in italics immediately after the question.
  • The (Almost) in Ask Me (Almost) Anything is there to safeguard my family’s privacy—I’ll only share info they’re okay with sharing.

One Year of FIRE: Ask Me (Almost) Anything 

Alright, now that we’ve got the preamble out of the way, let’s get to the main attraction—your questions! 

T on FIRE 

My friend T got right on it and was the first to send in her questions. She’s been working to reach FIRE since October 2018 and documents her journey on her blog, T on FIRE. I love her fun and irreverent take on FIRE and how her journey’s going. (Or not, depending on what’s happening in her life!) 

Here are T’s questions:

T: How is retired life different than you thought it would be? 

Chrissy: I’m glad you asked this. Somehow, I never stopped to think about the differences until now—and it’s brought up some interesting insights. Pre-FIRE, I’d always assumed my life wouldn’t change much once M retired. 

That’s because, as a stay-at-home mom, I’ve essentially been living the life of a retired person since our first child was born. I figured I’d continue living as usual post-FIRE but with M around more. But as I ponder your question, I realize that retired life has been different from what I imagined. Here are two of the biggest differences:

Bye bye routines

When M was working full time, and the kids were learning from home, we all had the same, consistent weekday routine: get up > start work/school/chores > eat lunch > more work/school/chores > dinner > free/family time > bed. 

I’d always pictured retirement looking largely like the above routine. However, that’s not how it’s played out! Gone is the consistent routine that worked for all of us. In its place are four different schedules, a lot of daily and weekly variance, and only the loosest of routines. 

I’m a creature of habit, so this lack of routine has taken some time to get used to! However, I’ve chosen to see this change as a nudge out of my comfort zone and an opportunity for growth. I’ve learned to make peace with (and even thrive on) our very loose, barely-there routines. 

And you know what? Learning to be flexible has, counterintuitively, made me more relaxed and less stressed. The loss of regular routines was initially a challenge for me, but more and more, it’s becoming a net gain. 👍

No paid work (for now)

Pre-FIRE, M and I thought it’d be fun to try some part-time jobs in retirement. For example, he’d always wanted to teach Photoshop, UI/UX design, or skiing. As for me, I’ve always wanted to work in a library or as an income tax filer. (Yep, I’m a true nerd!) 🤓

But when it came down to it, neither of us has wanted to pull the trigger and actually get a job! Even if it might be fun, paid employment doesn’t appeal to us as much as helping family and friends or volunteering our time.

It’s weird—despite having more time in retirement, our time feels that much more precious. It seems we’re even more careful about not squandering it. Therefore, we’d rather spend our time on things that are truly meaningful to us and others.

This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with part-time jobs or that we’ll never work for pay again—that’s certainly not the case. When coming across interesting job postings, M and I have both been tempted to re-enter the workforce.

However, we’re feeling a stronger pull towards volunteering and enjoying time with family and friends right now. Maybe once we get more years of retirement under our belts, we’ll feel the urge to return to the workforce again. (If we do, I’ll be sure to share about it here!)

T: How many hours are you putting into your side hustles on a weekly basis?

Ex the blog.

Chrissy: Here are the side hustles I’m currently involved in:

Blogging

Currently, my main ‘side hustle’ is this blog*. The hours I spend on it vary widely, depending on what else I’ve got going on. If I were to average it out, I would say I spend 10–20 hours per week on blogging. 

This includes everything I need to do for Eat Sleep Breathe FI:

  • Writing and formatting posts.
  • Research.
  • Sharing on social media.
  • Replying to comments on my blog and social media.
  • Replying to emails.
  • Managing affiliate programs and relationships.
  • Backend site maintenance.

*I’m not sure if my blog’s really a side hustle since I’m so casual about it and earn so little from it! It’s probably more of a hobby/side hustle hybrid—a hobby hustle, perhaps?

Selling used items

I don’t know if Craigslist/Facebook Marketplace selling counts as a side hustle, but I do that as well. The hours for this are very irregular. (I tend to post in spurts when I have energy and/or get sick of having too much stuff in my house!)

During these selling sprees, I spend a few hours a day over a week or so gathering the items, taking photos, and writing and publishing the listings. After that, I deal with inquiries as they come in. (This usually takes very little time—maybe an hour a week.)

eBay

I hope to start selling some unique/special items on eBay soon with my friend Carol. We’re both new to eBay selling, and she thought it might be fun and helpful to learn the ropes together. 

I expect eBay selling will take more time as I’m figuring things out—maybe a few hours a day for a couple of weeks? I’m excited to get started on that and will keep you posted on how that goes.

 

T: Do you ever get bored? 

This is something that sounds super exciting to me bahahah. I love the idea of being bored, but I never have time to be.

Chrissy: I also love the idea of being bored but I can’t remember the last time I was! (It was most likely back in elementary school, but my boredom probably didn’t last long because I always had books to keep me entertained. 📚)

Despite having extra time in retirement, M and I have been far too busy to be bored! There’s just so much we need and want to do and more than enough people we want to spend time with. It’s not hard at all to fill up every minute of every day!

Sometimes, I think we’ll finally get bored in our golden years. But then I look at our relatives in their 70s and 80s, and most of them are just as busy as us and never slow down enough to be bored. So… maybe being bored will never be in the cards for us? I guess only time will tell!

T: Do you ever feel guilt about not being productive enough? 

I have this whenever I’m not working or doing something, which is frustrating. Ex I have a hard time sitting to watch a movie for 2 hours because there is so much other stuff I “should” be doing since I don’t have much time on my hands outside of working hours.

Chrissy: This was absolutely me when I was in my 20s. I had a really hard time letting loose and just enjoying my leisure time. Like you, I always felt like there was something else I “should” be doing. 

However, sometime in my 30s, I learned to balance my drive to be productive with my need for leisure and self-care. I don’t know what brought about this change. But when you mention, “… I don’t have much time on my hands outside of working hours,” that made me think—and I have a theory.

When I left the workforce to become a stay-at-home mom, I experienced a retirement of sorts. I was still super busy (and horrendously sleep-deprived). But once I no longer had a full-time job filling up most of my day, I had more control over my time and daily schedule.

That extra bit of time freedom helped me slowly chip away at “the stuff I should be doing.” And perhaps, as I ticked more and more things off my list, it helped to ease the pressure to constantly get stuff done. Then, over time, I found an equilibrium where I felt I’d done ‘enough’ for the day and could fully enjoy the leisure time I did have.

I don’t know, I could be totally wrong, but that’s my theory! It could also be the productivity books I’ve read (all of which mention the importance of leisure, rest, and self-care). Or maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with being middle-aged. Or, most likely, a combination of all these things.

Whatever the case, I’m proof that you can unshackle yourself from the drive to always be productive. I’m the queen of guilting myself, so if I could overcome it, I’m sure you can too. 😉

T: Also, what advice do you have that would allow me to speed up my path to FI/RE?

Hahaha 

Chrissy: I know you mostly asked the question jokingly, but I want to reply anyway because this is such a common refrain! I call this phase the doldrums of FI. Basically, you’ve done all you can to get yourself to FI, and all that’s left to do is wait. 

It’s a very frustrating time. I’ve been there, and I feel your pain! After a certain point, there’s simply nothing left to cut (unless you go into deprivation, which is never recommended). Unless you can increase your income, you’re just stuck, waiting for compounding to work its magic.

However, there are things you can do to take your mind off the wait and/or feel productive in other ways. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Aim for the next milestone.
  • Consume even more FI content.
  • Learn about other investments.
  • Start a side hustle or house hack.
  • Accept and move on.

For more ideas, you may want to check out my post, Stuck in the Doldrums of FI? Here are 11 Things You Can Do Right Now. In the post, I share my best tips to make the waiting game less painful. 

It may be that none of my suggestions move the needle much for you. But at the very least, they could help you feel less psychologically stuck. I hope that helps a little!

Sheryl M 

Sheryl is a reader who’s also in a couple of the personal finance Facebook groups I’m in. She and her hubby reached FIRE not too long ago, so we’re on similar paths. (Congrats again, Sheryl!) Here are her questions:

Sheryl: What is your decumulation strategy?

Chrissy: I always find learning about other retirees’ decumulation strategies helpful and educational. I think it’s important to learn from each other, and I’m more than happy to share our plans. But before I get started, I want to mention a few caveats:

  • We revisit our retirement plans with our financial planner annually, and anytime our financial situation changes. 
  • Our decumulation strategy is ever-evolving, so what I share today may differ from how we manage our withdrawals next year (or in ten years). 
  • Each of us has different financial, psychological, and lifestyle needs, which will dictate our decumulation strategy. Therefore, our strategy (which is tailored to our situation) won’t be suitable for everyone.

Okay, now that those caveats are out of the way, here’s our strategy…

Our overall strategy

I’ve never liked holding much cash* (and still don’t in retirement), so we don’t use a bucket strategy. Instead, we receive monthly ‘payments’ from our investments, which is basically like getting a regular paycheque. 

*We do hold a bit of cash because I maintain sinking funds to pay for large annual expenses, such as car insurance. Also, I prefer to plan our spending a month ahead (using YNAB), so that means I have to hold two months of cash.

1. Order of accounts

This is the order of accounts we withdraw from:

  1. Leveraged non-registered account (for investment loan payments).
  2. RRIFs (for all our other expenses).
  3. Non-registered accounts (only if needed).
  4. TFSAs (only if needed).

2. Tax optimizations

Our order of accounts is strategically planned to maximize our credits and deductions while also minimizing our taxable income. Here’s how:

Maximizing deductions

  • The interest and carrying costs from our investment loan (aka readvanceable mortgage with HELOC) are fully deductable. 
  • Our spending needs are quite low, so we won’t withdraw enough from our RRIFs to use up these deductions and our non-refundable credits. 
  • Each year, we calculate how much more we need to withdraw in order to use up all our deductions and credits.

Minimizing taxable income

  • We withdraw enough from our RRIFs each year to reach the top of our marginal tax bracket. 
  • If we don’t need all the withdrawn money, we reinvest it in our non-registered accounts.
  • This strategy will help us to: a) draw down our RRIFs while we’re in a low tax bracket, b) shrink our RRIFs so that future minimum withdrawals won’t be a tax bomb, and c) minimize how much tax we pay over our lifetimes.

3. Large expenses

To pay for large, one-off expenses (e.g. replacement vehicles, home renovations), we’ll withdraw the funds from our non-registered accounts and/or TFSA.

Which account(s) we withdraw from will depend on our tax situation in any given year. In general, we’ll try to withdraw from our non-registered accounts first. But if we really need to minimize our taxable income, we’ll withdraw from our TFSAs. 

I think that covers our decumulation strategy, but please let me know in the comments if anything’s missing or unclear.

Sheryl: Have you altered your strategy since starting? 

We are doing the bucket strategy, and we have not altered it yet but noticed we spent a lot more in the first month now that my husband is home.

Chrissy: We only started our withdrawals a few months ago* so we haven’t needed to alter our strategy yet! However, like you, our spending has increased. 😕 (Mostly because of our investment loan/mortgage payments—they’ve gone up due to rising interest rates.) 

Fortunately, our lifestyle spending has mostly stayed the same, so we haven’t had to change our withdrawals in that area. As for our overall strategy (receiving monthly payments from each of our RRIFs), that should stay the same until we start receiving OAS and CPP. 

*We were able to delay our withdrawals because we received several cash inflows after my husband retired (his vacation payout, tax refund, and other miscellaneous bits of income). This income was enough to keep us going from November 2021 until this summer.

Sheryl: Are there any surprises during your year?

Chrissy: When we reached FIRE, I’d been in the FIRE community long enough to know that you have to retire into something—not just away from something. Therefore, I did my best to prepare M and me for retired life by giving our post-FIRE life a lot of thought. 

Fortunately, this helped us to avoid nasty surprises when we finally started retirement. However, that doesn’t mean there were no surprises! Here are a couple that came up:

Productivity 

The biggest surprise for me is how much M and I have been able to accomplish together in retirement. Looking back on our first year of FIRE, I can’t help but be pleased with the long list of projects (both big and small) that we’ve whipped through.

This is a gratifying realization as I sometimes feel, on a day-to-day basis, that we didn’t accomplish as much as I’d expected. It’s a good reminder of the adage, “We tend to overestimate how much we can do in a day and underestimate how much we can do in a year.”

Time flies

Another related surprise is how quickly a day can go by. More often than not, it’s suddenly 5 pm, and I realize I’ve been up for 10+ hours, and I wonder where the day went! (I occasionally experienced this pre-retirement, but it seems to happen far more often now that M and I are retired.)

I want to think that this happens because I’m often in a state of flow, where I’m so engrossed that I’ve lost sense of time. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case for me, ha ha. As much as I crave that state of flow, it doesn’t happen often. (I have children, a husband, and a dog to care for, after all!)

I think the real explanation for my quickly passing days is simply how full each one is. Unlike the years when my kids were small (and my life was ruled by naps and monotonous routines), there’s never a dull moment in our FIRE life!

Sheryl: Are either of you planning to return to the workforce in the future?

Chrissy: M and I are 99.9% sure we’ll never work full-time again. Now that we’ve tasted freedom, neither of us can imagine ever going back to the daily grind. However, we’re very much open to part-time work—at some point.

The truth is, M and I have set a pretty high bar for how we want to spend our time, so any paid employment would have to be pretty darned amazing! For now, we’d much rather donate our time to people and causes that we care about. 

I do sometimes philosophize about all us FIRE people who largely remove ourselves from the workforce. Many of us are highly skilled and in our prime. Opting out so early could be seen as a waste of talent, knowledge, and experience.

On the other hand, many FIREees continue to be productive in retirement. We just choose to engage in activities that aren’t driven by the need to earn an income (such as volunteering). Therefore, it could also be argued that FIRE allows more people to give back to the world in different and often much more meaningful ways. 

I don’t think there’s a wrong or right here, but it is an interesting issue to ponder. I’d love to hear what all of you think—leave a comment to share your thoughts on this!

Sheryl: What have you discovered you liked doing that didn’t cost a lot?

Chrissy: Ooh, M and I are masters at this! Here are some of our favourite fun and frugal activities (most of which we’ve done for years—not just since retiring):

  • Cooking and baking. (For fun—not just for sustenance.)
  • Cooking and baking more often with Kid 2. (He’s always loved cooking.)
  • Mending and repairing our stuff.
  • Tinkering with, maintaining, and repairing our cars.
  • Helping friends and family fix their vehicles.
  • Potlucks with family and friends.
  • Movie nights (at home) with friends.
  • Walks and hikes with family and friends (and Mika).
  • Free or low-cost events, festivals, and outings.
  • Bike riding.
  • Camping. (Mostly just for the day—we’re getting too old and achy for tents!)
  • Hanging out with the kids at a beach, river, or lake.
  • Learning and using new skills from YouTube.
  • Bingeing TV series.
  • Reading library books.
  • Listening to audiobooks (free, on Libby) and podcasts.
  • Pruning our shrubs and trees (and our neighbour’s too).
  • Volunteering in my sister’s school library and for other causes.
  • Working on my blog.
  • Chatting with others about FIRE.
  • Helping others with their finances.
  • Thrift store browsing and shopping.

I could go on, but I think that’s probably a long enough list!

Sheryl: Any thoughts on getting already FIREd up people together?

Chrissy: My best, only half-joking suggestion is to move to Cochrane, Alberta—it’s quickly becoming the FIRE capital of Canada! My FIRE friend Court from Modern FImily lives there, and she’s constantly telling me about yet another new FIRE family who’s moved into the area and yet another FIRE meetup they’ve had. (I’m perpetually jealous of the community they have there!)

However, if you’re like me and are happy staying put in your corner of the world, you’ll have to work a little harder to find your FIRE fam. My best suggestion is to join local FIRE Facebook or Meetup groups. (I’m an admin for ChooseFI Vancouver and Money Mustache Meetup Vancouver. Pre-COVID, both groups planned meetups relatively regularly.)

Unfortunately, the reality is it’s tough to find fellow FIREd-up people. While FIRE is definitely growing and becoming more mainstream, it’s still a tiny community. This is something M’s very much hoping will change—he would love to have more local friends who are free during the week to hang out with!

If anyone has other suggestions to meet other FIRE people, please leave a comment to share your tips!

Christopher Mercanti 

I’m always happy to see Christopher’s comments on my posts, as he’s so supportive, encouraging, and warm. He’s also on the verge of retirement himself—congrats on your big milestone, Christopher! Here are his questions:

Christopher: What surprised you most about your new life after achieving FIRE a year ago? 

Chrissy: This is turning out to be a popular question, ha ha! (Sheryl also asked this above—you can click here to jump up to my reply.) However, I did think of another surprise to share in response to Christopher: I was surprised by how disconcerting it would be to switch from the accumulation phase to decumulation.

This was unexpected, as I thought I was well prepared after hearing Jillian Johnsrud mention this phenomenon on a podcast. She talked about how it can be challenging to switch from decades of saving and investing to withdrawing from your hard-earned nest egg.

When I heard her discuss this, I naively thought, “If we know that’s what happens when we retire, how hard can it really be to make that mindset shift?” Well, I’m here to admit that I was wrong

In reality, it was very unsettling for me as I got used to this new normal. Gone were the days of excess income being regularly shovelled into our investments. Gone, too, was the glee of buying stocks on sale (and instead, watching enviously from the sidelines). 

I knew this was what we planned for and that we could well afford it. I also knew we had professionals checking our numbers and ensuring we’d be more than okay. And yet, I still wasn’t ready to start pulling from the investments we’d only ever added to. It was not an easy switch!

Christopher: If it was something you didn’t anticipate, how did you adjust to it?

Chrissy: I adjusted by doing what I always do in uncertain times—I analyzed the situation from every angle, then made plans and took action. I started by tallying up the cash we had on hand and the bits of income that would come in over the next few months (e.g. our tax refund). 

Next, I looked ahead to see if we had any irregular expenses planned for the year, then added them to our total expected spending. After that, I went into my beloved budgeting/tracking program, YNAB, to give every dollar a job and forecast how long our cash would last. 

This allowed me to know precisely when our cash would run out and when I would need our withdrawals to start. I was then able to calculate how much we would withdraw for the year and what our withdrawal rate would be. (If you’re curious, it’ll be less than 2% for 2022.)

As I worked through these steps, my apprehension slowly melted away. I regained a sense of control over our finances, found my footing, and am now used to this new normal. I still find it frustrating to miss out on buying stocks when they’re on sale, but I’m getting used to that too!

Latestarterfire 

Latestarterfire is one of my oldest blogging friends and hails from the land down under. On her blog, she writes about her own late start to FI and shares the stories of other late starters (aged 40 and up). Here are her questions:

Latestarterfire: How do your real expenses after FIREing compare to what you had projected? 

Chrissy: I’d always wondered how our post-FIRE spending would look and tracked our spending all year to see if there was any change. Here are my observations:

Gas

I’d projected that our gas spending would be similar to last year, but that hasn’t been the case. Unfortunately, it’s gone up due to increased gas prices and us going out more. 😕

Travel

Now that our kids are teenagers and have their own plans and preferences, it’s harder to travel as a family. Therefore, we’ll spend much less than projected on travel this year and the next few years. 

Eating out

We’d projected that we’d spend more on eating out once we retired, but it hasn’t happened so far! Sadly, eating out has lost much of its sheen for us because it’s become SO expensive. 

We’re also getting pretty good at replicating restaurant dishes at home—for a fraction of the cost. All of this makes it harder and harder to justify and enjoy eating out (unless it’s for a special occasion or to try a unique dish).

Medical expenses

Now that we’re no longer covered by M’s work plan, I projected increased spending for medical expenses, and that’s certainly been the case. This year, we’ve had to pay out-of-pocket for dental cleanings and therapy*—both of which are not cheap! 

However, those costs have been somewhat offset by the fact that we’re no longer paying $1,500 for our portion of the extended health plan through M’s work. We’re also fortunate this year that we haven’t had any prescription, eyewear, or massage expenses (yet)! 🤞

*I strongly believe that mental health is just as important as physical health. While no one in my family is in any distress, I’m a huge proponent of therapy as a preventative measure and/or as a tool for personal growth. In my experience, the cost pays itself back in immeasurable dividends.

M’s fun money

M had projected more discretionary spending for himself in retirement but has been good about holding off on the larger purchases until our portfolio recovers. (But he did manage to squeeze in one item—our new $6,000 aluminum and glass patio cover!)

Clothing and housewares

I’d expected our clothing and houseware spending to be the same as in previous years, so that’s what I projected. However, we’ve been able to take advantage of the used marketplace even more in retirement. This has helped us save a lot in this category (and help the planet, too)!

Latestarterfire: Any unexpected expenses, and how did you deal with them? 

I know you don’t like to keep too much cash around 🙂 

Chrissy: We had some unexpected expenses this year… but they weren’t really unexpected. I’ll explain more below:

Car repairs

M’s classic Mustang needed some unexpected repairs this year… but it is a 57-year-old car, so “unexpected” isn’t entirely accurate! Fortunately, M has the time, motivation, and experience to tackle these repairs himself. That’s helped to keep the repair costs very affordable.

Kid 1’s university and grad expenses

Other “unexpected” expenses were fees for Kid 1’s university applications and grad activities. But once again, they really shouldn’t have been unexpected as I knew these costs were coming—I just failed to factor them in!

How we dealt with it

You’re right that I don’t like to keep too much cash around (you know me well)! However, we can usually absorb a couple thousand dollars of unusual costs without issue. That’s because every year, some categories go up, and others go down. 

The decreased spending in some categories is usually enough to cover increases in others. This year, our unexpected costs were only in the hundreds of dollars (not thousands), and our spending went down in other categories. Therefore, it was no problem to absorb those costs.

If we ever had to cover a much larger unexpected expense, we would make a one-off withdrawal from our investments. Now that we’re retired, I see our investment accounts as one giant emergency fund. These investments are there for us to withdraw from, and we saved enough to easily handle much larger unexpected expenses than we’ve had this year. 

Another option we have is to use our lines of credit. Even with the currently-high interest rates, it could still make more sense to use our LOCs rather than pull from our investments. (Which option we went with would depend on what works out more favourably, math-wise, at that given time.)

I am aware of the fact that these strategies suit my personality, but they won’t work for everyone. If you prefer to hold large cash reserves, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Each of us must respect our individual psychology and do what allows us to sleep at night. 👍

Latestarterfire: Still in terms of expenses, are you spending more now after FIREing compared to before FIREing? 

Chrissy: Much to my surprise, our essential spending after FIREing is on par with our pre-FIRE spending. Some categories are up (gas and car repairs), and some are down (eating out and clothing). But the overall total is similar to the last few years.

However, I expect some of our spending to increase in future years. For example, M’s looking forward to making some larger, discretionary purchases once our portfolio recovers. Also, we’ll likely travel more once the kids are older and are okay with staying home alone.

In addition, I expect that our medical costs will continue to increase as we age. (However, those increases may be offset in the next 5–10 years once our kids get jobs and extended health insurance.) We’ll also, of course, have to contend with inflation’s effects over time.

Other than those predictions, I don’t foresee any other significantly increased spending in our post-FIRE life. (But I’ll be sure to share about it in the future if anything changes!)

Latestarterfire: Any surprises?

Chrissy: LOL! Clearly, this is a VERY popular question! I think I’ve probably said enough on this topic, so I’ll direct you to my previous replies above (use the jump links below):

CoachNotCouch

CoachNotCouch is a reader/subscriber who reached out to me via email with these two questions:

CoachNotCouch: What do you know now after one year of retirement that you wish you knew a year ago? 

Chrissy: Something I wish we’d known a year ago is that we should be prepared for unexpected reactions to us being early retired. Despite our best attempts to be humble and considerate when revealing our retired status, some people still don’t take the news gracefully. 

We’re fortunate that our family and friends haven’t been in this camp, but I can’t say the same for acquaintances and strangers! Reactions from this group have been mixed, ranging from supportive and congratulatory to downright awkward. 

Of those who react negatively, it almost seems that they feel judged by us—like we’re shining a spotlight on their retirement plans (or lack thereof). This is absolutely not the case, but unfortunately, we can’t predict or control how others will react.

Due to the mixed reactions we’ve received, M and I have spent the last year being overly considerate of how (or if) we tell people we’re early retired. I avoid uncomfortable situations like the plague, so I’ve opted to hide our retired status whenever possible. 😬

However, this has become tiresome for M, so he recently decided he won’t hide it anymore. This is who he is—FIREd and loving it. Hiding that we’re retired feels inauthentic to him, so he’s going to be upfront about it (but still humble and considerate). 

As for me, I’m still not comfortable telling people that I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom—let alone telling people my husband no longer needs to work! FIRE and being a stay-at-home parent are immense privileges that many don’t and may never have. 

That’s why I’ll continue to be thoughtful and guarded about who I share my stay-at-home mom and FIRE status.

CoachNotCouch: What would you do differently if you had to do it over again?

That could refer to how you spent the year and/or how you prepared for your retirement.

Chrissy: Another great question! I’ll reply both ways: 

How we spent the year

If we had to do our first year of retirement over again, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. Early retirement has been amazing and even better than M and I imagined. We still constantly marvel at the fact that we’re retired and free from having to ever earn an income again. 

It’s been an incredible first year in retirement, and I would happily do it all over again!

How we prepared for retirement

While we were very well prepared for retirement, our timing was terrible! So, would we do anything differently had we known the markets would tank right after we retired? This is a tough question.

On the one hand, we were so excited for M to retire—in the months leading up to his final day, FIRE was all we could think about! Had our decision been based on emotions alone, I doubt we would’ve changed course by having M postpone retirement and keep working.

On the other hand, M and I really don’t like having just enough when it comes to retirement. If we’d known a market crash was coming, we most definitely would’ve opted for him to continue working until our portfolio recovered.

To be honest, I think it’s fortunate that we didn’t have this knowledge and weren’t faced with this impossible decision. (In this case, ignorance was bliss!) Thinking back on all our amazing experiences this past year, it would’ve been such a shame if M had continued to work. 

He would’ve missed out on so much, including time with our quickly-growing kids, our sick and aging relatives, and his beloved classic car. When it comes down to it, we can always make more money, but time is something we’ll never get back. 

So, if we had to do it over again, I can’t say I’d do anything differently. (It feels good to realize that!)

Share your thoughts

Phew, we made it to the halfway mark—19 out of 39 questions answered! I’ll share the rest in about two weeks. (I’ve only just started answering the second batch of questions! See the box below for the list.) I hope you come back to check them out!

But before you go, I want to hear from you! As mentioned throughout the AMA, here are some topics I’d love your feedback on:

  • Do you have any questions about our decumulation strategy?
  • How do you feel about FIREees withdrawing (often permanently) from the workforce?
  • Any tips or suggestions for getting FIRED up people together?

Feel free to also leave your thoughts or questions about anything else in this post!

Part 2

These fantastic questions were covered in Part 2—go check out that post to see who asked them and how I replied! 

  • How do you pay yourself? 
  • Do you live off of dividends or cash in stocks or GICs? 
  • Do you pay yourself monthly?
  • Why do you believe some popular bloggers hate the 4% rule so much? 
  • What’s your withdrawal strategy? Will it shift over time? 
  • What would be the biggest pro to having both of you at home all the time? 
  • What’s the biggest con? 
  • Do you find that your to-do list takes even longer to complete now that you have all the time to “procrastinate”?
  • What are your “big goals” to try and accomplish during these first ~5–10 years while you’re retired years before your peers?
  • How is your income working for your family now that you have more free time? 
  • When you mention withdrawing 4% of your account, plus cost of living, does this mean that the 4% is based on the current account balance, like at the beginning of the year, or is it based on the initial account balance? 
  • How is your nest egg invested? 

Preview of Part 3

Below is a list of the questions I’ll be answering in Part 3. They’re really good, but you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to see who’s behind all these excellent questions!  

  • What have you found to be the most challenging, but unexpected, adjustment that you’ve had to make in your transition to a FIRE’d life? 
  • From a mental health perspective, how has your first year been? 
  • Have you found it to be recharging or does it create extra anxiety at times? 
  • When you say, you are going to withdraw from your investment, is there a strategy that you put in place? 
  • Another question is on your RESP, how are you using it? 
  • How do you organize your day to be so productive? 
  • How much time do you dedicate to blogging? 
  • You said, you are active on social media like Twitter. Do you have any tips so we won’t be on all time checking our phones? Do you dedicate specific time?
  • What have you decided for extended medical insurance since you FIRE’d?

Support this blog

If you liked this article and want more content like this, please support this blog by sharing it! Not only does it help spread the FIRE, but it lets me know what content you find most useful. (Which encourages me to write more of it!) 

You can also support this blog by visiting my recommendations page and purchasing through the links. Note that not every link is an affiliate link—some are just favourite products and services that I want to share. 🙂

As always, however you show your support for this blog—THANK YOU!

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Christopher Mercanti
    November 18, 2022 at 1:15 pm

    Awesome milestone! Congratulations, Chrissy, and I’m so glad things are going so well for you and your family! Thanks for sharing your journey!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 18, 2022 at 8:35 pm

      Thanks for your questions, Christopher!

  • Reply
    Susan
    November 18, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks for this update! I’ve followed the blog for a while, especially your terrific interview series. It’s a bit off topic, but what have you decided for extended medical insurance since you FIRE’d? We recently moved to BC and are struggling to choose. I’m a little older than you (45 and spouse 51), and we’d like to get something but are not sure what/how much, dental or not, and so on. I hate buying any kind of insurance, and that’s all I’ve been doing since moving here!! I know you reference that a bit in your post here, but any new info on your post-FIRE budget and thought process would be a big help! Thanks very much!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 18, 2022 at 8:40 pm

      Hi Susan—that’s a fantastic question. I can’t believe no one else asked it! I’ll share a quick answer here: we opted NOT to get insurance because the math more than likely wouldn’t work in our favour.

      If it’s okay with you, I’d like to add your question to the list to be answered in more detail in Part 2. I think a lot of people would be interested to learn more. (Not that I’m an expert, but it’s always helpful to know how others approach this situation!)

  • Reply
    Sheryl M
    November 19, 2022 at 11:27 am

    You are so wonderful for sharing! Thank you and best wishes! I always learn a lot thanks!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 19, 2022 at 7:54 pm

      Thank YOU for your fantastic questions, Sheryl!

      • Sheryl M
        November 20, 2022 at 4:37 am

        No thank YOU again. I’ve re-read this post a few more times over the day and night and Wow I am so grateful you wrote it. So many things were similar to our journey – my question about getting together is because we have just as much to learn from each other regarding post FIRE as pre fire. That lack of community is felt. It’s cool to learn each other’s strategy. Like
        you it was very disconcerting the switch to decumulation, we avoid discussing what exactly our label is with others due to negative experiences (it’s not that we are ashamed
        We just find it not necessary to start the conversation and often doesn’t come up), we are withdrawing our RRSP/RRIFS earlier and in small doses to minimize tax implications later (also raises eyebrows with some people) and have talked about draining the specialized skills
        and presence in the workforce..

        My husband said imagine if 50% of people under 60 FIRED. As much as we offer ourselves to things that matter to us I think the landscape of everything wouldn’t appear that great. (When he left his work I thought others would follow but they simply said he was “lucky” and the “smart one” but they stayed. I find this super interesting. Now if half of them
        Followed suit that company would be in ruin.
        Hear me out – not because there aren’t others out there but this particular company’s flavour is long hours and sheer will to get the job done lol) Now let’s expand this ripple. What if half the pre 60 work force left? You just lost a group of people who had so much drive and work ethic to get to FIRE, not to mention experience.
        I’d be sad if half the nurses quit for example. You are also altering consumerism (not that this is bad) just wondering if one clever person can simulate and share the effect of this.

        As for us, we don’t get troubled by our decision. We too are open to more meaningful part time work whether it’s unpaid, low paid (our case) or whatever.

        I learned from you projecting the year ahead and withdrawing monthly to max investments. We were doing it annually but what if someone
        Tried it weekly? Ooooh lol

        (And I still hope for that FIREburning retreat or meet up one day….)

      • Chrissy
        November 20, 2022 at 8:14 pm

        Hi Sheryl—aww, wow, this was such a lovely comment to read. Blogging can sometimes feel pointless and thankless (not that I need or want gratitude)! But I do sometimes wonder if I’m actually helping anyone with all the hours I spend working on this thing. Reading comments like yours makes it all worth it, so thank you for taking the time to share such kind words.

        You’ve also helped ME by sharing how similar your experience has been. It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who have had the thoughts and experiences we’ve had.

        Your husband’s line of thought is one I’ve also pondered, especially in the very tight labour market we’re currently in. And yes, losing 50% of nurses would be a very, very bad thing. (We’ve already lost a lot of them from COVID burnout—not nearly 50%, but still a lot, and it hasn’t been good for our healthcare system.)

        I’m surprised, given how many smarty pants are in the FIRE community, that no one has run a simulation of this yet! It’d be cool to see what would happen. Perhaps it could be that more of us would willingly and happily take on unpaid or low-paid roles in society, thereby helping to offset some of the work that paid workers would normally have to do. (This is the case with what we help my sister with in her school library.) It’s definitely an interesting topic to chew on.

        You could absolutely withdraw weekly! We could have done that as well, but we decided to keep it simple and do a single monthly withdrawal. (But it was also because our withdrawal forms were filled out for us as monthly and we didn’t want to trouble anyone to change it, LOL!)

  • Reply
    Jill S
    November 19, 2022 at 1:17 pm

    This is a great read and I hope you do a similar post in future years, too.

    About your question “How do you feel about FIREees withdrawing (often permanently) from the workforce?” this is not a fully thought out thought but I feel like it’s a bigger problem when people stay working for money they don’t need than when people stop working for money. It feels like it can devalue the labour of people who need work (because if you don’t need it, you could get paid less, have fewer benefits, or occupy positions that keep others from getting in or moving up in the organizations).

    Is any of this true? I’m not sure. But it feels like it could be. And in the meantime, there’s so much work to do that doesn’t earn money (and never would) but that society needs for greater success … feels more ethical to retire when you can, you know?

    In an only tangentially related question, what (if anything) are you doing to create or contribute to community and mutual aid through your volunteering? This is a whole area I’ve been trying to learn about so it’s a question I’m asking everyone, including myself, and getting a wide range of responses, which is interesting, too.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 19, 2022 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Jill—I love reading post-FI/FIRE update posts from other bloggers, and most definitely intend to continue sharing annual updates in the future.

      Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. You bring up some excellent points, especially the part where you say, “… it can devalue the labour of people who need work”. I know, for example, many teachers of my generation (Gen X/Xennial) had a very hard time finding teaching jobs, despite being promised that there would soon be a mass exodus of Baby Boomer teachers.

      This led many of them to take lower-pay, lower-stability teaching positions with private companies (such as tutoring businesses). Even worse, I know of some who had to find employment outside of the teaching profession. This is in line with what you mention in your comment.

      You’ve helped me to reframe the value to society when FIRE people retire early. I see now how it can be a very good thing if it helps to make room for those who need and want to work. Thanks for sharing this viewpoint, which I didn’t previously consider!

      As for your question about community and mutual aid, I’ve heard about it before but have never really researched it. (However, I just did a bit of reading so that I could better answer your question!) From what I learned in the last ten minutes, mutual aid is very appealing to me, and I believe the volunteering M and I do in my teacher-librarian sister’s public school library falls under the umbrella of mutual aid.

      However, I’m still not fully understanding what exactly mutual aid is, so if I’m mistaken, please help to educate me! (You can read more about what we do in my sister’s library in my October update post—scroll down to the section titled, “Volunteering for my sister”.)

      My husband also started volunteering for a tiny non-profit (it’s not an officially registered charity) which directly helps homeless people in our local community. As far as I can tell, this non-profit may be more like a charity than a mutual aid cooperative, but it does incorporate some mutual aid elements.

      So, I guess M and I do, at least in part, contribute to community and mutual aid causes! I would love to learn more of your thoughts on this topic, including the responses you’ve received from others. (Perhaps it’d be a good post to share in one of the Facebook groups we’re part of?)

  • Reply
    Dividend Earner
    November 19, 2022 at 6:20 pm

    I am curious about your RRIF withdrawal since you don’t have a cash bucket strategy.

    1. Does your RRIF investment generate enough income that you can only use the income.
    2. Is that just 1 ETF or a mixture of stocks?

    I am also curious why you already have an RRIF instead of keeping it as an RRSP for a number of years. With an RRIF, you have to withdraw, which you are doing but I am curious if there was a difference between keeping it as RRSP vs RRIF.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 19, 2022 at 8:47 pm

      Hi Dividend Earner—thanks for reading and commenting. I’d be happy to answer your questions:

      1. We are total return investors, so we do not focus on income nor differentiate between income/principal. We just sell enough shares to meet our spending needs!

      2. We are invested in several institutional-class mutual funds, all of which are invested in dozens or hundreds of companies.

      We converted to RRIFs because there are no withholding taxes if we only take out the minimum withdrawal amounts (which we are). This isn’t the case with RRSPs, where withholding taxes will be deducted from all withdrawals.

      There’s no difference in the tax sheltering between RRIFs and RRSPs. And if we ever started earning income again and wanted to make RRSP contributions, we could open new RRSPs to do that. (Yes, it’s possible to hold RRIFs and RRSPs at the same time! I didn’t know this until recently!)

      I hope that answers your questions. 🙂

      • Dividend Earner
        November 19, 2022 at 9:33 pm

        Ah, thanks for answering. The RRIF makes a lot of sense. I did not know that you don’t pay tax on the minimum.

        So my follow up is how do you approach selling mutual funds in a really down market like we have now? A cash bucket strategy is meant to avoid selling when it’s down as you deplete it faster, and impact your future total returns.

        Is that not a concern?

      • Chrissy
        November 19, 2022 at 10:14 pm

        Hello again Dividend Earner—even in a down market, it’s still okay to sell as long as you’re not withdrawing an unsustainable amount and it’s only short-term.

        For example, our very experienced CFP had clients who retired just before the 2008 crash and withdrew 5–6% until the markets recovered. Two years after the crash, their portfolios had not only recovered, but were above their high point before the crash. (According to our CFP, 5–6% or even higher is okay if it’s only for a year or two AND if you’re invested mostly in equities.)

        It’s true that the more you withdraw when your portfolio is down, the larger the negative impact on your portfolio. However, 4% is actually quite a conservative withdrawal rate that’s based on, I believe, a 60/40 portfolio. For people who invest in a higher percentage of equities (which we do—we’re 100%) the 4% withdrawal rate is even safer.

        In our case, we will withdraw around 1.8% for 2022 and just under 4% for 2023. (These numbers are based on our portfolio’s current, decreased value. If the markets recover next year, our withdrawal rate will be well below 4%.)

        Over the long term, the cash bucket strategy will result in a lower net worth than if you keep more of your money invested in equities. That’s because cash is always a major drag on your returns, especially in a high inflation environment like we’re experiencing now.

        HOWEVER, the cash bucket strategy may be the best option for some as it provides a lot of psychological comfort during turbulent times. Each of us has to know our own tolerance for volatility. If market volatility keeps you up at night, and if holding cash allows you to keep the rest of your money invested, then it’s absolutely worth the lower overall returns!

        Let me know if you have more questions. 👍

  • Reply
    Sheryl M
    November 19, 2022 at 8:59 pm

    Did you know that you could convert a RRIF back into an RRSP if you’re under the age of 71? Why would someone do this? They might be interested in qualifying for the GIS supplement for example.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 19, 2022 at 9:07 pm

      Hi Sheryl—no, I did not know this! I am such a newbie when it comes to RRIFS and still have MUCH to learn, ha ha. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Chris
    November 22, 2022 at 6:58 am

    Great one year AMA blog post to see how things have been for you. Very interesting to see you at your young ages converted the RRSPs to RRIFs, looks like I have learned something today.

    As for finding something to do, let time be organic and find where it wants to go. I had zero idea when I left work that I would find a very rewarding, educational and fun side income as a writer & photographer across western Canada. Then to shift away from that to focusing on our small business so my wife could start a new career to try new experiences. My freedom because of FI is what allowed her to do this and so that I could take over her work at the store. Now in the next stage of FI I have focused on local governance and as you know being recently elected.

    Basically what I am getting at is that it isn’t about being retired but rather making space in your life after a focused period of dedicated career working years. That space opens you up to almost anything and the beauty is that no we can walk, run or heck take a lot of siestas along the way on this new path.

    All the best my friend, looking forward to reading part 2.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 23, 2022 at 1:08 pm

      Hi Chris—thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment. I also thought it was weird to convert to RRIFs at our ages and also learned something new!

      I love your suggestion to let time be organic and see where things go. (It’s certainly lead you to some amazing experiences.) For the most part, that’s naturally what’s happened for us. However, there’s something to be said for being more intentional about it, perhaps by saying it out loud to each other and having more conversations about it. I appreciate that you planted this seed for me! 😉

      You’re right, I also love that we can now traverse this path however we want—lots of siestas sounds good to me!

  • Reply
    Latestarterfire
    November 22, 2022 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks for the detail in your answers & just answering so many questions, Chrissy. Congratulations on the Year 1 milestone!

    I”m pretty sure I’ll feel weird about decumulation too when the time comes – we’ve just spent so long accumulating. Glad to know it’s all working for you despite the higher inflation and ‘unexpected’ expenses. I try to remind myself that I can’t possibly think of all the unexpected expenses and that I’ll adjust if I have to – hard to work out how much extra to budget for.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 23, 2022 at 1:44 pm

      Hi Latestarterfire—I was definitely caught off-guard when switching to decumulation. Saving had become so habitual and felt so good to do. It was not easy to change gears and go in the opposite direction!

      That said, it doesn’t seem to be something a lot of FIREees mention, so maybe it’s not that common? You may be one of the lucky ones who adjusts just fine!

      I agree that it’s tough to figure out all the possible unexpected expenses. You can get a bit closer by examining your own past spending and thinking ahead to what your house and car may need in the next 10-20+ years.

      It could also help to engage the services of a financial planner, even if it’s just a one-off session to make sure you haven’t missed anything in your expense estimates.

      Regardless, you and others on the FIRE path are used to building in contingencies and being flexible. I have complete confidence that you’ll be more than prepared for anything that comes your way in retirement!

  • Reply
    Edmond
    November 27, 2022 at 11:52 pm

    hello!

    I am in the same route too. I have two kids and at least a million portfolio. After lots of calculation, I can FIRE too. but always have the innate fear of running out of money. do you have it too? does anyone else has this feeling too?

    Another issue is the fear of lack of productivity which you have shared in the post above. this is really hard to overcome since we been taught to be productive every single second of our life.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      November 28, 2022 at 11:20 pm

      Hi Edmond—I think your fear is very normal. For me, it would definitely have been an issue closer to when we retired. It’s hard to make that leap, to walk away from a good job and stable income.

      Thankfully for us, we started working with an experienced team of financial planners four years before we retired. They’ve been our biggest source of confidence that we have enough money and won’t run out.

      Without their help and expertise, I think my husband would have worked longer than necessary. And I wouldn’t be able to sleep as I’d always worry if I missed something or did the math wrong!

      However, many people retire successfully and securely without professional help, so it’s very much possible to gain more confidence, even when you’re DIYing your financial planning.

      As for the lack of productivity, I’m certain you’ll find your groove once you’ve retired. Give yourself time and space to explore your new normal and it will reveal itself to you in time.

      Thanks so much for stopping by my blog to read and leave a comment. I’ve been enjoying the posts on your blog as well. 🙂

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