Now that I’m retired early, it seems that talk about financial freedom is everywhere.
But back when I started on my own journey to retiring early, FIRE wasn’t really a thing. Especially here in the UK.
I mean, I only found the trailblazing sites of Mr MMM and the like when I was already well on my way.
And with money still being a strangely taboo subject for many people, it wasn’t something I had a lot of people to ask about.
So when an unusual request popped into my Inbox the other week with an interview request, I decided to go for it. To try and do my small part in helping people understand what can be possible.
I’m naturally a little wary of doing these kinds of things. It’s easy to see how they could turn out badly. Fortunately, this one turned out pretty well.
But it got me thinking. What would I have asked someone who has already retired early, if I had had the chance back then?
And so, I figured I would share the questions and answers here to see what you guys and gals all make of them.
I’m curious to know – are they what you would have asked me about early retirement??
What your job was before you retired?
I spent 20 odd years in a financial career across risk management, energy trading, strategy, and renewables
What was your approach to work/ life balance?
Unusually for a lot of people wanting to retire early, I worked a large part of my career part-time.
It was considered unusual as it wasn’t for family reasons but for the work/life balance aspect. My approach to life has always been it has to be a balance.
Although I’ve always worked hard, I’ve also always had fun and enjoyed life along the way, that’s important to me.
When did you decide you wanted to retire early?
It was never exactly about retiring early but wanting more freedom, more control over my time.
It was about my early thirties when the idea it might be possible to do so really became a target. So about ten years before I actually did quit my job.
Where did the idea come from?
My partner and I, like everyone, would always be talking over our dreams and how to turn them into reality. That’s how we built our own house, another crazy idea into real-life!
It was after we finished building that we thought – what’s next?
At that point the biggest blocker on being able to live the life we wanted was my work in London. So it became an exercise in figuring out how to change the need for the income it provided.
What was the biggest reason for you wanting to retire early?
Ownership of my time. Being free from money being the driving force behind decision making.
I tend to be insatiably curious about everything and an avid explorer. Work just took up too much of my time for everything else I wanted to do.
Literally, one day we sat down and worked out all the places we’d like to travel to and wanted to do. Only using annual leave meant I’d probably be dead before getting to all of them!
At that point we knew we had to change something.
Did you research FIRE? What did you think?
FIRE wasn’t as well known or as popular back when I started on this path. So, we didn’t really know there was a name for what we were doing!
But in the last ten years I did discover some of the early FIRE blogs who were definitely inspirational. Just seeing that someone else had managed it was very encouraging.
What planning did it require?
One of the hardest parts of FIRE is working out what’s the right balance for you. How much is enough?
It can be tempting on tough days at work when you want to quit to think you don’t need much.
Then as you get closer to actually doing it, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking you just need a bit more ‘to be safe’.
In reality, I’ve found the answer is somewhere in the middle and individual for all of us.
Once you have that idea of how much you need to have saved, it becomes a much simpler task of working out how much you can earn, save, and invest each year.
Turning this into annual targets was really important for us, since they were achievable and measurable. You could see you were really making progress, which helped get through the tougher days.
What is your current financial situation?
I’m now financially independent, which means I don’t need to work to earn money to sustain my chosen lifestyle.
My various investments provide an income that covers both my necessary living expenses as well as a comfortable level of ‘fun’ spending, like travel.
I still have to pinch myself to believe that, even when I write it down by the way!
What is your day to day life like now?
It’s probably not as glamorous as people expect!
Not having to get up in the dark to a ringing alarm clock is heaven. I’ll have a morning cuppa, catch up on the world.
I get to regularly exercise now, which just wasn’t possible when spending four hours commuting each day. A simple lunch, some writing, reading, researching. That kind of thing.
Of course, I also spend a lot of time away travelling and exploring. Pre-pandemic times, we’d be away for about 4-5 months across different trips each year.
It’s different to being on holiday, I’m a big fan of slow travel. Taking the time to get to know somewhere rather than dashing round ticking all the ‘Must-do’ boxes.
What are the biggest benefits to you?
The reduction in stress is amazing. I had a senior management role that was pretty demanding, it was very full on.
Plus, it required a four hour round trip three days a week. It took up a lot of my time and mental energy. The usual ‘on’ all the time type career.
I never hated my job like some people do, it just took up too much of my time and effort. It didn’t leave space to live my own life.
It’s hard to describe how good it is to be in charge of my own time.
I’m in far better shape now in my forties than my thirties. My health is better.
I no longer have to juggle which friends or family to see because I have time for all of them. The flexibility is amazing.
I’ve been able to try all kinds of new things, like starting my own blog. I love being able to be creative without needing it to earn money.
And it goes without saying that we’ve made a lot more headway through that list of places we want to travel to! Travel is such a great way to challenge yourself and learn more.
What do family and friends think?
My close friends and family all knew what we were planning so they weren’t too surprised when I did finally leave my career at 43.
They all know how hard we’ve worked to achieve this, so I’ve never had any problems with jealousy or the like. They can see how happy I am and they’re happy for me.
It’s been eye-opening how people react when they inevitably ask what you do for a living and I tell them I’m retired. Pretty much everyone has been shocked but then curious, wanting to know more.
I’ve not had any negative reactions – to my face at least! The slightly sad part is a lot of people don’t know what they would do with their time.
For me, I now entirely understand how retired people can say they still don’t have enough time!
For people wanting to do the same – what do you recommend? Where did you start? What planning did it require?
These days there are a lot of good blogs available that I’d recommend reading. Both for inspiration and pragmatic advice – you need both to make this work.
I’d recommend starting by really working out what you want to get out of it.
For some people, just being able to work a different job for less money but that they find rewarding or interesting is a better fit than actually retiring.
For others, like me, who want to travel, it might be possible to switch to remote working.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Again, it’s all about balance.
But what sorting out your finances does give you is the freedom to make those kind of choices.
And you do that through earning more, spending less and investing wisely.
I always describe it as three different levers – you need to know which one is your strength.
Some people are stronger at saving than earning, some are happy to have several side-hustles. It’s about making a plan that plays to your strengths.
And then make sure to set realistic expectations. This kind of thing takes time. It’s why you have to enjoy life along the way.
It’s no different to getting healthy, everybody knows what they should do – the trick is finding the right motivation to make it worth doing and then turning it into a habit.
When it comes to the financial side, there is so much information online now. Stick to the sources that aren’t trying to sell you something and learn, learn, learn. Never be afraid to ask questions.
But most importantly – start small but just start as soon as you can. It will surprise you how quickly it can snowball into something meaningful.
Even just becoming debt-free is a major step in taking control of your finances, instead of them controlling you.
Is it possible for people to do themselves?
Absolutely! Is it easy, no. It’s important to be realistic and patient. And it will take effort. But it is so worth it.
Do I think it's achievable for people who don't earn a lot?
I know some people think it’s only for high earners etc but I disagree.
Reason being, when I started out I was earning £8k/yr – so about £13k/yr in today’s money. Well below the average wage.
I was also still paying off my student loan and renting with a friend. So pretty typical of a lot of people today I’d say.
For me, it’s all about what choices you make going forwards and in particular, what you prioritise.
How did you manage to retire early?
Given where I started, my route to financial freedom wasn’t so much about cutbacks but about not increasing my spend as I started to earn more.
Instead of spending all my spare cash, I started to save for my first house deposit. I bought an old place in the unfashionable part of town. I happily drove my faithful old banger of a car that cost me £300.
That kind of thing. I never felt like I was missing out, enjoying nights out and holidays away. I’ve just always made sure to get value for my money.
Other big steps were putting in the effort to build our own house to become mortgage free.
That meant working most weekends whilst holding down a full-on job in London. It was tiring…..but worth it.
Likewise, I chose to stay living in Norfolk and put up with a truly awful daily commute. But earning London wages and having Norfolk level living expenses made a huge difference to my ability to save.
This was way before remote working was accepted as much – these days there are some really interesting opportunities!
The investing side came later once I was debt-free. I bought my first share in 2012 and yes, I was nervous.
But long-term investing in share markets is the best way to generate above inflation returns, especially now with interest rates so low. Plus I maxed out pensions and ISA’s whenever possible for the tax benefits.
It wasn’t always easy, I had days I really wanted to throw in the towel for sure. But all the best things in life take effort, right?
Anything else you'd like to add?
Don’t be afraid of being different. Achieving something like financial independence requires not doing what everyone else is doing.
Trying to keep up with others around you is a pointless exercise, it’s not a race or a competition. What’s important is what matters to you.
To put it simply, I couldn’t think of anything more valuable to buy with my money than my own time – so that’s what I did.
Hence my personal finance motto – “Buying Time For Living Life” !!
And that's all folks - or is it?
So – that was what I was asked for the interview – but is it what you would ask someone who managed to retire early?
I’m curious to know what other questions would have been better? Let me know below – and if you’re really (un?!)lucky I may just write about them another time…
Until then – Happy Summer!! Enjoy the sunshine…