7 things that happened in my first week of early retirement (FIRE)

On Monday morning, I woke up around the same time and lazed in bed, flicking through messages and notifications on my phone.

Yes, I left my job last week, as per my plan in the very first post I published on this blog.

I no longer have to go to work because I am financially independent. Yay, I gave myself a little cheer.

I hung around a little more in bed, read a few interesting articles that caught my eye, and then got out of bed to wash up. It’s a brand new week. The first week of my FIRE (Financial independence Retire Early) lifestyle.

This is not the first time I stopped working full time, so it’s not entirely a foreign or scary feeling for me. I stopped working for a period 3 years ago due to burnout and the need to recover from events in my personal life. But that wasn't FIRE because I was not financially independent yet. I just wanted time to think, put myself back together and sort out my next steps.

Also read “Questions and self-doubt on the route to FIRE

This time round, I had a suitably long list of things I wanted to do post FIRE. I had no timeline mapped out though, because I wanted my first month of early retirement to be a time of decompression and relaxation. I planned to ease into my new stage of life and establish a new rhythm for myself.

I was taking my time and being deliberate about it. Having read numerous blog posts and listened to podcasts where people who reached early retirement suddenly experienced a loss of identity and structure to their daily lives, I was mindful that it might happen to me too. I was prepared this time round.

Sitting down at my table, I fired up my laptop, and put the finishing touches on my upcoming trip itinerary. One of my favourite activities in the world was travelling, particularly solo travels. This time, I am going back to my favourite country in the world, alone. My plan is to unwind there for a few weeks, and then visit family before I settled back into a routine at home.

During the past week, I re-examined what it means to reach FIRE, for me and for many others, and these 7 things stood out most to me:

  1. Loss of identity, or rather, a change in identity

For those with successful careers and big jobs, leaving a career behind usually feels like a loss of status. This happens for anyone who retires, not just folks who reach financial independence and retire early. Driven, motivated individuals who plan carefully for financial independence usually happen to also be people who work hard and do well in their jobs. As a result, for a large part of one’s life, personal identities are often so closely entwined with work identities that this can be really hard to disentangle all at once.

One’s work identity often becomes a social identifier too. I find this especially acute in the Bay Area, where most, if not all social introductions start with ‘what do you do’ or ‘which company do you work for?’. And then people proceed to remember and refer to you as ‘ the person who works for X’, or the analyst who works for Y’.  

An early retiree therefore bucks social norms and sticks out like a sore thumb. I was asked quite a few times by acquaintances about ‘my next move’ when I announced I was leaving my job. Although there are often push and pull factors in leaving a job, in this case, the FIRE factor was very strong for me. However, I was not about to tell them ‘I reached financial independence and retired early, so I don’t need to work anymore’. Neither was I going to say ‘oh I don’t plan to work anymore.’ Both answers make for awkward follow up conversations about money and social status. Instead, I droned on about taking a break, or doing ad-hoc consulting for companies.

Also read “Common misconceptions about women who FIRE

I don’t think I need a new identity because I am happy and comfortable where I am, and I was not addicted to my last job, so this transition should be easy. Instead of a loss of status post retirement, I think of it as a change in status. From being a worker to being a financially independent retiree. However, for social purposes, I suppose I will need a new cover identity. I shall have plenty of time to think about that and come up with a good story.

2) Increase in food expenses.

My last few companies provided me free meals - yes I know, its what entitled tech workers get. I don’t necessarily agree that free meals are a good thing for the small businesses in the community and my diet, but I was happy to save money by eating the free food. Without a job taking care of my meals, I now needed to feed myself.

In my first week, I cooked all of my meals, except three of them.  One was a quick sushi roll dinner before catching a movie,the second was a dinner with one of my ex co-workers and the third was lunch at my ex co-workers company who provides free lunch. I spent less than $60 in groceries for all those meals. It worked out to about $4 per meal for 14 meals. (I don’t eat breakfast as I practise intermittent fasting). Not too bad in the Bay area, considering an average meal out costs $20 per person inclusive of taxes and tips.

I swear I have not been just doing ramen diets either (even though I love ramen). In fact, I experimented with new recipes and meals I have always wanted to try cooking!

I don’t believe that FIRE has to be about extreme frugality, but the definition of eating well differs from person to person. You can judge for yourself. These are some of the dishes I cooked this week:

  • Beef and broccoli

  • Beef bolognese pasta

  • Chicken fried rice

  • Mushroom chicken pasta

  • Mushroom bisque

  • Tomato soup

  • Sourdough bread (yes I baked it)

  • Guacamole and chips

  • Kale chips

  • Roasted broccolini

Perhaps I should start a new section on delicious and affordable home cooked recipes. I will get around to it.

3) Decreased social interaction

I consider myself an introvert who does not require too much social interaction. However, homo sapiens are still innately social and I do need to speak to other humans from time to time. Without work, I definitely see and speak to much less people on a daily basis. For now, I am fine, but I know I will need to build this into my routine. I plan to catch up with friends at least once a week, attend some classes outside, and text/call family and friends more often. Let’s see how well I do here a few months from now.

4) Need for physical activity

I used to walk to work daily but early retirement provides me an excuse not to even leave my couch. Walking around within my small house is definitely not going to be sufficient exercise. To maintain a healthy body, I plan to increase my weekly yoga routine, and perhaps to stroll around my neighbourhood more often. Since I have a big trip coming up, this is not going to be an issue for now. I did note that many bloggers and retirees mention that they take walks daily to clear their minds and get the blood flowing, which is something I can probably adopt with a regular cadence.  More to report on how well this goes few months later.

5) Need for mental stimulation

In my previous mini-retirement, this was one of the areas I struggled with. It’s like driving on a highway at 80mph, suddenly getting off it onto a small country road with the speed limit at 20mph. The change is jarring, and the speed demon in me aches to floor the accelerator every now and then.

This time round, I was sort of more prepared. I had been building up a list of post-retirement activities and hobbies to stimulate me mentally, and I have a long list of books to read. In addition, the pace at my last job was at times excruciatingly slow due to internal red tape and politics and it had already forced me to work at a much slower rate. I had cultivated a lot more patience to roll with the punches and lets things develop at their own speed. That did not make for a high-flying career, but certainly value adds to easing into early retirement.

Also read: “10 side hustles you can try while keeping your full-time job

6) Increased free time for media consumption

Social media and TV are addictive, no doubt about it. For years, I had refused to get a Netflix account, subscribe to cable and limited myself to watching only 2-3 highly acclaimed TV series a year. Now I have a lot more time to flick through my feeds and watch whatever I like. I definitely hung out a lot more this week on the Reddit FI forum, contemplated telling my story on it (but did not), and interacted with others on various other social media platforms.

I also gave in and watched more TV - blame it on Black Mirror launching this past week. Oh and I watched two movies during off-peak hours too (Godzilla and X-men). Black Mirror was great but the movies were average.

I used to consider reading a waste of time on my journey to FIRE, because every waking moment should be focused on saving or earning more. However, I now deem reading a very important part of the post retirement lifestyle. It provides for a lot more mental stimulation (point #5) and prevents me from spending too much time on social media and TV. When I start on a good book, its like Netflix serving up episode after episode, I simply cant stop till I binge read the entire book.

7) Executing on withdrawal strategy

Ok, this part should probably have been done before actual retirement, but I didn’t finish all of the details. This week, I finally moved my funds into the right accounts and mapped out my exact drawdown strategy down to the precise accounts to be used for the next 6 months. Since the market was doing pretty well this week, I also traded some small stocks, added in stop losses, and locked in some small gains. I was quite happy that the profits this week paid for my upcoming trip. It’s a nice bonus for reaching the financial independence milestone.

There you go, my first happy and uneventful week of early retirement. What do you plan to do after you reach FIRE? Share your thoughts with me below.