Life, Death and Getting Drunk on FIRE

early retirement and financial independence

A few years ago, a small piece of card dropped through my letterbox. I still have it – I’m holding it right now. This is what it says, misspelling and grammar uncorrected:

“Dear Sir Madam,

Hi, my name is Herbert i live at XX Sheltered Housing Im looking for space for my 4ft x 2ft trailer for my dissablled scooter if you can help please call me on XX mobile if you can help me thank you.”

Something about this note pulled at my heartstrings as I imagined an old man going from house to house delivering his cards and waiting patiently for a call that never came.

I have plenty of space on my driveway and now that I knew somebody else needed it, I felt guilty about all the privilege and just being in the right places at the right times and sheer amazing good fortune that have resulted in me sitting here – warm and comfortable and safe, with everything I need around me.

So I called.

Herbert parked a scruffy trailer containing his scooter draped in a flimsy tarpaulin on my driveway and occasionally neighbours would comment about the ugliness and ask “wouldn’t you be glad to see that gone?” Secretly, I agreed.

He would turn up at the house from time to time with a box of chocolates or a little pot plant as a thank you and we would chat for a few minutes on the doorstep. After a year or so he was admitted to hospital and stayed there. He would never come out.

He died this week. His family are taking away his scooter as I write. I have never met them before but they told me he mentioned me often and was so grateful for my “generosity”. I feel like a fraud. I wasn’t generous at all – he was just using something I didn’t need. Isn’t that what communities should do?

I don’t know why I’m writing this since it doesn’t fit with my theme of financial independence and early retirement. Except that lately I have been thinking about how to find fulfilment in life when you don’t find it in a job. And if I look past the guilt of privilege I can take a shred of fulfilment in the fact that a small kindness meant a lot to another person.

I feel sad today. Sad for Herbert and the ending of a life I knew almost nothing about. Sad that I didn’t make the time to visit him in hospital. Sad that I don’t live close to my ageing parents. Sad that we live in a world where some people have so much and some people have so little.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m feeling a little low. I deliberately haven’t posted here for a couple of weeks because I’ve been drowning in self pity and I knew that anything I had to say would be completely self-indulgent and downright miserable, to be frank.

And perhaps, those people who haven’t wandered off due to lack of activity on this blog, will now disappear to read something happier and lighter.

But thinking about Herbert today, witnessing the grief of his family and contemplating the inevitable truth that faces us all – it forces some perspective. We can be quite flippant about the facts of life. We throw around phrases all the time – “Life is short!”, “Live for today!”, “You can’t take it with you!”. But how often do we stop and think – and I mean really think deeply – about this stuff?

That’s where my head is today. If I knew this was my last day on earth, what would I do?

A day is nothing is it? It passes in the blink of an eye. But a year or even a season is an expanse of time. What if I knew this was my last Autumn? Or what if I knew I had another 50 Autumns – would that change the decisions I need to make now?

On the brink of early retirement, I am on the cusp of a major life change; it’s not something to take lightly. Or it’s not something I am capable of taking lightly. I am a thinker, an analyst, dependable, stable. I have a family to provide for and their futures to take into consideration as well as my own. This was never going to be a quick nor an easy decision.

Drunk on FIRE

I was relatively late to the FIRE party compared to some of the blogs I read. When I discovered that there was a way to escape early from the corporate shackles, I was overjoyed. For a while, I would describe myself as almost drunk on this realisation. I threw myself into it with giddy abandon and started counting down the days.

I thought that as soon as I reached that magic number, I would quit my job and never look back.

What I never imagined was how difficult it would become once the target is near, to decide when to pull the plug. Because as much as we use the maths of the 4% rule or compounding to determine a number, there are no set rules, no strict guidelines for what we will find acceptable as a standard of living and therefore what that number needs to be.

My “enough” is not the same as your “enough” or even as my own original “enough”. I often find myself tweaking what “enough” includes to suit the frame of mind I’m in and that makes the whole concept a bit grey and woolly.

When I have a bad day at work, I think to myself, well, if I was retired I would never need another holiday so I can scrap that whole line from my budget.

But on a different day when everything is fine and I’m remembering the happy times we’ve had at this place or that one, I  think to myself wouldn’t it be great to feel that excitement again of driving to the airport, the boys happy and carefree, us throwing out our family catchphrases that we say every time – “This time next week Mum, we’ll still be there”. 😄

And it’s not just the big things. At the other end of the spending scale I say to the boys, “When I’m retired we won’t be having takeaway like this.” Pizza tends to be a fallback when I’m really busy and don’t have the energy to cook (or more truthfully, don’t have the energy to resist their pleading).

But really, can I imagine a future where I have to think about every single pizza?

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today and it’s turned into a ramble from the big questions of life and death to the realities of daily life – aka what are we having for dinner?

So here’s what it boils down to.

If I knew this was my last day on earth I would be doing exactly what I’m doing now – quietly reflecting at home, feeling happy and sad, thoughts meandering from happy family times to what shall I have for my last dinner.

If I knew this was my last Autumn I would quit my job instantly and get outside into these cold, crisp, blue sky days, take the dog for long walks and order pizza for dinner whenever the boys wanted it.

If I knew I had 50 more Autumns I would make sure there was room to afford some treats for us all and they weren’t spent worrying about every last penny.

Herbert didn’t know that when he went into hospital he would never come out. I don’t know if I have one more Autumn or 50 more Autumns. It is likely to be something in between. So for now, no rash decisions – I’m taking things one day at a time.

 

24 thoughts on “Life, Death and Getting Drunk on FIRE”

  1. Your words are beautiful and sincere. I love your deep reflections. And trust me, these are the kind of posts that make me come back. So thank you!

    I am a newbie to FIRE and just started up my own journey. But in one of my latest posts I muse about what my life will be like when (I should say ‘if’…especially after reading your post) I reach financial independence. Btw, in my very latest post I quoted you.

    Keep up the good work and keep inspiring us newcomers….
    Marc

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome Marc and thank you for your kind words. These types of posts do seem to resonate with people even though they can be difficult to put out there. And thanks for quoting me on your site. I still consider myself very much a newcomer, at least to publishing my thoughts. Looking forward to reading your point of view.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, my friend, welcome back. Your words are always wise and like a soothing balm. I like your realization that the spend amount is not fixed (I find myself changing my number every day depending on work too! ). About pizza, the best kitchen tool I have purchased is something called a pizza steel. If you have a conventional electric oven at home that’s kinda weak, this will raise the temperature to brick oven level, so your pizza will be awesome. I bought it one year (about ~$100 USD) and since then I no longer crave store bought pizzas. Not sure if they are widely available across the pond though… but basically just steel that you pre-heat in oven.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m not really a FIRE gal but I enjoy your blog and dreaming about rtirement. Also a moving target and who knows if I will ever reach “enough”. I want to be able to go to Target and buy what I want or yes order that pizza if I want it. Can you have everything? I notice two things…along with not deferring your your retirement maybe you’ve also deferred happiness in the process. “when I retire I will be so happy”, “we’ll be able to have so much quality time together”. When you’re living for the next thing maybe you aren’t able to appreciate the present as much. It’s not as much about where you are when you will achieve that thing. Are you able to be happy in the present state? Are you afraid to be happy because you are on the cusp and neither here nor there and sort of in between and that is freaking you out? You always have a choice. If you want your cake and to eat it too (or pizza in your case)…maybe it’s ok to defer retirement just a bit longer or as long as you want. You can be happy now just with the idea that you CAN leave if you want to and that’s something of a stress reliever too. I hope you find peace and the chance to be happy in whatever you choose. Death of a friend is often a reminder to not take life for granted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely think I have sacrificed some happiness now for a better life later, and who ever knows if that is the right thing to do. I want my cake and to eat it too; I also want to quit now which means less cake in the future….
      It’s such a difficult choice to make. Right now, I’m ok and living one day at a time – I think I will know when the pendulum swings too far in the unhappy direction and that will be the right time. Thank you for commenting, it’s good to see you here.

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  4. Your posts are always thoughtful and reflective. I sense a broad dis-satisfaction with life that I can empathise with. Almost a loneliness, which again I can empathise with. For me, I worry that ive latched onto this FIRE quest as an attempt to regain control or achieve contentment, whereas the underlying problems are not being addressed.

    For example if I pull the plug and have all this freedom, what will I actually do with it? Will I really transform into a relaxed, happy and content person? Yes it would be great to leave behind the crushing tedium of the workplace but would that really be the magic potion im after? Not sure.

    Take comfort that you are not alone in either the FI journey or in trying to make sense of life, its unfairness and its trials. Sometimes you can look around and objectively assess that you are richer than most of humanity and have much to be grateful for – but the world still seems a grey place. The answer I suppose is to try and confront yourself and ask what a happy life would really look like and what you need to change in order to live it. I expect quitting work would be an enabling action, but might not of itself be all that is required over the longer term.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with FIRE being an attempt to gain control. But for some of us, not being in control can be a source of deep unhappiness and so to that extent – it will fix things, if only in one area of life. Working full time though is a massive part of the week, so I’ll settle for that part being put right.
      As to what else is required to be happy, despite what it may seem like on this blog, I love my life (outside of work). I am endlessly curious and love to investigate things – for as long as I can read, and take some time to be a “good” person in whatever form that takes, I am certain I will be satisfied. What do you like to do? Are you frustrated because you have had your fill of the tedium of work or because there are things you are yearning to do but don’t have time or energy for?

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  5. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and missed your posts. This one is thought-provoking and I can tell that you are finding it heavy going just now. For what it’s worth, I think that is a natural feature of being so near FIRE – the reality is quite hard to cope with.

    There are some practical steps you could take to make things a bit easier. For example, set up a specific ‘family holiday’ savings account and sock some money away in it while you are still working. Perhaps enough for two big holidays, or whatever would work for you. Then, once you are retired, you’ll have a fund that is actually earmarked for holidays and you can have fun in advance with your boys working out how you will spend it. I found this mentally much easier than just including things like travel money in my general ‘early retirement’ pot, because it seemed to give me ‘permission’ to spend it without worrying.

    With your career skills, I imagine you would find it really easy to get occasional consultant/specialist work (end of tax or financial year, or one-off due diligence type stuff) once you have retired, if you wanted to earn a bit of money for extras. Friends who have gone down this route tell me that, once you’ve done a couple of these sorts of gigs, your name gets known and you find it easy to pick stuff up whenever you need it. So that’s something you could consider as a way of FIREing earlier but also having money for the extras that are important to your family.

    The other thing that really got me over the finishing line in those final (very challenging) couple of years was a little mental trick which I used each day. Start by working out how many days you actually work each year (so, weekdays minus all holiday entitlement and all bank and public holidays). Then, calculate what you earn net of tax (include any employer’s pension contribution you receive). Finally, divide your total net earnings by the number of working days to find out what you actually get given for each day you work – this will be a tidy sum. The trick is, each day as you walk into the office, imagine someone actually handing you a pile of cash equal to the ‘daily rate’ you’ve calculated. It’s only a silly trick, but I found it amazingly motivating!

    Jane

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jane – that is a fantastic idea! I implemented it as soon as I read your comment – set aside one bank account as a holiday fund and started to siphon some funds into it. It is guilt free now.
      I also use the daily pay rate as a motivator and highly recommend it. Although I hadn’t visualised it as a handful of cash which makes it all the more powerful as a motivator 🙂

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  6. That was a lovely thing you did for Herbert, a small gesture which meant so much to him.

    Have missed you posting, FT9T5 – sorry to hear that you are low but you’re so close to the finish line and it’s only human nature to start worrying about things to the nth degree.

    I’m with @Jane in London on the holiday front, I think it’s a great idea to set up a separate holiday fund. While you’re still busy chucking your salary at your general FIRE pot, perhaps it’s worth considering getting back into matched betting again and channel all/most of those profits for future holidays?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes – I finally ended my motivation slump with the MB last week! Getting back into it was surprisingly easy once I actually logged in to OddsMonkey – it’s like you can just see that money sitting there on the table. Thank you for the prompt!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks – but everyone can be generous in different ways. I am notoriously selfish with my time for instance where other people give it up freely. Maybe the truly generous are those that give what is most important to them. I’m not sure I could ever be so noble but I could do a lot more than I do now given I have been so lucky in life – room for improvement for sure.

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  7. I just found your blog, I really enjoy your writing style. I am working through my journey toward a financially independent life and I find your blog to be motivational. I can’t say I am really a FIRE person in the purest sense but the ideas are relevant for how I am working out my retirement plan. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really like this post. It reflects my thoughts entirely.

    I think that ‘thinking’ should have a health warning, it can be very positive or negative depending on the individual.

    Often the happiest people are those who don’t bother thinking too much, just order that pizza and enjoy yourself. Not my style, but I think there’s a lot to recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you.

      Yes, I often wish I could be like that – not think too hard, those people do seem to be so relaxed. Sadly, that will never be me though, I’m a thinker through and through.

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  9. So beautiful! I’m glad I discovered your blog. Your words are so engaging. I think this made me stop for a moment and stop trying to fast-forward time to get to a “place I want to be” and simply enjoy where I’m currently at, knowing that there isn’t a lot I can change at this very moment, so why not savor it?!

    Liked by 1 person

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