Wednesday, 11 September 2019

12 months of F.I.R.E

It has been a little more than 12 months since I left the workforce in entirety. Perhaps it's a good time to take stock of what has transpired.

Just to put things in perspective, 12 months of full time unemployment pursuant to the decision to leave the workforce due to F.I.R.E (financial independence, retire early) probably isn't the most illuminating of sorts, but perhaps it'll provide you with a sliver of reckoning that will allow you to consider another perspective of what has been theorized about, but perhaps rarely done in the age range of < 35 years old, single and male demographic.

What have I been up to?

In summary, I spent the last year decompressing, and getting used to a lifestyle that comprises large chunks of unscheduled time. I've taken some opportunities to further develop myself, spent quite a lot of time developing new relationships and maintaining old ones, and exploring the world.

I've had the chance to, in no particular order of substance nor merit:

  • Spend a lot of time in pursuit of nothing much in particular, and having the mind and heart space to choose what to do for the day
  • Practice yoga fervently during off-peak hours from Sep 2018 till Mar 2019
  • Do loads of reading, covering various subjects ranging from Relationships to Buddhism
  • Attend four silent meditation retreats spanning between 8 to 12 days each overseas 
  • Invest my money freely without any well-meaning but overbearing restrictions placed on me 
  • Increasingly hold space and be there for friends, family and loved ones in my life 
  • Pick up scuba diving in earnest again, and dived in some of the nicest spots in Asia (Lembeh and Maldives are top of mind) 
  • Take various exploratory trips over the world, and spent some time in Kuantan, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Phuket, Khao Lak, Bali, Taipei, Tainan, Taichung, Vancouver B.C, New York, California

Dark Side

Long time readers would know RB35 is a rather pessimistic character. Perhaps I got that from my job, where I would constantly fret about the downside. Anyway, this might be a good way to go into detail on the bad things about F.I.R.E, in the event the introductory paragraph wasn't that clear in putting forth the notion that F.I.R.E ain't a panacea for all problems in life.

Loss of Identity - Truth is I didn't quite identify myself with the the notion of an investment banker, even though I came through the ranks. When folks asked what I did for a living, I chose to embrace the saying of "Corporate Finance" in order to end it at there instead of going with the answer of "Investment Banking", in order to minimize any undue or unnecessary attention.

However, I did feel like I lost a part of my identity, especially when it comes to strangers or acquaintances asking what I did for a living. Till today, I still reply that I'm on a bit of an extended sabbatical, and I used to work in Finance. Sometimes I get comments such as "burnout ah?", or "sorry to hear you got let go", which ain't a correct representation of my situation.

For me, I left because my expenses were way lower than my passive income. Even though more than 12 months have surpassed, I have not drawn down on my invested portfolio yet. Further, I'm operating on a budget that is at a significant discount to my invested portfolio.

I recall this coming right at me when I was at a dive trip recently. Folks there asked what I did - I said I was taking a break. They assumed, quite out spokenly that I need a break from the grind, and I would go back soon. I did not bother to correct them , and honestly it didn't quite matter to me. But their gazes say it all - "Poor you, I hope you find something soon, otherwise..."

In short, if it matters to you, your ego could take a hit, without full time employment.

Loss of Financial Leverage - When you ease into full time unemployment, you rapidly lose access to financial leverage.

Be it through a mortgage loan (have not tried but highly suspect so), credit card (tried and was duly rejected), or other credit loans (if credit cards fail, this should fail thoroughly), you won't be able to lever up your investments. Perhaps you can take margin on your personal account trades, but I have not tried, but do not recommend taking margin.

Have applied for a credit card as a test bed and was rejected as a nil income case. So unless you figure a way out to buy your apartment (not quite smart to pay up front in cash as opposed to a minimum 20 year monthly amortizing loan), or maybe take a credit card, you are pretty much stuck with CASH only basis from now on.

To me, the only concern here would be property purchase. Credit cards aren't much of an issue given I already have a few of those on hand that should be willing to extend going forward.

Conformist Questions - When you have managed to get to where you got to by generally conforming to overarching societal expectations (getting good grades, building an impeccable resume, working hard in your job, etc) over the last 30+ years of your life, some days you wake up and ask yourself WTF you are doing with your life.

You do wonder whether it makes sense to chill out, read, do yoga, meditate, slack off, etc when most of your peers are out there putting their nose to the grind. You question whether this fabulous post F.I.R.E life is better for you in the long run.

No doubt, you have lower levels of stresses, but you sometimes wonder whether you're doing the wrong thing when you're one of the few buggers in your generation living this life...

The nationally supported notion of needing to constantly increase productivity still rears its head from time to time, especially when I have totally slack off days, it comes up unsuspectingly and asks in a purely innocent manner: "RB35, you did jack shit today... oh yes maybe you read some stuff and worked out, but don't you feel like you're not making the best use of your life?"

Worries - I had no doubt that terminating my employment post F.I.R.E wouldn't mean the elimination of all my worries, but I'll like to bring up this point so as to emphasize to all folks looking to F.I.R.E as a cure all, that one will still have worries even after post F.I.R.E.

No doubt, stresses of work are lifted of your shoulders, but deep seated worries still remain, and will be elevated to take the place of your old work worries.

For me, some parts of it are financial worries, even if it doesn't make any rational sense to be worrying about this given my financial position, and others were whether I was making the best use of my life doing what I am currently doing, even if that exploration is still a work in progress.

Loss of Community - The first to go are your work friends. Those are your colleagues, because there isn't anything else to commiserate on and bind you guys together anymore.

Also, unless you have a group of close friends, family or life partner who have shared interests outside of work or with a similar outlook, you'll find yourself mostly alone, because well, most folks have to go to the office.

If you need activity partners, then you'll need to find a new group of friends. But if you're introverted like I am, then this wouldn't be too much of an issue. In fact, I do appreciate the quietness of life. However, it is sometimes a bit disheartening to see some friends drifting away because we don't share similar paths in life now. 

Bright Side

I reckon there are many sites that have listed the benefits of F.I.R.E, so I'll just pen down what I feel are the main bright points in my journey thus far. 

Off Peak - Life is now lived off peak. It is a great feeling having the choice to choose when to travel on the MRT.

Obviously I try to avoid the crowds as much as possible. Grocery shopping, meals out are mostly done outside the usual lunch / dinner timings, because - no need to be competing with the masses there.

Movies are seen on weekday afternoons at cheap rates. Pro tip - Golden Village offers members (free membership) S$7 ticket Tuesdays. No more having to deal with crazy crowds in the cinema for me.

Yoga classes can be scheduled in the late morning or early afternoon, with lesser people per class to boot, translating into more individual attention from the teacher. 

Increased Degrees of Freedom - On paper, I've gained at least an additional 10 hours a day of my life to do whatever I want to do. And I don't have to deal with the stress of having to think through solutions for work problems when I'm out of the office, which takes up more time.

In an instance, there's now quite a lot of free space to delve into personal exploration and other journeys. A good 30 to 50% of my days, I wake up, and then decide what I'll like to do for the day. This level of freedom is much appreciated and valued.

That being said, it's not like one will be totally free from responsibilities. You'll still have responsibilities to yourself, your loved ones, your friends, society (national service, taxes, etc.) that needs to be fulfilled, but hey, I do feel this is as good as it gets. 

More Space for Relationships - The release of work responsibilities comes with increased mental space, that I feel is so essential to cultivating and maintaining relationships.

Perhaps I'm not naturally adept at dealing with more work and personal responsibilities concurrently, and maybe that's something I have to work on if I decide to take on further economic responsibilities in the future, but for now, the happiest times are being fully present with my loved ones doing the simplest of things, such as taking a long walk, preparing a home cooked meal, having a conversation over a glass of wine, or just chilling in general.

More space allows for you to accommodate and plan around the schedule of others. It allows for you to be there, fully. It allows for more choices. It helps to develop and maintain relationships, and in this world, having close personal relationships with a few loved ones is certainly something to cherish, and it does make life more fulfilling for me.

What's next? 

To be perfectly honest, I'm not quite sure.

I know that I'll be spending a couple of months in Europe with my partner soon, and that'll pretty much round up the end of the year. I'm also in the middle of a diving course that's conducted over six to seven full weekends, and might have a silent retreat coming up in December.

Other than the above, there's nothing committed at this point.

I know I'll like to devote more time to a consistent yoga and meditation practice when I'm back, and perhaps I'll try out for a 200 hour yoga teacher course if the right teacher pops up.

And I'll like to lean towards more of a routine next year, to learn or do something different (perhaps formally in an education system, or through volunteering with my local meditation group) that might be helpful to my immediate circle of friends and family.

But nah, I don't think I'll head back to full time employment over the course of this year, because even though this isn't a perfect lifestyle (none is), it certainly is good enough for me, and it does feel like my life is just beginning, or perhaps the post F.I.R.E glow hasn't quite worn off yet :)


  1. Sounds scary and exciting at the same time. Enjoy your FIRE. 8)

  2. Hi,

    Thank you so much for sharing this post from the perspective of the other side of the fence. Very candid and honest article which I think will serve as a good guide to those who are contemplating to retire early. I do think that having too much time with no purposes is not going to be good for our mind and soul.

    Keep posting and I look forward to your next update.


    1. Thanks. No doubt, it would have been easier to continue cranking in the job and stockpile cash till I got canned. Probably 2 to 3 year runway for that.

      But then again, I wouldn't have had all these experiences over the last 12 months, which arose primarily due to an abundance of free time now (at this age in life).

      On the point of too much time without any purpose not being good for the mind and soul, I'm still exploring that notion. At the risk of this being a philosophical debate, I guess it depends on what purpose entails.

      One's purpose could simply to be a good partner, son, brother, friend. And having ample amounts of free time certainly helps in delivering the goods on that front :)

  3. Hi Retireby35.SgStyle,

    You're an interesting character on the financial blogging scene. F.I.R.E is something that many in this community aspire and look up to but outside of this community, society at large tends to frown on young people who F.I.R.E. As long as a F.I.R.E has enough money to take care of himself, his responsibilities to his family and not be a burden to others, ultimately what others think should not be a big issue. I view it as an achievement when someone is able to reach financial freedom before 35.

    One problem about F.I.R.E that you have not mention. While the views of others outside family should not matter, the views of your would-be family matters though. Parents will see their future son-in-law in a negative light if he F.I.R.E and becomes "jobless" before 35. I wish you best of luck that your parents-in-laws are open-minded enough to accept who you are, who you want to be, what you want to do and not pressure you to become someone you don't like to be, given that you have the means to do what you want without being a burden to society.

    1. That's right, and a good point mentioned. This issue has not surfaced (yet) with my partner and her parents, but we'll see :)

  4. Stumbled upon yr blog.
    The sudden loss of a huge part of your identity is something to grapple with when you fire. Thought of giving back to society, thru volunteerism or doing a part time role somewhere thar is aligned with yiur interest?

    1. Yep, that was a likely path I have explored. Have been doing some part time dive training, and considering to go for yoga teacher training and teach part time.

      I do admit there's quite a substantial amount of inertia in undertaking volunteering projects, given I'm particular in choosing who and what I spend time on, and also the returns on time - obviously haven't shed my capitalism roots.

      With regards to part-time, perhaps in the future, though I grapple with the notion that if something should be done, it should be done with all out vigour, instead of adopting a half hearted approach, so I struggle with melding that to part time work.