Here’s What the First Month of ‘Early Retirement’ Has Been Like

My husband quit his job as an auto mechanic at a dealership one month ago (April 12th). Today, May 12th, I wanted to sit down and report on what this was like. I know I was curious to hear about updates from folks who FIRE-d, so I wanted to take a moment to jot down this “journal entry” of what our first month of Freedom has been like as a family.

Firstly, I’ve been fascinated at how much achieving FIRE has affected me, especially since I’ve been a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom).

So let me back up a little bit: I quit my corporate career five years ago–just a handful of months before giving birth to our first child. It was such a relief to get out of a cubicle, working for companies that required and valued “face time” in the office (as opposed to letting you get work done remotely, at home), which had me staring at three to four (or more!) screens at once.

Five years ago, sitting at my cubicle with six screens/devices (including the iPhone this photo was taken with)

I enjoyed a fast-paced career that included titles such as Website Manager, Sales & Distribution Manager, Journalist, Managing Editor, UGC Editor, Editor-in-Chief, Digital Marketer, Director of Marketing…to name a few. I was a “yes” person and took on any interesting new opportunity I found and stacked a lot of skillsets along the way. I held leadership positions which had me overseeing coworkers that were two or three times my age. I received awards like “30 Under 30” or “Nashville’s Emerging Leader Award” and had articles written about me in media like Girl’s Life Magazine and Huffington Post. I was on the board for multiple nonprofits and chaired big charity events or hosted concerts or startup pitches. I was always stressed and always exhausted. I never had time to do my personal passion projects and my big dreams remained on hold. …and then that all came to a screeching halt as soon as I got completely out of debt and experienced the wave of hormonal changes of pregnancy. How on earth other women continue to go into work until they go into labor baffles me. Pregnancy is hard!!! I turned in my two week’s notice, became a digital marketing contractor so I could work from home, and sat my big, swollen pregnant self down on the couch.

However, quitting the rat-race and becoming a SAHM did not feel as liberating as one might think. Instead, I had a total identity crisis and it made the hormone-fueled postpartum period even harder to get through. I had attached so much of my self-worth to my career successes and job titles that I felt very lost and …of no value or importance. On one hand, I was sick of working in offices with no windows and having no real life; but on the other hand, every time I met a new person in our new town and they said “So, what do you do?” I cringed and made myself small because I thought I was a nobody…”just a mom.”

So I’ll fast-foward and gloss over the bit of the story where I get over this and “re-find myself” and my value and happiness. And I want to touch on how hard being the main care provider for two kids can be. Being a SAHM does not feel like “early retirement.” It’s exhausting work picking up after chaotic little tornadoes that rip through the house, keeping their faces and butts clean, and making breakfast, lunch and dinner and 100 other snacks throughout the day while one of them is also attached to your boob. The perfectionist in me wanted a spotless house and a gourmet dinner on the table every night when my husband came home. I know…how 1950s of me. But any job I do, I try to do it well, so I took home-making and mothering very seriously and it was still… work.

Welcome to SAHP (Stay-at-Home-Parenting)

So here’s the point I’ve been trying to build up to: Usually, when you hear about people FIRE-ing, it’s just from their 9-5 job. But what about the SAHMs when the household achieves FIRE? Is it still exactly the same for the person who was already at home? Well, from my new experience, I’ll answer that with a big “No.” Even though I’m technically still a SAHM, the minute my husband retired from work, it’s as if everything for me also changed! It all became so much easier.

All of my previous “duties” are now shared. Instead of me being the “main parent” while my husband was off at work the majority of the time, we are now more like “co-parents.” I realize this is a term usually reserved for divorced parents that are both trying to work together as a team, but what I mean is that we are both equally parenting. It’s not just me saying “No” all day long, I now only have to say “No” 50% of the time, while my husband can take on the other 50%. He’s more of a disciplinarian and something in his masculine tone makes our little girls pay closer attention to his requests. If I ask the kids to pick something up, there’s an 80% chance they’ll ignore me or push the boundary somehow. If he asks the same question, there’s a 95% they’ll do it right away. Now that he’s home, I can just add a little “Do it now or I’ll tell your father” and my requests are now listened to, since he’s only a room away.

My husband is a very focused, disciplined and streamlined kind of man. It’s a huge reason why we were able to achieve what we achieved with financial independence so quickly. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but do you remember Captain Von Trapp, the Dad in “The Sound of Music?” That’s how I feel like my husband, Jeremy, has whipped our family into shape over the past month. There is a system. There is order. There is routine. There are high expectations.

Having Jeremy here as a SAHD (stay-at-home-dad) alongside me has made parenting feel so much easier. Part of this is that the kids are taking more responsibility for their messes and he has them picking up after themselves. If you know my husband, you know that he is FUN and he is a big joker. He’s totally still a kid at heart. So please don’t misunderstand him by that description. He’s just very good at drawing a line between having a lot of fun and also keeping a clean house.

Housework is Easier

Which brings me to my next point: Our house is so much cleaner. Not only are the kids pitching in more, but my husband is also doing the laundry and cleaning the dishes alongside me. We don’t have any division of household chores. It really comes down to whoever notices something needs to be done. If you notice the dryer has stopped spinning, you fold that laundry and move the other load over. If you notice all the dishes are dry in the drying rack, you put them away. Since we both are functioning in this “handle-it-as-soon-as-you-see-it” kind of way…everything is just …done. Any mother reading this probably just had her brain explode. I feel like mine has been exploding all month as I no longer feel like I’m just running down an infinite to-do list, only to have to redo everything I just did an hour later, so the list is never truly done. What once seemed like an impossibility, is now perpetually just done. I’m sitting here writing this blog and there is no laundry to do and the dishes are all clean and my house is completely picked up. How amazing is that?!

Also related: We have been decluttering together all of the random spots we glossed over in previous purges. For example, we did the pantry together and the ..dun dun dunnnn… JUNK DRAWER. It now has nothing but clothespins and two lighters in it (for chip clips and birthday candles). Remarkable!

My closet these days. I’m loving it!

Dinner is Fun

Similarly, dinner is now fun again! I used to loathe cooking dinner because the mental load of having to plan for, grocery shop, remember to thaw things out, begin prepping and chopping and getting everything ready to put in the oven around 4 p.m. so it would be ready by 5:30 p.m. was CRAPPY. I hated it. I hated dinner. I used to like cooking, but after five years of trying to come up with ideas and then spending a large chunk of my day trying to make it while juggling all of the things…I developed a hatred for it. My husband would come home STARVING after a long day of work with no lunch break (yeah…I know.) and I wanted to have it ready the moment he walked in the door because (1) I love him and want to take care of him and (2) he’d otherwise probably get really “hangry” and no one can really help that. Now, all of the decisions are made together and it’s a happy toss-up between us to see who is in the mood to grab groceries or start dinner. And lucky for me, my husband absolutely loves cooking, so he does it most of the time and has a blast in there. It’s a creative outlet for him. The other day I spent hours cooking pizza from scratch and I enjoyed the entire process–likely because I didn’t “have” to cook it that night and I’d also had three nights off from cooking.

So as you can see, the household side of things has become a team effort and that has made life feel so much lighter and easier.

April 21st…9 days into early retirement. Making a whole bunch of jelly from scratch for the girls’ PB&Js.

Business… Partners

On the other side of things, we have our vacation rental business. Before, I was not only juggling all of the household tasks and parenting by myself, but I was also the only person managing and cleaning the properties. So I was constantly cleaning THREE houses and doing THREE households’ worth of laundry around the clock. Constantly scrubbing toilets and sweeping and washing linens…. Dude. That sucked. But when you look at how much revenue these cleaning fees bring in…often over $2,000 a month in just cleaning fees (!!), we just couldn’t justify hiring a cleaner just yet. The ROI on our vacation rentals is insane…especially because we do not give out a larger percentage to a property management company (I manage them) and we don’t hire a cleaner (I clean them…well, now WE clean them).

Now, when a renter checks out, my husband and I head over to the property with the kids and we have cut the time it takes to clean a rental in half! While I strip and make the beds and sweep, he is vacuuming and wiping. We used to have to wait until the rare occasion that we didn’t have a renter on the weekend for him to do any maintenance projects. Now, he is doing maintenance on things after each renter and our properties are in tip-tip shape! We are splitting the rental business duties and now it takes up so much less time and stress and I don’t feel as disgruntled about it. We have a lot of fun together, so putting on some music or a good podcast and cleaning a vacation house with my husband is fun and no longer feels like “work.”

Jeremy biking two baby oak trees five miles down the street to plant at a vacation rental. Here’s why he does he not drive a truck.

Sexy Time

Might be a little TMI, but I also feel like it’s probably logically expected: FIRE sex is fire. It’s just logical that you take away the ridiculous amount of stress that comes from working in this culture, and even the stress of running a household and parenting, and add in a wealth of time on your hands and….well, sex is no longer an act that you’re lucky to pull off in the random wee hours before work or put off until the weekend. For us, at least, it immediately became plentiful passionate love making. We have free afternoons and nothing stressing us out and no deadlines to race towards. I mean…what else does one do when you’re stranded on an island with your rather good-looking spouse. No, I’m not giving you any more details than that. But I think it’s worth mentioning that there is a definite side-effect/plus side to “retiring early.” It’s so sad to think that most people don’t get to experience this wealth of time together until they’re basically elderly!!! I’m grateful I’m getting long afternoons with my husband while we’re both …physically able and full of energy. Okay that’s enough on that!

rawr 😉

In The Flow

Along the same vein, once all that stress was taken away and we suddenly found ourselves with a clean house and free time…our creativity is ramping up! About a week into this, I noticed it happening to both of us and it’s starting to increase a lot as of this last week. I’m brimming with ideas for my book, this blog, my podcast and have a few art ideas brewing, too. Jeremy wrote half a song two weeks ago, has dabbled with some woodworking things and just now–as I’m writing this–he dashed out of the room because he had a new song idea and I guess he’s running off to record it or play with his guitar. I love seeing that distant look with a twinkle in his eye. The same thing happens to me. That “Flow State” is so important to our mental health and when you’re busy working for other people or too busy working to keep your household barely afloat, it gets really hard to carve out time to get into The Flow. I have a feeling that our future updates on FIRE life will be chock full of creative endeavors. (Update: I found him in the hammock with his guitar, working on a good new riff).

27 days into early retirement… helping me edit music for my podcast.

So that’s all for the overarching description of how life already feels easier, but I wanted to give some specifics of what we’ve done in our first month of “early retirement” (*which is “Barista FI” in style, because we still are doing small income-producing jobs for ourselves, so we are not dipping into any investments.)

WHAT WE DID

The first day of “early retirement,” we packed up the car and headed straight to our hometown, seven hours away to visit our families, which we hadn’t seen in far too long. The distance, coupled with a pandemic, has made getting together even harder. We visited both sets of our parents and we both had some very big, very personal things we needed to accomplish while there. Each of us had some things stressing us out, but once we were able to go home and handle things in person, those worries were resolved and we eventually drove back home in much happier spirits. If he had continued working, which made it even harder to ever go visit family, there’s no telling how long these personal things would have been left unresolved and what that constant stream of cortisol would do to our mental and physical health. It’s so important to just have Time to go and deal with the important things.

While there, we got to visit with lots of farm animals at Jeremy’s sister’s house and the cows at his mother’s. I made some videos on my personal YouTube account just so I can hold onto these memories (again, a creative outlet for me…but also something I used to “not have time for.”)

It took about two weeks, I’d wager, for Jeremy to settle into this a little more. I don’t know if he’s completely relaxed into it yet, but he’s getting there. By this, I mean that it was pretty hard to wrap his head around “This is not just a weekend” or “This is not just a two-week vacation.” He also has a little “PTSD” that crops up anytime there’s a car dealership commercial on Pandora/YouTube or if someone asks, “So, what do you do?” You can see a flash of stress/revulsion across his face.

He’s enjoyed going surfing in the morning, any time there is swell. Poor guy used to have to just longingly look at the live surf cams on YouTube while he went into work and missed all the good days. Lately, on small days, he’s taken our 4-year old daughter, Etta, out to begin teaching her. She’s loving it! (Hilarious little video of her here).

Whenever our kids want his attention, he’s been able to give it. The other day, Etta was busy trying to make a parachute for one her small dolls. She’d decorated tissue paper with markers, then attached it with string to the doll, but was in the early stages of a possible melt down as she saw that her creative science experiment was failing and the tissue paper was not making the doll float down like a parachute should. With her bottom lip on the verge of trembling, she went to her Daddy and asked him for some help. He stopped whatever it was he was doing and immediately went to work gathering the supplies around the house that would make a legitimate mini-parachute. The two worked together until they’d made a successful parachute that brought her doll down from the height of her treehouse. How amazing is it that our kids are now getting full attention??

We also have been able to split our “homeschool pre-school” activities between the two of us, so they are getting more learning in with their own private teacher. Side-by-side, we all sit down and Etta works with Daddy while Faera works with Mommy. They’re nailing their ABCs and 123s and phonics and all the other little activities in the preschool notebooks. It’s easier than trying to juggle this with just one parent, because if I gave Etta attention, Faera would scribble scrabble all over her page before I could guide her through the little assignment. This has been a cool new bonus I didn’t think about before.

We have been getting a lot more nature-time in. We have been going on canoe trips and nature hikes and we are doing it on weekdays instead of weekends! This means the rivers and trails are peacefully empty. Ahhhh! So nice!

My favorite adventure was to Silver Springs, FL. The water is crystal clear and you can see all of the fish, turtles, seaweed, alligators and other critters swimming beneath your boat. It’s amazing!!! I made another little home video of this trip.

Jeremy has randomly had a lot of side-work trickle in. To be clear, he hardly EVER had side-work when he was working full-time. But frankly, he didn’t have the time! The thing that baffles me the most, is that we haven’t marketed this…it’s just happened. It’s been in the strangest ways, too. For example, one of my side-hustles is dog-sitting on the Rover app. There’s a repeat client who brings her dogs over about once a month and I mentioned Jeremy was a mechanic and quit his job… so she referred her son to him and he had a car to work on. Another strange connection was one of our renters from AirBnB booked a property for a month as they had just bought a house on the island and were waiting to close. I mentioned Jeremy was “handy” and had renovated that property and was available to do any odd jobs should something crop up. Sure enough, they called a few weeks later with small odd jobs that are too little for most contractors to make priority, but perfect for someone like Jeremy to come over and take care of for a small fee. Our landlord mentioned she had just gotten a property that is a complete gut-job. Guess who is available and stoked for Demo-Day? Jeremy. A neighbor down the street works for a concrete company and they needed one more guy to help out. Guess who was available and was interested to learn more about the art of concrete? Jeremy. I just a had a Rover dog-sitting booking that totals to $530! That’s just a handful of examples. But there have been so many things like this! Despite that, we haven’t felt “busy.” Somehow, random little odd jobs seem to keep landing in our laps and so we’ve brought in income that we never calculated in or expected when we decided to FIRE. Because of this, we will have more than enough to sustain our already-frugal lifestyle and will not need to dip into our investments. They’ll continue to compound and grow on their own and we’ll happily “side hustle” without feeling like we are actually hustling.

On May 10th & 11th we had non-stressed “work for ourselves” days. We cleaned the cottage, he finished a car, we cleaned the condo, he fixed someone’s ceiling fan, we washed all the laundry for the next bookings, he fixed a random plumbing issue for someone…and so on.

Today, May 12th? Precisely one month since FIRE-ing? We have nothing to do. In fact, we have absolutely nothing on our calendar for four days. And yet, checks deposit in our account from AirBnB, VRBO and Rover. Our investment account goes up a little bit. Our cryptocurrency account goes up a lot more. So we are debating going on a camping trip or a canoe-camping trip. Or we might work on our personal projects. Or both? We’ll see….

And that’s what the first month of “early retirement” has looked like for us. 🙂

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