I entered early retirement one year ago at age 37. As perhaps one of the least wealthy early retirees here, I thought I would summarize what I have learned and experienced these past twelve months.Financials.I retired with a net worth of approximately $175,000. I squandered $7000 of accrued vacation pay during my first six months with virtually no reduction in my standard of living. But in January of this year, I was dismayed to find my first annual SEPP from my IRA in the amount of only $9000, some $2000 less than the $11,000 I had budgeted before last fall's market demise. Neverthless, I have adapted and will continue to do so. Anything but going back to work! When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.Fast Food.Slashing fast food from my budget saves me two hundred dollars a month. I thought for sure I would experience serious withdrawal. After all, who really knows what they put in a Big Mac? Fortunately that wasn't the case, and the fat has migrated nicely from my waistline to my wallet.Income Taxes.I am very pleased to report that I will owe no federal or state taxes this year. It's especially satisfying in that the bulk of my income is from tax-deferred 401(k) savings. I deferred at 28% and am paying at 0%. Not a bad deal, IMHO. No tax rebate envy here.Diversification.I learned the hard way that the stock market isn't exactly dependable, so for the first time in my life, I looked into bonds and found Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, TIPS for short. So far I have been very happy with their plus-7% performance, and plan to gradually move more of my assets into TIPS.Part-time work.I had a brief three-week stint working at a nearby garden nursery this spring. I thought it would be a lot more fun than it was. Instead, I was expected to do twenty things at once, with minimal compensation and even less appreciation.I now have new-found respect for those still in the working world earning minimum wage. For many such desperate individuals, the world of employment can be especially unrewarding.Exercise.Retiring early allowed me to pursue mountain biking on a full-time basis. In the past year, I have ridden over 6000 miles and have lost 15 pounds. My percent body fat has dropped from 32% to 22%. I never did stretches before retiring, and doing so has immensely improved my riding performance. I am in the best shape of my life and truly looking forward to breaking some personal records in a local bike race on July 4. Wish me luck!General Health.The typical indoor office work environment, coupled with co-workers passing germs to one another like candy, often gave me constant sniffles and occasional body aches and pains. Since retiring, they have all but gone away.Health Insurance.Ever since I started reading the REHP board, I have become totally disenchanted with health care in general, and health care insurance in particular. The shortage of qualified medical personnel and modern facilities, combined with the stress of being a medical professional in this day and age, paints a bleak picture of the health service industry at a time when costs and insurance premiums are going through the roof. Television.I like watching TV. A lot. I probably watch four or five hours of it every day. I know it rots my brain but so what. It's my brain, I can rot it if I want to. Friends.As you know, I have a 16-year-old neighborhood friend who continues to visit occasionally, who's fast becoming an avid mountain cyclist. I have no kids of my own, so interacting with him satisfies an primordial urge of mine to perform a pseudo-parental role. I think it's really cool that he hangs out with an old geezer like myself. His irrational youthful exuberance rubs off on me at times. It keeps me feeling young, an important component of early retirement.I also try to have lunch with former co-workers at least twice a month, and to keep in touch with a lot of them via email at least once a week. It's great to hear how much they hate working, and how much they miss me.The Internet.The arrival of high-speed internet access has allowed me to participate in various online communities, like this one. I spend a lot of time researching topics of interest on the World Wide Web, which never ceases to amaze me in terms of the breadth and depth of its knowledge.One thing I try to do every day on the internet is play a game of bridge or mahjongg. I find it keeps my mind keen---I really notice if I go several days without the game playing.Pets.Now that I'm around them a lot more, my cats have grown much more affectionate towards me and don't scratch the furniture nearly as much. They remain a vital, integral part of my daily existence.House.My mortgage payments and property taxes gobble 80% of my income. For this reason, I'm planning on selling my home within the next year. With the equity, I plan to buy a Recreational Vehicle in which I'll live full-time and travel the country. The RV lifestyle allows much better control of living expenses than a house or even an apartment, since RVers can "boondock" for next to nothing in various places for weeks or even months at a time.Fun.Fun often involves spending money, which is hard when you're living on just $9,000/year. Fortunately, mountain biking is both relatively inexpensive and thoroughly enjoyable. I especially like riding at night when it's cooler and the animals are more active.When I was employed, I used to do the typical bar and dance club scene all the time, but I hardly miss it at all now. It was a toxic lifestyle I used to deal with the stress of work, but now there's little need for it.Volunteering.They are building a new junior high school right down the street from me and stocking it with computers. I have already emailed the principal and she is delighted that I am willing to help set them up this summer. I am really looking forward to it. I am also considering working with Habitat for Humanity and the local no-kill cat shelter, although I am somewhat apprehensive. I don't want to develop a psychological need to perform such work, simply to fill a void. And the last thing I want is to become attached to more cats! Two is enough, especially in an RV! Still, I'm considering it...TMF REHP Board.I can't say enough good things about this board. I've been here for two years now and I've learned so much it isn't funny. I know that without it, I never would have imagined it was even possible to retire on as little as what I have. Early retirement has opened up a new, exciting chapter in my life, and it's only the beginning.The support offered by the board members has been invaluable. Posting here has also helped me develop a better and hopefully more mature writing style, which I dedicate to my dad, a newspaper writer and editor. I think he would have been proud if he hadn't died at the young age of 56---one of the reasons I chose to retire now, rather than wait.My Future.I remain a prisoner of the stock market. Although I have some cash assets outside my IRA, my annual SEPP, the bulk of my income, is tightly tied to the value of the S&P 500 index. I would very much like to see VFINX above $130 or even $120 at the end of the year. I am pleased with the aggressive stance of the Fed, and it is my fervent hope that the economy makes a healthy recovery. The sooner the better.Other than that, I have virtually no regrets about winning the rat race. I cannot adequately express in words what it means to not have to wake up early to perform the same mindless bidding of my employer and spend every weekend in decompression, and then repeat this whole process week after week, year after year.
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