1 Year in to Early Retirement

Lessons from Early Retirement on Living a Fulfilled Life

My campsite this morning in Montana on my 1 year anniversary of retirement

Retiring Early

After spending my twenties post-college bouncing around taking whatever low paying job I could find, and then finally going back to school to get started on a career, I spent just under four years working in a career in Software Development in my thirties before calling it quits and retiring at 36.

My home in Monument Valley

When you aren’t working that is literally when you live your life, and in retirement it’s your whole life, so you better damned make it a fulfilling one.

Some might call the decision to live in a van a sacrifice. Though I would laugh at the idea that I’ve sacrificed something. I travel full time, see the country, for the most part stay where I want, when I want, for how long I want. This first year I’ve visited 11 national parks, traveled through 21 states, visited family members for over two months, been to a bunch of the places in America I’ve been wanting to go for many years, and overall had a year of amazing experiences. All on the cheap and none of this would be possible if I were living in a house or apartment somewhere.

Retirement Year One

I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty lazy my first year in retirement. I mean sure, I’ve traveled up and down southern half of the east coast, across almost the entire southern end of the country, up through the southwest to the pacific northwest, and now across the north from the coast to Montana. But outside of traveling I’ve been pretty lazy. In terms of expanding myself in the ways I’ve been looking forward to — learning new skills, picking up knowledge in different topics, getting fitter and healthier than ever, and building income streams/businesses/ways to make money through passion projects — I’ve taken a pretty chill year and only dabbled in such things. The nice thing about that is I now know what not to do in early retirement, and I still had a fantastic adventurous year despite being pretty lazy.

Start everyday working towards the goals you’ve set out for yourself and you will achieve them.

What follows in the next section are some lessons I’ve learned on how to live a more filled and fulfilling life when you don’t have a job taking up five out of every seven days of your existence. If you aren’t an extremely driven person, or your drive comes from your job, it is very easy in retirement (early or not) to fall into a state of just relaxing and not really doing much as the days, weeks, and months roll on by. Right now, sitting at your desk or wherever doing your job, you might think it’d be great to just do nothing, but trust me, after a year of mostly doing just that (other than traveling a ton), I can tell you you’re going to want to occupy your time with things and people you enjoy.

The sky’s the limit in early retirement. (Big Bend National Park)

Year 2 and Beyond: How to live a great retired life at any age

Today I close out my first year of retirement and begin the next year. With the lessons learned from my first year I expect the future to be very fulfilling. Here are some of the main lessons I’ve learned so far and how I plan to make year 2 and beyond of my retirement even better and a lot more fulfilling than was year 1.

Lesson 1: Make sure you are financially secure

Due to a couple unforeseen events related to the Covid pandemic I got pretty dang low on liquid cash by the beginning of the summer. I’m a little better now and will be back to having a very good buffer of cash in a couple months, but I should have planned a little better for unforeseen events. Make sure to always keep at least a year’s worth of money in the bank in case income streams go through a dry spell or some expensive cost suddenly comes your way. Being imminently worried about money is the last thing you should be concerned about in early retirement because the whole point of being able to retire early is the fact that you aren’t worried about money anymore.

Being imminently worried about money is the last thing you should be concerned about in early retirement because the whole point of being able to retire early is the fact that you aren’t worried about money anymore.

The final part of this lesson is to keep a monthly budget so you make sure to keep your expenses below whatever income level you are at, especially if you retired at a point where your income only just covers your expenses. I keep track of my budget in a spreadsheet and can track how much I spend on different categories of my budget and see if over the long term I am hitting what I expected to be my average monthly budget in retirement.

Lesson 2: Set Goals. Figure out what you want to achieve in life

This is probably the most important lesson. If you aren’t achieving what you want to in life, especially when you haven nothing but free time, what the hell are you doing with your life?!

  1. Start writing and possibly turn that into an income stream
  2. Learn lots of new things in software development and eventually make money on my own from creating software as passion projects
  3. Read a ton
  4. Learn Art: drawing and painting
  5. Learn to play Music: Piano and Ukulele
  6. Study topics I have interests in like Math, Philosophy, Engineering, and several sciences most notably Physics. Maybe even try to learn some foreign languages even though I’ve always been terrible at that.
  7. Travel and explore

Lesson 3: Make more social connections

If you are free all day while most people you know are at work or otherwise busy, you might find yourself kind of lonely. You lose the social interaction you received at work and also don’t have new social interactions with which to replace it. This is the hardest thing for me because I’m on the move traveling full time, but recently I decided to create a sort of home base region in the pacific northwest where I will stay in a region of a few towns/cities and the surrounding area between periods in which I’m traveling. This way I can actual create connections and foster a social community to engage with while I’m not actively traveling.

A cold night of star gazing with friends in Marfa TX

Lesson 4: Be productive to start everyday

This applies to everyone, but it is more important and more doable when you aren’t waking up to go to a job. As the day passes, it gets easier and easier to tell yourself you’ll get this or that done tomorrow because it’s already late in the day today. The best way to accomplish things in retirement, and live up to lessons 2 and 3, are to be at your most productive early in the day. You can then allow yourself to relax later if you want, or just be super productive doing stuff all day if you’re in the mood. It also helps to wake up early. Start everyday working towards the goals you’ve set out for yourself and you will achieve them.

Lesson 5: Take time for introspection each week

It’s good to check in with yourself every once in a while and keep track of how you are living your life. I recommend once at the end of each week just think about your week and if you did a good job working towards the long term goals, or engaging in social activities or family in the way you want to be doing. It’s pretty easy for days and even weeks to sort of blend together when you don’t have a job. You’ll live a more satisfying life if you do a little introspection each week to think about whether or not you lived the past week the way you want to be living, and if you didn’t, how you’re going to do more the next week.

Top of Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park

American nomad, semi-retired/entrepretrying, coder, cryptocurrency investor, dog owner, burgeoning human. Briefly caught across a few ordinary moments in time.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store