The Dangers of Browsing

Perhaps I’m a freak of nature or just plain weird but I just don’t seem to have as much problem resisting shopping as others. I think perhaps that I never particularly enjoyed the experience of going to the mall without having something specific to buy. Or as Cait pointed out recently on her blog that the danger really isn’t the shopping itself but rather the browsing.

For me, I generally don’t browse much to start with. Rather I tend to keep a list of things I might be interested in getting and let that sit for a week or two before I consider even shopping for the item. Thus most of the time my browsing is kept well chained and I don’t worry about my occasional minor impulse purchases for something like a ten pack of TimBits. Well except for the last two years where I realized I had developed a problem with one particular type of purchase: video games.

Pardon? Well perhaps a bit of backstory is in order. You see I stopped buying video games entirely for a few decades after finishing university as I was busy with other things in life. The decision wasn’t really intentional but rather accidental. I just was busy with other things and didn’t do it. Then several years ago we bought a Wii for the family and then bought the occasional game for that. Often more with the kids in mind than myself. So yes I played video games with them and enjoyed them but never too often and I never really had a browsing issue.

Yet that all changed back in 2015 for two main reasons. First up was I bought a new laptop that actually had some decent hardware and could actually run some games if I wanted. This was a first as up to this point in life I didn’t really consider running video games when buying a computer. Up to that point I tended to replace my laptops once I have problems running software that I need (like antivirus or tax software). So by virtue of that we tend to keep out laptops for five years or more at a cycle. The the second main reason things changed was a friend introduced me to a website called Gog.com, which stands for ‘Good Old Games.’ Here I found copies of videos games that I wanted to play from before my decade long drought at reasonable prices. So I got an account and bought a few classic games.

Then the trouble started as I realized something very shortly about the site. Just about everything on it goes on sale at some point during the year. So I got into the habit of browsing for titles and add them to my wish list and then check that list once a sale occurred. Then the site added a feature where they would email you to let you know when an item from your wish list went on sale. This lead me to become a regular shopper when they had a big sale which seemed to occur every few months. Then finally in 2017 things started to get a bit out of hand. I began to realize that I was buying far more games than I really could play in a reasonable amount of time.

So I began to control the spending in 2017 a bit more by setting flat amount of money that I would be willing to spend per sale. Typically this was $20, which isn’t a lot but can start to add up over a year. But this little trick also got me to start buying some games because they looked vaguely interesting and they were heavily discounted. Like in some cases for a dollar or two. I justified the behaviour because I thought I was ‘stocking up’ prior to leaving work in 2017.

Yet at the end of 2017 I had to face the facts. My collection on gog.com contained over 90 games and some of which would take over a 100 hours to play while even the shortest ones were like four or more hours. All in total I likely had years worth of game playing time ahead of me and I wasn’t playing them as fast as I was buying them. I had managed to develop a browsing and shopping habit that was on the very start of being unhealthy in my mind.

The one event that really brought this into focus was talking to a friend one day who also liked video games and he showed me an app that calculated the total game play time on all his various accounts (his GOG account alone was over 300 games) and it was literally more the the rest of his current lifetime assuming he didn’t sleep. To me that was crazy! He wasn’t buying games to play anymore. He was literally just collecting them and I saw just a bit of myself in his habits.

So with that shock of horror I realized I was turning into a collector I started a shopping ban for 2018. No buying video games from Gog.com for a year. Yet after reading Cait’s article I recently concluded that while I wasn’t buying games for months now I still had a browsing problem. I was still going to the site periodically to browse even when I had a ban on buying anything. While it had not been a problem yet, I was setting myself up to fail if I wasn’t being very careful. So now I have to sort out how I want to control or limit my browsing habit and I’m debating just going cold turkey.

And to clarify my horror about turning into a collector wasn’t really about the money involved. All in total I was spending $100 or less a year on video games. The money isn’t the issue here but rather my concern had to do with my time. By buying these dirt cheap games I was setting myself up to hours and hours of my time to even just try out a game even if I didn’t finish it. So with each purchase I was committing future me to more and more game time which I really didn’t want to do. I enjoy video games as a form of entertainment, but I don’t want to commitment too much of my life towards them. I have other hobbies and interests I also enjoy.

So what do you have a browsing problem with? How did you get over it or control it?

What’s It Like To Be Retired

Despite the simplicity of the question:what’s it like to be retired? The answer is a bit hard to explain.

I think also part of the difficulty of explaining what it is like to be retired is the default pictures you carry around in your head of what it should be. For the ‘I never want to retire‘ crowd it would be someone just sitting around not doing anything. For the ‘entrepreneur type person‘ it would be starting a new business idea. And for the ‘burnt out employee‘ it would be an endless vacation but of course none of those are correct.

So the short answer is: it’s like Saturday all the time. You still have stuff to do, but you enjoy your day because you have time to relax and not worry about your job. The long answer is a bit harder to nail down.

I think in part the difficulty lies in the flexibility of the retired lifestyle. The flexibility also means that things shift around a bit more than people are used to. I’m not required to get up at a specific time or do things in any specific order. Other than the occasional appointment or event in my calendar I often had days at a time with nothing booked per say.

I also suspect that it is hard to explain because people really don’t grasp the idea of how much Parkinson’s Law applies to your time. For those of you that forget the law states that a given task will expand to the time allocated to it. So now some mornings I’m into a the book that I’m reading and can spend two or three hours just getting dressed, eating breakfast and reading while finishing the morning pot of coffee.

Another issue that comes up is the fact that I let my inner curiosity guide me a lot more in life now. I’ll read about something in the news and want to learn more. So I’ll do a few Google searches on it, read a few articles and/or watch some YouTube videos on the topic. This can depending on the topic consume an hour or two or even days as I request a book for the library and do further research on a topic. All because I’m curious and I can.

And finally I think one of the major issues people don’t understand is the fact you won’t want to do nothing. Okay, you might be a bit lazy at the start but eventually you want to contribute to something and accomplish something else. People really won’t do nothing for years at a time. The desire to create, build or achieve something is still there after you leave work. Each person will do things that matter to them and not anyone else. So progress on their given goals can be all over the map. So I know retirees that flip houses or run for political office or start a business. Some might become an activist for a cause or volunteer for an organization that matters to them. Then specifically for the majority of early retirees we tend to be self motivated people who tend to like to take on long and complex projects like getting to early retirement. So to suddenly do nothing for years on end is just laughable.

So with all that said about what early retirement isn’t, what am I doing with my time? The same things I enjoyed doing prior to retirement. I read a lot, enjoy some movies and TV shows (on Netlix or DVD from the library), cook, brew wine and beer, visit with my friends, do family activities like playing a board game or going swimming and of course writing on this blog and other projects. I just tend to do more of those things and take my time to enjoy the present more. I know hardly earth shattering but that is what I care about.

What do you plan to do in your retirement? Or what did you end up doing if you are retired?

I Don’t Have Enough Money, But I Retired at 40 Anyway

It might sound odd coming from a personal finance blogger, but the truth of the matter is I don’t have enough money for early retirement but I retired before my 40th birthday anyway.  Oddly enough, despite all the readers on this blog no one has really called me out on this so far. Why?

Because I was honest enough to state what I’m doing really isn’t a full on ‘I never plan to work again retirement‘ but rather a ‘I plan on doing some fun work during a semi-retirement.’  And in that little shift of wording on what I planned to do made a huge difference between being able to leave now and being able to leave two to five more years in the future.  You see despite most personal finance bloggers obsession with numbers and saying you need to have around 25 times or more of your annual expenses saved to retired the secret it this: it’s actually bullshit if you semi-retire.  In fact you can think about leaving work when you are around 80% of the way there.

Pardon? Well you see the analysis behind that 25 times your expenses (also know as the 4% rule) is solid, but my beef is with one of the underlying assumptions which is: you never receive any additional money from work or other sources.  Basically it assumes you only use your investment income to live off of, which is fine if you really plan to NEVER work again, but generally ignores certain items in reality.  For example, it ignores you may get some government benefits in your old age (like Old Age Security in Canada or Social Security in the US) and it also ignores the fact it is fairly easy to earn small quantities of income when you don’t have a full time job.

So let’s break each one of those down.  First off you will be getting some kind of income from your government when you get older.  You can debate how much depending on which country you live in and how well funded the given program is.  As an example, in Canada the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is rock solid and has enough to easily make its obligations for my retirement.  On the other hand the Old Age Security program is paid out of the current yearly revenue for the government and thus has a significantly higher degree of being altered in the future to change either the qualifications to get the money or reducing benefits or increasing the age to collect it.  Yet despite all of that I’ll likely get something from both programs and during my model work for my retirement I just assumed half of the OAS payments.

Now onto that second point about earning income.  The internet seems awash in articles about having a side hustle to earn extra income so if you even just keep on doing a hustle you can likely bring in $3000 to $5000 a year fairly easily.  For example, minimum wage where I live is currently $10.96 per hour and even at half time (20 hours a week) that is $11,398 per year income.  Or if you do just 10 hours a week you could still pull in $5669 a year and that is at minimum wage.  Imagine for a second how little you would need to work if you get a higher wage.  In my particular case I’m going to take a stab at writing fiction for some income first and if that doesn’t work out I will consider other options.  Also it helps my wife has decided to keep her home based daycare running for a few more years which provides some income for us.

In the end, the reality of the situation is this.  If you are prepared to do some work after you leave your job and you are willing to depend somewhat on government benefits you can likely get away with about 80% of your target savings amount and reduce your working career by a few extra years.  Of course there are risks doing this such as not having any other income for long periods or poor investing returns.  Yet managing those issues is entirely possible.

You just need to have some backup plans in case things don’t work out and also keep a bit of a cash buffer around to allow you avoid work for periods of time if required.  So in our case we have one backup plan which is linked to my wife’s decision to shutdown her daycare.  We would downsize the house and move.  This should free up some money from the house and also reduce our property taxes going forwards.

But the reality is your current situation of having a job also has risks.  We just tend to ignore them as we are so used to having them.  For example, job security is largely non-existent.  The reality is that if the company is willing to spend the money they can fire  you or lay you off at any moment without much of a reason either.  We know this but we just don’t think about it all that much.  So what you are really doing with an early retirement is just changing your risks, not removing them.

So what do you think?  Would you be willing to enter a semi-retirement to get out of work sooner? Or are you more interested in not having to ever work again?

A blog about early retirement and happiness