It is only 11 days until Christmas and I’ve already got my best present so far: low stress.
How? Well it comes from two main things in my experience. First we have always been the sort of people that plan to get things done early during the holiday season. So by Dec 1 we usually have the following already done:
- Home is decorated and tree is up
- 90% of presents are already bought and we are under budget
- Family Christmas picture is taken and prints are ordered
- Wish Lists have been finished and sent to others
- Christmas baking recipes are picked out and ingredients are purchased
So that means that we don’t have that much we actually need to do in December itself which leaves more time to actual enjoy the holidays rather than getting freaked out trying to get everything done in a week or two.
Then the other main item we try to do is keep our amount of social engagements from getting out of hand. For example, this week and next week we only have a handful of items on our family calendar. This leaves us time to hang out with our kids and just have fun. For example, last Sunday we went sledding in the morning, drank hot chocolate after, built a snowman in the afternoon and then baked cookies with the kids. My youngest declared it was the best day ever and honestly it didn’t take much other than some time. We also have a few other immediate family items planned prior to Christmas like watching a movie together, playing a board game and likely some sort of excuse to consume more hot chocolate (hint there may be some reading of books involved).
I know what a novel concept: actual enjoying spending time with your family without feeling stressed about it. That is really what I think people should focus on during the holidays. Forget about making things to some sort of unrealistic picture perfect moment and freak out when it doesn’t happen. Forgot your social media feed and just pour yourself an eggnog and relax already. Do something you love and share it with someone you love. It doesn’t have to be complex or difficult to be wonderful.
So how do you keep the holidays fun for you and your family? Any other suggestions on how to keep your stress low?
The other day for no apparent reason I sudden had a shock of fear go down my spine that I didn’t have enough money for my retirement. I worried that I had made a horrible mistake and that I should have worked longer and saved more money before quitting. There was no particularly logical trigger for the feeling of mild panic that passed through me and the feeling left me shortly afterwards. Yet it did make me double check a few numbers to prove to myself (again) that we had enough money for years.
So as I looked at my account balances and faced the fact that I am in fact fine for the next few years then I relaxed back to my usual state of calm. In reality nothing had changed about our situation during this episode, it was merely a bit of doubt stuck in my brain and likely the result of me adjusting to our changing sources of income.
Previously with my old job, I knew there was risks with a job as your major source of income. I knew you could get laid off, shifted to another job, or have a rollback in wages or cut in benefits (I honestly had experienced all of those during my career at some point). Yet I understood those risks because I had been living with them for a long time. So oddly comfortable with those risks.
Now that we are mostly living off our investments I have a different set of risks. We could see a stock market correction, cuts in dividends from companies we own or drops in our bond portion of our investment portfolio. These aren’t new risks but I honestly didn’t pay as much attention to them in the past because with my old job we had other sources of income to cover expense when those events occurred. Now I’m feeling those risks more acutely than in the past.
The reality is you don’t have less risk once you retire. You just changed which risks you are managing. Yet oddly some of the same principles you learned getting to retirement still apply such as it is better to have multiple sources of income (not just investments or just a job). Which is why partly my wife continues to run her daycare from our home and I continue to run my little publishing business. Neither produces much income but it does help balance out the risks of sudden investment swings. Also both businesses give us something to do and provide options for socialization with others. We do them because we like to and less because of the income they produce.
One other things that hit me during my little panic feeling was I asked myself the following question: what is the worst thing that could happen? This is a great question to force yourself to face what you are fearing. And in my case the answer was simple: get a job. Notice the word ‘job’. I don’t have to go back to my old career or employer begging for a job. I can find something, somewhere that I might enjoy a bit and brings in some money. Honestly with our relatively low expenses making even $10 to $15K a year makes a huge difference to balancing out our spending. And if that truly became required it isn’t really the horrible of a fate…hell it’s sort of normal for most people my age (including myself until recently).
In the end, I’ve come to realize these little flares of panic or worry are just me adjusting to my new normal. Nothing on a fundamental level has changed in my situation other than my thoughts and luckily those can be changed rather easily.
So do you think you would have problems living just off your investments? What would you do to help balance your risks?
Okay, I work up this morning and I’m officially unemployed (or retired) and loving it. You see I’ve been living in a lovely little dream world for the last six weeks. I was done work on Sept 15 but I was officially still on vacation during the last six weeks. So I still had a pay cheque coming in, benefits to use, but no workplace to go to or alarm clock to wake up to.
Honestly I think that is the perfect way to break yourself into early retirement. A nice long vacation at the end of it to give yourself time to mentally adjust to things without having to worry about the money side of the equation. In our case, it also allowed us to get in one last set of eye exams and new glasses for my wife under my benefits before they ran out. Also it gave us some time to absorb a few last minute expenses before the cash flow from my job dried up.
Now I move from this being a concept to being my reality. The safety net is gone and I’m on my own in the world. Am I frightened? To be honest, just a pitch of it. But if I had to pick an emotion I would say I’m more excited now. After having the last six weeks off (and by the way I give my workplace credit they didn’t call me once!), I’m feeling good about this entire thing. I’ve got more than enough to do and if anything time seems to be moving along even faster than when I was at work.
I know its a bit of cliche but honestly I am already starting to forget how I fit work between everything else I’m doing each day. I’m almost caught off guard when someone asks what I’ve been up to as I have trouble summarizing it all since it can be all over the map in a given week. For example this week I:
- Baked some muffins and scones for future breakfasts
- Volunteered at the school library for 2 hours (which they are ridiculously thankful for since their librarian’s hours got cut from a 0.8FTE to 0.2 FTE this year).
- Brainstormed ideas for my novel that I’m writing in November and started organizing the major plot points
- Wrote two blog posts
- Played Torchlight for a
few several hours
- Finished Arrow season 5 and started watching Flash season 3 (both borrowed from the library)
- Cleaned up the yard (raked leaves, trimmed plants, put away patio furniture)
- Got my flu shot (and took the rest of the family to get their shots)
- Read about 3/4 of my current book
And that list if literally of the top of my head I’m certain I’m forgetting more than a few items.
Oddly the only thing I’m struggling a little bit with is: what level of being productive do I want to aim for? Because on one hand I am getting lots of things done but on the other hand I feel like I’m being too lazy some days. So does that really matter when you no longer have a job? Does it matter if I have a lazy day now and again? What level of productivity would I like to see myself achieve or am I’m being an idiot for even caring about that?
As you can see I have more questions than answers I think this is mainly because my ‘to do’ and ‘want to do’ lists don’t seem to be getting much shorter. I add items to both just about as fast as I finish items and for some reason in my head I thought I would be taking them off faster than I would be adding them. Of course that ignores the application of Parkinson’s Law, which would mean I’m never finishing my ‘to do’ list so I shouldn’t bother trying too hard.
Now you see what early retirement does to your poor brain: you have time to worry about questions no sane working person would even consider asking. Oh well, such is the life of the retiree. I guess I will sort it all out in time.