We've blown on past the first year of retirement now, and we've started to take measure of all the decisions we've made, all the things we've done, and all the places we've gone in the last year. And from all that, we naturally have to ask ourselves the question: Are we crazy??? Everyone asks this question of themselves, don't they? Well, don't they??
Oddly enough, this question has come about from our well-meaning friends who tell us things like: "You guys are crazy!". And there is also the slightly more polite version: "You guys have big cojones!". We think it was mostly about the fact that we were selling everything and going to this place called Vieques, sight-unseen. Many people move somewhere new when they retire, but very few go somewhere to live without having visited it before. When we meet someone nowadays they are happy we're here, and when we tell them this, we get a really surprised look and usually a "cojones" comment. Then to top it off, the big hurricane happened and yes, we were still going, albeit a little delayed. So we're sure they thought, and probably still think, we're crazy.
We always laughed it off because we didn't think it was crazy at the time and besides, what choice did we have? We'd already sold everything, we couldn't stay in Colorado! So after 4 months in Honduras, we plopped ourselves into this little neighborhood with a whole new culture, different language, and not a friend on the whole rock (but we had each other!). We have one neighbor who speaks English but he talks so quietly I can barely understand him! Bottom line, the cumulative result of "a little crazy" here plus "sort of strange" there, along with the occasional "Wow, that was insane!", well let's just say it can all add up and make you wonder. It's good though!
Back before it all began, we were a normal family, or at least that's the impression we tried to give. 🙂 I had good jobs in high-tech at a few different companies in the Denver area, moving northward over the years following job opportunities. We eventually settled in Greeley, CO and I worked in Fort Collins for the last many years. Deb raised kids (I helped!), ran the household, and groomed dogs part-time for many years as well. We bought a house, bought cars, bought STUFF, and generally did what everyone does.
We loved our home which was outside of town on an acre of land in a neighborhood where everyone has large lots like that. There were foxes, llamas, peacocks, horses, goats, sheep, cows, the whole farm was out there, but it was still a neighborhood. We loved our garden, our fish pond and homemade biergarten, built to our own wants and needs after a wonderful trip to Germany had inspired us. We spent a lot of summer nights out there and in our hot tub dreaming of adventures to come. We loved our friends of many years, decades in some cases. And we loved the town where we raised the kids, and really all of northern Colorado. But once we had done Colorado winters for over 30 years, and been done by them as well, we were really starting to tire of it. We really are warm weather people at heart.
In addition, the stress of those high-tech jobs always wore on me. I was pretty good at engineering and managing teams but I wasn't always loving it; there were times I felt like I was just faking it. Maybe everyone feels that way from time to time, I don't know. Or, if you subscribe to the Crazy Theory, maybe that was the start of me losing it, LOL! Don't get me wrong, I loved the people I worked with, and I definitely loved guiding younger engineers to grow in their careers. It made me feel good to help even just that little bit. But high-tech in general is a constant treadmill of keeping up with technology, increasing competition from all over the world, and unpredictable markets. The treadmill truly never ends until you end it. I did love the competition though, because I always felt that we were delivering more than our competitors, doing a better job for our customers. And the pay was a great motivator - I have to admit in hindsight, that was pretty damn good. But there was a limit to it, I had known for quite a while that I wasn't going to do this thing forever.
If one of our friends had told us they were selling everything and moving to the Caribbean, we'd probably have thought they were a little off kilter, but when it was us, that was different. The other day Deb said, "we never felt like it was a big deal". As an engineer, I have to differ with her on that one. I always thought it was a big frickin' deal, ha! But if we thought our friends would have to be crazy to do something like this, well maybe we were too! Often late at night, Deb and I would talk of our dreams while sitting in the hot tub. And those dreams didn't include working until I was 70, oh no no no! Before we really started planning though, I did think I'd be working into my 60's like almost everybody else.
But we got motivated to do something really different, to cut our cost of living, to save like crazy, and to make it happen. As 2017 approached, the decision had been made, we were just looking for the right timing. That came along when a reduction in force at work gave me the opportunity to replace someone else - they could keep their job and I could get a bit of money to leave earlier than planned. I can tell you, at the time that felt like we were nuts - I was quitting my job! We felt like Butch & Sundance jumping off the cliff - we didn't know how to swim but that didn't matter, the fall would probably kill us! But it didn't, we survived and moved forward even as we wondered about our own sanity.
Once it became official and we told the world our long-held secret of retiring early, our friends started telling us we should write a blog. I'm pretty sure they thought we were a bit unstable and wanted to observe our lunacy from the safety of their computer screens. But I'd done some writing before and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Our son Zack is a professional at setting up and designing web sites (https://zackpyle.com), so he offered to help and here we are. Blogging is not too crazy in this day and age, but it's different for us nonetheless.
Probably the biggest fear factor in retiring early is the money. OK, there's no "probably" in it, money is definitely the biggest fear factor in retiring early. The FIRE acronym means Financially Independent, Retired Early. That sounds great, but until you jump, you never really know how "Independent" you really are! We are starting to find out, and we have a financial plan that we plan to stick to - it can be summed up in a few sentences.
It's not like many canned approaches that deliver a fixed income, with adjustments for inflation, the rest of our lives. It's a variable income plan where we spend less early on while we do screwy things like travel and live in the Caribbean with health insurance that costs 1/3 of what it does in the good ole U.S.A. We work to keep other expenses down also; the lifestyle is the adventure, it is the fun. It's certainly different, which is what we were after! The financial plan is based on investments that have to be somewhat conservative to reduce the risk of running out of money, and then with the expectation of taking Social Security payments at a later time to take over for some of the spending. So far it's working fine. After the first year of not working, not drawing any salary, our conservative portfolio (read: not crazy!) is still up 3.1% from where it was on Day 1. That's after a year of taking money out for all the living expenses, domestic and international travel, setting up a home, buying bikes and a car, buying a solar backup system, etc. etc. At one point in January, we were up well over 6% but as they do, the markets gave and the markets hath taken away.
That international travel started when Hurricane Maria trashed our target island of Vieques, Puerto Rico only 2 weeks before our flight. At that point we had sold our house, our cars, all of our stuff (at least 90% of it anyway). We were living in Deb's Dad's basement and wondering at the time, at least a little bit, whether we really were sane. We had to make a quick decision and we ended up going to Utila, Bay Islands of Honduras. We met a great young lady from Germany on the trip and she joined us, packed like sardines in a plane that was loaded by a madman, who was also our pilot. The stall alarm in the plane only went off once right before we (almost, could have, you never know!) crash landed. Perfectly normal! Then we got in a tuktuk and learned a whole lot more.
And I know that all looked a little unbalanced, even though we didn't really think so at the time. It was a great adventure, I can tell you that! We lived in an apartment above our landlords' workshop and next to their office. We had unpredictable power, water, and internet, and some political unrest to spice things up. The cops drove around on motorcycles and high powered macho-style golf carts with automatic weapons in the air.
We walked everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, we put miles and miles and miles on our flip flops. We met strange and wonderful people from the Caribbean, Central America, the States, Canada, Israel, Austria, Australia, and Germany. We learned that oftentimes it is easier to understand Spanish than English spoken in an unexpected accent. We found out we had a roommate with eight legs (see below). We swam, we drank, we picked up trash, we snorkeled, we drank some more. There's a lot of drinking there, it wasn't just us, we're not nuts, we were just trying to fit in!
Then after almost 3 months, our lease ran out and we went to Roatán, also in the Bay Islands of Honduras, one island over. It didn't seem crazy at the time, we were just going to take the ferry. But the ferry schedule played tricks on us, so we took another small plane. This one was much less insane and this time we hardly had any cramps in our hands from gripping the Jesus Straps. The pilot even gave us a safety briefing! We stayed there in an apartment/condo building that looked like it was going to slide down the hillside with the heavy rains. It was really, really ugly on the outside and damp and musty on the inside (but nice otherwise!). We weren't there a week when the political unrest messed up our Visa plans. So we hopped on, yes, another small plane (don't look at us that way - everyone does this down here!). We went over to Belize and stayed on Ambergris Caye for a few days to reset our Visa status. It worked, but it was costly for the flights, hotel, etc. It was a lot of fun though, in spite of all the crazy Indian guys in the ferry terminal trying to sell us everything in sight and the slums we drove through to & from the airport. Back in Roatán, we finally got to enjoy the place through the holidays, and didn't consider it strange at all that we received some of our Xmas presents in February when a friend came to visit us in Vieques.
Yes, after 4 1/2 months of the island residents working hard to recover from the hurricane, we decided we'd give Vieques a try. Remember, this place was utterly devastated by that storm. No power, no water, no communications of any kind. No ferries to/from the mainland. No planes flying in & out. They were cut off from the world for quite some time. But when we arrived in late January, we were the fortunate ones living in a neighborhood that had power. The rest of the island, save some small isolated areas, have since had power restored but that proved to be a bit of a tease as it goes out very regularly. For a while, I thought we were cracked in the head doing all this. But once I got our solar power backup system going, I feel much less like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Plus, with all the fruitcakes around here, we fit right in!
And the people here really are great, the statesiders are friendly and the locals even more so. Or are they the crazy ones for accepting these strangers from a strange land into their community, hmm? I think crazy is a relative term and we're right in the middle of the pack. As for the locals, they are the only normal ones here. The rest of us (the transplants) picked up everything, sold most of it, and headed off to a rock in the water. A rock you can only get to from another rock. A rock where iguanas join you for drinks and people ride their horses in the sea. A rock that is part of the U.S. but where the people speak more Spanish than on the rock that is part of Honduras. Actually, many of the transplants kept houses in the states and come here to live part time, so they're not quite as crazy as us. But here we are in a big boiling pot of crazies, all doing the backstroke, all in it together as we prepare for the next hurricane season that starts June 1 (and is the subject of an upcoming blog post).
One more thing - if you read the "papers" (yes, I'm old and that proves it), but if you read the media, the NY Times is saying early retirement will help you live longer. But the BBC says it's bad for your health, we're going to get Alzheimers, etc.. Bloomberg says it might kill you, as does the Huffington Post. But Forbes and CNBC say it will help us live longer. Who's crazy now, huh? I think it's the media! But it's not this guy Steve Adcock who I've started to follow more closely lately. He's also been added to our Fave Links page, so check that out. He's very thoughtful and his points are excellent on how to approach early retirement - do what works for you, keep your weight down, stay active in body and mind, experience life as it comes, and find your purpose. If you don't live longer, you'll live happier, and that's even more important.
This is different by the way, from my preaching about living life on purpose, which I continue to evangelize and believe. Living on purpose is just daily practical advice on making sure you're not cruising around on autopilot letting the world tell you how to think, what will make you happy, what to spend your money on. You should decide your life, how to spend your money, what you want to experience, not some marketing firm selling you the latest whatever. This idea of living life with a purpose is about bringing meaning to your life at any age, but it will help you live longer and happier whether you retire at 40 or 90. The two are related, but not the same. So live your life with a purpose, and live your life on purpose, do both! Oh, and have fun doing it - that's not crazy at all!
I would say this whole thing started as a small idea, grew into a big idea, and then a leap of faith with only stubbornness as a parachute. Step by step we went down the path, knee deep in it from the start, taking each event as it was presented to us and doing what we could at the time. The expression "seemed like a good idea at the time" fits! So after all this if you want to call us crazy, or insane, mad, cracked, unstable, demented, screwy, and unbalanced, we're OK with it! Just don't call us late for happy hour.
What's the conclusion? Are we crazy? That's a question for you, our faithful kneedeepers, to decide. I do know this, we may or may not be crazy, but we are definitely free! And freedom is what we really wanted all along.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: "Freedom", by our fellow Floridian, the one and only Pitbull!