FI Without RE

Back in November of 2017, a tired, burned out version of myself was pushed past his breaking point. After months of mandatory unpaid overtime, morning self pep-talks, stress-eating, and yelling at coworkers, the old Joel finally had enough. He walked up to his boss, and with a surprising, zen-like calm, gave his two weeks notice.

A huge weight was immediately lifted from his shoulders. Life felt, for the first time in a long time, wonderful. Hopeful, even. He wasn't fully FI yet, but that guy knew right then and there he would never work again. He was done. Forever.

…Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I accepted an offer for a new job.

Wait. Seriously?!

Why on earth would the guy who talked so much smack about work, and gave so much praise for being his own boss, slide back into the golden handcuffs? Is it for the money? Did sequence of return risk finally catch up to me? Were my FI estimates way off? Was it greed? Boredom? A desperate attempt to win a bet??

This is for real.

Nope. The simple truth is, I had enough time (sixteen months, to be precise) to really think about life, and learn more about myself. I had time to de-stress and recover from burnout. I had time to focus on things I actually enjoy, instead of simply avoiding the things I don't. And in that time, I learned something important.

It wasn't ‘work‘ I hated with a passion. It was lack of a work-life balance. It was mandatory unpaid overtime. It was the lack of control I had over my time and stress levels. I didn't hate work in general; I hated my specific job. It's easy to confuse the two when you're down in the trenches. I should have quit that old job months earlier. Or taken a sabbatical or leave of absence. There was no good reason for me to stay in that position as long as I did – it was unhealthy and unnecessary. I should have quit sooner. 

This is all interesting, sure, but it doesn't explain why I decided to go back to work. It seems to contradict what I said in the past about having enough. Didn't we already reach financial independence? Haven't we reached the proverbial ‘enough' point described in Your Money or Your Life?

FI Isn't Just About Me

The truth is, while I indeed have enough, I'm just a small piece of the whole picture. The Wife wants to reach more than enough – and that's one of the reasons she kept working even though she could afford to quit, financially speaking. She wants a surplus, so she can enjoy the benefits that come with having ‘more than enough'.

Like the ability to give generously to charity, and the community. The ability to treat friends and family when they come to town, without having to worry about the budget. And the ability to help when tragedy strikes, as we did recently when an (uninsured) friend suffered a stroke during surgery, waking up with no motor control of her extremities, and six figures of unexpected debt.

Our aging parents haven't reached their enough level yet, either. Most recently, my (uninsured) dad found out he needs five figures of dental work, and I want to be able to help him financially without being paranoid about its effect on my portfolio. In my hierarchy of life priorities, family is always higher up than money.

I'll make the hay. My cat will supervise.

And finally, though I may be FI, I still happen to be young and able-bodied. Unlike my friend I mentioned above, all four of my limbs still function. I'm lucky. And I realize now there's no better time to “make hay” then while the sun is shining, as the saying goes. The good luck streak my wife and I have enjoyed this past decade won't last forever. Our situation (and our parents' situations) can, and likely will change over the next couple of years, so I'm going to get while the getting's good.

Now, I should clarify, I didn't just have this eureka moment one afternoon and apply for a job the very next day. These are realizations that came gradually, over time, as my burnout faded. In fact, I had some sense of this even before I quit my job, when I said that my worst case scenario was everyone else's everyday scenario. But since I'm deciding to go back to work under my own free will, I get to learn from my past mistakes and do things differently this time around!

Instead of focusing solely on maximizing salary, as I would have done in the past, I found a job that respects work-life balance. A job where part-time and remote work is possible. Where “low stress” and “no overtime” are actual conditions of my employment. It's so important for me to have time for things besides work: like physical fitness, visiting family, and my numerous creative projects (like this blog, my podcast, and my music). This new job promises to give me this balance, as well as a few other perks…

Work Can Actually Be Fun!

Since so many of my past posts focus on the negative aspects of work, it's time I admit there are actually a few nice things about it as well (besides the paycheck, of course). For starters – I actually like this job! (I know, these words seem strange for me to say out loud.) But it's true – the technology, the people, the program goals, it all seems perfect for me.

In particular, I'm enjoying the social aspect of the office: running into friendly faces each day, conversations around the water cooler, and of course, afternoon coffee time. As an adult, making friends is harder for me than it was back in school, but work helps. I admit I always took this aspect of the office completely for granted. And I know there are plenty of ways to be more social without having a job, but since starting up this new gig, it's is a feature I'm truly enjoying.

Another thing I realized about myself during my sixteen months of early retirement? I'm not quite as self-motivated as I originally thought. Sure, I still accomplished a lot in my time off of work, but my day-to-day motivation was lacking. Why get up and get dressed early in the morning when you can lounge around in your pajamas until noon? I appreciate this on the weekend. But seven days a week? I don't know if that's for me.

What I do know is that it feels good to be dressed and out of the house early each morning. It feels good to plan my day over coffee and feel like I'm firing on all cylinders. And it feels good to learn new things during my day. Could I have done all this myself every morning without a formal job? In theory, yes, of course. Did I? No. No I did not. Go figure.

Yep. This looks about right.

Another benefit of working? I like to call it the “momentum of work”. Productivity in one area tends to rub off into other areas of your life. I've noticed that on my busiest days, when I have many things on my plate, I build up a momentum that makes it easier to tackle otherwise overwhelming tasks on my to-do list. For example, I updated this blog almost twice as frequently, on average, back when I was working full-time. So perhaps I'll have the momentum to finish off the dozens of posts that have been accumulating in the FI180 draft folder! 🙂

Here's the thing: everyone is different. Everyone has different motivations and behaves differently when left to their own devices. If you've never taken more than a few weeks off from work, and don't know how you'd act in similar circumstances, I strongly suggest you try it out! I learned more about myself during my year away from work than any other year of my life. Everyone should have a chance to try this.


Why'd I go back to work? Because a pretty awesome opportunity presented itself and I liked everything about it. The extra income to help me better support family and friends in need. The flexible schedule, remote work capability, and focus on work-life balance to help keep me productive in my many creative endeavors. And the position itself – this is one that genuinely interests me!

With perfect hindsight, I would have quit my old toxic jobs sooner. And more often! I needed a break from the grind every few years. Maybe you do too. Not only would my stress levels have stayed at bay, but there's financial incentive to switch companies every few years as well. Each time I've taken a new job, I've seen a salary increase in the 10% to 20% range. If you aren't close to FI yet, and feel like you need a break, I strongly suggest you save up your FU money and take a few months off while you look for that next opportunity.

How long will I stay with this new job? A few months? A few years? Who knows.  Whenever The Wife is ready to quit, or our parents have a nice safety margin, or I stop enjoying this job, I can easily transition back into early retirement. But this question sure seems a lot less important now that I know I'm in control! I chose this job specifically with work-life balance in mind. And I can (and will) leave if that balance ever fails again.

Now let's be clear. I'm not endorsing that you work any longer, or go back to work if you've already started early retirement. Nor do I think I need to go back to work with any financial urgency. Taking this job is simply something I wanted to do. It's an amazing opportunity, and it checked all the right boxes for work-life balance. It's what's right for me, and my family, right now.

This is the first job I've taken since reaching financial independence. The first job I picked willingly, without feeling obligated to work. I chose this job, as work is optional for me. This small fact makes working feel… surprisingly different than it's ever felt before. One friend described it as “putting the handcuffs back on while holding the key.” That's a fun analogy, but to be honest, it doesn't even feel like handcuffs anymore.

Because FI isn't about retirement. It never was. It's about freedom. The freedom to work, or not work. The freedom to spend your time doing whatever you damn well please. And the freedom to change your mind.

As many times as you like.

Interested in starting your own Financial 180? You've come to the right place. The math is easy: create a gap between what you earn, and what you spend. If you can save half your income, your working career will only be around a decade long! Want to shorten it even more? Read on to see exactly what expenses the wife and I cut from month to month. Track your progress against the milestones of FI, and gradually build up your own savings snowball. Check out the books and links in our resources section and jump-start your journey to FI. The you ten years from now will be glad you did! Ready? Start here.

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44 thoughts on “FI Without RE”

  1. What a fraud! Put this guy in internet retirement jail! 😉

    Glad you find something enjoyable to fill your days. new jobs are always fun! I’ll have to get the details later!

    1. I did feel a bit like a fraud at first… then I realized FI is simply about options, and having the flexibility to do whatever you want. And this job was something I wanted to try. Excited to see how it pans out!

  2. Good for you. Same story, different words for me. I went back to work after a seven-month ‘mini-retirement after leaving an awful boss and company culture.
    Right before another buck list travel , a fantastic job opportunity landed in my lap that hit all of my criteria.
    I’m four months into this new gig and it’s awesome and so are the benefits and the pay. A new lease on retire early and often.
    The only downside is that I’ve abandoned following the FIRE community closely. My blog has even taken a back seat for the moment. Just a different shift in focus at this time.

    1. Congrats on the new gig, sounds awesome! What a difference the right job makes. Re. the blog taking a back seat: I realized that for things like blogging, if I don’t make time for them in my schedule, they never get done. This was just as true for me in retirement as it was while employed full time, so I know now I just have to bake time for it into my day. Hope you don’t take too long away from the FIRE space- I always enjoy reading your stuff! Cheers

  3. Awesome post. The path to FI is not a straight and narrow one. It can change from lean FIRE to fat FIRE, or it can be just plain old FI with the option to retire early. FIRE away anyway you’d like. Just keep posting these great stories and content for my reading pleasure. Lol.

    1. Thanks Frankie! If my past behavior is an accurate predictor, I’m hoping my post frequency here on the blog will actually increase with the new job. I’ve got a few dozen drafts in the works, so I need to get moving! 🙂

  4. I love this. Work would look so different if everyone was FI and was doing a job because they wanted to versus what they have to for a paycheck. I’m not there yet, but we are at a point where we could live off one of our incomes, so that flexibility makes me realize it is very much true that we both actually WANT our jobs instead of simply needing them.

    1. Such a difference when work is optional. And what a luxury it is to be able to wait around for years for a great opportunity to find you, instead of stressing out and applying to everything you can find in desperation for a job. This is just another amazing benefit of FI!

  5. It’s great you’ve been able to find a job you can work on your own terms. That’s the beauty of FI. You’ve got leverage and the ability to say “no.” If you want that safety margin and the opportunity checks all the right boxes, I can’t blame you for saying “yes.”

    Best wishes on this and all other future endeavors.


    1. Thanks POF! It was the right opportunity at the right time, and I’m excited to see where it leads. As you mentioned, it’s on my own terms this time and that makes all the difference. Instead of worrying whether or not this will be a long term gig, I just figure this is just my latest ‘experiment’ in where I spend my time, and I’ll re-evaluate in a few months.

      It’s a new way of looking at work for me, but so far, quite agreeable. 🙂

  6. Everyone should be working toward FI. What if tomorrow you go into work and are told your company has been bought out, and your job goes poof? If you are FI, it’s no big deal. If not, it could be disastrous.

  7. Your dad should check out Frugal Vagabond’s series about getting dental work done in Thailand. It is super detailed and might be a good option if he’s looking at that much dental work.

    1. Thanks Kim, I’ll mention it to him. Travel arbitrage for medical and dental can be quite compelling, even after travel costs are taken into consideration.

  8. Hi Joel. This post really resonated with me. I’m strongly thinking about the same thing after a year of early retirement, mainly because I think I miss the social/water cooler aspects of a “normal” day job. Could you comment on how recruiters/hiring managers perceived the resumé gap? I’m not clear about how I’ll be able to explain mine, and I also wonder if it puts people like us in a low leverage position if interviewers see you as a financially free flight risk. Would love to hear more thoughts on the job search process for you in general. Thanks!

    1. Resumé gaps could be a concern, but it really depends on the field of work, as well as the personality of the individual with the gap. You just have to be confident in yourself and your abilities, and make the prospective employer confident in your abilities.

      In the software world, that might sound something like this: “Yeah, I’ve been working for myself these past two years, and it’s been amazing! I stood up a WordPress instance, played with some mobile app development, and kept up with some of the latest new tech, like React and Docker. While I enjoy working for myself, I always like to keep an eye on the industry and see what opportunities are available with (companies like yours).”

      What you DON’T need to mention is the fact that you can do all the things I mention above the week before the interview…

  9. I think resume gaps are a worry of the past in this free flowing, gig economy. Maybe certain sectors still worry about such things, but it should be relatively easy to find something… or why not start your own business?

    1. Starting your own business can be a great learning opportunity, and a lot of fun, as long as you don’t invest too much of your own money or go into significant debt. Pop Up Business School is a great resource for those wanting to go this route!

  10. Wishing you all the best! This sounds like a perfect opportunity for what you’re looking for right now and I love the perspective in which this was written! Cheers!

    1. Thanks Michelle. It’s taken me years to get this perspective and it’s still a work in progress, but I’m feeling good about it so far! Cheers

  11. Great to hear from someone who has been there, done that! Your words truly gives me comfort.

    I’m actively contemplating leaving my current job and going into semi-RE. A job that takes upwards of 60 hours a week and air travel every week. A job where I don’t get to see my child growing up. A job that pays very well, and also makes you think about work every single minute of conscious time. I don’t envision myself not working. I know for a fact that will not go down well with me! I have a host of PT jobs that I have made a list of. I want to try different jobs that I never had the opportunity to try, but on my own terms and schedule, and hopefully some will stick.

    Thank you!

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  13. Joel:
    Thanks for a very insightful article. I became FI at 59, retired from a long career and started in a new direction. I am an Encorepreneur, who helps others launch their Encore Life/Work. The Freedom to choose is awesome. However, discovering the path to purpose (and yes, sometimes a paycheck) is a journey for most. Ultimately, we are most satisfied when serving others with our greatest giftedness….whether for fee or for free. Well done and congratulations on your new opportunity to serve.

  14. 5 figures for dental work? Seesh. Ask your dad to book a ticket to India, stay in a premium hotel and get his dental work done. Will cost you not more than $4000 to $ 5000!!

    1. That is a great idea, thanks. Even with travel and accommodations he would still come out ahead. Medical and dental costs in the US are truly bonkers.

  15. Hi Joel,

    you mention you’re in software, are you a developer? I’m a dev with a test focus and work has been a grind lately, do you think there would have been a way to unlock your post-FI viewpoint while still working toward FI? When you were retired or during future retirement, did you use your work skills on something else for fun or to help someone out?

    Kind regards,

  16. Hi Joel,
    Thanks for your kind and honest approach to describe your situation for returning to work , I think FI as a concept is powerful without the RE. FI allow you to have the choice to move from your job to whatever suite you in life that includes :
    a. Taking Mini-Retirement break.
    b. Start your own business.
    c. Moving to another job.
    d. Travel the world and explore different cultures.
    e. etc …

  17. I like the trend that people who have FIRE’ed continue to be productive or do work in some form or fashion, including paid employment. As you clearly articulated, and I agree 100%, FIRE is not about not working, it’s about having the option not to if you choose to, and being in the driver seat of your time and/or life. And, if at some point of time (while you’ve FIRE’ed), you find working the right choice, then you do that. And if at some other point, you find working is not for you, then you have the freedom to do so. I, too, am a Software Engineer and find the need to have to catch up/learn with every single new technology very exhausting and hope to be able to FI in the next couple of years. I’m somewhere between Half-FI and Flex-FI right now.

  18. I love your honesty and candidness here. As someone with a designated RE date in approximately 24 months, I really appreciate the self-awareness and ability to pivot based on changing needs and self-awareness.

  19. Excellent post! After my 9 month recent sabbatical, I also discovered (much to my surprise) that there was PLENTY about work that I enjoyed! (Who knew?) Not just making money, but the camaraderie, the “mission”, etc. I have now re-entered the workplace, but was very selective. I’m now at a job that pays about 25% less than what I used to make BUT has a much better work life balance, and is an all around better “fit”. One day I will retire…. but not any time soon. I would encourage any/all early retirees to be flexible: you may be quite surprised by what early retirement (and/or sabbatical) will teach you!

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  21. Thanks for the post! I listened to you and your wife on the Choose FI podcast back in 2017 I think it was? You guys were on the road to FI at that time, and it is really interesting to see how things have changed for you. I too fantasize about being in my pajamas until noon, but wen I do that even two days in a row, I feel just meh about myself and life. I truly believe we need to be working on something that is helping humanity. That can be accomplished through “work” or a career but could be accomplished in other ways as well. This is good information for me to think about on my journey to FI because I can put that FI number/date on a pedestal. Life is good today. I am still pursuing FI, and life will be good then too.

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