A year and a half ago, at age 39, I was studying for an exam required to maintain my status as a board-certified anesthesiologist. Most of the study materials were only peripherally related to my actual job, and the practice questions were equally inane. I started wondering if I would have to repeat the process in 10 years.
A google search between study sessions quickly opened my eyes to the concepts of Financial Independence and Retiring Early. The FIRE blogging community provided me with a great education, and over the last six months, has welcomed me graciously as one of their own.
Living a relatively frugal life compared to most physicians, and taking an interest in managing my own finances positioned me pretty well after 9 years in practice.
Once I tracked our expenses more closely and sold a house where we once lived, the numbers lined up beautifully. With 25 years of expenses in my portfolio, most of which would be immediately available in early retirement, I could call myself Financially Independent. Fantastic!
So I gave 2 weeks notice. I made note of the accomplishment and showed my wife the numbers, and well… not much has changed since then.
Eventually, I started a blog of my own to share the concept of Financial Independence with physicians and others with similar professions and income, but other than that, life has been status quo. I’m most definitely on board with an early retirement, but for me, it can wait at least a few more years.
Why did I choose not to Retire by 40?
1. It took a lot of time and effort to get here.
I made a large investment of my time and money towards education and training. In college, I studied dutifully to get excellent grades and smoke the MCAT exam. I volunteered and conducted research to help my medical school application stand out.
In med school, I was fed information in a fashion frequently described metaphorically as drinking from a firehose. In residency, most workweeks were 60 to 80 hours long. I finished my training at age 30 with a healthy 5-figure debt.
To bust one’s butt for 12 years to only work 9 years on my own terms would not seem to be a good return on investment. If you are young, and want to retire by 40, medicine would not be a good choice. It can be a tough row to hoe, and choosing to become a doctor has been described as a “million dollar mistake“.
On the other hand, if you’re into hard work, love science and people, and want to retire by 50, medicine might be a great choice. Many physicians wouldn’t recommend the career, but it has been good to me, so consider me among the minority who would do it all again.
2. I’d like a bigger cushion that a few more years can provide.
The frequently used goal of 25x expenses to allow for a 4% initial withdrawal rate is proven to be safe based on historical returns for a 30-year retirement. I’ll be more comfortable with 40x to 50x, which I can realistically expect to have within about five years by investing the majority of my take-home pay.
That safety net will insure me better against a poor sequence of returns, a longer than average retirement (I’d better get more than 30 years!), unanticipated lifestyle inflation, etc… I’d rather have too much than too little.
I may not need the excess, but there are plenty of charitable causes that do if I don’t identify a different need. I’m more than willing to work until my mid-to-late forties to help myself sleep better and perhaps help others down the road.
3. I still enjoy my job.
I enjoy my days off more than my workdays, but I went into anesthesia for a reason, and I still enjoy the job. It’s fast-paced, active work (I usually supervise multiple rooms) and I make people happy. I perform hands-on procedures with cool technology. I generally feel respected. There are certainly aspects of this job that I will miss.
There are downsides, of course. It can be stressful and the days can be really long. I get called in from a deep sleep on a routine basis. I could live without certain aspects of my career, but there seems to be enough good to offset the bad. I feel strongly that I’ll like having no job even better, but I’m comfortable continuing on with this one for awhile longer.
4. Money doesn’t come from trees, and I want my boys to know that.
I have two young boys. I don’t want to retire when they’re too young to remember that I worked hard to provide for our family. I think it’s best for them to see firsthand that I make sacrifices to provide a good life for us.
gotta be some money up there somewhere
If I retire when they are closer to middle school, they will know that I wasn’t always home for dinner, and that I sometimes worked all night. I’m not saying I want them to go off to college thinking I was never around. I’m actually home quite a bit with a flexible schedule, and I don’t expect to be working full time when they’re in high school, either.
I also want them to be able to comprehend how I am able to retire when their friends’ parents will still be working. A pre-schooler isn’t going to grasp the concept of frugal living, paying yourself first, etc… I hope to make my early retirement a wonderful life lesson for them at a time when they can more fully appreciate it.
5. I care (too much) about what other people think.
“My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think“
I’d love to say I couldn’t care less about what my colleagues, friends, and family might think about an early exit from the workforce, but that would be a bald-faced lie. Retiring at 39 would have led to so many questions and judgments from just about everyone I know.
I’ll still face those questions if I follow through with my plan and retire later on in my forties, but I will be in a more secure position financially and the extent of the earliness will have lessened.
I will also have time to plant seeds of my plan or outright express it (as I am doing anonymously online) as my early exit draws nearer. For a physician, retiring in the mid-forties seems more easily justifiable, at least when compared to the late thirties. Not that it should matter to me, but it does.