Retirement reality check

Several years ago we sold our home to fund early retirement. We were cashed up, had diversified investments, renting a nice (expensive) house, and looking for our next home to purchase. Life was really good for the first few years, until about a week ago when I reached the lowest point in my life. I was shattered to realize we wouldn’t be able to afford the retirement we wanted. Before retirement I had convinced my wife, and truly believed myself, that we would live in a better house and be comfortable in retired life. Now it looked like we would have to rent something much cheaper or settle for any property we could afford. Either way we would live in fear of running out of money in the near future, way before qualifying for any retirement benefits.

There had been some really emotionally low points in my life, but his was the absolute lowest by far. If things continued like this my depression would turn into reckless, and probably lose everything we had worked for.

I was so desperate I searched online job ads every day for something to cover our expenses. I was considering everything from going back to IT to casual work washing dishes. Each search ended with frustration. How could I have failed this badly.

I thought I would have started something to earn an income by now, however this hadn’t happened yet. Some of my investments were making less money, others had lost more than half their value and were still dropping. Large chunks of our bank balance was disappearing with rent payments and daily living costs. Even though we had a modest lifestyle we were still bleeding money.

Last week I was mentally in shock, hiding from my family in my home office. Seeing them made me feel even worse, because they didn’t yet know our financial trouble. Sitting in my office chair I looked at some old envelopes and felt like writing something. I don’t know why, but on the back of a random envelope I wrote two column headings – “Fear” and “Likes/Wants”. Then I wrote the fear that was pressing on me the most – “running out of money”. In the other column I wrote “a great house”, “time with my family” and other things that I wanted or had already. From that starting point I just kept writing until I had no more room on the envelope. At that time I wrote down my raw feelings. No one would ever see the envelope, so I felt safe to write anything.

When I finished writing my problems still existed, and I still felt depressed, but I also felt some hope. Writing everything down was maybe like me writing to someone about my problems. That envelope was a great listener. It accepted whatever I had to write, and didn’t offer any advice or judgement. Thinking about it now I realize I had to be really concise with whatever I wrote, because this was a pretty small envelope. I couldn’t write any old BS. It had to be worth the limited writing space. It had to be important.

I know it sounds way too simple, but thinking honestly about my fears, likes and wants, then committing them to paper gave me strength to turn things around. I now had concrete fears to face up too, real things in my life I liked and needed to protect, and goals to chase after. That little list led to conversations with my wife, and a lot more writing, before I could get to a much happier mental place.

My wife still doesn’t know about the list. We always talk everyday about a lot of things, but now we usually have a conversation about getting to where we want to be. She sees me writing often, knows I was stressed, maybe even knows I was depressed. We still have money problems, but now I have writing and her to help me cope when things look dark. Maybe that helps her stay positive about our future too. It really helps me chase a solution to our problems, which fits well with who I am.

What happened to the envelope? Its hidden away, ready to help me if I ever need it. I reread it once more a few days ago to give me a boost.

Retirement reality check

Joe retired in his mid-thirties to spend more time with his young family. He started this blog to share his story, help others plan their path to retirement, and enjoy retired life.

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