Top 5 Reasons I Chose Not to Retire at 39

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A year and a half ago, at age 39, I was studying for a bogus 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 welcomed me graciously as one of their own.

Living a relatively frugal life compared to most physicians, and having taken 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 performed 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 30x to 33x, 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 2 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.

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” – twenty one pilots

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.

What are your thoughts? Do you continue to work beyond FI? Are you looking for the earliest out? I’d love to hear your comments below.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I was 59 before I decided to retire. At that point I had done everything I wanted to do in my career and I was ready for less stress and part time side gigs. I also had over 50x my expenses invested years earlier than that. There is that feeling of sunk cost in your case since you really invested 25 years getting to where you are (you didn’t count k-12) and only working 9 years seems short in comparison. My career spanned over 30 years and my degree only cost me 4 years of college(or 17 counting public schooling). You will know when it feels right to go. However on the money part I’ve got something like 75 or 100 times my expenses now and also earn enough in gigging that my withdrawal rate is zero, and oddly it never feels like I have enough. I think it is a unintended consequence of a frugal life.

  2. I think #4 is very important. Your children need to see a good example of providing for a family so they can do the same someday. If you hit it big with a dotcom home-run and quit work to watch TV and golf for the rest of your life, what will the kids do with their lives? They will think a dad just hangs out at home. I feel it is important for them to see you work. For doctors, that isn’t very easy as they can’t go to work with you like they could if you were a farmer. So let them help you out around the house with projects. Work together. Teach them a good work ethic. Give them jobs to do and hold them accountable for the results. They will turn out better for it.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  3. Hi, I had a similar decision to make.

    I went to school until I was 29yo and graduated with no debt (scholarships and worked a year+ between degrees) so could have retired within 10 years. At that point, I cut back my clinical work to 2.5 days a week, taught as a clinical prof 1/2 day a week at the U and worked 1/2 day a week on the Cleft Palate/Craniofacial Team.

    I also bought a very small home in SoCal so that I could be a “snowbird” when I decided to retire. I then spent my spare time acquiring activities I enjoyed that I could do when I fully retire…golf, music, duplicate bridge and also continued with swimming, biking, kayaking and jogging. I basically enjoyed semi-retirement for 10-15 years. I too loved my profession…for the most part:)

    Then when I was ready to fully retire…the “financial crisis” hit… Soooo, I decided to wait and see how that would pan out. My investments were mostly very conservative and I put stop losses on some scary bank stocks I owned at the time then bought back in at their lows so faired quite well. Long story short, I decided to fully retire in 2012, mainly so I could travel more and spend winters in SoCal. So far so good:)

    I agree. It would have been difficult to bale at 39-40 for the reasons you mention. Basically it would have taken me too far out of loop of my cohort.

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