As noted by Richard Eisenberg at Forbes.com (here) and NextAvenue.org, I recently made my personal “Declaration of Findependence.” As he noted, July 4th seems to be as good a day to make such a declaration as any other.
It’s been about six weeks since my Findependence became official, although as I confessed to Richard, the timing wasn’t 100% what I would have chosen. As things are working out, however, I actually have a head start on my most recently amended Findependence Day: which I’d planned for next April, when I turn 62 and start to draw modest pensions from my 19 years at the Financial Post and a few shorter-lived corporate gigs.
A moving line in the sand
There’s a scene in the book (both Canadian and US editions) where I talk about the power of “drawing a line in the sand” about your Findependence Day. I do, however, note that it often turns out to be a moving target. External circumstances are as apt to move the date forward as backward.
If stock markets are doing well, as they are now, you can move the date ahead in time. As I told Forbes.com, I viewed my April purchase of a new Camry Hybrid car as an exercise in “rebalancing.” Pictured is the old Volvo S70 it replaced, and which was featured once in an article I wrote for the National Post. Taking some profits on stocks and paying cash for a new car puts a solid tangible asset at your disposal: and I’ve found it a very pleasant and useful addition to my Findependent life, however fond I was of the old Volvo.
Another way your Findependence Day can be moved forward is if circumstances at work change. These days, the economy is such that if a major corporate restructuring occurs or a new boss comes in to leave their mark, your financial independence may arrive sooner than you think, and perhaps slightly scaled down from a higher level of Findependence down the road.
But that’s the whole point of Findependence and having a reserve emergency fund: you hope for the best but prepare for the worst. As long as you’re debt-free and your investment and pension income exceeds your income from salaried employment, you’re ready for whatever the corporate world will throw at you.
The ultimate boss is yourself
As for what Findependence has been like in practice, in truth it very much resembles the four-year period I spent as a freelance technology writer in the 1980s. The commute is a lot better although lacking a “buffer zone” to read in or listen to audio books, news or music. You still have to discipline yourself to put in the morning’s “two hours of real work,” as per the earlier blog here on the four-day. And of course, you have to promise yourself to do the same for the two-hour “afternoon shift.”
During the first six weeks, my daughter — now in Ireland — was around the house observing the transition. I joked about what it was like having an unemployed bum hanging about the house. She was having none of it. “You’re self-employed, Dad,” she reminded me. End of conversation.
Next time (on July 1st and in time for July 4th), we’ll look at how to declare YOUR Findependence Day.
Last time, we looked at the concept of The 4-Hour Workweek, which is also the title of a book by Timothy Ferris.
How realistic is the 4-hour workweek, which Ferriss equates to the mobile lifestyles of what he terms the “New Rich,”? Well if you’re semi retired, four hours a week of productive work is four hours more a week productivity than the traditional full-stop retirement.
Precursor to 4-hour week from the 1950s
What I find curious about Ferriss’s four-hour a week concept is that it resembles in some respects a much older strategy called the four-hour day. In the 1950s, William J. Reilly wrote a book called How to Make Your Living in Four Hours a Day (without feeling guilty about it). (Harper & Bros. NY 1955). Note the subtitle!
I wrote about this a few times in my old Wealthy Boomer column in the Financial Post prior to joining MoneySense, including one in June 1997. In fact, most of my time in the paid workforce has used some variant of the four-hour day. Ironically, the person who flagged me to Reilly’s book in the first place was a former boss and still friend, Norman Evans, who took the photo of me in last week’s post. Even though he was my employer at the time, and presumably seeking maximum productivity from me, he was serious about me using the four-hour day.
Two two-hour stints focused on what you’re really paid for
The idea of the four-hour day is that very highly creative people like composers, novelists or even high-level executives, really have only four or five hours of high-level mental daily energy to perform the tasks they have to do. As any office cubicle dweller can tell you, very few people do a high-energy 8 hour day for every hour they’re on the job. For senior managers and creative types, what’s important is the high-level brain power being expended: not the amount of time one’s bum adheres to an office chair.
So it’s important, whether you’re a salesperson, executive, artist, musician or writer to spend at least two hours of the workday morning doing the work you’re really paid for: making cold calls or closing deals if you’re in sales, writing articles if you’re a writer, writing a symphony if you’re a composer, etc.
Having done your two-hour morning stint, you’re free to spend two hours over lunch networking, learning or exercising, as long as you promise yourself to spend at least two hours in the afternoon doing the work you’re really paid to do. In the case of former boss Norman, he often espoused using the two-hour interregnum between the two two-hour work stints for “killing two birds with one stone” concepts like walking meetings.
A corporate compromise: a 4-hour day tucked inside an 8-hour day
As an example, imagine your morning shift of “real work” is between 10 am and noon, and the afternoon shift between 2 and 4 pm involves being back at the desk making sales calls, editing or writing, budgeting or whatever. Note that this leaves an hour first thing for doing things like reading the paper, checking email or social media, and the same at the end of the day. Even when I was a newspaper columnist, I practiced a version of this. As an editor, it was trickier. Because at a large corporation like Rogers there are many meetings and interruptions, with staff continually poking their heads in for impromptu meetings.
True, my official hours at MoneySense were more like 9 am to 6 pm, with a one-hour commute tacked on both ends, but within that nine hours was an inner core of two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.
The 4-hour workweek more aligned with Findependence
Admittedly, the 4-hour Work WEEK espoused by Ferriss is a quantum leap of difference: he’s really pushing the envelope with a four-hour workweek. If it works, I’ll revisit his strategy in future versions of this blog but right now, I’m inclined to view findependence as more compatible with a 4-hour work WEEK, and the four-hour DAY as more compatible with salaried corporate employment: even if it’s the variant I describe that requires being there physically at the start and end of the normal office 9-to-5 day.
The Mexican fisherman: working to live or vice versa?
Before closing, I should note that our friend the Mexican fisherman also makes an appearance in Ferriss’s book. This was of course the subject of my current Financial Independence column in the new Summer issue of MoneySense. As I noted there, the Mexican fisherman story is all over the internet and I wrote the piece before I even read Ferriss’s book, but it does indicate the general theme of living in the present, and the folly of forever “slaving and saving” today for the mirage of a single one-time-and-forever “Retirement” in the far-off future. (All on the assumption that employers, pension managers, financial markets, health, spouses and family cooperate.)
As John Lennon famously wrote in what turned out to be his final album, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I can relate to that, especially this summer, but also firmly believe that if Life hands you an unexpected “Plan B,” the B stands for Better!, as best-selling spiritual author Joyce Meyer argues in her book, You Can Begin Again.
Next time, we’ll also look at the notion of “Second Acts.”
Here’s a new concept I’d not considered until I started reading the book pictured in the adjacent photo. Last time, we talked about semi-retirement and sabbaticcals but you might want to add the term “mini-retirement” to all these concepts that (in my view) touch on financial independence.
In his book, The 4-hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss floats the idea of periodic mini-retirements spread over a lifetime. So instead of the traditional route so many of us take – which he dubs “slave/save/retire” — Ferriss likes to work in two-month stints, then “retire” for blocks of a month or so (sometimes longer).
Death of Vacations?
Now you might argue that the traditional two-week annual vacation squeezed between 48 to 50 weeks of working is a mini retirement, or more accurately, a “Micro retirement.” But of course the very fact of you having a return ticket means a micro retirement is no retirement at all.
Even as he declares the birth of Mini-Retirements, Ferriss announces the “death of vacations.” He discovered mini-vacations after being “miserable and overworked” early in 2004. He originally planned to relax for a month in Central America but, seeing as he had only purchased a one-way ticket, extended his stay for three months and ultimately 15 months. Thus came the insight that semi-retiring baby boomers may well want to embrace: “Why not take the usual 20-30-year retirement, and redistribute it throughout life instead of saving it all for the end?”
An end, I might add, that might not be as hale and hearty as mini-retirements taken earlier. As I say in my book, the goal is to enjoy Findependence “while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.”
Alternating waves of activity and leisure
The flipside of the mini-retirement strategy is that it also means those practicing it – many of them the oncoming wave of retiring baby boomers – will actually continue to work: as I said last time, probably well into one’s 70s, health permitting.
The difference is that this will be accomplished in alternating waves of activity and leisure. This actually also corresponds to my confession a week ago that I had a few early false alarms on my own Findependence Day. Now that I’m refining the concept, I realize that you can have multiple Findependence Days, each associated with separate and finite “Mini-Retirements.” Now that the World Cup has begun, I’m hoping to have one this summer.
Embracing the Mobile Lifestyle
A big ingredient in Ferriss’s approach is the mobile lifestyle, which is implied by the book’s subtitle: “Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich.” It’s harder for salaried 9-to-5ers to embrace this lifestyle, since it’s more suited to self-employment and a web-based mobile device culture. But even for what Ferriss terms “cubicle dwellers” there are ways to pull it off if you can negotiate it with your boss.
Next time, we’ll look at the idea of the four-hour work DAY for employees: a precursor to the four-hour work WEEK.
I’m addressing this edition of the blog to MoneySense readers, who may have learned of this web site’s existence because of a gracious mention in the editor’s note of the new Summer issue of MoneySense, penned by Duncan Hood, who both preceded and followed me in the position of editor-in-chief.
The above picture, taken this morning, you could call “View from the Editor-at-Large’s chair.”
As Duncan implies at the end of his editorial, it turns out my personal Findependence Day (or Financial Independence Day) was May 20, 2014, my last day as a full-time employee at Rogers Publishing. The concept of Findependence and Findependence Day can be found in chapter one of the financial novel of the same name, and which is the chief focus of this blog and website. The introductory chapter is free and you can find it by clicking on the Preview tab of this site, or here.
At one point in the book, I say that the day after Findependence Day may be just like the one before it, except that from this moment on you work because you want to, not because you have to. Right now, I neither have to nor want to, so I’m declaring this summer a sabbatical. After 35 consecutive years in journalism, with never more than two weeks off in a row, it’s a long-awaited chance to do a lot of reading and thinking and exploring new opportunities.
Is Semi-Retirement the best of all worlds?
Some of the books I’ve been reading are What Color is Your Parachute? For Retirement; Mitch Anthony’s The New Retirementality; Ian Taylor’s Are you ready for Semi-Retirement? and others I’ll mention in future posts. I believe most baby boomers have a lot of life ahead of them and this 61-year old (a 1953 model, as one friend puts it) intends to be fully engaged in writing, editing, speaking, blogging, book authorship, social media, reviewing books, consulting and other activities, probably until well past 70. Once they’re findependent many boomers will still want to be actively mixing a work lifestyle with a bit more leisure and learning: See The Three Boxes of Life, a book I read decades ago. Unless you’re completely burned out by a stressful career, many of us will be in “go-go” mode for the early to mid 60s. This may become “slow-go” as you pass 65 and ultimately “No-go,” which might occur as one enters true old age and are disabled or suffering early signs of dementia: or forced to take care of a partner in that condition.
As corporate full-time salaried jobs go, the editorship of MoneySense was hard to beat. So I doubt I’ll even try to replace it: instead, I’ll probably choose to implement a “portfolio career,” the chief elements of which I mention above. Of course, if another perfect job arrived, I’d certainly consider it!
Unpacking the three boxes of life
Back to the three boxes of life. It used to be that Box One was education, devoted 100% to learning. Then you graduated into Box Two: Full-time Work. Probably most readers of MoneySense are familiar with this box, which even in my case has dragged out fully half of the biblically allotted three score and ten. Then Box Three was the traditional Retirement, with 100% leisure, typically occurring at age 65 with a gold watch and the fruits of long service in a Defined Benefit pension plan.
Now what about the timing of your Findependence Day? As a later chapter of the book explains, this can be a moving target and moved forward or backward, depending on financial markets or outside forces beyond your control. You may even have a false alarm or two in declaring exactly when your Findependence actually arrives.
I joke that my liberation in May actually constituted my “third annual Findependence Day.” The first almost occurred when I thought I was going to take a buyout package from the Financial Post. The second was a year ago, when I turned 60 and published the US edition of the book, and celebrated both milestones with what I claimed was “the world’s first Findependence Day party.” (Hey, since I coined the term, I should be able to make that claim!)
Several MoneySense writers attended that event but as I noted at the time in a blog titled “The Day After Findependence Day,” it was a bit of an anticlimax. The following Monday I went back to the office at the Rogers Campus and continued to edit the magazine, content to declare that (as the book says), I was now “working because I want to, not because I have to.”
And I did want to at the time. But I also reasoned that by turning 60, if I no longer enjoyed it I could now collect CPP plus a few modest corporate pensions if I really wanted to. I explained this in the Financial Independence column I wrote in the 15th anniversary issue of MoneySense, which was the last one that I was involved with from the start of the publishing cycle right to the end.
This blog is now column-length itself so I’d better draw it to a close. Up until now, the books and blogs looked at the concept of Findependence Day as something looming in the future. From here on in, I’ll be describing the twists and turns of the actual experience. It’s a bit like the difference between eating food and merely watching someone eat.
I hope to update this blog most Fridays, assuming the spirit moves me and I’m not on some travel adventure to fill up the “Leisure” component of semi-retirement. If you need to reach me, just email email@example.com, or reach out at Linked In or Twitter, where I post as @jonchevreau.
My first interview since the title change:
P.S. Just as I was finishing this blog, I learned of a half-hour podcast with a young blogger with whom I chatted last Sunday. I’ll devote a whole blog to this when I get the chance but in the meantime, this blog (which is also transcribed) constitutes my first media interview since stepping down from MoneySense.