I have a guest post from one of my favorite bloggers, Joe from Retire by 40. Joe is good guy who also happily does his own thing. I've known Joe for about 10 years and we live quite similar lives. The main difference is that he was able to convince his wife to continue working long after he retired and I could not.
When I left my day job in April 2012, I kind of foolishly told my wife that she could also leave her day job before her 35th birthday. My wife is three years younger than me. As a champion of equality, I thought this was a pragmatic approach to a dual early retirement lifestyle. She actually wanted to quit her job at 31 when I engineered my layoff, so it took some convincing not to.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have tried to encourage her to work longer. Not only would she have helped narrow the gender pay gap by getting paid and promoted instead of the men at her firm, but she would also have allowed me to relax more, get six-pack abs, and not have to write so much on Financial Samurai!
Now that our boy is in preschool, I'm gently trying to convince my wife to go back to work full-time again. I'd like to take the financial pressure off my shoulders for a year and focus more time on taking care of the household. So far, I'm not having much luck.
Let's hear from Joe how he did the impossible!
In 2012, I retired from my engineering career at age 40 to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger. However, my wife continues to work full-time. Everything is working out very well for us and life is awesome.
There are numerous advantages to having a working spouse. We have enough savings to support our modest lifestyle, but we don’t have to drawdown because my wife makes a nice income. Another huge win is healthcare. We’re using her employer-sponsored health plan so we don’t have to deal with ACA.
Our family life is way better than when we both worked full-time because I can take care of the home front. These are just a few of the benefits of staggering your retirement.
But is it unfair for my wife to work full-time while I enjoy early retirement? How did I convince Mrs. RB40 to continue working after I retired? Let me explain how.
Some People Like Working
Truthfully, I didn’t have to do much convincing. Some people want to work, no matter how wealthy they are. Look at Sam for example. He has enough invested to never work again, but he blogs, coaches tennis, consults for startups, drove for Uber, and continues to hustle hard. He’s wealthy by any definition. He never needs to work again if he doesn’t want to.
Mrs. RB40 has a similar personality. She wants to contribute to society and feel useful. Retirement isn’t exactly her dream scenario. She also gets along with people and functions very well in an organization.
Working is a good fit for her personality. On the other hand, I don’t get along with people and prefer to work by myself. Working as a corporate drone was a terrible fit for me. I hated it and everyone could tell.
In any case, most of us prefer to work rather than retire (if the work is the right fit.) It’s the American way. So the main secret is my wife’s personality. She’s a go-getter and this predisposes her to continue working after I retired.
Career and Education Timing
Another reason why she wants to keep working is the timing of my early retirement. I met my wife in college. When we graduated, I started my engineering career right away. She joined the Peace Corps and went off to Uzbekistan for three years.
Those three long years were great learning experiences, but they didn’t help land her dream job. She joined me in Portland after she got back and couldn’t find a good job locally. I guess the job situation would have been better for her if she had moved to DC, but then we wouldn’t have been together.
Anyway, she worked at a temp agency for a couple of years before finding a stable job at a local company. That position didn’t have much future, but she stuck with it for 5 years. Eventually, she realized that she needed more so she went back to college full-time to earn her Master’s degree.
In 2007, she finished her advanced degree and started a new career. I retired in 2012. That’s just five years after she began her new career, which was just the developmental phase. She was doing great at her job and got advancement frequently. Nobody wants to retire when they’re doing well in their careers.
In contrast, I had already worked as an engineer for 16 years by then. I was completely burned out and I was ready to exit the corporate world.
This is secret number one. If your partner is happy with their work, they won’t want to retire. You have to help them find that happy place. I encouraged my wife to go back to college full-time so she could finish fast and start a new career.
Our household income decreased for two years, but it wasn’t a big deal because we could live on one paycheck. It was the right choice for her and it gave our household income a big boost.
Early Financial Preparation
Early retirement is tricky when it comes to the finance part. You’re too young to receive Social Security benefits and it’s too early to draw down your retirement funds. We had to make sure our investments can support my early retirement.
I wouldn’t have quit my job if we had to downgrade our lifestyle drastically. Luckily, Mrs. RB40 wanted to keep working. This gave us a chance to ramp down slowly instead of drastically.
To make sure we could maintain our lifestyle, I kept track of all our income and expenses for over two years. During this period, we saved and invested all of my paychecks. So we lived on just our passive income and my wife’s income. This showed that we can survive without the income from my job. It also gave our investment a nice boost.
I also showed her how the 4% rule works. Basically, you can withdraw 4% from your investment and it should last 30+ years. To meet this guideline, we needed to save at least 25x our annual expense. To be safe, we saved 30x our annual expense and that gave us some margin. We can withdraw 3.3% every year if needed. It’s safer for a long retirement like mine.
If we both had retired in 2012, we’d have started drawing down our retirement portfolio. However, my wife kept working and our portfolio grew. Incredibly, our net worth doubled over the last 7 years. This was mostly due to my wife’s effort. If she had retired at the same time I did, we wouldn’t have been able to save much. Luckily, my wife enjoys seeing our net worth grow. This is another factor why she continues to work.
Good With Kids
Our son was 18 months old when I retired from my engineering career. We hated sending him to daycare. We dropped him off at 7 am and picked him up at 6 pm. After we fed him and cleaned up, it was time for bed. It felt like we didn’t have any time with him at all except on the weekends. This is one of the big reasons why I wanted to retire early. We thought it’d be best to have one parent at home.
Luckily, I was pretty good at taking care of our son. I took 10 weeks off when our son was born and I enjoyed being home immensely. I played with him, changed his diapers, fed him, took him for walks, and was a good caretaker. I knew I could be a competent stay-at-home dad.
In fact, our son was more attached to me than my wife when he was a baby. I’m good with kids and pets. Mrs. RB40 is way better with older people and coworkers. Maybe it’s just our personalities, but I’m a better fit as a stay-at-home parent. Mrs. RB40 didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom at all. She preferred working.
Family Better Off After I Retired
In conclusion, it didn’t take a lot of effort to convince my wife to continue working after I retired. She wanted to work and there was no good reason for her to retire at that time. The bottom line is – today our lives are way better than when I was working.
Now, she can come home from work to a delicious dinner and a happy family. My son has someone to turn to whenever he needs a hand. I’m a coach on his soccer team and I volunteer at school occasionally. It’s a lot of fun for both of us. I’m not stressed out and angry all the time like when I was working in a job I hated. Our finances are holding up fine. All of us are happier than before I retired and that’s what counts.
Today, we’re doing well enough that I’m actively encouraging Mrs. RB40 to retire early. I want my wife to retire in 2020, but I’m not sure if she will really retire next year. Her career isn’t new anymore and there are times that she complains about work. However, she still likes being a productive member of society.
It will be a lot more difficult to convince her to retire than to continue working. I’ll work on it. Check-in with us next year at Retire by 40 to see if she quits working or not.
Update 2021: Joe's wife did not end up retiring in 2020. In fact, Joe has convinced his wife to keep working until 2022! He is a master at encouraging his wife to work longer so he can stay retired.
Readers, have any of you been able to convince your spouses to continue working long after you retired? If so, how did you do it? If you are a working mom with a stay at home husband/boyfriend, I'd love to know some of the blindspots men who strive to retire early without your full-time companionship should be aware of.
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