After doing a deep dive on the different ways to pay for college and how to get good financial aid, I realized the best thing for my family is for me to go back to work. Coming up with $1,500,000 for two kids' college experience in 12-15 years is daunting.
Going back to work feels like giving up since I helped kickstart the FIRE movement in 2009. But the reality is, times are always changing.
Sitting idly on my hands, hoping my investments will miraculously cover such an expensive nut in the future feels uncomfortable. I want to take action while I still can!
When I retired in 2012, my wife and I had planned to live a simple life on Oahu with less than $100,000 a year. We would help take care of my grandfather's fruit farm, sell some mangos and papayas to the local supermarkets, and feed ourselves with what was left over.
After trying for so long, we thought kids would not be in our destiny. But our son was finally born in 2017 and then our daughter in 2019. Suddenly, our whole world had changed and so had our expenses.
Going Back To Work Isn't A Total Failure
In 2017, I made a promise that I would be a stay-at-home-dad for five years. After five years, my son would be able to go to kindergarten full-time.
I fulfilled my promise plus an additional year because of our daughter. I wanted to give her the same amount of time as I had given my son.
But after being a stay-at-home dad to my daughter for three-and-a-half years, I decided I couldn't stay any longer. Daddy had to go back to work because of the 2022 bear market.
A ~20% decline in the S&P 500 hit our net worth by ~7% in 2022. Both my kids' 529 plans also got hit almost equally as bad because bonds performed terribly in 2022 as well. The funds are in index target date funds.
Real estate has been a relative bright spot with all our rental properties fully occupied for years. My investments in private real estate across the heartland have also performed well during the pandemic, especially in 2021.
However, the Fed needs to pivot by the end of the year to prevent a 10%+ nationwide decline in real estate prices. And I'm not sure the Fed really cares given it hiked rates by another 0.25% after the bank runs.
Going back to work will replenish the bank account and provide a buffer for a potential decline in passive income. If a recession returns, then everything from dividend payout ratios to occupancy rates will be at risk.
Going Back To Work Is A Compromise
I do feel guilty about not spending as much time with my daughter as I did with my son. However, she still received a lot of love for the three years before she started preschool.
We started her off going two days a week at the beginning of 2023. Come summer, she will be attending three days a week. And if she really loves school, we'll bump attendance to five days a week at year-end. Learning how to socialize with other little ones and learning Mandarin is good for her.
With my wife always at home, I am clearly my daughter's second love. I've experienced many hurtful rejections that have made me question the point of being a stay-at-home father for so long.
Going back to work protects my heart, while also optimizing my purpose. I've spoken to many dads on paternity leave who can't help but feel restless after the third month. If they were the breadwinners before, they felt an immense draw to go back to work to earn.
Having two stay-at-home parents is great for the first year of a child's life. There's so much that needs to be done to take proper care of a baby. The second year of life is pretty wonderful given most toddlers will begin walking and playing by then.
However, after the second year, I think it's more efficient for one parent to go back to work. It's better for financial security, peace of mind, and work/life balance.
House Is Getting Small Again
No matter how much you love someone, it can sometimes be hard to be around them 24/7. You might scare the bejeezus out of them when you silently get something in the kitchen. Or maybe you might get annoyed by the mess they leave behind in the living room.
Whatever the case may be, having some separation is healthy for any relationship. There's a reason why best friends sometimes no longer are best friends after a long roadtrip.
I've done my best to get out of the house every day by playing sports. However, my body can no longer play for longer than two hours before my back, heels, hips and right shoulder start hurting! As a result, my outings don't last as long as they have in the past. Further, I usually rest the entire next day, which means staying at home.
My wife enjoys being at home more than I do. She definitely doesn't want to go back to work either. As a result, it is up to me to adapt. I don't mind because I enjoy meeting new people. Luckily, life is more or less back to normal.
Not Buying A Mansion For Relief
Buying a larger house in 2020 gave us three years of extra comfort so far. However, as our kids grow bigger and accumulate more stuff, our house seems to grow smaller.
I strongly considered buying an even larger house. However, my wife doesn't want to move. Further, I'm hesitant to concentrate even more of our wealth on San Francisco real estate. Our total annual property tax bill is already too high for comfort.
Instead, I want to continue diversifying more into heartland real estate. Working from home and the spreading out of America to lower-cost areas are here to stay. Check out Fundrise if you're interested in investing in this long-term trend as well.
Going back to work now that both our children are in school gives us space.
Work Seems Easier Today
Early retirement is becoming obsolete thanks to the pandemic. The amount of flexibility people have at work today is incredible compared to the past.
If I had the freedom some workers have today, I would have worked for at least five more years. Back then, I had to sneak away to take a 15-minute nap in my car! Today, you can play pickleball for 1.5 hours during the weekday and then take a half-an-hour nap after if you want.
As an efficient person, I'm sure I can get eight hours of work done in four hours or less. So long as I'm not encumbered with meetings, I have no doubt work will be more manageable.
I'm also pleased that companies seem to be less focused on face time and more focused on production. So long as you get your work done, that's mostly what matters.
Hard To Pay The Bills As A Writer
They say “follow your passion and the money will come.” Good luck with that occupation strategy! Instead, it's better to do something that pays and then pursue your passion on the side.
Despite writing Buy This, Not That, a WSJ bestseller, I still have not earned enough from the book to support my family. To do so, I need to be raising my national profile regularly. But I'm disinterested in the spotlight.
Despite having a 60,000-subscriber newsletter, I feel bad moving to a subscription model where I could probably make at least $200,000 a year. The goal of my newsletter is to help anyone and everyone interested in building more wealth while also staying on top of the most important financial topics.
Given the difficulty of being a professional writer, the logical solution is for me to get a day job again. I'll still write, just not as often. Or maybe I’ll leverage AI to write my content for me.
For all you creatives out there, don’t lose hope! I had a really good run for 11 years, but all good things must come to an end. It’s still better to try than never try at all.
More Active Income And Good Benefits
The ideal income composition doesn't consist of 100% passive income. Instead, it's better to have at least 10% of your total income coming from active day job income. This way, you feel like you're doing something productive in society.
One of the biggest negatives of early retirement is feeling lost. Without a day job bringing you purpose, it's easy to fall into despair as you question what is the point of life. The longer you work, the more you will have your identity wrapped up in work.
Having a day job, no matter how mundane, helps provide structure and purpose in our lives. With school teachers now taking care of educating our children, a large part of my purpose as a stay-at-home dad is gone.
I'll certainly continue to provide supplemental education after school and during the weekends. Being the family driver will always be my duty. But I'm now left with a void that needs to be filled.
It'll be nice to earn a steady paycheck and receive subsidized healthcare benefits again. I'm also looking forward to getting a 401(k) match or profit sharing once more.
Even though I’m going back to work, at least I won't have any regrets trying to make it as a professional writer. I don't have regrets leaving banking before making Managing Director because I at least tried for one year.
Trapped By The School Schedule
So long as your children are attending grade school in person, parents are trapped by the school schedule. Therefore, parents might as well make some money as we wait for spring, summer, and winter breaks.
Homeschooling is in the cards given that's what we did from March 2020 to August 2021. Kids learn so much quicker than regular schooling. However, given our children are still young, they won't appreciate their travels just yet.
Going back to work helps kill time as we wait for our children to grow older. When they're both at least eight, we can then slow travel the world.
Having a goal of saving up for years of world travel makes going back to work more meaningful.
My New Job Thanks To A Return To Normalcy
So what will I be doing?
Well, I love basketball so I've decided to apply for a job as the video coordinator for the Golden State Warriors. Although the job only pays $40,000 a year, I get to be around the coaching staff and the players. Fingers crossed!
I feel like I've got good analytical insights to share with the team. Matchups intrigue me and so does the ability to build winning teams. Besides, the NBA needs more Asian diversity!
When I coached high school tennis, we won back-to-back Northern California Sectional championships partially due to lineup strategies. Before then, the school had never won an NCS championship.
There you have it. Starting this October 2023, I hope to be busy working through April or May 2024. The season will be hectic and I may have to do some traveling.
But it'll be fun! Barista FIRE for the win. And at least I'll still get five or six months off a year, depending if we get to the playoffs.
In A Different Life, Perhaps
OK, I was joking about landing a job with the Warriors. I’m still waiting to hear back from them. But everything I've written in this post is true.
I need to find a way to get out of the house more often. For six years, so much of my life has evolved around raising young kids. Once both kids are both in school full-time, I need a new purpose to help fill the void.
Last year, I was invited to a players and coaches event with the Warriors and it was exhilarating. It felt wonderful to be a part of a team, especially one that has won for so long. I miss the camaraderie.
In the meantime, I've got some other ideas on how to fill the void:
- Host a book signing event for up to 100 attendees in San Francisco at the Sports Basement at Stonestown Mall. Anybody want to come?
- Become a pickleball product ambassador or affiliate partner. I met a guy who is one for a pickleball energy drink. Maybe I can use my platform to meet new people, attend events, and play in tournaments.
- Join an author group and write my next personal finance book.
- Become a school teacher in Hawaii where I’d like my kids to go. One of the benefits will be a discounted tuition and easier entrance. I’ll also get to see them more often during the day.
So Old And Tired To Work As Hard As Before
Despite some serious upcoming expenses in the future, it's difficult for me to get a regular day job again. I'm too old and too unmotivated to grind as I once did. There needs to be a job that provides better balance and more fun. I'll figure the money out as I always have.
In addition, I realized if I send my kids to community college, I won't have to come up with $1.5 million to pay for two private college tuitions in the future. Hence, there pressure to make a lot of money at work won't be as high.
If you are under 45, please don't waste your energy! It will eventually fade. When it does, you had better have a pile of money saved or invested. Otherwise, you may feel trapped in an increasing state of misery.
I hope this post has provided some insights into some of the complexities of life. The more you have (time, children, money, etc), the more decisions you will need to make.
Don't think that just because you reached your target net worth, got that promotion, or finally gave birth to a girl after two boys, you'll be forever happy. You'll be elated for a bit, and then it's back to your steady state of being.
Life takes work! Maybe that's the job we should really be focusing on all along.
Reader Questions And Suggestions
Readers, what are some fun jobs you'd love to take if you had the opportunity? How has your life changed after retirement?
Pick up a copy of Buy This, Not That, my instant Wall Street Journal bestseller. The book helps you make more optimal decisions so you can live a better, more fulfilling life.
If you're looking to generate more passive income, take a look at Fundrise, my favorite private real estate platform. Fundrise began in 2012 and now manages over $3.5 billion in assets. The firm predominantly invests in Sunbelt residential properties, where valuations are lower and yields are higher.
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