I love listening to classic rock and roll. It was the music that played on the radio stations when I was in my early teens, and it has left a lasting impression on me. I often noticed that many of the groups had a title track song on their first album with the same name as their album. Bad Company and Black Sabbath did this on their inaugural albums. (For those young whippersnappers reading, they were called “albums” back in the days before CDs and MP3s.) Now, after 15 months sharing our thoughts, dreams, fears, and of course our personal challenges with our readers, I think it is time to write the “title track” article of the Just One More Year blog. Let’s call it the Just One More Year Syndrome!
We came up with the name “Just One More Year” through a series of conversations with our friends the Billys, discussing the options of when and how we would retire early. Mrs. Billy at one point mentioned that she and her husband had the “Just One More Year Syndrome”—much like Dianne and I do. I had been kicking around the idea of starting a PF blog for several years and thought that would be a great name, and we went with Just One More Year.
The name resonated with us since we are somewhat conservative and wanted to make what we felt were safe and well-thought-out decisions before leaving our employers. We had many moving parts involving children, college, houses, insurance, health, debt, and building a passive income stream to provide the income we needed. We also had numerous bucket list items, savings needed for replacement of items, a grand travel plan, and remodeling goals in the mix. It seemed that all of these challenges kept things interesting… and rather difficult to control. My dear readers, I am happy to say we are getting close to fulfilling our early retirement dreams!
What is the Just One More Year Syndrome and can it be treated or cured?
The definition of the Just One More Year Syndrome, to me, is:
The inability to make a decision now, since we feel that in just one more year we will have better information, more money saved, or will have met some other financial goal that will make the decision to retire early seem perfect.
Our original plans were to retire last year. However, we had significant new developments that led us to not retiring one year ago. Last year we still had passive income debt, we were attempting to downsize, and we needed to hit a milestone with an employer for insurance and pension benefits. We were selling our house, buying a downsized home, remodeling, had college expenses for two daughters, and faced the likelihood that one of our jobs could be eliminated by our employers. That made decisions difficult. All of these elements made our decision tree look like a thousand-year-old redwood, with countless branches sprouting from the trunk. We needed to identify some of the problems and get past certain milestones to eliminate the clutter from our decision-making process. We have almost arrived.
I have found it therapeutic writing about our experiences over the past year. We have shared many of our plans, our frustrations, and our fears about leaving full-time employment in our early fifties. Recognizing that we are emotional creatures and can’t control every possible outcome is a good start for us, and will help us to make better decisions going forward. Granted, the expectations about the future are influenced by our current environment and outlook.
We think there is a cure for the Just One More Year Syndrome! It will come down to adopting a YOLO attitude and reaching a breaking point with our employers. For my wife, that will happen this year. For me, that will occur as late as next summer.
Just One More Year: Fear and greed are the trigger points
What’s making the decision to leave our paid employment for early retirement so difficult? It comes down to two basic emotions—fear and greed. I am at an age where it could be problematic to find employment at a wage remotely close to my current income. I consider leaving my full-time job a one-way decision that would be nearly impossible to reverse.
I know that many of those younger and more optimistic than me may call me out, saying that is BS! Why think negatively? The sky is the limit! Who knows what great things could happen once you leave your employer?
That is true, there are infinite possibilities, however the probability not being able to replace the same wage is more likely than you might think. This NY Times article points out that 48.8% of unemployed women in the age group of 55 to 64 are “long-term unemployed.” That means they both need and are looking for work, but have not landed a job after months or perhaps years of searching. There lies my fear, for whatever disaster hits me: I have to go back to work, yet the only job I can find pays 25% of what I make now.
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.” –Excerpt from FDR’s first inaugural address
I have had some major challenges in my life that still bring fear about future uncertainties. To list a few:
- My youngest daughter nearly died at birth and was in intensive care for three weeks; in addition to the fear of losing her, we incurred a financial cost of $120,000.
- I have lost several jobs due to mergers and downsizing.
- We have had multiple challenges with selling real estate.
- When my first wife asked for a divorce, I lost half my net worth in one day.
- I saw both my father’s successful partner and a family member declare bankruptcy. Another family member needed to “short sell” his home.
- My father-in-law and father died at early ages. My mother was confined to a nursing home three years ago at age 71, at a cost of $80K a year and she has no nursing home insurance coverage.
- On Monday this week, I chatted with a fellow coffee drinking companion at the local hangout. On Tuesday this late 60’s person is found dead on a park bench.
Each of these events, and many others, have influenced me as an adult and affected my decision making for early retirement.
How much is enough?
Let’s not forget fear’s evil twin: GREED! Check out how the fictional movie character Gordon Gekko describes greed in this video clip.
I recognize that I have not found that magic “enough” level that is described in one of my favorite personal finance books, Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. They created a great chart with a fulfillment curve, determining the point at which we reach “enough.”
Here is how this graphic plays out. We begin by getting jobs to make money to pay for rent, utilities, groceries, and basic insurances. This is the “Survival” stage of our fulfillment curve.
We then advance with our educations, experiences, and employers. We receive raises, make more money, and find outlets to spend that additional income. In the “Comfort” stage, we upgrade our clunker car to something more dependable. We actually take an occasional vacation. We no longer buy the cheapest foods available, and we begin to dine out more often at restaurants.
The “Luxury” phase occurs when we begin making even more money, wiser investments, and living below our means. Living below one’s means is not required, but it does help in the long term. This is the stage during which we feel we need to upsize our lifestyles across a wide spectrum of purchases and experiences. This will be different for everyone depending on what a person values and wishes to spend money on. Maybe it’s buying the McMansion, the fifth TV, or going on world cruises. The possibilities are endless. The key here is that this stage allows us to have some luxuries. Not all of them, as just above this stage, we reach the theoretical “Enough” point.
The “Enough” point is reached when the addition of another luxury, thing, or experience begins to lose the marginal utility of return on the dollars spent. In other words, the next purchase doesn’t seem to bring as much happiness as the last. It’s kind of like eating pizza: the first piece is awesome. The second could be just as good. However, on the fourth or fifth slice, it has begun to lose its luster. How do you think the twentieth slice would taste if you could somehow consume that much pizza?
“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” – Italian proverb, ca. 1603
I am struggling with finding the point of “Enough.” I know that, from a logical perspective, I can’t have everything. We live below our means and continue to save a large percentage of our incomes. But the little devil on my shoulder tells me, “You only live once! You will leave more than enough money for your family… why not do something nice for yourself and buy that fancy car and take a vacation to Tahiti? You deserve it!”
Should I concede to these money-spending thoughts, I know myself well enough to realize that I would feel compelled to continue working to build the cash reserve to replace the money spent for luxuries.
After imagining all the possible ramifications of retiring early, I allow fear to grip me again, staying stuck, not purchasing that item, and continuing to work. I keep telling myself that maybe if I work for Just One More Year, then I will have plenty of money to buy that thing or experience I so desire. Essentially, I keep moving my fulfillment curve up, failing to make the decision to leave my employer.
Check out this lady’s fulfillment curve, with a $262 million lifestyle. She is asking her ex-husband to pay for her “enoughness” level of support—including $1.3 million a year for clothes! Evidently, she has found what enough for her is, or maybe she hasn’t? There is one thing that is certain: the chart for her fulfillment curve has many more zeros in it than ours!
What can I do to cure my Just One More Year Syndrome?
I can start by counting my blessings, reminding myself that I can’t do and own everything. There has to be a compromise and a limit. I seem to want to reach perfection, where no questions are unanswered and I have twice as much saved as now. If I continue down that path, I will be working past the traditional retirement age. This is not the result I was expecting, to keep putting the decision off, when I started my PF independence journey decades ago.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey
We just have to make a decision and leave our employers and do the best we can. Even taking the pessimistic view that everything will come tumbling down the day we quit work, we still will make some money after leaving our traditional jobs. My active imagination creates the fear that the stock market will crash, all our tenants will leave, and every property will suddenly require $20K in repairs.
The good news is that because we are debt free, our basic living expenses are quite low. Even with the potential calamities that could befall us, we can figure out a way to survive. Again, those are probabilities for disaster, but not likely. The bottom line is that we need be happy with the lives we have and focus on the positive of what will be, when we are no longer chained to our employers’ desks. We have to keep that dream alive, understanding we won’t have all the answers, but we can adjust to what life throws at us.
We have already past the point of “Enough” for our present lifestyle to support us for the remaining days of our lives. Now we just need to jump!