Reflections After 3 Months Of Semi-Retirement: Part 2 – The Bad

Slightly more than a week ago, I shared how much I was enjoying the first 3 months of my semi-retirement.

It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Without (a big) worry regarding finances, how can a person not enjoy taking 3 months off a 40 hour work week at the age of 28?

I agree. Having more control in my schedule, better sleep and having more time for new experiences are just some of the numerous positive changes I have experienced in these past 14 weeks. And I have documented them rather well in that earlier post.

But such a lifestyle can’t be perfect for everyone. Otherwise, all the billionaires would be retired or even semi-retired by now, right? And it seems it isn’t for me too as there are some obvious downsides to this 3 hour work week.

But don’t panic If you’re thinking of semi-retirement or pursuing a similar temporary experiment as me. I really doubt things would get ugly although I shall share some of the less appealing stuff below to pre-empt anyone who is expecting some version of paradise in retirement or semi-retirement.


1. Insane amount of “unproductive” distractions

I don’t have to answer to a supervisor or an employer from 9am to 6pm on weekdays and I begin most days on a fresh slate. But that doesn’t guarantee that I spend the day doing stuff that I had set out to do.

Don’t understand what I mean? Read on.

I didn’t set out to sleep more than 10 hours and wake up past 3pm. It’s the hangover after the World Cup match last night and now unfortunately, more than half the day is gone. 

I didn’t set out to be on Facebook and YouTube for 3 whopping hours. I just wanted to check out some updates on my friends’ lives and chanced upon this interesting link shared. One link led to another and I was soon @YouTube checking out some hilarious videos.There goes the blog post that I was supposed to write on.

I didn’t set out to play FIFA 14 on PS3 for the entire afternoon. It was supposed to be a few games but I just had to make up for that most recent loss (or the opposite: I just had to continue playing since I was on form) and this continued till Mrs 15HWW was back to put a stop on everything. That book just has to wait for another day. 

Luckily, the above examples weren’t that common but it’s still often enough to make myself embarrassed.

When you have the whole day to yourself, it can be exhilarating at the start of the day. But if one is not careful, the day could end in confusion (what? it’s over?) and remorse.

Counter-measure: The day is planned the night before and I try to detail what I would (and should) roughly be doing at every hour. More productive activities like writing this post, housework, exercising and reading are penciled in so that the day is not “wasted.” I might not follow it entirely but it serves as a good rough guide and help to instil some much needed self-discipline not to indulge too much in those “mindless pleasures”.

2. Lack of challenges by default

When you go through a challenge (vs. to getting around it), you inevitably grow as a person. And in the workplace, challenges are sort of aplenty.

Your boss or his superior will somehow assign you projects to work on that’s going to cause you some anguish or worse, sleepless nights. You feel like screaming at the top of your voice in office while you toil at it. But amazingly, once the whole episode is over, you look back and grin at yourself.

“Such problems” will no longer bother you as much as you learnt how to manage them.

Admittedly, such challenges do cause stress but is having no stress (at the expense of growth) really such a good thing?

Counter-measure: I impose challenges/targets on myself. My attention has been more towards health & fitness and reading & writing for the past 3 months.

3. Unrealistic expectations; unmet goals

This is somewhat related to both of the earlier factors.

Before quitting work, I thought that I would be leading a fulfilling life exercising, cooking, reading and writing everyday and that most of my bad and poor habits would just be eradicated in a matter of weeks.

How naive I was. I haven’t been exercising everyday over the past 3 months and I have also only read 4 good books during this period (The Next 100 Years, 1984, The Power Of Less, The Prince) which represents little improvement over what I was doing previously when I was working.

I have also over-estimated my ability in reaching some of my targets and challenges. I still haven’t cooked a proper meal for the Mrs and I have failed to reach most of my targets in my fitness (running, burpees, swimming).

The lifestyle in retirement isn’t as perfect as what we imagine it to be and definitely isn’t the antidote to what we are lacking currently in life.

Counter-measure: Celebrate every little progress. Instead of feeling upset over those unmet targets and challenges, I have learnt to be happier that I am exercising 4-5 times a week, steaming/boiling simple stuff for my lunches and running 5% faster than 3 months ago.  🙂

Bad habits have to be slowly chipped away too. (Stay tuned as I will be creating a challenge on this front for myself in the new month.)

4. More concerned about finances

Unfortunately, we are not a millionaire household. Not yet anyway.  😉

Even though both of us can easily subsist on a person’s salary, I can still feel some sort of strain recently. Previously, we could easily save $5,000 every month and our assets also grew from $176K in Dec 2013 to $261K in June 2014. Even after discounting the cash position in the OCBC 360 Account, there’s still a $50K increase.

Some adapting is on the cards since it’s literally impossible to increase the assets at the same rate in the near future. The perils of being a) too used to having two incomes b) saving a substantial amount every month and 3) seeing your assets grow every month.

It does make me wonder if financial freedom could ever lead a person to be free from the worries of money. Would a million bucks do it for us to happily put down paid-work? I hope so. Otherwise we could really be more trapped by money than initially feared.  😕

Counter-measure: Spend less, eh? And maybe a bit more gratitude and perspective regarding what we have achieved. Both of us are lucky to have found each other, learn so much about money at our age and accumulate a significant stash to allow me to stop working comfortably for at least 3 months. By almost any metric, we are in a wonderful fiscal position.


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19 thoughts on “Reflections After 3 Months Of Semi-Retirement: Part 2 – The Bad

  1. B

    Hi 15hww

    The first few months of “financial independence” is always going to be not productive, spending a lot more than expected and just enjoying whatever working life cannot give you. Then it’s up to the individual to whether he or she is going to bounce right up from there.

    Thanks for this post, I think it brings light to what is financial independence (at least for now) all about. It is not just about the good part, there is often the not so good part to it that we have to tackle.

  2. Jared Seah

    15 HWW,

    A clever one, a naughty one!

    Title and headline say “Bad”.

    But all I’ve read is about…. No, counter measure is not quite right…. it’s about awareness, arising, and awakening!

    Blessings? Aye, we need to count them least we forget 😉

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi SMOL,

      Naughty and clever? Nah.

      Anyway, you wanted to see if there’s any similarities? Is there any? And what do you find bad/ugly about your 15 hour work week so far?

      Curious to know. =)

  3. Jared Seah

    15 HWW,

    1) I already got this frame of mind BEFORE my sabbatical from work:

    “Why stand when you can sit? And why sit when you can lie down?”

    So it was much easier for me as I wasn’t clinging to the tools and mentality of the mice (sounds nicer tha rat or sheep); hence no beating myself up on those point 1 to 3 you have written 😉

    2) Your original plans and goal settings did not pan out quite the way you envisioned. You now replaced them with “challenges to yourself”.

    There is no “bad” if you are able to recognise where you’ve deviated, and how to reverted back to your original path.

    Not everyone can admit they were “off track” for a while… No awareness, no arising, no awakening.

    No growth.

    That’s where my clever and naughty compliment to you comes in 😉

    3) If you thirsty, you drink. If you feel like writing, you write. If you don’t want to exercise, you won’t.

    Do you need goals and challenges for them? What does it mean you still need these “tools” to shepherd yourself?

    Think of an activity that you do naturally without prompting from others or yourself. For eg: A person who loves reading will just read. Where got count how many books must read in a month?

    I went back to weekend part-time work because I felt like doing so.

    No clue how long I’ll be doing it. If I feel like taking a break again, I will do so 😉

    4) This is the icing on the cake:

    “Both of us are lucky to have found each other, ”

    Financial freedom is not just about money.

    Try imaging your 3 months without the company of your wife to share them with 😉

    Don’t think too much; plan less.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi SMOL,

      Thank you for your constructive and thought-provoking comments.

      You are right that I am sometimes guilty of planning too much. Day dreaming and projecting stuff and numbers do give me a huge kick most of the time! I do have to learn to go with the flow sometimes.

      But not too much!? I rarely feel the urge to exercise. Except back in school when we were playing sports and games and my competitive streak got hold of me, lazy me prefer to sit back and relax.

      And this is where I have to hold a different view from you. Right now, I can almost always sit. But I choose to stand sometimes.

      Almost everytime after I finish my run, I am glad that I did not give in to that inner voice who kept enticing me to choose an easier alternative.

      And I believe that reading is always easier than writing. This blog wouldn’t be around if I didn’t set any target or goal initially and only wrote when I felt like doing it.

      Maybe it’s just me with this laziness and procrastination problem. Probably one day when reading, writing and exercising become habits (like managing money), I can abandon all plans and just seize every moment. =)

  4. Entrepreneur

    I am also in semi retirement for past 3 months. So is wife. Our understanding is that it is to last earliest until jan or… We are age 38 with 4 kids.

    Key takeaways :

    1) discipline is super important. I have 2-3 key things to complete each day. Usually they include 1 hr workout, 1-2 hours to visit parents.

    2) some work is still good. I have a few startups I work with. One of them is which May interest you. The other big area is portfolio management. In total I aim for about 2 days a week on money making items (hopefully).

    3) stress levels plunged. I sleep so much better, much less stress in life. Become a calmer person and more kind in thinking to everyone.

    4) kid time is super impt. Self explanatory.

    5) fear of finances. This is the amazing part.

    The main difference I think btwn us is that I started only at age 38 while you are much younger. My attitude was to make what people call Retirement money before allowing myself to slow down. God willing, we managed to achieve that a few times over based on our standard of living.

    But, I still worry about returns and finances, intellectually, I know I should not need to worry. But somehow, there is a fear of underperforming, fear of negative returns, fear of jus screwing up. Funny yah?

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Entrepreneur,

      Thanks for your sharing. =)

      Except for the kids part (I don’t have any yet), I can empathise with most of your key takeaways.

      The fear about money is awkward, isn’t it? I am with you on this. Just have the feeling that even if we are a millionaire household, the fear of screwing up the finances won’t go away. In fact, in the past few months, I realised I was much more aware of the changes and dips in my own portfolio.

      Nonetheless, I still believe that the more I can set aside (higher margin of safety), the less I would worry.

      And that’s where semi-retirement comes in. If we are able to generate additional active income, it should help to allay some of the concerns and worries about money. And it’s not just the numbers. During these past few months, the preference for semi-retirement rather than a full-fledged retirement became even more obvious. When I have the day to myself, I tend to lack even more “self-discipline” compared to if I were working for a few hours or had some pre-arranged meet-ups with friends.

      And I have to agree with you that the biggest benefit thus far is the lower stress level that I experience daily. Even with the added concerns about finances, moments of peace and gratitude happen much more frequently compared to before.

  5. Entrepreneur

    Good to have hear you have same sentiments, but I think this fear of screwing up portfolio is not a function of size of portfolio but rather time and maturity. Meaning I believe after say >10 years of portfolio mgmt, maybe the fear will reduce much since I will be far more comfortable with the diversified portfolio and how it responds to economic up and downs. I would hopefully have mastered my own psychology too.

    I seriously doubt it is size. My portfolio is not far from what people categorize as ultra high net worth and bond coupons alone pay for 1+ times annual expenses. But the feelings are there.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Entrepreneur,

      Good to hear from you again.

      I think you have a good point there, since I still have less than 5 years of experience in the market. Haven’t been through a bull and bear cycle so there’s definitely some trepidation there. =p

      But that said, you must be doing really well to have bond coupons exceeding your annual expenses for your family of 6.

      Nonetheless, I still believe portfolio size does make a difference, but maybe not as much as experience. An example I can think of is that if you had only a fifth of your current assets now, there could be more fear and concerns?

  6. Entrepreneur

    For my risk tolerance level, if I had just 1/5 current net worth, I would not stop working and be in semi retirement. I only quit my job because I realized my portfolio returns about >1.5 times what me and wife earn in 1 year. As for how I got the capital, most of it was from selling rhe company I built up a few years ago.

    That I why I think you are very daring to let go by being willing to go into semi retirement so early and with what for me is little buffer. Do you not worry your expenses will go up in future? For me, my expenses went up as the years went by until it stabilized last few years. Mainly due to raising standard of living and more kids which is hard to avoid.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Entrepreneur,

      Maybe 1/5 wasn’t a good example. How about 1/2 or even 2/3? =)

      You think too highly of me. Semi-retiring at 28 without some kind of a windfall (entrepreneurship or family inheritance) is really pushing it. I am probably looking at mid-thirties at the earliest unless I do exceptionally well in my personal investments. This period is an experiment and this first bout of semi-retirement is going to be temporary. Just a little taste to see if what I am working for is worth it.

      I would probably be starting a new job by early next year. So I am probably not as daring as you thought. Sorry to disappoint. =p

      Regarding expenses, I have to admit they are likely to go up in the future with (hopefully) some kids in tow. So even though half a million could be sufficient, we will likely pull the plug only after accumulating an amount closer to a million bucks. It’s still too fuzzy to say for sure. Nonetheless, we are always prepared to cut a little back on the luxurious and comfortable life we are living right now.

      Enjoyed this conversation with you and hope you continue to do well and be happy in your semi-retirement.

  7. Entrepreneur

    A million is far too little in sg, unless you really do not raise standard of living and can manage expectations very well. I remember in ns, I calculated that 300k is enough for me to make 1.5k a mth and live off it. I quickly killed the idea when I started working and realized how little 1.5k buys. Then at 25, my goal was net worth 1m by 35. At 27/8, I realized 1m can’t even allow holidays in Europe and stay in 3 rm condo. So I set a goal of 3m by 40. Now in hindsight having way exceeded that goal at 35, I think 3m is probably barely enough to retire at 40.

    But it is not as luxurious as you think. Probably a 1200 sqft suburban condo, 1 nice car or 2 jap car, and can invest about 2m to get about 120k to spend per year. Factor in parent support, insurance and everything else, probably just enough in expensive sg. Forget about business class travel , $1k a night hotels, pp watches and hermes bags. To achieve that lifestyle need about 9-10m min. $10k per mth is the typical household income in sg. Will probably eat into capital too if really retire at 40 with nothing much left for kids when dead.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Entrepreneur,

      From your sharing, I really do hope that I manage expectations really well. =)

      Obviously, I would prefer to semi-retire with 3/4 or even 10 million bucks! Who wouldn’t? However, with the income that wife and I are generating and likely to generate in the future, it would probably take us at least a couple of decades to amass that amount (in today’s dollars).

      And I am not sure if we really need that much. The most costly stuff in Singapore are housing and the car. Since I really have little aspirations of staying in a condo and a “nice” car, the escalation in expenses would hopefully be manageable. Moreover, I think our present lifestyle is pretty luxurious already, especially if we compare it to some of those who are more disadvantaged.

      It’s also probably a trade-off in the end. An additional year of full-time employment to accumulate more would obviously mean a more comfortable post full time work lifestyle but it also results in one less year of semi-retirement in life. At this moment, our preference is to take a step back and do something less “hectic” once we accumulate close to a million and have roughly $3,000 a month in dividends/interest. Have to admit there is a possibility our views might change in a few years’ time, though.

      Ultimately, this blog exists because it believes that most people can retire/semi-retire early if they really want to. Accumulating half a million to a million for a household within 2 decades is definitely much more do-able compared to 3/4 million dollars. If that’s really the minimum most people need, then I guess it’s impossible for most people to retire/semi-retire, let alone doing it early.

      If an early semi-retirement is only meant for successful entrepreneurs or high-flying executives, that would be a pretty sad outcome in my opinion.

  8. Entrepreneur

    I think it boils down to personality. You have learned contentment which is fantastic for one so young. It is something most high achievers grapple with. High achiever = highly competitive = ever increasing standard for what is success if one does not expand the definition of success to include love, family bonds, friends , health and intellect.

  9. Thel

    Envy the amount you can save. For me so difficult to save 30% of take home pay, if i don’t count in insurance policy.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Thel,

      Most probably, if you are paying significant premiums, the insurance policy can likely be considered savings since there’s going to be a surrender value.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi ZC,

      Thanks for the link. Enjoyed the read. Even though some of his premises like “Don’t join a non-profit organisation” is somewhat controversial, there’s some merits to his argument. =)

      MBTI? Same as Jacob. Not surprising, eh?