What it feels like to retire early, from an average guy who became financially independent at 34

Brandon, also known as the Mad Fientist. Courtesy of Mad Fientist.

On August 1, 2016, Brandon officially retired.

The 34-year-old software developer and blogger behind the Mad Fientist — who doesn’t use his last name online for privacy reasons — had been planning and saving to retire early for years.

“For the first five to seven years of my career, I wasn’t saving for anything in particular,” Brandon told Business Insider. “I was just saving because I wanted a portfolio. Then I learned about financial independence, and I was like, ‘This is perfect. This is what I’m saving for.'”

Brandon, who is married but keeps his finances largely separate from his wife Jill, an optometrist who isn’t interested in retiring, was talking about the concept of financial independence (FI) as pursued and documented by an online community of bloggers and readers seeking to save enough that they can stop working and “retire.”

Living frugally and working in rural Vermont, he managed to save and invest about 70% of his after-tax income, and amassed enough to leave his job in the spring of 2014. However, when he approached his employer with the news he’d be moving to Scotland to be closer to his wife’s family, they offered to make his position remote.

That change eliminated all of the things that most frustrated Brandon about working life, like commuting, dealing with difficult coworkers, and navigating endless meetings. So he stayed on for a few years more than planned, intermittently travelling with Jill until they relocated full-time to Scotland in May 2015. There, he continued working, blogging, and saving until he retired this summer.

And what happened when he stepped out of the workforce after years of planning? “I was freaking out,” he said.

“We all have these grand plans,” he continued. “‘If I had all the time in the world, I’d learn this language and get in shape,’ but when the time comes to put on your gym clothes and start doing the work for what you want to do, it’s hard.”

When you no longer have to work, he said, you realise work is a “convenient distraction.” He admits he’s put off some of his biggest dreams because he had a full time job. But now, facing the possibility of starting down the paths he’s dreamed of, the truth is that it’s scary.

“Had I not had the blog and the apps, I would have freaked out,” he said of his first week in retirement. “Everyone else is working — normal people are doing stuff during the day. You really have to have something there you’re trading work in for.”

Brandon said he was always more interested in being financially independent than retiring in the traditional sense. “I never wanted to stop working, but rather I wanted to have the time and freedom to work on things that are important to me. It’s a very powerful position to be in, to be able to do things without worrying about the monetary reward, so I imagine I’ll be more productive and make a far greater impact on the world now that I don’t have to trade my time for money and don’t have money driving my decision-making.”

He highlighted an insight from a podcast conversation he’d had with Todd Tresidder of Financial Mentor, who stressed the importance of retiring to something, not from something. Otherwise, you’re at loose ends. What will you do with all that time?

“It’s easy to say ‘I hate work, I don’t want to work anymore,’ but then you stop and you’re like ‘What now? What am I here for?’ There are all these big questions you didn’t have to answer when you were working because you were busy,” Brandon said. “These are new things I’m confronted with, but they’re all very real.”

This article was first published in April 2016.

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