In the FI/RE space there’s an abundance of posts about how to get to financial independence. (Quite a large percentage are written by people who haven’t yet managed to get there themselves.) There are fewer posts written about what it’s like to actually reach FI and retire. I’ve written quite a few of these sorts of posts during 2021 – the year of lockdowns and my blissfully happy first year of retirement.
But there aren’t too many posts about what it’s like to retire – then pick up work afterwards.
Surely I’m not the only person to have done this? Maybe it’s seen as a sign of shame; that somehow the financial independence hasn’t ‘worked’?
Whatever the reason that people don’t write about this much, I’m stepping up to shine a light on what it’s like to say a blissful goodbye to a career – with a kick-arse speech goodby that I’m still proud of – to then, a little more than a year later, fronting up back at the school again. As I write this I’m sitting in front of a year 9 class, tapping away here while they’re putting the finishing touches onto a political campaign they’re running. Fiddy bucks in my pocket for 48 minutes’ work, before I move onto the next class for another fiddy.
Here I am, swapping my precious time for money. This is something I didn’t think I’d ever do. Except, in the back of my mind, I had a feeling in my waters that this massive bull market probably wouldn’t keep going for another 5 years. I had a vague game plan in my mind that if the market fell before 2026, I’d probably pick up a few days of CRT, (casual relief teaching), to ease the Sequence of Returns Risk.
So, as we all know the market has taken a tumble. At the same time, schools are desperate for CRTs due to covid and the flu, along with regular things like school camps etc. I went back into the classroom as a perfect storm was hitting Australian schools.
I was lucky, in that I still loved being in the classroom when I retired, so it wasn’t as if I was dragging myself back to a job I hated. And as luck would have it, all the boring admin, report writing and diagnostic testing are things that CRTs don’t get asked to perform. Talk about a win right there!
When I began, I had a couple of weeks of a day or two of teaching, then I was suddenly plunged into a month of full-time teaching. The last two weeks have been back to the retired life with no work days, with today, Wednesday and Thursday being back at school in this last week of term 2.
So it’s been interesting to see how I adjusted to going back to work, especially during the month when I was essentially full-time.
To be honest, it was a little scary how easily I went back to the old routine of getting up when the alarm rang and racing around the house to get out by a certain time. I’d had over a year of leisurely mornings waking up when I felt like it, (or really, when Jeffrey decided it was time to wake up and he’d shake the bed with his scratching. ) In retirement I tend to ease into my mornings, staying on the couch until 9 or 10, laptop on my lap and the dogs snoozing by my side.
Now, suddenly I was pitchforked into day after day of early starts, one after the other. I honestly thought it would take longer to adjust back to the old routine than it did. It took the middle of the first “full-time” week and I was back in the swing of it.
Clothes organised, lunch organised, water bottle filled and my bag packed with everything I’d need for the day ahead. No lollygagging around on the internet, oh no! Pour a coffee, solve the Wordle, post a couple of Dad jokes on Facebook, check my timetable to see what the day will hold and then it’s off the couch and into the shower. Keep moving! Time is ticking!
In the car, podcast on. Driving on the freeway, having a goal in mind of being at the last main intersection before school at 8:20. Winning if I shave a minute or two off that time. Walk into school, grab a laptop and keys, up to the staffroom to see what’s in store for me today. A couple of minutes before the bell, start walking to the first classroom to let the kids in and be ready to call the roll at 8:50 when the bell goes.
It’s honestly like riding a bike.
The ease of slipping back into that old rushed routine was, as I said, a little scary. I’d absolutely adored my 2021 year of being absolutely free and it was astonishing how quickly it was overtaken by the requirements of the work routine. Even the little woofs quickly worked out which day was going to be a “Mum’s home” day or not. During 2021, every time I left the house they’d freak out and wait for me all day, if necessary. Since I started work, Ryan27 says that it took a week before they went back to their old routine of sleeping through the day and only starting to wait for me at the front window at about 4PM.
We’re all conditioned by The Man!
It’s not just the blissful retirement morning routine that was affected. After a calming 2021 free of the tyranny of having to fit things in on the weekends, I was suddenly doing the ironing on a Sunday afternoon, making sure I did the bread baking (for lunches) on the weekends, and generally cramming all of the activities that I used to spread luxuriously through the working week all into two days.
I realised that I was starting to think, “I don’t have TIME for this!” whenever something went even the slightest bit wrong. Apparently, I used to say that a lot before my retirement. Time suddenly switched from being my beloved friend to my enemy.
Once I’m at work, my days are a strange mix of watching time drag and being really entertained. There’s no denying that I talk to a hell of a lot more people when I’m at school. The kids are always funny and up for a bit of banter, while my free times are spent chatting to work colleagues and having a laugh.
The social side of going back to work is lovely. Don’t get me wrong; I adore my hermit life at home, but I’m also enjoying being with the people at work.
The downside of being with people is that I’m mixing with around 900 of the hormonally challenged. Yes, I’m talking about teenagers.
Now, teenagers are sometimes hilarious, sometimes deep and sometimes thoughtful. The kids at our school are, for the vast majority of the time, polite, considerate and lovely. However…
… occasionally you’ll strike a kid having a bad day. They don’t WANT to be told to do their work, they don’t WANT to be quiet and not disrupt the class and they’ll be DAMNED if they’ll listen to a ‘sub’.
As I’m in the middle of doing the dance that is maintaining control of the class without pushing this sort of kid into open rebellion, I’m thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t need this shit. I could be doing anything else right now…”
Or you’ll have a class at the end of the day or week who are just over it. Their regular teacher has left screamingly dull work for them to do and all they want to do is get through the next 48 minutes so they can go home. Low-level talking gradually rises in volume as more and more kids switch off and start talking to their friends. It seems like every 3 minutes I’m saying, “Ok year 8! Too loud!”
And I’m thinking, “I know. I’m bored. I feel it too. Only 15 minutes till the bell goes and we’re free! Oh no. I’m clock watching again.”
Man! Clock watching is definitely a THING. When you’re a regular teacher you have to be conscious of the time. Every lesson has an arc and you have to know where you are within that 48 minutes to drive the lesson to a successful conclusion. So clock-watching is a necessary part.
CRT is a different beast. I enter the room, call the roll and introduce the lesson. Then, unless kids have specific questions that I can help them with – which is never when I’m taking a Maths class- the rest of the time I’m pretty much making sure that the kids stay on task and aren’t misbehaving. I find that I’m watching the clock a lot. Not in a productive “lesson arc” way but more of an “oof, there’s still half an hour to go… I could be doing anything with my time… hmmmm, if I was home right now, what would I be doing?”
I REALLY don’t want to get covid and, as we all know, working in schools is a high-risk thing to do. I’m one of the few teachers to mask up. I wear a KN95 mask from the moment I get out of the car in the morning to when I get back into it at the end of the day and this, coupled with being triple vaxxed and vaxxed for the flu, has so far kept me covid safe.
(Touch wood, as my grandmother would say.)
But then, every fortnight I get paid. I like getting paid.
In this post I designed a chart to track where my earnings were going. So much more motivating than just plodding into work every day! I’ve modified it slightly since then, but I’ve basically worked my way down the chart “paying off” every item in turn.
Of course, the money I earn usually goes to my credit card, which I always keep in the black, to pay for our day-to-day expenses. But this protects my savings, which is incredibly important. Six months into a market downturn, I haven’t had to sell any shares or touch any savings or emergency fund money due to the combo of earnings and dividends. I’ve even been able to top up my savings.
This makes me feel very good.
Later on today, I have an appointment with a travel agent to find out about airfares etc to Easter Island and Ushuaia for my Antarctica trip in December. I know I should probably bring a defibrillator with me to start my heart after I hear the prices. I’ve already earned 2K towards airfares, but now that I’m definitely going to Easter Island, I’ll be adding an extra line to that chart for lots more funds needed.
Tom30 is looking to buy a place of his own and is living here to turbocharger his deposit savings. I’ve offered to give him 5K in lieu of wedding costs and lend him a further 10K if he needs it. I’m chipping away at that 5K on the chart – just under 3K to go!
I won’t deny – knowing that giving up some of my days to be able to provide extras for myself and my family without tapping shares during a bear market feels like a good trade-off long term. Knowing that I’ve actioned the flexibility in my FI plan is satisfying.
Would I have gone back to work if we were still in a bull market?
That’s an interesting question.
The catalyst for me starting CRT work was that I heard that the school was desperate for CRTs because so many staff were getting sick. I owe the school BIG TIME for the financial security I was able to build for my boys when they were kids. Part of why I went back was that I was giving back to the place that had saved our financial bacon, back in the day.
I think that I still would have gone back, but I would probably have worked fewer days. Still, I can’t deny that it was interesting to see that I still had it in me!
After working off and on for 3 months after experiencing nearly 18 months of retirement, I have to say that it’s been ok. In fact, it’s been better than I expected. To be fair, I have a huge amount of flexibility. I can say “no” to work whenever I want, and if the school doesn’t offer me enough work I can always work elsewhere as well. There are many, many secondary schools in Melbourne!
The feelings of regret over my loss of freedom in the days when I’m in the classroom are definitely offset by the security offered by an extra income stream during a market downturn. I absolutely know that I did the right thing when I decided to pivot. I’ve had too many years of being terrified by my financial situation to want to risk having sleepless nights again! A few days back in the classroom in the early days of my retirement is a very small price to pay for the huge benefit of feeling like I’m doing the right thing for Future Frogdancer’s financial security in her golden years.
The intangible positives of returning to work are a nice bonus. I enjoy 98% of my interactions with the kids and I work with truly lovely people. I’ve met some other CRTs who are great, but I was always too busy to sit down and get to know them when I was a ‘real’ teacher. I also like the pattern of the days as a CRT – you are given every single period on AND a yard duty, but at the end of the day you can walk out right on the bell, instead of having to attend meetings etc. I’m getting home at a reasonable time nowadays – with no marking!
My mindset about this shifted when it occurred to me that my 3 year stash of living expenses that I’ve put away in case of a market downturn could be stretched indefinitely if I earned just half of my yearly expenses doing CRT.
How many days a week would that be over the first 3 terms of the school year? (Term 4 is pretty much a write-off for CRTs. Once the year 12s start having their exams, the year 12 teachers start taking all the spare classes.)
Two days a week. That’s all it would take.
… Or I could get sick of it and decide to simply stop doing it. Financial Independence is a wonderful thing.
Dad joke of the day:
The kids loved this one today!