Lacking The Courage To Quit

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Last week I wrote about what I was thinking. This week I’m writing about what you are thinking.

Many of you are lacking the courage to quit and are trying to figure out why.  I know, because you told me. Here’s an example of what you said:

“For those that are in the glide path toward retirement, what holds us back from pulling the trigger on retiring…either REAL or PERCEIVED?  I mean if the numbers make sense…why does it feel so hard to retire?  Sometimes I feel a little afraid and so what advice might you provide to answer those fears?”  – Craig

Thanks for your transparency, Craig.  Based on my inbox, you’re certainly not alone in trying to find the courage to quit. Today,  we’re going to examine why it can be so difficult to summon the courage to quit, along with some thoughts on what you can do about it.  

Why do so many people lack the courage to quit? What’s so hard about deciding to retire? Click To Tweet

In hindsight, it was a sadistic move. 

I asked 6,000 of this blog’s subscribers to e-mail me, and it seems almost every one of you did.  Fair enough, you were all trying to win those 4 free books.  I get it, and I appreciate your engagement.  I was the one who asked for 1-2 sentences about what was on your mind. But reading through thousands of emails?  I’ve got to admit I might not have thought that one all the way through…

In reality, I’ve savored every second of reading through that treasure chest of “reader telepathy”, and I’m making it last.  So many stories.  So many sincere questions. I’ll be chewing on this bone for a while, and I’m enjoying every bite.  Bear with me if it takes some time.  (Remember, I’m trying to stop hurrying…)

The thing that most upsets me is being unable to answer every email directly, a reality I trust you understand. Rather, and as promised when I announced the book winners, I’ll plan on weaving in some posts addressing the topics which appear most frequently.  Today’s the first such post, and I’d appreciate your feedback on the approach in the comments.

What’s On Your Mind?  The Courage To Quit

It seems the lion in The Wizard of Oz wasn’t the only one who is searching for courage.  Craig was far from the only reader who cited lacking the courage to quit as something they’re struggling with.  Here are a few more of the emails I’ve received on the subject (emphasis added by me):

“As one approaching retirement I stress over how much $$$ is enough?…If shortly after retirement the big drop comes and we lose 30 to 60%, it could crush our plans…so despite our advisor’s assurance we’re OK and ready, I still have concern.”  KC

“I’d like to read about the courage to walk away from a high paying job once you’ve reached financial freedom?  Maybe some input from readers who have done so and found more happiness doing something else….I get nervous about quitting a good job…even if I’m financially ready.”  CK

I am on the edge of retiring, and am just so unsure…how do you estimate the cost when you just don’t know?”  DL

I’m 62 and just about ready to take a leap away from a much loved job…to live near my grandchildren.  How do you let go of one love to exchange it for another higher good?…And how can you do your best to make retirement decisions that you won’t regret?”  S

“I think the main thing is fear of retiring even if you think your money is lined up and you have a plan.  I find myself thinking if I did one more year I would be in a better position…Am I alone?”  D

“I’d like to see an article that deals with how you mentally adjust to retirement and drawing on your retirement accounts…I was fortunate to retire early at age 56…but I’m having a hard time with the idea that I no longer have to save…and it’s ok to spend a little and enjoy.”  JA

“I have 75 days of work left!  It’s starting to feel uneasy leaving the regular schedule of work not knowing the routine of retirement.  Everyone asks, “What are you going to do?  Well, to be honest, I’m not sure!”  JA

What’s So Hard About Deciding To Retire?

Clearly, many folks find the courage to quit a struggle in their final years of work, even when they’ve achieved Financial Independence.  I get it.  I faced the same anxiety myself and made the decision to work One More Year “just to be sure.”  As mentioned at the time, the following were the reasons I cited for my own lack of courage:

  • Health Care Cost Inflation
  • Market Returns
  • “You’ll never make the $$ you’re making now”.
  • A friend said waiting OMY was the best decision he ever made.

Sound familiar?  I suspect many of you are worried about the same things I was worried about when I was in your shoes.  There are many variables involved in our “retirement equation”, and many of them are “unknowns”.   The future of the stock market, our actual spending in retirement and health insurance are legitimate mathematical factors that we can’t build into our equation with 100% certainty. 

Mix in the “softer” unknowns, such as whether or not you’re really going to enjoy being retired, what you’re going to do to fill your time, whether you’ll miss the challenge and friendships from work, how you and your spouse will do when you’re together all the time, and what will give you Purpose, and the list of “unknowns” continues to grow.

Uncertainty causes anxiety, and anxiety inhibits our courage to quit. So…what can we do about it? Click To Tweet

I don’t need to tell you about anxiety and it’s impact on your courage to quit.  You’re living it.  What really matters is what you can do about it, so let’s look some steps I’d suggest to help you find your courage.

The Wizard made those poor folks in The Wizard of Oz commit murder in their quest for finding what they were searching for.  As we learned when Toto pulled back the curtain on the Wizard, however, there’s no such thing as a magical answer when searching for the courage to quit.  There are, however, some steps I’ve taken on my journey which have built confidence and gave me the courage to quit.  I encourage you to look through the suggestions below and apply those that seem best suited for your situation.

1. Get A Firm Grasp On How Much You’ll Spend

The bedrock of retirement planning is how much you’ll spend in retirement.  Unfortunately, it’s one of the unknowns.  To address this variable in our retirement planning, my wife and I decided to track every penny we spent for a year while we were still working.  It was a pain, but invaluable.  For the first time, we had a rock-solid foundation on what it cost us to live our lives, and it was well worth the effort.

Once we knew our current spending, we spent time thinking about the life we wanted to live in retirement and how that would impact our current spending reality.  For example, we knew we wanted to downsize from our “Big House” in the city and move to our retirement cabin in the Appalachian Mountains.  The equity we’d free up from the home sale would pay off our cabin mortgage, and we’d wipe out our mortgage payment.  We’d have lower utilities, taxes and insurance premiums.  We’d travel more, so we added a line to capture RV travel expenses (100 nights/year @ $40/night = $4k in campground fees).  We knew we’d be buying private insurance for 10 years, so we did some research on the costs, built in a buffer, and went with $2,500/month as our estimate, inflated at 5% per year.  We tended to “estimate to the high side” on most expenses, to build in a buffer for any unexpected surprises.  Taking a conservative approach increased our confidence that we wouldn’t overspend.

Knowing what’s in your spending assumptions is a fundamental step in finding your courage to quit, and taking the approach outlined above should address DL’s concerns on “how to estimate the cost when you just don’t know”

Tracking your spending and making realistic adjustments for retirement is the first advice I’d give to anyone struggling with finding the courage to quit.  If you’re ready to get started, click here to use my Spending Tracker.  (NOTE:  Click File/Make A Copy to create a personal copy, please don’t send me an email asking for access, I’m a bit behind on my emails at the moment….)

Related Post:  When Can I Retire?  (Step 1 – Spending)

2. Develop A Retirement Drawdown Strategy

Moving from “Accumulation” to “Withdrawal” is one of the biggest changes that comes with retirement, and it’s one of the biggest factors that impacts our courage to quit. Of course, a bear market is coming, and we’ll never know when those claws will appear. We should just accept the fact and quit worrying about it.  Markets go up, and markets go down.  It ain’t rocket science.  What matters is what we can do to avoid the very real Sequence of Return Risk, and that is an element we can control.  

In our case, we developed our Retirement Drawdown Strategy, which is a comprehensive plan for how we’ll drawdown our investments to fund our retirement expenses.  Rather than repeat our strategy, I’d encourage you to read the post.  The important thing was that we developed a plan, and that plan helped alleviate the uncertainty associated with moving into the withdrawal phase.  It’s also the process that led to our decision to implement the bucket strategy.

Related Post:  7 Strategies To Make Your Money Last Through Retirement

the bucket strategy

3. Consider Implementing The Bucket Strategy

As part of our Retirement Drawdown Strategy, we identified the bucket strategy as the means by which we’d create our monthly paycheck in retirement.  We felt confident that the “insurance” against Sequence of Return risk was worth the “cost” of having 3 year’s worth of cash on hand.  Also, we knew our ~3.5% Safe Withdrawal Rate would allow us to cover our conservative spending requirements (from Step 1). Both of these factors went a long way in helping us overcome our lack of courage to quit. 

If you’re like KC and the “concerns about a 30 – 60% market drop” are driving your lack of courage to quit, I encourage you to read the following posts:

Once you’ve implemented your system, recognize that it’s ok to spend your money.  To address JA’s concern about realizing “I no longer have to save…and it’s ok to spend a little and enjoy”, I’d encourage you to read It’s Time To Live Like No One Else, my post about moving from a lifelong saver to a retirement spender.

Related Post:  How Much Can You Spend Safely In Retirement?

4. Spend Time Thinking About Your Life In Retirement

This step should be #1, but I realize that most folks who lack the courage to quit are most worried about money, so I listed those first.  I could write many posts on this topic (indeed, I have), and find it difficult to summarize it’s importance in a few short paragraphs. You’ll find the majority of my upcoming book is on this very topic, and I hope you’ll read it when it comes out in April. 

For now, what’s important is the reality that the #1 factor between those who have had success in their transition to retirement vs. those who struggle is how much time they’ve spent thinking about what they want their lives to be in retirement.  The time spent thinking about your life in retirement while you’re still working is directly correlated to how smooth your transition to retirement will be.

Read that paragraph again.  It’s really important.

Below are some of the posts I’ve written on the topic.  Please read a few.  Did I mention it’s important?

Conclusion:  Do You Still Lack the Courage To Quit?

If, after implementing these steps, you’re still struggling with making the jump, realize there’s nothing wrong with deciding to live with the One More Year Syndrome.  As mentioned, there are definitely benefits associated with that path, and I have no regrets that we went that route for our retirement.  Rather than view it as a curse, recognize the blessing you have in being able to continue to work. After all, 60% of Americans are forced to retire earlier than they had planned. 

One word of caution.  Should you decide to work One More Year, don’t let it become one more year, then one more year, then one more year only because you lack the courage to quit.  Rather, decide today that you’ll work one more year, but then draw a line in the sand.  Pick your retirement date now, and put it on your calendar.  Start a countdown app on your phone, and make it happen.

Retirement is an amazing way to live life.

Don’t keep working simply because you lack the courage to quit.


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