For many, FIRE is a bit of a strange concept- a theoretical crossing of one line (passive income) and another (living expenses) and then you just “retire early” – well, I have a case study to follow and that is my Dad’s.
See part 2 and part 3:
My Dad was a teacher at the school he studied at as a boy and taught at that same school all of his career.
Born in 1943, he benefited from the full brutality of a Catholic school education – with his everyday speech being littered with Latin phrases like an every-man’s Jacob Rees Mogg.
One thing that is clear looking back at my Dad’s life was that he really loved teaching and that his pupils loved him. To this day, if I am back home, people in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s will come up to me and tell me how good my Dad was – sometimes with memories of his old jokes. Without fail they had respect for him and he had touched their lives (not like that!).
Q. Why do the French only eat one egg at Breakfast?
A. Because one egg is “an oeuf”
When I was around 19-20 years old and in University, my Dad started talking about retiring at 60. Maybe this is something that is given to all teachers at 60 – a golden parachute after years of service. Obviously, by the time I heard about it, it was already a decision that had been made and I don’t really remember much of the logic on why he would retire. At the time, my youngest brother was just finishing primary school (he went on to a different secondary school from the one my Dad and all of my other brothers went to) and I don’t think my Mum was working.
Reasons to Quit
As I said, I don’t remember the exact reasons but I think that my Dad had become a bit jaded by teaching process. Maybe there were school teacher management (politics) that were getting him down or more likely, the school discipline was slipping. In the past, children were literal afraid of teachers who would with sole discretion physically abuse children like by caning or the strap. Parents had a deference to teachers and if you came home from school in the 60’s and 70’s and said that the teacher hit you, your parents would probably beat you as well. But now (or the mid 00’s) things have changed and children have less respect for teachers, parents are much more likely to blame the teacher for the child’s behaviour and if a teacher hits a kid then they will lose their job. Who’d want to be a teacher these days?
I also think that there was another factor for quitting work. My parents had never been big spenders and saved a lot of their money (I think). My Mum still has all this money – which makes her a target for scammers. So, at 60 my Dad probably had had the house paid off for a few years, money sitting in the bank and a final salary teachers pension on the back burner. I would often tell my Mum and Dad that they should keep an account of their finances (weekly/monthly) to work out how much they had and where it was invested. It was probably mostly invested in savings accounts, cash ISAs, Premium Bonds. That was back in the day when savings interest was much higher. Maybe my Dad worked out that he had enough in savings to bridge it until his pensions kicked-in and that he didn’t want to work forever. If that assessment was made, my parents weren’t obsessed with money (like I am).
How I reacted
My initial reaction to hearing that my Dad was to retire was, looking back a bit selfish and immature. I felt that the money my Dad earned as a teacher was needed for the family and if he wasn’t working then we’d be in the poor house. Growing up, with the temptations of the Argos catalogue and thousands of hours of TV watched, I wanted things! Consumerism is a disease you can catch when you are young – no matter how much you are vaccinated!
My parents lived quite frugally and minimalistically (or just plain old-fashioned). We weren’t short of what we needed but I never felt I had the things I wanted growing up. It’s a position I’m sure many of you are familiar with.
Now, this money he was earning was not mine – in fact I’d largely cut myself off from family financial support when I went to university, relying instead on student debt and some paid employment and a few side hustles.
But I felt that for the family altogether, we needed his money coming in each money to pay for everything. So, initially that was my main concern. I thought it was a bit selfish to be honest. We didn’t fall out over this and I’m not even sure if my opinion mattered much but that was my first gut feeling.
I also think that I didn’t like the thought that my Dad was now a retiree, on the scrapheap, old and now only looking forward to countdown and boiled sweets. His becoming a pensioner coincided with me becoming a man. He had a vitality about him that I didn’t think would like retirement and my image of him was not as an OAP.
My Dad did manage to get early retirement from the school and for his 38 years or so of hard work at the chalk face he got a 5-figure pay-off and perhaps got his pension paid from his 60th birthday.
That probably set him up for life – 38 years of pension was probably about half his teaching salary (38/80ths) – with low outgoing especially after my older siblings had flown the nest and a nest egg of savings + no mortgage – you can live on that without even trying to be frugal.
That summer he visited me where I was living in Europe at the time. He backpacked around Europe and for the first time we really had a drink together. That was 2003 and it was a long long time ago now. I still remember how excited he was about the world, people, places, things. He had a passion that I think I have in me for exploring the world and talking to strangers.
The funny thing is that my grandparents all lived to ripe old ages and I knew a bit about longevity factors so thought that my Dad would probably live until 85 – maybe 90+. Sadly he got cancer a few years ago and died in 2016 aged 72. He had almost 12 years of retirement and did a lot in that time. 12 years seems like a long time, but I feel now that he was robbed of his life by cancer and was rather short changed, not that 72 is that. Funnily enough, I regret not having kids sooner because the Lady was pregnant when he died. I saw how good he was with the nieces/nephews and know that the Master and Little Lady won’t have that.
Looking at it now, maybe my Dad made the very right choice at 60. Take the money and run. Being careful with money meant that he had nothing to fear and as I’ll write about in part 2, Early Retirement didn’t mean vegetated decline like it does for many.