An Ode to Retiring Rich

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I have seen senior citizens in India struggling 5-10 years post-retirement because they didn’t have enough savings. Their financial freedom is ultimately compromised as they become dependent on their children.

One example is my own father.

My dad was the only earning member of the entire family. My mother derived her happiness by not involving herself in financial matters. Numbers made her anxious, and she was fine letting dad make all the financial decisions. He enjoyed a plush job in the Middle East, and we had a wonderfully privileged life. I am eternally grateful for everything that he has provided for us. I went to the best of schools/universities and worked for a bit in the Middle East. Then we all decided to pack our bags and head back to India after dad’s retirement – a much-needed rest for him after 30+ years of service.

Everything went on fine until the 5th year of my dad’s retirement. His anxiety was apparent; he was concerned whether his corpus would last his entire lifespan. I had already started working by then, and I started pitching in. Slowly his mental health deteriorated. It may have been due to a combination of stress and disappointment in his financial matters and his physical health issues. The doctors were unable to help him. My dad, who was an active, cheeky, energetic man, turned silent, desolate, and serious. Since I stayed near my parents, I was a witness to all that they went through concerning their finance. My dad wanted to resume work in his mid-60s, despite his physical limitations, no thanks to his depleting retirement corpus.

I am unsure what went wrong because I never discussed it with my dad. He’s no more (he passed away a couple of years back). When I look at his bank balance, I have so many questions. The most glaring one was – “Where did all the money go?” Then there are others “Did he not save?” “Maybe he saved, but it was not enough for inflation?” “Did he make any bad investment choices?” “Did he not invest in the right retirement schemes?” “Would it have helped if he had invested in some equity, mutual fund, or pension scheme?” My dad had only invested in Fixed Deposits.

You learn by observing the people around you. It was only after I saw my dad’s financial condition that I became aggressive with my own savings and investments. I have no idea whether my plan will work for me in the long run, but I can try. I do not have many lifestyle demands, and I am a minimalist, so that helps.

In the quest to achieve financial independence, I have been reading a lot of personal finance books. My initial few reads were meant for the American audience and they did not help me much. I wanted to read books specific to India. That’s how I first landed upon Monika Halan’s Let’s Talk Money. This has to be my favorite Indian personal finance book so far. Everything is explained clearly and concisely. I have re-read it a couple of times in the hope that her words would sync in deep and become second nature for me. She offers instructions on how to invest for each age group.

The next book that is good for Indians looking into learning personal finance is PV Subramanyam’s Retire Rich. He is a Chartered Accountant who gives some good, solid, no-nonsense advice on how you can carry about your investments. His policy is investing in yourself first, before anything else. Keep aside some money for your retirement and invest in other people and things only after that.

A non-Indian book that greatly impacted me was “The Psychology of Money.” My favorite quotes from the book are also listed on this blog.

Retiring rich is undoubtedly a priority for me. Keep in mind that the word “rich” is subjective. I want to retire “rich” enough for my own needs, but that amount might not be “rich” enough for you. So the first step is to calculate your retirement corpus based on your annual expenses. There are enough online retirement calculators to help you out. If you are in your 20s, start saving/investing now. I am in my 30s now, and my only regret is that I did not start sooner.

An Ode to Feeling Moody, Meh, and All That

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It has been a strenuous few weeks at work. At a point where I am just craving to take a break and go somewhere. Or just enjoy the weather and read. Even the usual weekend break is not cutting it.

But a vacation has to wait because of work deadlines.

I have realized something over the years—whenever I am stressed at work, I also tend to overthink a lot about my life in general and become unwelcomely crabby, subjecting myself to mind-numbing questions “Where am I heading? What am I doing? Why are people like this? Why is the world so bad?” And sulk about it even if I have no plans to shift out of the zone I am in because it is quite perfect for me otherwise, outside these moody phases. So I just sit with the feeling and wait for it to pass, like a hermit in search of worldly answers.

When work is more relaxed and I get a breather, life seems calm and harmonious. Professional life does affect your personal life, no matter how much you try to separate the two. I didn’t realize this behavioral pattern till I saw it repeat, time and again. Now, I know, and tell myself, “Yeah, it’s because you are mentally tired. You just want to take a few days off and do what you like best. You will be okay once you get that break.” This self-realization is cathartic in a way and a problem-solver because you know where the issue lies. But here’s the catch—it only comes when you choose to sit with your feelings and introspect, not run away.

So I am in that phase right now where I get moody seeing others’ travel posts on social media. I get moody when an ex’s update pops up somewhere on my social media feed because of a mutual friend. (Yup, social media is bad for your mental health, especially when you are stressed.) I even get moody when there are too many people around. The things that don’t usually affect you with much intensity, start gnawing at your brain and make you overthink.

As you grow up, you become more familiar with your emotions. You start to ask why you feel the way you do, so that the next time you face the emotion again, you know how to handle it better. Self-realization builds with experience. The more you encounter a feeling, the more you get to learn about its dynamic range and complexities. I feel the manner in which each person deals with their emotions is as unique as their fingerprints. All your experiences shape the way in which you handle or feel about things. What one person goes through in an emotion might be different from the next person as each one’s life story is exclusive and uncommon. So how can we say with finality that we should deal with an emotion only in one particular way? What if there are multiple okay ways to deal with things? And being moody is also an okay way contrary to popular belief.

Most people’s advice would be to snap out of being moody. Movies and tv series show loud friends whisking away their moody buddies to a party to dull down their emotions, hoping it would make them feel better. A person like me would have dissociated myself from such friends even if they meant good because the last thing I would need is a party.

Basically, the world wants you to do just about anything other than feeling your emotions. But I would say, just sit with it. Acknowledge its presence and understand it is only human to feel “nothing” or “moody” for a while. It is not a prison that you need to escape from. It is an intricate, delicate, and overlooked part of you that craves your embrace and attention.

An Ode to Taking One Step at a Time

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I always get anxious when I think of a big task or chore. I look at the outcome and its tediousness instead of focusing on the small steps that can lead to the result.

When you shift your attention to each step, things appear simpler. The overwhelming burden of the goal dies down, and you feel more energized to begin the task. On the other hand, shift your focus to the task in its entirety, and you are sure to feel stuck, without any motivation to move any further. Yet, this is what I end up doing – concentrating on the big, chunky, mammoth of a task instead of slicing it down into small digestible bites.

Last year though, I had decided on some resolutions, and I broke them all down into achievable steps.

Here’s how they went.

Walking 10,000 Steps

I had gained a bit of weight because of work stress. I hardly moved from my seat, stuck to my never-ending workload day in and out. This weight gain affected my mental and physical health. That’s when I decided to take things back into my control and I started walking. I set my goal as 10,000 steps, 5 days a week. Sounds overwhelming, right? It certainly was for me – someone who has never walked anywhere near 5000 steps, let alone 10,000.

I decided to go easy on myself.

The first day, I walked 2000 steps and continued it for a week. The following week, I increased my target to 4000 steps. I kept doubling it every week until I reached 10,000. I continued this for one whole year without a break. It worked; I lost the flab. My immunity and metabolism also improved considerably. I did not end up looking like a supermodel with my walks, but I now feel healthy, and that’s what matters.

Here’s the secret to how I could sustain my walks for one whole year – I had decided I would not complete all my steps at one go. Instead, I would distribute it throughout the day. That way, I was constantly moving without exerting too much pressure on myself. It also did not take up too much time in between work. When you force yourself to exercise only at a scheduled time slot, it eventually sucks the joy out of fitness (at least it does for me). When that happens, you are naturally tempted to stop exercising after the initial enthusiasm dies down.

The book, Ikigai, talks of how the Japanese, ever-famous for their longevity and happiness, thrive by walking and moving throughout the day, engaged in their hobbies and interests. They do not sit still for long, as opposed to most of us. Our routine may or may not allow us to follow the Japanese mantra, but we can try to get up from our seats every one hour and walk around for 5-10 mins. It might make a considerable difference

Completed a 60-Hour Long Online Course

I am a working woman with a full-time job. I love to write a bit on my blog (right here) during my spare time. It keeps me energized. Other than that, I do not get much time for anything else. I love to learn new things, but I never found time for it. Last year, I finally decided to take up a course to help me understand my work better. It was 60 hours long. A bit overwhelming for someone who hardly had any free time. But I completed it (yay!) by slicing it down to small lessons each day.

I would dedicate a learning timeslot that would range from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on my energy levels. It’s not much, right? But look at what 10-20 minutes every day can do. It can help you finish an entire course. It took a lot of time to complete overall (one whole year!), but never once did I feel overwhelmed or tempted to leave the course midway.

Started Learning a New Language

The only foreign language I had any chance of using for real was Arabic. I travel to the Middle East now and then. I wanted to learn the language so that I could understand the shop boards and converse in simple Arabic if required.

I dedicate 10 minutes every day to learning new alphabets or words.

I am still not fluent, but I can read and understand basic sentences. Again, all by committing just 10 minutes every day.

Conclusion

Anything can be achieved if we break it down into small achievable steps.

If you want to start reading more, spend 10-15 minutes every day. From experience, I can tell you that you will end up surpassing your allotted reading time.

If you want to start waking up earlier, start by waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual for one week. Then, 30 minutes earlier, and so on, until you reach your target.

If you think this way, you can achieve almost anything without losing steam. You are being kind to yourself, so there is no chance of fatigue. You won’t get far (at first), but at least you will be a step closer to your goal. After a while, when you look back, you will be astonished at how much progress you have made.

Sometimes, all we need is a push to take that first step.

Do not look at the outcome and enjoy the journey. Relish the whole process, and the results will automatically follow.

An Ode to Leaving Work On Time

Worked Hard. No Friends, Money or Assets.
From Workchronicles on Instagram

I have always left work on time.

Or, I have tried my best to. When there’s a genuine emergency, there is no option but to stay back.

Even at my first job, when a senior demanded I stay overtime to complete *his* work, I refused. I knew if he actually sat down to do his work, he wouldn’t require any help. He kept complaining about his age (he was in his 40s) and how he could not take too much burden at work anymore. This unreasonable emotional blackmail did not work either. The 40s is the new 30s or 20s or whatever you choose it to be. It is all in the mind. If you feel you are ageing and you cannot do much, then damn right, you cannot.

The end story is that I got what I wanted – not to work overtime.

I have to say I was privileged when I first started working. I was not in dire need of money. I had a support system. If I were desperate, I would have compromised more and said yes to a lot of work I did not want to do. Work was not a priority in my 20s. I was preoccupied with living my life, having fun, getting my heart broken, and spending all my money without saving a bit.

Many people compromise at work because they do not have a support system at home to fall back on. Maybe they are the sole earning member; maybe they are in a lot of debt. When the responsibilities pile on, which they will as you age, so does the burden of compromising. You tend to become more afraid of losing your job, and you play it safer and become more diplomatic.

I see many employees working overtime mainly to please their bosses. They take that first step – to work overtime. Their bosses never asked for it. I realized that once you start working overtime, there’s no going back. Your coworkers (and boss) would keep expecting you to put in those extra hours. “You have done it before, so why not now?

Once you establish a boundary that you are available to work only during your scheduled hours, things become simpler. Everyone will stop nagging you to stay back. Your body will also nag you to leave work on time. Some stay back out of habit. They are used to working overtime, and it has become a part of their life now.

What makes us work harder than required might also be due to imposter syndrome. That feeling that you are not good enough and you need to try extra hard to safeguard your job. Some do this by working extra hours. But when the work you produce within your work hours is of good quality, working extra is really not required. Try to focus and give your work your full attention during work hours. This should be more than enough. 

You might have to deal with people asking, “Leaving already?” when you exit on time. Pay them no heed. It’s your work-life balance that is at stake. If you feel working after hours is the only way to live, by all means, work overtime. If you wish to have a life outside of work, make it a point always to leave work on time! The ones who are spending too much time at office are creating the wrong standard for the rest who wish to maintain a work-life balance. Some (like my senior I mentioned at the start of this post) do not know proper time management. Or they are plain lazy. They spend hours chatting away with coworkers and then suddenly realize they have a lot of work to do at 4 PM. The rest who spend their working hours productively get reprimanded for leaving office on time—office politics at its best.

I am not as privileged as before. I need to work to earn my bread and butter. I do not have a robust support system, yet I cannot get myself to be at the office post my work hours. I have many interests – my job is only a part of it. To deprive myself of all other interests for the sake of my career is plain sacrilege.

To maintain sanity, pursuing your hobbies and interests is a must. Why wait till retirement to do what you like?