How will you know when it is time to stop playing the game of financial independence?
It is not wrong to see your journey to financial independence as a game.
A game that involves saving money each month and taking some calculated risks when investing that money.
The winning outcome of this game will take years to come through.
You need to maintain an elevated level of intensity while you are at it for a decade or more.
You also know that if you play the game well enough you are setting yourself up for financial independence and early retirement.
But how will you know when it is time to stop playing this game?
When is the right time to pare back risk taking and walk off the pitch?
After all there are no “right” answers when it comes to describing the perfect retirement corpus or what a win in the wealth accumulation game looks like.
And there is no referee to blow the whistle telling you it is time to stop playing now.
Let us look at some of the causes why you may continue playing the game even after winning.
And follow it up with some suggestions to cope with this behaviour.
Why People Cannot Stop Playing the Game
Before we look at ways to stop playing the game of financial independence after winning, we need to understand why you may be still playing the game.
Risk taking is an inevitable ingredient in investing and in life – But never take a risk you do not have to.Peter Bernstein
The Thrill of the Game
There is certain thrill to the process of working towards financial independence.
Investing money in an asset and then see it rising over a period has certain kick to it.
Over time you get surprisingly good at this. You get a dopamine rush each time you see a move in your portfolio or net worth.
Most people on the journey to financial independence have their personal spreadsheets to keep track of their progress.
So much so that saving and investing money can become an obsession.
The point of financial independence is to eventually minimise the impact of money on your wellbeing.
Unfortunately, the process of saving and investing can sometimes become all consuming.
As your net-worth keeps getting larger, the impact of even a small percentage move in financial markets can have an enormous impact on your portfolio in absolute terms.
It is not easy to stop playing this game of investing and growing your net-worth simply for the thrill you may be getting out of it.
This is not very different from problem gambling.
Fear of Missing Out
When it comes to investing choices, the financial world is flooded with options.
Even though you may not fall for dumb options like endowment policies or day trading, there is so much choice even within sound investment options.
Some of your investments will invariably do better than others.
It is normal to start getting into the weeds and analysing the best investment opportunities you can find.
You may have been investing in a broad market index fund in India.
But what if you could also dabble with some money in S&P 500, European, or other Emerging Markets?
What if those funds turn out to be much better when you look back 5 years from now?
The fear of missing out is a very real feeling.
Fear of Getting It Wrong
Unlike some of your other financial goals, the goal of financial independence comes riddled with uncertainties about what the future holds.
It is straight-forward to estimate how much you need to save to afford a car, house, or a college education.
But projecting your retirement corpus is a completely different ball game.
It depends on how long you (and your spouse) are likely to live, your future health condition and inflation levels 10-20 years from now.
Not easy to predict any of these, is it?
We are all riddled with the fear of getting it wrong.
What if I quit too early?
What if my portfolio cannot cope with inflation or a prolonged downturn in financial markets?
Will I get sick with a disease that drains my corpus in the next 10 years itself?
This fear of the unknown can make you take continued risks with the retirement corpus you have already accumulated.
Continuing to play the game even after reaching your target retirement corpus will not make any of these risks disappear.
We live in an inherently uncertain world and there is only so much within your control.
Just rest assured that even if something catastrophic was to happen tomorrow, you will still be better off financially than most of the people around you.
How to Stop Playing the Game
Knowing that you are playing the game beyond what is sensible how do you move away from it?
Let us look at a few options to tackle this issue.
Know the Right Game to Play
From the first day you start investing you are playing the wealth accumulation game.
The objective is to continuously boost your income and finding the most effective ways to grow your savings.
This is the phase to take measured risks on your investing journey because you have time on your side.
You have the comfort of a regular income coming in.
The gyrations of the financial markets should have negligible impact on you, if you keep your emotions in check.
Once you have reached financial independence, the game changes to one of wealth preservation.
Your focus should now move to preserving what you have already built rather than trying to make it even bigger.
You are about to pull the plug on your monthly salary. So that comfort will be gone.
Now your approach to risk taking needs to change as well so that your portfolio is better aligned with your future needs.
Think of the Downside
You have taken several years to get to this stage where you have built up a decent retirement corpus.
Do you really want to risk undoing all your efforts by taking on unwarranted risks at this stage?
If you have already built in a safety buffer into your corpus will boosting that buffer even further really help?
The temptation to do a little more is normal and will keep nudging you.
You need to acknowledge this feeling yet have the maturity to push back on this urge.
The downsides at this stage are just too great.
As outlined in the early retirement ideology, time is no longer on your side when you have reached this stage.
Move Your Focus Forward
Remind yourself that the accumulation of a retirement corpus was not your objective.
Your desire to retire was driven by your passion to do something meaningful for the rest of your life.
The retirement corpus was simply a tool that would enable you to do that.
You were attracted to the idea of financial independence because you did not want money to be a concern in your day-to-day life.
So now is the time to shift your focus from money matters to pursuing your true calling in earnest.
Your time should now be taken up by focussing on your physical, emotional, and social wellbeing.
Work on your health, relationships and the hobby / passion that pulled you to this point.
Once these areas start taking up more of your time, the less time you will have to keep playing the money game.
Do not Worry – Your retirement corpus will take care of your financial wellness.
If you have been at something for a decade or more, it is easy to be completely consumed by it.
Most people with retirement as their goal have an intense focus on achieving financial independence.
The process of saving and investing money over an extended period does bring along a quest.
The quest for continuing to improve your investing outcomes year over year.
The key is to figure out when to quit the game of wealth accumulation and switch to the game of wealth preservation.
The purpose of the wealth preservation phase is to give you the time to work on your strategy for the upcoming wealth distribution phase.
More importantly, this is the time to start dedicating yourself to the real reason you wanted to pursue retirement.
Stop playing the wealth accumulation game if you have already won.
Dushyant Choudhary is the founder of dushyantnomics, an early retirement blog for professionals. Dushyant retired early from his 9-5 corporate life after a successful international career. He brings his knowledge and experience to his current role where he’s dedicated to helping professionals achieve a fulfilling retirement.