Generally, I like to think of myself as a pretty average female to the outside person who sees me. I prefer to blend in with the crowd, rather than stand out. I consider myself an introvert; I enjoy spending time alone, I have few close friends, and I allow my true inner self to show to only a few select individuals. I think everyone has some idiosyncrasies; however I try to keep my unusual traits private since I prefer to blend in with the crowd and not ruffle any feathers. On the outside, I like to “fit in”, but on the inside, I like to be different and follow the Early Retirement Path.
To strangers and acquaintances, I “fit in” and I’m just an average person at work and around my neighborhood. I walk my dog every day, so people see me out and about. I go grocery shopping every week. I go to the gym 3-4 times a week. I go to work Monday through Friday, and I’m home on the weekends. I watch the TV shows and movies other people do, and I hang out with friends occasionally.
Yet despite my normal appearance, I’m really pretty different than most people. You see, I save money. A lot of money. I currently save about 80% of my take-home pay. I also plan to retire (or maybe semi-retire) in my early 40’s. Unfortunately, when I’ve mentioned this plan to other people they think I’m crazy, or say I’ll be bored, or tell me there’s no way I could financially afford to do it.
Some people fantasize about early retirement, but that’s all it is and all it will ever be because most people aren’t as motivated and as disciplined as I am to live a simple and happy and financially independent life like I do. You can’t change other people’s mindset, but you can change your own.
The Reality of Choices
How is my fantasy becoming reality? I simply made a choice. About four years ago, around the time my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I decided that I did not want to work until 65, 70, or until the day I die like he did. I don’t want an employer controlling the majority of my waking hours. Although I like my job (for the most part), I could easily think of a dozen other ways to spend my time rather having someone “own” my time. When you are working for a living, the majority of your time is probably spent doing things you really don’t care about, for people you don’t care about, and a company you don’t care about.
Although we can each choose how live our life, your individual choice may be different than other people. You may choose to live differently, spend differently, and socialize differently. And that’s okay! Dave Ramsey has a great quote that truly captures this:
“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” ― Dave Ramsey
It’s time for you to choose your own path!
The Fast Track
I decided I would fast track myself to retire early. My first thought was that 50 looked to be a good early retirement age. However, as I started cutting a few expenses here and there, and saving more money, and the stock market continued to climb, I changed my goal to 45. What the hell – I can do it if I’m disciplined and motivated!
That’s when I started following other personal finance blogs – retiring early, being frugal, minimalism, and basically living well on less. The more I explored the topic, not only did I see all these other people doing it, but I also found new ways to save money. It was an amazing revelation that just snowballed into reality. Following other people that are making the same choices as you, helps reinforce the idea that early retirement is possible. All you have to do is live below your means, stop spending and start saving!
I also realized the path for a financially secure retirement, and financial independence, is actually fairly easy concept to grasp. If your investment income is greater than you’re spending in a year you can easily retire. Additionally, if you know how much you think you will spend annually, you can multiply that number by 25, and once you have that much in cash and investments, you can retire. I guess the second one can be a little more complicated since some of your expenses may be unknown, like future health care costs.
Saving is Fun!
I’ve always found saving money fun, and have been doing it consistently since my first job at 15. You can save more or reduce your spending to get to your dream of early retirement, but doing both is a lot faster. When I looked at my lifestyle and what I was spending money on, and realized I don’t really need a lot of money to be happy. I’m happy with home cooked meals and borrowing books and DVDs from the library. I’ve never been one to spend a lot of my beauty routine, and I have enough clothes in my closet to last many years. I’m also a fan of thrift stores for finding bargain deals on things I want like clothes, shoes, and kitchen or home stuff. Also, having a dog, I prefer to stay home and do things with her or doggy dates with friends and their dogs. Thankfully I didn’t have to change my lifestyle much at all when I really started saving money.
Depending on the cost of health care, I can easily live off of $20,000 a year or less. At that rate, I need to save $500,000 to reach my financial independence goal. However, being the cautious person I always am, I figure I need to throw in a buffer for the inevitable – high cost of health care, a stock market crash, or any other disaster striking.
With expenses under control, I have shifted my focus on investing to get ensure a more consistent income. This is a learning process as I become more familiar with the different investment products and platforms out there, as well as tax implications. I need to ensure a rate of return on my money that will meet or exceed my annual expenses to be comfortable with early retirement. A simple path – spend less, save more, and invest as you go. The value of compounding will enable your savings to grow over time without you doing a thing. How exciting is that? For example, over 10 years, you can see your $1000 savings grow to almost $1800 (at a modest 6% return). Here’s a fun future value calculator you can use!
Know Your Priorities
My goal for “early retirement” is simple… How can I enjoy a lifestyle on the lowest amount of spending possible while maximizing my happiness? I still want to get together with friends, go out for dinner and drinks, and get in an occasional “fun” day for myself. The fun and exciting part of it all is that when I’m not working, I can explore new things to do on the cheap, find like-minded folks who also enjoy saving money, and relish all of my free time. Then, if I get bored, I can go back to work if I want. Or not.
Early retirement can be achieved by anyone. Although it does take have a different mindset than most of your friends, family, and coworkers. It’s a matter of setting your priorities: Do you really want a new car or would you rather buy a used one and retire a year earlier? Do you need a 3000 square foot house or can you live in something smaller?
You need to set a goal, give yourself a timeline, prioritize your lifestyle choices, and be disciplined about working towards it. It isn’t about getting there by living in misery, but rather exploring your own path. Everyone is unique and therefore our paths will be as well. Enjoy the journey and never give up!