I didn’t really plan to “retire” before 55.
Here’s how I came to realize it was possible!
In my early 40’s, as many people do, I got restless about my career. I felt the need for more “meaningful work”. I was excited to find a graduate program that spoke to me, and I made the decision to work full-time and work on my Sustainable Management degree part-time…good start to my transition!
In the midst of this crazy time, on a vacation in the mountains, I found myself drawn to a book called Work Less, Live More: The Way to Semi-Retirement. I read it cover-to-cover a couple times on that trip, and my mental wheels started turning (aided greatly by the clarity of mind that hits me when I’m surrounded by the natural beauty of an alpine lake and snow-capped mountains).
Five years later, I had an education in a new field that was meaningful to me, and 2 years after that I took what felt like a big leap of faith and left my high-tech corporate career.
I like to say I left a stable career in search of meaningful work. I left my corporate job almost 4 years ago, and Mr. Susty Themes left his about a year later.
Work Less, Live More set me on this path… but some lucky choices put our family in a position to be financially independent even though we never consciously thought about it until we were 40.
I’m writing all this in hindsight of course, inspired by the stories shared on the many great blogs about financial independence and extreme early retirement. Our story is a bit different, because we didn’t set a goal to be FI at an early age like many of you, but I’m here to tell you that discovering financial independence even a few years “early” is worth it! Don’t be discouraged if you got a late start. At 51 we began to savor Mr and Mrs PIE‘s definition of FIRE (Financial Independence Retire/Rest/Relax Early), and life is good.
Lucky choices that helped us
- Getting a college degree in a field that pays well was a good investment early in life. This made things relatively easier.
- We’re grateful for the nice salaries and benefits from our corporate jobs over the years. The stress was rewarded.
- We’ve always lived below our means, but by no means denied ourselves the pleasures of life. Our parents instilled in us a certain frugal instinct, so expenses are pretty naturally controlled.
- Since college, we’ve never carried a credit card balance.
- From very early on, we both maxed out our 401Ks, which had a generous company match.
- Without much financial knowledge, we “wisely” made our automatic contributions and invested in relatively low cost funds, reinvested dividends, and let it ride.
Along the way, once we clued into the fact that we might be able to achieve more freedom from our busy and stressful jobs, we did make a few conscious choices that we feel opened up our options.
We started evaluating our life choices by asking ourselves “will that loosen or tighten our ‘golden hand-cuffs’ to the corporate jobs?”.
- We resisted taking on debt to invest in a vacation home (I know many others have found real estate a wise decision, and we may still explore that).
- We steered clear of “opportunities” in our jobs that would work against our goals for more work/life balance.
- We decided not to move to a more expensive home at the coast in our 40’s, which would have tied us to our salaries for longer. A short drive to hear the waves makes for a wonderful day-trip.
With those lucky choices as a foundation, we were fairly well prepared once the realization struck that we might want to semi-retire and focus on other aspects of life: extended family, health, life-long learning, and relaxation. Honestly, we feel we sort-of “backed-into” our option to leave work, and so if you’re thinking and planning in your 20’s and 30’s, you’re way ahead of where we were!
Since we left work, we’ve each had some “side-hustles”, as this community would call them. These aren’t essential financially, but they help, and they keep us moving toward our goal to “do meaningful work”. Some of these projects don’t actually make any money, but by our definition, “work” doesn’t imply “paid”, and “meaningful” can include all kinds of things that make a positive contribution.
I’ll share more in future posts about how things are working 4-years in, plus our discoveries and challenges along the way. There are a few things we’d do differently to prepare if we could do it again, like maybe save more money in accounts we could access before 59 1/2. And, of course, there are several things we haven’t completely figured out yet ~ there’s a lot to learn now that we have time!
Many thanks to Bob Clyatt of Work Less, Live More fame, and to all of you out there who are writing useful and thought-provoking blogs. We find the community inspiring and also a good sounding board as we make our way on this path.