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Do you want to quit the rat race tomorrow? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Unfortunately, many Americans aren’t even saving enough money to retire at 65 let along retiring early. If you don’t want to be a statistic, if you want to quit the rat race sooner rather than later and live happily retiring early, then you need to read this post.
I am going to walk you through 5 steps that will help ensure that retiring early is a possibility for you and not a dream. So what are we waiting for, let’s get started with the ultimate guide to retiring early!
Table of Contents
What Is Early Retirement
Before we get into the steps below, there is one critical question that we need to answer first: what does retiring early mean to you? Are you going to never work again? Work on your own terms? You need to know what retiring early means to you so that you know exactly what to do in order to get there.
For me personally, early retirement is having the financial freedom to do as I choose. I don’t see myself working a traditional 9-to-5 job, five days per week. But I might work part-time. Or I might turn hobbies, like this blog, into my main source of income. It’s important that you understand what retiring early means to you. By skipping this step, you are going to find the rest of the tips difficult to complete.
The Ultimate Guide To Retiring Early
Now that you have defined what retiring early means to you, you are ready to start following the 5 steps I outline below. But one last point before we get into the meat of this post: retiring early is not easy by any means. If it were easy, more people would be doing it. But with that said retiring early is possible.
Save A Ton Of Money/Live Modestly
If you want to have any hope of retiring early, then living below your means is crucial. If you aren’t saving anything now, then you will have no shot at retiring early. Think about it: how are you going to fund your life for the next 20 or more years until you can start collecting Social Security or access your retirement accounts? The simple answer is you aren’t going to be able to retire early if you don’t save money and live modestly.
So how do you save a ton of money? You have to live below your means. Don’t buy the biggest house you can afford, buy the house that is right for you. Don’t buy the brand new luxury car when the 3 year old mid-range model you currently have will suffice.
In both of these cases, it’s not just to upfront cost of the home or the car you have to account for, but also the ongoing costs of ownership. With a bigger house comes higher maintenance costs and higher taxes. You’ll be paying these higher costs every year you have the house.
With a luxury car comes potentially higher insurance premiums and higher maintenance costs. Again, this is an ongoing expense, not just the upfront cost of the car.
You have to look at it this way: do you sacrifice now in order to realize your dream of retiring early or do you live like a king now and work until you are 65, 70 or older? There are trade-offs to each option. My guess is if you’ve come this far, then retiring early is your dream. If so, then learn to cut your monthly expenses. Learn to live with less.
Ideally, you need to be saving 35% or more of your monthly income. The more you save each month, the sooner you can retire and the more you will have to live off of in retirement.
When you get large windfalls of money like tax refunds, inheritances, or bonuses, don’t spend any of them. Save 100% of these windfalls. They are a great way to boost your savings.
For example, let’s say you are earning $75,000 annually and you are able to save $20,000 each year. That comes to just over 25%. But if you get a $10,000 bonus each year, by saving that entire bonus, you just boosted your savings up to 40%, which is outstanding.
But the initial boost in savings isn’t the end of the benefit of savings large windfalls – it’s the compounding of those windfalls over time. If invest that $10,000 bonus and it grows at 8% per year, in 25 years you have close to $70,000!
Or, if you get a tax refund of $2,000 and invest that every year for the next 10 years ($20,000 in total) and it grows at 8% annually for 25 years, you end up with over $100,000!
The point is, windfalls make a huge difference in allowing you to retire early. Don’t give in to the urge of spending these windfalls. Save the money and put yourself in a better financial state.
Key Takeaway: Sacrifice now if your goal is retiring early. Learn to save at least 35% of your income and save 100% of windfalls that you get.
As you are setting up your budget, look for ways to cut expenses. Start with the big ones and then work on the small ones. You can pick up my eBook, Spare Change, for help with cutting your small expenses.
Pay Off Your House
For most people, your house is your greatest monthly expense. Getting rid of your mortgage will go a long way towards retiring early.
Let’s say you calculate your monthly expenses to be $3,500 in retirement. This comes to $42,000 per year that you will need to survive. If your monthly mortgage payment is $1,500 per month, that comes to $18,000 per year. If you pay off your house and retire early, that is $18,000 less that you need in order to survive financially in early retirement. This means that you can now live on just $2,000 per month or $24,000 per year. It is much easier to save enough money to retire on $18,000 a year as opposed to $42,000.
By paying off your mortgage, you will need $350,000 less of income over the course of the next 20 years. That is the difference between retiring early and retiring at the normal retirement age for many. Here are a few ideas for how to pay off your mortgage early.
If you are considering refinancing to lower interest rate, use this tool from Bankrate to find the best refinance deal.
Key Takeaway: Make it a point to pay off your mortgage before you retire. In fact, you should make it a point to eliminate all of the debt you have before you retire. The fewer debt expenses you have during retirement, the less money you will need to save in order to retire in the first place.
With that said, don’t pour all of your money into getting rid of debt as quickly as possible. Investing is just as important, if not more. I’ll explain how much you should allocate to each later in this post.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to retiring early has been health insurance. What is someone that wants to retire early to do until they reach 65 and qualify for Medicare? With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, insurance coverage becomes much less murky. Don’t confuse this with insurance coverage being cheap. In many cases, insurance coverage will still cost you handsomely. But, the ability to have coverage, regardless of medical condition, is huge for those planning on retiring early.
Your best bet is to get some free online quotes so you have an idea of how much insurance coverage will cost you. I would add a small buffer to the quote as well as indexing for inflation just to be on the conservative side.
Key Takeaway: Insurance coverage is going to cost you a decent amount. Don’t forget to include this cost in your expenses when figuring out how much you will need to save.
Also, be sure to shop around for free auto quotes. The more you can save on insurance, the less you need to save in order to meet your dream of retiring early. Of course, you shouldn’t just go for the lowest monthly price of insurance. You want to make sure the coverage you have is adequate for you so that you don’t end up in a bad financial place because you didn’t have enough insurance coverage.
You are going to need to have your money grow so that you don’t outlive it during early retirement. The only way to do this is to invest in the stock market. For some, this might seem like a scary ordeal, but running out of money is far scarier. You need to learn the basics when it comes to investing.
There is a lot of information out there when it comes to investing, which makes many think that investing is a complicated idea. It really isn’t. Read my post on how to become a stock market millionaire to get a good understanding of how to be a successful investor. Then build your portfolio by modeling my sample portfolios. You can do this using any online broker too, just make sure you choose one that doesn’t chart you crazy fees. Check out my online broker comparison chart for help with finding a good online broker.
Be sure to pay attention to taxes. Taxes eat into your return and we all want to keep as much of our money as possible. Make sure you put investments that produce ordinary income – taxable bonds, real estate investment trusts, etc. into retirement accounts so that you can save on taxes. For investment income that is taxed at a lower rate (dividends) or not taxed at all (treasury and municipal bonds), you can invest those in your taxable account.
Even better, skip the work of building your own portfolio and worrying about taxes and open an account with Betterment. Pick your goal and they will take care of the rest. I invest with them and it really is that easy (and their fee is super low too!).
Key Takeaway: You aren’t going to be able to survive early retirement if your money is sitting under your mattress or in a low yielding bank account. You need to invest in the stock market. Find a portfolio that meets your risk tolerance and keep your money invested for the long-term.
When it comes to investing and paying off debt, concentrate on investing the majority of your money and use the remainder to pay off your debt early. For example, take 80% of your available money and use it for investing and the remaining 20% to go towards paying extra towards your debt.
Be Smart With Retirement
As I just mentioned, you don’t want to run out of money when retiring early. Investing helps with this, but you also have to be conscious of your spending too, especially at the beginning of early retirement. This is because when most people start spending after retiring early, they go overboard with spending. They take many vacations, pick up new hobbies, and eat out much more frequently. This all costs money.
The reason this is bad is because you want to be able to live off of the income your portfolio provides. The longer you can go without touching your principal, the better off you will be. I mentioned this in my post, retire like it’s 1989, but here is the basic idea:
If you have a portfolio of $500,000 and it generates 3% in income, this is $15,000 for you to live off of. If you can do this, great, because you will always roughly have $500,000 saved, depending on the market. But, if you instead live off of $25,000 then after the first year of retirement, you investments are only worth $490,000 (This is because your investments generated $15,000 of income which is $10,000 less than you need. You ended up taking $10,000 out of your portfolio.).
This is a problem because 3% income of $490,000 (which is what is left after taking out the $10,000 from above) is only $14,700. This means you will have to take out $10,300 from your portfolio in the next year to cover your spending habits – or $300 more than last year. The year after this, you only have $479,700 in your portfolio, which generates just over $14,000 in income. Now you need to take out an additional $11,000 from your portfolio.
Every year you take money out of your investments, the less income they will generate, meaning you will have to take more money from your principal the following year. This process snowballs upon itself eventually leaving you penniless sooner rather than later.
So, in order to survive retiring early, you need to pay special attention to your spending, especially in the first few years of early retirement. If you can do this, you increase your odds of surviving early retirement financially.
Key Takeaway: Be frugal and watch your spending the first few years of early retirement. This isn’t to say you have to sit at home all of the time and avoid spending any money, but you should be conscious of how much you are spending.
In fact, it goes back to the point at the start of this post: indulge now or put off some spending to ensure you have enough for the remainder of your life. If you want to take a round the world trip, maybe scale it back and take the trip over a few years.
The smarter you are with your spending in the first few years of early retirement will determine if you run out of money or not towards the end.
Retiring early is a dream for many people. Why not stop dreaming about it and start taking steps to making retiring early a reality? It will take sacrifice on your part, but all great things come with sacrifice. Just imagine yourself not having to wake up to an alarm every morning, or not caring if it is going to snow tomorrow because you won’t have to drive through it to get to work. If retiring early is what you want, then the sacrifices you make to get there won’t feel like sacrifices at all.
When it comes to retiring early, following these steps will get you 70% of the way to your goal. If you want more detailed information on retiring early, including help with calculating how much money you will need to retire, and more in-depth information on all of the topics above, look into my eBook, Seven Steps To Early Retirement. It’s just $10 for a wealth of knowledge and many others recommend reading it.
I have over 15 years experience in the financial services industry and 20 years investing in the stock market. I have both my undergrad and graduate degrees in Finance, and am FINRA Series 65 licensed and have a Certificate in Financial Planning.
Visit my About Me page to learn more about me and why I am your trusted personal finance expert.