Tag Archives: Early Retirement

Pretirement story: Leaving work for good at age 33

Hey folks, I want to introduce you to a new blogger on the scene! Justin decided he was leaving work for good at 33 years old and has been writing some terrific content over at Root of Good for just a few weeks. He was kind enough to host a guest post of mine on his site earlier this week. Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think! 

Justin and I share a similar mind-set about pretirement and about focusing our respective web sites on giving you real information straight from the heart. You won’t find a lot of boring lists of regurgitated financial “tips” on either of our sites. And neither of us are afraid of offending anyone. Justin wants to show you how easy it is to leave the corporate world behind for good and he’s off to a great start. I predict big things for his site. He has a great story and is a great writer on top of it. I am honored to be the first site to host a guest post of his anywhere! I hope you enjoy it!

Goodbye work, hello blogging!

Photo courtesy Root of Good blog.

Photo courtesy Root of Good blog.

I started Root of Good not long after I retired from full time work.  I found myself sitting at home with a lot of free time and an interest in finances, early retirement, writing, computers, coding, and technology. I was able to “retire” at the tender age of 33, and I figured I could share my story and provide insight into how I accomplished this feat of financial engineering. One day a couple of weeks into my retirement, one of those crazy ideas crept into my head — I’ll start a blog!

Some people have nagging thoughts like “I really want a pick-up truck, a new boat, and a vacation house on the lake where I can store my new boat”. The nagging thought in my head was “I’m going to start a blog!”. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I resigned myself to spending the next few days investigating “how to blog” to figure out the basics. I had no clue where to even start with blogging.

You have to have a server that provides your carefully written blog posts to all your thousands of readers. You need software that makes your blog look beautiful and helps you manage your content. You’ll have to tweak the appearance of your site to make it conform to your wants and needs. Once you get your site up and running and offering readers the aesthetic experience you are aiming for, you still aren’t done. Unless you are particularly fond of writing soliloquies, you have to figure out how to get readers to surf over to your awesome new blog.

One way to attract readers to your blog is to read other blogs and comment on these other blogs, with the hopes that someone will like your comment and click on your name to find out more about this really clever and interesting commentator. Some aspiring bloggers prefer to carpet bomb the blogosphere with rather shallow comments that lead back to their own blogs in order to get as many clicks as possible.

I took a different approach and focused on finding the most relevant bloggers in my little niche of expertise — financial independence and early retirement. I read these blogs and engaged with the bloggers and their other readers. Since I’m not running my blog like a business (although I love making money!), I prefer to have genuine conversations with interesting people where we can all benefit mutually from sharing knowledge while entertaining each other in the process.

Enter Pretired.org. I was looking around the internet and I found dozens, perhaps hundreds of personal finance blogs of varying quality and usefulness. Nick’s writing sucked me in. I liked his philosophy of “pretirement” since I struggled a bit with defining myself.

One of the first pages at Root of Good was my “About” page. I realized I had to give myself a title in the very first paragraph of the “About” page.  Here is what I came up with:

Through careful saving and planning, I managed to accumulate enough wealth to make me financially independent by age 33.  I could also be variously described as unemployed, in between jobs, a stay at home dad, retired, or a kept man with a sweet sugar momma.  Call me what you want!

“Retired” is a strange word — a sort of verbal shorthand for “financially independent and not working”. “Retired” for a 33 year old is a really strange word. I see many of my friends from high school and college posting on Facebook about how excited they are to be finally finishing up their PhD dissertations or completing their medical residencies. And here I am retired.

Retired or Pretired?

When I composed my “About” page, I had never heard of the concept of “pretirement”. It makes so much sense though. When you retire in your 30s or 40s, you aren’t heading off into the sunset to a life of sitting on the porch in your rocking chair.  You probably won’t play any shuffleboard or bingo for at least a few more decades. You are still 15+ years too young for an “active adult” retirement community that frowns on those under age 55.

And let’s face the facts.  If you manage to work hard and accumulate enough wealth to retire at a very early age, you probably aren’t cut out for sitting around twiddling your thumbs all day anyway.

Pretirement is a perfect word to describe that period of time after you reach financial independence but before you hit the traditional retirement age of 65. It is one of the few periods of your life that you get to choose what you want to do. You are still healthy enough to climb mountains (in a figurative or literal sense). You still have enough energy to pursue side projects and hobbies, and try out volunteer opportunities that you put off during your working life.

In my situation (as well as Pretired Nick’s), leaving full time work has meant a big increase in how much time we spend with our families. We both have toddlers running around the house, and they take a lot of time and energy. I was busy working a full time job and making money when my other two kids were toddlers. This time around, I won’t miss my kid’s childhood because I was too busy working, or too busy de-stressing from work to give them my undivided attention.

I also view pretirement (or early retirement) as a renaissance of your life. A chance to reinvent your life in whatever form you want it to be. I decided to pursue blogging, which has led to hours of fulfilling work writing blog posts about topics I find interesting. It also led me into the world of coding and tweaking WordPress blog software. I’m currently a novice, which means I have a lot to learn.

I recently spent a few hours reading tutorials and modifying code to enable a certain kind of automated functionality at Root of Good. At first I had trouble getting the code to work like I wanted. After some trial and error and learning the basics of WordPress programming, I eventually got the program to output the web page with the desired appearance. A small victory, but a rewarding feeling to accomplish something new. Now I have a new skill and can build on that skill by taking on more challenging and complex coding issues to tweak Root of Good.

Who knows what these skills will lead to? I may develop my WordPress and PHP skills enough to be able to take on freelance programming work a few hours per week to make some easy cash. I don’t really need the money, but if the money comes easily, why not try to earn a little bit? It’s hard to call it “work” if you make a couple hundred dollars in exchange for a few hours of your time and you are doing something you like.

If that sounds really boring to you, wait till you hear about my other interests! Since retiring, I don’t feel guilty about spending hours watching, reading, or learning about the things that happen to interest me. So far this has included an interest in 16th century Europe. Lately I have been watching period drama TV shows and reading fiction and non-fiction works set in that period.

I also spent a lot of time studying the French language using a free online language instruction program (Duolingo.com for the curious). Lately I have been too busy (imagine that!) to spend much time learning French, but it will be there waiting for me if I find myself wallowing in boredom. Like that will ever happen.

During my full time career, it was difficult to do very much of anything recreational during the work week. My job and my three kids required most of my attention during the week. This left little unscheduled free time to pursue other interests. Now my job is no longer, but I have picked up full time child care duties for our one year old. That still leaves me with a lot of free time during the day, and also allows me to live life more intentionally at a slower pace. I walk the kids to and from school every day, and bring the little one to weekly story times and toddler play times at the community center.

Working for the Man

I have always regarded “work” as an instrumentally valuable activity that provides an income sufficient to fund my wants and needs. Work should also pay well enough to leave a surplus (after my expenses are paid) that I can invest for future use. It is great when work is interesting and provides happiness and satisfaction, as that is an added bonus on top of the paycheck.

Some find work intrinsically valuable — that is, work in and of itself provides value, meaning, and validation to their lives. I suppose I was unlucky during my short career since I never found a position that I considered to be intrinsically valuable. Maybe I should have chosen social work or the medical field instead of engineering. Not that I want to take a mulligan on life at this point!

Work provides money. Money buys freedom. It is a simple transaction in my mind. But the only money that can be put toward your future freedom is the money that you don’t spend.

How much money you spend depends on your wants and your needs. Needs tend to be relatively fixed in price (basic food, water, and shelter). Wants can be highly variable. The trick to being able to retire early is to pay attention to your “wants” and figure out how much value you get out of the “wants”. Some may prefer a shiny new car and a McMansion over the equivalent value invested at an 8-10% rate of return. I’m satisfied driving a 13-year-old compact car and living in a moderately priced house. For others, they may derive great unimaginable value out of living in a fancy car. Whoops, Freudian slip! Living in a fancy car is what you do when you can’t pay your fancy mortgage on your fancy house and it goes back to the fancy bank.

Living Well

The Root of Good family spends around $2,000 per month on our core expenses. Some people are shocked we can keep food on the table let alone live well on this amount of money. We aren’t eating Kobe steaks stuffed with caviar encrusted lobsters every night for dinner. But we eat well enough. Being retired means I have plenty of free time to try new experiments recipes and procure high quality ingredients at low prices. Our house keeps us safe and comfortable. Our cars get us where we need to go. Our minds are occupied with a variety of entertainment and educational options. Our friends (and our kids’ friends) are treated well at social events frequently hosted at our house. We are simply very value conscious consumers living well on a low budget.

By focusing our spending on the things that bring the most value to us while cutting costs in other places that aren’t very important, we have managed to live well and save a significant portion of our earnings each year. These turbocharged savings led to early retirement at 33 for me.

Pretired Nick here again. Well, what do you all think? Does Justin’s story get you dreaming at all? What will you do when you’re done working for good? Are you just bouncing along for the ride or are you deciding what you want to do every day and choosing to do that?  

Pretired meets Retireby40

Joe from Retireby40.org and Baby RB40 meet up with Pretired Nick and Pretired Baby at a Seattle park.

Joe from Retireby40.org and Baby RB40 meet up with Pretired Nick and Pretired Baby at a Seattle park.

Today I had the honor of meeting one of my heroes: Joe Udo from Retireby40.org and of course Baby RB40 (not really a baby anymore). Joe was up on a weekend trip from Portland and was gracious enough to offer to get together. We met up at a park in Seattle to introduce ourselves in person and for me to squeal with glee as I met the person most influential to me in deciding to begin writing about my own pretirement journey.

Joe was writing about his plans to leave his soul-sucking day job just as I was contemplating my own escape from my own soul-sucking day job. I coincidentally ended up leaving my job just a few months before he did. Now we are both enjoying our lives as stay-at-home dads.

If you haven’t already checked out Retireby40, go there RIGHT NOW and fill yourself with the inspiration to leave your own day job and get started with your pretirement!

Reader story: A neglected pretirement

Fantastic retirement savings, virtually no pretirement savings

Prison.   Photo by  jmrodri 

Prison.Photo by  jmrodri 

I received a request from a man named Jim recently to take a look at his financial situation. We had a brief exchange on another personal finance blog and I offered to share some deeper thoughts here. Here is Jim’s story: 

He and his wife are both in their mid-50s and are beginning to see retirement creeping up quickly on them. It’s probably fair to say Jim already has one foot out the door from his job, but his wife is afraid of “not even being close to being able to retire.” At this point, they’re still planning to work about 10 more years, but I get the feeling they’d both rather not if they could find a way to avoid it.

Let’s take a look at the numbers:

They have a joint $675,000 in 401(k) accounts and have just started IRAs. They owe around $115,000 on a $408,000 home and are planning to have that paid off in three more years. They refinanced last year into a 15-year loan at 3.25%. This very generous couple has been living a comfortable, American lifestyle and showering their family with a great deal of support. I’ll spare you all the details, but among the list, they paid for their own schooling, and paid for two kids to attend school with no debt. They paid cash for a daughter’s expensive wedding and pilot training for a son as well as a study/travel abroad program. Jim also mentions a sports car “driven only for fun in the summer” and a motorcycle. Additionally they are committed to helping their son through law school, at least the first year at $1,000/month so he can utilize scholarships (it’s a requirement that he not work the first year).

Monthly expenses look something like this:

  • Mortgage payment: $1,300
  • Groceries: $600
  • Charity: $600
  • Cars/gas: $500 (Jim mentions a “long commute”)
  • Car insurance: $170
  • Utilities: $250
  • Water: $100
  • HOA: $60
  • Cable: $80
  • Internet: $40
  • Miscellaneous: $160
  • Total monthly expenses: $3,900

On top of that, Jim and his wife have begun paying extra on their mortgage to pay it off in the three years mentioned above so they’ve actually been paying $4,000/month on the mortgage. Jim didn’t mention any credit card or other debt, so it sounds like they’ve been responsible with their money management.

On the income side, they make decent money, bringing in a joint $6,600 per month. When they take Social Security at age 65, they expect that to bring in about $50,000/year.

So can Jim and his wife pretire yet?

I really appreciate Jim sharing his story because it illustrates the exact reason I felt the need to start writing this blog. The financial services industry does a great job (in some ways) of gearing people up for a traditional retirement. But the concept of PREtirement is completely ignored. Many folks don’t even understand there IS such an era to life until they’re in it, often unfortunately due to an unexpected job loss. Jim and his wife, fortunately, are still employed and have done a great job saving for their retirement. So let’s take a look at their situation and see if we can get them into a comfortable pretirement as soon as possible. And IF they choose to keep working to build an even cushier retirement, they’ll be doing it by CHOICE, not because some expert tells them they have to save up some arbitrary amount of money.

First of all, it’s important to understand what pretirement is and is not. On the simplest level, pretirement is building up an investment fund that is large enough to pay for your monthly expenses. Now when most people hear that, they look at their monthly expenses multiply by 12 and then 20, realize it’s hopeless and then buy a new car to make themselves feel better. But in fact, it’s much easier to reach this level by controlling expenses than by building up the fund (although you do have to do both).

Let’s, then, take a look at Jim’s expenses.

Right now expenses are $3,900 a month. With $1,300 of that going to mortgage, they are at a very tolerable $2,600 with $600 of that going to “charity”. That brings the core bills excluding mortgage to about $2,000 per month, which I think is about the maximum one should have. Car/gas expenses are super high at $500/month, which as he mentions is due to “long commutes” — plus that figure doesn’t even include the sports car and motorcycle. It’s a little unclear if the $500 is for two or for three people, but really it doesn’t matter because Jim shouldn’t be buying gas for his adult child anyway.

Now before I continue,  I need to deliver a firm spanking to Jim for being so indulgent with his kids. Paying for college? That’s something we can debate and I even debate with myself from time-to-time. But paying for a kid’s extravagant wedding? Work/study abroad? These are adults! You have GOT to be kidding me! My eyes aren’t that good, is that Bill Gates over there? What’s more, that a kid would WANT a fancy wedding shows that there is a long pattern of receiving hand-outs and that the child has developed a consumerist value system. I’m sure Jim’s daughter is a lovely person, and this may not apply to her, but I bet even Jim would agree that the overlap of kids who get their parents to pay for their weddings and the kids who later beg to be bailed out of their credit card debt is enormous. Perhaps the only thing dumber than a parent paying for a fancy wedding is a kid putting that same wedding on a credit card. Couples should be investing in their marriage, not their wedding! (Like these guys.) My wife and I spent just a few hundred dollars on our wedding (eloped to Vegas) and spent barely $60 each on rings. Is something wrong with us? Well, I’m 45 and work just four hours a week and my wife will be done working when she reaches her 40s as well. So who is crazier?

While I’m ranting, can we talk about long commutes? Many of us have done it (including me), but it’s time we Americans stop putting up with this daily torture. That starts with facing down this lie about the “American Dream.” The American Dream is to own a home? Please. Stop. Owning a home is great in many ways, but let’s stop pretending it’s what life is about. The American Dream should be about freedom to do what you want to do. Just because you fell in love with a lovely house in a “nice” neighborhood is no reason to throw away a decade of your life. What’s more we tend to ignore the costs of these homes, whether it be lawn equipment, time, repairs, remodels, commuting costs and time away from our families. It’s even sadder watching empty-nesters try to keep up the large house in which they raised their kids only to have those same kids dump it for cash right after the estate sale. But that’s a rant for another day.

OK, now that we have Jim begging for mercy, let’s build him back up with some good news!

On the mortgage, he’s on the right track. Although it’s too bad he chose a 15-year loan instead of a 10-year. The payment difference would only be around $300 or so and would have greatly increased the pay-down time. He could even afford to do a five-year loan in his situation! But that doesn’t matter that much because he can keep going with his current loan.

When it comes to a traditional REtirement, Jim and his wife are basically done. With only moderate growth, they should have close to $1 million in retirement funds available in 10 more years when they are 65. That million bucks should generate enough to cover their basic monthly bills even without counting their social security income, which they could actually live on by itself. Despite what professional investment advisers would say, they ALREADY have plenty of money for retirement.

Our challenge is to bridge the gap from now until age 65. The upcoming years are the classic “pretirement” phase that almost NO ONE talks about. I do find my GenX peers a lot more focused on it than my Boomer elders, but still in general, it’s just not an accepted “phase” of life. Anyhoo…

Jim, here is how you and your wife can reach the freedom of pretirement as soon as possible. Hang on, we’re going to thread the needle here…

  • Tell your son you’ll help with support for school for year 1, but after that he’s on his own. If he has to take on debt, he has to take on debt. But, oh no, school loans suck!
    Here’s the deal: Aside from the emotional desire to ensure a debt-free law school graduate, it’s really quite mathematical. You have limited years to save up for retirement, he has many more years to pay back debt. And don’t kid yourself that there is no debt involved when you pay to support him. Unless you’re debt-free, you’re effectively borrowing to pay for his education anyway. Basically you’re using your home loan to support him instead of paying off your mortgage and building your own pretirement fund. In addition, I think he’ll learn more about money, pretirement and what it’s like to be carrying debt in his 50s from how you handle this situation more than anything he’ll learn in school. (By the way, if he has scholarships, the loan he’d get for living costs would be quite small. I’d reconsider your approach there. He can take 10 years to pay back his loan, but you are going to try to pay off your house much more quickly making your cashflow that much tighter.)
  • Let’s talk about your expenses. Overall, you live a relatively frugal lifestyle, which is great. There are a few areas you should think about cutting back because there is some low-hanging fruit there.
    Your food budget is EXTREMELY high. You should be able to easily trim $200 off that to bring it down to $400. I suspect that number includes some restaurant spending and probably some waste. Time to bring that under control. Say goodbye to Whole Foods!
    Your internet and cable total to $120/month. For high-speed internet plus TV I pay just over $60 for full HD, so I think you’re getting ripped off there. As a former Dish Network customer, I suspect you may have a satellite system. That needs to be canceled To-Day.
    I’m not seeing a cell phone cost line, but I assume you have one. If you’re a normal American, you can probably save on that, too. And it’s time to get rid of the landline. That’s just a needless expense that you’re wasting money keeping. If you want to keep your phone number, you can convert it to Google Voice and have that number ring through to your cell phone. That’s what I did and it works awesome!
    It’s nice you donate to charity, but it’s also not appropriate when you’re trying to hit aggressive goals. I don’t know what kind of cars you drive, but I suspect they’re perhaps not the most economical. If you’re driving an SUV to work every day, you should be hanging your head in shame as you head over to Craigslist to put that beast up for sale NOW. But since you didn’t mention this, we’ll just assume there is moderate room for improvement and drop this to $400/month. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone paying more than $100 per driver just for the honor of getting to work every day. While you’re on Craigslist, you’re going to put two more ads up: one for your sports car and one for your motorcycle. Keeping a depreciating asset sitting there not earning you money is painful to see in your situation. I don’t know what those are worth, but I’ll just throw in a round $15,000 coming your way once you dispose of those toys.
  • It’s also painful to see you have an HOA. For what? The joy of living “there”? Frustrating! But since I’m sure have deep roots there now, I’ll give you a pass and we’ll leave that in place. (Although see below for more fun!)
  • So with barely even touching your extravagant lifestyle, we’ve dropped your monthly pretirement number from $2,000 to $1,600 a month.
  • Next, just to undertake a little financial discipline, you should immediately open a home equity line of credit on your house, if you don’t already have one. Don’t freak out, you’re going to keep this balance at ZERO at all times. You can get as large of a credit as you want, but no less than $24,000 (one year of your current core expense amount.) This HELOC is your new emergency fund! Now you don’t need to keep cash sitting around in your savings accounts earning nothing. Not having loads of cash sitting in the bank might help you learn to say no to your kids, too!
  • For everyone reading this, it doesn’t typically help you to pay extra principle on your mortgage. I mean it does but it doesn’t. Let me explain. It does help you in two ways.
    One it lowers your principle so you owe less and your payoff target does come closer. You could even consider those payments as “earning” the amount of interest on your loan — in your case 3.5%.
    The other way it helps you is by putting your money somewhere you can’t get to it.
    On the other side of the same coin is your money is somewhere you can’t get to it. And even as you pay the mortgage company gobs of money, your PAYMENT doesn’t budge at all. So in general I suggest considering investing those funds elsewhere instead, but keeping them semi-liquid for eventual loan payoff. For Jim, though, it may make sense to go ahead and throw this money at the principle as we’ll see.
  • Now that we’ve lowered your expenses down to a more sane $1,600/month, you have $5,000 remaining, not including your mortgage. With mortgage, you’re left with around $3,700 each month. Here’s how you’re going to get rid of your mortgage in two years, not three! ALL of your $3,700/month will go toward your mortgage fund. That, plus your motorcycle and sports car money should be enough to get that monkey off your back. ($3,700 * 12 * 2 + $15,000) If you’ll check your handy amortization table, I think you’ll see that just about gets you there*. (For other folks interested in paying off a mortgage quickly, see my post on How to get rid of your mortgage.)
  • That was two painful years, but are we at pretirement yet? Unfortunately, not yet. Now that you have paid off his mortgage, it’s time to build up a pretirement fund. The good news is that without a mortgage, you can now save around $5,000/month. That $60,000/year should build up quickly. The bad news is it’ll STILL take about five or six more years to reach a break-even point. That’s frustrating, but we can’t argue with the math. You’ll need nearly $400,000 invested in order to cover monthly expenses and by the time you get there, you’ll basically have just retired. Hey, worse things have happened! Nothing to cry about!
  • But what if there was another option? If we say you’re about 55 today, you would need to do some careful planning, but you could simply work for the two years to pay off the mortgage (until you’re 57). Then work three more years to age 60. If you save aggressively during those last three years, you should have somewhere in the neighborhood of $190,000 saved. Now that you’re 60, you could simply live off the principle, giving you way more than you’d need every month. Then, at age 65, you can dive in and tap your social security and other retirement funds. You could even consider taking retirement at 59 1/2, but you probably know that already.
  • You could also consider semi-pretirement. That would mean working part-time to make ends meet and to have a little extra spending money. Since you are so close to obliterating your mortgage, I’d recommend you stick it out until that’s paid off. Then, if you desire, you could quit your jobs and find something part-time closer to home. You’d only need $1,600/month coming in, which would be a trivial amount to make for two people. Without your expensive commuting costs, you would need even less each month as well!
  • Let’s assume for a moment that you guys hate your jobs as much as I hated my last job. Can you do anything sooner than the two years it’ll take to pay off the house? It’s time to talk downsizing. Because you have good equity in your home, that is a source of funds you can tap. Also, by downsizing you may be able to lower your living costs as well, including commuting costs, utilities, your ridiculous HOA and, of course, your mortgage payment. Of course this depends on where you want to live and how much room you really need. But if you could sell your house for the Zillow price of $408,000, you should be able to net somewhere around $260,000 in cash. That may not sound like much, but remember, now you don’t need to pay your mortgage for two more years. We’ll assume you can buy a comfortable, well-built small home for $200,000. This isn’t possible where I live nor is it possible in many areas of the country. But, remember, they can move anywhere they want! Once that house is purchased, they’ll again open a big HELOC and not use it. Now with no mortgage, no commuting costs and much smaller living costs, I believe you can get your monthly bills under $1,000/month, maybe a little higher with homeowner’s insurance and taxes. You could certainly save up the $250,000 it would take to generate that expense or you could simply work part-time to make up the difference. I used to joke that if I ever got into a cashflow crunch, I could always water the plants at Home Depot and be happier than I was at my soul-sucking job. And I could!

Now let’s talk about health care for a moment. It’s probably the biggest wild card hanging out there to worry about. First, let’s talk about health. People who spend $600/month on groceries, $500/month commuting and $80/month on cable TV are, almost by definition, not healthy. This could have a direct impact on your health care costs over the next decade. Again, by moving to a more walkable and bikeable community, by not sitting on your butt either in front of the TV or in a car every day will have a lasting impact on your health and your happiness. Secondly, I haven’t listed health-care costs in the above because there is such a wide variance in the potential costs. How I wish this country would pull its head out of its collective ass and implement a sane Canadian-style health care system. It is truly the ONLY thing that makes a lick of sense.

But that doesn’t mean there are no options. If you choose to work part-time, finding a gig that covers health insurance is definitely an option. Thanks to Obamacare, you WILL actually be able to buy coverage, that is something that was not a guarantee even a couple years ago. You are VERY lucky that this legislation was passed before you needed it. The bad news is that health insurance companies are still evil, blood sucking scumbags that exploit the desperate for profit. It’s time to start looking around for an affordable plan with a high deductible (you have that HELOC if you really need it, remember?) I have heard of plans for folks your age that were a ridiculous $1,000/month and I’ve heard of some that are $300/month. A lot depends on where you live and your health, etc., so shop around. This could be a reason to choose another state over another where you live today. Shop around. What you find may help you determine what is possible.

So let’s summarize!

Jim and his wife did a great job of saving for retirement but basically didn’t save at all for Pretirement — outside of paying down their house. This leaves them potentially commuting to jobs they’d rather not be going to for 10 MORE YEARS — and that’s after an already long career. This happened because they forked over a ton of money to their kids, have lived an expensive, if typical, lifestyle and, frankly, never planned seriously for this era of their lives.

With some relatively minor lifestyle adjustments and learning to say no to their adult children, or more significant lifestyle adjustments if they want to speed things along, they can leave their jobs and gain a great deal of freedom quite quickly! EVEN IF they decide to keep working out of fear or simply a desire to live a decadent retirement, I would STILL recommend reaching pretirement stage (investments cover expenses) as soon as possible. You’ll won’t need to take as much bullshit at work, you’ll be safe in case of a major life event (such as a job loss) and you’ll live every day in the sweet, sweet mindset of complete freedom that comes with PRETIREMENT!

 

*There will be some looseness in these numbers due to taxes, insurance, inflation and various surprises and unknowns that may occur along the way. It’s the concept that’s important, not the exact numbers.

How much money will it take to pretire?

Do I really need $1.3 million?

I started this draft quite awhile ago now and since that time I tripped across this piece on early retirement math from Mr. Money Mustache (may his whiskers forever remain crumbless). MMM explains the concept better than I ever could, so please go read the whole thing.

My own story begins in my early thirties when I was having a conversation with a financial adviser. My simple question was “What do I need to do to retire by 40?” The concept that is now “pretirement” hadn’t occurred to me yet. At least not as clearly. I just knew I didn’t want to HAVE to work after that point. That was the goal I’d set and I was going to figure out a way to get there.

So I sat looking at this adviser, pen poised above my notepad, awaiting the wisdom about to come forth. The answer came back in the form of a question: “Do you have $1.3 million saved up?” This adviser spends every day dealing with folks investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions. The fact I could even get a meeting was amazing. So it was pretty understandable that she looked at me with an expression that said “Why am I wasting my time on this lazy loser?” (Little did she know I was working 16-hour days at the time.)

She saw my look of dismay and hopelessness and immediately softened her response. “It really depends on how much you need to live on,” she said. “And you need to think about inflation. And health care costs. Do you think you could live on less money?”

Her math was unassailable. To have a passive income approximating a reasonable salary, say $4,000 or so, and a safe yield in the 4% range, that’s about where you end up. But that conversation in a way is where my journey toward pretirement really began. Because I realized then that I COULD live on less.

First of all, I knew I’d be mortgage-free. I was living in a smaller house and was close to being able to pay it off even then. And certainly by 40 would be easy. Secondly, I was naturally frugal and was making good income. I just needed help figuring out the plan. Much of that changed as I grew older and became accustomed to life’s finer things. That doomed me to more years of working. Then the big economic collapse happened and much of my net worth evaporated.

Nevertheless the seed was planted. Complicated spreadsheets were created slicing and dicing income and expenses many different ways. All of them told the same story: The comfortable floor for my monthly costs was somewhere between $800-$1,500, mostly depending on how cushy I wanted my life to be. Inflation was definitely an important consideration, but did I really need $4,000/month? Something seemed amiss.

Now I’m not saying I would mind having $4,000 rolling in every month. Far from it! I’m just saying working for idiots for 30 more years wasn’t worth it.

So after much reevaluation, I decided the best path was a severe cost-cutting strategy, while adding on part-time work. So the goal now is $1,200/month, or $288,000 invested. (Worth noting that I already bring in more than that passively via a rental property on paper. Unfortunately unpredictable expenses and renters have made that too shaky to rely on for income. So I’m working on restructuring that now.)

I know I’m a broken record, but I have to repeat again, that for me $1,200 per month isn’t REtirement, it’s PREtirement. I won’t be dipping into my retirement funds and I still plan to work part-time while I stay home with my son. I may even end up going back to corporate America at some point just to speed things along or to keep myself entertained. The point is the freedom, not the goal itself. If I accidentally end up working for some lunatic like I did at my last job, I’ll be free to leave and never come back. That’s freedom. That’s wealth.

I’ll likely keep working at least part-time until I at least reach the $2,000 per month income level. That’s around half a million invested. Still a long way off for me but a far cry from the $1.3 million I was told I needed all those years ago.

What do you think the right number is to reach pretirement?

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