Getting out of the workforce so early was mainly a matter of mindset. As far as the money went, there was nothing magical to it; nothing complicated. I simply decided the birth-school-work-death cycle wasn’t for me, so I made money and kept it and put it to work so my family and I don’t have to.
1) Worked long enough in the public sector to acquire job skills; then hopped into the private sector to chase salary.
2) Moved from a smaller southern town to a major northeastern city–salary arbitrage.
3) Ran rental real estate and lived in one unit.
4) My wife and I both had good jobs. She was working as an engineer for a local utility for, I believe, $60K a year, whereas I…
5) …I worked for a small company that grew a lot in the eight years I was there. I came in as a front-line manager at $80K and went out as a senior director (salary details below.) Had a bonus program and got some stock options grants. Again, remember that these were salary numbers in a big city and at the time were middle class-ish.
6) Always always always put as much into our 401(k)s as possible, During the last few years we maxed out.
7) Once we had “enough” money, we cashed out of everything and returned to the rural south. Tremendous amount of geographic arbitrage–the appreciation on our big city rental property paid for our rural home and land outright.
8) I left under ideal circumstances. My company went through a buyout and a considerable downsizing and I was able to engineer my own layoff, which means I got a severance package and was able to draw unemployment afterwards (all proceeds from the unemployment went to my daughter’s 529.) I also cashed out of those stock options I mentioned.
But you might be inclined to call bullshit at this point. “OK, you saved a few bucks and quit work, you slacker, but now you’re gonna deplete your funds and end your days living in a burning tire in back of a trash dump.”
Well, it’s understandable. I think far too many middle-class Americans have difficulty relating to the idea of early retirement because they’ve been conditioned to view “having a job” as the normal way of life, and are consequently ill-equipped to consider other options.
But, see, here’s where the mindset comes in.
Ask yourself, is achieving financial independence and retiring early a new idea to you? Does it seem like a pipe dream? Are you already rolling your eyes at the thought?
Don’t. Getting out of the, quote, rat race might be easier than you think. (I offer more information about starting points in Early Retirement’s Magic Bullet and The Ten Commandments of Early Retirement.)
I’ve heard so many people say, “Wow, I can’t imagine what I’d do if I was retired.” And I always wonder, “My brother/sister…that’s exactly why you’re still working. If you don’t know where you want to be, how can you hope to get there?”
So in lieu of working towards a goal that’s commonly considered out of reach, people default to the standard trade-off: selling at the bare minimum 2,080 hours a year to an employer in exchange for a salary and benefits, with the goals of:
1) Amassing enough wealth to be able to stop working full-time before they die, and
2) Enjoying a reasonable standard of living along the way.
They lose their freedom and they put up with inconvenience and boredom, but they gain the promise of security. And maybe, if they’re lucky, they get to work at something they enjoy.
Mind you, I’m not knocking anyone who chooses this lifestyle. It’s the way I was raised and it’s worthy of respect.
But it does in fact offer plenty of room for unconventional thinking. If you’re interested in escaping the tradeoff between freedom and security, you might choose to apply your creativity and energy to your own life first—in other words, you might choose to work at least as hard for yourself as you do for your employer, with the goal of attaining a situation where you don’t need to earn a salary to get by.
So how do you accomplish that, exactly?
To start wrapping your head around that, you need to read Early Retirement: The Magic Bullet. But before you click ahead, I need to give you a bit of straight talk.
Don’t consider what you read in this blog to be financial advice. Please. I’m not showing you The Way or anything like that; I’m just trying to help you learn to navigate.
Which is an awful metaphor, I admit, but understand that there are many paths to the same goal, here, and it’d be both presumptuous and terribly, terribly irresponsible of me if I were to say, “Here’s the Straight & Narrow…& woe betide ye who fail to Cleave to my Wisdom. I want you to immediately get up from your chair, sell the chair, also your cars, house, and esophagus. Dress your kids in sackcloth, put five percent of your assets in gold, twelve percent in Bitcoin, eighteen percent in pumpkin futures…and oh, yeah, did I mention that you’ll be paying me thousands in fees for this advice?”
No. That’s not what we’re doing.
Because: think about it. Let’s say you begin to trust my opinions. Maybe something I’ve said strikes a chord with you and helps convince you to make a major life decision. Move across the country, buy/sell a house, change or quit jobs, alter a relationship with a significant other, be secretive with family/friends/coworkers, burn bridges and close doors, put life-changing amounts of money at risk…yeah, these are all big-ticket events, and potentially disastrous.
So I find writing about ways to approach these decisions to be as sobering as hell; an act carrying heavy, heavy responsibility. I don’t undertake that lightly. Right?
Right. OK, enough of the preamble. Let’s go have some fun.
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