Retiring early is a big deal. If you’ve done it, or are working towards it, it’s something to have pride in.
But you may also fear it will be lonely. And perhaps it feels you’re the only one in the situation, trying to decide if it’s the right thing to do.
I remember those feelings. But since taking the early retirement plunge, I’ve found a surprising number of others doing the same thing. It turns out I wasn’t the only one making that decision, there are more similar folk than I imagined.
I met David a few months ago. He also retired early, but our journeys were different, and our plans for early retirement future will no doubt be different too.
That’s the interesting thing. People arrive at their early retirement decision point in a variety of ways and are doing their early retirement differently too.
My way of early retirement is suiting me so far. But it may be that David’s way is more aligned to your situation or way of thinking. Perhaps there are parallels that help with your own decisions but, even if not, David’s is an interesting story.
Tell us about yourself
I’m from the UK, although I’m currently spending a year in France. I love anything outdoors, hill walking, any form of motor cycling, including racing. The last 4 months in the French Alps have been mountain biking, skiing and walking which is ideal for me.
In terms of working, I started when I was 18 and retired early at the age of 44.
What about your working life?
It splits into three sections:
I had a UK job until I was 38, and basically saved nothing other than my pension contributions.
After that I worked in Hong Kong for two years, although that didn’t make much difference to my savings.
Then, when I was 41, I got a job in Jamaica on a tax-free expatriate package. This was a savings game changer. I lived frugally during that period to save as much as I could.
Was early retirement always an ambition, or did it happen some other way?
Early retirement entered my mindset when I was 30. My job was physical, and a back injury meant I couldn’t do it forever. I also had some big ideas that I needed time to do - trekking the Munros (done) and rowing the Atlantic (still to do) have to be done while I’m young enough. I thought of a sabbatical, but then wondered, if I can take a year off, why not longer? That started me thinking about early retirement.
You retired at 44, why that age?
It was when I had enough money to live a life I wanted. When I took the job in Jamaica at 41, I made a spreadsheet that showed if I saved hard, I could retire in 3 years. That’s what I did.
How did you save enough money to retire at 44?
Mostly by reducing costs, which allowed me to save more and also meant the investment pot needed for early retirement was smaller.
To be honest, I didn’t do much in my earlier years other than buy a house, although I did time the property market well.
I then had a lightbulb moment at 37. I tracked my costs for a month and realised the amount left wasn’t enough to do the things I wanted. Mortgage was the largest single cost, so I figured getting it repaid would make a big difference and give me more money for the things I wanted to do in the future. I did this by adopting a simpler life that cost a lot less.
I also had someone who I respected who'd done the same thing previously - worked hard to get free of debt, does things for other people, who then do things for him. He’s free, happy and lives with no regrets. A good example to follow.
Where does your money come from to pay for your retirement?
The first thing is that I live on just 50% of my old earnings, so I don’t need to replace my salary, only half of it.
I’ve accessed my pension early, it’s a reduced amount but provides half the income I need. The other half comes from a rental property and a small portfolio of shares.
Do you worry that you won’t have enough money to last for your retirement?
Occasionally, partly because I don’t understand/trust the shares.
The idea is the rental property will become home in due course. It means the rental income will disappear but will be replaced by extra pension income that becomes due when I’m 67.
I do worry a bit about the unforeseen - what is there that I don’t know about?
Do you do any work to earn additional income?
I’ve done 14 weeks of short-term contract work, a week or two at a time, in the 3 years since retiring. I’ll probably continue with this, but not too much. If I want to get something new, maybe a new motorbike, I’ll take a short-term contract and use the earnings to buy it.
Was there one thing in particular that helped you retire early? Any top tips to share?
Set your early retirement target figure and when you achieve it, go. Don’t keep putting it off by giving yourself new targets.
The chance to work overseas also helped. It paid much better, and I was really strict with my saving at that point as well.
I have no children which can change how much your costs are, and whether you think about leaving an inheritence for them.
Have you made changes in your life since you retired?
Yes. I’m living differently and doing some of the things on my bucket list. I’m also more conscious of money.
Living differently comes in two parts. My original plan was to live in my house, but given the trips I had planned I decided to keep the rental income. So instead I chose to live in a 20ft x 20ft studio, which actually suited me just fine.
I have a new partner, so the living arrangements might change a bit, but we’re both on board with living in a space that’s the right size for 2 people, not a space sized for 5 people.
I’ve become more focused on doing the things I want to do. Not just wishing I could do them, but figuring out that I can actually do them.
I also realise I have to be careful with money, although I’m not obsessed by it. I’m happy to spend it on the things that are important to me. I also keep a financial safety net which gives me some comfort.
What have you done to keep yourself busy in retirement?
My big idea was to do expeditions. As I mentioned, I like anything outdoors.
During year 1, I spent 3 months in Thailand, including cycling 1,400 miles from Chiang Mai to Phuket followed by 4 weeks on a fit farm, another 2 weeks hiking in HK, a week mountain biking in the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland, 2 weeks dirt biking in Portugal, and another cycle adventure going 1,000 miles from Santander to Murcia in Spain.
Much of year 2 was spent planning and trekking/climbing the Munros in Scotland. A Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3,000ft (914m) high, and there are 282 of them! I did them all over 5 months which added up to 1,400 miles of walking. It was something I always wanted to do, and early retirement gave me the chance to do it.
Year 3 is Morzine in the French Alps with my partner. Mountain biking last summer and skiing (downhill and randonée) this winter, plus hosting lots of visitors. In a few weeks I’m doing the Haute Route, a six day traverse across the mountains and glaciers between Chamonix and Zermatt.
Do you get bored or sometimes find yourself at a loose end?
Initially I found there weren’t people to do these expeditions with, and so I did many of them alone which was sometimes a bit lonely. It made me realise how much time people spend at work and then with their family.
On one hand, I felt lucky to have the freedom that comes with early retirement. But it made me wonder if I should return to work. I didn’t because I knew it wasn’t what I really wanted.
Since then, I’ve figured out how to do things by myself if I need to. With my current location in a mountain resort, there are more people with time to do things, so that’s working well. Plus, my partner, Alex, is taking a year off so she’s biking and skiing with me.
Have there been times when you’ve felt lonely, or down?
Yes, but not for long. I have the odd pang of anxiety, partly because every now and again someone is worried about me. I think early retirement is a ballsy thing to do, to buck the trend, but sometimes doing something different creates a bit of doubt.
What did friends and family think when you said you were retiring at 44?
It was a mix. I have a good friend who was super supportive. He’s done it, so he understood.
Amongst others, some think it’s fantastic, and launch into an explanation about why they haven’t or can’t do the same. Sometimes there’s some envy, but in a nice, pleased for you way.
Then there were 3 people who sat me down and asked if I was OK. They couldn’t fathom it at all, that I should do something outside of what they, or much of society, considers normal.
Do you have any advice for others thinking of retiring early?
Do what’s right for you. Everyone’s different. If you want to work, do so. If you have a desire to retire, give it a go.
If it turns out not for you, go back to work. For money, remember that you were in the position to retire, so you don’t need to earn the same money you used to. Possibly you’re fine financially already, or just want an extra thousand or two to fill a shortfall. Thinking you need to earn your old salary is a mistake.
Think about what you need, not necessarily what you want. Avoid keeping up with the Joneses syndrome. Set the bar at what you think you need, and when you achieve that, don’t move the bar up.
I’m really proud, achieving early retirement is a huge achievement for me. But sometimes others look at you as someone who simply hasn’t got a job, and that contradiction can be a bit weird.
So, prepare to feel uncomfortable at times when you tell people what you do. Many people define others by their job, and when you don’t have one it removes a big topic of conversation. iRetiredYoung and I discussed what we could say when people ask what we do. He suggested adventurer for me, and playboy for himself – he’s deluded!
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to go to different places and do different things, mostly physical and outdoor things. I want to use the freedom I have.
My big future plan is to row the Atlantic. It’s not a well advanced plan yet, but I know I have to do it while I’m still young enough. This was actually one of my initial drivers to thinking about early retirement. To have time to build the boat and then do the trip. I started thinking about a sabbatical, which led me to wonder whether it could be a more permanent decision.
I do need to keep an eye on the finances as my adventure and expedition driven early retirement can add up if I’m not careful. Particularly if other people are joining as part of their vacation, as they are on a holiday budget rather than a normal life budget.
Two or three things you really like about early retirement, and what you're not so keen on?
I like the freedom that I can choose what I do, and that I’m not on the hamster wheel of a routine life. It makes me feel alive.
Along with the freedom comes many choices. That’s mostly a good thing, but it sometimes causes some anxiety because of the number of options available to me.
Do you like the term early retirement?
No, because I think people have a picture of a retired person being old, and that isn’t me.
I sometimes feel that people look at me when I say I’m retired and they think I must be unemployed or lost. The truth is the opposite, but I don’t want people to view me in the wrong way.
I wish I had a good term to use. Maybe iRetiredYoung's “adventurer” or “part-time adventurer” tag is worth considering?
Is there anything else that I should have asked you?
Perhaps about taking care of ourselves. Being early retired gives us the time to take care of ourselves, to keep fit and healthy, in a relaxed way. You also have time to help other people out, which is a nice thing to do. That has to be a positive thing.
So that’s David’s story. We spent ages talking, it’s was great seeing his enthusiasm for what he’s done and his plans for the future. He has a real pride for what he’s achieved with early retirement.
I particularly find it interesting how he’s made the financials work. At the age of 38, other than equity in his house, he had virtually no savings. By 44, he’d turned that around and retired early. That’s impressive.
He did it by finding an opportunity that paid well for 3 years, and living frugally and saving hard during this time. And carrying on with a life based largely on needs, along with some wants, he keeps his early retirement costs under control. Don’t get me wrong, David still spends on the things he values, his mountain bike is not cheap, his ski wear is bought for performance, but he spends within his means and based on his priorities.
David, I’m going to call him an “adventurer”, seems to have early retirement nicely sorted.