It’s a dream many of us have but few achieve: retiring more than a decade before the standard age of 65, and using those years to travel, spend more time with family or pick up a new hobby or three.
The notion of early retirement is something many of us never even think about, let alone consider as an actual possibility. Yet there are a surprising number of people who pull it off, carefully planning their finances and checking out of the workforce by age 50, or even earlier.
So what is early retirement like? It depends on who you ask, and exactly what route they took to early retirement.
Some early retirees, like “ESI” from ESI Money, retired with a fairly padded savings account. ESI, as he calls himself on his blog, retired at age 52 with a $3 million net worth. For him, retirement has been rewarding in every sense: He’s in the best shape of his life, has nurtured his relationships with his family and friends and has stayed busy on nonprofit boards and running his blog. “It’s been a great surprise,” he recently wrote for Business Insider. He continued:
“When I retired, I thought I’d only take a year or two off, but would then likely go back to work at some point. … Now I can’t imagine ever going back. … I expected things would calm down dramatically when I retired, but I now seem to have more to do than ever. The difference is that I went from doing things I HAD to do, though, to doing things I WANT to do. Which makes all the difference in the world.”
Sam Dogen, another early retiree who blogs at Financial Samurai, wrote about many of the same joys in a 2013 blog post. “Once you no longer have to work for a living, you hone in on exactly what you want to do that provides meaning,” he wrote, adding that he spent his free time writing, working out and being more present with friends and his family.
Dogen, who retired at just 34, is also open about the negatives that come with early retirement. “It takes a lot more discipline once you’ve retired to push yourself to do something meaningful because nobody is telling you what to do,” he wrote. Additionally, he shared, vacations were less treasured when they could be taken whenever — “All the churches in Europe started looking the same,” Dogen wrote — and it was easier to feel disconnected to people, or have a feeling of purpose.
Tanja Hester, who retired at 38 and blogs at Our Next Life with her husband, has also written candidly about the choices she and her husband had to make in order to retire early. “We started taking a much more critical look at our spending, and questioning whether each outlay really made us happier or otherwise improved our quality of life,” Hester wrote on Our Next Life last year. Now, in the early days of their retirement, Hester told Time that she and her husband were living in “the dirtbag years.” She explained on Our Next Life:
“We’ve built a two-phased retirement plan that will have a leaner spending target in the early years when we don’t mind camping in the dirt and sleeping in hostels while we travel, with a cushier reward waiting for us when we hit age 60.”
Ultimately, though, early retirees all say it’s worth it. “I worked hard the past 30+ years, invested wisely, and saved to have the financial resources to take the road that few are able to take at my age,” Judy Freedman, author of A Boomer’s Life After 50, wrote in 2014. After retiring at 55, she shared, she’s evolved into a person who travels more and has embraced yoga. “It’s getting easier to give myself permission to say ‘I’ve earned this privilege,’” she wrote.
Early retirement isn’t a goal everyone can reach. But those who do say it’s made them get honest about what truly makes them happy.
What would you do with your time if you managed to retire early?