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4 Things I Gave Up to Retire Early

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Every significant accomplishment in life requires trade-offs. It’s the law of cause and effect.

Deadhorse canyonIf you want to be an Olympic athlete, you’ll be training while others are relaxing. If you want to be a doctor, you’ll be grinding through medical school and long hours of residency while others are sleeping. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’ll be working for years to implement the details and realize your vision, while others are spending more time with family.

It’s the same with financial independence and early retirement. Achieving those goals will require doing some things very differently from the rest of the population. To some, those differences will appear to be “sacrifices.”

Occasionally, I hear people express jealousy of my lifestyle. It is true that I enjoy enormous freedom now, thanks to the financial flexibility I achieved via saving aggressively and investing wisely throughout my career.

But it’s not true that I can do anything I want. And it’s not true that I have everything I could want in life. I gave up significant items that many of those who are still working take for granted. The important point is that those things weren’t as important to me as financial freedom.

To find out what I lost, and whether I have any regrets, read on….

Power/Influence

There was a time when I had fancy executive titles at a growing software company, dominant in its field. The company looked to me for technical direction, and my views on the future significantly impacted our products and services. I had a half-dozen engineers reporting to me, and many more people looking my way for guidance. I made hiring/firing and technology decisions that determined whether we would succeed or fail. Our company became known as an innovator, a progressive source of new ideas. I wrote articles for trade publications and presented at conferences. We were well known in the business.

That kind of corporate status and power are no more in my life. My impact on the software world is ancient history, held in dusty technical journals and occasional recollections by former colleagues.

Many of those colleagues went on to senior positions in the corporation. I’m proud of them. As the company was acquired, expanded into new markets, and grew vastly in scope, they’ve exercised more power than I ever did.

I occasionally wonder what would have happened had I stayed. But holding an executive title in the corporate hierarchy of a mature company wasn’t my path. I thrived in a flexible, creative, entrepreneurial environment on the bleeding edge of new technology. The staid corporate world of hierarchies and policies, annual plans and endless meetings, was not for me. And I left it as soon as I could afford to.

It’s been more than a decade since I controlled significant business resources. Personally, that’s not a problem. As a textbook introvert, not only don’t I crave that kind of worldly power, but in most cases in my life I’ve run away from exercising it.

Yet there is at least one purpose for which I miss power: the ability to make positive changes in the world. It’s harder to do that if you have little say over how groups of people spend their time and money. We are facing many problems as a society that would benefit from the wise use of power and leadership.

Fortunately, my blog and books have had some impact on the world. More than a half-million visitors encounter these pages every year. And my books have sold thousands of copies. That gives me some small say in worldly matters, even in retirement, and for that I’m grateful. I hope I’ve been a positive voice for reducing consumption, investing wisely, and pursuing your highest calling in life instead of a paycheck, once that has become optional.

And I don’t want to downplay the importance of achieving power over yourself and your own life. That kind of personal freedom is where positive change in the world can start.

Big Beautiful House

What’s the largest single purchase that the average person ever makes? Their home, of course.

So, since a key component in the financial plan of anybody focused on becoming financially independent and retiring early is controlling expenses, it stands to reason that you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck by economizing on your dwelling.

Some will argue that a house is an “investment” that can actually serve your long-term wealth building plans. And that can be true for some people, in some markets. In particular, if you have the skill set and interest for cost-effective do-it-yourself home improvements, you can add significant equity to your ownership. And if you are fortunate enough to live in an appreciating area during a rising real estate market, that can add wind to your financial sails.

But those conditions are far from being the slam dunk they were in generations past. And if you require a fancy house to be happy, the wealth it represents won’t do much to build your financial independence.

There is no question that having modest taste in houses is a major asset on the path to financial independence. Fortunately, my wife and I are of that mindset. Only once in our married life of over 30 years now have we lived in a house that cost above the median or would be perceived as “fancy” by most people.

We rented that house for a year in tony Connecticut. I remember the initial buzz of moving into the beautiful new construction on a large lot in the country. Enormous rooms, hardwood floors, stone fireplace, high-end kitchen appliances and bath fixtures, beautiful trim everywhere. But, as the year progressed, I grew disenchanted. The large rooms were impersonal. The location was inconvenient. And, with work pressures mounting and the desire for financial independence dawning in my mind, the high rent looked like a drag on our eventual freedom.

If my wife and I could wave a magic wand and suddenly be transported to an upscale, perfectly decorated, 3BR green home with no maintenance, we would. But our daily priorities prove that we really don’t care that much. We are happy enough in our pleasantly worn 2BR townhome rental. We don’t miss managing renovations or fixing toilets, and we don’t have time for it. Over the years, we’ve found that house remodeling and maintenance are stressful and expensive for us. It’s questionable whether our quality of life would be improved by engaging in any more of it.

I know there are plenty of people out there who can easily drop $10K on furniture or $40K on a bathroom or kitchen remodel. Not me. I couldn’t possibly get enough enjoyment out of those things to justify the life energy (working hours) I would have to trade for them. I’d rather put some of that money into free time for camping and traveling.

But everybody is different. It just happens that our quality of life does not revolve around our house. A functional, comfortable, and low-maintenance dwelling is good enough.

International Travel

At age 50, when I first let it be known among family and friends that I would be retiring early, an older relative chastised me. I couldn’t possibly have enough money saved yet. Health care was expensive, and had I budgeted for international travel? A few package tours overseas every year for a couple could easily run up bills over $20K, after all. And doesn’t everybody dream of overseas travel in retirement?

I chuckled to myself. The health care concerns were real. Though, almost a decade later, we’re doing fine paying for our health needs. But the “need” for international travel was laughable. Though I realize it’s not the hip attitude, even among many early retirees, I actively dislike getting on airplanes and being a tourist in a foreign culture. You’d have to pay me $20K to do anything like that on a regular basis!

So, not only can’t I afford pre-packaged international travel in retirement, but I don’t miss it one bit!

Though, to be honest, this is not true of my wife. She has a modest bucket list of international locations that she’d truly love to visit. That she will probably not reach all of these is a non-trivial sacrifice she’s had to make for our early retirement. But it’s part of the price she’s paid for all the other benefits of partnering with me and pursuing our lifestyle. If she’d wanted more money to spend, she could have chosen to work longer. But she, too, elected to retire early from her schoolteacher job at age 55.

And it’s not like we have no travel options. I’ve done dozens of camping and backpacking trips in spectacular regions of this country, and have many more planned. We’ve been all over the American west in our small RV, and will likely make treks to Canada and possibly Alaska eventually.

With careful planning, even the occasional international trip is not out of the question. Just last year Caroline engineered a budget trip to China organized by our local Chamber of Commerce. It had always been one of her dreams to visit that immense, and immensely important country. She signed up to go, and had a great experience seeing a number of the highlights in China for only a few thousand dollars.

Most likely, she will orchestrate another budget trip or two overseas in the coming years. I will happily sit out those excursions. Though, perhaps, if we have some more good stock market years, we’ll fit in a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan or New Zealand. But my life will be complete and happy whether or not I ever make it.

After listening to the stories about China — good and bad — from my wife and other friends who were there last year, I am perfectly content to remain an armchair traveler to most of the far-flung regions of the world.

Guaranteed Long Term Security

Up to this point, the “sacrifices” I’ve discussed — worldly power, big house, international travel — have a certain opulent, expendable feel. If I fussed too much about missing those, you’d rightly call me an elitist cry-baby.

But there is one area of sacrifice that gets to fundamental, everyday concerns. It’s a domain where people who worked longer and harder than me, and put away substantially more money, could well turn out to be better off.

And that’s long term security, especially long-term health care.

As I explore in my articles on long-term care insurance there are not-impossible scenarios that could bankrupt us. Though I believe the odds for those are far less likely than the fear-mongers touting long-term care insurance would like me to believe. The possibility that we would need more than a year or two of very expensive daily care is very low. The average duration of care for men and women in one set of studies was less than 9 months.

Most long-term care policies are expensive and defray only a portion of your expenses, and only for a few years. In the end, we’ve chosen to forgo long-term care insurance, feeling the premiums are a bad value for the financial benefit. But we don’t have an extra million or two to throw at the problem. If one of us needs a decade of $80K care annually on top of other expenses, then frankly, we’ll just run out of money.

Yes that’s scary. But I long ago decided not to let the fear of low-probability scenarios dictate how I live my life. Yes, I’m aware of them. Yes, I prepare for them, as best I can. We care for our health assiduously, and continue to live as frugally as possible in early retirement. But I refused to sacrifice years of freedom to cover an eventuality that is statistically unlikely to happen.

If it does, we’ll make adjustments, muddle through as best we can, and, yes, it might be hard.

What I Got for Retiring Early

At this point, understand that what I gave up to retire early isn’t necessarily what you or others would have to give up. Some will retire early thanks to extreme frugality and give up far more. Others, relatively wealthy, will own multiple retirement homes and jet around the world, making minimal sacrifices.

Still others will find alternative trade-offs to make. You can achieve the same goals I did, but optimize differently. You can tilt your financial life to allow for a large house, or international travel, by cutting back in other areas. (For example, we own three vehicles now, counting our camper van. Perhaps you’re an urban dweller who can get by with one or none.)

But you can’t optimize everything.

The vast majority of people who manage to leave the workforce early will do so at some cost. This post discussed mine.

Yet, as you might surmise, it’s not like I didn’t get anything in return:

  • Since retiring, I’ve enjoyed unprecedented personal freedom. I get up every morning and do precisely what I want all day. The wealthiest people on the planet don’t have much more personal latitude than I do. Many have much less.
  • We buy all the gear and clothing we can use. And we eat very well, both at home and dining out when we wish.
  • I’ve traveled throughout the American West and Southwest — riveting areas of the country, if you love nature and history. That includes dozens of road and backpacking trips and hundreds of hikes.
  • I’ve enjoyed an encore career, creating and growing this blog, which, as I’ve said, has reached millions of people. I’ve published two books, a lifelong dream of mine.
  • I’ve enjoyed less stress and measurably better health. I’ve had more time to spend with family and friends. And I’ve made many more of the latter, thanks again to this blog.

Yes, I paid a price for my financial freedom. For some, the cost would be too high. But, nearly a decade in, though I understand more clearly what I gave up, I still don’t regret it.

* * *

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Comments

  1. Good points on what to give up. Also gave up my Executive Director title at a major investment bank in 2012, and downsized from my larger house in a nice neighborhood to a smaller house in an unknown neighborhood in 2014.

    But I didn’t give up travel or LT security. I feel more secure now than before b/c I’m more in control of my income and destiny. I can’t fire myself!

    The encore career is great!

    Sam

  2. Great article Darrow. I’m only semi-retired, but because of that I’ve given up a lot of international business travel that was sometimes very exciting.

    I also identify with what you said about power and influence. Just a year and a half ago I was a senior manager in charge of over 60 people and millions of dollars of budget. Now at part time I have none of that. My stress is way down of course, but to be honest there’s a small part of me that misses the action. Thankfully it’s a small part 🙂

  3. Your first three points, I share, but it feels different to me. Maybe this is just semantics, but to me if feels like these perceived benefits gave me up, not the other way around. Realistically, any further effort to achieve or maintain them became obviously futile. To your fourth point, insecurity…I never felt secure in the first place, and certainly never experienced the “guarantee” you mention, so there was no sense of loss there whatsoever. Psychological security always revealed itself to be a myth as things happened, particularly when linked to money, so in that sense there was nothing to lose. But it might be physical security that you are describing, and that is a curious one to study. All I can say to that point is that the older I get, the more certain I become that this little experiment, in this form, comes to an end and not of its own choosing, apparently! That is a guarantee of sorts, I guess!

  4. Bog Glavan says

    What I most appreciate about this blog and reinforced in this article is your willingness and ability to be truthful and honest in providing counterpoints and a reality check on pros and cons of various decisions. That makes it much easier for readers to better understand the points and make internal assessments for each idea to see what fits best for them. Well done.

  5. Lee Polowczuk says

    I love this article. I am ready to give up the title, will downsize to a smaller house and different location, will still do maybe two international trips… Italy and Cuba… and have some sense of security.

    However, there is no way I could do it without social security and medicare. So I will be working until I am 65 1/2. That’s if all other things remain equal.

  6. Shawn Gallacher says

    Excelllent article . I enjoy reading your blog. I dream of the day of giving up my cell phone and computer and reconnecting with friends and family. Thank you for addressing that there are trade offs or sacrifices for early retirement . I agree with you : you can’t put a price tag on freedom!

  7. Great way to frame this up Darrow and I love the perspective you bring now that you’re deeper into the experience that many FIRE people are pursuing.

    Side note – I’m going to be watching “The West” (Ken Burns) with my 10 yo – thought of you and your adventures when I watched a bit last night.

    • Thanks Steve! I’m a Ken Burns fan too, and that’s a good one. Don’t miss his “National Parks” either. I know you value those experiences too and get out when you can…

  8. Great post, I think one of the big take away’s is that everyone is different and one must first figure out what is important to them. Me, I’m leaving the corporate world for my passion of baking, but the downside is I don’t need the big house but have to have the big kitchen with the doo-dads and unfortunately most small houses have tiny kitchens. lol. I’m the girl who said “yes” to her husband not because he brought me a diamond ring but because he brought me a set of all clad pans. Next year is my launch date, I’ll be 56. Now how to convince the old guy we really new a viking range…….

    • Agreed on the take away. Thanks Alice!

    • If your passion for baking is large enough, look for commercial kitchens you can rent locally. Most often, they are rented to caterers or small restaurants without baking facilities, and charities who do occasional large events. If you have flexibility, you might find a kitchen very affordably in your city. Not the same as filling the house with the smell of baking bread, but much easier to do amazing things in a kitchen suited to it.

  9. Well said – there are trade offs for most things in life. What we value today we may not value as highly (or at all) tomorrow [titles, position, etc]. I’ve been retired just over 3 years now, have loved every moment and not once I have I ‘looked back’. Not being responsible for the livelihood of others (I was an entrepreneur for many of my final years of work) was the biggest relief. I am now the CEO of life, which to me is vastly more important and fun.

    Thank you for sharing and continued health and happiness.

  10. Another excellent summary of retirement issues Darrow, thanks.
    I am early retired and have the freedom to sit in my sweatpants in my easy chair with a cup of coffee and putter on the computer to my heart’s content to read blogs like this one on a Monday morning! Life is good.

    For me, one of the significant sacrifices of my early retirement not mentioned is that my “human capital” has rapidly declined since leaving the workforce. My professional network and my technical skills have both suffered significant declines. Both will negatively impact my earnings potential should I choose to, or be forced to go back to work in the future. Not a trivial sacrifice.

    Thanks again for your efforts. I enjoy your writing and you have a skill for it.

    • Thanks Bill, good points. Some of us can keep our skills somewhat fresh by dabbling in an encore career (blogging in my case). But in most cases we’re fooling ourselves if we think we could jump back into our old career after a year or two off.

  11. Love this article!
    This sentence says it all to me ” I’ve enjoyed unprecedented personal freedom. I get up every morning and do precisely what I want all day. ” It’s really an indescribable feeling.
    I do disagree with this comment though:
    “Yet there is at least one purpose for which I miss power: the ability to make positive changes in the world.”
    For me, I’m now able to spend my time volunteering in activities such as tutoring immigrants , teaching chess to young kids, helping seniors at a nursing home, as well as helping animals through various animal rights organizations. When I was in corporate America as a sales guy I simply never had the time to do any of those activities. So grateful for this life!

  12. Kenneth May says

    I entered unplanned retirement at 66 by a lay-off from a responsible high-tech job 3 years ago. Not exactly an early retirement. I have read your posts for many years, dreaming of retirement. Retirement, either early or later in life, presents many of the same concerns and delights. Freedom from employers is fantastic. Waiting until 70 for Social Security has hardships but yields lifetime higher rewards. This “socialism” gives my budget a foundation should my investments or the economy go south. I enjoy reading your clear, comprehensive and logical decision making processes. Thanks so much for years of advise and wisdom. Cheers, Ken

  13. Scott Conger says

    It is hard to overstate the spectacular nature of the American West. We early retired to a small cabin on a ranch near Yellowstone. Corporate life in the East was slowly killing me. Much healthier now, and if I died tomorrow, it would have been worth it. Not a single co-worker “gets it”, and all were shocked when I walked out while others were shivering in fear due to pending layoffs. You were one of a couple inspirations for me to take the plunge several years ago. Kudos and thanks.

    • Nice Scott. Your experience is what I generally hear about early retirement. Glad it worked for you. For myself, I’m living in paradise here in the southwest, don’t need to travel much further.

  14. I am glad I happened upon your site several years ago. i do enjoy reading your thoughts.
    My wife recently retired and I am going to join her in less than 30 days. I guess the reason your site hit me was that I am at the same age you were when you pulled the trigger.
    And I couldn’t agree more with you on the travel! Like your wife, my wife and I do have a few international spots we wouldn’t mind hitting prior to exiting this world, but what we are more looking forward to is the next several years of auto based domestic travel that we have never had time for until now. We did a trial 2 week run to Arizona earlier this year and had an absolute blast. Unlike you I have not been very good to my body. I am way too fat and that along with my height makes air travel uncomfortable at best. So we want to emulate you and spend the next few years enjoying long walks in nature. Maybe that along with a more careful diet will assist. However I might end each day in the comfort of a room with a bed. I do not share your love of camping! 🙂
    I must confess that I have run my numbers many times and I do believe I will be OK. We are currently forecasting a withdrawal rate of just under 3% for the first few years of retirement. I’ve been in finance long enough to know that any projection past around a year is a guess at best, but we don’t foresee going over 4% at any time until SS age. And after that well who knows. That’s a long way off. Still, I am nervous about giving up the paycheck. I have in the back of my mind that I’d like to do something that hopefully will turn into a bit of pocket money. I’m not interested in doing anything big. Just enough to keep me busy and maybe give me a bit of extra walking around money. At this point though, I don’t know what that is. I am weary of what I have been doing. I am just kind of hoping something sparks a bit of a passion.
    I’m glad you are enjoying your retirement and thanks for having this blog. You really have been an inspiration. Maybe I’ll get lucky one day, look up, and see you coming toward me down the trail!

    • Thanks for writing Tim. I’m sure your active plans will make you feel great in retirement. And sounds like you’ve thought through the finances well. FWIW, virtually every early retiree I know has found some sort of amenable part-time gig. You can take your time and find something that suits you. Best wishes on your transition!

  15. Thanks for another great post! Your blog/books have been an excellent resource in planning my escape from the career race 2 years ago. Didn’t receive much support when I announced to family, friends, and coworkers that I was walking away from the career. Yes, I heard all the common retorts like “Your doing what? But how are you going to afford X,Y,Z” Well, when I tried to explain how it can be done (Thanks to Darrow and others) I got the usual looks of confusion. The free time has been magical to the health and happiness of life – I have ZERO regrets.
    We share many of the same life priorities – so it’s refreshing to see someone with your expertise in the matter present the facts so eloquently.
    Look fwd to future posts/books.

  16. Hi Darrow- I want you to know you’ve been a great positive influence in my life. As you said, with your books and blog, you are a positive force.

  17. Great article and one that helps me put things into perspective. I just turned 50 and would love to pull the trigger this year and retire from my engineering career that I have never really liked. I’ve learned a lot and met some great people but the work has always bored me. Still struggling with the “little bit more” syndrome and fear.

    My wife and I lost our only 2 children over the 14 years (2004 and 2006) and want to live a life of freedom and flexibility that allows us to hike and enjoy life with little stress. I also have a passion project of working with men that have lost children through my book Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back and have been lucky to gain national press. I love the impact I have had on others and want to keep doing workshops and write another book. The emotional/psychological impact of burying two children about killed me, but I it also opened my eyes to the only thing that matters is peace of mind. I know better than to accept BS of a corporate gig, but still scared about pulling the trigger.

    I own a small real estate brokerage and purchased two 9-unit apartment buildings in early 2018 to help replace cash flow with passive income. I carry no debt except for mortgage on my home that will be paid off this year.

    My fear of NOT walking away from corporate life is now bigger than walking away. But it still scares me even though I feel like I have plenty to do to generate some passive/residual income in early retirement. I just turned 50 this past November and I have spent the last 25 years working at the same company. I’ve been disciplined (with some mistakes) but time to go and live my next chapter.

    How do I get over the mental hurdle of just doing it?

    • Thanks for sharing that pain and perspective Kelly. I cannot imagine, but thanks for giving back through your loss.

      I’ve talked to many people about the mental hurdle of making the retirement decision. I can’t make it for them, or even suggest what might be right. But these two articles based on my experience could help:

      Should You Work One More Year?
      My Retirement Flexibility Scale

      You’re right, if we don’t have peace and happiness, the rest matters little.

    • Brad Lovelace says

      God bless you Kelly. I went through hell with 3 of my 4 children but if any of them had died I would have been gutted. I just left a job I hated a year ago and am still recovering from the high blood pressure and heart disease, but Lord, life is good! I have spent years of my life working in developing countries and most recently spent about a year in Haiti. Every few months I would come back to the US and the contrast between the Haitians and the miserable angry Americans that I encountered when returning home was astonishing. I am not underplaying the hideousness of cholera and poverty but I am saying that there is no connection between happiness and material wealth. The promise of happiness at the end of the material road is a false one and you can see this in our nation’s epidemic of drugs, depression and heart disease. We all build prisons for ourselves. No one around you wants you to escape from your prison because then their prison becomes apparent to them. Just do it, you may have to move, you may have to completely reinvent yourself, but ” Life is worth much more than gold”.

  18. Dale "pretired" says

    Thank you for your insight. Just so you know what impact you are having, you are a positive Influence on my life an those around me. Because I can relate so much with your past writings, I feel I am reading what I would myself write 10 years from now. One month ago, I left my great paying job at 47. I “pretired” because for now I will PREtend to retire, and this is my time period before I retire, in the historical sense. All possible for me because of living frugal, spending wisely, taking care of what I have, and being able to repair cars and items around the house. I am inspired to helps others, just not yet clear how, but it will come when the time is right. So far I feel I have given up nothing, and have only too many options in front of me. Cheers!

  19. Maryellen Collins says

    I so agree with your perspective Darrow. I am semi-retired (at 63). I live in a very small one bedroom apartment in a lovely middle class co-op community. Garden apartments gone co-op about 30 years ago. Nothing fancy, but it is safe, comfortable, and I have a great community of neighbors. My mortgage is paid off, and monthly fees for taxes, heat, and other general charges is $963. That might sound high to some, but it is dirt cheap for the north shore of Long Island. I made a decision years ago to keep the small apartment and save more money rather than try and buy a larger apartment just to have an extra bedroom. Semi-retirement keeps my mind engaged (my default setting is lazy) and provides a terrific income so I don’t have to touch my 401(k) or take social security yet. Everything is a trade off, and once you realize that, it’s easy to prioritize what’s really important. Cheers!

  20. It’s snowing in Mass. today. About a foot at the beginning of the day. I’m retired with no place to rush off to. What a great feeling. I stopped full time work at 54; scared and unsure but thrilled with the prospect of doing what I want. No, you can’t do everything. The trade offs are real but very manageable. One of the biggest issues for many is ego. When you pull back and realize your not “the guy or gal” anymore, it takes some getting used to. It’s truly a transition. What we are fortunate to be able to have is time. Our time. After 8 years I no longer tell people that I do a little consulting or “I’m keeping my fingers in a few things here and there” It feels great to answer the what do you do question with…”anything I want or nothing at all”. I’m encouraged to read both your insights and the corresponding responses helping me confirm a wonderful self actualization. We are blessed. I wish there were more people who were able to have this opportunity.

    • Thanks for that Landry. It’s been a long transition for me, in to and through retirement. I’m even in the process of letting go of this blog, in the sense of no longer needing it to prove I’m doing something “worthwhile.” I’m still figuring this all out, but I like your answer for my future…

  21. Great article Darrow. I retired from being a dentist 2 years ago and been doing what I want to do. I agree about the international travel. We lived in Germany for 3 years and traveled around in a non tourist manner. We never stayed in a hotel, we lived on the economy not a military base, and even had some German friends. That is hard to replicate as a tourist. Traveling around this country has been really good for me. My best trip was the AMTRAC train from Chicago to San Francisco with my older daughter and my youngest grand daughter to visit my younger daughter that lives in Marina.

  22. I reached financial independence at 48, although I went on to an encore career (as a financial planner, no less). When my wife and I both worked, we lived on one salary. By the time my wife left corporate life (to start her own encore career as a landscape designer), my salary had grown to the point where we lived on 50% or less of it. That was mostly due to the fact that we lived in a modest house, although we were in a pricy Southern California. At the time, my fellow corporate execs were living in houses that cost 2-3X what our house cost.

    When I retired from corporate life, a lot of co-workers asked what the secret was and I would say “spend less than you make.” I tell my clients the same thing nowadays.

  23. David Guy says

    I think that understanding the trade offs is really important and often forgotten. You provide excellent examples of the kind of things people should consider. I kept working for a few years after reaching FI because I was worried about medical costs and possible long term care. In fact medical costs have been higher than I hoped in retirement, but have not yet busted our budget. If I could go back in time, I’d retire earlier. I’m enjoying retirement so much that I feel like I cheated myself. On the other hand, I have a bigger margin for error, which is less stressful. You can never have it both ways.

  24. For me, (early retired 5 years ago, but REALLY retired 1 year ago when DH closed his business) Kelly’s comment rings true “My fear of NOT walking away from corporate life is now bigger than walking away.”
    I enjoyed the influence I had in my career, but realized that continuing meant I would probably miss out on things I wanted to do in retirement. Health doesn’t last indefinitely, and as friends became frail, or simply lost the desire to get up and go, I knew the clock was ticking for me.
    Everyone’s priorities differ. The hardest work you may do is figuring out what really matters to you and then figuring out how to git’er done.
    For me, international travel is my priority. We don’t have a home base, and travel year-round. Because we gave up the home base, we can afford to travel comfortably anyplace in the world. A little Geo-Arbitrage keeps our budget in line, we balance expensive locales with inexpensive locales. The first year we are comfortably under budget, and I’m pretty optimistic we won’t have to worry about much. We bought LTCi at age 50, back when plans were more generous. And though we have US healthcare, we prefer getting healthcare abroad, where the care is better and the prices affordable.
    Before age 70, we’ll settle down someplace. And I’ve budgeted for the trim housing we grew to love — less stuff to deal with, more time for things other than housework and maintenance.
    This blog, and a few others, both inspired me and gave me confidence that I hadn’t overlooked anything big, so we could launch with confidence. So far, so good!

  25. David Guy says

    I’ll indulge in another comment. I love international travel, and it’s never cheap, but it can be done frugally. My wife and I get bedrooms in people’s apartments, fly off season, do a lot of picnics, find local family restaurants, avoid tourist traps, etc. We’ve done 3 European vacations like this for less than the cost of 1 packaged tour. And we find this style of travel far more fun and interesting because we get to meet the locals and see a slice of their real lives. It’s also a great way to learn languages, which has become my retirement passion.

  26. John Cawley says

    This is a most excellent article! You read my mind with all of your four points, though I’m still working. I have a concrete plan and date but your blog and especially this latest article really hit home with me. Thanks so much for (unknowingly?) giving me courage and confirmation. Best.

  27. I think the statistics for those living with dementia paint a different picture for the need to plan to be able to afford multiple years in an assisted living / memory care facility, possibly followed by multiple years in a nursing home. This has happened in my own family, so while my older sister lives quite frugally, planning for long-term care insurance premiums was critical. For me and my husband, we hope that our FatFIRE plans will suffice even should we experience decrepitude in our final years.

  28. Patrick McFadden says

    In our third year of retirement at 60. Pretty much saved the nest egg in just the last 15 years of careers. International travel and living was our primary objective. Rented the house, gave away the 22 year old cars, put everything in storage, and packed the rolling bags. Traveling slowly, we are living in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia for less than we budgeted for retirement in the States. Making many friends, around so much energy, discovering life on many levels. No need to take travel off your retirement list if that is your passion.

  29. Good column; I believe the “big rocks” for me in early retirement are personal freedom and travel. Power was already not very important as I felt the status of my field had been eroded over the years anyway.
    Almost 30 years ago I came very close to buying a house that would have put me in over my head and been a real drag on my ability to save.
    I don’t think I can put a price on the freedom to do what I want each weekday, even if it’s drinking coffee and not doing anything productive until noon.
    When I have some kind of appointment with a professional, I appreciate them working and they may indeed be wealthier than I, but I’m the one who’s free to do whatever I want the rest of the day…

  30. Thanks for this blog Darrow! It has always been my favorite because you are closer in age to us (we are 59) than many of the younger early retirees- and we share many of the same interests -We love to hike and bike and paddle etc. I will have to share this latest post with my husband as he like you does not enjoy flying and prefers to explore the US and Canada in his van. Like your wife I have a bucket list of international travel locations :)- – which I also may not get to complete, but that is ok because not having to go to a job every day is so incredibly enjoyable! Every day is like a vacation when you don’t have to set an alarm. I hope you do not give up the blog entirely- you have been an inspiration, but I do not blame you for not wanting the pressure of maintaining it.

  31. It seems to me that you do not travel abroad because you do not want to because you do not enjoy it – fair enough. You would easily be able to do so if you changed your mind however or if your wife’s preferences end up prevailing. Plane tickets are cheap and most countries in the world are cheaper than the USA or at least similar. You could easily live abroad for years especially since you do not seem to have a taste for luxury and frivolity.

    I strongly agree about trade offs. I have done OK financially but I am not comfortably independent. However recently I have put early retirement on the back burner as I realise there are too many things I want to do now that need to be done while I am relatively young. My compromise is to live frugally and work part time. I work 14 days on and 28 days off and travel the world on the 4 weeks off. Those of us from other parts of the world do not have a huge scenic national hinterland to potter about in so we have to travel abroad.

  32. I retired at 53 from a Manager role in a chemical factory. I was asked by my company to consult for 6 months – that turned into 20 months where I pretty much set my own hours – a nice way to ease into retirement. What I miss most is the problem solving, especially the team-based problem solving where line workers, mechanics, and engineers are all bouncing ideas off each other, and someone from another discipline is able to grab an idea and build on it, and then someone else builds on that – and all of a sudden a problem that had been plaguing us for days or weeks is solved in an hour or so. Didn’t happen everyday but wasn’t really rare either. Full disclosure: I really loved working, I retired for family reasons and appreciate being able to do so.

  33. Bob Holland says

    Darrow,
    I agree with your viewpoint on trade-offs. I have been reading your blog for several years and it has helped me to feel comfortable with the position my wife and I found ourselves in and the decisions we have made in the last couple of years. We did not retire early, but found ourselves “retired” a couple of years earlier than we had planned. That eliminated our 401K contributions for 2-3 years and required us to hunker down, improvise, use some of our emergency funds, and delay some of our pre-retirement plans until my wife was eligible for full Social Security benefits. We do not have the savings we had planned for and have had to readjust some of our post retirement plans, but thanks to your blog I feel confident we will be fine. We just bit the bullet and purchased a small travel trailer (my wife was not keen on the sacrifices needed to travel in a Class B van) and plan to begin our travels this summer. We live in Indiana and hope to travel all over the country in the next few years, but I am a Grand Canyon addict and hope to spend a lot of time there and in northern AZ, southern UT, southwest CO, and northern NM. Thanks, again for insights.

    Bob Holland

  34. I feel I had my time of “power and influence” and have been there and done that. I wasn’t so keen to keep doing that so felt able to drop back into supporting roles and then to drop out of working altogether after thirty years.
    Houses and travel are all about choices and trade-offs when working. Paying off the home mortgage felt like a better choice than buying a bigger house when striving for financial independence. I think I retain some (but not all) choices now I’m not working. Choices would narrow anyway as time moves on.
    Security can be considered on different levels and can be elusive whether working or not. Things change. I feel I have financial security although there is no guarantee. Your blog and books have helped me consider this.

  35. Paul Oliver says

    Hi. I’ve been reading your blog for several years now. Keep up the good work! I agree with you about travel. A friend went to Rome last fall and said it was overrun with people and trash everywhere. She had the same opinion about Paris. I’m looking forward to the Canadian Rockies, and then the American Southwest by car. Next week I’m off to Florida for spri g training for a few days.

  36. I really enjoy your blog and perspectives Darrow. Its great to continue having all those things you mention but at what cost of your time, energy and money? At some point, you have to decide if its still worth it to keep working so much to maintain things that likely aren’t all that important. A good compromise is to find some part-time work or side hustle that you enjoy that brings in some money but also gives you more time off. Also, I’d agree with you on the LTC insurance. From what I’ve read, it just doesnt seem like its that good of a deal. Plus, you need to have a business savvy relative that can make sure the LTC insurance company is paying what they are supposed to, proper coding, etc. At some point you just have to take your chances. Keep your money for yourself and make adjustments as needed.There are no guarantees how things will work out either way and like you said you can only worry about it so much.

  37. Great post Darrow! As you illustrate, there are always trade offs. I appreciate your candor and insight as always. Glad to hear you have found it all worthwhile as well. Btw, international travel can be relatively inexpensive outside of the package tour deal, so I do hope you do get to some of those “bucket list” destinations.

  38. When I first began savings I set myself a challenge to have a money free weekend once a month. In fact I found the challenge so addictive and fun I’m still doing it twenty two years later.

    We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us

  39. Darrow and all – Didn’t you see that your “power” was totally, absolutely meaningless outside the door of your employer? I work for a major employer in my town, with a bit of internal “power”, but folks outside the company couldn’t care less. In fact they have no idea what the company even does, and they confuse the name with a much much larger corporation with a slightly similar name.

    When my parents retired to a 55+ community, I noticed that the residents almost never spoke about their careers. Some of the former engineers sometimes asked me about my career, but they never talked “work” among themselves. No one ever bragged about what they “used to do”, it just wasn’t done.

    I know that the day I walk out the door for the last time, my work will already be reassigned and I’ll be forgotten. As someone else wrote, my “human capital” will drop to near zero. In my profession, you either keep working or you become unemployable almost instantly. And my employer scoffs at the idea of part-time work for salaried employees, they want complete control of my time and I’m really growing to resent that.

    Having been through a layoff in my younger years, I know very well that co-workers simply are not “friends” and I’ll never hear from them again. I learned not to derive any personal satisfaction or fulfillment from working. Work is “work”. And it’s so hard to keep forcing myself to do it when I have reached FI and then some, but I need the excellent health insurance that work provides. My big regret is that I’m a slave to health insurance, when I’d really like to be enjoying my remaining years of good health on travel and whatnot.

  40. I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve stated so very well. As with most things in life, it’s all about tradeoffs, and rethinking what is important in our lives. Do I miss the software development game? Occasionally, but I enjoy the freedom of living my days in the way I want to much more. Do I miss the big status house by the beach? Surprisingly, not at all. We rented for awhile in a very nice but less expensive area, and after deciding we liked it, have now bought a modest smaller home we’re perfectly happy with.
    We can do all of the planning we want, but a defining moment came for us when a good friend – great guy, avid cyclist – was getting ready to retire in a year at 65 when he started not feeling well. His wife forced him to go to the doctor where he got a stage 4 cancer diagnosis and was gone in less than a month.
    Time is a currency that I paid little attention to until I started seriously thinking about retiring at 59.
    I never considered that my wife or I would be attracted to the RV lifestyle for our travels, but the more we thought about it, the more it was a good fit for us and our dogs, so as you did, we bought an RV (a pre-owned well cared for motorhome) and we thoroughly enjoy our travels throughout this beautiful country.
    Was it a gamble to retire early? Sure, but in my opinion it’s also a gamble to not do so if and when one can.

    • I couldn’t agree more, especially on the gamble. I’ll throw my dice in the corner where freedom and joy live, even if the lifestyle isn’t as flashy. Thanks Bill.

    • I’ve heard and read similar stories Bill of people otherwise doing ok but then getting an unexpected serious diagnosis. You cant always dwell on the possibility of something happening, but also I think its an aspect that tends to get overlooked when planning your future with respect to working, free-time etc, especially in your 50’s and 60’s.

  41. Russ Leonard says

    Darrow, When I retired at 57 almost 5 years ago everyone told me I was crazy to leave a secure well paying job with many opportunities for advancement. I was even told that many people “would kill” to be in my position. I would just say, “I must be saving someone’s life then, by retiring early”. The value of the freedom that I have in retirement can not be calculated. The extra time I had with Marilyn before she died was priceless. I have no regrets and would say that retiring early was one of the best decisions that I ever made. Your blog helped me in that decision and I am grateful.
    Russ

    • Hi Russ, well said, and thanks. Matters of life and death certainly put careers in perspective. Not many people wish on their death bed that they’d spent more time at the office. Almost all of us would like more time with loved ones.

  42. Paul Pena says

    I retired at 48 by replacing my income with passive income from real estate. There hasn’t been a significant change in our lifestyle. : )

  43. Bill Williams says

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. Your website has helped me transition into retirement. I have a solution to long term care. It is called whole food plant based diet. It will keep you mentally and physically healthy so you chance of needing LTC is slim to none. Your cardio will endurance will increase and give you “another gear” when mountain biking. Here are some links. Fork Over Knives website, there is a trailer you can watch, and the movie is on Netflix. Modern medicine does not cure. It just puts one on drugs, for life! If you want to know anymore, please feel free to email me separately.

    Everyone – great comments. Larry – I agree with your 3/6/19 post. I also agree with others who are giving back.

  44. Thanks , enjoyed the article , at 57 and having now past on my director level responsibilities to younger guys I am stuck trying to decide when is the right time. It is a very hard decision. Health care expenses being the big unknown. It will be helpful to read how others have transitioned into retirement. Appreciate the website – Tom

  45. David Arnold says

    Thanks again for your work. I might suggest that you have not given up power/influence. Indeed, I would hazard a guess that you are wielding more power and influence now then you ever would have as a middle manager (or even senior manager for that matter) at a technology firm. Even if you had invented the Google search, which has influenced humans about as much as any technology, do you really think that compares to positively impacting so many people in a way that spreads greater happiness and a more responsible interaction with the planet? And that impact has been great, as a simple review of the metrics from your engineering mind would demonstrate. I read your values. Clearly you have consumed some Buddhist philosophy along the way. Here’s another way to think about it: what would the Buddha say about your lament about power and influence? This is simply dukkha, and just as illusory and transitory as life itself. Rejoice in the good you have done in the world Mr. Kirkpatrick. If only we all could live such a noble path.

    Regards

  46. Tim Cummings says

    Enjoyed your article. While I wasn’t the head of a company (rank & file at Budweiser) I felt many similarities to your story. I tended to live frugally due to the cost of raising 3 children on my own. Saved when I could and took advantage of the 401K program at Bud. When the kids moved out I found I had extra cash and began to entertain the idea of retirement. The cost of medical insurance was what really held me back but luckily my employer offered me early retirement with the bonus of severance pay and most important, payment of my medical premium until I hit 65 and could go on Medicare. Loved my job and co-workers but there were things I wanted to do other than work. Jumped on the offer and 4 years later couldn’t be happier. Paid off my modest home, car and motorcycles. Been taking motorcycle trips throughout the US to see this great country of ours and meet people. Just got back from a trip to Europe with my oldest daughter & friends. Still live modestly and budget but like you, the idea of being free to do what I like more than offsets the extra money of working. Seems most people fear not working but I tell them to do it if they can. They won’t regret it!

    • Tim, that’s easy to say when your health insurance is guaranteed. Not so when you don’t have access to it through corporate retiree benefits, military or government retirement benefits, or a spouse that continues to work. I don’t fear “not working” and I don’t fear “running out of money”. I fear medical bankruptcy because I lost access to good health insurance at a time when a major illness strikes.

  47. Mike Desrosiers says

    Great read Darrow and I like all the comments. I’m retiring within a year at the age of 56 my wife within a year after, although its sometimes scary to think about since I worked in the same craft for over 30 years, invested and saved well, mortgage will be paid at 57, we are ready for new adventures, volunteering and traveling.

  48. Very nice perspective.

    I am 47. I retired last year. Let me add a couple “negatives”…

    1. I am single. The ladies don’t find it very attractive when you say you are retired. Doesn’t matter what you say – they only perceive being retired through their own lens. They think you have given up on life, or you are lazy. If you are a single dude, you should really think about this.

    2. Socialization. Being out and about forces you to engage. There’s something to be said about that. Retirement can be very solitary, so you really should make earnest attempts to stay social. Have a plan for socialization. I think there is a substantive impact of socialization on mental acuity as well. The brain (although an organ) acts like a muscle – use it or lose it…

    3. My golf game got worse. Very frustrating…

    Anyway, I am headed back to work PT. I am going to fill a few years of zeroes on the Social Security work history board, but the great thing is that my financial status has allowed me to work on my terms, and without the stress of feeling like I am on a hamster wheel. A couple of days a week of work will keep me sharp, socialized and more appreciative of the time I have off. And I’ll have a little extra scratch to entertain the ladies…

    I think if you have a plan to address the potential “negatives” in advance of retiring, it should be no big deal. Prior proper planning prevents poor retirement living…

    • Brandon, the ladies didn’t give me the time of day when I spent my 20’s in college getting ready for my career, nor during my 30’s, 40’s and 50’s when I was working and building my huge mountain of money (which I’m sure they don’t know about). So why should I care what they think of me after that?

      As for socialization. Work is not socialization. We all like to think it is, but we’re kidding ourselves. Have you ever been laid off? Your “work friends” take you out to lunch and maybe send a couple emails, and then you never hear from them again. We’re all on our own to develop hobbies and friendships outside of work.

      I’d love to do PT work but my employer simply won’t consider it. Salaried employees are expected to “put in the hours”, there’s no concept of anything less.

      • Hilarious! Hey – I get it. I care about it, so I at least posit the thought for consideration. Caveat emptor…

        As for socialization, I’ll politely disagree. Socialization doesn’t necessarily include friendship. But I think social interaction does have a significant impact on neurologic function. I don’t disagree with you on co-workers/friends relationship, but I do think the social interaction piece is important.

        As far as PT, look outside your current employer. I can’t say it is easy, but if you have a transferable skill of value, other employers may be willing to pay for what you know, not necessarily just what you do…

        Good luck with things and enjoy retirement.

  49. Randy Sysol says

    Darrow, great article, really enjoyed the perspective. We took a different approach, taking a 3-year floating sabbatical with our then 11-year-old son. Got to spend critical time with him and my wife homeschooled him to better understand his brain and, most importantly, discovered that my wife and I are suited for the cruising lifestyle.

    We’re now getting our son ready for college (2 more years) and then off again with the knowledge that our choice of retirement lifestyle is well suited (and affordable) for us.

  50. We’ve traveled well but compared to some we don’t have a huge travel bucket list. We’ve crossed a lot of it off already and international just doesn’t appeal to us much. There are a handful of places we want to visit or revisit, but have little interest in many other places or just don’t think the time/cost value is there, and we recognize the cons of international travel too. Everyone is different but while the international locales were nice and interesting, it wasn’t life altering and it’s been a few years since I’ve gone international and don’t really miss it yet. If that saves me a few bucks, then that’s ok by me. In recent years, I’ve been loving our domestic trips, in particular to national parks and the western half of the US, it’s absolutely beautiful.

  51. Greg Jacquart says

    I retired at 54 and have never regretted that decision. I am fortunate to have medical insurance from my employer until I reach Medicare age and I have a full pension. My wife and I gave up our home and we are currently renting and plan to continue to do so. We will however be moving from a house to a townhouse soon where someone else takes care of yard work and such. I’m with you on international travel. Maybe a few trips in coming years but nothing steady. Plenty to see here in th U.S. one thing you don’t plan for however is when your spouse becomes I’ll and can’t get around like they use to and you become their caregiver. He only good thing about that is I am retired and can devote the time needed. Early retirement is and blessing.

  52. I did not read ever comment above, but what I did not see was any discussion of career fulfillment. I spent the earlier part of my career in academic medicine, working in research projects that kept me feeling challenged and satisfied. At one time I knew more about my area of research than anybody in the world, and that my friend is a feeling that few achieve. I made a living wage as a full time academic physician, and never envied my colleges with big houses and fast cars.
    Later in my Career, I hit it lucky and made some big money, read all of the financial blogs, set up my finances so as to run on automatic at Vanguard, paid for the education of my sons and grandchildren and set up a trusts that guarantees that none of them will suffer in their retirement, even if some of their dreams turn into nightmares.
    I enjoyed a few of the pleasures enjoyed by the FIRE generation when I was young and fancy free, buy have only a few regrets, mainly of not being babble to traveling with my sons who were both super athletes, traveled the state and country as juniors, played for their college teams and bore children who followed in their footsteps.
    You gain some fun from retiring early, but us old fogies who followed a more traditional path sometimes did OK also. One of my sons, who is CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation told me, after a late nite discussion with too many glasses of wine that he envied the life that I had led. He could have retired many years ago, but enjoys his work, He continues driving ahead, but did have the pleasure of watching most of the games of one of his daughters, who started for fours years in her sport at one of the competitive colleges in the East.

  53. A thoughtful and honest discussion about a hugely important and very personal decision. You mentioned some issues that were significant to me (like the loss of some sort of validation in your life) without losing the idea that what matters differs for each of us. The things that are important are, perhaps unfortunately, had to understand without making the decision to retire.

    At 45, I loved my career and thought (without much thought) that I would work to 65. At 50 I retired, because the world I loved had changed around me. I actually had a few very nice job offers at the time but was smart enough to realize that the passion I had brought to my work was gone– I was sort of tired fighting the same old battles and wasn’t going to be an energetic, committed employee any more.

    Strangely, the money part was pretty easy. I was paid OK (a middle manager) but like you I had a small house that I loved and a modest way of life. My kids were out of college and I was saving half my salary (not because I had a plan to retire– just because we were busy in our lives and happy to live the way our friends did). It’s helpful to have middle class friends. Having a pension (which is of course unusual today) helped a lot with the security side. I’ve now been retired for 26 years, so I’m pretty well able to assess how it turned out.

    Saving a lot helps, as much for being used to spending less as for the accumulated wealth it produces. Getting used to the loss of self-importance and official recognition was more difficult. It helps not to take yourself too seriously. Being retired opens you to other possibilities you would have missed (I’ve done some community work, worked a couple of days a week in a university lab for a while, taught a course, traveled a fair amount). It’s nice to control your time. I liked working 2/5 better than 5/2, and it got me to 0/7 more gently. If you don’t have to work you can work at things you enjoy (but without the sense of self-importance you may have had in your career). We aren’t globe trotters (one trip a year has generally been enough), but with all that spare time my wife and I have traveled a fair amount, both month-ling driving vacations in the US to many parks and historic sites, and guided tours to fascinating places worldwide. Month-long drives aren’t very expensive and the US has amazing places to see. At 76, I’m starting not to care that much about further travel, so it was good to get an early start.

    I left my career with a sense of loss, but have never regretted it. It was easier because of the situation I found myself in, but without that pressure to leave my career, I probably would have had one or two more assignments that were like the ones I had had for 30 years (not as good, in fact, since the company had changed). There’s a lot to be said for being pushed into new experiences you would have missed entirely.

    I imagine this is too much to publish, but it’s interesting to think about this stuff. Thanks again for your thoughtful writing.

  54. Joseph Campo says

    Thanks for this interesting article. I’m 62. Married. Plan to “retire” at 70 latest. I wonder if you had any kids, because for me, if we didn’t have 2 kids, I could possibly already retire based on the costs of raising them and now helping a lot with college. Our house is already small, 1200 sf, well below median in MA for price. We have followed pretty much every way to cut expenses. I have to be honest that sometimes, articles like this depress me because I feel that somewhere, I did something wrong. I am glad that you were able to achieve early retirement. My 49-yr-old ex boss also recently retired, and he lived like you describe. Again tho, no kids, which seems to be a big component in this equation. Enjoy.

  55. I’ve been looking for an article like this for years! Finally I’m reading something that validates the life my wife and I made for ourselves. We’ve never lived in a ritzy house, driven ritzy cars or traveled the world over. We lived comfortably for 25 years in what I would call a starter home. We retired two years ago at ages 57 and 60. We moved to the mountains and bought a home almost twice the size of our former residence. It too is modest but very comfortable. We’ve got two used cars in the garage. We’ve never been house rich and cash poor. Just the opposite. Yes, we do travel.

    My friends and older siblings are still working with no end in sight. They do have ritzy homes and cars and a free spending lifestyle.
    I realize that the approach we took is not for everyone. No credit is given any more for living beneath one’s means.

    Retireing early has been great for us. There’s no amount of money that would ever get me to work again.