Frequently Asked Questions

When did you retire?

Darrow: I retired from a 29-year career in civil and software engineering in April 2011 when I was 50 years old.

Chris: I retired in December 2017 after a 16-year career as a physical therapist. I was 41 years old.

How much did you make and save when you were working?

Darrow: Though I don’t have the precise number, a rough calculation shows that the average gross income over my career was around $100,000 annually. (I earned an engineering degree, joined a start-up technology company, and worked 60+ hour weeks for most of the first half of my career.) We saved approximately one-third of my salary, plus bonuses, during the peak earning years.

Chris: I also don’t have precise numbers. My wife and I had very similar starting salaries and our careers grew in parallel, starting at about $40,000/year each in 2001 and maxing out around $90,000/year each in 2012 at which point we each started cutting back our work after our daughter was born. 

We developed a system early on of living off my wife’s salary, while using my income to pay off debt. We roughly continued this system throughout our careers, using my income to build wealth by paying off our home quickly, saving, and investing. I say roughly because we didn’t have specific savings goals or plans. Some years we splurged for big trips or purchases, and other years we also saved a substantial amount of her income.

Why did your wife continue working after you retired?

Darrow: Caroline stayed home for years while raising our son. When he was grown, she returned to teaching. She was a public school teacher in Tennessee, and loved her work, but it didn’t pay much. I ran my retirement calculations assuming she was not working, so her income after I retired was a bonus for us. Now retired, her pension is minimal, about $100/month. But we did need her health benefits. And thanks to her retirement benefits, we have been able to buy into a group health plan at predictable rates. If she didn’t have those retirement health benefits, our health insurance premiums could have been much higher, with less coverage.

Chris: Kim and I originally both thought we would retire in the way that most people think of retirement, no work and no earned income. As we got closer to the decision, we realized that a traditional retirement would give us some things we desired, specifically more time for our child and one another, traveling, and seeking adventure. Simultaneously, it would add financial risk and thus stress to our lives that we hadn’t experienced and didn’t desire. It would also take away activities that allowed us to make a meaningful contribution to society both through our work and being able to give generously.

We reconsidered how we think about work, and elected to use our financial independence to provide the things we wanted from retirement, while avoiding those things we didn’t. I would anticipate our lives will both include some work, likely part-time, entrepreneurial, and/or volunteer for as long as we are able. For more on our philosophy, see Conquer 3 Critical Early Retirement Challenges by Redefining Retirement.

What are your living expenses?

Darrow: Our bare essential living expenses (assuming no mortgage or rent) are around $2,500/month. Our ‘comfortable’ retirement budget (again assuming no mortgage or rent) is about $4,500/month. We’ll spend more than that in some years if our investments are doing well.

Also, see this post: Our Retirement Expenses: Where Does the Money Go?

Chris: Our spending is similar. We spend about $50,000/year. We own our home and car outright. Having achieved financial independence, we have little need for disability or life insurance. Having both reduced our work substantially, we also pay little income tax and most of our investment income is tax-free. 

Thus, most of our spending is discretionary. We are not frugal with food. We spend freely on travel, adventure (gear, ski passes, etc.) and charitable giving.

Healthcare is the one wildcard for our retirement spending. Assuming we can continue to get affordable health insurance through an employer or at a similar price with ACA subsidies, our essential expenses are about $2,000/month.

What is your withdrawal rate?

Darrow: The average withdrawal rate from our investment portfolio is between about 3.6% and 4%, depending on how you value our expected Social Security benefits.

Chris: In the first two years since I left my career, we’ve managed to be net savers. This has been through a combination of my wife’s earned income, my very modest income from the blog and teaching a rock climbing class, and income from the sale of our old home.

Having left behind full-time work at such a young age, our goal is to spend only the income from our portfolio in the first decade of retirement to mitigate sequence of returns risk, so roughly 2% with additional spending supplemented by earned income.

How much did you save in order to retire?

Darrow: I’ve written that couples with a lifestyle like ours are going to need to save between $1 and $2 million for a comfortable retirement. Our net worth is in that range. We owned our house (subsequently sold) free and clear, and have no debt of any kind.

Chris: Our spending is similar and so our savings goals were as well. One difference from Darrow is we do own our home outright.

What are your investments and where do you hold them?

See these posts:

Darrow: My Investment Portfolio

Chris: Our Investment Plan

How do you get health care?

See these posts:

Darrow: Retirement Health Care

Chris: A Flexible Plan For Health Insurance In Early Retirement

How much did you pay for your children’s college education?

Darrow: We contributed about $9,000/year on average to his expenses while in college. But he earned a large 4-year scholarship to a public university, plus worked most of his semesters and summers. So he paid for the majority of his own college. (He is awesome.)

Chris: I left my career when my daughter was only 5 years old. We front loaded her college savings so we were done saving then. This link provides details of our plans to help her with college.

Do you accept guest posts on the blog?

We occasionally feature the work of other writers if it is of high quality and adds value for our audience. If you would like to write a post for Can I Retire Yet?, please read our editorial guidelines first. 

Will you consider reviewing my book or product?

We occasionally review books or other products. Our general rule is that we will not recommend any product that we wouldn’t use ourselves. If you would like us to review your book or product, send an email with a detailed description and why you think it will add value for our audience. If we agree to accept your book or product, that is not a guarantee that we will review it. We will only do so if we genuinely like the book or product and are confident it will add value for our readers.

Why don’t you post more often?

This is a blog about saving, investing, and retiring. We use examples from our experience where helpful, but this isn’t a reality show about our daily lives. Longer or more technical articles sometimes require weeks of research, culminating in a day or two of writing. And we want to keep the quality high. For the first year on this blog, I (Darrow) posted more than once a week on average. There are now well more than 100 articles available here. You might enjoy browsing past articles from the subject index. If it’s inconvenient to check the blog occasionally, you might try a news reader like Feedly or Pulse that can alert you when there is something new here. You can also sign up for our mailing list and receive free updates in email. Thanks!