Early Retirement: Coming Out
As we slowly come out of the closet, friends and family express surprise and even disbelief at our plan to have James retire from work at 45. People know we have rental properties, that I wrote a book on saving money, and that we chose not to have kids. They also know I never earned big money in my employment and that we are not big spenders, typically an indication that funds are limited since most people live up to their means (and many beyond it). I suspect that people figured we were doing well enough but the idea that we might retire so early probably never crossed their minds.
Everyone follows different life paths and no one path is right or best. Very good friends of ours have built successful and fulfilling careers in education which has allowed them summers off. With a shared love for international travel, they have used their annual summer breaks to pursue the most amazing trips everywhere from Tibet to Africa, Iran to China, Iceland to Peru. I always follow their incredibly insightful travel blog with great admiration, traveling vicariously with them, knowing full well that I am both too frugal and too fearful to follow their path. Yet they have chosen an amazing, full and happy life, where they both love their careers and seize today, recognizing that you never know what tomorrow may bring.
A Full & Happy Life
Many other friends are living the dream: two full-time working parents to afford a starter house, pop out 2 or 3 kids and buy a bigger house to fit them, all while driving two newer cars and enjoying multiple vacations each year. It is a very full and happy life centered around the joys of parenthood, challenging and successful careers and, in the best case scenario, money enough to buy all the toys, trips and dinners out they want. This traditional path still appeals to many and it is not right or wrong. It helps to enjoy the work you do, since you will spend a lot of time doing it. It also helps to be a high energy person since it takes a lot of effort to have it all, as any working parent will tell you. This path wasn’t right for us: we never had the desire to have children of our own and our careers were not satisfying enough to want to stay at them any longer than necessary.
Delaying Gratification & Building our Business
The path we chose has been one of delayed gratification. Not to say that we haven’t enjoyed our lives, but we found ways to enjoy life that didn’t cost a fortune: walks in the forest instead of at the mall; ordering water instead of wine at restaurants (while still enjoying a bottle of wine at home); buying last season’s clothes off the sales rack at the back of the store instead of the latest styles upfront; going camping and canoe tripping instead of annual 5-star package vacations. How much money we chose to spend was not based on how much we had. We have enjoyed life for sure, but splurging has been an occasional treat, not the constant goal. We were making do with what we had.
Most importantly, with our spare time, we were pursuing our rental property business. Buying multi-family homes, making improvements as we had opportunity, dealing with appliance breakdowns and water leaks, and endlessly placing new tenants as the previous ones moved on, took up a good portion of our “leisure time”. So many friends and acquaintances said they wanted to invest in rental properties too but then qualified the statement with, “but I can’t because…” or simply never took the plunge.
The Risk We Have Taken
Our path isn’t any better than the paths others have chosen. It was right for us and though it wasn’t always easy, we were able to follow it. It is certainly a risk: not having children could lead to regrets later in life and has meant missing out on many wonderful experiences parents enjoy; working more and spending less while we were younger assumes we will live long enough to reap the benefits: there are no guarantees on this one. Selling our house and most of our things to live and travel in a small RV may prove more difficult than we anticipate. Retiring younger on a lower income from a well-paying job is something we may regret later in life if we find we don’t have enough funds to do all the things we want to do.
Yet, for better or for worse, it is our path and we are doing our best to walk it with our eyes wide open. We’ve earned our way and we are excited to be on the cusp of retirement and ready explore long-term in our RV. We hope it will all be worth it!