More and more, I'm meeting people who want to know how to retire early. There's been a lot of buzz in the media lately about early retirement, and that's led folks to wonder how much money they would need to quit their jobs — or if early retirement is even something they should consider.
Why retire early? Well, for most people a job is a necessary evil. We work because we have to. Early retirement gives us the flexibility to choose how we spend our time, whether that entails sitting on the beach drinking margaritas or it leads to new work that provides meaning and fulfillment.
Lots of us dream of leaving the workplace in our forties or fifties instead of sticking it out until age 65 — but we keep working to support the lifestyles to which we've become accustomed. We like our iPhones and Playstations and Priuses, so we surrender to the idea that we'll have fifty-year careers.
Still, there are a surprising number of folks who manage to retire young. In fact, the 2018 EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey found that 35% of retirees left the workforce before they turned 60. (Previous surveys have shown that 18% of people retire by age 55.)
These folks aren't lucky lottery winners, and most didn't have high-paying careers. In general, those who manage to retire early have opted to live with less when they're younger so they can obtain financial freedom before they're too old to enjoy it.
Early retirement is a fantastic goal, but it can be tough to achieve. Three major obstacles stand in your way:
- You have less time to earn money. If you start working at 20 and retire at 65, you have 45 income-producing years. But if you retire at 45, you only have 25 income-producing years.
- You spend more time living on your savings. Life expectancy for the average American is nearly 80 years. If you retire at 65, your savings will probably have to last only ten to twenty years; if you retire at 45, your savings may need to support you for thirty or forty years.
- You don't enjoy traditional retirement benefits. If you retire young, you can't access Social Security or Medicare for several years — or decades. You also face penalties if you choose to access your retirement accounts before you reaching minimum age requirements. (I'm experiencing issues with this gap already!)
In short, early retirees have less time to make money, and that money has to last them longer. Even if you stay healthy and the economy cooperates, that's asking a lot.
That's not to say you shouldn't plan to retire early — it's a laudable goal, one that I encourage here at Get Rich Slowly — but if you're serious about doing so, you need to be diligent. You need to have a plan. And you need to understand the numbers.
Let's take a look at the basics of how to retire early — and why you might want to do so.