As we pulled into the dusty, gravel parking lot in our economy, compact-sized rental car, our eyes fell upon the tropical paradise we were about to enter. The luscious green forest overflowing with beautiful flowers was chorused by the songs from colorful birds. As we stepped from the car, the light mist that fell combined together with the cool breeze to offset the warmth of the tropical sun.
We were in paradise, and visiting the Faarumai waterfalls in Tahiti seemed to be a dream come true. As we began the short walk to the first waterfall, the familiar rumbling of a large tour bus began echoing off the canyon walls. Our moods soured at the thought; we knew we were set to share our once-peaceful, bucket-list experience with dozens of others.
As the patrons exited the bus, our moods quickly lightened as we realized the Tommy-Bahama-wearing, cane-and-walker-wielding senior citizens on the bus wouldn’t be making it past the first of three waterfalls.
As they lifted their cameras from the straps secured around their necks, an elated feeling washed over us. We were happy for them. This too was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them. It took courage. It took a will to wander at an old age, at a time when many choose to simply stay home. This group was half way around the world and having the adventure of a lifetime.
At the same time we found ourselves awash with excitement, we could not ignore the twinge of sadness we felt for them. They would have to forego the slippy rocks and steep trail leading to two more spectacular waterfalls. They wouldn’t get the full experience. In that moment, we realized how lucky we were to be able to fully explore this incredible planet. On the spot, we decided we would not spend our entire lives working, leaving only a short time at the end to adventure only to places that were easy to reach.
It was in Tahiti, our first stop on a 26-country trip around the world, where unbeknownst to us everything changed. It was 2013, and I was 31 years old.
After, we would return to work, living the corporate life for two more years, before quitting once again to travel across North American in our vintage Airstream. Fast forward to 2018, we’re now settling in a small town in Utah living the retired life. I’m now 36 years old, my wife is 35.
With the corporate life in the rear view mirror, we spend our time adventuring across the great Southwest. But, don’t be fooled. We’re not done working. We do plan to make money, but this time around it will be on our own terms doing things we love. This is what we consider our ‘super’ early retired life.
Here are the six steps to super early retirement
1. Check Yourself before you Wreck Yourself
My inspirations come in bursts, and when they do, my enthusiasm takes over and rationality is thrown out the window. In those moments, I can make some really bad decisions – like the time I bought an old city bus. You might get inspired by this post to retire early, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to march into your boss’s office and tell them what you really think.
Super early retirement is not simply a decision to make, but instead a journey to take. As you’ll see from my steps to early retirement, it’s not a checklist you can simply work your way down until the magic happens. ‘Super’ early retirement is a lifestyle and a mindset.
The journey is not linear but is instead circular. It’s ridden like a roller coaster – one that can you throw you for a loop, set you back or even return you to where you started.
Setbacks can be financial, like the time you lost your job. Or, setbacks can be mental, like the time you broke down and decided that new Ford 150 Platinum Edition was more important than retiring before the age of 65. Prepare for the long journey ahead.
2. Prepare for the Journey
A journey may start with a single step, but that first step is only possible through hard work and preparation. If you’re going to backpack the PCT (Pacific Coast Trail), you can’t simply “start”. You have to prepare for the journey by buying the right gear, training and preparing yourself mentally.
Even with the right gear and physical prowess, many people still fail to make the full hike because of the lack of mental preparation. Think about what it means to live out of your backpack for three months in the wilderness. No toilets, no warm showers, no favorite bed and pillow and no Netflix binges!
— Asterisk (@AsteriskToday) August 16, 2015
Super early retirement may sound like a great goal to have, but most people won’t be able to make the journey to get there.
There’s not a one size fits all plan for preparation. For me, it started with voracious reading. You can see from my reading list that it wasn’t even books about early retirement. Instead, I was seeking out books on the conflicting ideologies of Thoreau and Ayn Rand, books on great geniuses from Adam Smith to Nikolai Tesla and books on human psychology and civilizations.
They were books that opened my eyes to the world and beyond the narrow paths of mass education.
Majoring in Finance in college was also a big help, and my continued interest in money and investing helped get us here. However, even if you have zero prior financial education, this is all still possible to learn if you apply yourself. I still spend a lot of time on financial websites and forums because I’m passionate about the subject and learning new things.
3. Get a Great Job
We’re incredibly fortunate to live the super early retired life, and it would be irresponsible to say just anyone can do it. We had good jobs and made great money, but it’s not like we had our own start up that we sold for millions or hit the lottery. In fact, I know a lot of people who make more money than us who will never be able to retire early.
I’ll get into the pure finances in a later post, but you need a good salary to make early retirement possible. I have some tips on using your job as a tool and working smart, but in the end, if you’re not in a good career field, it will be challenging.
However, that’s not to say you can’t retire early unless you’re an engineer or a tech whiz. Check out this couple who retired before 30 as teachers! It’s all about how badly you want it.
4.Take Control of Your Money
If you’re inspired and want to start doing something towards early retirement, this is the step you can start today. It doesn’t matter how much income you have coming in if all of it is going out on stupid purchases. This step is what started our journey to super early retirement, even before we were aware we were heading that direction.
I’ve written extensively on this subject, so click to read my money posts or you can even watch the quick video below where my ugly face explains how to take control of your money!
5. Invest, Invest, Invest
You won’t be able to retire super early unless you invest. I’m not talking about the stupid investing like trading options, day trading in penny stocks or investing in the latest fad like Bitcoin (many of which I’ve mistakenly tried). Instead, you’ll need to take a more stable and long-term approach.
It’s tough when you start investing. Often, we feel like we have such a small amount that we’ll need to try risky forms of investing so we can take our $1,000 to $100,000 overnight. Unfortunately, most people who try that will lose their money. Remember the Warren Buffet quote:
“The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient”
I’ll get more into the numbers in a subsequent post, but you need to plow as much money into the market each month as possible. This means doing crazy things like maxing out your 401k or other investment vehicles. In 2018, that means putting $18,500 a year into your 401k!
I know, it sounds nuts, but that’s the kind of stuff you’ll need to do. We didn’t max out our 401k’s until the last few years of working or we would’ve been even further ahead than where we are now.
If you want to learn how to start investing, start here.
6. Feel the Change
As you progress down this early retirement road, you’ll start acting differently than your friends, many of whom keep up with the Jones’, and your priorities will change. Instead of viewing your life as a set timeline dictated by societal demands, you’ll realize you can make your own path.
I like looking back at my old posts as they help tell the story and define our timeline. In 2016, I experienced intense frustration with my job after we traveled the world in 2013, and I again became tied down. Looking back now some of my writings are comical but were clearly a statement of how I felt:
Look at my cage, isn’t it grand?
I can nearly see across the entire land.
The sun shines in, and I can see some trees,
But my cage is glassed off, so no worry of bees.
It keeps me dry when it starts to rain;
it’s surely the invention of a really smart brain.
A beautiful spring day does not distract me,
because my cage is a constant seventy three.
If I stay here enough, I get well fed.
I get money for a car, and a really nice bed.
My cage protects me from uncertainties of life,
From scary people, unpredictability or strife.
Within my cage, I’m allowed to be me;
well, at least the me they want me to be.
I could leave whenever I’m ready,
but my productivity must remain steady.
If I want to be at the top in the end,
These rules I must not bend.
Wait, what is it all worth,
this system I was thrown into at birth?
Why would I lead a life so controlled,
for a distant freedom, only when I’m old?
My life worth living is not in a cage,
In fact, within me, I feel some rage.
I own my life, but I am not free;
I’m stuck in this cage, built by me.
7. Gotta have Faith, Faith, Faith
You won’t retire early unless you have something you strive to do with your newfound time. Most people don’t want to hike the PCT, but the people who do have an intense drive to do it. Your super early retirement will require even more motivation.
Our motivation came from traveling and pursuing the things we love to do. We spent more time outdoors seeking the types of adventure we loved. Our 2013 trip was a huge inspiration, but so were small weekend trips like when we backpacked Arkansas with my brother.
Our 2016 North America trip allowed us to catch up with friends we probably would have never seen again if we not for an extended trip, and were able to spend much more time with family. It provided spiritual satisfaction.
As you continue building these small experiences, your path will continue to be laid in front of you. If you hole yourself up inside your house and live off of Ramen noodles because you want to retire so badly, you’ll probably lose the passion for the future because your present will suck.
Keep exploring what you love, and you’ll find the motivation to continue. Keep faith that the dots will all connect – not when looking forward as we hope, but only when looking backwards as Steve Jobs explains:
It’s good to have the financial information to make your plan work, but without the motivation and inspiration to pursue the plan, none of that matters. This has to be something you really want, and no one can make you decide that, it has to come from within.
I’ll get into some subsequent posts on the numbers required for super early retirement, but if you want to do some more reading in the meantime check out two of my go to bloggers on the subject, Mr. Money Mustache and JH Collins.
*If you enjoyed this post and think my writing style improved overnight, unfortunately you’re mistaken, as the real reason is my wife spent a lot of time editing!