3 Must-Know Lessons on Early Retirement

I hear you.

You’re tired of the bullshit.

You just want to know, straight up: 

Is early retirement real?

It’s tough to get a solid answer. Early-retiree bloggers are a little too enthusiastic (read: cult-leader crazy) to be believable.

And one week the media says Generation X will never save enough to retire. The next week, they report Generation X is retiring early in huge numbers.

So what’s going on? And if early retirement is real, how does it work and where do you start?

We got you. Sit back and relax while In The Meantime gives you the good oil.

First, a reality check…

You’re Probably Doing Better Than You Think

Despite the noisy procession of media ‘experts’ warning that Baby Boomers have leeched the last drop of economic life-blood from the global economy, a number of more level-headed organisations are finding Generation X is doing just fine.

According to the Grattan Institute’s research, the majority of Aussie Gen Xers are set to retire comfortably. In fact, forcing Aussies to save more for retirement might actually be bad for the economy (by taking money out of circulation)!

In the US, the country worst hit by the financial crisis, the Pew Research Centre finds Generation X has recovered from the downturn far better than expected.

And, of course, the Canadians, as always, are diligently saving for retirement. 

So it seems we’re doing okay.


Financial Independence Retire Early

And we know it.

A growing number of Gen Xers are exploring early retirement.

The internet is alive with stories on the ‘FIRE movement’ and bloggers like Mad Fientist and Mr Money Mustache are hugely popular.

Google search results for ‘How to Retire Early’ are now well over 300 million.

But is Early Retirement Real?

In a word, yup.

In two words, hells yup.

It’s simple and anyone can do it. But it’s not easy.

At its core, early retirement depends on your ability to minimise short-term, material pleasures (exotic holidays, ski boats) for the longer-term benefits of financial freedom.

But, before you sell all your shit, downsize to a tiny home and start knitting your own clothes, take a look at these three must-know lessons on early retirement.

One: Understand What Early Retirement Is

The first step toward early retirement is to pour cold water down your pants, slap yourself in the face, and ask: ‘Why do I want to retire early?’

If your response resembles any of the following, slap yourself again:

  1. So I can quit my stoopid job and be happy
  2. So I can finally be a Rock n Roll Star
  3. So I can kick back on a beach and consume a conga line of pina coladas every day   
  4. So I can become a gajillionaire by selling my amazing business idea

Before we burst some of these retirement bubbles, let me establish some street cred on the subject.


How Not To Retire Early

I retired at 27.

I was back to work by 28. Voluntarily.

I’ll give you a minute to get the WTFs out of your system.

Dum, de, dum…

Do, dee, dar…

Good to go again?


As wonderful as retiring at 27 to a beach island in Southern Thailand sounds, unless you know what you’re doing it’s mind-mushingly boring. Within weeks I was counting coconuts. Within months the world of work became strangely appealing.

My failed retirement sparked a 20-year self-help quest to understand why I wasn’t happy lazing around the tropics for the rest of my life.

This year alone, I read 31 self help books on happiness, purpose and early retirement. I can sum up what I learnt in these four words:

Retirement won’t fix you.

Why? Because your problems retire with you.

Quitting your job doesn’t make you better. It just makes you unemployed.

A European river cruise or relocating to Costa Rica or hitching your wagon to the grey nomads won’t give you purpose or passion. It won’t make you smarter, better looking or more interesting. It does nothing for your self esteem or anxiety. It won’t fix your marriage or make you a better parent.

These things are independent of retirement. They’re things we should be striving for now.   


Bursting Early Retirement Bubbles

So, with that in mind, let’s go through 1-4 again:

  1. The solution to hating your job isn’t necessarily retirement. It could just be changing jobs. Retiring without a purpose can be far worse than working a shitty job.  
  2. So you want to be a (retiree) Rock n Roll Star? While creative endeavours are just the thing for early retirees, it’s wrong to assume making a living out of art is any easier in retirement than it was in your 20s.
  3. Holiday forever? WRONG! Beaching out, getting smashed on overpriced alchopops, is awesome on holidays, but it’s not a lifestyle. Holiday’s are great because they’re special – take that away, and they soon feel like Groundhog Day.  
  4. You’re no more likely to be rich in retirement than you are now. No rich person ever said, ‘I was poor, but then I found some more time and I became rich’. Get rich first (or at least set yourself up to grow your wealth), then retire.

The 3 Freedoms of Early Retirement

At its core, retirement is about freedoms. Not happiness.

Giving up work frees up time and mental space to pursue other interests. It provides the freedom to travel anytime and to live anywhere. It brings freedom from the necessity to make money.

But none of these freedoms, despite their stella reputations, are the flowers of happiness.

They are the soil.

Two: Early Retirement Starts Now

The first time I retired, I was surprised at how much I craved purpose and identify.

I found myself looking for things to do. Obsessively tidying my hut, devouring books, pouring over the newspaper solving world problems.

I became restless and frustrated. Many retirees experience the same thing, wishing they’d prepared better for work-free living.

The earlier you prepare for retirement, the easier the transition will be.

Visualise, Don’t Fantasise

Even five years out (1810 days, but who’s counting) from our last day in the workforce, Maggie and I are well into early retirement preparations.

We visualise our day-to-day retirement to check and recheck it will be fulfilling.

We call ‘bullshit’ when we suspect each other of harbouring unrealistic expectations.

We talk through retirement plans often and challenge ideas like, ‘we’ll live in the Italian countryside and indulge ourselves all day’. While ideas like this sound great on paper, they’re not a whole idea. They’re missing a purpose. Enjoying the delights of a quaint Italian village is a great twist on living, but we still need to figure out what we’ll do in-between espressos and pizzas.  


We think of ideas to occupy us in retirement. Projects like starting a community group, business or online project are pursuits that would challenge us, engage our imaginations, spark our passions and give us purpose. 

Three: Plan and Plan Again

The financial independence part of retiring early takes planning, commitment and time.

The first step is good financial advice. There is a lot of misinformation about financial independence, so be careful.

One of my best posts advises of four things to do before you see a financial adviser. It also shows how to find a good adviser.

While You’re Making Plans

Once you have a financial plan, then comes the tricky bit: Living your life while sticking to your plan. It’s a daily challenge.

Modern living is heavily in favour of instant gratification. There are a million and one things to spend your savings on.

You will be locked in a daily, dirty fight with the sharpest minds in marketing – all of whom are hell-bent on getting their hands on your savings.

Oh, and don’t expect your kids to be massive fans of your retirement plans and its fun-smothering thriftiness. 

Realism vs Planning

Be realistic with your financial planning and prepare yourself for compromise. Adjust your plan if you have to, but do it thoughtfully. Don’t drift away from your goal.

We find we need to remind ourselves we’re not trading off our present years for a better life in early retirement. Life is now. We try to keep in mind retirement is not the secret to happiness, it’s just another lifestyle. So we need to focus now and always on living well and continuing to grow.

What next?

Check out this post to get started: 4 Things To Do Before You See a Financial Adviser.

Or this post on Investing 101.

You can see how Maggie and I began our early retirement journey in Start Here and About Us.


Keep reading In The Meantime to stay motivated.

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