Money Mic: I’m Getting Ready to Retire in My 30s

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I felt trapped because I had worked hard to get my degree and establish my career. I didn’t feel as if I could just quit and start something new. I also didn’t want to trade my high five-figure salary for a lower one, so I continued, albeit unhappily, on the same career trajectory.

Rather than use my salary to buy frivolous material things, however, I used my money to fund sabbaticals for several months at a time that enabled Jill and I to see the world. Jill is from Scotland, so every five years or so we would quit our jobs—she works as an optometrist—and spend several months traveling in Europe, as well as other countries. Because the market is strong for software developers, I never worried about finding another job, and often whichever company I worked with last would ask me to consult for them until I found my next gig.

RELATED: 3 People, 3 Portfolios: What the Ups and Downs of the Stock Market Have Taught Me

One particular three-month stretch in China and traveling through Tibet and Nepal made me realize just how rich most Americans already are, myself included.This further drove home the realization that I didn’t need to accumulate the things my peers had, like big houses and fancy cars.

Taking these sabbaticals was what I saw value in—but it wasn’t until around 2011, when I stumbled across a website called Early Retirement Extreme, that I realized I could work hard for five to ten years to make those periodic trips more of a permanent fixture. I was already a pretty good saver, but what I read on the site encouraged me to ramp it up even more. All I would need to do to retire early was to save and invest until my portfolio reached at least 25 times my annual expenses.

Based on historical data, my thinking was that those investments should return an inflation-adjusted average of 5% every year. I calculated that I would only need to withdraw, at most, 4% every year to cover my estimated essential expenses—more on those in a minute—which means my portfolio should have a high likelihood of never running out of money.

RELATED: I Started Saving for Retirement—When It Was Almost Too Late

Fast-Tracking Financial Independence

Once I realized that obtaining this level of financial independence was possible, I began researching how to get myself there as quickly as possible.

The best strategy for me, both from a savings and tax perspective, was to max out tax-advantaged retirement accounts, including a 401(a), a 403(b)—both are types of defined-contribution plans offered by my employer—and a Health Savings Account. I max out all of these accounts each year, and get a 5% match on my 401(a). I also max out my Roth IRA, and anything that’s left over, after expenses, goes into my taxable investment account.

  • Benjamin Peterson

    “Name has been changed” AKA bullshit.

  • Melanie

    Ridiculous. I’m sure if most of use had insanely high paying software jobs with the combination of a $600/month mortgage (split between two people no less. Where the hell is this possible?), we’d all be retiring at 32. What a bunch of unhelpful, privileged dribble.

    • Iron Mike Sharpe

      Move to a lower cost city. Get a better paying job. Lose the defeatist attitude.

      Instead of looking for ways something cannot work, look at ways that you can make it work. It’s all about perspective.

  • http://www.moretolovewithrachel.com/ Rachel Estapa

    How can you put this on a site that is devoted to being responsible with money? This may be ONE individuals experience, but I think it’s really irresponsible to assume that by and large, this is what the majority of readers and ppl using LV are looking to do AND can do. Unrelatable and uninspiring.

  • J Schwan

    I find it interesting, as I think it’s something we’ve all thought of at some point. Question I have for the author is, are you planning to have children? Because that changes the game.

  • Val

    If he’s 32 and went on sabbatical every 5 years after graduating from college, he’s been on about ….two of those. Whatever floats your boat I guess.

  • MichelleC

    I’m seeing that my feelings about this article are shared by the other readers. I would have to disagree with the author about most Americans being “rich.” Yes, perhaps compared to the population of Tibet or Nepal; but not compared to the author himself. If I made a “high five-figure salary” and was living in a two income household in addition to that pretty much since college then I think that I too could retire early. But for the rest of us, who didn’t major in computer science, have struggled to find work, let alone high paying jobs and have been completely on our own this is not the case. And we are not rich.

  • erica

    I found this really interesting! Early retirement community is out there for sure, a lot of people reached it in different ways and lead very meaningful lives in retirement. Congrats to you figuring things out early and setting the goal. Good luck to you on the rest of the journey to retirement :) I’ll be keeping an eye on your website to see what tips and advice you have!

  • Food4Thought

    As opposed to being prescriptive, I know the writer touches on a number of important points for discussion. In some ways he redefines the American dream. As opposed to big houses and new cars he is choosing life in the developing world (no Starbucks and 24 hr CVS etc). He also accurately describes the frustrations of the millennial generation who were sold the dream of endless possibility then saddled with student / credit card debt unto the road of the 9 – 5. From personal experience I’ve learned that whether it’s Google HQ or the local Save-a-Lot at a point the carefree liberal arts education experience in now ay prepares you for the let down of the work world. So bravo Brandon for turning your life’s lemons into lemonade.

  • Jenny

    I don’t have as high of an income as this example, but I am also planning to retire early at around age 46. I live in a high cost of living area but am currently saving about 70% of my net pay by living very frugally and questioning every expenditure in relation to how much joy it gives me for the money. For example, I live in a studio apartment and don’t own a car. I follow the mad fientist blog as well as some other early retirement blogs, a favorite being Mr. Money Mustache. Once you do the research, it doesn’t seem as ridiculous. Not to say that early retirement is for everyone, but I think we can all learn from blogs like these tricks for spending less money even if the goal is to stay afloat rather than to retire early.

    • Jordan Smith

      You follow the Mad Fientist blog, huh? Then I take it you noticed that “Brandon Sutherland” is the Mad Fientist? (Seriously, look at the About section of the blog.) Any reason you didn’t mention that in your reference? That felt oddly like a shill.

  • Keisha

    Why is everyone so upset about this persons journey. I think this is very inspiring. So what you don’t make a stellar 5 figure salary… Is that his fault? I think this article challenges a lot of people to aspire to be better and do better with their money. Stop complaining you don’t have enough money or you need money… What are some things that you are consuming that aren’t necessary. This article has sparked a fire. I am single mother of 2 and even though it may look a certain I am a firm believer of “What you believe will affect how you behave.” ~ Dr. Bill Winston.

    I’m choosing to believe that I will retire by the age of 42 and because I believe this I will choose behaviors that reflect it.

    • Alyse

      Great attitude to have – good for you!

  • Kathleen

    Let’s do the math for maxing out all retirement accounts for 10 years.

    Average annual limit for Roth IRA contributions 2004-2014: $5100 ($51,000 total)

    The total (pre-tax, employer match, after-tax) that could be contributed to a 401(k) plan the past couple of years was roughly around $50,000, so best case that would amount to a total of $500,000 for 10 years.

    So yes, if you calculate your annual expense to be $13,200 ($2200/2 *12) then you would have reached your 25fold estimate ($330,000) easily.

    Plus whatever the capital gains he accumulated over time.

    That being said, highly risky, and doesn’t work if life takes a left turn (medical expenses) or you want to start a family, etc.

    Good luck anyways and safe travels!

    • choosetowin

      FYI, at some companies, like mine, we have a retirement plan that allows us to save more than the $5,100. The max at my company for instance is above 50k and it does not show up on the w-2 and is not taxed until withdrawal. I’m willing to bet this writer has such a plan. Further, I’m sure his mortgage will be paid off soon and he will have that extra $600 a month. If he’s already managing life with the mortgage payment, I don’t imagine it is “highly risky” once its gone. Medical expenses– insurance will cover the big expenses, no? A kid— he’s already retired, no need for day care?

  • Hannah

    Congratulations on setting your goals high and achieving them! I’ve seen quite a few naysayers here, but you’ve done exactly what works for you, and you’ve done it well. I admire you for doing exactly what you love and living the life you want. You’ve inspired me to save even more money, and I’ll certainly be checking out your blog.

  • Mara

    I’m confused as to how they have enough money to retire so young. If their current expenses are $2200/month and he said they need enough money to cover 25 years of expenses, that would mean they need $660,000. How do they have that much money, even with high salaries? Especially with all the traveling and time taken off from work to do so. Also, their monthly living costs of $2200 seems high considering their mortgage is only $600 and they own their cars outright. Pretty interesting article. It’s great that they are so motivated to get out of the rat race and really pursue what they want.

    • Marie

      He says they keep their money separate and his wife will continue working, so he is not calculating based on their combined expenses of $2,200 but on his portion of that.

    • Guest

      He said he makes 6 figures and saves 70% of his income. $100,000/yr * .7 * 10 years = $700,000. I’ve ignored the complexities such as taxes and capital gains, but seems like the numbers line up with what is being said.

  • Eileen

    I always find people that say that they want to retire early are missing the entire point of having a job. I work for nonprofits whose missions I care about. Although I save for retirement, I don’t want to retire. I will retire when I have to, because my brain will eventually slow and I won’t be able to contribute to my community as effectively as those younger than me. If your work is fulfilling, retiring at 32 is a ridiculous proposition.

    • Cats Eye

      Right. Because when I’m not working for my employer for a salary, I am not doing *anything* for my community. /end sarcasm

      Get over yourself. Some may retire early so that they may not depend on an employer for survival, and volunteer for a nonprofit whose missions they care about. And do it, like , for free.

  • jerome

    I noticed the wife is an optometrist. Even as a part-time optometrist, it seems like the take-home salary can still be quite high (just breaking six-figures or close). Depending on where you’re living (e.g. Northern or Southern California), that’s maybe enough to nervously live off of; I’m going to venture to guess that cost of living in Vermont isn’t crazy high either. Living off a dual-income of an optometrist (even part-time) + software developer has to be pretty comfortable out there then. Anyway, good for this guy for being able to retire early.

  • D. Trump

    I thought his math didn’t work out, and I don’t quite understand how he has taken several sabbaticals already at only 32, but I do totally agree with his philosophy. I am slightly older, but I took advantage of the down turn in the real estate market and have invested heavily in that sector. My passive rental income is going to enable me to leave my job whenever I want. I do like my job, however, so I am still here. But it’s nice to know that if I ever get frustrated, I don’t “have” to stay, or even replace it!

  • ST

    We are in 30′th couple and our rent is $2700/month and this is quite cheap in my area (silicon valley). We are planning to buy a house but no less than $1million here even just a normal house, In his case, he is just living a place that cost is very chap, otherwise it is very difficult to retire at his age and living normal life.

    • DM

      I think part of early retirement is making a conscious decision with your expenditures, including mortgage/rent. No, you can not retire very early if you buy a $1 million home unless you make a huge income. So, you’d either have to consider moving to a lower COL area (there are some even in the Bay Area), find a higher paying job, move to a smaller place or cut expenses in other areas. I am a native Californian and cannot fathom the amount people are willing to pay for housing in CA. It boggles my mind that people are just working to pay that kind of mortgage for 30 years.

  • SmallIsWell

    Completely possible, you just need to shift your thinking of whats necessary and save. My husband and I live easily on 2K a month and are doing the exact same thing. Check out MrMoneymustache.com and EarlyRetirementExtreme.org

  • Shannon

    Remember that retirement for him doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on a beach or never working a 9-to-5 again. It means he’s giving himself options because he’s covering his basic needs through this particular savings and investment strategy. He could choose to travel, work a job he loves for less money,volunteer his time to a non-profit, or yes, sit on a beach. Even if you don’t agree with his choices, you have to respect his philosophy and how he chooses to deploy his capital.

    • Marie

      I think people are getting caught up in the term early retirement when his focus is financial independence (hence his blog name). He said that he plans to continue working on different projects and may re-enter the traditional workforce at a later date depending on how his investments are doing. It’s definitely not for everyone but it’s interesting to think about.

      • Taoofkt

        Absolutely agree. We get so caught in the “typical” way of looking at money that it was very interesting to see the reactions to this article. Many people I know who “retire” still work in jobs that compensate them not too much less than they were making. The key takeaway here is goal setting, planning, and living far below means. Can everyone do it? No. For those who haven’t considered it, this may be a new way to assess how and why we are saving.

  • papillon

    I hope the author is able realize his dream of leaving the traditional workforce. His old job could go to someone who actually needs it.

  • Jason

    Good story with some valuable lessons about priorities, yet the numbers only work if you earn an upper-middle class salary. Also, they will continue to work on a part-time/freelance basis. We also live on about $2200 per month, but it leaves about 30% to save as opposed to their 70% savings rate. Not that we couldn’t accomplish the same goal, but we would have to sacrifice a lot more (ergo, want it a lot more) to get there.

  • jeremy Marshall

    My Name is Jeremy Marshall, a Stock Broker in One of the Biggest Bureau-DE-Change in America. I have been working for my company for the past seven years (7yrs) with no PROMOTIONS inspite of my qualifications and experience. I was living from hand to mouth, couldn’t meet up with bills and was always hiding from my Landlady cause of rents. All this were laid to rest when I met Prophet Jumama who told me I had spiritual problems hindering my financial status. We did all the required processes and today; am a Branch Manager of my company. The interesting thing is, that I paid little or nothing for His services. He only told me to spread the news of his good deeds. With prophet jumama nothing is impossible. Contact him today with that Spiritual battle, Marriage problems, financial instability, Child support battle, Educational problem…etc. at prophetjumamaspirituality@gmail.com. Take a leap of faith today.

  • Patrice M

    A lot of people have done this, and the basic math is simple – see http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-simple-math-behind-early-retirement/

  • Sextus Empiricus

    Yes, if you are interested in this possibility, I’d second the reference to Mr. Money Mustache and ERE.

    If you are not, that’s fine, but making uninformed statements along the lines of (a) “it’s not possible” or (b) “it’s morally wrong to think of it and therefore no one should ever do it” or (c) “if it doesn’t apply to everyone, its not worth considering” are simply fallacious arguments (or insults) that say more about the speaker than the topic.

    It has been done before, it is being done by people right now, and it will be done by people in the future. And the people who are doing it are generally a lot happier with their decision than they were before they made it, at least as reflected on the sites referenced above.

    But you do have to reject the allure of consumerism (the secular Satan), which many simply cannot get over.

  • Scott Keegan

    Cool! Once I finish paying off my student loans in 20 years, I can start working to retire early at the young age of 60! Thanks, guy.

  • choosetowin

    why is it when there’s a person showing that early retirement/paying off huge debts/living below one’s means is possible, a lot of people on this community think it’s the craziest thing ever? The truth is that there’s a handful of people like this guy and myself out there. We just have this thing that a lot of ppl have that they don’t use: self-control. For example, instead of having an iphone to take pictures to post on instagram, I have a cheap dumb phone. Instead of buying $100 lulu lemon pants, I still wear the ones I bought from target 10 years ago (still black, still stretchy, still works!). Instead of having to live in an awesome neighborhood, I picked a place just ten minutes outside the main metro and pay $500 less in rent (and I live in an area where average rent is $1500 for a one bedroom ). Instead of buying lunch everyday, I pack leftovers from dinner. Instead of clothes shopping every month, guess what? Once every three months. Instead of spending 60% of my post tax earnings, I chose to save 60%. In my early 30s now and I have two investment properties and will probably retire in 9 years– probably earlier but I’m risk averse. And no I’m not some miserly old hag living in a basement eating cat food. I travel to exotic countries every year, eat out at fine restaurants once or twice a month, and have an amazing wardrobe. It is not impossible, people. It’s about choices. Instead of dismissing this guy’s story, look to see how you can improve your own lives by saving, “cutting back”. Eventually, you’ll come to realize that 90% of the time, you are the one in control of your life. You can choose to do better.

  • Brooklyn Money

    I’m on the same path, right behind you. Although I’m older and have longer to work to reach my goal of FI, but I’ll get there some day!

  • Chris

    Just a small side note. Twice in this article you wrote “Jill and I”, where “Jill and I” was the object of the sentence rather than the subject. For example, “If you met Jill and I on the street…”, should be “If you met Jill and me on the street”. I only mention this since you plan to continue writing. The easy way to know whether to use “me” or “I” is to drop the other person from the sentence, and the choice becomes clear. If you drop “Jill”, it would read “If you met I on the street”, which is clearly wrong. “If you met me on the street” is correct. That tip always works for me!
    I wish you luck in your travels and in your future writings.

  • Bradfromearth

    “75% U.S. stocks” Smart money would say to liquidate that now. This is not a joke and I am not being sarcastic, I am dead serious. Even Steve Forbes, yes that Steve Forbes is trying to raise awareness about going to a gold backed dollar to fix the mess we are in. The largest net purchaser of equities in Q1 was BUYBACKS, Google it. It is expected to be much higher this Q. This is always promoted as a good thing for the market but smart money understands that it is a tool to hold up a weak market. The American Dollar has lost a little over 70% of its value in the last 9 years.

  • dale

    It truly is possible to attain financial independence at a much younger age than is normally assumed. The most important factor in achieving it is to have very modest lifestyle in proportion to your income. That is to save 50% or more of your after tax income and invest it. I have been intrigued by the idea of financial independence since I was in my late 20′s, but like so many, I struggled with the urge to spend and keep up with others around me. It really is a struggle to drum to the beat of a different drummer when you are young and impressionable. Eventually I did just that. I decided to get out of debt and start saving in my early 30′s. Eventually I quit my job (which never paid as much as 50k), took a year off, then started working for myself (max income mid 30′s, now much less). I am 41 now, been self employed for 8 years. I plan on doing this for 2 years then hang it up. My expenses are very low, around 12k/year. My expenses are low partly due to being single w/o children. Still, relative to my income over the years its low. As a result I have financial independence as long as I willing to continue this modest lifestyle. You don’t have to make a lot of money. Its more important to live modestly. If its a priority to you, its a lot more attainable than you may think. Best wishes to all of you and good luck in your adventures.