Reaching Early Retirement at 43

Mayan mud mask in the Yucatan. Early retirement has given me the luxury of doing slow travel with a focus on language learning.

In 2016, I took early retirement from software engineering at age 43. Software development is a great way to make a living, but working full time never left sufficient time and energy to pursue my many interests and hobbies.

I always dreamed of retiring early to devote myself to my passions for travel, language learning, writing, photography, and art. And since retirement, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing!

Live Below Your Means (LBYM)

In Antigua, Mexico. Mexico is a great destination for frugal early retirees.

Key to achieving my FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) goal was a lifetime commitment to a frugal, LBYM (Living Below Your Means) lifestyle.

I was fortunate to have been born into a thrifty immigrant family who taught me the value of saving and investing early on. This home environment helped inoculate me against the epidemic of conspicuous consumption pervasive in all Western countries, but especially the US.

My childhood in the materialistic ’80s was spent in a pretentious Texan upper-middle-class neighborhood where it was the norm to Live Way Beyond Your Means. At the time, it wasn’t always easy to be the only kid on the block with a 25-year-old family car! But now I admire my parents’ extreme frugality.

At 16, my dad opened an IRA for me and contributed the value of my meager earnings as a fast food worker. Several of my family members are Vanguard diehards, and we often geek out talking about financial topics. I feel lucky to have so much support and understanding from my family.

Early retirement requires risk tolerance and the ability to hold fast to your beliefs when many think you’ve taken leave of your senses. Fortunately, my parents encouraged risk-taking and independence from an early age. My mom was a programmer and always worked outside the home, so she was a great role model in that regard.

Early Retirement and Personality Type

Many INTJs find software engineering a good fit for their analytical skills. However, the arbitrary rules and artificial limitations of many corporate jobs may frustrate them.

Many INTJs find software engineering a good fit for their analytical skills. However, the arbitrary rules and artificial limitations of many corporate jobs may frustrate them.

Informal surveys suggest Myers-Briggs ISTJs, INTJs, and INTPs appear much more frequently in the FIRE early retirement community than in the general population. As an INTJ, no wonder it feels like I’ve found my tribe!

INTJs are the most independent of the types. They have a strong need for space and autonomy. Generally, they prefer to work alone. INTJs dislike rules and artificial limitations. Additionally, they are decisive, organized, and good planners and long-range thinkers. INTJs are more focused on the future than on the present.

Like the typical INTJ, I’m highly independent and dislike having my time and effort controlled by others. I’m so much happier working on self-directed projects like language learning and blogging!

Being introverted means I thrive spending long periods of time alone away from the social environment of an office. And being future-focused has facilitated the long-term financial planning required for FIRE.

FIRE with Family

One tendency in extreme early retirees who retire in their 30s is that they’re often part of a high-earning couple with each partner contributing to their shared financial goals.

Having two partners working towards FIRE is a huge advantage, both in terms of financial effort as well as in providing the mutual moral support needed to achieve such a long-term goal.

Couples also benefit from the reduced cost of living of a joint household. Living alone is substantially more expensive than shared accommodation. Studies show that the cost per person of maintaining the same standard of living is between 36 and 47 percent lower in a two-person household than in a one-person household.

Even though I lacked the financial advantage of being in a FIRE couple, I also never had children, which would have made early retirement more challenging. Having said that, there are many FIREes who retire successfully with kids; it just requires careful financial planning.

Also, while I may not have had the moral support of a spouse equally committed to retiring early, I did have the encouragement of a loving family who totally got what I was doing and respected my goals. That kind of emotional support is extremely important, especially when your goal seems crazy to virtually everyone else you know.

Online FIRE forums were also an incredible source of advice and encouragement for me (see Early Retirement Forums).

FIRE Financial Strategy

Some of my early retirement and financial management books

Dreaming and planning for early retirement began in my 20s. The goal was to retire at 45, but due to strong stock market returns I was able to leave my job at 43 two years ahead of schedule.

For privacy reasons, I won’t go into many financial details on my blog, but my early retirement strategy consisted of seeking well-paid employment as a software engineer and saving up to 50 percent of my gross income.

My savings rate was accelerated by living in low-cost areas and renting modest apartments for many years. My current home is a low-maintenance, economical house paid off prior to retiring. Apart from the mortgage, I have never carried any debt, and typically drive the same used Japanese compact car for a decade or more.

In the accumulation phase of retirement, I invested my savings in low-cost index funds with Vanguard and Fidelity, with the intent of matching market returns rather than beating them.

If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of financial data for prospective early retirees, check out the resources section below for some early retirement bloggers who share detailed financial reports.

Early Retirement and Privilege

There’s no doubt I’ve been extremely fortunate. If my parents had not emigrated to the United States, if I hadn’t grown up in such a frugal household, and if my family hadn’t always encouraged me to pursue a lucrative but stereotypically male profession, achieving FIRE would have been much harder. And the mere fact of being white has undoubtedly benefited me in subtle ways throughout my life.

On the other hand, I truly believe early retirement is accessible for many, at least in the Western world. It does require sacrifice and a complete change of mindset from conventional norms.

I’m encouraged by the fact that the FIRE movement has become so popular among millennials. It signals a shift in our society away from mindless consumerism to a more purpose-driven lifestyle.

Don’t You Get Bored?

Meeting new friends at Spanish school in Guanajuato, Mexico

My last position was with a large progressive tech company that was supportive of women and extremely generous with its employees. Sometimes I miss the perks of my corporate software job: high-quality free health insurance, free gym with classes and personal training, and business travel that was luxurious by my current standards.

However, I don’t miss the stress, annoying coworkers, and Dilbert-like absurdity of many of my projects. And while I had a few good friends at work, it hasn’t been a problem staying in touch with them post-retirement.

Overall, I don’t miss my job, or suffer from boredom, at all. I’ve always been a very self-driven person and haven’t slowed down in retirement a bit. If anything, I’m busier!

My time has been devoted to a lot of bucket-list travel and achieving fluency in Spanish through online classes at home and stints at language schools in other countries. I’ve also improved my German and learned basic Russian.

Since retiring, my friend circle has gotten much more diverse and interesting. I meet new people constantly on my travels, though language study, and through diverse Meetups in my hometown, most of which there was no time for when I was working.

After a couple of years of retirement I did start to want more intellectual stimulation. Working seriously on this blog has helped to meet that need. When at home I spend about 50 hours a week blogging. The amazingly supportive community of bloggers I’ve met online and in person has been an unexpected bonus, and I try to pay it forward by mentoring other bloggers whenever I can.

Travel in Retirement

Segovia - early retirement travel

Exploring Segovia, Spain in early retirement. Slow travel allows me to combine my passions for language learning and photography.

The first two and a half years of my retirement have been devoted to visiting many of my bucket-list destinations. I’m grateful to be able to travel while still relatively young and healthy, rather than having to wait until traditional retirement age.

However, I’ve also discovered that traveling a lot can lead to burnout. Every year since retiring, I’ve spent about 20 weeks on the road, with three international trips and several shorter domestic ones.

My plan is to cut back on the number of trips as well as increase my focus on slow travel. I’ve always preferred spending a significant chunk of time in one place, building relationships, and really getting to know the culture and language. It’s also much less stressful than constantly moving around!

Now that I’m not working, being at home unleashes bursts of creativity for me. I’m looking forward to more time at home in 2019 to devote myself to creative pursuits as well as trying out some longer-term volunteer commitments.

Blogging as an Income Source

Blog monthly pageview growth over time

Blog monthly pageview growth over time

When I retired I immediately started this blog, mostly for fun. For the first two years it received almost no visitors outside of family and friends. When I started to take blogging more seriously in November 2017 the traffic began to grow quickly, and I was pleasantly surprised when visitor levels rose to the point that it could be monetized. As of November 2018 the blog receives more than 100,000 pageviews monthly.

The majority of the income comes from the amazing ad management company Mediavine, justly popular among bloggers for their great customer support and high payouts. I also earn a tiny amount from Amazon affiliate commissions.

My income goal was for the blog to pay for itself (hosting costs, software license fees, etc.) and to fund my travels. It’s finally there.

While I love blogging, there’s no doubt I invested thousands of unpaid hours in my blog before it started to return any money. I only recommend blogging if you truly have a passion for it and would do it for free. Then, any income generated is just gravy.

Fortunately, I enjoy almost everything about blogging. It’s a rewarding creative outlet for my writing and photography. I love the supportive blogger community, the nonstop learning, receiving reader feedback, geeking out on SEO (search engine optimization), and now, tracking the growing traffic and income numbers daily.

Early Retirement Blogs

Recommended early retirement blogs, many of which provide detailed financial advice:

  • Go Curry Cracker – This enterprising Taiwanese/American couple retired in their 30s and now travel the world with their young son.
  • Millennial Revolution – These two Canadian computer engineers retired at 31 to live a nomadic lifestyle. Very entertaining and educational!
  • Root of Good – Another couple who retired in their 30s and lives in North Carolina with their three children. Lots of detailed posts on personal finance and frugal travel.
  • Think Save Retire – This inspiring blog follows Steve, who retired at 35 to travel full-time with his wife Courtney in an Airstream trailer.
  • Retire Early Lifestyle – Billy and Akaisha Kaderli were an early inspiration for me. They retired in their 30s almost 30 years ago and have been location-independent ever since.
  • Retire by 40 – Joe Udo retired from his engineering career at 38 to become a stay-at-home dad and blogger.
  • Retirement: A Full-Time Job – Syd blogs about her activities in early retirement with lots of frugal living tips.
  • Life Part 2 – Jon retired from a stressful job as an air traffic controller in Houston at 50 with the goal of living in a different country one year at a time. In Thailand, he met Sarah from the UK; since then the two have been partners in adventure.

Early Retirement Forums

Typical FIRE-related discussion threads on http://www.early-retirement.org

There are some great forums with a focus on Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE). These online communities are an incredible support system when you are planning for FIRE.

Strangely, since retiring I’ve hardly been active on these forums; my interest waned after achieving my goal. However, during the accumulation phase of FIRE, especially the last five years, I visited these boards daily and spent countless hours reading the collected wisdom they contain.

Looking for ideas how to spend your early retirement? How about:

Have you FIREd or are you on the way to early retirement? Please let me know in the comments.

2 Comments on “Reaching Early Retirement at 43

  1. Awesome, awesome post!!! Thanks!

    I think we grew up in similar environments. Although my parents weren’t immigrants, they were kids during the Depression and they also chose to live frugally. My dad took an early retirement during the Reagan-era and experimented in a variety of ways with thrifty living – we went a couple years without a car, my dad attaching huge baskets on his bike for groceries. Not having the “right” brand of sneakers or designer jeans felt (to put it mildly) uncomfortable within my ’80s, upper-middle-class peer group, but today – well, my husband, kids and I have happily exchanged a car and big house for the experience of living in a European city. My dad also tried to instill financial awareness in me as a teen, helping me file my taxes, getting me a Vanguard account and investing in IRAs.

    My son Gabriel, at the age of 17, is all about creating a FIRE life for himself. He’s already taking steps to reach that goal – has set up a concrete plan for himself. I don’t exactly know how he became so passionate about this idea – you mention millennials, so maybe it’s partly zeitgeist (he has no interest in travel, though). I think he’s also an INTJ. In any case, just read your post to him and he’s asked me to send him the forum links you list.

    I also find your reflections/comparisons on working v. not working, your life during and after quite rich and thought-provoking. I enjoy slow travel most, too – interesting to hear about your experience with travel burnout. And I appreciate your thoughts on privilege.

    Thanks again!

    • Thanks for the amazing thoughtful comment, as always. You are my ideal blog reader. 😉

      Sounds like we were both shaped by our unconventional upbringings! I’m grateful for it now, although in adolescence as you know often all we want to do is fit in. I’m glad you’re continuing the tradition with your own kids. I’m so impressed Gabriel has already set a FIRE goal at 17. Starting so young, he will be sure to reach his goal in his 30s! I can’t wait to hear more about his plan when I’m there, and would be happy of course to answer any questions I can.

      My enjoyment of slow travel has always conflicted with my intense curiosity and desire to see more! But after several years of extensive travel I think I’m ready to take it down a notch, both in travel and at home. I’ve decided unstructured time is where the magic happens. 😉

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