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Retiring Before the Age of 40? How Realistic Is That?

August 4, 2010 · 49 comments

in Personal Finance

I was reading an article on Yahoo Finance the other day providing tips on how to retire before the age of 40.  (The exact title:  ‘5 Ways to Retire Before Age 40’)

I laughed when I saw this headline.  I am 42, and I cannot imagine our family having enough money to retire.  The article did say that it is an uncommon feat to achieve, but the headline made the idea seem plausible to the everyday Joe.

The five pieces of advice are listed below.  The italics are my personal opinions on each tip.

  1. Ignore what people think.  The article states you may find resistance from family and friends.  (Yes, ignore that your friends and family don’t mind that you live on their couch and that you spend your evenings practicing Freeganism to provide food for yourself.)
  2. Save as much as possible as soon as possible.  (Really? Assuming you start employment after college at the age of 22, that gives you 18 years of saving to provide for 45 years of leisure.  You actually better start saving at birth, if not sooner.)
  3. Earn as much as possible as quickly as possible.  (Yes, in this economy, it is really easy to get that $200k job right out of college.  As a matter of fact, get 2 jobs that pay $200k so you can live a life of leisure later.)
  4. Avoid fees while investing.  (I agree that fees can eat away at your savings, but I can’t imagine that getting that extra 2 percent a year, compounded over 18 years, is going to financially liberate anyone.)
  5. Consider a new definition of retirement.  (Ok, I can buy this.  I truly believe it is possible to have paid off your debt by the age of 40 and be able to leave the corporate world to do a job you truly enjoy.  It is still ‘working’, but probably doesn’t feel as much like it if it is a job you love and created for yourself.

Here are some additional tips from me:

*Don’t have kids.  If you do, don’t spend a dime on them for their entire existence.

*Don’t get sick- ever.

*Don’t travel.

*Be incredibly lucky.

I don’t mean to be such a cynic.  However, I think chasing the goal of such an early retirement would require sacrificing quality of life when you are young and healthy.  I cringe to think of what we would have missed out on had we lived the way it would require to actually retire at the age of 40.  Keep in mind, I agree with the advice given in the article for general saving.  However, I think it would take a lot more to reach financial independence so young, and to me, it wouldn’t be worth it.

What do you think?

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew Hallam August 4, 2010 at 9:47 am

Your post definitely made me smile.

I know people who have retired at 40(ish) but they sure live differently. They never go out for dinner, never travel anywhere, they make clothes for their kids, and they grow a lot of their own food. I don’t think they’ve ever gone to a movie either. As Canadians, health care is free for them.

It’s a bit nutty, but they like it and they love the challenge. Going to their house is always a great laugh as they talk about how little they spend. They laugh at themselves, and admittedly, seem to have a great time, and they keep extraordinarily fit and healthy. Each to his own, I guess.


Kris August 4, 2010 at 11:01 am

Andrew – Do your retired friends feed you dinner? 🙂 I am sure it might be a little easier where there is universal health care. It sounds like your friends are actually quite happy. You are right – to eat his own!


K.L. May 30, 2012 at 10:19 am

Health care for Canadians is not free – we pay much higher taxes which fund our health care. Wish Americans could understand that.


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff August 4, 2010 at 10:18 am

“Yes, ignore that your friends and family don’t mind that you live on their couch and that you spend your evenings practicing Freeganism to provide food for yourself.)”

This had me actually laughing in my cubicle! Stop icking me out with Freeganism, lol. 🙂


Kris August 4, 2010 at 11:02 am

BFS, I am going to bring up Freeganism every chance I get, just for you! 🙂



Dave August 4, 2010 at 10:30 am

Great post!

I always like Steve Forbes advice – “choose your parents wisely”. Since I have many years left before I can possibly retire, I’ll assume I chose my parents poorly.


Kris August 4, 2010 at 11:04 am

Dave- I like that Steve Forbes quote too. Maybe you can find some other distant relative and befriend them?


Nicole August 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Kudos to them, but definitely not for me.

Though, really, for most married people it is achievable to live on one income with not quite so many sacrifices. That’s also not for us. 🙂


Kris August 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Nicole, I think many things are achievable, it just depends on how much you want to sacrifice. I guess I am not as sacrificial as those that want to retire so young!

Thanks for stopping by.


Squirrelers August 4, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I’m turning 40 next year (hurry up and turn back the clock!), and I will be working for many more years it appears. I think that this is the norm for most people, and I agree with what you’re saying.

I think that realistically it takes being born into wealth or having a big financial windfall (startup being sold, entertainer, etc) to really retire with a middle class income at 40. Or, saving 90% of income from your job onward, and investing it a healthy rate of return after taxes and inflation. Again, not likely for most.


Kris August 4, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Squirreler- I totally agree that you have to either have an exceptional career or an exceptional inheritance to comfortably retire by the age of 40.

I will work on turning back the clock for both of us!


Little House August 4, 2010 at 6:24 pm

I’ll be 40 in two years and am definitely not in a position to retire. Now, I suppose even if I started saving like crazy now, decided to sell everything I own and maybe move into a Tumbleweed portable home, I could probably do it. Of course, if I sold everything I owned, then I wouldn’t have a vehicle to transport the Tumbleweed home. Maybe I could pull it on my bicycle. However, I’m pretty sure my husband would not go along with that plan. Looks like I’ll be working over the next 20-25 years!


Kris August 4, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Little House – maybe you and your bike should just live under a tree somewhere and you could then be retired!

Great comment!


Money Reasons August 4, 2010 at 6:41 pm

You had me chuckling all the way through your post 🙂

I think if you and your spouse make $150,000+ and live in a low living expenses area, it’s possible, but it would still be anemic retirement…

Personally, I wouldn’t want to do as they prescribe. I want to work to live, not live to work (yeah, we all heard this before, but it’s true).

If I’m lucky, by the time I’m 50 I might be much closer to semi-retirement. I don’t think I’d ever want to totally retire before I’m 70…

Great writeup, I really enjoyed this read!!


Kris August 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Money Reasons – thanks for the nice words!

I think a lot of people dream of early retirement, and then don’t know what to do with themselves once they are without a job. Retirement without a good financial foundation could be downright depressing!


Nicole August 4, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I just moved all my novels into the new guest bedroom from the old guest bedroom. It was depressing how many I hadn’t read yet. I’m pretty sure I could keep myself entertained without a job. The thing is, I need money for most of my hobbies. I’d be great at being independently wealthy… not so good at a retirement that requires freeganism to sustain it (though I am good at eating free food leftover after school functions…).


Money Reasons August 7, 2010 at 2:08 am

I use to read interesting novel, now I just read non-fiction (financial, and technical manuals… yuck huh). Perhaps that would be nice if my vision isn’t to far gone… or perhaps better yet, I’ll multi-task, getting audiobooks, while doing some volunteer work!

Yes, being rich enough to retire early would be a great, traveling would definitely be involved! 🙂


Young Mogul August 4, 2010 at 7:56 pm

…And I love how completely general the advice was. That article probably had to be the most useless information on early retirement ever written. I would love to be semi-retired by age 45. But, I’m in higher ed and semi-retired, for me, simply means having the summers off. I think it’s doable….


Kris August 4, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Young Mogul – that advice was generic, you are so right! To attach it to an idea that you could follow that advice and retire 25 years early was ludicrous to me.

Summers off would be nice!


Sandy L August 4, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I’ll be 40 in 2 years. My husband and I actually make a decent salary. Even with that though, we couldn’t do it with kids and aging parents to care for. Also, if you retire at 40, you have at least 20 more years of retirement that you must fund as well as additional health insurance costs. It’s just too hard and not worth it. I’d rather live in a decent house and take a nice vacation every year than retire a decade sooner.


Kris August 4, 2010 at 9:59 pm

My sentiments exactly Sandy!


Kevin@InvestItWisely August 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm

“I can’t imagine that getting that extra 2 percent a year, compounded over 18 years, is going to financially liberate anyone.)”

Actually, you’d be surprised, and as the years build up, it makes a bigger and bigger difference 😉

I liked this post, Kris. Many do seem to underestimate what is needed to truly be able to retire. However, I don’t think exactly the same way as they do. I don’t see myself just kicking back and relaxing… well, at least not without a laptop in my lap, for running online businesses. I am nowhere near that point, today, but if I get to the point where I could do that and still live decently, then I would consider that a form of retirement, even though I would still be working!


Kris August 5, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Kevin, I agree. If you are doing what you enjoy and at your own pace, then that probably would be a form of retirement.

I do know that a couple percent compounded will make a difference. But here, we are only talking about 18 years, and then you have 25 years of health care to cover, and 19 1/2 years before you can touch your IRA. That is a lot of cash that would need to be sitting around!


Kevin@InvestItWisely August 5, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Oof, so true about the retirement funds. I had forgotten that those can’t be touched before 65! (Well, at least in my case).

I have… 12 years to go if I want to retire by 40. I doubt I’d be able to do it like the article says since a significant portion of net worth would be tied up in retirement funds and the home, but I certainly don’t mind taking mini-retirements, and I don’t want to just sit back and do nothing anyways. How boring that would be!


Mike Hunt August 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

I am 37 and it’s possible to retire at age 40 as we live in SE Asia (though I am a US Citizen). The wife and I don’t have kids so we met one of your criteria, the other is that I have had a very lucky run in my career.

Our living expenses here per year are about $35K a year, and that is living very comfortably- regular weekends at nice resorts, international & regional travel, eating out 4-5 times a week. It helps that we fully own our place and there are no property taxes so the entire money is for disposable income.

We have saved up, in cash, about 40 years worth of living expenses at our current spending level so it would be possible to retire at age 40 or before. The only risk would be if we decide to have kids our living expenses would go up, and I would get nervous drawing down that money or having a bad luck incident reduce this cash cushion. It would be cutting it tight for sure, unless we can find another source of income by doing work later in life.



2million August 7, 2010 at 7:56 am

You have 40 years worth of living expenses in cash? $35k x 40yrs = $1.4M – thats a lot of cash. I’d say your in great shape to retire by 40 esp since it appears your living in a low cost area. Congrats!


Mike Hunt August 7, 2010 at 11:48 am

2 million,

Thanks. I don’t necessarily want to stay here for the rest of my life so we may well move to a higher cost of living area therefore my reluctance to retire at 40.

I guess I could retire if we did stay here though.



George August 7, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Retiring early is all about your savings rate. Spend only half your take-home income and it’s entirely possible to retire by 40 even with kids. If you give up some of the conventional dreams and save 75% of take-home income, it’s possible to retire by 30. See http://earlyretirementextreme.com


Financial Samurai August 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm

George, where does Jacob live?


Debbie M August 9, 2010 at 8:58 pm

He lives in California in an expensive part of the state. So he and his wife live in an RV. This required getting rid of all the clutter, but now everything is always handy!


Financial Samurai August 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Love the rant and the analysis! Have included this post in my latest wrap.




The Biz of Life August 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

Odds are you won’t be able to do it just with a salaried job, unless you are in the executive suite. So while you may not be able to give up the salaried job, you will have to branch out and find other ways to generate income and wealth.


Matt August 10, 2010 at 8:07 am

I’m 34, my wife & I are DINKs, and we make a middle-class income. No way I’ll retire by 40, but…we will have the mortgage paid off way before then. I think that would be key to any early retirement plan. Wish I’d been able to do it 10 years earlier, then I might be kissing this cube goodbye.


The Wealth Artisan September 9, 2010 at 9:04 am

Hey Kris,

I wish my articles could get featured on Yahoo with such basic information! I just wrote one, tell me what you think:

“How to become a millionaire by the end of the week!”

Step 1:
Buy a Lottery Ticket.

Step 2:
Cross Your Fingers.

Step 3:
Wait a few days.

Step 4:
Check to see if you’ve won.

Statistically, this article has a very good chance at changing someone’s life if enough people follow my advice. I hope it gets featured…



Kris September 9, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Timothy – I loved this! You could definitely become a writer for Yahoo Finance. I laugh at some of the articles they actually put out there.

Thanks for commenting!


retirebyforty October 17, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I’m going to retire from the corporate world by the time I’m 40. Doesn’t mean I will stop working.


Kris October 18, 2010 at 12:04 pm

RB40 – That would be great if you could get out of the corporate world and do what you want when you are 40. Congrats and good luck!


Doug December 13, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Some great information. The best part of retiring early is being able to choose what you do each day and that is priceless.


Kris December 13, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Doug, I agree, it would be wonderful to wake up everyday and feel like the world is your ‘oyster’. You gotta make sure you have the money to do it right!


Hilary August 13, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Thanks so much for sharing this. I have really been trying to study up on retirement planning in Olathe, KS… I know it’s a ways off, but I feel its still really good to plan for it!


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