We May Never Be Early Retirees, but We’re Shooting for Financial Independence Anyway

They say that comparison is the thief of joy.

There are a lot of bloggers who’ve gotten much attention from their ability to retire in their 30’s or earlier. While it is absolutely possible and I love their decision to do so, there are a few scenarios that help them to achieve that goal easier than the average person or family.

Most of those who retire in their 30’s do so because they’ve been fortunate enough to choose lucrative careers that bring in six figures for both spouses, $100,000+ after taxes. With a savings rate of 75% or higher, they are still able to live on an enjoyable $50,000 after taxes. I would consider that a rather luxurious lifestyle compared to how we chose to live today.

We barely break $80,000 after taxes combined. If we saved 75% of our income, we’d live off of $20,000 per year. While we do actually only live off of around >$20,000 per year minus the mortgage, we’d be hard pressed to find a space for under $600 in our living area to rent and have more than 1 bedroom for our family in a safe neighborhood.

We just are not able to get to that high of a savings rate no matter how hard we try. Should I be ashamed of that?

We’re educators and public workers, but not the fortunate ones to soak up the high salaries at the top (maybe one day?). We make a decent salary, but by no means will it lead to a quick and supple retirement before we turn 40 like so many early retirees. Instead, it might lead to at least being mortgage free.

We’ve optimized all of our bills. Cut cable. Cut cell phones. Vigilantly watch our food budget. Don’t buy many clothes, but we do love renovation projects.

We’ve bought a reasonable house in a safe neighborhood that was less expensive than renting. Our previous town home was more expensive and smaller. We lost tens of thousands in the sale, and at the time we lived next to renters that would change over on a whim from drug dealer to gang member and back. Living in that situation put a dark cloud over renting in any area for us. If we wanted to live in a better neighborhood, it was actually cheaper to buy than rent in this economy. Plus, I was able to get our utility bills and our monthly costs to be the same. Go me.

We’re saving pretty much every last penny we have. We work extra jobs to bring in side income to pay off our mortgage. We fill our IRAs. Still, our prospective retirement age is around 50 for early retirement. Or what I’m focusing on now instead: Financial Freedom or Finanacial Independence.

Early Retirement has the ring to it that you’ll stop working and never lift a finger again. While we don’t plan to do that when we reach that age, we do plan to be financially free. Financial Freedom means that you are no longer required to work to support your lifestyle, so you are free to choose how to spend your time; working, passions, or sleeping on the couch.

If we started our frugal journey sooner, spent less, and optimized our bills years ago or not bought the house we were trapped in for almost a decade when we were young and unaware of markets tanking, maybe we’d be in a different situation. I get mad at my old self for not waking up to our financial situation sooner or making better choices when we first graduated college. I feel sad that I see others reach their FI goals so quickly, in a matter of 5 years sometimes, when ours will be a few decades or more.

Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time we followed what we thought was good advice. It turned out bad, and from that, we learned our lesson and are more cautious of anyone’s advice popular or not. We question all decisions and focus on our priorities, not those others say we should have.

In the end, I guess I want to show that you can do it no matter what your income level is. We don’t make as much as the early early retirees, but we’re still trying. We paid off our student loans, car loans, and paid off an underwater house.

We put off buying things we want now, to fund our future later. Delaying gratification has not always been easy, but with each passing year, it appears to be a comfortable place we live. Future self will thank us.

Retiring around 50 years old or within a few years of that age to me is still retiring earlier than most we know to be planning to do. By that time as well, we’ll be well prepared for whatever the change is in the economy, healthcare costs, or other concerns that affect retirement. Maybe 50 isn’t as snappy a headline, but it sure sounds amazing to us.

I realize we are so fortunate to even be in the position we’re in right now. It took a good deal of hard work, but also steady careers and luck when the market turned downward. Frugal living is the spark that made it all possible, and now it’s just how we exist.

Buy less, save more. We truly don’t need that much to live. I might even venture to think when we reach FI we might just sell it all and build a tiny home which would add to our net worth significantly. Hmm… maybe we should shoot for a tiny home sooner.

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