I got an unexpected basket of good advice on a recent airplane trip. Traveling back home on a puddle-jumper from Virginia, the seats were even closer together than on the regular uncomfortable coach seats. It was a cozy setting to get to know your neighbor. That’s where I met Doug, an older gentleman who patiently waited while I got situated in my window seat. He asked if I would hold his coffee while he got squared away, and our conversation got started.
A new granddad
Doug was a very nice man in his late 60s. He was heading home to Philadelphia after a week-long visit with his daughter and her family. He had just met his newest granddaughter. She was barely six weeks old. She joins a big brother and two older cousins who live on the west coast. He mentioned that after the winter we had up north, maybe it was time to relocate. To that end, he wondered if he should move closer to one of his daughters and grandkids. Since they both live in much warmer climates, that sounded pretty good.
On the other hand, he likes his living arrangement in Philly. So much so that he thinks he’ll stay put for now and continue to fly out for visits several times a year.
Loving the decision to retire early
Doug is retired and “loving every minute” of it. Back in the late 1990s, he tinkered with the idea that he might like to retire early. He was approaching his 30-year work anniversary in fundraising and public relations. He kept a punishing schedule all those years while raising his girls. Doug knew he was ready for a quieter and more manageable life.
At the same time, he and his wife were divorcing. Further changes included his older daughter moving to California. And his younger daughter graduating from college. He decided it was time to reassess his situation. After taking stock of his priorities, wishes and wants, he surprised himself. Turns out he was very willing to give up a fair number of material things in order to retire early.
So, at 55, he retired. He sold his big house in the suburbs of Philadelphia and most of the furnishings. He opted for a 1-bedroom co-op in the heart of the city. It’s in a desirable area with public transportation, shopping, groceries, and activities right outside his door.
He sold his car and declared, “That was the best day of my life!” Doug does not miss that car, the commute or the traffic one bit. He has mastered the public transportation system and walks several miles most days. Doug says that making those changes, shedding all of his big material goods, was so liberating that he’s never once looked back.
Finding new joys in life
He found that he enjoys cooking and experiments with new recipes frequently. He goes to the market for fresh produce and new ideas two or three times a week. While never much of a recycler, he finds that he is now mindful of not wasting. Managing to a budget is not that hard, and it keeps him focused and more creative.
Doug’s daughters are clearly the light of his life. He has a new computer so that he can stay in close touch with his grandkids. They enjoy Skyping every week or so. He has become a fan of the frequent flier miles he accumulates on his credit card. Doug pays for everything on his rewards credit card and manages to get several trips on miles each year.
His circle of friends continues to expand. Between meeting new people in his building and at events he attends in the city, his social life is fulfilling. He also stays in touch with many colleagues and friends from his working years.
Doug keeps close tabs on what’s going on in Philadelphia. It’s amazing how many activities are free. There are events at the public library and museums in the area that he attends. Lectures and concerts are at the top of his list.. He’s not so interested in online courses or MOOCs. He didn’t move to the city to “stay cooped up in his co-op.” Doug says that it’s important to develop new interests and stay very active. Especially if you retire early.
You can retire early
Doug is clearly passionate about retirement. He said that more people can retire early if they are just willing to give up some of their things.
“People think they need a lot more money in retirement than they really need,” Doug told me.
He has a small pension and Social Security. Yet he still has money left at the end of the month. He encouraged me to take a close look at what I really want as I move into my mid-50s. He said that he simply “loves the freedom” that retirement affords him.
I think Doug might just be on to something. I’ll have to dig deeper into my plan and ask some of the hard questions. What am I really willing to give up? What am I willing to trade for a simpler, freer lifestyle? Where would I really like to live? And, do I really need a swimming pool at my new house?
How about you? What would you be willing to give up to retire early?
Resources to help you decide if you can retire early:
6 criteria to use as a guideline
3 calculators for estimating your early retirement from an early retiree
Some good tips for 50-somethings to get their financial house in order before retiring