★ My Retirement Renaissance

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[Please welcome special guest Steve from ThinkSaveRetire today!]

There once was a dude from the southeast who thought that life could be broken down into a few simple constructs: get a job, buy stuff, retire and die.  Yep, that dude was me (pictured above).

Early retirement?  Not in the cards.  401k retirement plan?  Sure, but only the minimum.  Retirement was the furthest thing from my mind.  After all, I had stuff to pay for!

From a young age, I was off to a great start.  This is my story, a look into my life as a very standardized American with first world “white people problems”, and how I managed to escape that wretched cycle of waste.  Are you ready?  Let’s go.

The year was 2004, and I scored a good, high-paying job right out of college.  On top of the world, I quickly slipped into a careless life of spend some, save less – the typical American lifestyle.  In fact, I sunk half my first year’s salary into a 1999 Corvette convertible (yes, “America’s sports car”) the first year out of college – I bought it used, but it was still a car that I didn’t need.  Unfortunately, “need” had nothing to do with it.

Each day I went to work to bring home the almighty paycheck, and proceeded to dump about $25,000 into upgrades for that car.  We’re talking a supercharger, full long tube headers, red calipers, race camshaft, loud catback exhaust – the whole 9 yards.  I drove one of the loudest and fastest cars around.

That car was sweet.  It felt good.

The Corvette was nice.  But man, that Dodge Viper might actually be nicer.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to cruise around in one of those?  How about both a Viper and a BMW 750 so I can choose whether I want speed or luxury?  Everyone would think that I’m super successful!  The spiral was forming.

I then started the crazy lifestyle of eating out, a LOT.  I’m talking about lunch and dinner every day. Every.  Damn.  Day.  Not a day went by that I wasn’t standing in line at the local Chipotle, or sitting down to a lovely dinner at Chilis or some other steakhouse in town.  Between $20 and $80, daily, money out the door.

That was the life, or so I thought.  A fast car, delicious food every day without the responsibility of preparation or cleanup and a high paying job.  Oh, and let’s estimate about 50 pounds of additional unhealthy fat around my waist to boot.

Hell, who needs retirement?

It doesn’t stop there.  About 7 years ago I moved out to the southwest and straight into the suburbs.  My commute was about 40 minutes each way, but who cares?  I have a Corvette and a Cadillac STS hand-me-down from my family.  I could manage it.  I make good money, and gas prices aren’t so bad.  Let’s do it!

Then, a serious problem arose.  You see, my STS was a ’97, and she was getting quite old.  Sure, it still drove just fine, but I needed (yes, “NEEDED”) something newer.  A few weeks down the road I came rolling into my driveway with a brand new Cadillac CTS.  A $40k car and a 40 minute commute from the suburbs into work?  No sweat, I can afford it!  This is America, damn it.

I was a true American and living a life of excess.  But even with all my “stuff”, I had nothing to show for it.  I saved only the bare minimum for retirement.  I was setting myself up to work for the rest of my life.  I suppose that I was planning on using my Social Security to retire on, and whatever else I happened to let slip through my grasp in paltry voluntary savings would serve as a bonus.  Yay!

When was retirement for me?  I don’t know, maybe around 70.  Honestly, I wasn’t worried about it.

Then, something happened.  Something profound that would fundamentally change my life.  I suddenly realized what true happiness was all about.

Once my 30s reared its ugly head, I began reflecting on my “stuff”, and I asked some questions who’s answers I was particularly afraid of.  What was all this stuff for?  Is it making my life any better?  So what if I’m rolling down the street in the fastest car in a 50-square mile radius.  And, who wants to waste nearly two hours of their life, every day, driving to and from work?  This was crazy!

Around the same time, I began reading investment blogs (hat tip: Mr. Money Mustache) and learned how frighteningly easy it is to create a retirement plan that prioritizes true happiness out of life.  The more I read, the more convinced I became that the way that I was living was, to say the least, destroying my future.

I was killing my future self.  I was prolonging the drudgery of a 9 to 5 job and nearly solidifying my dismal fate of working until 65 or 70.

There came a day where I finally said to myself: Screw this, I’m done.

My Retirement Renaissance

I maxed out my retirement contributions.  I got married to my beautiful wife who, like me, wants to retire before we hit 36 (that’s next year!).  Instead of playing fast and loose with hundreds of thousands of combined dollars every year from our salaries, we sock her’s away completely and live entirely off of mine and still save a good portion of mine.

We aren’t perfect.  In fact, we’re far from it.  But, life does not demand perfection.  Nobody needs to be perfect to retire early and enjoy their formidable and active years doing whatever it is that they truly enjoy.

I, for one, know that sitting in front of a computer screen all day is not my idea of lifetime happiness.  Now, I no longer work for the spendable cash, but for the benefit of our futures.  I don’t care about promotions.  I don’t care about company politics or getting “face time” in front of the right folks.   This only sets people up for more work, longer hours and fewer relaxation days.

I turn down more jobs now than I ever imagined I would years ago.  I’m not looking for a lifetime of stress and responsibility in business.  Not any more.  In fact, I quit my job as a Director of Information Technology at a not-for-profit last year, where my commute was about 30 minutes each way.

I found a job where I can work from home, completely eliminating the hours of driving time typical of years passed.  I get up in the morning and wander over to my workstation and put in a day’s work, then immediately start enjoying my time once work is through.  No drive home.  No stressful commute.  No $40/week gas bills.

I appreciate what makes me happy in life.  Like a punch in the face, my life has been transformed into one that makes the best out of virtually any situation, and I no longer stress over things that I cannot control.

Spending 10 hours a day at work to impress some boss?  Nope.

Tacking on miles to my car every damn day commuting to and from work?  Nope.

Spending $200 a week on restaurant food?  Nope.

I got a late start into this way of living, and I am still not perfect, but late is definitely better than never.  I am 34 years old and plan to retire next year.

This is my story.

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About the author: Steve is the founder of ThinkSaveRetire.com – a site where he shares ideas and techniques on how to retire from your 9-5 job and start to enjoy the virtues that life has to offer.  His philosophy: none of us were made to work 8 to 10 hours a day for nearly 75% of our lives!

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13 thoughts on “★ My Retirement Renaissance”

  1. I’m so impressed with your huge turnaround! I also started out as a spender in my early 20s. It kind of kills me to think of all the money I wasted, but lesson learned I guess! I still think figuring it out in your late 20s is much better than never! Sadly, some people never figure it out. :-(

    1. Thanks Dee! Appreciate the kind words – turning my lifestyle around was definitely the best decision that I’ve ever made, and the closer that we get to retirement, the happier I am that I recognized the problem and active decided to work towards a solution. :)

    1. Trust me, me either! I’m sure after the first year I’ll be able to write a book about all the mistakes that we made, but hey, that’s all a part of life! I am definitely looking forward to learning this new lifestyle, and it can’t come soon enough.

  2. Nice work!! that is a really nice step up in your NW basis for a 1 – year period. I was hoping to increase my NW by $100K this year.. but with only 1 income going into that equation…. My goal was very lofty and I’m going to come up a bit short… By I’m gaining some traction with dividends and passive income so maybe I can produce that $100K increase I’m looking for in 2016.

    1. Thanks Tim! For a single income, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saving in the neighborhood of $100k. Keep saving like that and I bet you’ll be ready to retire before plan. You’re building exactly the kind of lifestyle now that you will need once financial independence hits, and that’s a truly wonderful thing.

    1. Thanks DP, appreciate the comment. You’re right, and admitting to your mistakes is really the first step in changing course and bettering your life. If you can’t admit where you went astray, then “going astray” will be your lifestyle choice! :)

  3. Hope you can help me, as I find your blog fascinating and encourages me to further take a baby step toward early retirement. My situation is probably not unique, but I am.
    I am 50 years old, single and have relocated 4x in 12 years, for various corporate marketing positions. However, I desire to get off that corporate treadmill.
    I have about $750k in retirements sheltered in tax free accounts, but cannot touch till i am 59.5 years old. So, that leaves me about $250k in taxable accounts, that I can live on or make down payment on retirement home or possibly an AirStream. Im not sure where I want to live, but somewhere on west coast of Florida. Question is, can I do it now or must I wait? My only concern is really health insurance. Can you point me to other early retirement resources for single and 50?

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