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Dare to retire before 50

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Out of the mainstream
Extreme early retirement strikes a chord with people now more than in the past, says MSN personal finance columnist and author Liz Pulliam Weston. While going against the fearsome icon of the "company man" used to be part of the '60s counterculture, Weston says she's seeing a resurgence of the attitude among 20-somethings who are rejecting the consumerism that began in the 1980s.

"They want more than to be chained to their desks," she says, and they have more desire to redesign their career to have more personal meaning. Sometimes that means working until 65, but often shifting to careers that suit their changing mind-set.

Whether today's employees are enchanted with the idea of dropping out early or not, it's still a small group of people who can make it happen, says Weston.

"You have to be out of the mainstream to do this," she says, adding that in her experience, the successful extreme early retirees are "laser-like, and don't seem to care what people think."

Aside from an unwavering focus on their goal and an indifferent attitude toward amassing all the latest stuff, extreme early retirees can't be lumped into the same category. They run the gamut from young parents to singles and dual-income couples without children. Weston has talked to couples with as many as four children who are living in expensive areas of the country, as well as those who have no family ties and a cabin in the woods.

They share an excitement about their lives, a desire to spend time in pursuits that are meaningful to them, and often, an environmental conscience.

The simple life
All three traits apply to Aldridge and Lugenbehl, who retired more than a dozen years ago to an eight-acre parcel in Cottage Grove, Ore., with a starting nest egg of $135,000 each. They each contributed $50,000 to buy the land where they built their home, and the remainder is in CDs. They live on $400 a month and have a health insurance policy with a deductible of $7,500.

The money has remained conservatively invested in CDs.

"We like to sleep at night, so it's more important to us to know what's coming in, rather than to maximize the possible income," says Aldridge. "We've seen too many folks lose money rather than make money from their so-called investments."

Aldridge and Lugenbehl, who retired at ages 48 and 47, don't have a television and rarely eat out. Yet they don't feel like their life is lacking, says Aldridge.

"We are fortunate to have found what is enough for us. I feel so totally blessed with how much we have that I can't imagine wanting more. At this point, I'd have to say it's more than enough to meet our needs and our wants."

Tips for extreme early retirement 'wannabes'
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli, the "grandparents" of the extreme early retirement movement for baby boomers, share their mantra for those seeking to follow the same path: Work hard, spend little, save a lot and invest wisely. Their additional tips include:
Set spending and investment priorities now for the future.
Stay 100 percent out of debt, except for a mortgage.
Invest in stocks through index and mutual funds.
Use the compounding effect of time by investing early.
Seek a partner with the same financial values.
Next: "We have our youth and spirit of adventure."
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