How to retire early: 7 steps to take

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It’s no surprise that so many people wonder how to retire early. Even if you do work that you truly love, there’s little else that feels better than taking time off. And for most people, retirement is a milestone on the distant horizon that it feels like they can’t possibly reach it soon enough. The idea of having nothing but time on your hands as soon as possible is alluring.

Why do so many people want to retire early?

Better question: Why wouldn’t someone want to retire early? Again, perhaps you have a job that fills you with a profound sense of fulfillment, keeps you curious and engaged and challenged, that doesn’t drain you or make you feel too disconnected from the other parts of your life; maybe you have a job that you would happily do as long as your body and mind will physically allow you to do it. If that’s the case, congratulations! You’re decidedly in the minority. Throughout modern history, many people have looked forward to the moment when they could permanently clock out, even from the best jobs. Some of the perks of retirement include:

  • Pursuit of creative projects: If you ever wanted to write a book or pick up where that one amazing painting elective left off in college, there’s even more appeal to kicking off your work-free years sooner than later.
  • Spend more time with family and friends: A classic for a reason.
  • Travel: Instead of trying to fill your passport using just a few weeks of time off each year, early retirement means time for traveling.
  • Relax: The value of simply doing nothing can’t be overstated when it comes to retirement. For a lot of people, retirement isn’t about what they’ll do so much as what they plan not to do.

Aside from the blue-sky possibilities that pull people toward retirement, there’s also the stress and exhaustion that drive people away from work. As a whole, people with jobs have been burning out more and more each year — and the pandemic hasn’t helped. According to a recent Indeed poll of 1,500 workers from various age groups, experience levels and industry sectors found that burnout is rising: Over half (52 percent) of survey respondents report experiencing burnout in 2021, up from the 43 percent reporting the same in a pre-COVID-19 survey.

Whether you actually take an early retirement or not, there’s a considerable benefit to planning for an early retirement: You’ll be prepared in the event you have to retire early unexpectedly. If you don’t end up retiring early, then you’ll have that much more savings by the time you do retire.

How to plan for an early retirement: 7 steps you can take

If retiring ahead of time is a priority for you, and is feasible, here are seven steps you can take now to create an actionable plan.

1. Map out your retirement goals

Determining how much money you need to save for retirement depends on what you want your lifestyle in retirement to look like. Do you plan to live in a house you already own or that you expect to inherit, or are you hoping to move to a different city each year? Do you plan to travel frequently, indulge in fine dining, and live adventurously or extravagantly for some or all of your retirement? Or do you expect to just mostly hang out at home and grow an expansive garden and read books? There are no wrong answers when it comes to living your best life in retirement, but there are wildly different price points associated with these scenarios. Before you can plot your path to retire as early as possible, you need a clear idea of what resources you’ll need to support yourself.

2. Create a retirement budget (or a few of them)

Coming up with an overarching savings goal for retirement can lead to a large number that simply feels too theoretical to be useful when it comes to planning your life. Take the time to translate your overall savings into a monthly budget. Much in the same way you have a budget for your life now, you can create mock budgets to pinpoint what your spending could look like in retirement. This is where the aforementioned decisions about retirement lifestyle will come into play. Don’t feel limited to just one budget — make several budgets that paint different pictures of what your spending might look like.

3. Account for current savings and other assets

Take stock of what savings, investments and other assets, such as real estate, you currently have or expect to have in the future (for example, stock options you hold or assets you expect to inherit).

4. Think about any other big financial moments between now and retirement

Are you planning to buy a house? Send kids to college? Go back to school? Identify any milestones or expenses that could impact your savings and investment plans during the years between now and retirement and make sure these financial curveballs are factored into your financial future.

5. Talk to a financial advisor

Consulting a financial advisor for retirement planning is a prudent decision regardless of when you plan to retire. But if you’re attempting something unconventional such as an early retirement, it becomes even more crucial and time-sensitive. Consider looking for an advisor who is a CFP, or certified financial planner. When talking to a financial advisor, you can make sure you’re saving at the right pace and investing in all the best places to get you where you want to be within your desired time frame.

6. Evaluate the trade-offs

Between mapping out your ideal retirement lifestyle and assessing the necessary steps to get you there, you’ll likely have calculated multiple scenarios, each with its own pros and cons. Perhaps you can retire early if you buy a less expensive home, or if you hold off on retiring a bit longer, the bump in your retirement spending will be substantial enough to be worth working longer. The decision is ultimately yours.

7. Be prepared to make changes

No matter which scenario you choose, be prepared to make changes to your spending habits now to reach early retirement. There’s a reason few people retire early. For most people, pursuing early retirement means being single-mindedly focused on hitting this goal, forgoing nonessential near-term spending and just throwing every possible dollar into investments.

Written by
Jessica Blankenship
Contributing writer
Jessica Blankenship is a writer and editor who was previously the editorial director for Wealthfront.
Edited by
Senior editorial director
Reviewed by
Senior wealth manager, LourdMurray