Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.
Early retirement is a dream for many Americans, but one that few are sure they’ll be able to reach. In fact, the Boston College Center for Retirement Research has found that the average retirement age has actually risen to 65.7 for college-educated men and 62.8 for college-educated women (while remaining at around 62 for high school graduates).
So, is the secret to early retirement to skip college and retire by 62? Mmmm … no. (There are quite a few dynamics contributing to those different average retirement ages — mainly forced retirement because of the difficulty of the work — and they don’t reflect whether the retirees are actually prepared for a secure future or not.)
Besides, an early retirement to you might mean quitting work well before you are 62. You may even be asking if you can retire in your 50s, 40s or even earlier.
How can you attain this dream of a life where you control your time as soon as possible? There are many ways to achieve early retirement successfully.
Whether you equate early retirement with the youngest age you can begin collecting Social Security (currently 62) or much, much younger, here are 29 early retirement tips, tricks and hacks to get there as soon as possible.
1. Start by Figuring Out a Target Amount of Savings You Might Need for an Early Retirement
Creating a financial plan for an early retirement can be complicated because it will differ dramatically depending on at what age you’d like to retire — and literally hundreds of other criteria that can be difficult to predict and will shift and change over the years.
So, find a tool, like the NewRetirement Planner, that will enable you to build a detailed plan with what you have and your assumptions now, but with which you can also try out different scenarios. You’ll also want to be able to make changes over time.
A lot of the early retirement tips below will deal with ways to save more. But know that your current and future income, current and future expenses and hundreds of other financial factors will determine how much you actually need and when you can retire securely.
2. Understand Why You Want to Retire — What Do You Want to Do?
Retiring early is about money. However, it is also about time. When you retire, you are trading dependence on earning money for the freedom of spending your time however you like.
Therefore, it is important to know what you want to do with your life once you are free from the shackles of your job. And, knowing where you are going can be very motivating.
Many people retire to get away from something, then realize that they need to reinvent themselves and figure out how to spend their time.
You may find that you will have a more successful early retirement if you have a plan for what you want to do.
3. Eliminate Debt
Debt weakens one of your most powerful wealth-building tools: your income. Payments toward debt reduce your cash flow. This cuts into the amount of money you have available to save and invest for or spend in retirement.
So, perhaps the most obvious early retirement tip is to get out of debt, and that starts with paying off high-interest credit cards.
Make a list of all debts, ordered from highest to lowest interest rate. Prioritize paying off the highest-rate debt first. Meanwhile, reduce your spending, so you don’t continue to add to your debt balances.
The sooner you stop overspending and start paying down existing debt, the sooner that money can be redirected to saving for retirement.
4. Establish Passive Income Streams
So many early retirement tips deal with savings, but there is only so much you can stash away. And, there is the conundrum that the earlier you retire, the more savings you need to fund the extra years in retirement, UNLESS you have reliable sources of retirement income.
But, income usually involves work, and work is what you are trying to get away from.
The solution is “passive income.” Passive income streams are income sources that you benefit from without too much effort — the money just flows in.
If this sounds too good to be true, it is time to learn more! Here are more than 50 ideas for passive income. From real estate investing to side gigs and beyond, passive income could be key to your early retirement.
5. Get a Handle on Your Current Spending
You can’t know whether you can retire early if you don’t really know what you’re spending now.
You probably have a good idea about where some of your money goes. But the rest of it can surprise you. To retire early (securely), you need to track your current spending as closely as a mother tracks her kids’ whereabouts.
To get a handle on where your money is going now, sign up for a free finance tracking service like Mint. Create your own spreadsheet to track income versus expenses.
6. Cut Expenses Now
If you want to retire early, you might need to make some short- and long-term sacrifices. Dramatically cutting expenses benefits you in several ways:
- It frees up more money to pay down debt and set aside for savings.
- It conditions you to live on less money — which will come in handy when you lose earnings in retirement.
- It reduces the amount of money you require to live on, thus lowering the amount you need to save (the “slingshot effect”).
Relentlessly look for ways to cut costs, like any spending on subscriptions you don’t use, services you don’t need, dining out, expensive entertainment or even your utility bills (wear a sweater or take shorter showers).
In addition to cutting small expenses, get in the habit of periodically shopping around on larger expenses such as home repairs, car insurance and cellphone plans.
7. Shift Your Mindset on Spending
You can learn to be thrifty, even if frugality is not your nature.
However, if you are having a hard time reducing your spending, you might want to shift your mindset.
- Don’t think about saving as depriving yourself.
- Instead, turn the sacrifice into a benefit. Consider saving money as empowering yourself to control when you retire and how well you’ll live afterward. It is about what you are gaining, not about what you are losing.
- Think of it this way: You are buying your freedom with every single dollar you stash away.
8. Translate Your Spending Into the Equivalent Early Retirement Time
Some people aiming for an early retirement have no problem scrimping and saving in all aspects of their life. But, that is not true of everyone.
If you aren’t sure about cutting back, try translating your spending into the equivalent early retirement time.
For example, take the often cited coffee example. A quick fast-food cup usually costs less than $2 but adds up to around $500 a year. If you indulge in a specialty coffee, that annual amount could easily double or even triple to $1,500.
Yes, that is a lot of money, but what does it mean in terms of early retirement time? Well, depending on your retirement budget, $1,500 might represent an entire week of retirement!
Which is worth more to you: a week more of early retirement or a year’s load of double iced vanilla lattes? (Wait. Think carefully, and drink your home-brewed morning cup before answering!)
9. Know the Rules for Being Able to Tap Retirement Savings Early
One big challenge for figuring out how to fund an early retirement is how to tap into retirement savings. One problem is that most of the retirement savings vehicles — namely traditional 401(k) plans and IRAs — enforce a 10% penalty for any withdrawals made before age 59.5.
10. Create Your Long-Term Retirement Budget
This early retirement tip requires you to look into your future. Thinking carefully about what you will need and want to spend when you are retired can possibly help you get there earlier.
After all, the less you need to spend in the future, the less savings you will actually need to retire.
11. Have a Solid Retirement Investment Plan
It is not good enough to save money for an early retirement. You also need to have a solid investment plan. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to outsmart the market, trade every day or find a hot stock tip.
On the contrary, you just need a strategy that keeps you ahead of inflation and doesn’t put the money you will need at risk.
12. Make Sure You Have a Plan for Staying Engaged and Active in Retirement
Some studies show that an early retirement predicts a shorter lifespan.
The reason? Having a place to go, people to see and a reason for being are all critical to staying mentally, emotionally and physically healthy.
Before you retire early, make sure you have a plan for staying engaged.
13. Plan for Health Care Costs — Especially Insurance for Before You Qualify for Medicare
One of the biggest drawbacks to an early retirement is how to fund health care before you qualify for Medicare, usually at age 65.
Self-insuring health coverage in your 40s, 50s and 60s can be prohibitively expensive. Learn more about your early retirement insurance options.
14. Adopt Healthy Habits
Adopting healthy habits can help you live longer and minimize your out-of-pocket health expenditures. Eat well, exercise, minimize stress, stay social and have a purpose in life for better overall health.
15. Dramatically Reduce What You Spend on Housing
Housing costs are usually — by far — the single biggest expenditure for any household. Reducing what you spend on your home can go a long way toward helping you achieve an early retirement.
Conventional advice is to keep housing costs at no more than 30% of your income. If you want to retire early, you should aim as low as 15% to 20%. That may mean moving to a more affordable city and avoiding homes that are large and high-maintenance.
Downsizing, refinancing your mortgage or getting a reverse mortgage (if you want to stay put) are options for eliminating or reducing your housing costs and even releasing equity to use for your retirement expenses.
16. Go Smaller — Even Tiny!
Maybe you need a four-bedroom house with three baths, a three-car garage and, of course, a gazebo. Can’t forget the gazebo.
But then again, maybe you don’t.
If your home is more than you need, selling it and scaling down could dramatically reduce your living expenses and help you add more to your retirement savings.
Some retirees are even embracing the tiny home trend.
17. Want an Early Retirement? Plan for Retirement Abroad
If you are adventurous, maybe the best early retirement tip is to consider moving abroad.
Living in some foreign countries can dramatically reduce your expenses and therefore the amount of savings you need for a secure retirement.
Here are 12 tips for how to retire abroad.
18. Keep Increasing Your Savings Rate
Every time you cut an expense, get a bonus or free up money in your budget one way or another, make sure that money is redirected to either:
- Paying down debt
- Saving for retirement
19. Plan for a Retirement Job
For many early retirees, retirement isn’t really about never working again. It is about having time and freedom to pursue hobbies, start a business or travel.
The right retirement job can provide an income stream and maybe even the opportunity to do what you want to do. Can you get paid for what you are passionate about?
Part-time employment is another option, and it isn’t just fast food and retail jobs. Many websites have popped up in the past few years offering to connect experienced professionals to part-time and flexible jobs. Check out Flexjobs.com, RetirementJobs.com and Indeed.com for work that matches your skillset and interest.
In your talks with potential employers, make it clear exactly what you are after. Be upfront that you are in the market for part-time or flexible work. While you might have concerns that this level of honesty will harm your chances of getting hired, it can actually help you.
Employers may be reassured that you’re not just looking for a job to hold you over until something better comes along. They may also like the idea of getting someone with your experience at a lower rate since you’ll be working fewer hours.
Another option? Start your own business, and work on your own terms.
20. Retire Early … but Only Temporarily
For a long time, the “norm” was working for 40+ years, then taking the time to enjoy yourself. But with more people working well into retirement age, why not find a way to inject bursts of freedom and fun into your career path?
Consider taking a sabbatical or a career break for a few months or a year. Some companies provide formal sabbatical programs for employees, meaning the time off may be paid or unpaid, but the employee will have a job to return to. Other employers don’t offer formal sabbatical programs.
You may be able to request an unpaid leave of absence to travel or just try out the work-free world for a while.
Pick a date and duration for your break. Don’t just think about “someday.” Make it concrete. Then start planning your finances: paying off debt, reducing expenses and planning for covering expenses while you’re on your break.
Next, figure out what you want to do with this time. Do you want to travel, volunteer, try a new career, write a novel or work on projects around the house that you started but never had time to finish?
Don’t take a career break without a plan for spending your time. Doing nothing for several months will likely just lead to boredom and depression.
21. Don’t Assume That an Early Retirement Means Starting Social Security Early
Many people think that starting Social Security as early as possible is a good way to achieve an early retirement.
However, while you get a boost in income when you start taking your Social Security benefits, the earlier you start, the lower your monthly benefit amount will be — for life.
The lower benefit amount usually means that you will earn less total money over your lifetime if you start early rather than waiting.
22. Earned an Income Bump? Increase Your Savings Rate (Not Your Spending)!
Getting a raise might be one of the most satisfying experiences. You work hard, and a bump up in pay shows that the company really notices and appreciates your efforts.
But what if you hadn’t gotten the raise? Would you suddenly be financially destitute? Probably not.
Every time you receive a raise, increase your savings contribution percentage. It might help to reset how you think about raises. Can you transform your thinking to believe that the raise is really intended to help you in the future, not now?
If you genuinely need more money now, can you at least devote a percentage of the raise to retirement savings?
23. Make Savings Automated
There are different approaches to how to save for retirement:
- Some people don’t think too much about saving — they just hope it happens. This type of saver might deposit their paychecks and hope that something is leftover as savings.
- Some people consciously deposit money into dedicated retirement savings accounts.
- Others automate the process. They deduct savings from their paycheck and automatically add them to existing investments.
So, which is the best way to save for an earlier retirement? Automating your savings is proven to be the most effective way to ensure that you actually save. You don’t have to think about it, it just happens — no hassle, no excuses.
Your human resources department or your bank can help you set up an automated system.
24. Shift Payments to Savings Once a Bill Is Gone
Is there anything more exciting than paying off a bill? Maybe it’s a car, or maybe it’s a credit card. Whatever you’ve buckled down and paid off in full, shift that payment amount into savings before you grow accustomed to having it available to spend.
Jack Coleman for Daily Finance calls it the lifestyle creep. You got along just fine while paying off the debt.
You’ll get along just fine without adding the payment amount back into your usable income once that debt is paid off.
Some payments can make a huge difference.
If you’re paying a few hundred dollars monthly for a vehicle, your retirement savings will jump nicely every month once you’ve redirected that amount into your future.
25. Save More When the Kids Fly the Coop!
If you have kids, I don’t need to remind you that they are big expenses!
No matter if you are happy or sad about the empty nest, all of us should definitely use this as an opportunity to save more for retirement.
With fewer mouths to feed, a newly empty nest is a great time to increase the amount of money you contribute to your retirement savings.
26. Getting a Tax Refund? Put It Into Your Retirement Savings
If you are lucky enough to get a tax refund, this is an excellent opportunity to boost your retirement savings.
Sure, there is a lot you could spend the money on, but why not invest in your future security and happiness?
27. Pay Attention to Taxes
Taxes can add or subtract thousands of dollars from your bottom line each year. Reducing your tax expense can enable you to save more for an early retirement.
And, planning your future taxes carefully now for after you retire can help you feel more secure.
A few quick early-retirement tax tips:
- Living in a state with a high tax rate (looking at you, California)? Consider relocating to a state with a low tax rate — especially once you retire.
- When it comes time to take withdrawals from your retirement savings accounts, monitor your tax bracket very carefully.
- Be careful to take mandatory withdrawals after age 72, and be careful about early withdrawals.
28. Know How to Turn Savings Into Income
A lot of the planning for an early retirement involves saving and investing. However, when you retire, it is time to turn those assets into income.
This can be challenging. Not only is it psychologically difficult to switch from saving to spending, but it is also just plain difficult to know how to invest and withdraw savings efficiently to last your lifetime — no matter how long that turns out to be.
Luckily you have options. Here are 18 retirement income strategies. Find what works best for you.
29. Take Advantage of Catch-Up Retirement Savings
Once you have figured out the best way to cut your current expenses, you will be better able to start taking advantage of catch-up retirement savings. Catch-up contributions are the IRS’s way of making it easier for savers age 50 and up to tuck away enough retirement savings.
You probably already know that there’s a limit to how much you’re allowed to save in tax-advantaged retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k) plans.
Well, once you reach age 50, you’re allowed to make additional “catch-up” contributions over and above those annual contribution limits.
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