FAQ Check: My Early Retirement Tell All

A big part of my story is about early retirement.

Late in 2016, I retired from full-time work. I quit my well-paying job in information technology and hopped into an Airstream travel trailer with my wife and two dogs and started traveling the country.

As someone who quit the rat race pretty early in life, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. And accused of just as much. The fact is people assume that I simply fell into money through an inheritance or won the lottery because, well, there’s just no way I did all this on my own.

I’ve had a lot of help along the way, but that’s also not the whole story.

Today, I’m putting together a complete FAQ of everything that I’ve been asked since retiring early from full-time work at such an early age. This article was super fun to write, and I can only hope it’s half as much fun to read. Alright, here we go!

How much did you make when you worked full-time?

Both my wife and I held IT positions and pulled in a combined $250,000 a year by the end of our careers. I started my first job pullin’ down $55,000 straight out of college.

And, I didn’t have any student loans, which drastically helped me avoid massive debt straight out of college.

How much are you making after retirement?

Both my wife and I are retired early and no longer work full-time. We do, however, maintain several online projects like our YouTube channel and our How To Plan Your Epic RV Adventure course.

In 2018, we generated $43,000 by pursuing those passion projects. In 2019, we generated substantially more through the sale of Think Save Retire, but that’s definitely a one-time windfall and did not play into our decision to retire early from full-time work.

How can I possibly relate to you guys if you were making hundreds of thousands a year?

Maybe you can’t, and that’s okay.

The words that I write won’t be equally appropriate for absolutely everyone. If you’re looking for a blogger who’s saving for early retirement on a modest salary and dealing with tough times, then my story won’t be what you’re looking for.

In fact, other than the fact that we called it quits early and live in a 200 square foot Airstream (as well as an 800 square foot off-grid house in the desert), there’s nothing all that special about us. We aren’t your “rags to riches” story. We’re just a couple of people who wanted something different out of life.

Our desert-based off-grid home

Have either of you struggled at all in your lives?

Basically, no.

Both my wife and I were born into loving and supportive families, which has been a huge help in getting to where we are today.

Like I said before, we don’t represent your typical “rags to riches”, pull yourself up by the bootstraps story.

Both of our parents, however, came from very modest backgrounds. My dad worked his way up through the military by earning two masters degrees and joining the private sector in the 90s. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met.

Courtney’s family went through bankruptcy when she was younger. Her dad spent several years working overseas to build his family back up from disaster to achieve remarkable success through incredibly hard work, sacrifice and determination.

We’ve both seen first hand how truly life-changing hard work can be.

Is it true that you don’t believe in privilege?

That is not true. I believe in privilege, though I don’t believe that privilege is the primary motivating factor that enables early retirement. It absolutely helps, but it also doesn’t just hand you a lifetime of automatic success on a silver platter.

I was fortunate to have been born into a loving and supportive family where all my needs were met. I never had to worry about my next meal. I’ve enjoyed relatively good health. And, I freely admit that this fortune helped me tremendously.

However, one does not need to experience my level of fortune to retire early. I know plenty of early retirees who struggled for everything they have. Early retirement was tougher for them, but they still achieved that goal.

I acknowledge the advantages that I’ve had in my life, but I don’t want anyone reading the blog to assume that you need to live a “privileged life” to accomplish your goals.

Aren’t you too young to be retired?

I certainly don’t believe so!

It’s amazing what earning two high salaries in information technology can do if you’re smart with your money.

Both my wife and I started with some cash accumulated over about 10 working years (less than half of what we ended up with when I retired). Then, we saved 70% of our income for several years after getting married and combining our finances.

That adds up!

Granted, I do consulting work on the side and am involved in several projects that generate revenue, but those things were a complete surprise to me in early retirement. I hadn’t planned on having that income, though I’ll never turn down positive cash flow.

So, you’re not really putting that whole 4% rule that most financial bloggers talk about to the test, are you?

Correct, we’re not at the moment. After retiring early, we discovered a whole world of opportunity out there that we had no idea existed. These things include opportunities to pull in money and we are pursuing many of those ideas. This blog is definitely not a blog that puts the 4% guideline to the test – at least yet.

Do you actually believe that anyone can retire early?

Not exactly. I do believe that if you live in the first world, then almost anyone can retire early. Keep in mind that “early retirement” doesn’t necessarily mean at 35. Or even 45. In my view, calling it quits at 55 is still early retirement – a good 10 years before the average retirement age in the United States.

While not everyone will be able to retire at 35, I believe that early retirement is within grasp of way more people than society cares to recognize.

You do understand that not everyone wants to live in a 200 sqft trailer and travel, right?

I do. And, this makes it especially fortunate that my blog isn’t a “How to” when it comes to retirement. Instead, this blog chronicles our journey and should not be viewed as some guide or authoritative resource on exactly what you need to do to achieve financial independence and early retirement. There are different ways to achieve the same goal.

This is ours.

How much money do you spend in retirement?

On average, we’re spending $45,000 to $50,000 a year. We could easily cut that back if the market decides that it’s time to crash.

How big is your emergency fund?

We keep around three years of living expenses in an Ally savings account for emergencies. We will also use some of this money if the market crashes during a recession to avoid selling during a down market.

What are you going to do when the market tanks?

Adjust, of course.

My wife and I designed a budget where over a third of our expenses is entirely discretionary. In other words, these are expenses that we don’t absolutely need. If times get tough, we can free up thousands of dollars just by cutting back on our discretionary spending, like restaurants and breweries, camera gear and day trips that require diesel for our truck.

What are you doing in retirement?

Arguably, I am busier in retirement than I was working a full-time job.

Of course, I spend a lot of time maintaining this blog. I write for national publications like MarketWatch and The Ladders.

My wife and I run a YouTube channel about travel and living small. We also hike and explore this wonderful country of ours for at least half the year in our 2005 Airstream Classic, named Charlie.

Wait, so you’ve monetized your blog, the YouTube channel and do consulting work. Are you really retired?

I am, though I like to use the phrase “retired from full-time work” as a more accurate description of what I do. Whether or not I’m “truly” retired is a question that the retirement police will gladly answer, but for me, it doesn’t make a lot of difference. I consider myself retired even though I pursue activities that I find enjoyable – even if those activities earn us some cash.

If blogging is your passion, why are you monetizing it?

Good question, and here’s the deal. I put up my first website in 1997 (or it could have been ’98). Since then, I’ve “passion-blogged” like hell. I’ve written a TON of material for free and spent countless hours building sites just for the fun of it.

Basically, I’m kinda over passion blogging. At this point in my life, I’ve switched gears a bit and focused more on what’s possible.

Until I built Think Save Retire, I hadn’t ever monetized a blog. Not a single one. Every site has been 100% ad-free and supported by my blood, sweat, and tears…as they say. But, I just don’t feel the same level of satisfaction with that any longer. Probably because I’ve been blogging for so long. Been there, done that, and have the t-shirt.

Now, I’m pushing the envelope a bit. I’m setting money goals for myself – both with the blog as well as the YouTube channel. While we aren’t in this just for the money, it’s become a goal that keeps me focused on producing high-quality content and actively striving for bigger and better things.

What are you doing about healthcare?

My wife and I are in the unique position of being happy and healthy. Though healthcare is easily the most costly expense for most retirees, it’s not for us because we’ve chosen Liberty Health Share instead of traditional health coverage.

The idea behind health shares revolves around healthy people who lead relatively healthy lives. No smoking. No excessive drinking. Costs are shared among the members of the health share, but due to the healthy lifestyles of its members, costs remain quite low.

We pay $299 for both my wife and me, combined.

Another element to consider: As travelers, traditional healthcare in the United States was much too expensive. We don’t have the luxury of finding primary care physicians in our hometown because we do not have a hometown.

When we travel, we need the ability to see any doctor, in any part of the country, at any time. Traditional healthcare can’t compete with health shares in terms of cost on this front. We need mobile health coverage, and health shares fit the bill wonderfully.

Do you honestly think you’ll be able to go back to work if things get bad or you run out of money?

Yup. That said, I probably won’t be able to get my same job back again, no. But then again, I don’t want that job back. After all, that’s the job I spent so many years of my life trying to escape. Why would I ever want to take that same job again?

There are always jobs available for skilled laborers, and if economic conditions make working again a requirement, I’m not the least bit worried that I’ll be able to find something. Our skill sets won’t suddenly disappear in early retirement, especially if we find ways to pursue those things that make us happy without the fear of not making money.

Note: This article was originally published on Think Save Retire (the site I built from the ground-up and sold in 2019). It has been modified and adapted as appropriate.

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I am not a financial advisor. Before making big money decisions, speak to a certified financial advisor for a tailored financial plan made just for you.