Early Retirement Planning: Are You Ready for "Extreme Early Retirement ?"

Alexander Green
by Alexander Green, Chief Investment Strategist, The Oxford Club

Early Retirement Planning: Are You Ready for "Extreme Early Retirement ?"

by Alexander Green, Investment Director, Investment U

Monday, February 5, 2007: Issue #635

Kiplinger.com carried a story recently about retirees Billy and Akaisha Kaderli, who live in an adult-active community in Mesa, Ariz. Don't tell anyone though. You see, they don't meet the community's minimum age requirements.

Although they retired 16 years ago, they are both just 54.

Most folks would say Billy and Akaisha are living the American dream, playing golf, traveling the country, and socializing with friends, whenever they want. They aren't rich, though, merely frugal.

And they are a fine example of early retirement planning leading to an "extreme early retirement." You can enjoy it, too - provided you're willing to make some admittedly tough choices.

How They Planned for Early Retirement

In their late thirties, Billy and Akaisha decided they were working too hard, enjoying it too little and paying too much in taxes. Most people would stop there and say "well, that's life.

"But is it really? Or is it more about the choices we make about saving and spending?

"Every time I looked at a latte or a new pair of shoes," says Akaisha, "I decided I didn't need them. If you're clear about what you want, it becomes easier. You can either buy this or be days closer to your goal."

Contrast this point of view with the materialistic mindset of many Americans, who often find themselves stuck on what psychologists call "the hedonic treadmill." Instead of thinking about financial freedom, they're obsessed with thoughts of a bigger house, a fancier car, the hot new restaurants and, of course, a high-definition 50" flat-panel TV.

I would be the last to argue that these things don't make life more enjoyable. And, who knows, a bigger house may be the best investment you ever made. (Although if you pulled the equity out and spent it, it really hasn't brought you any closer to your financial goals.)

We spend a lot of time in this column talking about investing. But without saving, let's face it, there is precious little to invest. Yet statistics show that most Americans today are saving virtually nothing.

How The Experts View Retirement Planning

In the investment classic Financial Genius, now undeservedly out of print, Mark Haroldson boils down investment success to four factors:

  • Plan
  • Save
  • Invest
  • Compound

Yet many folks never make it to step two.

In The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas Stanley reports that most Americans with a net worth of a million dollars or more followed a remarkably similar path. They maximized their income, minimized their expenses, lived beneath their means, and religiously saved the difference. It sounds pedestrian, I know. But do this for a period of years and one day you just may wake up and say "honey, we've got a seven-figure net worth!"

It means making sacrifices, however. As we go through life, we quickly find that expenses rise to meet the income available. In our wonderfully capitalistic society, there will never be a shortage of fabulous products and services vying for our attention.

Almost Everyone Can Save for Retirement

During an interview on Fox TV in Tampa last year, the interviewer suddenly popped this question on me. "What do you say to those people out there who say they just can't save ANYTHING?"

Little did he know that I had just returned from a two-week investment tour of China. During the trip, I saw many laborers who made less than $150 a month. Yet the average Chinese worker - acutely aware that his government provides next to nothing in social security - saves over 30% of his income.

"Too many Americans don't save anything," I said, half-jokingly, "because they're spending money they don't have, on things they don't need, to impress people they don't like."

Judging by the look on his face, that wasn't the answer he was expecting.

Look, I know that when you're young and poor and starting out in life, saving may not be an option. When you get older and you have kids (and sometimes parents) to support, saving can be awfully tough, too.

But most of us could get by - by hook or by crook - on 10% less than what we're living on today. If we pay ourselves that 10% first, it can mean an awful lot 10, 20 or 30 years down the road.

Just ask the Kaderlis... when they finish the back nine.

Good Saving,

Alex

Today's Investment U Crib Sheet

  • On Wednesday, the Department of Commerce reported a 5.4% increase in disposable personal income. It reported an increase in the personal savings rate, too - Americans now save negative 1% of their income, up from negative 1.2% in the previous quarter.
  • Here are 2 ways to automatically siphon some of your earnings into a savings account: 1) If your employer offers direct deposit, have a portion of your income directed to a separate account, before you ever get a chance to spend it. 2) Set up an automatic savings plan with your bank and systematically transfer money to a savings account on a monthly, bi-monthly, or even a weekly basis.

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