Things I Did Wrong And Still Retired Early

| October 22, 2020
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If I listen to a lot of financial independence-retire early naysayers, it would have been a mistake for me to even think about an early retirement. Yet, according to common beliefs, there was a lot I did wrong and still retired early. I’m a FIRE living believer that the path isn’t limited to only the highly educated professional salaried group. Not that being in that group doesn’t help. Here’s a list of my life choices, mistakes, and circumstances that according to experts and naysayers should have made early retirement impossible to pull off.

What I Seemingly Did Wrong and Still Retired Early

Maybe it’s all luck. I’ve been told that many times. I grew up low income, the oldest child of 4 to parents that never even attended high school. Although they encouraged me to graduate from high school, education wasn’t a family theme. Hard work and self reliance was preached. My father told me when I was a young teenager:

Work hard or starve because this world would rather feed a stray dog than a man down on his luck. 

My dad was tired when he told me that. He worked 3 jobs. A full-time elementary school custodian, a part-time evening restaurant cook, and worked a part-time graveyard shift in a meat pie processing plant. He got to come home to sleep in his bed 2 nights a week. The other nights he slept in his truck at the next job location before reporting to work. He did that instead of wasting time driving home for only a couple of hours of sleep. The day he dropped that dire little nugget of life advice it scared the hell out of me. Now I see how that message and his example shaped me to be who I am.

A lot of things considered wrong when it comes to reaching financial independence happened because I didn’t know any better. But I still found a way to FIRE once I became personal finance aware. Here’s a look at the bigger challenges that happen in life, but as I have proven can be overcome for early retirement success.

I didn’t go to college after graduating from high school

College was pushed in the late 70s just as today. I really wanted to go and worked hard to get straight A’s and make the honor roll year after year knowing my only path was a scholarship. I remember the downer it was during my future education discussion with my high school counselor. Grades, check! Test scores, check! Scholarship, not a chance in hell. Guys like me were at the bottom of the list. My folks didn’t have any money and couldn’t/wouldn’t co-sign for a student loan, nor could I get one on my own.

I married young

It was a couple of months before my 19th birthday when I tied the knot with my high school sweetheart. I was working full-time and she worked part-time on weekends as she went to community college. Marrying young is frowned upon today. A sign of hardship to come. Even back then we married earlier than most.

Became a parent at a young age

At the age of 22, we welcomed our first of 3 children. All 2 years apart. A lot of people believe only the childless can pull off early retirement. Kids do cost a lot of money and we certainly went into a financial tailspin when ours were young.

Took on too much debt early in life

I couldn’t borrow money to go to college to be stuck with student loan debt like many young people today, but we still built huge personal debt. A major thing that we did wrong and yet eventually overcame to retire early. Childcare was too costly to make my wife’s returning to work worth it. She stayed home several years until the kids went to school. I worked 2 jobs. During this period, we still didn’t make ends meet and relied on credit cards throughout the years to cover the monthly deficits. It piled up to an amount that was 44% my yearly salary before my wife could return to work.

I was late to embrace 401K savings 

I was already 7 years into my career before the 401K was unenthusiastically rolled out. What fanfare there was didn’t light a fire under my keister. Money was already tight. I reluctantly signed up for the company’s match on a 3% savings rate. Age 27 is a late early retirement savings start.

I was too conservative in my investing

For many years, the only 401K investment choice was company stock or guaranteed interest cash savings. Since the company match was 100% company stock, I invested 100% in cash. I stuck to that even after I began to see the light of financial day and upped my 401K savings rate. When we began to get other investment options in the 401K program, I was still too conservative in my investment allocation. My early retirement investment strategy didn’t shift until age 40 when I finally met with a financial planner.

I believed in employment fairness until late in my career

I was naive about how the world of employment works. Falsely believing that hard work and measurable achievement alone was the path to career success. It wasn’t until 20 years into my career that I realized how ruthless the corporate world really was and the ways of corporate politics. Business exploits resources for the lowest cost possible to achieve maximum profits. We must actively leverage our skills and achievements for the highest possible pay. For all but the connected, personal success won’t just happen with hard work and waiting in an imaginary line for your turn. Years were wasted by solely waiting for better earnings based on recognized merit.

I actually trusted and believed in promises

One of the reasons I chose my career path was that it had great benefits. It included a pension and health insurance. But it came at the cost of a lower salary. Benefits were thrown in our face as why our sacrifice was worthy. We all fell for it. Then when everything shifted in the corporate world they just changed their minds. Many of us didn’t save as much because of lower pay and relying on having a pension. Once they could legally remove people from the pension plan or cut benefits, there was no restitution for the decades of our reduced salary given up to pay for it. I failed to consider that long-term promises are high-risk and it set me back when they were broken.

Here’s The Point –

Life and work over the years seldom go perfectly. I did a lot wrong and still retired early. It wasn’t stupid mistakes, it was living an ordinary life. We learn as we gain experience. We can do the best we can with the circumstances we are handed, screw up in hindsight, and instead of doubling down and whining about it, admit it and make the necessary corrections to achieve our goals. It just takes longer than it would have if we had done things better. We shouldn’t allow anyone to say our so called personal finance no-nos will put early retirement completely out of reach. We get to decide that for ourselves.

Even with the challenges I had and what I did wrong according to common early retirement norms, I retired from my telecom career at the age of 51 and never looked back. I feel like I could be the poster boy for recognizing and learning from life’s challenges and mistakes. Better late than never fits perfectly. Then I made what I learned pay off by taking corrective actions to achieve my FIRE goals.

Note: This article originally appeared at Leisure Freak.

 

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Category: Personal Finance

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Leisure Freak is a site dedicated to those who are truly passionate about reaching financial independence and early retirement. Not just the traditional definition of retirement, but a new passion-driven retirement.

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