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How These Average Joes Retired Millionaires

For these two millionaire retirees, wise investing and careful spending were the keys to the retirements of their dreams.

Doug Nordman, 53, and his wife spent their careers in the U.S. Navy. During their working years, they built robust portfolios and lived frugally, saving over 50% of their incomes at some points. As he prepared to retire from the military, he realized his investments could actually support him, without having to take a civilian job. Today, he and his wife live in Hawaii, where he spends his time surfing and completing do-it-your projects around his home. He’s chronicled his journey to early retirement on his web site, The Military Guide.

Ray Hinchliffe, Jr., now in his late sixties, saw his salary grow from just $67 a week to more than $100,000 a year over the course of his career working at grocery stores, first as a clerk and later as a manager. Through disciplined saving, he built a sizable nest egg under the guidance of his financial advisor. He says one of the best things he did for his finances was purchasing a home as soon as he was able to. Today, he owns multiple properties and enjoys a relaxing retirement.

Hinchliffe: I find myself being in a very good position. I now have been retired for over 12 years. I’ve managed to go from $67 a week [in earnings] to [now having] several million dollars.
Nordman: My wife and I are millionaires. We have that much money in our retirement investments, and we plan to make that last the rest of our retirement. We didn’t really want to work until we were in our 60s and do a more traditional retirement age. Instead, we thought we’d be able to retire in our 50s or even our 40s, and as it turned out, it worked out for me to be at age 41.
Hinchliffe: In 1959, I started as a food clerk with A&P. I was making $67 a week as a food clerk. After that, I went with Safeway food stores. I worked with them for 30 years. I made over $100,000 a year as a store manager for them, plus bonus, and was able to save quite a bit of money working with them and investing in their plans.

Nordman: I peaked out at about $88,000, and that was just before I retired in 2002. My wife’s salary peaked out at about the same number. As we got older, in our 30s, we realized that we had enough savings that our portfolio, our investments, were growing fast enough to almost replace our incomes.

Hinchliffe: I found that the best way to save money and easiest way to save money was through my work. Sometimes younger people aren’t disciplined enough to put money away as they should every week or every month, but what I would do is take advantage of 401(k) plans that might be at work, stock plans where they would match your money that you put into buying stock in the company.

Nordman: Our financial freedom came from saving a lot of money, saving a high percentage of our income. My wife and I were both active duty in the Navy for over 20 years and during that time we tried to save as much as we could. Most of the time we’d save over half of our income. We would reduce our expenses and just save the rest in mutual funds. Pretty much the boring mutual funds, index funds, exchange-traded funds that everybody should use for their retirement. Nothing special.

Frugal Habits
Hinchliffe: There’s lots of things that I wanted but not a lot of things that I needed. If you bought a used car, it did the same thing for you [as a new car] and you saved yourself quite a bit over a period of time. Another thing we used to do is vacations, we would go with friends rather than buy a big place and go by ourselves. We would go with other couples and split the bill and that helped out a lot.

Nordman: My wife and I have a lot of frugal habits that I think tended to make us big savers. We planted a lot of the yard with fruit trees, and so we have fruit year-round. We get crops all year here in Hawaii, and so we can grow some of our own fruit. And we also compost and use things around the house. By buying from Craigslist and Goodwill you're effectively recycling possessions that other people don’t want anymore, and you’re getting them for yourself at a much cheaper price than if you bought them new.

Hinchliffe: My advice to someone young today is to stay on course with their investing aims. It’s like a boat. You set a course. You go from one spot to another. If you get off course, needless to say you don't know where you’re going to end up. If you have a good plan and you follow it, I think that you’ll find that you’ll succeed and your investing will definitely pay you a huge dividend.

Nordman: Track your spending for a couple of months and see where your money goes. Don’t try to cut back, don’t try to change anything just track your expenses and see where you’re spending your money. Then you will figure out where you want to cut back, and you won’t feel like you're depriving yourself or making yourself miserable.

Special thanks to Fred Creutzer for making this video possible.