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I retired at 33 and so can you

Katie Little

What's it like to retire at 33?

"Every day is like a Sunday where I don't have chores, and I have all this free time and can do what I want."

That's the synopsis from Justin McCurry, a Raleigh, N.C. resident who swapped life as an engineer for early retirement two years ago. Far from subsisting on rice and beans, McCurry eats "5-star meals" made from scratch at home, vacations with his family and spends time outdoors hiking and swimming.

So what's the secret to ditching the rat race before even hitting the big 4-0?

"We weren't extraordinarily wealthy or lucky in terms of income or jobs," said McCurry, who writes about his experience on his personal finance blog www.RootOfGood.com.

Instead, he and his wife (who recently joined him in early retirement) saved about half of their income and tried to resist lifestyle inflation. Even though their combined salaries never rose to more than $141,000 ($150,000 with dividends), they were able to squirrel away a sizable net worth, which currently stands around $1.4 million.

To accomplish this, their family saved on most people's three big expenses: housing, transportation and food. They still live in the same house they bought during law school and haven't purchased a new car since college. They also rarely eat out.

Still, the McCurry family makes a point to go on vacation and went on a seven-week excursion to Mexico last year. To save money, they used credit card points to pay for part of it and ended up spending just $4,500 for their family of five on the trip.

McCurry's advice for others who want to retire early is relatively straightforward: don't inflate your lifestyle and save, save, save.

"Get a good handle on what your expenses are, and if you're really serious about retiring early, you need to save a lot of your income," McCurry said, adding that about 50 percent would be an ideal savings ratio.

For fellow early retiree Jeremy Jacobson, who blogs at www.gocurrycracker.com, a vacation prompted him to rethink his priorities and decide he wanted to ditch his career as an electrical engineer decades early.

"I was scuba diving in the Philippines, and I thought it was way better than being at work," he said.

Following this, he sold his car, house and motorcycle in favor of an apartment near work and a bike commute.

By cutting back on expenses, Jacobson was able to retire at 38 even though his joint income with his wife never surpassed $135,000. Today, their net worth hovers around $2 million.

"The main thing is just being able to live on a small percentage of your income," he said, recommending people save a minimum of half of their income and try to minimize taxes if they want to retiree early. While squirreling away his own retirement war chest, Jacobson saved as much as 70 percent of his after-tax income.

Jacobson said he's not worried about getting a smaller Social Security check in the future. He crunched the numbers and found his lost earnings would not boost his check that much.

He and his family keep expenses relatively low by finding happiness in things that don't cost as much money, like hanging out with friends over home-cooked meals.

In total, Jacobson's retirement expenses total about $40,000 per year, an amount roughly equal to what he made in blog income last year.

They also spend the majority of their retirement traveling, often staying in countries with a low cost of living. For example, a one-bedroom apartment with an infinity pool and maid service cost them less than $400 per month in Thailand. So far in retirement, he and his wife have visited about 20 different countries.

"There's a whole word out here of unique experiences so if you can think there's another way to live beside the 9 to 5 (and) if you can take the tremendous wealth and income opportunity that the U.S. has and instead of buying stuff and experiences in the short term, you can use it to buy freedom," Jacobson said.



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