By the age of 33, most people are in the middle of their careers, buying homes, raising families and stashing money away for retirement — which is more than 30 years away.
That is, unless you’re Anita Dhake, who retired from her law career at 33, packed up her stuff and started traveling the world. So far, she has visited countries like including China, Australia, Spain and Brazil, and doesn’t plan to stop until she has checked everything off her bucket list.
It might sound like a spontaneous decision, but in an interview with Forbes, Dhake shares how her journey actually started with a “light bulb” moment in 2009 when she was interviewing for jobs at big law firms in Chicago.
“I remember learning about the salary and asking a friend, ‘If I make four times what the average person makes, can’t I retire four times earlier?’” she said.
Her friend assured her that early retirement didn’t work that way, but Dhake would go on to prove him wrong. She got a job when she graduated from law school in 2009, but her firm offered her a deferral year because of the struggling economy and paid her a third of her salary to use as she pleased. Dhake traveled, which cemented her desire to travel more.
In October 2010, Dhake started work. The hours were long, but with a base salary of $160,000 a year and bonuses, it took her just one year to pay off $100,000 in student loans. Once she eliminated her debt, she focused her efforts on saving every penny, a task made easy thanks to her simple lifestyle.
“I hated shopping and was always a natural saver. I had a roommate. I brought my lunch to work almost every day,” she told Forbes. “All of my clothes are hand-me-downs from my older sisters. I biked, walked, or took public transportation. I didn’t have a car.”
Her goal was to save $450,000. Within four years, Dhake saved an impressive $700,000, thanks bonuses and yearly raises.
With her financial goal reached – at 33 – Dhake quit her job. She says that people were skeptical of her decision – even her mother – so she started a blog called The Power of Thrift, so that people who questioned her choices could see how it’s possible to retire young and travel.
“The law firm wasn’t paying me because I knew things. They were paying me for my life. I felt pressured to put work above family, friends, sleep, vacations and everything else,” she said. “At the time, I thought I was getting the better end of the deal — $160k for a year of my life? Heck, yeah! Now, I realize I only have one life and I’ll never get it back.”
Dhake started traveling in 2013, and her freedom allows her to choose countries that she’s never visited before. She’s lived in Australia, ate her way through Thailand and enjoyed the lively streets and cultural diversity of Brazil. She is currently visiting Norway, her 49th country, and has no plans to stop country-hopping in the near future.
Dhake spends about $1,500 to $2,500 a month, although her budget greatly depends on what country she’s visiting and accommodations. Even so, she spends about $24,000 year. The only other major cost Dhake has is her private health insurance that has a high deductible.
“The only money I currently make is from dividends (and the appreciation from my investments). Eventually, I may try to monetize my website,” she said
Dhake’s story is certainly unique, and some may minimize her success because she was making more than three times the average US income of $53,657 before she retired. To that, Dhake expresses her belief that salary is secondary to discipline.
“I knew people who made my salary and spent every penny. They will never retire,” she said. “It will definitely be harder if you make less, but it’s doable. Embrace the thrifty lifestyle: You’ll find that you don’t need that much.”
The money Dhake saved should last about 30 years (at her current rate of spending), and she admits that one day she might consider re-entering the workforce. Working in a factory is one of the items on her “bucket list,” and she thinks that one day it might be fulfilling to start her own business. In the meantime, though, she’s living her golden years, now.
“I’m enjoying traveling, reading, sleeping in — and not working.”
Do you have tips for how to retire early? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.