9 Lessons On How You Can Retire Early In Your 40s

Do you want to know how to retire early? Do you want to achieve financial freedom and independence in your 30s, 40s, or 50s? Would you like to escape from your cubicle cage in your 40s, like I did? Are you getting sick and tired of working in that same old, drab, uninspiring job day after day with no end in sight? And now you’re looking for a way out? Well, I’ve got some bad news for you, okay?

It’s downright hard to retire early, like I did. Make no mistake about that. It takes hard work, some smarts, discipline, creativity, but mostly the ability to delay gratification. And then, there’s no guarantee that all your short-term sacrifices will pay off in the long run… Life is unpredictable. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. That said, it’s better to prepare for an uncertain future than to live as if the future doesn’t exist.

Now for the good news. The journey toward early retirement can be a rewarding adventure in itself. An opportunity to grow and learn as a person. And with that in mind, I’d like to share with you the most important lessons that I’ve learned on my path to retiring early. And, I’ll also reveal the top secret formula I used to reach financial independence in my 40s. So read on to learn how you can escape your life of corporate servitude, too.

Lesson 1: Start Putting Your Money to Work as Early as Possible.

I had a paper route when I was a kid, delivering the Washington Star in my local neighborhood. My brother and I worked that paper route together, as partners. And my poor dad would often come along with us, on weekend mornings, to ensure our safety. So shout out to my dad for getting up so early with us. No, it wasn’t an easy job. But, in terms of financial lessons, I got this out of delivering papers.

Pay yourself first to retire early.

My expenses as a 10-year-old really only consisted of pinball, candy, donuts, hot chocolate, records, toys, and movies. That said, I saved most of my wages. In fact, I kept the cash in an old mayonnaise jar in my closet. And I kept a running account on paper of the total. The money eventually grew to just over $1000.00. At which point, my mother decided that it was time to visit the local bank and put the money into a FDIC insured CD. So shout out to her, as well, for providing me with one of my first investment lessons. Now 6% or 9% interest doesn’t seem like much to a kid, but actually it could really add up over time. Now imagine, if both my parents had understood more about mutual funds or stocks. Then, I might have made a lot more money. But the specific point here is:

The earlier you start saving and investing, the better off you will be financially in the future.

In other words, I got my first savings account at ten. Now I doubt, there are many kids reading my blog. But, if you’re in middle school, high school, college, and so on. The time to start planning for early retirement–putting your money to work for you–is as early as possible. And that means NOW. And for all you parents out there. If you can get your kids an account at a bank or mutual fund company that pays something in interest or dividends. They might learn something from it. Then, they’ll be well on their way to a sound financial future. But they’ll learn a lot more about money, if they have to earn it, like I did. Just my take.

Lesson 2: Retire Early by Using the Miracle of Compound Interest

My second lesson on my journey to financial independence and early retirement was in 11th grade. So we had an Algebra teacher, Mr. S. And we were learning the compound interest formula. No, we never actually calculated the final amount (future value) by hand. We used calculators. And, no, I’m not going to publish the formula here, when it’s so much easier to just go to an online compound interest calculator tool and enter your current principle, interest rate, etc.

Now the question Mr. S. asked the class that day was how much did a used car cost and how many of us wanted to buy one. Everyone in the class wanted a used car, it seemed, and it was agreed that a decent used car costed, $10,000.00. That’s in roughly inflation adjusted dollars. Then, he had us calculate what the final amount would be after 42 years with an interest rate of 8%. That’s incidentally the approximate return of the stock market between 1957 and 2018.

Anyway, the future value came to just over $250,000.00! As you can see below:

Chart shows the growth of $10,000 at 8% over 42 years. Retire early by utilizing compound interest over time. The red line curve of the chart increases until it reaches a sum of over $250,000.00.
Chart shows the growth of $10,000 at 8% invested over 42 years. Retire early by utilizing compound interest over time.

Predictably, most of the class seemed unimpressed by the final value. So what good was money if you couldn’t spend it today? But I just marveled. Wondering, what if, instead of a one-time investment of $10,000, I was able to invest a certain amount of money every year. And clearly, it didn’t take a genius, back then, to figure out that if you were to invest $10,000.00 for just four years in a row at the age of 18. Well then, by the time you were 65, you’d have well over $1,000,000.00.

So the point is that compound interest can take small amounts of money and multiply them greatly over time.

And the more money you can invest at an earlier age; the more money you will have when you reach your 30s, 40s, or 50s. Anyway, it’s no wonder that some people claim that Einstein stated that compound interest is, “the 8th wonder of the world.” Therefore, use time and the miracle of compound interest to your advantage if you’re planning to retire early, or at all. But if you wait too long to save and invest for retirement, well it will be a lot harder achieve financial independence, since you will have lost the full benefit of your investment compounding over TIME.

Lesson 3: Times Flies so Prepare for Your Future Today

Another huge financial lesson that I learned around this time was from my dad. So I was working as a lifeguard during the summers when I was in high school. And I’d just started to fill out my own taxes. Turns out, even though I was making a pittance, that I apparently owed the federal government some taxes at the tender age of seventeen. What to do?

IRAs: Start Investing in One Today to Retire Early

My dad had the answer: Invest $500.00 in a traditional IRA. And then, magically, my federal tax bill disappeared, completely! But what was the catch? My dad said that I’d never be able to withdraw the money without penalty until I reached the age of 59 1/2. But, that will take forever, I complained. Never forget how my dad looked at me that day. And replied, “Son, that day will be here before you know it.”

And so, in this way, I was taught, regarding savings/investments, and so many other things, to think ahead to the future. Not just 5 years. Not 10. Or 20. But over 40 years into the future. And then, if you really wanted to think ahead to the future, financially and socially, speaking, you’d think about future generations and their prosperity, if you were so inclined.

Lesson 4: College and Graduate School Debt vs Investing for the Future.

So in college, I don’t remember learning too much about investing and early retirement. But, during the next phase in my life, I sure as heck did. That was when I was studying for the GRE to get into graduate school. It was the first summer after I’d graduated from college with a degree in psychology. And here’s where I learned my lessons. It was all at the local library. And it was all for FREE!

You see, in college I’d worked during the summers as a helper for a pool service company in preparing and maintaining home pools for the summer season. And guess what? That job paid decent money, particularly because you could get a lot of overtime during the late spring, as we rushed to open up all the rich folk’s pools in the DC metropolitan area for the summer season. And, the end result was that I now actually had some money saved up in my bank account.

Educate Yourself About Investments to Retire Early

So my dad suggested that I take my life savings at the time, $10,000.00, and put it into a mutual fund. But which mutual fund? That he didn’t know. But I was sure that I could find that information out at the local library while I was studying. And so I did. I think I read about 15 or 20 books on the subject of investing. And, as a result, I also ditched my idea of going to graduate school, since I thought it would work against the very nature of compound interest. That is to say, if I went deep into debt to attend graduate school, instead of my money working for me. I’d be working my way into student debt, paying compound interest to someone else, instead of me making money on my money.

Avoid Excessive Student Loans

That’s a HUGE problem today. Definitely, the cost of college is spiraling out of control and the amount of student loans young folks are taking on have also increased, dramatically. More importantly, those large student loan debts are definitely hindering recent graduates from saving and investing for their future. But perhaps, that’s the master plan after all–to trap you in debt servitude.

So you might want to think twice before you enroll in college, especially if you know that you’re going to end up with a large amount of student debt afterwards. Because that debt will certainly prevent you from saving and investing, as all your disposable income will be going to your student loan payments.

So what should you do instead? That I can’t say. Trade school? Community college? Firefighter? Learn to code? Join the military? All I know is what I did at that point was that I decided to apply for jobs around the country as a whitewater river guide. Why? Because I suddenly remembered that had always been a dream of mine.

Lesson 5: Pursue Your Dream(s)

So, after applying for jobs as a raft guide, I soon found myself in Western North Carolina, working for a whitewater rafting company. And man, let me tell you something. It was fun! I met great people from around the country. Got to run exciting whitewater for a living. I honed my craft as a whitewater guide and was soon promoted to a trip leader position. I lived in a beautiful part of the country. Learned to whitewater kayak. And I even made decent money, especially when considering the fact that I didn’t have to pay for housing. That was provided by the rafting company, although they probably should’ve paid the staff for living in that rat-infested dump.

So, I was saving my money, and I was actually investing it then.

In fact, I had picked a few mutual funds. So now my money was theoretically already working for me, as I was guiding our guests down the Nantahala, Ocoee, and Nolichucky rivers. And I even wrote an adventure fiction book, years later, that’s roughly based on my insane and zany adventures that I had working as a river guide in the Southeast. So feel free purchase a copy of my book, Big Thunder Hearted River, as it’s non-stop action, adventure, and intrigue all the way!

Blog author guiding a whitewater raft down a churlish rapid on the Ocoee River in Tennessee is shown in old photo.
Living my dream after graduating college, guiding rafts down the Ocoee River in Tennessee.

Changing Directions in Life

Sadly though, my time as a raft guide was limited to just 2 1/2 seasons. Eventually, I just got tired of the lifestyle. No matter how exciting the lifestyle was. There came a time when I just got bored of taking people down the same old rivers. And I’d grown especially sick and tired of dealing with some of the politics and management structure at those companies. Also, I had this feeling that I’d stalled out in life. Wasn’t going anywhere.

So what was I going to do next? Already, I’d gotten off to a good start in investing. And, I wanted to pursue the path to retire early, more rigorously, at this time. Well, I figured that it was time to get a “real” job that paid better than the paltry wages of a raft guide.

Lesson 6: Get a Good Job or Profession in a Field that Pays Well

Okay, so there are many paths to retire early. Start a business. Climb the corporate ladder. Make it big as an artist, actor, or athlete. Become a money printer, issue a bunch of fiat currency–bribe and corrupt local, state, and national government officials–making the rest of the world your slaves. But, at that point in my life, I went the route of getting an ordinary 9-to-5 job. And since I had a degree in psychology, I figured that I’d better learn a new skill that could potentially pay good wages. Luckily for me, my psychology classes did focus on some programming in SAS, for example.

Community College Offers Affordable Classes and a Quality Education

So I took some computer classes at the local community college for cheap. Only 3! Then I began applying for coding jobs. And suprise, suprise! It did not take me long to find a good job through an agency at a good company as a junior level programmer. And this initial job, after a year, led to another job offer at a certain employee-owned company in Washington DC, with a track record of more than 50 years of profits.

I liked the people there on my first interview. So I accepted the position. And now I was going to be off to the races in terms of building my investment nest egg to retire early. And one more thing that I should mention is that jobs that people often find boring or that they don’t inherently enjoy doing, actually pay better, in general, and offer way better benefits. So, some have argued that it’s better to work in a dull and boring job with good benefits than take your chances, trying to make it in a field that’s considered to be glamorous and more desirable, like acting. But, as for me, at least, I enjoyed programming, initially. But more importantly, the stable hours and job gave me a chance to work on my novels at nights. And focus on my early retirement ambitions during the day. And just how did I go about doing that?

Lesson 7: The Nuts and Bolts of Early Retirement

So now that I had my first stable job that paid a good salary, just how was I going to use this unique employment opportunity to take the proper steps toward my goal of early retirement. Well, first, I set a goal to save and invest at least 23% to 35% of my salary in various investments. And I did this by contributing to our company’s 401(k) plan. Now our company did not have a match on this. But I still wanted the large pretax benefits of investing in it. In addition, I’d typically also invest in a ROTH IRA, annually. And while I was at it, I also began buying stock in a regular brokerage account. Stocks that I’d pick on my own, based on the recommendations of certain investment newsletters and services.

So Maximize Your 401(k), Annually Contribute to a Roth IRA, and Research and Purchase Mutual Funds or Stocks

And finally, I’d make a semi-annual trip up to the executive suite to put in a buy order for our company stock. The reason that I did this was because I knew that our company had received at least one legitimate buyout offer in the past. And, the stock also had a strong track record of solid returns and dividends. Dividend-paying stocks being one of my favorite things. And one of the things that assisted me in not getting completely destroyed the internet bubble of 2000. I know I’m a strange guy, but I like the companies–of the stocks that I purchase–to have earnings. Now that may not sound strange now, but it did in the late 90s.

So, as you can see, it also pays not to follow the herd and to be a contrarian, sometimes.

But, just to be clear here, you wouldn’t want to dive headfirst into water, if you were unsure of the depth. Just as you should never dive headfirst into a crowded trade. In this way, you may avoid some bloodletting and pain. But onto something more near and dear to my heart, here.

Lesson 8: Set Yourself Free; Exercise, Eat Right

Do you want to know what the best investment I ever made was? Do you want to know how to achieve the best for you, receive the highest returns on everything you do, and to maximize your true potential in life. I know the way.

You invest in you. First.

I’m talking about your body, mind, and spirit.

And that all starts with you freeing you.

First. Free your mind and spirit. Then, your life will follow into freedom. But how does one do this? First, you reject that which you will see are the lies and deceit that certain elites, institutions, and society has built all around you. Just open your eyes and you will see. Or better yet, you should try closing your eyes and just breathing. And focus on awareness. Just being. Or prayers to God.

Or perhaps, you will need to embark on a long difficult journey, during which you will inevitably come to a place where you feel like you are losing yourself. Now that’s a scary and daunting situation. But if you just step through the pain and resistance and naturally let go of your old self. Then you will find the true human inside of you. Your very own beliefs, ambitions, and dreams. Then, you will move forward on a path that’ll lead you to achieving those things in life you really want. Not just earning money so you can buy a bunch of materialistic trash or doing someone else’s dirty work or bidding in life. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll take it a step further than most and discover the awareness of just being.

Exercising and Eating a Healthy Diet Saves Money and Lives

And while you’re at it, I’d personally recommend a daily routine of exercising and eating right. Because what good is retiring early and fulfilling your dreams, if you’re so unhealthy that you can’t enjoy a walk along a beach. Or an invigorating hike up a mountain to watch the sunset? Or, you can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror, because you’re so ashamed of what you see.

A beautiful sunset near Roan Mountain is shown in picture. Blogger, Gary Alan, explains, hiking is part of his exercise routine in early retirement.
In early retirement, I spend more time hiking as part of my exercise routine, and enjoying sunsets near Roan Mountain.

Believe me, you’ll be happier in life if you eat a healthy diet and stay in shape through exercise or outdoor activity. And, most importantly, you’ll be able to focus more of your energy and efforts on helping those you love in this life. And, by the way, maintaining a healthy and active body will save and make you an unbelievable amount of money over a lifetime of good living.

Lesson 9: Remain Single vs Getting Hitched

I’ve been asked more times than I can count throughout my life about why I’m not married. Then, when I tell people the reasons why, a lot of them get very defensive or disagreeable with me. Most of the times, it’s the married ones, too. Still, I’d be remiss, if I didn’t explain the logic and reasons behind my bachelorhood…

So, when I first started working at my second “real” job, a few of the married guys I met there were in the process of getting divorced. And, they’d share all the gory details of the divorce hearings and settlements. Consequently, I began to wonder if men were being treated unjustly by the divorce and family courts. Eventually, after years of internet and print research, I came to the unavoidable conclusion that the divorce and family courts are, in fact, unfair to men. And that the outcomes of divorce are asymmetrical and largely favor women. For example, child custody and alimony awards almost always favor women.

Of equal importance to me, was the fact that my potential wife could commit adultery on me, and that she’d still be rewarded in divorce with alimony and child support the same as if she’d been faithful to me. Which is kind of strange, rewarding adultery within the framework of marriage.

But hey, I don’t make the no-fault divorce laws, I’d just have to live with them, if I got married. But, after reading all about a lot of men’s complete demise after their divorces. Sometimes, to the point of suicide, I just finally gave up on the whole idea, saying, “Hey, I’m not going to throw myself into harm’s way, run unprotected and haphazardly through the minefield of marriage, when I know roughly half or more of marriages fail.” Moreover, it’s typically the wife that initiates the divorce. Data which strongly suggests that women are responding to financial incentives that the government provides them to divorce otherwise good men.

Just Another Selfish Male With Peter Pan Syndrome

Anyway, some people have told me that this is a selfish decision. But I wonder, who is more selfish? Men who refuse to marry due to their very realistic assessment of the palpable dangers of divorce? Or a government and society that provides cash and prizes to women who are willing to breach their marital vows? And who has more honor and integrity in this situation? And, for that matter, don’t the no-fault divorce laws completely undermine the whole concept of marriage and the very marital vows that the union is supposedly based upon? So isn’t it just marriage in name only that we have in today’s society?

The Bachelor Lifestyle: Sad, Pathetic, and Lonely

Also, I’ve had other people say, that my life is just going to be sad, pathetic, and lonely. But, one night, after sitting down in front of the television with a pizza and beer, while a DVD played, I contemplated this dismal outcome, briefly. Well, at that very moment, I noticed that it was peaceful and quiet in the room.

And why was that? Well, no woman was nagging and harping on me. Or harassing me to an early grave. And I said to myself, “Heck, this bachelor lifestyle ain’t so bad, after all.”

Moreover, I figured that even if I became sad and lonely, well, the only thing worse would be to still end up single, lonely, and PENNILESS, anyway. All the while, I was paying my ex-wife child support and alimony, while she slept with some other guy(s). So, thanks. But, no thanks, for this guy. Anyway, ain’t this is the life!

Retire Early: The Path of Least Resistance

And make no mistake about it. Not getting married as a man, clearly makes early retirement planning, saving, and investing A LOT easier. Not to mention, being single as a man, gives you the time and freedom you need to pursue your hobbies, dreams, or to just travel anywhere you want in the country and overseas. Hence, my blog here, covering the early retirement lifestyle of a single guy, like me. So fellows, I say, seize the day! Be happy! And don’t be afraid to walk your path in peace, solitude, and awareness. And finally, after all this discussion into the lessons that I’ve learned on my journey to retire early, I’ll leave you in parting with my top secret formula that enabled me to achieve this financial independence in my 40s.

Pictures shows clear blue sky and green pastures, representing the green pastures of the early retirement lifestyle of a single guy.
Don’t be afraid to walk your path in peace and solitude, as you head for greener pastures in early retirement.

My top secret formula to achieve financial and personal independence:

First, set your mind and spirit free;
Stay in shape and eat a healthy diet;
Pursue your dream(s);
Live below your means;
Only buy what you need;
Avoid debt (including crippling student loans);
Educate yourself in financial literacy;
Start saving and investing as early as possible;
Save and invest your money, automatically, with each paycheck;
Save, AT LEAST, 22% to 33% of income;
Maximize your IRAs; 401(k)s, always;
Buy dividend-paying stocks or mutual funds (some like precious metals, too.);
Never dive headfirst into a crowded trade;
Possibly avoid marriage, because the divorce rates are so high and the outcomes in
courts usually favor women;
Move to a lower cost of living location;
Learn to cook;
Remember the 2-4% SWR, that’s the safe withdrawal rate from your overall portfolio. That’s how you prevent yourself from running out of money when you retire early.


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After a long career in the publishing industry, Gary Alan left his corporate job to pursue his next adventures in life as a blogger, writer, investor, fly fisherman, hiker, and traveler. He is the author of the adventure fiction book, 'Big Thunder-Hearted River'.