The best advice I can give about retiring early

Published January 25, 2017   Posted in How to Retire

Back in September of 2016, Brandon (aka: Mad Fientist) wrote an article for Business Insider about seven pieces of financial advice about retiring early from a guy who retired at 34. The article contained incredible wisdom.

Oh, and damn you, Brandon, for beating me to early retirement by a year. 🙂

In the article, Brandon argues for financial automation, which can have a profound effect on our ability to save and pay off our credit cards. We use automation all the time. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I wrote a check to pay off a bill.

Equally important, figure out what truly brings you happiness. Through my many financial mistakes, I learned the expensive way that buying stupid crap doesn’t bring me happiness. It never had, but I steadfastly ignored that realization for many of my younger years after joining the workforce. I wanted to look like a successful businessperson.

Next, throw out your television and start creating rather than consuming. Ridding your life of “entertainment decay” is a tough hill to climb, but once you crest the summit, the ride down is absolute gold. The things that you thought you couldn’t live without…you realize that you can.

What does it mean to “create”? It can mean anything – writing a blog post, knitting, photography. It can even mean creating a better YOU in the gym or on the track. In other words, DO STUFF. Don’t sit and let stuff happen to you. Be proactive.

Other techniques, like experimenting with your life, traveling overseas and focusing on what you can control round out the article. Completely wise advice.

But, we aren’t done yet.

My advice for retiring early

I can’t possibly say it any better than Brandon did, but allow me to add a few additional elements to this equation.

1. Learn how to reflect

Reflection is a super powerful technique that lets us examine ourselves. Reflection should be a realistic, honest and non-judgmental process through and through. You’re not beating yourself up. You’re identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

Life tip: Very few decisions are set in stone and nonreversible. In my life, I make the very best decision that I can at the time. I go about my life and take notice of how that decision is affecting me. If I screwed up, I make a change. No harm, no foul. The process repeats and I continuously improve.

I’m not perfect. I don’t strive for perfection because that’s a game nobody can win.

2. Destroy your comfort zones

I’ve written about this one before: Comfort zones crush our ability to improve our lives. They keep us wrapped up in a cocoon of mush, complacent and completely relaxed. Reflection and bettering our lives is often the furthest thing from our minds when we’re in these zones.

Instead of going to the gym to begin that new fitness program, we give ourselves an excuse to stay home. Rather than dropping by the neighborhood pot luck to meet the neighbors and network, we catch the latest episode of [insert popular TV sitcom here because I honestly have no idea].

It is natural to want comfort. And occasionally, there’s nothing wrong with a little time in our comfort zones. But spending too much time in this zone is detrimental to our progress. Get out of it.

3. Take smart risks

Let’s face it: Early retirement is a risk. I freely admit that retiring at 35 was a risky move, but I’m proud to say that I’ve done it anyway. Against all odds, and in the face of incredible criticism from the general population, I am “risking it” by retiring in my 30s. I believe it was a smart risk to take.

The “just one more year” syndrome never entered into the equation. In fact, it was quite the opposite. “Why can’t I just retire now?” was much more common.

I believe that if we never take any risks, we won’t lead lives nearly as exciting as we could have. Without risks, we remain typical worker bees, sitting in traffic for hours and staring into computer monitors from cold office buildings for the large majority of daylight hours. Every once in a while, we play. We vacation. We take a camping trip. We enjoy ourselves without caring about what’s going on at the office.

But then we return…and the cycle loops and begins again. I’m willing to take the risk.

4. Be relentlessly positive

A Facebook friend of mine posted a message on her wall recently. She told her Facebook friends that she’s had a string of bad luck lately. Actually, it was a bit longer than just…”lately”. Apparently, her “bad luck” began in earnest in 2011.

Unfortunately, she’s a terribly negative person. She assumes that the world is out to get her, that something bad looms around the corner, that things just don’t work out in her favor.

As we know from the placebo effect, things tend to happen in our lives that we expect to happen. If we expect things to go wrong, things generally will. But on the flip side, we tend to lead much happier lives when we focus on the positives. When we expect things to go right, our subconscious mind intuitively shifts our attention to those things that make us happy.

It’s a remarkably dependable phenomenon.

5. Be confident

I am annoyingly confident. I firmly believe that what we are doing is the absolute right thing, and we’ve made our decision. We are jumping in head first and not looking back. I quit a high paying and relatively low stress job in the Information Technology industry for a life of freedom.

And I’m damn proud of what we’re doing.

Confidence is very different than arrogance. I don’t believe that I’m “always right”. I believe that I make the very best decisions that I can based on the information I have at the time. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong. Big deal. We fix it and move on.

Life sucks when we spend it second-guessing ourselves. So, I don’t. I believe that things will work out. I know that we are flexible and will roll with the punches.

I’m not worried about health care (gasp!). I don’t care who our president is. I refuse to let external factors that I cannot control dictate my life. The only thing that I can control is me. My life. My reactions. My motivations.

Confidence is key to keeping a sound mind and determined future.

Is there anything that I missed? What other pieces of advice can you think of that Brandon and I haven’t covered in these articles?

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


66 responses to “The best advice I can give about retiring early”

  1. These are excellent pieces of advice. I tend to have my own litmus test, of sorts. When something is starting to raise my anxiety or is causing me consume to worry, I’ll do one of two mental tests: the deathbed test or the holiday test. If it’s a seemingly major issue like a big work deadline that I might not meet, I’ll use the former. I’ll think, ‘in the grand scheme of my life, when I’m on my deathbed, this stressful project with ridiculous timelines won’t even be a flicker on my mind and didn’t really matter at all’. If a person is causing me stress or worry, I’ll do the holiday test by asking myself how much that person really matters in my life. Usually, if I don’t plan on ever spending a Thanksgiving meal with them, they’re just background noise. I suppose these two can tie in with your Relentlessly Positive point. These two tests truly have served me well to change my mindset and stay focused on the big picture.

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Steve says:

      Excellent, Mrs. MMM. I’ve had very similar thought processes, especially with the former litmus test. Really, not very many of our received problems matter all that much to the world, and even to us. We make a big deal about them in our heads, but really, it’s all just one big mind game! 🙂

  2. Number 1 and 2 really go hand in hand. In my day job I meet people of all stripes. High income and low. Speedy and frugal. The thing that always amazes me is the low income is not necessarily correlated with abilities or intelligence. It comes back to your willingness to step outside your comfort zone and try something new. The first step is the hardest but it’s an absolute must. Failure is just a means of learning that no one cares about but you.

    • Steve says:

      Our comfort zones absolutely crush our ability to experience new things and take our goals to the next level. There’s nothing wrong with spending *SOME* time in these zones, but when we just hang out there all day, every day, we definitely aren’t doing ourselves any favors. We succeed when we fail, damnit!

  3. Great post Steve! If more people could “satisfice” rather than “optimize” their decisions, they would have a heck of a lot more time to reflect. Having the ability to change course and make it a positive (when something might not be working as you mentioned in #1), rather than see it as a defeat is huge. Not sure what else I would add 🙂 Two smart guys with some great advice!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Vicki. Reflecting is so critical that I’m publishing another post just about that topic next week. If we don’t give ourselves enough time to reflect, we may not recognize when our decisions aren’t working in our favor.

      We need to slow down and use our heads.

      • Arrgo says:

        When I have a busy day or feel overloaded or stressed, I lay down on the couch to give myself a break both mentally and physically. It really helps me to think clearly in a more relaxed state and “reset” my thinking for the better. Sometimes Ill even take a short nap. You can only push yourself so long. In some ways its similar to reflecting and helps you to regroup and keep the right perspective.

        • Steve says:

          That sounds amazing, Arrgo. Laying down and taking a break is definitely a good tactic, especially when things get hectic. Nothing wrong with a little rejuvenation!

  4. I think it ties into your #4 and #5 about being positive and confident, but I’ll use the word optimistic. There have been numerous studies done about the positive impact on life of being optimistic. I’m a natural optimist and while I factor in risks and other points of view, once a decision is made it requires an optimistic attitude, a positive mindset, and confidence to work out.

    • Steve says:

      Optimism – that’s a PERFECT word for this. Like you, I’m definitely a natural optimist as well. I expect that things will go well, and as a result, they generally do. 🙂

  5. Start creating and stop consuming is great advice! Own your financial future. If you want to improve your financial standing, the best way is to get off your butt and do something about it. I too came to the realization that I’m more happy pursuing something than sitting on my butt watching TV or buying lots of stuff. It really is a great feeling when you’re working on achieving something that you’re passionate about.

    This could probably fall under “Destroy your comfort zones” but I would say push yourself. Set aggressive goals that you’re going to have to work hard at to achieve. If you only set goals that you can easily achieve, you’ll never know how much more you could have done.

    • Steve says:

      “If you want to improve your financial standing, the best way is to get off your butt and do something about it.” – Spot on. We can’t keep complaining or blaming others for our mistakes and expect our lives to improve. It just doesn’t work that way. Isn’t life much more fun when we’re actively pursuing something, anyway? It certainly is to me!

  6. Mrs. BITA says:

    Most excellent advice. I especially believe in the power of being positive. It is incredible the amount of difference that can make.

    What would I add to this list? Know your own strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths and find ways to work around your weaknesses.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mrs. BITA. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is a good addition to the list. Play to your strengths and work the best you can to improve on your weaknesses. Excellent advice!

  7. Well, I’m definitely not retired! But all of this advice resonates with me so much right now, and I can only imagine how much more it would mean if I was contemplating leaving anytime soon. I especially love the comfort zone piece. I’ve been a perfectionist to a fault for much of my life; I’m trying to shake that recently (and I think having a baby is going to help A LOT!). But there’s so much that I’ve missed out. I definitely try to frame my actions based on positive risks more than outcomes. Also, I’ve realized that there isn’t much in my life right now that is zero-sum. So whether I do something “perfectly” or “very well” doesn’t really matter anymore as long as I’m still learning. Thanks for always being so relatable, honest, and thought-provoking!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Penny! Yeah, the perfectionism syndrome is very real with some of us. I’m a natural economist – I generally work towards the “slightly greater than good enough” spot in life and call it good, because the amount of effort that it takes to get beyond that point is appreciably more than the effort it took to get there. For me, it’s been a pretty good balance. 🙂

  8. Great additions to Brandon’s list. Taking smart risks is a good one. Sometimes we’re too conservative as humans. A good calculated risk can be a great thing in life.

    • Steve says:

      Totally agree – calculated risks are wonderful things, and if we do it right, it won’t be the end of the world if it fails. We’re very adaptable people, after all! 🙂

  9. We don’t watch as much TV as we used to, but I know we could always do better. It’s amazing how much more time you can give back to your day when you aren’t staring at a screen for a few hours.

    I think these are great ideas. 🙂

    There are so many times that I lose faith or confidence in our ability to save money or retire early. But something always comes along that snaps me back into reality. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Amen to that, Mrs. Picky Pincher. It can be easy to lose faith, but it’s also reassuring when we’re snapped back into reality by something. 🙂

  10. James Dixson says:

    I totally agree with being relentlessly positive. Negativity ruins your whole outlook but being positive allows you to happily work towards your goals. Thanks for the inspiration.

  11. Ian Bond says:

    I may have gone too far in shunning all entertainment, but I’m just making up for wasted time. I had a DVR full of junk and sat entranced nightly after work watching it all. There is so many great ways to expand your mind and perspective. You found mine:

    Create don’t consume is gold!

    • Steve says:

      Hehe, thanks Ian. Nothing wrong with a little binge watching every now and then. Giving our minds a break from those serious “Adult” things is never a bad thing to do! 😉

  12. Great read! These are all excellent tips. I would also add, having conversations with peers or friends to learn from their financial high and low points. I think that ties in well with destroying comfort zones. Finances are sometimes a hush-hush topic, but I think we would see more positivity from transparency and seeking to help others not make the same mistakes that have been made.

    • Steve says:

      Good point, MSM. Conversations are good. And yeah, finances do seem to be a taboo topic, unfortunately. I always try to be as transparent as possible because I feel it helps those who are following my journey. It definitely helped me when I first began.

  13. Arrgo says:

    Another thing to do to retire early is to challenge your beliefs and habits. Stop letting all the advertising brainwash you. Do you really need to spend $50+ every Friday night at Chili’s for a couple burgers? How many $5 Bud lite’s should you really drink at the bar? How often do you need to go shopping or to the movies? Do you need 5G of data on your phone just to watch Youtube videos anywhere on demand? $100 a month or more for the premium cable package? The only way to get your money’s worth out of it is to sit on the couch for many hours a day. There are plenty of money leaks out there to get you. Change your habits and fight back! I dont mind spending money but I look for value. Like you mentioned before, once you give it up you likely wont miss it that much. I cancelled my cable over a year ago and put up a good HD ant. I still get to see football but do I really need to pay for ESPN just to watch the Monday night game? No. I dont care about it that much.
    This isnt to say you shouldn’t spend some money but you are likely paying for a lot that you really dont need or use. Spread it out more. Have some discipline and self control. There plenty a free things out there that are better for you. Ride a bike, Read a book. Enjoy nature and a walk in the woods. I dont obsess about the money part of it to be rich, but I’d rather have more financial security and freedom that throwing all that extra money away on things that hardly matter. And I agree about getting out of your comfort zone. Its really helps build self confidence and in many cases is worth more than any financial benefits you may receive.

    • Steve says:

      Epic comment, Arrgo. There are so many better ways that MOST of us could use our time. Plopping down and watching TV just seems so easy I guess. And the restaurant thing…yeah. I used to be very addicted to going out to eat. Okay, I still *am* addicted, but we don’t do it nearly as often as we used to!

  14. I’ve got one to add, “Practice Stealth Wealth”.

    You cover in your comment that buying expensive crap doesn’t bring you happiness, but I think it’s big enough to get it’s own “number” (6)!

    BTW, I’m writing on Stealth Wealth now, will link to your article. Post comes out next week, I’ll tag you.

  15. Tawcan says:

    Excellent advice Steve. Being positive is very important. There are always people that will tell you it’s impossible to retire early. If you listen to them, you’ll start believing that it’s not possible.

    A few more things I think are important – practice stealth wealth and figure out what makes you happy. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Yup! We certainly don’t all have to make it LOOK like we are filthy rich. I used to do just that, unfortunately. But now, I truly just don’t care. It’s so damn freeing!

  16. You might also want to keep doing all the same things that got you to financial independence — tracking spending, investing, and frugal living.

    That formula worked for a reason. Best not to throw it out.

    • Steve says:

      Excellent point. Do what works, and whatever got you to the point of financial independence definitely worked and is probably worthy of continuing! 🙂

  17. Mr. SSC says:

    Destroy your comfort zones is key. If you can’t think outside the box of what could be, you will be okay with being comfortable and doing stuff the same way you’ve always done it.

    Once you challenge that belief then anything becomes possible and all the other peices can fall into place. But not as long as you’re in your comfort zone. Even now, we feel like we’ve gotten too comfy with where we are even though we’re doing good saving, keeping costs low, mostly, and things like that. So we decided to see if we could ramp up savings a little more, and figure out our next challenge to work on.

    • Steve says:

      Well said! I feel like our comfort zones should be where we go every once in a while when we truly need a safe and secure place. But, we should spend the majority of our time outside of them and experiencing as much as we can. There are a LOT of opportunities out there, but unfortunately, those opportunities very often don’t find their way into our comfort zones.

  18. Miss Mazuma says:

    “The only thing that I can control is me. My life. My reactions. My motivations.” I think you sum up our lives in this series of sentences. Everyone seems to be so much more aware of everyone around them instead of their own lives. What they have that I don’t. How succesful they are and I’m not. Boooo… Don’t get me wrong, I fall victim as well…especially with reality tv (I can’t quit you now, Bachelor)! But in the end I know that comparing my success or failures to others is the direct path to feeling unfulfilled in life. Create something. Learn something new. Push yourself! This is how we made it from infancy to adult – crawling, then walking, the running. Don’t stop now – there is so much more to learn! 😉

  19. Mrs. COD says:

    Love these tips! Great for everybody, not just early retirees. I’m especially working on the “create, don’t consume” goal. Even if no one besides my mother ever reads our blog, it’s worth writing for the clarity and enjoyment I get from it. I’m creating something and I care about it!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mrs. COD – true, it isn’t just early retirees that these tips work for. And this: “I’m creating something and I care about it!” – Couldn’t have said it any better myself!

  20. Excellent advice, Steve!

    One thing I would add is to “continue learning”. It kind of couples with #2 (Destroy Your Comfort Zone) as there’s so many thing to do out there in the world. It’s better to have to experienced it, instead of not trying it at all.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Smart Provisions! Continue Learning is an awesome addition to the list. There’s a TON out there to learn, and the more we know, the better decisions we’ll tend to make. Good point!

  21. Love the idea of creating instead of consuming! That’s exactly what I want to do, although I’ve never been a big TV watcher. It’s so true that it’s easy to burn tons of time sitting in front of the TV/smartphone/computer just consuming content instead of going out and creating the life you want to have!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Liz. I used to watch more TV as a child, but now we hardly watch any. We do turn on Netflix or HGTV during dinner, but that’s about it. I understand that I’m not exactly missing anything, either! 🙂

  22. Arrgo says:

    I also agree about Practicing stealth wealth. When people know what you got, generally nothing good happens. Friends and family will hit you up for money or always expect you to pay. You may end up paying more for repairs or purchases etc. You worked and sacrificed to get where you are instead of blowing all your money like everyone else. Its no one else’s business what you do with your money or how you live.

    • Steve says:

      Ha! It’s true – if people in your life know, it’s almost never a good thing. If people think you’re poor, they won’t hit you up for money and ask for favors, either. Hmm… 😉

  23. This is loaded with wisdom, Steve. Creating instead of consuming is a massive factor in exploding personal growth.

    On the comfort zone piece, I read that the founder of Zappos is an extreme introvert. To combat this, he does one thing outside of his comfort zone each day. He will dye his hair bright red for interviews, talk to complete strangers etc. He stated that this habit has been the single greatest contributor to his success because he became fearless in most situations.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your comment, Andrew! I love that technique – I’m more of a natural introvert than extrovert as well, so I can probably use a dose of that motivation to just start talking to complete strangers. I’ve never really been able to do that unless THEY start the conversation first. 🙂

  24. ” Ridding your life of “entertainment decay” is a tough hill to climb, but once you crest the summit, the ride down is absolute gold.”

    Steve, this LINE is absolute gold! I love your focus on the psychology of early retirement, great advice!

  25. I love all of these tips and live by them myself… particularly the comfort zone and smart risks. Everything I’ve done in my life that ‘exhilarated’ me, also came with great trepidation before hand. I’ve ridden motorcycles, flown airplanes, and even jumped out of airplanes, but I took all proper safety precautions.

    I never understood why people who are afraid to take risks, do things like speed. That is not a smart risk. There is no payoff, it costs money in gas and wear and tear, and it is incredibly dangerous for the driver and everyone around them. If someone wants to speed ‘smartly’, they should go to a race track, or at least a road where very few people are on. But most people are also always in too much of a rush due to being overworked and stuck on someone else’s schedule.

    When people say they won’t get into a small airplane, I tell them that statistically the drive to the airport is the most dangerous part of the flight.

    Anyway, this is a bit of a ramble by now, but kind of explains how I look at ‘risks’ in my life. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      I’ve found the same thing to be true regarding trepidation – but once I actually get into it, it’s NEVER as bad as I thought it might have been. In fact, it always just works out. I have fun, and the next time I do it, I’ll be better at it. It’s a great concept!

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  26. Great post. I love just about everything here, but in particular:

    “What does it mean to “create”? It can mean anything – writing a blog post, knitting, photography. It can even mean creating a better YOU in the gym or on the track. In other words, DO STUFF. Don’t sit and let stuff happen to you. Be proactive.”


    • Steve says:

      Thanks Freedom 40 Plan! Creating is what keeps me focused and wanting more, that’s for sure. And consuming is fun for a while, but to me, it definitely gets boring.

  27. Killing your television is definitely a must. I would add that the consumption of news is particularly destructive to 4 and 5.

    I would also add the following: Accept that your life is not static. Your desires, motivation, attitudes will change. I didn’t retire, but I did cut back to part-time. What I thought would be true all the time ended up being much more complicated. Life is not a straight line.

    Acceptance. Gratitude. Optimism. Reflection.

    • Steve says:

      I totally agree that the consumption of news can be devastating to a person’s outlook. Almost nothing good comes from the news. I used to be a news junky, but that was also back when I spent like a sailor, too. Go figure!

  28. A lot of people “worry” about their retirement but I’ve found that very few have actually taken the time to envision that retirement. What does it look like? What are your goals and dreams? What might it all cost? So many important things to consider regarding retirement long before you even start planning for it financially.

    • Steve says:

      That’s true, Brad. There is a lot of worry, but not a lot of reflection. I’m publishing a post in the very near future about this exact topic, in fact.

  29. My biggest difficulty is my family. My parents have a view of what life should be that is different then mine and it is a constant struggle. I have to remind myself that my own happiness is important and not their perception of how my life should be….

    My life. My reactions. My motivations. I think that is a great quote and very true. I am taking a mindfulness course currently to remind me of handling my reactions.

    • Steve says:

      You have the right attitude about all this. It’s your life, not your parent’s. Your choices. Your desires. Life is about making the best choices for YOU, not for someone else. Always a nice thing to keep in mind.

  30. When I retired, the most common question I received was: “What will you do with yourself; won’t you be bored?”

    Boredom is never an issue… as you mentioned, remaining positive about everything is key. My wife and I stay very busy. We take classes, go to museums, tend to our garden, travel, or just hang out. And hanging out, just us two is really nice.

    Maybe being retired alone could get boring. Hopefully neither of us will have to deal with that for several decades yet.

    • Steve says:

      If you’re bored in early retirement, then you probably retired FROM something rather than TO something. And that is a very important distinction to make. Like you, I am very rare bored when it comes to making good use of my time!

  31. Matt Miller says:


    Your 3rd to last paragraph in this post is a great way to think. “I’m not worried about health care…who our president is…I refuse to let external factors that I cannot control dictate my life.”

    It reminds me of Stephen Covey’s Circle of Influence in his book, 7 Habits. The basic idea is that you shouldn’t be worried about things outside your circle of influence because you have no control over them. Why worry about things outside of your control?

    Another thought I have is that if you focus on your circle of influence, you will be much more effective at life. Instead of spinning your wheels over something you have no control over, you should focus on those smaller everyday things you do have influence over.

    Matt Miller

    • Steve says:

      Yup, I remember reading that part of the book as well, and it’s a very powerful part. Don’t focus on things you can’t control. Instead, focus more heavily on the things that you can. Use your power for good! 🙂

  32. Steve, Thanks. Very helpful information. Totally agree with you. It will helps my brother who will retiring early. Would you please give some advice about retiring lately?

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