My retirement Renaissance: A journey from insane spending to retirement saving

Published November 19, 2014   Posted in How to Retire

Audio introduction

There once was a dude from the southeast who thought that life could be broken down into a few simple constructs: get a job, buy stuff, retire and die.  Yep, that dude was me.  Early retirement?  Not in the cards.  401k retirement plan?  Sure, but only the minimum.  Retirement was the furthest thing from my mind.  After all, I had stuff to pay for!

More retro clipart at http://www.clipartof.com/From a young age, I was off to a great start.  This is my story, a look into my life as a very standardized American with first world “white people problems”, and how I managed to escape that wretched cycle of waste.  Are you ready?  Let’s go.

The year was 2004, and I scored a good, high-paying job right out of college.  On top of the world, I quickly slipped into a careless life of spend some, save less – the typical American lifestyle.  In fact, I sunk half my first year’s salary into a 1999 Corvette convertible (yes, “America’s sports car”) the first year out of college – I bought it used, but it was still a car that I didn’t need.  Unfortunately, “need” had nothing to do with it.

Each day I went to work to bring home the almighty paycheck, and proceeded to dump about $25,000 into upgrades for that car.  We’re talking a supercharger, full long tube headers, red calipers, race camshaft, loud catback exhaust – the whole 9 yards.  I drove one of the loudest and fastest cars around.

That car was sweet.  It felt good.

The Corvette was nice.  But man, that Dodge Viper might actually be nicer.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to cruise around in one of those?  How about both a Viper and a BMW 750 so I can choose whether I want speed or luxury?  Everyone would think that I’m super successful!  The spiral was forming.

I then started the crazy lifestyle of eating out, a LOT.  I’m talking about lunch and dinner every day.  Every.  Damn.  Day.  Not a day went by that I wasn’t standing in line at the local Chipotle, or sitting down to a lovely dinner at Chilis or some other steakhouse in town.  Between $20 and $80, daily, money out the door.

That was the life, or so I thought.  A fast car, delicious food every day without the responsibility of preparation or cleanup and a high paying job.  Oh, and let’s estimate about 50 pounds of additional unhealthy fat around my waist to boot.

Hell, who needs retirement?

It doesn’t stop there.  About 7 years ago I moved out to the southwest and straight into the suburbs.  My commute was about 40 minutes each way, but who cares?  I have a Corvette and a Cadillac STS hand-me-down from my family.  I could manage it.  I make good money, and gas prices aren’t so bad.  Let’s do it!

Then, a serious problem arose.  You see, my STS was a ’97, and she was getting quite old.  Sure, it still drove just fine, but I needed (yes, “NEEDED”) something newer.  A few weeks down the road I came rolling into my driveway with a brand new Cadillac CTS.  A $40k car and a 40 minute commute from the suburbs into work?  No sweat, I can afford it!  This is America, damn it.

I was a true American and living a life of excess.  But even with all my “stuff”, I had nothing to show for it.  I saved only the bare minimum for retirement.  I was setting myself up to work for the rest of my life.  I suppose that I was planning on using my Social Security to retire on, and whatever else I happened to let slip through my grasp in paltry voluntary savings would serve as a bonus.  Yay!

When was retirement for me?  I don’t know, maybe around 70.  Honestly, I wasn’t worried about it.

Then, something happened.  Something profound that would fundamentally change my life.  I suddenly realized what true happiness was all about.

Once my 30s reared its ugly head, I began reflecting on my “stuff”, and I asked some questions who’s answers I was particularly afraid of.  What was all this stuff for?  Is it making my life any better?  So what if I’m rolling down the street in the fastest car in a 50-square mile radius.  And, who wants to waste nearly two hours of their life, every day, driving to and from work?  This was crazy!

Around the same time, I began reading investment blogs (hat tip: Mr Money Mustache) and learned how frighteningly easy it is to create a retirement plan that prioritizes true happiness out of life.  The more I read, the more convinced I became that the way that I was living was, to say the least, destroying my future.

I was killing my future self.  I was prolonging the drudgery of a 9 to 5 job and nearly solidifying my dismal fate of working until 65 or 70.

There came a day where I finally said to myself: Screw this, I’m done.

My retirement Renaissance

I maxed out my retirement contributions.  I got married to my beautiful wife who, like me, wants to retire before we hit 36 (that’s next year!).  Instead of playing fast and loose with hundreds of thousands of combined dollars every year from our salaries, we sock her’s away completely and live entirely off of mine and still save a good portion of mine.

We aren’t perfect.  In fact, we’re far from it.  But, life does not demand perfection.  Nobody needs to be perfect to retire early and enjoy their formidable and active years doing whatever it is that they truly enjoy.

I, for one, know that sitting in front of a computer screen all day is not my idea of lifetime happiness.  Now, I no longer work for the spendable cash, but for the benefit of our futures.  I don’t care about promotions.  I don’t care about company politics or getting “face time” in front of the right folks.   This only sets people up for more work, longer hours and fewer relaxation days.

I turn down more jobs now than I ever imagined I would years ago.  I’m not looking for a lifetime of stress and responsibility in business.  Not any more.  In fact, I quit my job as a Director of Information Technology at a not-for-profit last year, where my commute was about 30 minutes each way.

I found a job where I can work from home, completely eliminating the hours of driving time typical of years passed.  I get up in the morning and wander over to my workstation and put in a day’s work, then immediately start enjoying my time once work is through.  No drive home.  No stressful commute.  No $40/week gas bills.

I appreciate what makes me happy in life.  Like a punch in the face, my life has been transformed into one that makes the best out of virtually any situation, and I no longer stress over things that I cannot control.

Spending 10 hours a day at work to impress some boss?  Nope.

Tacking on miles to my car every damn day commuting to and from work?  Nope.

Spending $200 a week on restaurant food?  Nope.

I got a late start into this way of living, and I am still not perfect, but late is definitely better than never.  I am 34 years old and plan to retire next year.

This is my story.

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Comments

49 responses to “My retirement Renaissance: A journey from insane spending to retirement saving”

  1. Steve, great story, and certainly one that is mimicked around the country. It’s good to see that you and your wife are on the same page and are attacking the financial independence goal with gusto. Good luck on the journey!

  2. Jason says:

    Really great story. I had a similar renaissance a couple of years ago, but I am a bit further down the line in age than you are. Hopefully, I am out by 50 or least to FI. I definitely look forward to looking at the rest of your site.

    • Thanks for stopping by Jason. Regardless of what age you start your drive to FI at, it’s never too late. Retiring before 50 is still way, way before most people will ever dream of retiring and finding true happiness out of life. My dad retired at 49, right along the same lines as your plan.

      Congratulations on making the choice to retire early. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Stevie Wonders says:

        Did your dad use the same techniques to retire as you? Is his and your early retirement a coincidence?

        • Steve says:

          Hi Steve,

          My dad used a high level of income as the primary means for his retirement. Though he wasn’t a HUGE spender, he is definitely not as frugal as I am. He also had an additional 14 or so years to save beyond the point where I plan to retire. His early retirement was a coincidence (meaning, he didn’t plan on an early retirement his whole life), but mine certainly isn’t! 🙂

  3. Allan says:

    Steve… I spend at least 2h30 and up to 4h30 everyday (during winter time) in traffic jams just to get to the office. At least, since I take the bus, I can make good use of that time and read, write, blog . But wow… I’d like to quit that job and work from home too.

    I too used to spend too much on restaurants and unhealthy food everyday. But I recently decided to become vegan mostly for ethical reasons. It has the side effect to force me to eat healthier food and less often out so I can save a bunch and lose all that belly fat.

    You took the right decisions and even though you’re saying that you are not perfect, you can at least claim that you had the courage to change your life for the better.

    Cheers

    • Hi Allan,

      My wife and I took mostly vegan when we’re at home too, believe it or not. It’s amazing how much influence your diet has over how you look and feel, and cutting out meat (and especially dairy) has been a huge help. When we’re out at a restaurant, we are a little more lax in terms of what we eat.

      At least when you commute, you ride the bus so you can be much more productive that way. That probably makes a big difference – that is several hours of additional work (like, blogging) that you can do each and every day.

      Keep up the good work! 🙂

  4. Mr. 1500 says:

    Friggin’ AWESOME! I loved how you turned it around; super cool.

    I see an “FI life” as a life turned upside down from the conventional one. I may have a nice car (even a Corvette) or take ridiculous vacations, but only after I’m retired and have enough money to pay for these things without jeopardizing my freedom. Furthermore, I’m not allowed to postpone retirement for these things down the road. In other words, if I ever have a Corvette, it will be because I somehow ended up with a ridiculous surplus of money.

    However, I hope that I’m enlightened enough to have squashed these silly wants by then. They are slowly melting away, but I still have a small place deep down inside that really likes cars and motorcycles.

  5. Brian says:

    Steve,

    I am right there with you – sick of giving my time to the man and sitting in the 4th worst traffic in the country. It is funny how life’s milestones make you realize what is really important. Retirement by 40 is an awesome goal, I might have to borrow that from you and I will be interested to see how the journey progresses!

    • It’s funny – a couple years ago I never would have thought that I’d be in this position. But now, I look back to where I was a couple years ago and wonder how I let myself get into that position. It is amazing how powerful perspectives in life truly are.

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  6. Eric says:

    Steve,
    Awesome story, and not much unlike my own. We even both had (have) Corvette Convertibles (ours is a 2000), ugh.

    Glad to see you saw the light and are living to tell about it. Looking forward to following with you. I think 7 years is going to be more than enough.

    Eric

    • Hey Eric!

      Thanks for stopping by. I agree, it probably won’t take until I’m 40, but my wife and I have relocation plans in the mix too that will make this process a little more interesting. We always seem to choose the more complex way, but hey, it makes for a much more exciting adventure along the way!

      The Corvette was a really fun car. Every time I rode in that car, I felt like I was someone else. The rumble under my ass as I drove…the drone of the straight-through mufflers, the idle of the race camshaft. Man, that sucker was sweet!

      But ultimately, glad it’s gone.

  7. Jenna says:

    This is inspiring, and I can relate to your journey on some levels. I am also 33 years old and hope to retire early but doubt that it will be in my forties. I think it makes a HUGE difference when you have a career associated with higher salaries. I contribute as much as possible to my 403(b) but to max out at $18,000 would be well over 40% of my salary, leaving little to on which to live in an urban, though affordable, neighborhood. That said, I am doing what I can and leading a frugal life, and my husband and I are striving to mostly live off my take-home pay and to save the rest. I guess I should think about a side hustle, as all these finance blogs keep encouraging. Good luck with your journey to financial freedom! I hope to join your ranks eventually.

    • Hi Jenna!

      Thanks for stopping by and good luck to you, as well, as you head closer and closer towards financial independence. The key is to keep at it and be honest with yourself about your spending. It’s an interesting process to go through, and I’ve found that the more we cut out of our lives, the more simple life becomes.

      It’s a wonderful byproduct of minimizing. 🙂

  8. So glad to have found your blog! Like so many others, we can relate — an Audi S4, plus a fab lifestyle in a VERY expensive city. We’ve now traded it all in for a much more reasonable existence in a smaller town, with right-sized expectations and an aggressive savings plan. On track to retire in under 3 years, at ages 38 and 41. Look forward to following along on your journey!

  9. We try to save as much as we can. This year has been a more expensive year for some reason. More spending than usual. I’m trying to see what expenses can be lowered and have established automatic withdrawals to saving buckets.
    I’m probably going to lower our car insurance bill by dropping full coverage.

  10. I can relate to your story. I am also in the IT field. I used to do a lot of traveling for work and got burnt out. I became a freelancer about 10 years ago and can usually pick and choose many of my jobs.. It was the best decision a ever made. It is almost like semi-retirement. I also do some work out of my house and have time to follow my interests. Life is to short to be miserable. There is a lot to be said about quality of life. Good luck with your journey. Looks like you are well on your way!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for stopping by! Working from home and choosing the jobs that you’d like to do can definitely feel like semi-retirement. Congrats on finding yourself a gig like that. 🙂

      You’re right, life is too short to be miserable.

  11. Hank says:

    Hi Steve, i am impressed you found the turn-around so soon in your life, much sooner than others (majority probably when they hit midlife crisis, and then they start asking questions). I realized it around 36, and it took me to 46 to reach (minimal) FI, and I have set the day on 50 year’s of age (end of year 2015), as I wanted an extra buffer for early retirement (although the last 4 years were not easy, and many reflections on why I wanted this extra buffer, and suffer 4 more cubicle-living years), but luckily we travel a lot for work (and live in diff countries), so that helped. I wish you a great journey to freedom (as this is the real goal for many, not the money, just freedom, and I have many plans to utilize this freedom)

    • Steve says:

      Hi Hank,

      Better late than never. You’re almost there, just a few more months to go. Looks like this holiday season is going to be extra special for you, eh? 😉

      Thanks for stopping by.

  12. You have a great story, Steve and plan to retire in 7 years, that’s really awesome. I was also sick and tired of this non-sense stuff and made up my mind to earn $3000 in 3000 days. Your journey and plans sounds exciting! Keep racing towards FI!

    • Steve says:

      Hi R2R,

      Thanks for reading, appreciate you stopping by. My retirement plans now are significantly shorter term (by the end of 2016) due to a streamlining of expenses. We’re basically at FI now, and retirement itself isn’t far off. 🙂

  13. Jen says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I just found out about this whole early retirement concept and at 42 I’m a little late to the game. My goal is to be retired by 50. I’m just getting started and have some debt to eliminate before the real saving can begin.

    • Steve says:

      Welcome, Jen! Believe me, better late than never, and this whole Early Retirement thing is definitely not a race. Retiring by 50 is an excellent goal and is still at least a decade before most people will call it quits.

      Congrats on finding a better way to live your life!

  14. […] welcome special guest Steve from ThinkSaveRetire […]

  15. […] welcome special guest Steve from ThinkSaveRetire […]

  16. Steve Cox says:

    Hey. Love the blog. I think what you are doing is fantastic and I have similar plans; however, there’s one item holding me back and I wonder if you’ve put any thought/planning into it.

    What are your long term financial plans? SSA takes 35 years of earnings into account for your payout at retirement age of 62 to 70. Any of those 35 years that you did not work will average in a zero. Not good. I’m guessing you’ve have a 20 year work history. So, your SSA payout will be well below poverty levels as it will average in 15 years of zero income. Have you considered your income in your golden years? How you will afford health care or LTC in your golden years? I don’t want to scare you but, a health condition in your 60’s from you or a loved one can put you in the poor house quick. Do you have a golden years plan?

    • Steve says:

      Hey Steve – frankly, we aren’t actually planning on any Social Security when the time comes, so any that we do get will just be icing on the cake. With our level of spending and a very conservative growth rate in the stock market (we are assuming an average rate of growth of around 6%), our net worth will continue to grow and provide us with the resource we need to live comfortably for the foreseeable future.

      Healthcare will be any ordinary expense, whatever it happens to cost at that time. Leading up to our formidable older years, we will have a better idea of what our financial picture will look like. If we feel like we need to pick up a couple part time jobs to increase cash flow a bit, we can do that. But, there’s no way to know what that’s going to look like at this point in our lives.

      We don’t have detailed plans that far out because whatever we come up with now probably won’t represent reality then. All we can do is put together our best reasonable guess at how things are going to work out in the near future and be flexible enough to adjust as necessary. And in the game of early retirement, being flexible is the key to making it work for the long haul.

      Thanks for the comment and question! 🙂

      • Stevie Wonders says:

        To qualify for Social Security and Medicare takes 40 credits, or about 10 years of work. Otherwise, you have to pay for Medicare out of your own pocket.

        • Steve says:

          That’s true, too – Medicare is every bit as important as Social Security. I’ve been paying into the system for so long now, might as well do what we can to make sure we actually qualify to get some of that back. 🙂

  17. Davin says:

    Curious what job you’re doing online and what the pay range is for it?

    • Steve says:

      Hey Davin,

      I work remotely, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a traditional “online job”. I just happen to be able to do my work from anywhere so long as I can check in over the Internet and stay connected with my team. I work in IT doing database work, so the pay range is actually pretty big. The database world tends to be specific enough where salaries are generally pretty good, easily in the low 100,000s if you have some experience under your belt.

      Thanks – hope this helps!

  18. Rémy says:

    I 100% agree with you Steve. We must strive to do what we like. Working in a stressful and unpleasant environment most of his life is not the answer, even if it allows one to buy everything he wants.

    Working is good though when you love what you do. Many successful entrepreneurs still work despite their accumulated fortune. So it comes down to this : what do you want to do during your lifetime in this world? Most people don’t think about it and just follow the herd.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your kind words. It’s true, a lot of people just robotically go through life without a second thought to what actually makes them happy. Believe me that I used to be one of those people, too, until I finally took a look at all my possessions one day and asked myself “So what?”.

      Everything changed.

  19. “This only sets people up for more work, longer hours and fewer relaxation days” .. Fkng true Steve!! It happened to me, going up the corporate ladder is a trap! more money, yes, but less time, mentally and physically. I remember going back home from work at 10pm to continue replying emails. No way I would live all my life like that!
    thanks for sharing!

    Erik

    • Steve says:

      Yup! In many ways it is a trap – I suppose if you like the feeling of “leadership”, then it’s a wonderful way to progress, but then again, like you said, you’re really sacrificing your time and stress for the sake of a title and a little more money to spend. I once bought into that deal myself, but certainly not any more!

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  22. Ray says:

    Excellent work. My story was in reverse as I used to be a total personal finance Scrooge. Only later did I learn to stop scrimping on EVERYTHING and use money wisely on things that actually enrich life (experiences, well-budgeted travel, etc.). The years of being a Scrooge did help though, as now I’m 27 and have some money invested which provides a *little* passive income for a mini-retirement.
    Now I’m working from home similar to you (blogger), though I’m still at the startup phase right now.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Ray, and wow, you have an amazing story – I don’t think I’ve seen too many come at this from that direction, but you’re right, being too much of a scrooge isn’t necessarily in our best interest either. Spending money can certainly be GOOD, so long as we spend it on the right things that truly bring us happiness. Looks like you’re finding your way quite well, and congrats on being able to work from home. It’s an amazing experience that gets so much of YOUR time back into your hands. 🙂

  23. […] We both made above average salaries for our area and spent accordingly – from vacations to sports cars. However, even with all of this, we weren’t happy. Our many things just weren’t inspiring us […]

  24. Curious what do you do in IT now? I’m a project manager and have considered going work from home. Do you still directly manage people?

    • Steve says:

      I’ effectively a DBA. I work for a database vendor as a consultant and I design solutions for our customers. Usually this means I work from home, but the occasional travel requirement hangs around too. Travel hasn’t been bad, though. The large majority of the time I’m here. So long as I have an Internet connection, I’m good. 🙂

      And no, I don’t manage people in any way, which is exactly my preference. I couldn’t go back to that life…it just wasn’t for me.

  25. katscratch says:

    This — the way you’ve written this — is one of the most inspirational things I’ve read!

    Congratulations to both of you on your retirement!

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