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Top Five Ways To Make Sure You Never Retire Early

 

 

Although I used to work like a fiend at my day job, I switched to part time hours a little over a year ago. This past week, I found myself working five of seven days in the office. By Wednesday, I was already begging for Friday, and I felt like I was just phoning it home those last couple of days. I can’t wait until the day when I can pick and choose when I work because we have no debt and living expenses are low. Heck, I might even retire completely and open up a taco stand. I haven’t always had such ambitious dreams. I used to be the authority on money moronism because I have made every mistake on the list. Here are five sure fire ways to make sure you will never retire early.

 Don’t Max Out Your Retirement Plan

When I got my first real job, it was after working as a resident for $25,000 a year. I felt pretty posh on my $25K because I had minimal expenses. If I had continued to live on $25K per year or even if I’d increased my living expenses but maxed out my retirement plan, I would have so much more money now. Instead, I invested 3% of my salary to get the company match. I thought I was so smart to take the free money, and I was, but I could have saved much, much more. It would not have hurt at all because I was used to being poor.

 Buy Everything on Zero Interest Credit

After I started working, and we bought a house, we felt like we needed the stuff that goes along with it. That’s when we discovered revolving credit. Why on earth would anyone spend a chunk of change all at once when you can finance just about anything at zero percent? We did this with appliances, furniture, mountain bikes, lumber for a new deck, tires, and even a $1500 vacuum cleaner! When you are living to make payments, even at zero percent, you aren’t saving or investing that money. You migh have lots of stuff, like a super cool vacuum, but do you want to work extra years to pay for it?

 Get a New Car Every Few Years

When I finished college, I had a perfectly good Honda Accord that ran great and would have lasted for many more years. Instead of being smart and driving my paid off car, I traded it in for a brand new one. Jim did the same, and over the next ten years, we drove 7 different cars and traded them in before ever paying one off. We thought we were smart for not leasing, but in reality, it was like taking out a ten year car note. Learn to love your used car. If it gets you from point A to point B, that’s all that matters.

 Always Carry a Credit Card Balance

After the mortgage, student loan payments, zero interest payment, and car payments, there wasn’t lots of money left at the end of the month. There was much more stuff to buy like clothes, vacations, electronics, tools, and a gold throne for your living room (I’m kidding on that one). If you don’t have cash and want to work for the rest of your days, put stuff on the credit card and make the minimum payment every month.

 Don’t Ever Use a Budget

Honestly, at the height of our debt, we had no clue how much we owed or were spending. Once we sat down to figure it out, we were stunned to learn that we owed over $30,000 in credit card debt alone! That’s a guarantee for never retiring early, if at all.

Epilogue

Luckily we realized that we could not maintain our current lifestyle and have any hope of retiring before we were too old to enjoy life. I’m pleased to say that we rocked debt repayment and have paid off everything except mortgage debt. I hope to be “retired” or at least financially independent by age 50. It’s not as sexy as 35 or 40, but it just goes to show you that there is hope if you are making some of the mistakes we used to make.

What mistakes have you made in your retirement plans? Are you hoping to retire early? Have you bought anything more stupid than a $1500 vacuum?

 

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

59 comments

  1. What kind of vacuum was that for $1500? Did it come with a robot attached to it that cleans your whole house for you? 🙂

    Not having a plan is the big one. A lot of people know you’re supposed to save or budget (and they don’t). But even if you do those things, is it really enough? Are you going to get where you want to when you want to? A lot of people probably could not confidently answer that question, and that’s because they’ve never sat down, crunched the numbers, and proven it to themselves one way or the other.

    • I had no plan other than going to work and getting my checks. I think that’s a mistake of most 20 somethings. You would have thought that vacuum could make dinner and do the dishes, right?

  2. Am relatively younger…apparently not as smart as I’d have imagine…I seem to be making pretty much the same mistakes!!
    Not maxing out on retirement, the budget is there but most times it gets overshot…at least am not entangled in the credit card hasmter wheel…yet and am sure hoping to steer clear of that.
    Bottom line, its a wake up…for one, I can certainly start with getting serious about budgeting!

    • I’m not sure any of us think of everything when we are young, but in hindsight, I wish I’d done things differently. You can always make amends, but it would have been much easier if I’d started doing things the right way from the beginning.

  3. We’ve had our share of $1500 vacuum kind of things. Though for that price, I’d hope it do the house cleaning for us. 😉 We made the car mistake as well when we were first married and wish we could go back and shake some sense into ourselves. I think the biggest mistake was not starting to save earlier. That time is unfortunately lost, but we’re doing all we can to try and make up for it.

  4. I have not really looked into retiring early, as that seems so far off that I try to not focus on it too much. Instead I do what I can today to get myself closer to financial independence. Currently that means paying down debt and making sure I keep making payments towards my 401k. I hear you about the zero interest thing, but sometimes that can work to your advantage. We were able to put in about $1,000 worth of appliance upgrades in our rental unit in our basement and it made a HUGE difference. Then I just took $200 or so from the rental income each month until it was paid off. Loved that setup.

  5. Not maxing out your retirement plan – whatever your plan may be – is a biggie. I think the earlier you realize that, the better, because if you’re always maxing out your contributions from the start it’s so much easier. Like you said, when you first start out you’re probably used to feeling poor! You won’t miss that money that you’re putting toward retirement if you never give yourself a chance to get used to it and all the material stuff it can buy.

  6. We are hoping to retire early (be in the position to retire before the age of 40 even if we do not retire). My main mistake to date was not maxing out my matched retirement pension scheme at work for the first couple of years!

  7. Every time I see a zero percent interest flier I know to ask the discount for paying in cash instead.

    We were looking to replace our heating and air conditioning systems, and they offered a zero percent finance offer. When I called the sales person on the terminology, he looked at me and admitted that people tend to jump at that offer more than paying a lower price for cash. It spoke volumes to the tricks people play.

    • I am continually amazed at the things you can finance. I feel kind of guilty that our office offers Care Credit, which is a 0% plan for buying glasses. We used to let people make payments directly to us, but had to many bad apples. I guess it’s good for business, but it makes me want to scream at people that they are setting themselves up for failure.

  8. Hm. When you say “max” your retirement, are you referring to the max amount that gets the company match, the statutory limit of matching, or just the max amount your budget will allow?

    I’m doing the first, don’t think I can do the second (I can, but I think my student loan debt is more pressing), and the third is subjective and even then, subject to wanting to pay that debt down

    • Unless you have a really low salary, I would try my hardest to put the max amount allowed by law. If you can do that and adjust your budget accordingly, you will have so many more options a decade down the road. If you can’t at least get the company match, but I would put enough in there to at least make it “hurt” a little bit in your budget. If you have credit card debt, I’d do that first. If I had it to do over again, I would never have bought anything on credit except maybe our house.

      • Oh, I totally agree that this would definitely set a person up down the line. I just think for a lot of people, maxing out the $17,500 a 401k allows and $5,500 an IRA allows would be pretty tough. But you’re right; saving should “hurt” a little, at least enough that it convinces you to save a bit more through frugal living.

        • I would add that if your company plan sucks, I would only invest up to the match, if any, and then invest elsewhere. Also if you do plan on retiring early, it might be wise to invest in non-retirements accounts as well or in rentals so that you can use that income before 59.5 if you want. If I had it to do over, I’d figure how much I could invest and set my income after taking out that amount first so I would have never missed it.

  9. I definitely spent money on stupid things when I was younger, but I think that’s all part of the process. Certainly some people go more overboard than others, but we all have to start somewhere and it’s likely not knowing all of things you will wish you would have done when you were older. With that said, doing or avoiding all of these things here will go a long way towards building financial freedom. You guys definitely seem to have figured it out well.

    • I do kick myself for not figuring it out sooner, but I don’t think I ever knew anyone who willingly retired early before I discovered the PF community.

  10. I remember those days. It has taken some time to get away from the mistakes that I have made like this, but it has only taught me more about what I need to do in order to right the ship.

    • I’m really thankful for our mistakes. If they weren’t so bad, we might be contributing 3% forever without realizing that more is possible.

  11. I’ve been pretty prudent with my money…but I definitely could have saved more in my retirement plans. And I probably should have had a clearer budget because I’m sure I have some leaks in the budget that I don’t see. As for cars, I drove my last one for 10 years even when friends questioned why I was driving the same car I had in college, and they upgraded every few years. Cars are expensive and not buying a new one every few years saved a lot. Unfortunately I have a long commute so I’m putting a lot of miles on my car…hopefully it can last.

    • We plan on keeping our current vehicles for at least 10 years. Will you get a pension? If so, I think you have a little more leeway on contributing to your retirement. Jim doesn’t really contribute to his plan after they cut the match a few years ago because it has high fees and he should be pension eligible.

      • I will be eligible for a pension. It is pretty generous if I stay 30 years, minimum age 55…so I’d likely be 56 to take advantage of it. I still contribute a good amount into my deferred compensation plan because the fees are very low. There are many Vanguard funds and I pay the admiral shares rate I believe, so it’s actually lower than if I were investing on my on.

  12. Oh I’m sure we’ve all made mistakes. I think one of my highest was becoming to attached to the car I bought when I got out of school. It was adorable and anytime the dealer said it needed anything I paid it without hesitation – seriously thousands of dollars. But in the end she didn’t end up lasting as long as I thought she should.

  13. Debt and the Girl

    There have def. been a few pitfalls here and then in my youth. i am just lucky to have come through it and been able to keep our house and everything.

    • We are very lucky that we didn’t have any sort of problem that kept us out of work for a period of time. We could have certainly fallen behind on all the payments.

  14. Holy cow a $1500 vacuum? What does it do? Your dishes? Tuck you into bed? 🙂 LOL! I’ve made SO many of the mistakes you have made. I’m sure I could find my own “vacuum” as far as spending goes. It’s rather sobering isn’t it to look back and see what you’ve done? The thing is I still find spending a slippery slope. It’s not like you’re ever 100% cured. I still go out of budget all the time, it’s just that the damage is very minimal. Anyway, I’m sure a lot of people will relate to this.

    • Right, it should have given me a pedicure and made dinner. What was I thinking? I think we still make mistakes, but I usually realize that and get back on track now.

  15. Interesting that you can bring up not maximizing your retirement plan. We often encourage to at least invest enough to earn their company match, which is a great start, but as you said – maximizing your retirement plan is even better. 🙂 You are definitely not alone in making these mistakes and I see them almost every day. Thankfully you figured it out and fixed it. 🙂

    • It would have seemed like a huge amount in the beginning, but if I’d subtracted that from my income and learned to live on the balance, it would have been totally doable. Hindsight is always 20/20. I also had no idea I’d ever want to retire early. Otherwise, I would have planned better.

  16. Since I retired (achieved financial independence in my late 30’s) early, I guess I did everything right. I saved (before 401k) and invested.my entire life. I invested i income property and grew it into a business. Additional income is one of the best ways to retire early.

    • I am hoping to copy your example, although I’m almost out of my 30’s I believe the next decade is my time to shine financially.

  17. Once upon a time, I was guilty of ALL of the above. Now the only one I’m guilty of is the not maxing out our retirement account. That will be corrected in 2014 when we get done with our Debt management program. 🙂

  18. It’s funny how it can seem really difficult to save even a small amount – say an extra $20 or so a week- yet once you have it automatically investing, like a 401(k) deduction, pretty soon you adjust and don’t even miss it. It can feel a little like magic.

    I was intrigued by the thought of buying a new car every few years. I’m still driving the car I bought new almost 10 years ago and I still have people comment that they thought it was a new or nearly new car. (It’s a model that had the same body style for years!) While it still drives and looks good, one reason I haven’t gotten another one is because every time I buy another car, I spend weeks researching and looking and reading reviews. I’d drive myself nuts if I bought a new car every couple of years!

    All your points in your article were right on – really good advice which could make a huge financial difference.

    • We never researched cars until the last ones we bought, which we plan to keep until they cost more to maintain than they save us. If I saw something I liked, I traded. We bought a couple on whims. One morning Jim decided he wanted a truck and we had one buy that afternoon. Credit often makes your brain not work right for some reason.

  19. In my 20s I bought a 600 Treo cell phone which was a pure waste of money. It was a few years before I even contributed more than 5% of my salary so I really lost a lot of time.

  20. You are so brave to post about your $1500 vacuum! There isn’t a single purchase I regret — it’s more the little purchases of kitchen gadgets and home decor stuff that I regret. All those items that add up to a lot of money over the years and that I really didn’t need. That’s the most frustrating. But we have to move on and up.

    • You are right. It does not good to regret. It does make me kind of laugh to think about that vacuum. It was a door to door salesman who offered to clean my carpet and when I saw how much dirt he sucked up, I bought that stupid thing!

  21. I have no idea when I will retire.. I am working hard to make sure the money will be there when I get there, but I do realize that it will likely be down the road a bit. Certainly some great tips here for making sure you don’t wreck yourself financially along the way!

  22. Oh my gosh, Kim. This article had me cringing, as this was “us” for many, many years. Now we are having to kick it big time so that Rick can retire early. I often think about the fact that he would be able to retire today had we had our financial crap together from the get-go. Better late than never, I suppose.

    • I feel that way too, Laurie, but you have to use it as a learning experience and think of all the perspective you’ve gotten because of your debt. I’d rather not have had it to begin with, but it taught me lots about myself and what I am capable of.

  23. These are great tips, though I am not quite there. If I were to max out my RRSP and my TFSA (Canada here) I would be saving 26% of my salary. That would be fine, if I wasn’t paying 33% to my debt.

  24. I have made more mistakes than I can count…. I got on the revolving credit ride, when times got tough I borrowed to make ends meet AND stopped contributing to my 401K, and then when times got really tough I was borrowing from one creditor to pay another…… I feel like I am drowning in debt now 🙁

    • I am sorry to hear that. I know what drowning in debt feels like, and I don’t wish it on anyone. The first step is to count it all up and make a plan. If you want to discuss it further, feel free to email me.

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