Millennials: It's Not Too Late to Plan for an Early Retirement

Coworkers in discussion at conference room table
Coworkers in discussion at conference room table

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The alarm buzzes. You hit snooze a few times before stumbling your way into the bathroom, wishing you could do something -- anything -- other than go in to work. Pasting a smile on your face and mumbling "good morning" to your coworkers, you settle into your desk for yet another day of gazing at the computer. Don't worry, millennials; only about 50 more years until you can retire. Thanks to an average student loan debt of $23,300, our generation's predicted retirement age has been pushed back a decade to 73.

But what if your sentence didn't have to be 50-plus years? What if you could put in your two weeks' notice at 33 and embrace an early retirement?

That's exactly what Justin McCurry did.

McCurry, 33, started his career as a transportation engineer and, at 24, decided he'd be retiring decades before his peers.

He never made more than $70,000 annually, so McCurry credits his "don't spend all you make" mentality for allowing him to walk away from employment in his thirties.

"I always maxed out my 401(k) and IRA and any other tax-deferred savings plan I qualified for," McCurry says. "I also managed to save additional funds in a brokerage account each month."

McCurry, who is married with three children, has over $1 million saved and has already paid off his home. He cites budgeting as one of the keys to successful early retirement.

McCurry's family has no debt and an annual budget of $32,000, which covers living expenses, discretionary spending, and long-term purchases, such as replacing their 13-year-old car. Details of McCurry's budget and retirement plans can be found on his site Root of Good.

McCurry attended state schools and graduated debt-free. But is retiring early doable for a millennial tens of thousands of dollars in the red?
%VIRTUAL-pullquote-Just because you have debt doesn't mean you can't retire early.%

Dealing With Debt and Retiring at 35

"Just because you have debt doesn't mean you can't retire early," says Nate, better known by his pseudonym, Johnny Moneyseed. "It's all about prioritization and goal-setting."

Moneyseed, 29, an active-duty Marine, started his journey to early retirement with $60,000 of debt. He is now debt-free, except for his mortgage, and on track to retire by 35.

"I set a realistic goal to pay off the debt as quickly as possible," he says, "and before I knew it, the debt was completely gone."

He and his wife save and invest around 70 percent of their income. After retirement, the couple are planning to abide by the 4 Percent Rule.

"As long as 4 percent of my total portfolio value is a larger amount than what we spend annually," he says, "then we'll be able to live comfortably off of our portfolio forever."

His family, which includes two daughters and another child on the way, has budgeted for just $40,000 annually in order to live comfortably.

Unlike McCurry, who contributes to a 529 college savings fund for his children, Moneyseed and his wife plan to have their children take financial responsibility for their college educations.

"If someone would've covered my college costs," he says, "I might not have ever learned how to become aggressive with paying down debt." Moneyseed credits his debt repayment for teaching him how to be a saver.


The Biggest Secret to Early Retirement

Even though they're saddled with heavy debts, millennials have one major advantage: time.

"Your youth is a massive advantage. I can't stress that enough," says Carl, 39, a software developer who chronicles his plans for early retirement at 1500 Days to Freedom.

Carl illustrates his point with a parable about two different millennials earning the historical stock market average of 10 percent a year on their investments. Millennial Mike, 25, has scraped together $25,000 in savings from his handful of years at work. Millennial Jim, 25, makes the same salary as Mike but favors luxury cars and lavish vacations. It takes Jim until he's 29 to save $25,000.

"By age 39, Mike's nest egg has grown to $104,000," Carl says. "And at 50, he has almost $300,000 in the bank, compared to Jim's $70,000. At 65, Mike is worth a cool $1,100,000 compared to Jim's $271,000."

Deciding to save -- and invest -- at a young age can make all the difference for millennials and those interested in seeking early retirement.

"If you're in your 20s, you have the gift of time to let your money compound," Carl says. "Take it!"

How to Make Money After the 9-to-5

So if millennials can realistically plan to retire in 20 years instead of 50, might they do with their decades of free time?

Kay, 38, who works in the financial services industry, believes anyone planning to retire early -- like herself -- needs to have a plan to generate some revenue after giving notice.

"I think the earlier someone plans on retiring," she says, "the more of a need they'll have for supplemental income, since there's a longer time frame over which negative events can affect their savings."

Kay plans to supplement her own income through freelance writing and her blog Green Money Stream.

After retirement, Moneyseed also plans to generate extra cash by blogging, and to keep his rental properties. Carl will continue dabbling in software development, but he plans to pursue only the projects he enjoys. The already-retired McCurry participates in focus groups and research studies -- when he isn't transferring dividends from his brokerage accounts to his checking account.

While early retirement -- even for the indebted -- is an option for millennials, one trend is clear: Anyone who plans to retire early either needs to create the next Snapchat -- or be prepared to reduce their expenses to sustain and raise a family on around $40,000 a year. And picking a city with a low cost of living doesn't hurt either.

Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to millennials, money and personal finance. She's also the blogger behind Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers. Popular posts include:

Originally published