How to Retire Early and Love It

Antique business store owner smiling
Getty ImagesFinding a part-time job you enjoy can help you retire years earlier.
By Tom Sightings

Early retirement isn't only about saving up enough money to quit your job. Many people are pushed or pulled into early retirement by their employer, family or both. The money just makes it easier to navigate the transition.

The Push. The reason most people want to retire early is they have a job they don't like. It's boring, stressful and gives them little or no satisfaction. They just cannot see doing this job for the rest of their working lives. That's the push.

Exhibit A: By the time I was in my early 50s, the company where I'd spent most of my career was faltering. The situation created a poisonous atmosphere. The office was not a pleasant place to spend the day, and hadn't been for several years.

I was sick of my job, and all I could think about was how great it would be if I could afford to take early retirement. But I couldn't see how I could pull it off. Then I got fired, and was forced to figure out how to pull it off.

If you hate your job, your company is in trouble or if there's any other reason you're not focusing on the job but dreaming about what else you could be doing, it might be smarter to take matters into your own hands. Figure out how you can manage to retire early and then map out a plan to do it.

The Pull. One friend from my former company held a secret desire to become a teacher. He saved up his money, did his research and then when he was 50 he jumped ship and entered a fast-track program to train mid-career individuals to become math and science teachers. He left work in November, started the program in January and was teaching middle school science by August.

This is the pull: The dream you've always had, but never went after. Technically, it's not retirement. But it solves the problem of hating your job and wondering how to extricate yourself from a bad work environment.

Besides, it's never a good idea to quit your job without knowing what you're going to do next. You need the pull. One woman retired early and went to work for her husband by joining the family business. A marketing executive gave up his job, and his long commute, to become a real estate agent in his community. Another woman took a part-time job at the library, went to school at night for her degree and then moved into a full-time job when a position opened up. In my own case, I started a consulting business relying on contacts I knew through my old job. I make less money than I used to, as does my friend the science teacher, but we both smile a lot more.

Even if you don't need the money, you should know what your future holds. My brother-in-law got a buyout package from a computer company when he was 55 and his wife was still working. He fulfilled a lifelong dream by becoming a volunteer at the zoo. My other brother-in-law retired at 62. He set up a woodworking shop in his basement and now builds things for his grandchildren and occasionally sells a piece to a neighbor.

The Plan. You do have to be realistic and figure out how you're going to finance your early retirement. Some people still have a pension and can retire with a reasonable income after 20 or 25 years of service. But regardless, if you know you're in a dead-end job and you want out, you should get serious about saving money to finance your next stage in life.

Another career may be part of the plan. When I asked my brother-in-law how he could retire at age 55 with two kids in college, he smiled and replied, "My own secret to early retirement? A working wife." His wife had worked when she was younger, took off a dozen years to raise their children and was ready to rejoin the labor force at what turned out to be a very convenient time. And he's not the only guy I know who is enjoying early retirement while watching his wife go off to work every day.

Whether you have a working spouse or not, if you retire early you will probably have to watch your expenses and live a more modest lifestyle. But early retirement is less about the money and more about how you want to spend your time. Because if you can't think of anything better to do, why would you quit your job?

Tom Sightings blogs at Sightings at 60.

7 Best Places to Retire Worldwide If You're OK Going Full Expat
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How to Retire Early and Love It

Medellin has a notorious reputation among Americans who know it mostly for its drug-laden past, but that hasn't prevented a huge expat population from springing up within city limits. Medellin is an incredibly walkable city, and its El Poblado district has Japanese, French, seafood and Italian restaurants within a block of each other.

Its health care system ranks near the top this list, while the cost of everything from housing to entertainment are a great fit for a fixed income. The average rental on a one-bedroom apartment in the center of the city is $650, while the average cost of buying a place is $1,050 per square meter. A taxi will get you anywhere in town for $2.50, while buses and trains can be found for much less. Plus, with the average high temperature topping out at 73 degrees, the average low coming in at 54 and a couple of rainy seasons in spring and fall, it's cool and comfortable.

Four seasons, lots of English speakers, all the Western amenities, entertainment and dining options that couples honeymoon here for ... that socialist universal health care that folks back home kept wailing about. Is there anything Pau doesn't have going for it?

Well, just consider the fact that you still have to pay for it all. The average cost of living here comes in at little more than $1,900 a month. That's not terrible by western standards, but it's more than the $1,530 you'd pay in Medellin. A whole lot of that cost comes from the nearly $1,300-a-month average cost of an apartment, which is roughly double what you'd pay in Colombia. Pau is still one of the most affordable places to live in France and is one of only two European locations on our list. That said, on a global scale it isn't exactly cheap.

It's a bit rainy and the average high temperature is in the 90s, but you're on an island in the Pacific living in one of the cheapest cities an expat can ask for.

Located along a sheltered coast on the island of Negros, Dumaguete avoids many of the typhoons, floods, landslides and tsunamis that plague other areas of the Philippines. The cost of living there comes out to roughly $920 a month, making it one of the cheapest places to live on this list. The real estate values help out quite a bit, as even prime downtown apartments can be had for $350 a month, while real estate goes for roughly $1,200 per square meter.

For that, you live in a beachfront, tropical climate with excellent health care, lots of activities and one of the best residency programs in the world. If you're there, have roughly $800 a month in income and are over 50 years old, you can live there with no required residency period and with a bunch of discounts as a result of residency.

The good news is that you can live really well here on $920 a month. The bad news? You're doing it in a city where the average high temperature is 99 degrees year-round and the average humidity sits at 85 percent.

Oh, and the nearby farmers burn their fields at the end of harvest season, making the air in town practically unbreathable.

That said, hillside Chiang Mai offers a lot for the money. An apartment downtown goes for a ridiculously low $400 a month, while homes can be bought for $1,100 per square meter. The high-quality health care and health-related services are huge bonuses, as are Western amenities and jobs for foreign residents. Many Westerners are employed in Chiang Mai in language schools, universities, medical facilities and tourist-related industries.

The country's Malaysia My Second Home retirement benefits program for all foreigners is a great draw, but so is the quality Internet access, cellphone coverage and roads.

If you can prove $3,125 in monthly income and make an investment in a local CD, you're going to be living on the cheap for the foreseeable future. The average monthly cost of living comes out to $1,070, with apartments renting for just $500 and homes selling for $1,700 a square meter.

George Town's population of 740,000 isn't exactly tiny, but it's small enough so that it's easy to make friends and meet people in a city where English is spoken just about everywhere. The health care is outstanding, the infrastructure is just about Western and the population of expats is around 40,000 -- a city unto itself.

Ecuador is Florida or Arizona for the expat community.

The country's retirement benefits package includes 50% off transportation, utility bills, international round-trip flights originating in Ecuador and tickets for cultural and sporting events. Foreigners can also enroll in the Ecuador Social Security medical program for $57 a month. Those over 65 also pay lower income tax. Oh, and there's no required minimum stay for residency.

At $1,010 in average monthly costs, Cuenca is also insanely cheap. Apartments downtown rent for $300 a month, with homes selling for $1,100 a square foot. Your neighbor is also likely to have a few stories to swap, as there are roughly 4,000 to 5,000 North American expats living in this small city. There are lots of restaurants and nightlife and just enough English spoken to ease the transition.

This Old World region on the Atlantic Ocean, home to more than 100,000 resident expat retirees, medieval towns, fishing villages, open-air markets, local wine and some of Europe's best sandy beaches. Dotted with cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses with lace-patterned chimneys, surrounded everywhere by fig, olive, almond, and carob trees, it's a European dream location.

It has four seasons, including one of Europe's most sought-after summers, nearly no crime, strong infrastructure and universal, international-standard health care. That said, it isn't exactly overrun with English speakers, so you may want to brush up on some Portuguese before hunting for homes here. Still, with 42 golf courses in less than 100 miles and a cost of living that averages out to between $1,500 and $2,000 a month -- including rent at around $615 a month -- there's a whole lot of motivation to learn the language and stick around a while.

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