How to Retire at 38

James Kerr


You know who I’m talking about: Ordinary people making ordinary salaries who are somehow able to sock away half or more of their disposable income and who accumulate enough to step away from the working world long before the rest of us.

We hear about these people all the time on podcasts. The couple who banked $1 million over the course of a decade by scrimping and saving. The millennial money wizard who has built a six-figure net worth and plans to retire by age 38.

How do they do it? They live in the same expensive, consumeristic world as the rest of us. How do they avoid the temptation to pull out the plastic when the impulse hits?

I consider myself a fairly frugal person who has a decent grasp of the fundamentals of investing. And yet, despite saving and investing for more than 30 years, it took me until I was nearly 62 before I had enough saved to feel comfortable stepping away from the daily grind.

Even now, after downsizing and cutting expenses to the bone, I worry whether I’ll have enough to last for whatever years I have left on this earth. Those worries were exacerbated by last year’s horrific showing in the financial markets.

After witnessing double-digit losses in my portfolio in 2022, I went into the new year determined to cut my already slashed spending levels. But here I am, a month into 2023, and I’ve already put an unexpected $1,000 on my credit card.

So, while I’m not qualified to offer advice on how to achieve financial independence by age 40, I think I am qualified to tell you what you shouldn’t do if your goal is to be a super-saver and retire decades before the rest of us. Here are seven pointers.

1. Don’t have a spouse or significant other. No one wants a cheapskate for a partner. I like to splurge on Rachael at Christmas. As soon as the holidays are over, it’s time to get her a nice gift for her birthday in January. This month, it’s Valentine’s Day. Then, in April, it’s our anniversary. And so it goes on.

2. Don’t have kids. Enough said.

3. Don’t get divorced, especially if you have kids. I lost a good decade of financial progress, not to mention 10 years of my life, by going through a divorce in my 40s. Beyond surrendering 60% of our marital assets, there was the alimony, the child support, the legal bills and so on. Avoid it—assuming that’s a possibility. For me, it wasn’t.

4. Don’t have a dog. I just got back from taking Cassie to the vet for her annual doggie checkup. Including shots and tests, the appointment cost me close to $300—which is one reason my credit card balance is so high. As I’ve written before, dogs are great companions that add immense richness to the tapestry of our lives. But as investments, they’re terrible.

5. Don’t own a house. Despite easing up recently, housing prices continue to be insane. Along with that overpriced house comes the equally insane cost of maintaining it. Even tiny houses are getting ridiculously expensive.

Of course, rents are also soaring, so if you want to be a super-saver, consider living out of your car—if you can afford one.

6. Don’t get sick and don’t get old. Last year, I made my first trip to the body-parts store to get a new joint. I needed to replace my creaky, arthritic left hip. Even with a good-quality medical plan, I still burned through thousands of dollars to cover my deductible and copayments.

There’s a good reason all the super-savers I read about are young. They don’t have to worry about all this getting-older stuff.

7. Don’t travel or have fun. This is critical. If you want to accumulate enough money to retire early, you can’t waste any hard-earned money on vacations, dinners at nice restaurants, tickets to Broadway shows or the opera, or any other frivolous stuff. Put off all the fun until you’ve stepped away from the working world, at which point you can finally relax and enjoy yourself. Until your body starts falling apart.

There you have it. Bottom line: if you want to be a super-saver, all you need to do is stop living. Give it a shot and you might find yourself profiled on a podcast. I’m looking forward to hearing all about you.

James Kerr led global communications, public relations and social media for a number of Fortune 500 technology firms before leaving the corporate world to pursue his passion for writing and storytelling. His debut book, “The Long Walk Home: How I Lost My Job as a Corporate Remora Fish and Rediscovered My Life’s Purpose,” was published in 2022 by Blydyn Square Books. Jim blogs at Follow him on Twitter @JamesBKerr and check out his previous articles.

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