Early retirement is a great financial goal for anyone. Think about it. Even if you want to retire 10 years early and don’t quite make it you only retire three years early that’s still three years of freedom to do whatever you want to do. You’re in control of your time. Why? Because you’re in control of your money. That’s why they call it financial independence.
You’ll sometimes hear people talk about FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), which usually focuses on extreme early retirement. But to retire early, you don’t have to quit your job at 28. As long as you’re not already retired, you can work toward early retirement.
Wherever you’re at in your journey, these resources can help.
Your sixth-grade teacher was right. Math is important. Fortunately, this is life, not a test, and you’re allowed to use a calculator.
For early retirement, consider these four numbers:
- Your savings
- Your required expenses
- Your investments
- The number of years until retirement
You could argue the third one is optional. If your living expenses are $10,000 per year, and you have $1 million, then congratulations you’re financially independent for 100 years. No need to worry about messy exponential formulas (well, maybe put some of that million into an inflation-protected treasury bond, but you’re going to be fine).
For most of us, though, savings from our salaries alone won’t be enough to meet our living expenses if we plan to retire early. That’s why you’ll want to know all these numbers as you begin retirement planning. They’re especially helpful when you start plugging numbers into online retirement calculators.
Here are some handy online calculators to try:
- Savings calculator: You can chart how much your savings will be worth in the future, taking into account any extra money you throw in beyond your initial investment. Make adjustments to see how much more you’ll have by increasing your savings.
- Rich, broke, dead calculator: My favorite. Look into a mathematical crystal ball to see if you’re more likely to be rich, broke or dead at a given age. This helps you understand if you’ll outlive your money or if your retirement savings will last for the rest of your life.
- Retirement calculators: There are several choices, but this retirement calculator from Charles Schwab is an easy one. You can plug in your age, savings, income, desired retirement age and more to see how close you are to your retirement goal and if you're on track to meet it. It also takes care of details like inflation and estimating your Social Security benefits.
- cFIREsim: This crowdsourced calculator uses historical market data from 1871 to today to calculate how much your portfolio would be worth based on any given time period. Essentially, you can see if you'd still have enough to retire on if you quit your job, say, right before another Great Depression (really bad timing). It's a helpful tool to assess your likelihood of success and consider your risk tolerance.
For more, check out our full list of retirement calculators, including IRA calculators.
Now let’s talk about the finances powering the numbers discussed above.
One of the biggest levers you have for financial independence is increasing your savings rate:
Savings Rate = (Income - Expenses) / Income
Debt eats away at your savings rate, artificially inflating your expenses. If you have debt, you're not alone. Americans carry around $925 billion in revolving credit card debt. Add in student loans, car loans and more, and it can seem overwhelming.
But to retire early, you want to pay off your debt as efficiently as possible, typically starting with the highest interest rate first. Here are some tools to help you do it.
- Debt Paydown Calculator: This free calculator from Bankrate creates a customized plan for the specific payments you need to make to be debt-free. It covers nuances like tax bracket, credit cards with introductory promotions, adjustable rate mortgages and more. You can even input additional funds, such as a raise, you'll be able to put toward paying off the loan.
- Tally: If you need to get a handle on your credit card debt, this could be the app for you. Users can enter in all their credit cards and make a single payment per month. You’ll need to qualify for Tally’s line of credit, which usually requires a minimum FICO score of 660, but the interest rate for that credit should be lower than your other interest rates, meaning you save money.
- A balance transfer card: This is a neat personal finance hack. You can move outstanding debt from high-interest credit cards to a balance transfer card that offers 0% interest for a limited introductory period. Continue paying off your debt, but at no additional interest. When the interest-free period ends, you can roll the balance to another balance transfer card if needed. Just keep paying it off.
- ChangEd and Qoins: Put your spare change to good use. These two apps round up transactions you’d make anyway to the nearest dollar and automatically put it toward paying down debt. They also both cost a small fee. The main difference is ChangEd is just for student loans while Qoins covers any debt.
Need more tools to consolidate and manage your debt? Get the full debt repayment tools list.
If you want to retire early, you need to get your budget in check. Your budget doesn't have to be fancy. There's only one rule: It has to be something you'll keep up with.
Try these options on for size.
- Excel and Google Sheets: Don't want another app? No judgment. Enter your monthly expenses by category into rows. Put months as column headers. Have one row that sums each column. Achievement unlocked.
- YNAB: Can you talk about budgets without talking about YNAB (which stands for You Need A Budget)? Clearly not. This popular app gives you an easy way to track and categorize your transactions. It also has a whole philosophy around how to save and spend money to grow your net worth, especially for those living paycheck-to-paycheck. The app costs, but the video lessons are free.
- Personal Capital: This is more than a budgeting tool, but if you think of your budget as optimizing all money coming in and out, then that’s exactly what it is. The app can link to pretty much any financial account you have: savings, checking, credit cards, investments, even your mortgage. It’s your best all-in-one budgeting app.
- Mint: Love charts? You’ll love Mint. This app gives you a solid snapshot of your budget. Not only can you see your expenses by category at a glance; you can notice trends over time, plan for big-ticket purchases and compare your spending with national averages.
- Honeydue: Honeydue also gives you a holistic picture of your budget, but the twist is it’s geared toward couples. You can link both joint and individual accounts and choose what you share with your partner. Here are some other personal finance app for couples if you’re budgeting for two.
There are so many more budgeting apps out there. PocketGuard and EveryDollar are a few more that come to mind. And some budgeters swear by the envelope system, where you put a specific amount of money for each household expense in a labeled envelope. If your out-to-eat budget is $30 for the month, and you’ve already spent $25, you have $5 left, not a penny more.
Whatever you choose, you must understand your spending. It's the only way you can plan for how much you'll need in early retirement.
With your budget under control, you can start increasing your savings rate, and you want to funnel that extra cash to the right place.
For savings, you’re looking for a HYSA: a high-yield savings account. There are two things to watch for.
- APY: A bank account’s annual percentage yield includes the interest rate and compounding interest. The average APY in the U.S. is a dismal 0.06%. You can do better. Aim for 0.4% or higher.
- Fees: Paying for your savings account? No, thanks. This one is easy. Choose fee-free accounts only.
As your nest egg grows, so does the amount you make in interest each year. It makes sense to maximize this. And you can’t have fees undercutting your savings. A high-yield savings account is a key resource for anyone looking to retire early. This chart from Bankrate shows the latest numbers for several fee-free savings accounts, though a couple charge for optional paper statements.
High-Yield Savings Accounts
|Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account||0.57%|
|Live Oak High-Yield Online Savings||0.55%|
|Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Savings Account||0.55%|
|Comenity Direct High-Yield Savings Account||0.55%|
|Quontic Bank High Yield Savings||0.55%|
|CIBC Bank USA Agility Savings Account||0.52%|
|Ally Bank Online Savings Account||0.50%|
|Citibank Accelerate High-Yield Savings||0.50%|
|Marcus by Goldman Sachs High-Yield Online Savings Account||0.50%|
|Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings||0.50%|
|TAB Bank High Yield Savings||0.50%|
|TIAA Bank Basic Savings||0.50%|
Two other options to consider are Chime is a financial app whose mission is to provide basic financial services that are “helpful, easy, and free” and Fitness Bank, which bills itself as an online lifestyle bank and offers an astounding 0.65% APY if you meet the financial and fitness requirements.
Of course, banks aren't only about interest rates. You might want to check if a minimum balance is required and if there are any perks like fee reimbursement for ATM withdrawals.
Chime Disclosure - Chime is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services and debit card provided by The Bancorp Bank or Stride Bank, N.A.; Members FDIC.
1Save When I Get Paid automatically transfers 10% of your direct deposits of $500 or more from your Checking Account into your savings account.
^Round Ups automatically round up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer the round up from your Chime Checking Account to your savings account.
Investing supercharges your savings and can help you retire much earlier than you could otherwise.
There are a lot of tools at your fingertips to help you begin investing. Don't wait to start investing! This is a key step in your early retirement strategy.
- First, make sure you’re maxing out your contributions to your 401k, especially if your employer matches what you put in. Then put in the max allowable contribution for your regular or Roth IRA. The IRS sets contribution limits for these accounts, so be sure to check those.
- What Qoins does for debt, Acorns does for investing. Round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and invest the spare cents. The app is super intuitive, making it ideal for new investors.
- If you want to begin trading equities, make sure you understand them. Great online resources include Investopedia, investment research firm Morningstar and stock screeners that let you filter stocks with real-time data.
- To start DIY trading, find a stock-trading platform you like. It should be a commission-free broker, such as Robinhood, Webull, Charles Schwab and Vanguard.
- Robo-advisors like M1, Wealthfront, and Betterment automate your investing, but the real draw with robo-advisors is that they can help you build the right portfolio based on factors like taxation, your risk tolerance, goals and investment horizon.
You can put money into real estate, cryptocurrency, the stock market and more, but the secret to early retirement isn't windfalls and luck. It's passive income. Over time, your money can make money faster than you can, thanks to the magic of compound interest. And eventually, you can live off of it.
Beyond digital tools, it’s hard to replace the value of pros with years of experience.
If you want one-on-one financial counseling, Certified Financial Planners or financial coaches (cheaper but less credentialed) can help. There are online financial advisors, too.
These resources can help you find someone.
- Paladin Registry: This online registry matches you to vetted financial professionals, and its free to use.
- Let’s Make a Plan: This website lets you search for CFPs by location and services offered. Be sure to filter for the Retirement Planning service.
- SmartAsset Advisor Match: Here, a short quiz asks you about your financial situation, including when you plan to retire, and emails you a list of potential advisors.
- Albert Genius: Albert is primarily a budget app, but its Genius version includes access to real-live financial advisors who can review your bills, help you save money and more.
- The National Foundation for Credit Counseling: If you’re struggling with credit card debt, you can connect with a pro bono financial counselor who will help you figure out what to do next.
- Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolio Premium: Automated investing with Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolio comes with unlimited access to a CFP when you upgrade to premium. It doesn’t come cheap, though, with both an upfront and ongoing fee.
Several other apps offer virtual financial planning services. They typically charge either flat fees or a 0.5%-0.7% annual fee. Do the math to see what’s cheapest.
Free Financial Planning Through EAP
Want to talk to a financial planner for free? Check if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program. Short-term, confidential sessions with a financial expert may be covered under your benefits.
Often these are phone sessions, and you’ll need to pay for ongoing counseling, but they can be great if you have a specific question to ask. We were aggressively paying down our 30-year mortgage, and a financial planner we spoke with helped us realize those extra mortgage payments would serve us better in the market. Turns out, he was right.
Remember your ability to retire early is dependent on how much you can save versus how much you need to live. You can only drive down expenses so much. Then it's time to focus on the other half of the equation: your income.
Investing helps, but it's slow. Increasing your income can immediately increase your savings rate. But it's not easy. It usually involves spending money, time, or both, so in some ways, it can be a calculated risk, not unlike other investments.
Want to raise your income? Try these tools and tips:
- Side hustles: Run errands or teach English. Start a part-time business. Drive Uber. Freelance. Side gigs put extra money in your pocket. They can also hold you over when times are lean or you lose your job.
- Education: Whether you’re looking for a degree, continuing education credits or free college courses, upskilling can be a great way to boost your earnings. Be sure to see what credentials and skills are needed in the market so you invest (in yourself) wisely.
- Raises: Asking for raises is awkward but smart business. If you want to ask your boss for a raise, come prepared. Be able to mention the value you’ve brought to the company (last-minute shifts covered, deals closed, ROI generated numbers and concrete examples work best). And know how much you’re worth. Salary comparison tools from LinkedIn, PayScale, and Salary.com work well.
- Job searching: That 3% annual raise isn't getting you anywhere. It's best to job search when you already have a job. You're in a better position to negotiate since you know you can walk away from an offer. You also can use this as an exercise to see how much your skills fetch on the open market. Aim high until you find the right range.
Of course, overall quality of life should be taken into account. A few extra dollars isn't worth coming home unhappy every day. And burning the candle at both ends with multiple jobs and school can take a toll on your relationships and health.
After all, your goal with early retirement is to live the life you want. And your life right now matters, too.
If you’re still working, a Health Savings Account is a smart choice for aspiring retirees.
This employer-sponsored tax-advantaged account lets you save money though you can only spend it on healthcare. That includes doctor’s visits but also things like bandages, cough drops and prescriptions.
But health insurance gets tricker after you leave your employer-sponsored healthcare. Medicare doesn’t kick in until you’re 65, so early retirees need to have health insurance for the years in between. There’s no easy answer.
- The Healthcare Insurance Marketplace is your best bet to get coverage if you’re not employed and under 65. It’s available to everyone, and your income in retirement likely won’t be as high as it is right now, which means you may qualify for a less expensive plan.
- Moving abroad is another option for some early retirees. It’s not without challenges, but several countries offer affordable healthcare for expats.
If you’re considering the expat life, Uncle Sam will still want a cut of (most of) your investments.
Help With Early Retirement
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed from everyone I’ve talked with on their early retirement journey, it’s that we all need support along the way. It might be a community that shares advice, an online calculator, or personal finance articles that make budgeting sound fun leverage the resources that work for you. You’ll get there.