38-year-old millionaire shares 5 secrets to retiring early

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38-year-old millionaire shares 5 secrets to retiring early
Image Credit: Chris Reining
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All year long, Clark.com’s Michael Timmermann is sharing quick and easy ways to save money as part of our Michael Saves series. Check in every Monday as he puts new and familiar savings strategies to the test. Sign up for our newsletter to have these stories delivered to your inbox!

Chris Reining, 38, was in his late 20s when he realized that a 9-to-5 job in the information technology field — once his dream gig — was no longer what he wanted to do forever.

Sick and tired of being chained to a desk all day, the Wisconsin man put a plan in motion to retire early.

Early retirement: How one man ditched his 9-to-5 job decades early

It wasn’t going to be easy. Chris had bought a condo, drove a BMW, shopped at Whole Foods every week and spent $1,000 a month flying airplanes.

But Chris’ financial freedom plan worked out. He became a millionaire at age 35, then retired at 37. Here’s how!

1. He said goodbye to $5 lattes

When Chris began to reduce his spending, he started out with the small stuff — like the daily trip to Starbucks.

“When you start with cutting out that daily $5 latte, that means it’s easier to cut out the $15 daily lunch, and that means it’s easier to cut out the next big thing,” Chris told Clark.com.

Chris eventually gave up his $1,000 a month airplane hobby by following this path.

RELATED: 23 ways to cut costs and save more every month

2. He only pays $10/month for cell phone service

For expenses that Chris couldn’t eliminate, he at least tried to lower them. He saved thousands of dollars by switching to a $10 cell phone plan with Ting and hasn’t paid for TV in about seven years.

Chris said it’s all about finding the right balance, which is different for everyone. He prefers to spend his money on travel.

RELATED: How I lowered my cell phone bill to $12 per month

3. He became more valuable to his employer

To retire early, Chris knew that he needed to earn more money. He was already making a $75,000 salary at age 27, but he focused on growing his skills and investing in himself, which led to multiple promotions.

“I started to become more valuable because when you become more valuable you can earn more money,” he said.

Chris told me that he joined Toastmasters to improve his communication and leadership skills, read dozens of self-help books and found good mentors.

RELATED: Career expert reveals 9 secrets to resume success

4. He automated his finances

Chris reveals on his personal blog that automating his finances is the one tiny habit that leads to wealth.

When Chris was working toward financial independence, he would have a portion of his paycheck sent directly to a retirement account, like a 401(k) or Roth IRA.

For example, Chris contributed 8% of his salary to his 401(k) and the company put in 4%. (He had other investments as well.)

Other aspects of your financial life can also be automated. In addition to having money set aside for savings, Chris suggests setting up automatic payments for student loans, credit cards and rent.

RELATED: How I use 4 bank accounts to save more money

5. He reminded himself of his goal daily

When Chris decided at age 29 that he didn’t want to spend his whole life at a 9-to-5 job, he labeled his investment account “Retire early” and looked at those words every single day.

He was also able to stay motivated by tracking his progress using a spreadsheet that’s available on his website.

How did he determine his magic number? Chris knew he was ready to retire when he saved up 25 times his annual expenses (not salary) to meet the 4% safe withdrawal rate.

$40,000 yearly expenses x 25 = $1,000,000 retirement savings 

“To become financially independent you need to reach the crossover point, when you can withdraw 4% of your investments to meet your yearly expenses,” Chris said.

By the time Chris quit his job, he was looking at closer to a 3% safe withdrawal rate, which he believes will last forever.

Final thought

Retiring at 37 might not be a realistic goal for most Americans, but money expert Clark Howard says Chris’ story is an example of someone who was determined to reach his goals.

“I find that one of the most important things is to set clear goals for yourself and people who retire early do just that,” Clark said.

A married couple with two children may not be able to take on extra work responsibilities like Chris did, but anyone can switch to a cheaper grocery store, shop for a better auto insurance rate or change cell phone providers. 

Focus on the things that you can do — not what you can’t — and you might be surprised how much money you’ll save!

Check out more from our Michael Saves series:

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Mike Timmermann About the author:
Michael Timmermann paid off his mortgage in two years. Now, he shares his money-saving tips on his blog, Save on Almost Everything.
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