36-year-old retiree: Do these 3 things before retiring early

You have a dream to retire early, don't you? A lot of us do, and it's a wonderful dream to have. I also had a dream of quitting the rat race early and, by some great miracle, I was able to achieve that great dream at the age of 35: I quit work super young to lead a life of full-time travel with my wife.

From the day I officially resigned, I've learned a thing or two about exactly what it takes to retire early, and not just early, but super early, while others are still just getting started. Things that could help you set yourself up for early retirement and drastically improve the chances that you'll never have to go back to work again.

Feeling secure and happy in your retirement soon can be distilled down into these three critical actions you can take now.

1. Set your savings to auto-pilot

Throughout my life, I've found that the less I mess with my savings, the better they tend to do. It's an amazing thing! Once I cranked the dial over to auto-pilot and let my saving do its thing, my life got much simpler.

Financial automation is a huge component of quitting the rat race early. That means setting yourself up during your accumulation phase of life to, well, accumulate automatically! Fully-funding your 401(k) at work, or your IRA (Individual Retirement Account), through auto deductions from your paychecks, make a huge difference in your ability to save.

When saving is automated, you'll never have to think about it. It just happens.

Steve and Courtney Adcock hiking the Valley of Fire State Park
Courtesy of Steve Adcock
Steve and Courtney Adcock hiking the Valley of Fire State Park

I set up automation at my very first job, straight out of college. I couldn't trust myself to consciously save. As a result, I signed up for our company-sponsored 401(k) and authorized regular contributions into that account with each and every paycheck. Once everything was set up, it all just happened.

If your finances aren't automated yet, talk to the HR department at your job about your options. Most companies offer a 401(k) plan. But if yours doesn't, investment accounts can still be set up through investment institutions like Vanguard and Fidelity. Often, your bank or investment company can help you configure automatic contributions straight from your paycheck. And most banks allow auto transfers right from the banking website.

2. Retire TO, don't retire FROM

You cannot, and I repeat, CANNOT, retire early if you don't have a plan for what to do with your time. You'll wind up bored and frustrated, without purpose and unfulfilled. Don't make this mistake.

Most of us have hobbies. And those hobbies can have a huge impact.

For you, it might be traveling the country or the world. You may enjoy building houses and plan to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. Maybe it's wood-working that's got your attention. Or designing that computer game.

In my case, my creative pursuits keep me actively engaged each and every day even though I no longer maintain a full-time job. I also consult on projects that I find interesting to keep me busy. I pick and choose what I do with care. But I always have something to do. Something I enjoy.

Remember that once we've quit our full-time job, the entire day becomes available to us. The hours that were previously taken by meetings, emails and chatting with co-workers now become ours to fill. All ours.

Don't get me wrong — the freedom to choose how to spend your time is incredible. But without something productive to do with your time every day, you will never feel fulfilled.

3. Design a back up plan

What happens if everything fails?

Pardon me for asking this uncomfortable question, but having at least some vision of what you'll do if everything fails is a very good idea. And the earlier you retire, the more important that vision becomes.

Will you just go back to work? Keep in mind that, depending on your career field, it may not be possible to regain your same job, or even a similar one. Once the years pass by, your experience level slowly drops. Companies in your field may have no interest in a candidate who hasn't engaged in professional activities in five years. Or 10. Besides, you might not want to do that job again anyway.

What if you can't get your job back?

Options at your disposal might include seasonal work when local retailers need help. You could try ramping up (or starting!) a side hustle to bring in some extra money. Also, moving to a lower cost-of-living region of your country in an effort to reduce expenses may work.

Whatever your fallback plan is, have one ready! None of us expect to fail at early retirement. Heck, my wife and I don't expect failure. But we still have a fallback plan if everything begins to go downhill.

Our plan includes reducing our expenses by moving internationally and devoting more time to our side hustles to bring in a little extra income every month. As a last resort, we might consider working somewhere in our community for more consistent and stable income — but if it comes to working a job again, then we know that things got very, very bad!

And that's it! The freedom to choose what we do with our time each and every day is a great thing and a wonderful feeling. If you do these three things before quitting your job, your chances increase of living out an amazing early retirement, stress-free and happy.

Steve Adcock retired from full-time work in his mid-30s and writes about personal finance and financial independence. Steve can be reached on his website at and Twitter at @ThinkSaveRetire.

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