I retired at 34 with $3 million—here are 7 benefits of early retirement I didn't expect

Lenapro | Twenty20

In 2012, I decided to quit my job and retire at 34. At the time, I was married and had amassed a net worth of about $3 million that generated roughly $80,000 in investment income per year.

It wasn't an easy decision. I had a high-paying job in investment banking and was told that it'd be irresponsible and reckless of me to leave a secure job at such a young age.

But I had been with my firm for a consecutive 11 years; I was sick of the the long hours, the office politics, the pointless meetings and the never-ending stress (which only got worse after the 2008 financial crisis).

I'd be lying if I said that early retirement turned out just as I expected. There are many downsides that people rarely talk about (I wrote about them in great detail last month). You may constantly second-guess your decision, get depressed for an unknown period of time, feel like a misfit or often worry about running out of money.

But based on my experience so far, the positives outweigh the negatives. Nearly seven years in, my quality of life has improved tremendously in ways I never would have imagined.

The surprising benefits of early retirement

1. My aging slowed

My first strands of gray hair sprouted the year I turned 33 — and the arrival of new ones only seemed to accelerate with each passing day. Ah, the dam has finally broken, I thought to myself.

But a few years into retirement, the graying stopped (along with my receding hairline). The bags under my eyes disappeared. I felt younger. Not working reduced my stress and improved my mental health.

When you're in the thick of work, it's hard to see what stress can do to your body until you walk away.

2. My relationship with my parents improved

I rarely saw my parents when I was working. Sometimes, I'd go months without interacting with them. But all of that changed after I retired.

I started to visit and talk to them more often. It made me realize that the younger you are, the more important it is to spend time with your parents. If you don't, you might regret it when they're much older and their health declines.

My parents are currently in their 70s and living in Honolulu. Eventually, my wife and I plan to sell our home and move to Hawaii so we can all be closer.

3. I was able to fully commit to fatherhood

It's the norm to have kids decades before you retire, but my wife and I worked in a highly stressful industry that required up to 60-hour workweeks. We were too exhausted to even think about becoming parents.

But a year into my early retirement, we both decided that it was time. We tried for nearly two years with no luck. My wife was still working and her stress levels only continued to increase. When she got passed over for a promotion, I finally convinced her to negotiate a severance and join me in early retirement.

In 2017, we gave birth to a baby boy. Our son has crystallized the value of early retirement. I now wake up excited to give him a hug and play with him for hours.

While it wouldn't have been impossible to be a working parent, I'm grateful that I can fully commit to fatherhood and spend more time with him before he goes off to college. They grow so fast!

4. My chronic pain went away

When I was still working, I suffered from lower back pain and sciatica (when pain radiates down your legs from the lower back) — both of which were caused by prolonged periods of sitting. For years, I couldn't play my favorite sports because the pain from twisting my back was so unbearable.

I'd also grind my teeth in my sleep due to work stress and wake up with a sore jaw. If I talked for more than 10 minutes, the hinge joint between my temporal bone and lower jaw would flare up. It got so bad that I had to go to the dentist and pay $760 out-of-pocket to have divots drilled into my back molars so I could close my jaw more comfortably.

Not having to commute or sit at a desk all day slightly lessened the pain. But it also motivated me to take better care of myself. I started to eat healthier and exercise more frequently. After 10 months of hard work, my pain miraculously went away.

5. I became more self-sufficient

With more time on my hands, I no longer have to call someone to fix maintenance issues. Now, when we have a leaky toilet, I'll just learn how to fix it on my own by searching for tutorials on YouTube.

If I can't figure it out, I'll head to the hardware store and consult an expert. Being self-sufficient is an important life skill that has saved me tons of money on property maintenance.

6. I found new, more enjoyable streams of income

Even though I was no longer working a full-time job, I occupied my free time with activities that I enjoyed, like writing more on Financial Samurai, the personal finance website I started in 2009, and coaching high school tennis.

Not only was it a cathartic way to cope with any stress and uncertainty, but it also earned me extra money. Some might argue I'm technically not retired because I'm still doing "work." But I don't see it that way. There's difference between working on your hobbies and working to make financial ends meet.

7. I have a more positive disposition

Working in finance made it hard to see the silver lining in things. The grueling work hours can turn a cheerful person into an old grump slowly over time.

Early retirement taught me how to stop chasing happiness. Instead, I found happiness, joy and meaning in the present.

I sometimes smile without even realizing it while doing things like watching my son play or learn to walk. And he'd smile back. Moments like that are probably are the No. 1 sign of true happiness.

Early retirement is worth it

If I could go back in time, I'd do things a little differently, like wait a year longer. But for the most part, early retirement has been a sweet ride — and I don't regret my decision.

Everyone is different, and there's no right or wrong answer as to when or how you should retire. But if you plan to do it early and want to experience the potential life-changing benefits, you need to have a strategic plan. I've seen many people leave their jobs too early only to end up financially stressed because they underestimated how much they'd need in retirement.

It's also important to address the deeper reasons behind why you want to retire. If you're seriously considering early retirement, I highly recommend asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Why am I rushing to retire early? Am I running away from something?
  2. What will I do after I retire early? Am I running towards something?
  3. How will retiring early change my life for better or worse?
  4. Am I sacrificing too much to retire early?
  5. Have I gained enough perspective from those who have already retired?

Sam Dogen worked in investing banking for 13 years before starting Financial Samurai, a personal finance website. He received a B.A. in Economics from The College of William & Mary his MBA from the University of California in Berkeley. Sam has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune and The L.A. Times.

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