For Jackie Cummings Koski, leaving the workforce was the culmination of a financial journey that began when she was just a girl.
Raised by a single dad, Koski says that money was "always scarce" growing up and that she and her five siblings "basically lived in poverty."
"We barely made it. We barely scraped by," she tells CNBC Make It. "So as I went through college and started my own career, I always had this nagging feeling that I never wanted to be back in poverty again."
Now 51, and with a 20-year career as an account manager at data analytics firm LexisNexis behind her, Koski is an early retiree and member of the FIRE — or "Financially Independent, Retire Early" — movement.
Koski retired at the end of 2019 at 49 with $1.3 million in her savings and investments, despite never earning more than $80,000 per year. As a single mom through most of her career, Koski felt that searching for other, potentially more lucrative opportunities would take away from valuable time she could spend with her daughter.
Instead, she credits her former employer's retirement plan with helping her quickly build up her investments. She contributed 7% of every paycheck to her 401(k), which her employer matched.
"That helped grow my net worth tremendously," she says. "I was always wanting to be smart with the money that I had versus thinking that having a higher income was going to be the thing that got me ahead."
Koski determined the amount of money she would need to retire early by using the 25x rule, which says that a person should have 25 times their annual expenses saved up before leaving work. With her annual spending sitting between $40,000 and $45,000 a year, that meant her FIRE number was close to $1 million.
Koski's net worth reached the $1 million mark when she was 46, but she found herself hesitant to leave her job right away. Instead, she stayed for a few more years and retired with a net worth of $1.3 million.
"I actually liked my job, so I wasn't in any rush to run away," she says. "I wanted a little more of a cushion, so I worked for a couple more years."
Now two and a half years into her retirement, Koski is happier than ever. She describes herself as "not the frugalest or a minimalist," and allows herself to spend money each month going out to eat and having drinks with friends. But her FIRE journey has given her the freedom to spend her time how she wants to.
"I feel like I have so much more opportunity because I don't have the stress of work," she says. "I don't have the pressure of structuring my day or my efforts and activities based on what someone else wants."
Watch the video above to learn more about Jackie Cummings Koski's story.