How to Retire Before 40 – By a Couple Who Did Exactly That
BY: Gordon & Janet Groene
from 29August1971 FAMILY WEEKLY
“We have retired with today’s priceless luxuries of clean air and water, and of quiet. And the wonderful right to move on to new adventures or warmer weather. And independence – the true independence of doing for yourself. That is the kind of retirement you or any family can enjoy together right now – if you are willing to do it.”
A lot of people muse about early retirement: sunny latitudes, independence, time to think and do and drift…Wouldn’t it be great? Of course it would. And as a couple we had done more than our share of dreaming and scheming about such an event. But there is one thing that sets us apart from most other people. Impulsively, audaciously, we made our dream come true. Four years ago, we sold our home and cars, gave up Gordon’s fine job as a corporation pilot, said goodbye to treasured coworkers and neighbors and ran away to sea!
“Why would a 38-year-old man renounce his position, his Porsche, and a prestige piloting job that took years of training? our friends asked, “Why would any woman at 31 choose to give up her laundry machines, her antiques, her bathtub?” While it may have been hard for people to understand, we had our reasons.
The first was what we called “creeping pollution” and the fact that taxes kept taking a bigger bite out of take-home pay. The second was that we were separated often by business – and we like being together. And the third was that we had known of so many couples who had waited too long for their somedays, and suddenly it was too late. We vowed that this would never happen to us!
By retirement, we don’t mean lolling under a palm tree. We divide our time between two homes. Winters, we live aboard a 29- foot Danish-built sailing sloop in stoop-shouldered quarters that would send most American couples scuttling back to the corporate rat race after one day! Except when we are in port, we seldom have refrigeration, hot showers, or fresh lettuce. The galley is the size of a telephone booth, and we do all our own maintenance.
Summers, our home is a 21-foot diesel motorhome where we have more moving around room than on the boat, but far less storage area. Again, we are independent of big city pipes and wires and services, so we must attend to all our own needs.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have luxuries. We do! We have today’s priceless luxuries of clean water and air, and of quiet. And the wonderful right to move on to new adventures or warmer weather. And independence – the true independence of doing for yourself, either in rapture or agony, luxury or yoke. That is the kind of retirement you or any family can enjoy together right now – if you’re willing to do it.
It all began when Gordon started adding up the total worth of the Groene estate. “I bet we could drop out for at least five years if we sold the house and the rest of this stuff,” he said one day when the temperature in Danville, Illinois as nudging zero from the wrong side. We don’t have children, but there are many people who have made the same decision, kids and all: the decision to sell out, adopt a new standard of living, and wander the world until the money runs out. One family we know made the break with seven young children. They have stayed “dropped out” for 10 years, earning as they go. Many others take a leave of absence from work, arrange courses for the kids by mail, and stay away a year or more.
Ideally, of course, you should wait until you have made a killing in the stock market or real estate, or have inherited a pile from an obscure relative. But we had to do it the hard way. Here’s a guide to others who’d like to follow in our footsteps:
START PLANNING TODAY
By happy coincidence, the things we enjoyed doing in our leisure time were often things that gained or saved us money. We used to spend our evenings in the basement making old woods come alive again or repairing antique pieces that charmed us. Our possessions were chosen because we liked them, restored because we wanted them in our home – and sold at delicious profit when the time came to part with them!
Your whole value picture may change when you begin planning for a young retirement. We bought an older home at a bargain and spent weekends making improvements. Because it was a roomy house in a good school district and popular price range, it sold readily. All of our major purchases were made with resale in the backs of our minds. Although we knew we would have to take a loss on many furnishings and appliances, we stuck to name brands and good woods that would find buyers speedily. As the time came closer for us to leave, every cent was spent with a new life in mind. Business suits were not replaced; tropical clothing began to replace winter wear in our wardrobes.
Could you save the money spent tonight on a movie and use it instead on a book that will be enjoyed many times in retirement? When replacing your TV, would it be wiser to buy a small portable that can travel, instead of a ponderous color set? Can the children be steered into hobbies they can pursue in your new life – like music lessons on instruments you won’t have to leave behind? Are you pouring money today into fancies when you could be funding solid dreams? Are you spending these precious years in keeping up with the wrong Joneses?
Your savings plan may need the advice of an expert, but your spending is in your control. Beginning now, keep that early retirement goal in front of you and try not to get bogged down under tons of material goods that will later have to be stored, sold, insured, moved, given away, or shouldered by you.
CULTIVATE THE TOOLS OF INDEPENDENCE
Every service or skill you cannot perform yourself must either be done without or paid for. Simple things like barbering and baking bread are a beginning. If your early retirement will be spent on land – say in the mountains or a seashore cottage – start reading about gardening, home maintenance, wiring and plumbing and all the things you want to provide for your family. Before we hoisted sail, we already had learned the basics of sewing, engine repair, knot-tying, and navigation.
If you cannot live without electricity, you may have to buy (and learn to maintain) a generator. There is no television in many island paradises. Can you as a family learn to make a hilarious evening from a guitar and popcorn? Enjoy rainy afternoons with books and parlor games? All this is part of real away-from-it-all independence.
EARN AS YOU GO
We didn’t have enough money to live on forever, but that didn’t stop us. Janet was already a freelance writer, Gordon began studying photography. We now work, when we want to, as a writer-photographer team.
Everywhere there are ways you can earn money. Many of our friends work in boat yards or charter their boats. Other work ashore as electricians, civil engineers, teachers, technicians. The difference is that none of us strives for material goals. We live and dress very simply, give priority to important things like dental work and go without such former necessities as cars, insurance, fad styles, and lavish entertainment. When our larders are stocked, we sail away until we must work again.
ARE YOU MENTALLY PREPARED FOR A LIFE OF LEISURE?
Those who live by jangling schedules and job deadlines often ask about our typical day in the Bahamas aboard our boat. Ideally, we will be anchored off an island, perhaps an uninhabited one. We get up with the sun and Janet cooks a hearty breakfast on our Primus stove. Then she gets out the typewriter while Gordon chooses tools for the day’s chores: endless painting and varnishing, engine repairs, maintaining the water pump or head, or any of the other thousand things that need attention in a killing sun-salt atmosphere.
After lunch, we like to take off in the dinghy for exploring ashore, shelling, beachcombing, visiting or picture-taking. Or we may dive over the side, snorkel, or find a reef where we can spear fish. Sometimes we find conch, whelk, or crawfish to eat, or we fish for grouper or grunt. Other times, we eat meals that center around Janet’s home-canned meats. At dinner, we talk about the new and different sea creatures we have seen, and we get our books to read on the day’s “finds.” After dark, we may go to bed early to read or sit in the cockpit looking at the stars while Janet plays her autoharp and sings. There are the good days.
Of course, there are the ghastly days, too – the days when storm slam us around, engines falter, anchors drag. But always there are the new sunrises and the wonderful pursuit of riches that lie just over the horizon. We still have our goals, our pleasures, good memories, and exciting plans for the future. It’s just that, somehow, most of them have nothing to do with money.
Often we sit down to a simple meal of home-baked bread with stuffed cabbage or homemade corned beef hash. We’ll think about all those steaks we used to have, eaten on the run and frequently thousands of miles apart. Then we’ll look at each other, grin, and say, “Hey! We’re the richest kids on the block.”
There are a great many paradises in this world of ours – but all of them demand planning, preparation, and hard work. They also demand shedding so many material goods that you can squeeze through the needle’s’ eye into an early, earthy heaven. Before we’re through, we’re going to visit as many of those paradises as we can. Want to come along?
Gorden Groene was a professional pilot until he “retired” at the age of 38. Since then, his articles and pictures have appeared in numerous magazines. Janet began writing for a weekly newspaper while in junior high; at age 17, she had her own column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She has written for a number of magazines, and her book, “Cooking on the Go,” was published recently by Grosset and Dunlap.
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