Most people would jump at the chance to retire early – but believe the dream is only possible with a top salary, enormous pension or helpful inheritance.
But Telegraph Money proved you don’t need to be a millionaire to quit the rat race years ahead of schedule in our “How I retired early series”.
We spoke to five people who stopped work in their forties or fifties by diligently investing their hard-earned cash and being cautious.
Hundreds of Telegraph readers got in touch to share their own secrets to enjoying an early retirement: from not having children, saving up to 50pc of your salary, and playing the stock market.
‘Don’t pay for advice – do it yourself’
The secret is to buy a mix of actively managed funds, individual shares, trackers and real estate investment trusts. Do your own research, and don’t pay someone else for advice which is freely available. Holding cash since 2008 has been a poor investment decision and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Mike Saul, via comments
Become financially literate, make your money work hard for you, consider the purchases that you make and live within your means. This approach has served me well and at 47 I’m totally debt-free, have two mortgage-free properties, a decent pension provision and a healthy Isa balance. I also have a five-year-old son, so having children doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it does become rather more tricky.
Bernard Andrews, via comments
I retired at 50. To do so, I earned good money and bought property paying £35,000. I also have approximately £1m in various investments. Even with this I still only spend what the houses guarantee. I would not suggest others to do the same under 55 unless you’re talking about £1.5m or suffering illness.
Barry Thompson, via comments
I retired at 50 after earning a modest salary of between £35,000 and £45,000 and borrowed money on the house that I owned and invested funds for three years just after the financial crisis. I fully invested everything I had, and it worked, although prior to that I had lost thousands in the dotcom bubble.
Anonymous, via email
At the age of 28 I was unemployed, homeless, my wife recently dead, children in care and the UK on a 3-day working week. At 48 I retired. It seems now such a short time-span but is proof that when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up.
PE, via email
I retired early at 58. I grew up on a farm in Somerset where we had very little money, and was the first in my family to go to college. I ended up working for a big company and eventually moved to the USA in 2000. I left the big company to go and run a business. I retired in 2018 having made a lot of money in private equity.
Steve Burt, via email
‘Invest in property and pensions’
When I joined a small company with no pension scheme in 1981, I started investing in my own pension, and was fortunately able to keep this up throughout the remainder of my working life. My wife and I were fortunate in finding an IFA who have managed our pensions for us on a discretionary basis at a relatively modest cost. They brought together our various pensions pots, and over the 16 years that we have been with them, have actively managed these and achieved good results for us. Although we are now in our 70s, we are still invested in the market.
We have taken our pension commencement lump sums, but reinvested a good proportion of these as Isas, and I draw down a modest income from my pension to supplement our state pensions. Our solution to quitting the rat race was to go sailing. We re-mortgaged our house, briefly, in order to buy a sailing boat, and then sold the house. Alongside this, we had acquired two investment properties that we had let out, and some of the buy-to-let mortgage we paid off with the cash from the house. When we get round to selling it, we hope the boat will generate around £70,000.
John Walker, via email
I retired at 48 having fallen out with my law partners because one of them was drinking too much, making mistakes, losing clients and generating claims. They made a mistake over dissolving our partnership and I had a payout of over £333,000.
But I had also started a Scottish Widows pension plan at the age of 30 which I started to take at 70 this year. I also have my state pension.
I always wanted to help people who bought and owned property in France, which I was unable to do while running a busy practice. This gave me the chance I wanted and so I took it and never looked back.
David Crawford, via email
‘Save more into your pension’
Despite having no significant pension savings at age 40, I was still able to retire at 56. By taking full advantage of tax relief, I started putting 17.5pc of my annual salary into my company’s pension scheme.
I quickly increased this to 20pc, then 40pc, then 50pc and finally ended up putting in 75pc in my final years of employment while keeping within the annual limit of £40,000. I guess I must have been very lucky with the pension funds that I chose.
My wife and I are now living comfortably as non-taxpayers via a combination of income drawdown and Isas. We still have a mortgage which will be paid off in seven years.
Anonymous, via email
‘Don’t have children’
I retired at 42 (now 49). I had a large amount of cash and stocks and shares and property that brings in roughly £25,000 a year. I also know that an inheritance is coming my way eventually, although I am self made. The secret is not to get married, have children and/or get divorced. Men do not need much money to be happy. The "big" and exotic holidays do drain down the pot though and you need to plan over the year(s) to cater for these and reduce outgoings while not living it up.
Christopher Colley, via comments
‘Be frugal and save’
I was fortunate enough to be able to retire from practicing anesthesia at age 39. Initially my plan had been to stick it out until 42 when my wealth was about 30pc greater, but medical/hospital politics prompted me to pull the plug early. To do this, I had set a goal for myself when I started university that I wished to retire as early as possible. I started maximising all my retirement accounts to the extent the US law allowed. I saved around 40pc or more of my after-tax income. I did not spend money on idiotic things such as vacation houses, boats, and second and third wives. When I stopped working, I then lived off the interest of my mutual funds.
Joe Kersey, via comments
I stopped work in 2008 (job outsourced to India) at 56 and managed to live on £3,500 a year since then. It can be done, provided you don’t have a massive mortgage to pay, or you are one of the captive rentier classes being sucked dry by all those smug landlords crowing about their six months in Thailand every year.
Andrew Du, via comments
‘Retiring early isn’t everyone’s dream’
I am 62 and like working. I will probably have to retire next year for health reasons, but I will definitely miss my job, colleagues, sense of purpose and so on. In fact, I will be asking if I can do a bit of part-time work from home.
Bison Strangler, via comments
A happy life doesn’t come from retiring early; you still have to fill the days. Better to find something that you enjoy so you look forward to your days. A fulfilling job with purpose is much more important that retiring early. Reduce your outgoings, don’t spend all your salary and give yourself room to breathe.
Grant Williams, via comments
Maybe the biggest question for 40-something wannabe retirees should be after they figure out the money, what are they going to do with their time? I’m more familiar with the older set having retired at 71 from full-time office work last year. I’m an aviation writer. After six months off, I am now freelance writing and finding that I am doing some of my best work and feeling good about it even though the pay is paltry for what I do.
DH, via email
If you’d like to share your own story on retiring early or tips on how to, email stephanie.baxter@Finance.co.uk