The two most seductive words in the English language? For my money: early retirement. Giving up work, living a life of freedom while young enough to enjoy it. It’s my third biggest dream, behind never having to work at all, and a fridge with legs.
I’ve been wondering if gloomy predictions abut longer working lives could be reversed. Instead of working until we’re 70 or more, bodies withering at our desks, we could knock off decades earlier. How about 40? Amazingly, it’s possible – and anyone can do it. As part of a new TV show, I met ordinary people who have pulled off the seemingly impossible, and made them spill their secrets. Here are six ways you can live the dream.
1. The obvious way to get there is to have a ludicrously overpaid job and burn out young. However, the most lucrative jobs in society often go hand in hand with moral bankruptcy, and have rigid gatekeepers, so let’s put them to one side. There are other ways. Footballers are so rich they have to retire at 30, spending half a century standing next to cardboard cutouts of yoghurt and trying not to be sexist on the radio. For most of us, that’s not an option either. If you don’t have an extraordinary talent, weren’t born into the 1% and don’t want to sell your soul, don’t worry. There are still other ways.
2. Saying boo-yah to the bossman doesn’t mean you’ll be buying a Sunseeker and popping bubbly at breakfast. The smarter path is committing to an obsessively thrifty lifestyle in order to generate savings that can be multiplied, according to a rigorous plan – this is known as the assets/income equation. You’ll need to be disciplined, but it’s going to pay off. We’re talking ultra-frugal living: lunchbox lunches, charity shop shopping, the kind of cutbacks that will make a weekend in a caravan feel like a month on Prince Jefri of Brunei’s yacht. Think of a music video – your life is going to be the exact opposite of that. It’s boring, but it will set you free.
3. Time to make cheddar. Unlike me, you should probably learn to talk about money in ways that sound less like undergraduate bong-talk. The Financial Independence movement is a community dedicated to self-sufficiency, and they are all very good at maths. As well as saving, some generate huge amounts of passive income from sources such as property rental to silent business partnering to stocks. You will need to understand compound interest, and the rule of 72 (a shorthand way of calculating how long your investments will take to double, given a fixed annual rate of interest). I can feel my own rate of interest dropping off just thinking about it. However, as my local ATM now flashes up a string of cry-laugh emojis when I attempt a withdrawal, do as I say, not as I do.
4. Our biggest expense is accommodation, particularly renting in cities like London. Extreme problems give rise to extreme solutions. Living in empty office blocks and fire stations as part of a Guardianship scheme can all but eliminate the burden of rent, and lead to some gnarly dinner parties. There’s been a resurgence in commune living, too. If you’re desperate to get on the property ladder but don’t have the means, there are organisations that let you buy a property with a total stranger. These are weird times anyway; why not embrace unconventional living arrangements while you’re young, and have the energy to run away at 3am after finding your flatmate licking fish in their underwear.
5. Buying food is another enormous expense – damn you, biological needs! – so if you want to retire early you’ll need to cook more, and can the Deliveroo. If you can’t face it, check out apps like Too Good to Go, which save you 75% off food from local restaurants at closing time. It’s a bit like UCAS clearing, for your mouth. Some industrious savers collect other people’s discarded supermarket receipts and cash in their price-comparison money back offers, using capitalism to break capitalism. Others go full Freegan, liberating food from empty tables and refuse points. You might end up smelling a bit of bin, and it’s probably illegal, but as Che Guevara said, “This isn’t about personal hygiene.”
6. If none of the above rings your bell, become an entrepreneur. Dream up an idea no else has and it can make you rich, even if your idea is profoundly moronic. Consider some of these postal businesses set up in the last few years. (Postal! It’s 2017!) One started as a service that lets you send fragranced wet-wipes to smelly colleagues, as a cruelly anonymous hint. Another lets you mail your enemies an envelope of glitter to ruin their carpet. In the show, we meet a man who writes bespoke messages on potatoes in felt tip, and posts them for a fee. Potatoes! He works eight hours a week; I won’t tell you his net earnings because you will break your keyboard. Retiring at 40 is entirely possible, if you’re prepared to get a little bit weird. But what price freedom?
How to Retire at 40 is on Channel 4 tonight at 8.30pm.
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