What Is Early Retirement?

Before I started blogging, I can honestly say that early retirement never once crossed my mind. I thought that the normal age to retire was somewhere around 65 and that would be around the same time that I would retire. I didn’t think people retired early, and if they did, I thought they were just…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: June 5, 2023

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

Before I started blogging, I can honestly say that early retirement never once crossed my mind. I thought that the normal age to retire was somewhere around 65 and that would be around the same time that I would retire.

I didn’t think people retired early, and if they did, I thought they were just lucky (which is a little funny if you read my post from the other day – Following Your Passion Is Not Just Luck).

Then, I started blogging and found a few early retirement blogs. Some of these include blogs like Retire by 40, Early Retirement Extreme and Mr. Money Mustache, which all show different people who worked hard to retire early.

I, of course, got hooked on all of these blogs and I knew that chugging along in a job that I didn’t like just wasn’t for me.

So, I made plans to leave my job so that I could live the life that I want. I knew that if I stayed in my day job that reaching early retirement would not be very easy, and that working on my own business would mean that I could enjoy my life while also working towards early retirement.

In October of 2013, I had my final day at my day job and switched to full-time self-employment.

Even though I left my traditional day job and I now work for myself, I don’t consider this early retirement. Many people have asked me what it’s like to be retired though, which I almost always have to laugh at because I am definitely not retired.

I don’t see myself ever fully retiring.

I actually enjoy working and staying busy. However, I will say that when I am 80 years old I hopefully won’t be working 40 hours per week. BUT, I would like to option to do what I want, and when I want.

If I find a new passion later in my life, I would like the option to do it if I can, without being controlled by how much money is in the bank.

So, what is early retirement?

The key in my case is that early retirement to me means financial independence. Yes, yes, I know, some of you are probably saying to yourself “they’re not the same thing though!” I don’t care, everyone can spend their retirement however they want, and I want to spend it still being at least somewhat productive.

If you look at how many “early retired” people live, you will see that most (if not all) are still doing something. They most likely don’t have a full-time day job chugging along for someone else, but they are doing something.

And that’s how I see myself.

Early retirement to me equals financial independence. And to me that means that I have enough money in the bank to live off until the day that I pass away, all while living my same comfortable life (i.e., I will not be eating beans and rice for every single meal, day after day).

It means that if I want to do something, I can go do it.

What does early retirement mean to you? Is it a goal of yours?

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

Like this article?

Join the Conversation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Early retirement, soft retirement, financial freedom, different people like to call it different names so I just use the one that makes the most sense to me 🙂 I’m trying to reach financial independence too and hopefully I can get there in my mid 30s. I will probably still work full time until I’m much older because I like my career, but the biggest reason for me to become financially independent is to have the financial stability that will come with it 🙂 Thankfully I don’t need a big income or a lot of savings to achieve my goal because I started planning for this when I was about your age 😀 Generation Ys like us have the benefit of time on our side 🙂 Just buy high quality assets with safe yields and watch your passive income grow like a weed 🙂 Good luck!

    1. Thank you! Sounds like we have the same plan 🙂

  2. For me, early retirement is having a passive income level which comfortably covers all my expenses (including an additional 10-20% for emergencies). This would give me the opportunity to do nothing if I wish. I don’t imagine I ever will do nothing, but having that opportunity is what I see as being “early retirement”.

    1. Yes, I agree! That’s how I see it as well. If I want to stop working – I would have the option.

  3. I used to imagine before that retirement would only happen if you can’t work anymore “physically”. I’m grateful that I’m following these finance blogs and learn many things. Yes, hopefully my goal is to reach an early retirement where I will have a solid savings.

    1. Good luck Marie 🙂 You can reach it!

  4. I don’t see myself ever fully retiring but I would really like to be able to let Greg stay home and work with me. That is one of our goals. Unfortunately (and fortunately) he makes too much money at his job to just walk away from at this point.

    1. Maybe one day Holly! 🙂

  5. I would say early retirement is one of my goals, but at the same time I plan on working until I’m well into my 50s anyway, so like you pointed out it kind of depends on your definition. I suppose one of my goals is to be financially ‘set’ earlier than 65 so I can choose to do what I want with my time. It’s hard to imagine not doing something productive, though, so my “early retirement” would probably still be me working haha.

    1. Haha I’m the same. I can’t imagine myself just sitting there.

  6. Early retirement is absolutely a goal of mine and one that I am on track to accomplish (can’t wait!) Although, the biggest question in my mind is, will I have the guts to call it quits when I reach that level? There will always be a pull to continue working the traditional job for one reason or another. Hopefully, I can make that leap.

    1. When do you want to retire? 🙂

      1. Right now the goal is 5 years from now, which is very doable (at age 35). But even this far out I have already had thoughts like “well, maybe I’ll just work through the next inevitable economic downturn and THEN call it quits – just to get those extra stock shares at a discounted price”. But I realize, there will always be a reason that I can concoct for not hanging em up!

        1. Haha yes, there will always be some reason to continue working. The hardest part will be the actually STOPPING part 🙂

  7. Mike Collins

    I don’t think I’d ever truly be 100 percent retired where I have nothing to do but sit on the porch watching cars go by. But I do want to be “retired” from having to work for someone else. Even if I had enough passive income to live off the rest of my life I’d still be blogging or doing something else to keep myself from going crazy from boredom.

    1. I agree! I don’t see myself ever just wanting to be bored all the time. I’d at least take up a fun hobby.

  8. This is pretty much exactly what early retirement means to me 🙂 The freedom to do what I want is what I’m working towards – and part of what I want to do is be productive and useful! Like you said, I don’t want to be working 40+ hours per week when I’m 80, but I love what I’m doing with my side business and I want to be able to turn that into a full-time business and keep it going for a while. I can’t see myself not working, period, for a looooong time.

  9. Early retirement for me would mean being able to work doing something I love for however many hours I wanted to, but leaving enough time to do other things in my life. I know it’s vague, but at 23, I really don’t have a clear cut vision as to retiring, and that’s okay with me. I know like you Michelle, I’ll always be up to something or other, I can’t stay still for the life of me!

    1. I know how you feel. It can be hard to think about retirement when you’re in your early 20s!

  10. I feel the same as you: retirement doesn’t mean that I stop working and just kick back and relax. It means financial independence. I can do what I want to do, whether that be work or play. Either way, I have the luxury to choose what I want to do. I have a plan that I am following and even turned the ideas into a book!

    1. When do you plan on retiring Jon?

  11. Yes, freedom is important!

  12. Early retirement for me means I could do anything I want with my time and not worry about work or my finances too much ever again. I personally want to retire early and enjoy the rest of my life doing the tings I want and be with the people I adore.

    1. Sounds great Mark 🙂 When do you want to retire?

  13. Nothing wrong with that Jennifer 🙂

  14. I don’t see myself fully retiring either, I enjoy having tasks to do. I just don’t want to be bound to work because I NEED the income.

  15. This Life On Purpose

    I agree with what you are saying. I don’t necessarily want to stop working at the age of 35 but I also don’t want to be working 40+ hours a week in a cubicle until l’m 65.

    I want the financial means to allow myself to work as little or as much as I want, depending on where I’m at in life. And I want to work on things that interest me, not just a job that pays well but I hate.

    1. Yes, I am glad that I am able to do something that I enjoy now. Almost feels like early retirement 🙂

  16. At 35, I don’t plan to retire “early” but I do plan to get to financial freedom as early as possible. I am working hard now when I have the energy so that when I am older and have less of it, I can have options and “slow down” if I want to.

    1. Sounds you like you are doing great. Thanks for stopping by Shannon!

  17. Sounds like you are right on the right path 🙂

  18. I agree with you. Early retirement and financial independence are tied together in my mind. It’s about having the freedom to pursue what you want, even if that brings in money.

    1. Is financial independence something that you are looking to reach? If so, when? 🙂

  19. Connie

    I had never even thought about early retirement until recently. I don’t think I could ever really “retire” because I always want something to do. But I would like to have the financial freedom to do what I want and when I want. It would be awful if I was 80 years old and still felt like I had to work just to survive.

    1. Yes, that would be absolutely awful to be 80 and still worried about money. I can’t imagine.

  20. I’m with you. To me early retirement means being able to do what you want without having to worry about money. It doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job if that’s something you like to do. It just means doing whatever makes you feel good without worrying about how much you earn.

  21. jackie

    i’d love to retire early – either with a full retirement or at least where i’d just be working parttime. I’ve been saving for retirement but hope to work on side income so I can grown my retirement savings faster!

    1. Yes, side income helps people do that. Gotta love it 🙂

  22. Haha, I do LOVE rice and beans, but I don’t think I could do it for every meal 🙂

  23. I view “early retirement” similarly to you. I would love to be debt free and financially independent in my late 30’s early 40’s. That being said I can’t picture myself not working… ever… I hope to be able to open my own clinic once I reach financial independence and therefore only take on clients I’m interested in working with and be able to make my own hours (as many or as few as I like)

    1. Sounds like a great “retirement” 🙂

  24. Same here – if I can enjoy the work, then that is the best.

  25. Taylor

    Hi Michelle!

    I’m with you on just finding out what early retirement is and got hip to it from surfing the blogosphere. It really hits home for me as I’m by far the youngest in my office and seeing how much people sacrifice in life working for someone else’s business is (for lack of a better word) SCARY. There HAS to be more to life! My idea of retirement has greatly changed because of this experience… I want to be comfortable, financially free, and self employed.


    1. Yes, there has to be more to life! And, it sounds like we have a pretty similar view of “early retirement” 🙂

  26. It is inspiring and awesome that you were able to quit your job and do something you enjoy. There’s no need or reason to “retire” if you enjoy what you do. I work in government which has great benefits and a pension…I sometimes call it my golden handcuffs. I like the stability it provides and with a family to provide for, I’m too risk adverse to quit. Although if I was doing well on my side hustles then that would be a different story…I could make the jump.

    1. Thank you Andrew 🙂

  27. Kasia

    Early retirement to me is having the choice to do what I want when I want. The word retirement seems very final. I like to look at it as financial freedom and it’s something I want to achieve in the next 5-10 years. It’s not going to be easy but I love a challenge, plus it’s going to be fun trying to achieve this as I’ve heard so many people tell me that it’s unrealistic or impossible. I think anything is possible as long as we believe it to be and the biggest obstacle in the way of achieving our greatest expectations is ourselves.

    I think that you Michelle are a prime example of someone achieving their dream and not being fazed by the barriers society and even family and friends sometimes place on us to have to work for a pay check because it’s ‘secure’. It’s great motivation to come here and read about your goals and achievements.

    1. Thank you so much 🙂

  28. For me it’s freedom and not having to work if I don’t want to. And having no boss. But I like to stay busy as well.

  29. Yes, this is something that I think about a lot. It’s a great reason to want to be financially independent!

  30. We define early retirement the same – having the financial independence that turns working into a conscious choice instead of a requirement. I think we still have 10-15 years before we’re there…

    1. We still have quite some time. We haven’t really started saving or preparing for it yet.

  31. Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans

    I don’t think I’ll ever stop “working”. However, I’ll consider myself “retired” when I no longer have to work for anyone else 🙂

    1. Haha, I definitely feel like I’m retired 🙂

  32. Frank

    I think that if you quit working to soon you will be out of luck without having enough money saved up, and you may be stuck working during your retirement. So along with working a good amount of time I think it’s a good idea to diversify your investments