Being Able to Retire Doesn’t Require Millions

Plenty of financial experts announce that ‘you need a million dollars in your coffers in order to retire. Guest post author Cindy is here to tell you differently. Enjoy!

My husband, known hereafter as the Brick, has been officially retired since September 2015. It was the cap to an interesting series of careers:

  • first, as a student after 6 years in the Navy (poor pay, but help with college costs)
  • a mechnical engineer, often for military contractors (terrific pay)
  • a controls engineer, for the University of Colorado (also great pay)


Then, after 60-80-hour workweek and exhaustion, he became:

*a school bus driver.  (awful pay)


After thirteen years, most of them at less than $20,000 annually, he’d finally worked his way up to designing the computer system that tied the Transportation department together. (reasonably good pay) But it increasingly meant dealing with politics and people…people he didn’t always agree with. When the stress started to resemble his previous exhaustion, he took the obvious choice:

He retired. Not long after his 60th birthday.

Our finances aren’t even remotely in the million-dollar department. But over the years, we’d made several decisions that really helped:

The Right Decisions Can Help You Prepare for Retirement

1. The Brick qualified for a pension.

He didn’t have enough time put in to qualify for PERA, the Colorado version of the state pension fund. That meant paying for a few extra years of service — but we had the money to do so. (I’ll explain how shortly.)

The pension was one of the benefits that kept him working for the state, instead of going back to private work. We chose the option that gave us less for now — but guarantees me his payment, if something were to happen to him.

2. I kept on working at my job.

I have a company, Brickworks LLC, that sells quilting and craft products online, including my own books. (I’ve written six, so far.) I write articles on a wide variety of subjects. I’m a personal property appraiser of more than two decades…a national judge…and I teach about quilting around the country. It’s only part-time, except for the writing. But I love what I do.



3. We had no debt…except the final payments on a car loan.

And that was paid within six months of the Brick’s retirement. Over 33+ years of marriage, we had no credit card debt, although we used our credit cards for everything from groceries to medical bills. The reason: we paid the cards off every month. No matter what.

4. Our house was paid off. Completely.

We’d sold one house before this one — and since we paid extra on the balance, had a hefty down payment to make on House #2. That, combined with more scrimping, plus a welcome inheritance from the Brick’s mom, let us clear away the mortgage years early.


5. We gradually saved up money in 401(k)s

— and took advantage of every employer’s match. Even if we couldn’t ‘afford’ it at the time. When we got raises or windfalls, those were carefully put away to cover expenses for emergencies and taxes.


6.We knew how to work — at several different jobs.

And were willing to keep on doing it. Over the years, the Brick and I have taken on everything from dogwalking to catering, working at Home Depot and Wal-Mart, scrubbing out toilets to home repair.

Not only are we both capable of doing a number of different things — we’re not afraid of doing so. If it’s honest work, and not immoral, we’ll consider doing it. Most of all:

7. We knew how to live frugally.

Although the Brick made good money while engineering, his pay while bus-driving was less than $20,000 annually — and that included what I could contribute to the pot. The only way to make it work was following the age-old principle:

  Spend less than you earn. No matter what.


     *That meant buying EVERYTHING at a bargain. Groceries were purchased on sale or discount — or I made them, using basic foodstuffs. (I also grew a garden, whenever possible.) We raised our own rabbits — then later on, chickens. Our family hunted deer and elk.

I bought most of our clothes at deep discount — or the thrift shop. (This wasn’t as much of a burden as it seems: we live in one of the most prosperous counties in the country, and thrift shop offerings were often of high-end brands and quality.) Our furniture was given to us, purchased on sale or via Craigslist.

We bought our major appliances the same way — after we’d done a great deal of research to find the most reliable brands. We purchased two houses, only after doing our homework again, including visiting dozens of homes and carefully bargaining.

The savings weren’t that much by themselves. But over the years, they added up to tens of thousands of dollars.  And they definitely helped ease the Brick’s path in the last few years.


Even now, we still make our money stretch. Health insurance that’s hundreds of dollars cheaper a month. (The Brick found that one recently.) A seniors pass that gets us into national parks for the rest of our lives: $10. (It’s going up to $80 by the end of 2017, by the way. If you’re 62 or over, buy it now.) Plane and cruise tickets for rock-bottom prices. A 30-foot trailer that will eventually become our permanent home…and the sturdy truck to pull it by. (The trailer’s a done deal — we saved at least $5,000 or more. The truck’s still in process. We may have to drive to North Dakota to get it at the right price, but it will be worth it.)

No savings is too small…because it means we have to work that much less to cover the expense.


And finally:

8. We love adventures and pleasures, small and large — but we choose them together. And the best ones are often the least expensive. 

Driving through Divisa, Panama. (And talking our way out of a ticket for, of all things, making a left-hand turn off the highway. It’s illegal there!) Hiking in the mountains, then drinking coffee at night by the fire. (Maybe even hearing the rain patter at night on our tent — one of the coziest sounds of all, if you’re dry.) Late nights watching a movie, homemade caramel corn in hand, knowing we don’t have to get up at dawn’s crack for work. Teasing our silly dogs, Charley and Abby, as we snuggle in bed on a snowy morning.

Now that the Brick is retired, he can occasionally go on teaching gigs with me — which meant that our trips to Oklahoma City and North Carolina were paid for. We take separate jobs now and then, which gives us time apart — and helps us appreciate the time we get to be together.


Could we have saved more money?  Of course. You always can. In fact, we’re still saving some.


Could the Brick have kept on working longer? He’d originally planned to — it just didn’t pan out.


Are we happy, retiring earlier?


You bet.

For an inside look at the retired life Brick style, you can check out Cindy’s blog: .

13 comments on “Being Able to Retire Doesn’t Require Millions

  1. Terrific post, and I’m only sorry I’m not old enough to take advantage of the parks pass. (although even $80 is a pretty good deal relative to individual admissions.)

    We’ve ended up semi-retired early, and yeah, sometimes to make it work we have had to work at making our money stretch or bringing in a little extra through a side job we might not love doing. That said, we love our freedom and our flexibility.

  2. YES! Love this sory!!! This is very similar to my parents story. The key for them was to get rid of the debt. My dad retired and my mom now works part time. Though they aren’t millionaires, they have figured out a way to make it work, and work well!

  3. My wife & I have realized as well that you don’t need as much money as the retirement calculators say you might if you can retire debt-free & find ways to be frugal.

    It’s the same thing with the baby calculators. We have paid thousands less on our oldest than what the internet said because we took hand me downs and shopped for other baby things on Craigslist or the thrift store instead of buying everything new.

    1. We had friends, Josh, who decided that they would never have children. After all:

      1) the world was a horrible, threatening place. (This was back in the early 1980s.)

      2) it was overcrowded, to begin with.

      3) they couldn’t afford it. In fact, they couldn’t see how anyone could!

      We were students, working spit jobs, and in much much straitened circumstances than they were. But we had two daughters, anyways, and used your approach (plus garage sales and gifts from family) for the furniture and clothes they needed.
      They turned out just fine.

      Our wonderful friends — well, they later divorced.


      Thanks so much for writing.

  4. This is amazing! I’m not sure where the $1 million figure came from, but I’ve heard people tossing it around. The truth is that everyone’s early retirement number is different. It completely depends on your location, expenses, net worth, and savings rate.

  5. Thank you, all of you, for your comments. I really appreciate it!

    It does take planning, if you retire with less money. You need to be more flexible, and willing to try new approaches. But the payoff — more time and energy to do what you WANT to do, versus what you NEED to do — is stunning.
    You can also help others, including friends, family and causes you believe in, in a way you never could have while working.

    Time is more valuable than money, when it comes down to priorities. You can always make more money doing something, if you have to — but your time is always limited.

    Thanks so much for writing.

  6. It’s a side-benefit of frugality that I didn’t appreciate for most of my life: When you learn to live frugally, you set yourself up for the freedom to retire at an earlier age simply because you don’t need as much money flow to support your lifestyle. Brilliant!

  7. While this is true, reports say that by the time a young guy like me retires, I’ll need at least $3 million just to retire (because of inflation). I’d rather retire on a yacht in the Caribbean 🙂

  8. You’re so right Cindy! If you enjoy a simpler life, you don’t need millions to retire. If you’re inclined to live the life of the “Jones”, that’s another story. Congratulations on finding and following your own path. 🙂

  9. I agree with all the tips you’ve shared here! I’m also married to a controls engineer. Luckily he has a great, balanced work environment. We’ve never wanted to be over-extended at work and have been blessed with great jobs–and knowing when to move on.

    1. Kalie, you’re making a good point here — knowing when to move on from a job that’s giving you potential for either a heart attack, or a nice nervous breakdown, is a GOOD THING TO DO. So often, you keep toiling away at something you should have left long ago — because you’re not a “quitter.”

      At least, that’s what I was brought up to do. But giving myself the freedom to change careers and jobs has made all the difference.
      Thank you, all of you, for writing.

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