1811 hours – that’s the amount of time the average full-time employed American is expected to work this year. Assuming you work from the ages of 25 to 65, you’re facing 72, 440 hours of work before you retire.
There are two ways to approach this reality – you can either accept it as fact and strive to find fulfilling employment, or you can reject the premise entirely. Maybe you want to be home with your kids or travel the world as a family. Or perhaps you’re looking for the freedom to start your own business. Maybe, for you, financial independence doesn’t mean no longer working; it means no longer having to work.
More and more, people are turning to non-traditional career trajectories to satisfy their adventurous spirits. As the tides of corporate America shift, what was once considered impossible is now becoming attainable. And it’s surprisingly easy: with sustained commitment, ample foresight, and some creative thinking, you too can achieve your early-retirement dreams.
1. Pick a profession with your goals in mind.
If you’re past the point of picking an occupation, don’t fret – you can skip this step and still accomplish your financial aspirations. Please proceed to #2.
However, if you’re still in the initial stages of your education or career, you can make your journey much easier by choosing a profession with an eye to your future earnings. This is not to say that you should sacrifice your interests – many factors will and should influence your career decisions. But depending on your goals, not all industries are made equal.
Consider STEM for example. Most articles would have you think that a STEM degree virtually guarantees an impressive salary in this competitive market. Yet studies show that, unless you’re in a few very specific jobs, supply well outpaces demand for most STEM fields. For those who studied Life Sciences for example, degrees outpace job openings 183k to 12k.
For most of us, passion is something we develop through commitment and perseverance, and it can be attached to any number of professions. The choice is yours.
2. Calculate your target savings.
You graduated with a respectable degree, landed a well-paying job, and are making – and saving – a reasonable amount of money. Now what? You’ll need a goal, and to get that goal, you’ll need to understand your current spending habits.
A great place to start is by downloading the Mint app. It syncs with your credit cards and displays your purchases in a handy pi-chart to easily visualize how your money is being allocated. After using the app for awhile, you’ll be able to estimate your annual spending.
According to the Trinity Study – a seminal paper in the late 90’s tracking the relation between saving and withdrawal rates – you can withdraw 4% of your savings each year for the rest of your life without ever running out of money. What does that mean, exactly? It means you need to save enough that 4% of your investments will support you for a year.
With that in mind, you’ll need to put away 25x your annual costs (which you calculated from your Mint app!) before retiring. This is your ultimate target number – once reached, you are free to stop working, continue working, switch jobs, take on riskier positions, quit unexpectedly – whatever you want. Your future is up to you.
3. Reach your target by switching jobs often, especially in early career.
Millennials are notorious job hoppers – and no wonder, since job switching often comes with a 10-20% bump in salary, not to mention the boost it gives your professional network and the varied experience it lends your resume.
Without going to extremes – companies don’t want to see you changing jobs every 6-12 months, or listing 4 different employers in 5 years – it is perfectly healthy to change jobs with some frequency, especially when you are still establishing yourself in your industry. And remember: in states like California and New York, employers can no longer ask about your salary history, making this the perfect time to land yourself a substantial pay increase.
No one likes negotiations, so you’ll probably want to consult with a recruiter to get the inside-track on your market worth, industry standards, and network connections. If you’re planning to make a big leap in income, it’s to your benefit to enlist an outside resource who can offer expert support as you make this change in your career.
4. If you can’t switch jobs, make more money in your current job.
While job switching is the easiest and fastest route to a higher salary, it’s certainly not your only option. There’s no shame in loving your current job – in fact, that’s awesome! You shouldn’t leave a great opportunity for salary, just make sure that you’re being compensated fairly.
Asking for a raise can be awkward and frustrating, but there are some simple steps you can take to help bolster your self-confidence and make more money.
Track your accomplishments: from small to big, make sure you’re keeping a running list of your best success stories. At the end of each week, take an inventory of what you’ve accomplished, learned, and failed. This will help you to move forward in your career with intention, while also building a strong case for a raise.
Create a narrative of change: your job responsibilities have likely evolved since you joined the team. Create a coherent account of how you’ve developed as an employee and how your work has changed because of this evolution. If your work output is no longer accurately captured by your title and position, this is an ideal time to negotiate a raise.
Find a side hustle: in 2017 34% of the US workforce contributed to the gig economy. It’s the way of the future, and it’s a great opportunity to make some extra money. As an accountant or software engineer, you can easily offer your services on the side for an hourly rate. If you’re in a less defined field, try turning your passion – photography! baking! – into a side business.
5. Now that you’re making more money, don’t succumb to lifestyle inflation.
We’ve all done it – you earn a bonus, receive a tax refund, negotiate a raise, and suddenly you’re rationalizing a new car or bigger apartment.
Lifestyle inflation is the reason many millionaires fail to feel rich, and even sometimes struggle to meet their mortgage or car payments. It’s a natural human tendency; without giving it much thought, most people will match their spending to earnings.
There are various reasons for this phenomenon, from entitlement, to unhealthy social comparison, to norm conformity. But whatever the reason, you can count on a decline in your savings and a delay in your retirement.
It comes down to this: if you are happy in your current home, with your current car and your current belongings, don’t listen to that little voice that will, invariably, tell you that you need more. Self-control and rationality are crucial to smart saving.
Financial independence by the age of 40 is no longer a pipedream. So long as you commit to the process, strategically shape your career, and practice self-restraint, you’ll be reaching your goals in no time. Get in touch for personalized career support.