How I Retired by Age 30

This past May, I sat in the lobby of my office building waiting for Shacky to pick me up. It was the Thursday before Memorial Day and many of my co-workers were excited about the long weekend. One guy passing through the lobby felt especially excited:

“I took Friday off as well, so I get an extra long weekend! I can’t wait for the time off!”

I was excited too, but for a very different reason. I knew that as soon as I left that building, I would never again work a single day of my life.

I was 29 years old.

How is That Possible??

Let’s start with the definition of “work”.

Technically speaking, we all work whether we get paid for it or not. We clean our houses. We raise our kids. We train for races. We go to our jobs. All of the above is work in the sense that it takes effort. We’re not sitting on our asses. And neither am I.

My definition of never working again is simple:

I will never again get paid to do anything that I wouldn’t be happy to do for free.

For many, that rules out most aspects of our jobs, and that was the case for me.

I did like SOME aspects of my job. I loved reading and writing and researching (I worked as an editor). When I went home in the evenings, I would do more of these activities for free. So these are all things I still do.

It’s not work because I absolutely love doing it, and I do it regardless of whether or not I’m being paid (sometimes I am paid, most of the time I am not).

Running is another thing that I do for free and also love. Some of my races are sponsored, and some are not. Regardless of whether or not I am sponsored, I will still run. It doesn’t feel like work.

Which raises the next question:

Where Does Your Money Come From??

After 29 years, I have $20 thousand in savings. Both Shacky and I can easily live on $15 thousand/year. This means I have a little over one year to survive without a job and without going into debt. This is what I consider my buffer.

Beyond that, it really comes down to a drastic change of perspective as far as how I view money.

1. Value time, not money.

I mentioned that $20 thousand equals a little over one year. For me, the ONE YEAR is what matters, not the monetary amount of $20 thousand. One year of complete freedom is far more valuable than ANY monetary amount.

This perspective devalues money to what it really is: a means to an end. What is it you really want? It’s not the money. It’s the freedom. It’s the time off. It’s the running mountains in the middle of the day, happy and carefree. Twenty thousand is a fairly cheap price to do what you want, when you want for one entire year.

But of course, burning through savings is not a permanent or realistic way to live. So this is only a buffer to give me peace of mind. My plan is NOT to burn through my savings. Which brings me to the next points:

2. Cut expenses.

There are really only two ways to have more money:

a) Make more.

b) Spend less.

Since making more would involve “work”, my only option is to spend less.

Our society is set up to keep us in a never-ending cycle of making more money so we can spend it on things we don’t need. Read Jason’s great post about this HERE.

We are marketed to at every turn, and convinced that we “need” the latest products in order to survive and be accepted in society.

The truth is that we actually need very little to survive:

We need shelter.

But we don’t need to buy a house, maintain a house, renovate that house, or pay rent. We also don’t need to buy a bigger house. An extra bedroom. A spare bathroom. Interestingly, these are things that many of us feel we “need”.

I have to credit the months I spent living in Cuba for permanently shifting my perspective on want vs need. These weeks I ate from the hospitality of the poorest families I have ever seen and bathed with a bucket full of cold water and a sponge. Believe me. There is very little we need to be happy.

Shacky and I are buying a small RV where we can live comfortably, never pay rent, and remain mobile. We won’t have a car, but we’ll carry a couple of bicycles in case we need more flexibility with transportation. The RV will be tiny enough to drastically limit our belongings. We will be forced to keep only what we are constantly using and truly need.

We need food.

But we don’t need fast food or eating out. We also don’t need a ton of food storage. Every day, we need food for one day. And that is all.

Shacky and I are semi-foodies, so chances are this is where we will splurge a little, occasionally buying things we don’t need but very much enjoy.

We need clothes.

And we already have them. More than enough. In fact, we are giving away most of our clothes and only keeping the few that we regularly use.

We have chosen INKnBURN to make up most of our wardrobe. These are high-performance, durable clothes that we know will last us for years to come. We are done growing. We don’t need to spend a penny more on clothes.

And that’s it.

Shelter, food, and clothes are our basic needs. Food will be the only on-going expense. Shelter is a one-time buy, and we don’t expect to spend more on clothing.

Because we do already own a lot of things like iPods, Kindles, etc, we will be bringing these along. Whether or not we choose to replace them in the future will depend on whether or not we can afford it, or can get them for free. But we understand that they are not needs.

3. Just because you need something doesn’t mean you have to pay for it.

There’s one more point to be made here. Our society has set us up to believe that money is the only reasonable way to acquire what we want or need. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the years, we have gotten thousands of dollars in goods and services without spending a dime. Rather than paying money, we pay by exchanging other goods or services. Trading or bartering.

For example, I can help promote a product in exchange for free swag or a sponsored race entry. Because I am not making a huge financial profit, I am adamant about only promoting products that I truly believe are great and that I use on a regular basis.

Basically, I accept swag for products that I would (and do) promote for free already. I get free products such as clothing or race entries this way.

I am also a Registered Nutritionist. I am trained to work with individual clients to assess them, set up meal plans, and help them reach their health goals. This is a valuable service I can exchange for something else that I need. Maybe food.

Last but not least, manual labor is another option. Shacky and I have always wanted to help out at a farm. One possibility for us is to exchange farm labor for healthy, organic food. We’re both young, able-bodied, and eager to help work the land.

Between slashing our expenses to pretty much only food, and negotiating exchanges and trades, Shacky and I can survive on surprisingly little each month. And we’ll have everything we need.

That said, there are still some situations where you do need some cash flow.

What About When You DO Need Money??

1. Savings

I already mentioned this above. We do have a buffer that, if necessary, we can dip into.

2. Advertising

I have recently started selling some advertising on my blog. This will be a very small income, but then again the monthly income we can live on is minuscule.

3. Freelance Writing

Again, I don’t make a lot of money on freelance. But even selling one article a month is a good cash flow for us. Because I can afford to sell so few articles, I can really focus on writing what I want, and sell it to exactly who I want.

4. Book Sales

I am currently writing a book that I will be self-publishing. I have about three book ideas that some publishers have expressed interest in, but I am still leaning toward self-publishing for the freedom.

I want to be able to give my book away for free if and when I want. This is something that would be frowned upon through a publisher.

I expect book sales to be low, but trickling in. Thankfully, we need very little money to survive. This means that I could essentially be making money through book sales while I’m running in the mountains, and have the small amount of cash flow that I need on a monthly basis.

5. Dog Running

One of my favorite things to do in the entire world is trail running with dogs. I run my own dog Ginger on a daily basis and would run any dog anytime, anywhere. It’s such a rewarding experience (and one I do for free).

So we’ve just partnered up with a great dog running business based in LA to help expand their business to San Diego and run dogs for them. Getting paid to run trails with dogs? Pretty sure it doesn’t get much better.

I’ll also have the flexibility to choose my clients, as well as when and how often I “work”. The key is to seek a small income from doing the things that I already love and already do on a regular basis.

Why Would You Do This??

It’s simple.

I value freedom and self-sufficiency, and not much else.

I also want to enjoy my life while I’m young and healthy and full of energy.

The trade-off is that:

  • I will never be rich. The more I make, the more I will give away.
  • I will never have a home to decorate. The trails and mountains will be my home and they are already decorated.
  • I will never have a long-term plan. I will live day-by-day and pursue my whims as they come.
  • I will never have a bucket list. Because why wait? We’ll make it a “To Do” list.

And finally… I will never work another day in my life.

Special Mention

I should also mention that living the dream would be impossible without Shacky, who had done a lot of the legwork as far as researching our new lifestyle and finding us an RV for our purposes.

Also that fact that he’s willing to come along for the adventure is huge, and even more rare is the gift of finding someone you don’t mind living in very close proximity to for a really long time.

We’re currently in transition mode, giving away what we have left in the house and planning to be in the RV full-time this September. Neither of us will keep a job.


You CAN Do This Too!

It doesn’t have to be as drastic as giving away your possessions and moving into a tiny RV, but you can downsize. You can minimize your expenses. You can evaluate what it is you truly need. And you can have more freedom.

Work less and play more. Don’t be like the 90-year-old who is skydiving for the first time. By the time you’re 90, it should be your millionth time.

Take that leap today. Life is short.


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33 responses

  1. Great post. I work as the Social Media Coordinator for I get paid to interact with runners on Skora’s facebook, twitter, pinterest, as well as talk to current/potential customers, write for their newsletter and blog, form a running team, test concept shoes, etc etc. AKA do what I love to do anyway!

    I am not into sacrificing the first 65 years of my life for the last 30 years of retirement.

    PS. Would you like a pair of shoes to review Vanessa? Please msg me if you would like to talk more about the brand and our shoes!

  2. What about medical expenses? True if you were in India or Mongolia, but in the US it is really really expensive to even get a consultation. I hope you are not sacrificing health insurance.

      • I love what you’re doing, and especially your motivation for doing it. I feel the same way :) Best of luck, I really hope it works out for you.

        btw, not sure if it’s the same across Canada, but BC Medicare costs my family ~$130/month, plus there were issues in keeping it after living away from Canada for more than a couple years. You may want to look into it.

  3. I can see you running trails with several bags of dookie swinging around haha! Sounds like a sweet deal. I like your comments about the swag. My oldest son has the same size foot as me and the other three have tested out shoes too. So I spent some time giving my opinion to “buy” shoes for my spawn.
    We take work as it comes along. Always contract work. I will most likely not be employed by someone else ever again. I can’t say never since I may want to work when I’m older. I have really loved working some of my jobs foe a couple of years anyways.

    I wish you all the best and please stop in Des Moines someday :)

    • They were definitely our first inspiration! Then the idea started forming and we learned of others who were making this happen, and decided to do it ourselves :)

  4. As always, a great post. We’ve been going through some self induced downsizing, too and I think it is a really good idea. It was actually sparked by your post about “second shit” and got me thinking that I had too many things just sitting around, cluttering my space. It is really about developing new habits and a new perspective on what is important.

    Run free, Vanessa!!


  5. I love this. Every bit of it! Angela and I live very simply and I don’t foresee us ever being wealthy because we will always do what we love (which doesn’t bring in much money). But you are taking it several steps further and I so admire that! Living in an RV, running trails all day — that is the life! We always talk about how silly it is to work, work, work at a job you despise all the way up until you’re 65+ so you can have a comfortable retirement. That seems so ass backwards to me. We are healthy and young and should enjoy that. I will not wait until I am 65 to live my life. Angela is about to start a 4 year doctorate program so we won’t be taking the leap any time soon, but maybe one day…. and if so, you two will be our inspiration. :)

  6. Other needs: Gas, car insurance and car maintenance and repairs. Keep us posted on your new found adventure. If you and Shacky are ever in need to a warm meal, come find me. Are you taking Ginger with you?

  7. Great ideas! I’m sort of doing the same thing, other than the mobility part. I live in a place that I’m really liking for the time being, but just lease places short term so I can head out if need be. I never even really noticed that I was doing anything different as I transitioned from college to my current state. That is, until my family pointed out that I live on a pittance of a salary and don’t complain. Maybe since I never had a “secure” life to leave, if just life as usual. Best of luck to you! Worst case scenario is just going back, right?

  8. You’ll have a blast living free. I lived in my truck for 5 years 2 months 19 days, went from a big fatty to an ultrarunner and am now in chiropractic school. I had to move into a room because I broke my ankle in a fall climbing and couldn’t safely crawl around the truck. It’s a great life, day-to-day fresh food and all the freedom imaginable. I’m constantly tempted to do it again but an RV instead of a truck is much more manageable. Have a great time!

  9. Sounds like a GREAT plan, Vanessa. It’s indeed possible even here in Italy: I’m in the process, with the difference that I live in a house placed in a heavenly area… Keep sharing, namaste!

  10. I applaud your courage in giving this ‘alternate’ lifestyle a real go. It sounds like you’ve done your research, and so long as you don’t find a way to get yourself into debt, there’s not much downside to taking this leap. As long as you’re smart about it, the worst case scenario is that it turns out you don’t like it as much as you thought you would. But there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?

  11. I’ve been thinking about your post now for two days straight. You are doing the right, and the new thing. You’ll see, you’re ahead of the curve. Many others will follow.

    I have kids, so I can’t do it just like you and Shacky are, but I’m moving in that direction. Certainly when they are out of school, we’ll be free, but I hope to be more free than I am now long before then. There is no job security anyway, so why kill yourself for a life that no longer exists? Freedom is the ultimate aspiration when you grind everything down to its base meaning. That is why our parents and grandparents worked so hard–to be free. But that was in retirement and in their old age. It’s a trick. BE FREE NOW.

  12. Wow this definitely gives me a lot to think about. Being 29 myself and accumulating so much “stuff” that my mom and I have 2 yard sales a year. We surely could exercise more restraint in this area.

    You are lucky to have a partner to go along on this adventure.

  13. Awesome post! I’m definitely looking forward to reading more about this adventure! I’m especially interested in what is hard to get rid of or what you choose to keep and of course the financial side of things as you get going.
    If you ever end up in Juneau, AK look me up for a free meal and running talk! I love running with dogs too :)

  14. This sounds awesome and makes me wish the 100,000$ in school loans I have for my BA were not there so I can run off into the hills with my hubby :) Alas… I will work crappy jobs for the rest of my life to pay off the opportunity of going to school, even if that opportunity didn’t really earn me that great of a job like I thought it would.

    However, I LOVE what you said under “You can do this too!” – we can economize and enjoy life experiences more than just accumulting “stuff” and I plan to start working on that today! Thanks for this awesome article!

  15. Great stuff!!! I lived out of an RV for the first 4 months on my run across America and then a baby jogger for the last 3 weeks. I have been doing it on a bicycle the last 2 long rides. The freedom you describe is the best. You are so right about keeping expenses low. People are marketed into believing they need all of these things that end up weighing them down. I can’t tell you the amount of people who look at me and tell me that they wish they could do what I do. I just look back at them and them and tell them “you can”. Everyone does want to be free, it is too bad that so many aren’t.
    You guys are awesome!!!

  16. RE: Canadian Health Care. There is a rule that defines you as a non-resident and you will no longer qualify for health care. It is called tha 183 day sojourner rule. If the days you are out of the country this year, plus 1/3 of the days you were out last year, plus 1/6 of the days you were out the year before add up to more than 183 you are no longer a resident. I mentioned casually to an Alberta Health Care person that I travelled a lot and they made me provide all my travel records for the prevous 3 years to prove I still qualified for Alberta Health. What a pain!
    On the living simply front–the happiest days of my life were the 3 years I lived in my van–you are sooo on the right track!

  17. Lately I’ve thinking how it would be to let all my obligations go and just live the life I really want.

    If it was up to me I would even live in a cave but I don’t think my lovely wife would like that :o)
    In my opinion it’s hard to take the step to be only dependent of your own in the current society we’re living in.

    As you stated, that only a bit money is needed, I’m 100% with you.
    I barely buy anything (there isn’t anything I need) but it doesn’t matter how much money I got (less or more…). At the end of the month everything is gone and I don’t even know where. But I don’t care.

    You are living the life that in my current state I can only dream of.
    Hopefully with a change in the near future.

    A truly admirer!

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