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He and his wife decided a retired life on the road meant more to them.

3 minute read

In April 2005, Steve from graduated from college. He landed a job in information technology making $55,000 a year.

He rewarded himself with a 1999 Corvette convertible — which cost him half his salary. Not satisfied and hungry for more, Steve sunk $25,000 in upgrades on the car. He says, “We’re talking a supercharger, full long tube headers, red calipers, race camshaft, loud catback exhaust — the whole nine yards.”

I don’t know what all that means, but I believe Steve when he says, “I drove one of the loudest and fastest cars around.”

His spending spree wasn’t limited to his car. “I probably spent $1,000 a month on meals alone,” remembers Steve. “I also bought cameras in pursuit of my main hobby, photography. And some other expensive gear.”  

In 2007, he moved to Tucson, Arizona. He still spent big money on meals but now he also spent on happy hours with coworkers. “Dropping $50 a pop on alcohol wasn’t unheard of,” says Steve. “I always had extra money to spend because I saved the society-approved 10 percent of my paycheck. I believed anything after that was fair game.”

This went on for five more years. By then, he had added a new $40,000 Cadillac CTS and a 1000cc Yamaha R1 sport bike to his toy collection. And then one day in 2012 he strolled out into his two-car garage and a different feeling came over him — not one of satisfaction or fulfillment.

“The garage door was closed and the cars illuminated only by the little 60-watt halogen light bulb,” remembers Steve. “I turned and looked at my cars. Then, I glanced at my motorcycle. For two minutes, I stood in my garage in complete silence.”

The feeling rose “like a tidal wave about to crash.” And it did come crashing down, leaving a simple question behind: “Steve, what the heck are you doing?”

He says he realized that he looked successful to the outside world, but he wasn’t happy. “That was the afternoon I finally admitted to myself that my level of spending contributed nothing to my happiness.”

Steve didn’t stop spending right away, but he did cut down. In 2013, he met his future wife, and they married the next year. They also decided the spending must stop. As a matter of fact, they pulled a 180.

“We decided to put both of our salaries together, save 70 percent and retire early,” says Steve. He sold his Corvette, spent only $50 a month on dining out, cut the cable, ended their phone upgrades and streamlined their other expenses as much as possible.

He and his wife decided “they wanted out of corporate America, and fast.”

Steve owned a home he bought in 2007 and his wife also owned one. He rented his out for a year after they married and lived in her home. He sold his and lost money, but his wife made $15,000 on her home. But they didn’t buy another home or apartment.

Steve retired in December 2016 and his wife followed in March and now they call Charlie their home — a 30-foot long, 200-square-foot interior, 2005 silver Airstream Classic. They are a full-time RV couple. He tows Charlie with a used 2008 Dodge Ram diesel pickup.

Steve says, “Life on the road has been amazing so far. The freedom to just go is incredible. If we don’t like the weather, we move. If we don’t like our neighbors, we move.”

He and his wife live 100 percent off their Ally savings account and whatever they bring in through side income, “which is generally in the $500 to $1,000 a month range.”

Steve and his wife met their early retirement goal. And with that in mind, I asked him to provide three financial tips that might help us retire earlier, or just improve our financial outlook. He says:

  1. Think of money as a tool. It’s a tool to accomplish your goals. Money is not the goal in and of itself. When money becomes the goal, we begin working ourselves to death. Money is a means to an end.
  2. Have goals. I had no goals after graduating from college and, therefore, I didn’t save. Give yourself something that you’re saying for. It gives you something to reach for and satisfaction once you accomplish it.
  3. Stop making excuses. The more excuses you make, the longer that you’ll feel stuck. If you aren’t happy, change. Don’t complain. Take control of your financial future.

On a last note, Steve says, “You don’t need a ton of money to live a life of happiness. Money may support your lifestyle, but it doesn’t define you. Your goal should be happiness, not more money or possessions.”

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About the Author

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski has been writing about personal finance for over 15 years covering debt recovery, fraud, and credit topics. He has worked on several personal finance books and guides that help consumers navigate the US credit system. When he’s away from the keyboard he enjoys craft beer and fishing – and once enjoyed a cold Sweet Water IPA after catching a sailfish.

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