“I saved my pennies and invested wisely”

Fortune is looking to interview retirees about life after leaving the workforce. If you’re interested in sharing your story, email Senior Writer Alicia Adamczyk at alicia.adamczyk@fortune.com.

Since Chris Miller retired last year at the age of 54, he hasn’t given much thought to work.

Instead, he wakes up, makes coffee, and spends three hours with his tablet, reading the news and watching TV. He’ll check off his to-do list – though most things could be pushed to another day – maybe exercise or play pickleball, and see if any of his friends are able to get together.

It’s a stark difference from the three decades he’s spent working as a software engineer, not that he mind. His retirement changed his priorities. He’s spent his time traveling with his wife, Michelle — who retired three months before him — across North America in an RV, watching 19 seasons of instinct anatomypatching around the house, and even Build a retirement calculator To help others figure out how much money they will need in retirement. Michelle spends her days volunteering and taking care of the cats.

“Every day feels like a Saturday,” says Miller. luck.

It was a big change, but a welcome one. Miller has spent many hours in the tech industry for most of his career, which has allowed him to save substantially. When his company announced layoffs last year, he decided it was time to take a break and negotiate a “favorable” severance package, which helped smooth his transition into retirement (it’s also A common tactic among early retirees—If you can choose when you retire, you can improve your exit package).

Miller began increasing his retirement contributions in his twenties, but it wasn’t until about age 30 that he “obsessed” with the concept of retirement and how much he would need to save to live a comfortable life. At the time, he was living in Southern California and watched Silicon Valley workers shine like bandits during the Dotcom Boom. He decided to move north to try to get into the gold rush. He got a job as a software engineer at a startup company and “had dreams of getting rich instantly.”

This did not happen. The dotcom boom was soon followed by the Dotcom Bust. Miller has worked at four different startups, none of which have been hugely successful. In the end, he decides to stay at a company he loves so well and try to build wealth the old-fashioned way. “I saved my pennies and invested them wisely,” he says.

In his spare time, he explored the FIRE movement—Financial Independence, Retire Early—via blogs like Mr. Money Mustache and went all in for early retirement.

“I knew I didn’t want to wait until 65” to stop working full time, he says. “I was doing my own spreadsheets and calculations, and that was my hobby.”

Miller refused to share the amount he had saved for retirement. But between him and his wife, it’s enough to live in a Bay Area home and travel in an RV with an annual withdrawal rate of about 4.5% to 5%, even in a bear market like 2022. While he may decide to go back to work someday, he says he doesn’t need to. Money if they maintain their lifestyle as it is now.

Purpose finding is outside of the 9 to 5 range

When he first retired, Miller worried his life lacked purpose. And while some days he’s not as busy as he’d like, remembering the things he didn’t like the most in the corporate world—commuting is a big deal—helps put things into perspective.

Plus, taking it easy isn’t a bad thing, he finds out. After a long period of work, it’s okay to not be “productive” all the time.

“People worry they’ll become couch potatoes, while others find a new passion. I’m in the middle,” he says. “I have all this free time and use half of it to relax and half of it to do things I’ve never done before. I don’t have any regrets about it.

“It makes me happy to spend three hours drinking my coffee in the morning,” he adds.

He has also found purpose in helping others reach their retirement goals. Miller encourages other workers to run his so-called Monte Carlo simulation, which is a type of analysis that helps predict whether an investor will have sufficient retirement income given a range of possible market conditions and other details. It’s not a perfect analysis, of course—there can be none—but it’s considered more comprehensive than a standard retirement income calculator that just assumes a standard rate of return each year.

Spending a few hours running the numbers every now and then can help other savers stay on track. He also advises those interested in financial independence to keep track of their spending so they know exactly how much they will need in retirement.

“When you retire, you choose to freeze your lifestyle expenses, they can’t increase after retirement,” he says. “Be prepared to make the conscious decision to always live this lifestyle and nothing more.”

And continue to track your financial progress even after retirement. “Be prepared to make spending adjustments if things are going downward,” he says. I hope to buy a Tesla Next year, but I’m postponing this concession until our investment fully recovers.”

Even those who haven’t worked as a software engineer for decades can figure out the math that works for them, he says. “Someone else has half of my net worth, that doesn’t mean they can’t retire, they just have to live on half of the budget,” he says. “Maybe that means living in a different state, or a smaller house. There’s always some math that works in any situation.”

Finally, Miller says that early retirees need to make sure they are “willing to trade money for time and possibly lose your satisfaction in life.” In the United States, work gives many people a sense of purpose (especially high-income earners). But just because you don’t work full time doesn’t mean your life will lose meaning — it could take on a different life.

“When I was working, there were so many things I wish I could do that I didn’t have time for. RV travel was number one on that list, and now I’m just living that dream,” he said, noting that he’s currently on a 47-hour trip. day across Canada. He and his wife have friends who also travel with their home vehicles, and aim to take trips of a few weeks each year.

Chris Miller didn’t think it was 20 years ago that he’d given up his RV championship career for travel and pickles. He’s even turned down a few offers of contract work over the past year because he’s enjoying his commitment-free days.

“Right now, I really enjoy the lack of responsibility and the idea that I can wake up every day and decide what to do that day,” he says. “I follow my heart, I do the things I’m passionate about.”

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com

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