LIKE most retired people, Michelle Freeman enjoys the luxury of lie-ins, casual cups of coffee, and the chance to travel and enjoy regular holidays.
However while the average Brit typically retires in their late sixties, incredibly Michelle did it when she was just 43.
Fire and Wide blogger Michelle, now 47, lives in Norfolk with her partner, and her story starts in her thirties, when she first began dreaming about early retirement.
She says: "I’m now financially independent, which means I don’t need to work to earn money to sustain my chosen lifestyle.
"It’s been eye-opening how people react when they inevitably ask what you do for a living and I tell them I’m retired.
"Pretty much everyone has been shocked but then curious, wanting to know more!"
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Here, Michelle shares her experience, and why she believes it's possible for everyone to do, and not just an option for rich people.
The value of time
For Michelle, her motivation was to have ownership over her time.
She says: "My partner and I would always be talking over our dreams and how to turn them into reality.
"One day we sat down and worked out all the places we’d like to travel.
"Only using annual leave meant I’d probably be dead before getting to all of them!
"At that point we knew we had to change something."
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An achievable aim for anyone
The first question everyone wants the answer to is 'is it possible for anyone to retire early?'
While Michelle had a good career and spent 20 years working in the finance industry before retiring in 2018, addressing that question she says: "Absolutely! Is it easy? No. It’s important to be realistic and patient. And it will take effort. But it is so worth it.
"I know some people think it's only for high earners, but I disagree.
"When I started out I was earning £8,000 a year – well below the average wage.
"I was also still paying off my student loan and renting with a friend – so pretty typical of a lot of people today I'd say.
"For me, it's all about what choices you make going forwards and in particular, what you prioritise."
Where to start
Here, Michelle provides her top tips to starting to save…
– Savvy spending: Are you getting value for money? Are you spending on something to keep up with others or do you genuinely need it?
– Reduce debt: Especially expensive and unhelpful debt. There's a ton of help on how to do this available. If you're prone to temptation, make it easier on yourself and get rid of credit cards.
– Invest as early as you can: When it comes to investing in the stock market, patience is the name of the game. Don't get lured into risky investments you don't understand – always get advice.
– Maximise your earnings: Moving jobs and asking for raises can be scary – but it's near impossible to be rewarded fairly for staying put. It's no different to shopping around for car insurance at renewal time.
The road to financial freedom
So just how did she do it? Firstly, with a lot of grit and determination – and by making some sacrifices.
Michelle says: "Given where I started, it wasn't so much about cutbacks, but about not increasing my spend as I started to earn more.
"Instead of spending all my spare cash, I started to save for my first house deposit.
"I bought an old place in the unfashionable part of town, different to most of my peers who went for the waterside flats, and later went on to build my own home to become mortgage free.
"I happily drove my faithful old banger of a car that cost me £300.
"I never felt like I was missing out, enjoying nights out and holidays away. I've just always made sure to get value for my money.
"I also chose to stay living in Norfolk and put up with a truly awful daily commute.
"Earning London wages and having Norfolk level living expenses made a huge difference to my ability to save.
"This was way before remote working was accepted as much – these days there are some really interesting opportunities."
Invest in the future
Once you have an idea of how much you need to have saved, it becomes a much simpler task of working out how much you can earn, save, and invest each year.
Melissa says: "Turning this into annual targets was really important for us, since they were achievable and measurable.
"You could see you were really making progress, which helped get through the tougher days.
"The investing side came later once I was debt-free.
"I bought my first share in 2012 and I was nervous.
"But long-term investing in share markets is the best way to generate above inflation returns, especially now with interest rates so low.
Not having to get up in the dark to a ringing alarm clock is heaven
"I maxed out pensions and ISA's whenever possible for the tax benefits.
"It wasn't always easy, I had days I really wanted to throw in the towel for sure but the best things in life take effort.
"Now, my various investments provide an income that covers both my necessary living expenses as well as a comfortable level of ‘fun’ spending, like travel.
"I still have to pinch myself to believe that!"
Banking the benefits
For Michelle, the effort was completely worth it.
She says: "Not having to get up in the dark to a ringing alarm clock is heaven. I’ll have a morning cuppa, catch up on the world.
"I get to regularly exercise now, which just wasn’t possible when spending four hours commuting each day.
"A simple lunch, some writing, reading, researching, and I also spend a lot of time away travelling and exploring.
"Pre-pandemic times, we’d be away for about four to five months across different trips each year.
"I’m in far better shape now in my forties than my thirties and my health is better."
"My close friends and family all know how hard we’ve worked to achieve this, so I’ve never had any problems with jealousy or the like. They can see how happy I am and they’re happy for me."
Finally, Michelle says: "Don’t be afraid of being different. Achieving something like financial independence requires not doing what everyone else is doing.
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"To put it simply, I couldn’t think of anything more valuable to buy with my money than my own time – so that’s what I did.
"Hence my personal finance motto – 'buying time for living life!'."
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