How challenging our financial mythos has me on track to retire at 40

Caleb Walsh illustration

"I can't retire." I first heard these words nine years ago while speaking to a pastor who was sharing advice as I was starting my own career in ministry. He'd been working for over 40 years in various churches throughout the Northwest and was still working well into his 70s. Unfortunately he wasn't still working because he wanted to, but because he had to. His honesty changed my financial trajectory and started me on a journey of discovering how to challenge our American financial mythos. I'm 32 as I write this, and my wife and I are on track to retire when I turn 40, and she'll be 38.

"But how?" you may ask. Work hard in school, go to college, get a good paying job, work for 40 years (or longer) and enjoy your golden years; isn't that how we do things here? What if there was a different way? What if most of what we've been told about how our financial life is supposed to work is wrong? I think it is, and the key to our financial freedom isn't in skipping the daily latte, but rejecting much of what we've been told about how to handle money. These are the myths I've tried to challenge as I work toward early retirement.

My job is my only source of income. Having a good paying job is an important element of financial success, but in order to fast track my way to freedom, I look for other income streams. I've purchased four rental properties with my wife in the last four years and right now their cash flow equals about 25 percent of what our full-time jobs pay. In time the plan is to have the money they generate become our main source of income. I took a hobby I love, video games, and turned it into a lucrative and enjoyable side hustle. I started by selling some of my personal games on eBay, then started buying games at yard sales, thrift stores and on Facebook Marketplace specifically to resell. I'm able to leverage knowledge about my hobby and utilize it to make extra money. My wife earns thousands a year buying and reselling used clothing. What you earn from your 9-to-5 helps, but what opportunities are out there to make money in addition to your full-time job?

I can't afford to take risks with my money. We are hardwired to avoid risk, but pushing back against that tendency can have profound effects. In 2014 I followed my wife to the East Coast when she took her first job in higher education. We moved from the Portland area to a small town in New York of 1,600 people. We left behind everything we knew — stable jobs, great friends, a supportive community — and it was a huge risk. It was also one of the best things we've ever done. Moving there allowed us to buy our first two rental properties, save about $40,000 in our retirement accounts and laid the foundation for our early retirement. Risk is the sacrifice the gods of financial freedom demand; are you willing to take it?

That's great for you, but it could never be me. When you read a story about someone's financial success, do you think to yourself "that could never be me!" I definitely used to. Here's the secret, that's only true if you believe it. You may not retire at 40, but what if you could step away from working full time at 50, or 55, and take back 10-15 years of your life?

Still not convinced? Take a first step this month; check out an open house for a rental property, try selling something on eBay, or start your side hustle. Your financial freedom is waiting, it's time to embrace it. ♦

Jon Maroni, a financial educator at a local credit union, and his wife, Krista, who works in student life at Whitworth University, are passionate about helping people dream about what their money can do for them.

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