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ARCHIVED  November 19, 1999

Big dream, tight wallet key to early retirement

It’s the middle of the workweek, and you’ve just hit the snooze alarm for the fourth time. Would early retirement be your dream come true?

Early retirement – say before 50 – often means waking up to the realities of frugality at a very young age. It’s not an easy achievement, but can be accomplished. Jim Corr is a prime example.

Now 52, Corr retired officially five years ago. “I didn’t do anything earth-shattering,” Corr said. “I did it the old fashioned way; I worked my butt off, 17 hours a day, in my 20s and 30s. I started three bars and restaurants, and then a log-home business. I sold off the businesses and now I’m living off the interest.”

For Corr, it was easy to know when to call it a career and kick back.

“It stopped being fun,” Corr said. “I remember coming back from a trip, and packing for the next one, and my wife asked, can’t you calm this down?’ We had a child, and I was literally never home. So I just felt it was time and started to figure up how much I’d need.”

Now that his daughter is a teenager, Corr credits their “great relationship” to the extra time they’ve had to spend together.

“That’s where the real value of early retirement is,” Corr explained. “It’s the time you have in trade-off for the money you don’t. I don’t have a large sum of money, I have enough. I invested, although not extensively. The most important thing was, I shifted my values.

“I also had a mentor in my father-in-law,” continued Corr. “He retired at 50 to focus on playing tennis. Now he’s 80. I watched him enjoy his life and said, I want to do that’. He’s been an inspiration and advisor.”

So far, Corr has but one complaint about early retirement: “There aren’t a lot of young retirees out there!” he laughed. “I’d love to have somebody to play with.”

Kevin W. Conroy, certified financial planner and owner of Fort Collins-based Retirement Funding Specialists, says that Corr is a good example of the typical early retiree.

“The most common scenario is people in their early 50s who’ve sold off businesses,” Conroy said. “If you’re not in that type of situation, then you have to save like crazy in your 30s and live very frugally — saving $100 a month isn’t going to do it.”

Those who hope to hit the golf course early must also invest their money in the most tax efficient method, Conroy said. “You really can’t afford to make a mistake. Otherwise, retirement’ turns into a collection of nametags and hairnets as you pick up minimum-wage jobs to fill the gaps.

“Bottom line is,” he emphasized, “early retirement is possible if you save systematically. The people who manage it aren’t ringing up credit cards, buying new cars or big houses – they start making sacrifices at some point.”

Retirement is, of course, a relative term. Conroy recently advised someone who wanted to retire in order to go back to college. “It’s nice helping people get to a place where they don’t have to work anymore and can do what they want,” he said, “whether that’s playing golf, traveling or cramming for final exams.”

In terms of general advice, Conroy emphasized that 401(k)s and IRAs are essential and, he added, “always, always put in the maximum amount that your employer will match.”

Start early, live frugally and “stay healthy,” stressed Phil Trujillo, certified fund specialist and chief investment advisor for AmeriPlan Inc. in Fort Collins.

“Medical expenses are the big unknown for later years,” Trujillo said, “so medical insurance is a very important issue. With corporate retirement situations, we always try to negotiate that in.”

Trujillo admitted that in his 28 years of business, he’s seen few early retirees.

“People in their 20s and 30s are so distracted with raising children,” he theorized, “that they don’t have much in the way of discretionary income for saving toward retirement. More typically, I’ll get someone in their 40s who comes in and asks, Do I really have to work another 20 or 30 years?’ and we sit down and figure out where they’re at.”

Trujillo says that the two most critical factors for early retirement are tax planning and home buying.

“Absolutely, buy a house — as soon as you possibly can,” he said. “Owning a home is critical because it serves as leverage in the future, to help grow your investments as well as your lifestyle.”

Lifestyle, and what that personally means to you, is key.

“My perspective of retirement has really changed over the years,” Trujillo said. “Now I see it more as being about dreams. I had a client who, all of his life, wanted to be a cop. We got him financially squared away to get out of the corporate work force and into a police uniform just one month before the age cut-off for becoming a police officer. And I’ll never forget visiting him afterward, how proud he was of that cruiser parked in the driveway he was living his dream.

“Working with him”, Trujillo recalled, “really altered my definition of early retirement. Ultimately, it’s about personal happiness — reaching a point where you can shift gears, whatever that may be. When you can do something that may not be as financially rewarding, but maintain whatever lifestyle you’re accustomed to.”

And while Trujillo maintains that “grinding away, saving every spare dime and taking some investment risks” is a big part of it, the most important part, he says, is figuring out now, just what it is that you want to do with the latter part of your life.

It’s never too early to start dreaming.

It’s the middle of the workweek, and you’ve just hit the snooze alarm for the fourth time. Would early retirement be your dream come true?

Early retirement – say before 50 – often means waking up to the realities of frugality at a very young age. It’s not an easy achievement, but can be accomplished. Jim Corr is a prime example.

Now 52, Corr retired officially five years ago. “I didn’t do anything earth-shattering,” Corr said. “I did it the old fashioned way; I worked my butt off, 17 hours a day, in my 20s and 30s. I started three bars and…

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