Wednesday, 1 March 2006

How I retired at 39

How I retired at 39

A commonly held misconception is that retirement is exclusively for the old or rich; a privilege not bestowed on mere mortals. I’m living proof that you don’t need to be Bill Gates or a colostomy-bag-wearer in order to achieve financial independence. You do, however, require bagfuls of determination. I’ll provide a brief explanation of how anyone can retire early provided they follow a few simple rules.


I grew up as the eldest of six boys in the northeast of England. Since the collapse of coal mining the area has seen dramatic decline. High levels of unemployment exacerbate socio-economic issues that blight the area in this post-industrial age. It hardly needs highlighting that many live in debt-fueled deprivation as a consequence. I endeavoured to escape.

At the tender age of 17 I joined the Royal Navy. By 27 I’d left ships, submarines and war zones behind to finish a BSc(Hons) with the Open University. Three years as an IT Technician was followed by an MSc at Newcastle University. At 32 I made what I regard to be the best decision of my life and left the UK. I ended up teaching maths in Asia before retiring at 39.

The point is: I’m nothing special, just a regular Joe Bloggs. I hail from a modest background and engaged in averagely paid employment.


The first step on the road to financial freedom was listening to some salty old sea-dogs warning me of the perils of marriage from the bowels of a Trident submarine. We were coming back from three months under the sea when I invited them for a beer. They declined saying they were skint! Skint? I had three month’s pay sitting in the bank!

They resented their lives of slavery and convinced me to steer clear of the marriage/divorce/CSA trap. I’m glad I heeded their advice as it’s afforded opportunities for extensive travel, further education and early retirement – things beyond my wildest dreams as a young man.

Caveat: Marriage avoidance doesn't mean celibacy - in fact quite the opposite. But that's a whole other topic.


The second step on the road to early retirement was the acknowledgement that debt is toxic. I remember looking on enviously as a colleague drove to work in a brand new VW Golf and parked it next to my worthless wreck. However, her car generated six years of future payments plus interest.

I remember leaving that place and thinking about her being tied to her spirit-crushing job in order to pay off a depreciating asset. Debt Slavery! She was effectively pouring money down a drain and expending a lot of energy (in the form of work) to do so. Never take on debt, learn to do without – a strange mantra in today’s world.


The third step was the realisation that living a frugal life can lead to huge savings and a significant increase in one’s net worth. During my working life I did without luxuries. I bought clothes from charity shops, drove bangers and travelled (extensively) with a tent. There are millions of tips and techniques on how to live a minimal life but the best piece of advice is to ask yourself “Do I really need this?” You need to neglect consumerism and embrace a frugal mindset. I always aimed to save 50% of my net income every month - difficult but not impossible. As a result I’ve discovered that less is more in life. Freedom trumps possessions.


Once you have a positive net worth (savings and/or other assets) you have to store this wealth somewhere. Savings not only need to be safe but should also generate a passive income. I personally stashed my lump into a litigation funding scheme. This particular point takes research but nothing too intellectually demanding.


Finally, once you've embraced minimalism, saved and invested enough to generate a sufficient passive income, you need to find somewhere cheap to live and where better than Chiang Mai? I fill my time by learning Thai, running, writing and riding a motorbike around the fantastic scenery of Northern Thailand. That’s my one material indulgence!

So few make it

Why do so few succeed on the path to financial freedom? In the first paragraph I mentioned a few simple rules. Just because they’re simple doesn't mean they’re easy. An important distinction! Many people today can’t adjust their psychology and learn to do without ‘things’. The YOLO attitude provides instant gratification at your future’s expense. I’ve always believed (like our Grandparent’s generation) that you should save up for the things you want in life.

This is a brief but I hope inspirational piece to anyone dreaming of securing their future financial independence through minimalism. It takes huge amounts of motivation, determination and discipline but once you reach the goal (39 for me but there are no age limits) you’ll know the sacrifices were worth it. Good luck!

10 Best things about being retired in Chiang Mai

1. Wake up when you want.

I hate alarm clocks. Ive always resented being forced out of bed. From the age of 14 I got up at 0530 to deliver milk. Those wintry Northumbrian mornings still cause involuntary shivers. On submarines we were required to fight floods and fires while launching nuclear missiles from beneath the frozen Atlantic. Constant alarms, sleep deprivation and cold. Awful. Contrast that to waking up when you like in Chiang Mai’s tropical weather. Bliss.

2. Lunch.

I used to teach maths and a teacher’s life is subject to a timetable’brutal regime. Never ending classes, marking, assemblies and duties conspire to leave you feeling exhausted. A rushed lunch is a futile exercise in energy replenishment. A million miles from a chilled Chiang Mai cafe. I like to ride out to a small bohemian place with views of Doi Suthep and rice paddies. Canny.

3. Motorbike anywhere, any time.

Northern Thailand has some of the best riding in the world. Retirement allows you the time to slowly wind through fascinating tribal villages, sup cappuccinos at breathtaking viewpoints and simply enjoy the curves. Magic.

4. Learn Thai.

I love languages and currently attend a small language school that provides a one year education visa. Indulge a passion AND facilitate a visa solution. Sudyort!

5. Work.

No bosses, meetings, stupid colleagues, deadlines or regulations. No elaboration required here. Sorted.

6. Attire.

It’s difficult to choose the words to explain how I felt when I dumped a black-bin-bag full of work clothes in July. Liberating? Ditching shoes, shirts and ties in favour of t-shirts, shorts and flip flops is a no-brainer. More space in your wardrobe too. Result.

7. Look after yourself.

When I arrived in Chiang Mai I couldn’t run 1 km or do a pull-up. After two months I regularly run 10km and do 3x10 pull-ups. Not being stressed and exhausted from work helps enormously. Puak Haad park on the SW corner of the moat is a pleasant place to feed the fish after a sunset run. Beautiful.

8. Reading and writing.

I love both. Chiang Mai has dozens of little bookshops and WIFI enabled coffee shops. Perfect.

9. A few extra bob

Supplement your income. I love teaching maths – just not in schools. Do a bit of tutoring or online advertising. Industrious.



  1. The biggest downside to this is living without love in your life for a long time and of course you have given up immortality. Children make on immortal. Your family name will die with you. If this is no problem then kick on mate. Very few girls would want to give up the chance to have children and so relationships are gonna be truncated.

  2. Presumably you're talking about the marriage point? You don't need to be married to give or receive love - or have kids for that matter. There's also no rush. Why not wait until you're at least 40 when decisions can be made in a more logical frame of mind? Without hormones clouding judgement? Too many blokes think with their dicks and end up destroying their lives. It's all about life choices. Do you always do what society tells you?

    As for given up immortality, childless folk might be doing the planet/human race a favour. Do we really need more than the 7+ billion we have now?

    Additionally, IF (big if) your kids have kids and the generations continue ad infinitum your DNA will rapidly become diluted as to render it negligible. After only 10 generations your DNA will account for 0.1%. One tenth of one percent. So much for immortality - not much of a legacy.

  3. Excellent! You are living the dream and I am glad you decided to be a blogger.

  4. Think you need to change your retirement strategy, seen the post on Thai Visa.

    1. Yep. This page is now officially defunct. Retirement was good while it lasted from July 2013 to July 2014. One measly year. I did everything well except the critical investment bit. So, even when you do everything else right there are still pitfalls and painful lessons to learn.

  5. Time to get retired again, very soon. U re off to some cold hard cash in Xian


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