I worked at Kaiser Permanente in 2016, diligently saving and investing toward a quick retirement. Though I kept spreadsheets to track my progress, I didn’t even realize that I had enough income from my investments to walk away. And as soon as I did, I retired from medicine at the age of 38.
I’m updating this article now in 2022 to look back at how I got here.
Explaining the Term Retired to Those Under the Age of 65
When I use the word retired, everyone around me thinks that I’m gonna crawl somewhere to die or spend the rest of my life on a couch.
The traditional retirement age for Americans is in their 6th decade though that number is decreasing. Unfortunately, it’s also when many Americans are experiencing declining health and decreased energy to work. I was tuned into this as a family medicine physician.
Retired to me means that I no longer need to depend on my job to finance my living expenses – to cover my daily living costs.
To retire means to shift my focus away from time dedicated mostly to a job and instead focus on time which I have more control over. Individuals with different careers will experience this shift differently.
Many Retire Younger Than Age 60 or 50
Actors Retire Young
An actress may work for a decade and then retire from acting. Some will invest in businesses or use their names for advertising to continue making money in their retirement.
Work, yes, but perhaps not with the grueling dedication of their proper careers.
Real Estate Investors Don’t Have to Retire
A person with rental income properties may never hit an official point of retirement. They probably started investing in real estate at a young age, doing most of the labor-intensive work themselves until they were able to step back.
Franchisee Owners Step Back Early
My friend’s dad has quite a few fast-food restaurants in various states. He started buying them in his 30s and now has enough management to be completely hands-off.
Is he retired? No, he still makes a few major decisions, but he is off traveling with his wife most of the time.
Retiring Traditionally in Medicine is Complicated
One doc will make a ton, spend a ton and save a healthy portion and retire a little before age 65. Another will earn well, cut their expenses more dramatically and therefore retire sooner on much fewer savings – I’m the latter.
I retired from medicine at age 38 – after exactly 10 years of working as an attending. I did it mostly by spending less but not necessarily from a high income compared to my specialist colleagues.
My Journey Towards Retiring Early From Medicine
A Low Net Worth Goals
My net worth isn’t impressive for a doctor, I’m just a touch above $600k, and this includes a primary residence worth $150k. I became debt-free a few months back and my living expenses are minimal.
I decided to aim for income rather than my net worth. Many won’t consider $600k enough to retire on and their arguments are valid. What was important to me was to get out of medicine and this was my way out.
My Investment Strategy Has Been Simple and Boring
My investment strategy has been passively managed mutual funds – index funds – and I expect to live mostly off the dividends. This includes some REITs and bonds.
Along the way I learned and maintained other skills like running a business, consulting, and of course, investing. Just because I wanted to leave medicine or have the option to do so, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to have more income or a more diversified portfolio.
I Didn’t Want to Retire Early from Medicine with Too Much Money
I am convinced that too many doctors get suckered into saving and investing too much. I have always been told that I need an income of $200k in retirement. For what, I don’t know.
My colleague recently retired at age 65 with a pension, $3 million in the bank, and a paid-off house worth $500k. His pension has kicked in, and social security is coming in as well.
He has no kids at home, and I know he doesn’t have a very lavish lifestyle – to me that seems like a lot of money, money for which he had to work long and hard for.
Tapping Into My Retirement Savings Early or Letting it Grow
I am not interested in sitting on my ass and vegging out after retiring from medicine. I have a few interests which I would like to pursue. I enjoy doing physical labor, it’s a good way to meet people, be productive and learn new skills.
Even though I could start mobilizing my retirement savings to generate an income to live off of, I don’t have any need for that because I am interested in work, which will inevitably make me an income.
More importantly, my overhead is so low that I don’t need a whole lot of income to run my lifestyle. A little over $1,000/mo of income would allow me to cover food, housing, and healthcare.
Though my lifestyle may seem too anemic to the point of being unlivable for many, it happens to be an ideal lifestyle for me. I am leaving plenty of room for myself to earn more money and build an even bigger retirement fund if needed.
The Road to Retiring at 38 from Medicine
I wasted a lot of my income after residency – 2009-2012 – and accumulated plenty of credit card debt, mortgage debt, and auto debt on top of my student loans.
By end of 2012, I decided that I would rather have the luxury of full control over my time left on this planet, for which I was willing to trade all the tangible luxuries.
2013-2016, I focused on paying off debt and increasing my savings rate by cutting back my expenses. I had no skills and no mentors but I learned those skills from mentors I eventually found online.
I will use my savings to get me through the next few months. If I truly decide not to work at all then I will use the SEPP method to gain access to my tax-deferred funds.
Now, 6 Years Later at age 44
The past few years have been exciting, and I have learned a lot, earned a lot, and given back a lot.
My spending in Portland, Oregon, eventually went up to $1,500 per month but with it grew my net worth and my investment returns kept up.
My income came from some telemedicine work and eventually consulting part-time in healthcare startups.
I eventually tapped into my investments and cashed out around $100k to purchase a 90,000 euro condo in Spain. I have been living there on and off for the past few years, going back to Portland from time to time. A digital nomad physician in every sense of the word.