THE BLOG

Retire Now For More Bang

06/26/2013 08:21 am ET | Updated Aug 26, 2013

"Extreme early retirement."

A Google search on the subject yields millions of hits. Young people have become impatient with the old model of study, work until 65, then retire. Instead they're figuring out how to retire, or move abroad, or both, often with little money.

A friend, Paul Terhorst, retired very early, at age 35, nearly 30 years ago. Paul retired for many reasons and even wrote a book about the thinking involved. But today he explains that, in retrospect, one reason stands out more than all the others.

"At age 35," Paul says, "I saw my career path, based on the old model, leading to less bang."

Paul grew up in Arcadia, a Los Angeles suburb. Paul didn't like Arcadia, so, when he graduated from Arcadia High School in 1966, he left Arcadia and vowed never to return. Paul had bigger goals in mind. He wanted the kind of life that San Francisco, New York, and Buenos Aires have to offer.

Paul continued his education and went on to graduate from very good schools. Then he started a career with one of the big U.S. public accounting firms. By 1984, Paul had been a partner for several years and was partner-in-charge of the audit practice in Buenos Aires, Argentina. By this time, he'd also worked in San Francisco and New York. As he explains, "To this point, I was more than satisfied with my education, career progress, compensation, the works."

Paul was due to transfer from Buenos Aires back to the United States.

"As luck would have it," Paul remembers, "the Los Angeles office wanted me. I gave the transfer careful consideration. At one point I asked a Los Angeles partner where I might live if I joined the Los Angeles office.

"'Well, if you can swing it, you might be lucky enough to live in Arcadia,' he told me."

Paul and his wife Vicki looked at the numbers of what it would cost us to set up in Los Angeles. In round numbers, they discovered, it would take all of their considerable savings. "And for what," Paul says. "To move back to a city I took for granted, a place I disliked? Or maybe to another part of Los Angeles that cost even more?"

Then Paul had an epiphany. He didn't have to return to Arcadia. He could give up on the old model entirely and choose a radically different lifestyle instead.

That's exactly what Paul and Vicki did. They chose change. Paul refused the transfer. Instead, he retired, and he and Vicki stayed put in Buenos Aires.

At the time, Paul referred to what he did "very early retirement." In today's terminology, it's "extreme retirement." Whatever you call it, the key to realizing it is a willingness to take a risk.

More and more, these days, however, the risk isn't nearly as great as it may seem. In fact, the alternative (following the old model) can be riskier.

Because in today's world, the longer you struggle and the harder you work in a nine-to-five job, the further away you can be getting from a decent retirement.

The key is coming up with your own creative way to replace the old model.

Embracing the idea of extreme retirement, giving up a steady job, and relocating overseas can seem an exercise in fantasy...even absurdity. Certainly, it requires giving up the known for the unknown.

The alternative is easier, at least right now, and may seem safer. And, giving this some thought, you may decide that you're comfortable with the old model. Many people are.

But if you see your life offering less than you'd hoped...if you see nothing but work ahead of you and dark at the end of the tunnel...you may benefit from shaking things up. Take a page from Apple's book:

Think different.

Paul and his wife thought differently 30 years ago. Their lives since have been full of adventure, discovery, and delight. They haven't once regretted their choice.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Cheapest Places To Retire