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Retirement and me: ‘Possible for anyone!’ Couple explain how they retired at 35 and 40

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The Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement has been gaining momentum since the 1990s, but increasing numbers of Britons are buying into the idea – and taking steps to make it happen. This was the case for Alan Donegan, 43, and his wife Katie, 38, who made the leap to retire when Katie was 35, having amassed enough money to do so.

Express.co.uk spoke to the couple who split their time between the UK and travelling abroad, as they shared their story from Argentina.

Alan explained his retirement journey started after his father went bankrupt for over £3million, with the family home the only possession secured against it. 

Determined not to destroy his finances in the same way, Alan became averse to debt and managed his money extremely carefully.

After a wide range of jobs, Alan started his own business at 28 years old. He met Katie, who worked as an actuary after her degree, and the pair combined their resources and aims to reach financial independence. 

Katie explained: “We were doing the right habits when we discovered FIRE, and then we discovered the movement and knew it was possible.

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“We lived way within our means and saved money where we could. It became a game to us to save money and earn more.

“We kept our base costs low, minimal even. We stayed in our small two bedroom flat. Our car was dreadful and maybe we went too far there – when you pulled out at a roundabout there was a moment you feared for your life!

“But we’re of the opinion that you shouldn’t spend money on things you don’t need or value. But prioritise what does bring you value – for example, we always went on holidays abroad because that was important to us.”

The cost of living crisis is hitting Britons hard in the pocket, but for the Donegans, this does not mean the goal of financial independence cannot be worked towards. 

Alan said: “It’s really difficult to save as much at the moment. But it’s a cycle, and it won’t last forever. 

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“Many people think they’ll be good all the time, and then when they hit recession realise they didn’t save. Don’t do that.”

The couple said it is key for Britons to be ready for the bad times, as well as doing what they can to save while times are less tough. 

Alan continued: “If you start early enough saving little and often, the compounding power is incredible. I truly believe this is possible for anyone. Don’t think you’ll never get there, because you’ll never try.

“There is a piece that if you are trapped in a career that earns nothing, maybe you need to move, maybe you need to consider something which is going to create a bigger gap between income and expenditure.

“There is always a way to achieve financial independence. There are so many advantages to getting your finances straight.”

The pair were keen to explain the benefits of retiring early, as they can spend more time together and with the people important to them, have new experiences, and travel freely.

However, they both agreed early retirees need a purpose, hence starting the Rebel Finance School to help others with their finances.

Katie said: “If you just lie around all day, it can get boring. We work on projects, but we don’t have to worry about the monetary aspect of things – of looking for our next pay. 

“We can just do what is important to us, what lights us up, and what helps the most people. That freedom is very amazing. 

“We have 1,000 people on our course and we can do that for free because it is the right thing to do. But you can’t do that if you have a mortgage to pay, or food to buy.”

The couple said normal problems have not disappeared since retiring, but the flexibility to tackle these is a major benefit of having retired early.

But how can people achieve financial independence, and retire early? 

Katie commented: “You have to increase the gap between your income and expenditure at the most basic level – move jobs, get a promotion, find a raise. It is easier said than done, but if you can do it, that’s great.

“Most people will spend everything they earn, if they earn more they spend more, but we need to break that link.”

Alan stated that once this gap is established, it will be vital for Britons to build an emergency fund for when things go wrong in life.

He continued: “Many things can happen in your life that you really need to prepare for. So start with an emergency fund of £1,000 that you can build up over time.

“Then pay off expensive debt, which for us is anything over five percent interest. This may take months or even years, but it is worth doing.

“At this point, you can then move on to expanding your emergency fund to maybe three months’ worth of expenses. 

“Finally, after you’ve done that, your emergency fund can help you when you start a key step which is to invest. Investing is an incredibly complex world, but really it can be simplified. Look for low cost investments, don’t let funds eat up your money for no reason.

“Sometimes you may slip back a step, but at least you have a goal.”