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I retired in my 30s with a net worth of $2.5 million over a decade ago. Now, I'm going back to work at 46.

Lauren Crosby Medlicott   

I retired in my 30s with a net worth of $2.5 million over a decade ago. Now, I'm going back to work at 46.
  • Sam Dogen retired from his VP role at Credit Suisse in 2012 after over a decade of intense saving.
  • He planned to live of the passive income from his investments in stocks and real estate.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Sam Dogen, a 46-year-old in San Francisco. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Even as a child, I knew I didn't want to be poor. I'd lived in five countries before settling in Virginia, USA, and saw the clear dichotomy between the wealthy and the poor. I wanted to understand how people made money so I could live like the rich.

I studied economics at the College of William and Mary in Virginia because it was the cheapest option.

After graduation, I landed a job as a financial analyst with Goldman Sachs on Wall Street in 1999.

My first day in the office lasted 14 hours. The first month was tiresome and stressful, and I realized I wouldn't last another 40 years on Wall Street.

I was making $40,000 a year in twice-monthly payments. If I invested 50% of my income for 20 years, I would save at least 20 years of living expenses. I could work until 42, then live on 5 to 8% of my savings, stocks, and potential real estate income each year to get to 62. I'd be set for life.

It was easy to save money because I was working so much

I started saving only a month after starting at Goldman Sachs. Every month, I invested half my paycheck into the S&P 500, a smattering of random tech stock, and 5% of that half into a general savings account.

After being advised by someone in our HR department, I maxed out my 401(k). The fewer taxes I had to pay, the better for my savings goals, and there was a 401(k) match at my company.

I was able to save so much because I was very frugal. For the first two years at Goldman Sachs, I lived in a studio apartment in Manhattan, paying $700 monthly rent.

One of the perks of working past 7 p.m. was that you could go into the free cafeteria. I would eat dinner there and bring home leftovers for the next day. I also stuck to a spending budget for myself.

It was a plan born out of misery. I was working 60-plus hours a week, every week.

A promotion and move to San Francisco got me on the property ladder

In June 2001, I was recruited to join Credit Suisse and moved to San Francisco. My base salary jumped to $85,000. Now I was making more, I saved 60% of each paycheck, putting money into long-term CDs, which are savings accounts with a high fixed interest rate that you can't withdraw money for a fixed period.

In 2003, at age 26, I decided to buy a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco using the money I had earned and saved from 1999 to 2003.

My goal was to diversify my wealth away from equities into real estate. I used 80% of my savings and liquid investments to put a 25% down payment on a condo. I lived there with my then-girlfriend, who helped pay for some expenses.

By 27, I was promoted to vice president at Credit Suisse, and my income jumped to six figures plus larger potential bonuses. I saved and invested around 70% of my after-tax income in 2003, 2004, and 2005. In 2005, I bought a house for $1,520,000 in San Francisco and rented my condo until I sold it in 2017. I had used up all my savings and investments to buy the house. It was a huge risk.

The 2009 crash slashed my net worth but launched my blogging career

I continued my saving plan until the housing and stock markets crashed in 2009. I didn't get laid off in the crash, but I did lose between 35 and 40% of my net worth in six months when stocks and real estate prices cratered.

I started my blog, Financial Samurai, in 2009 to heal. The more I wrote, the better I felt because I had connected with other people going through the same fears on the road to financial independence.

In October 2011, at 34, I was making a $250,000 base salary. Credit Suisse had undergone several layoffs during the global financial crisis. I spoke with my HR manager, who said more layoffs were coming. This was my exit to early retirement. I talked to my manager and asked him to consider laying me off with a severance package and deferred compensation if I stayed on to train my junior employee.

By April 2012, I was laid off and received the severance package I'd negotiated. It felt scary, but also like I had won the lottery. The severance covered multiple years of my projected living expenses.

Retiring at 34

I retired at 34 with a net worth was around $2.5 million after saving and investing 50 to 75% of my income for 12 years. I made around $80,000 of passive income from rent, stock dividends, and CD income a year. I continued to save 50% of my income and live on $40,000.

In my final year at work, I'd been saving even more of my income, around 80%, so the adjustment to living off less wasn't huge. It was outweighed by the increased freedom I had. After I retired, I realized I didn't need as much money as I'd thought to be happy.

In 2015, my wife also retired. She's three years younger than me, and we planned for her to retire by 35.

Once she left, we had to pay for full healthcare benefits. It cost us around $1,680 monthly in healthcare premiums because we didn't qualify for subsidies.

Having kids took up a lot of our passive income budget

Once our son was born in 2017, we began spending more of our passive income. We spent even more of our passive income when our daughter was born in 2019. We now pay $2,500 monthly for unsubsidized healthcare premiums for a family of four. Preschool for each child was as much as $3,200 a month. We are spending nearly 100% of our passive income now.

I believe I've failed early retirement. Despite lasting 12 years without a job, I recognize I need to save and earn more to generate more passive income. I didn't anticipate having two kids after trying so long for one.

When we retired, my wife and I were looking forward to living off less than $100,000 a year in early retirement. But our annual expenses are over $250,000 a year. We chose to have two kids and to remain in expensive San Francisco. As a result, we must pay the price accordingly.

I want to get into part-time tech consulting

I promised to be a stay-at-home father until my children were in school full time. My second child is starting school in September, so I am considering returning to work part-time.

I'd like to do part-time consulting for a tech startup in San Francisco, where there is a lot of buzz around tech and AI.

In retrospect, retiring at age 34 was too early. If I could retire again, I would have tried to stick it out until age 40. But I'm not sure if my health would have cooperated or if we would have been able to have children if I did. I was very stressed at work.

My challenge now is finding meaningful part-time work. I tried consulting part-time at a fintech startup earlier this year, but it became all-consuming and interfered with my duty as a father. At least I know better what to look for this fall when my daughter begins school full-time.