A man who retired at 43 says he made 2 important money decisions before leaving work
Courtesy of Leif Dahleen
- Leif Dahleen, the blogger behind Physician on FIRE, retired from anesthesiology in August 2019.
- Before leaving work, Dahleen's top financial priorities included making a plan for health insurance and funding his kids' 529 plans.
- He also wanted to have more than 25 times his family's annual expenses socked away, which is the target number for financial independence.
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Early retirement usually isn't an impulse decision.
About a decade into practicing medicine, Leif Dahleen had reached that milestone. Frugal by nature, he and his wife had been socking away half their income for years. Financial independence felt good, he says, but they weren't ready to take the plunge into early retirement just yet.
"Financially, I could have afforded to give 90 days' notice right then and there, but mentally, I was not at all prepared to do so. I had not even worked a decade since finishing residency, and I had a family and a lot to think about," Dahleen wrote in an article for Business Insider.
Dahleen, an anesthesiologist in Northern Minnesota, ultimately decided to continue working and saving money to retire in about four years. He calculated that by that point, he'd have at least 36 times his family's estimated annual spending socked away. In August 2019, at age 43, Dahleen left his day job.
But in the year leading up to retirement, he had a financial to-do list to tackle.
Health insurance and college savings were among the top priorities
"I would say a few of the top priorities were making a plan for health insurance, funding our kid's 529 plans and donor-advised fund, and ensuring we had significantly more than 25 times a generous retirement budget set aside for ourselves," Dahleen told Business Insider.
Making a plan for health insurance is crucial for any would-be early retiree, he says. Individual healthcare plans are expensive and going without coverage isn't wise, especially for a family of four.
Dahleen considered healthcare-sharing ministries and short-term health plans, he writes, but ultimately chose a catastrophic plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. His plan comes with a health savings account - a type of saving-investment hybrid account that Dahleen says he's been utilizing for years - and costs just over $900 a month.
With two kids to put through college one day, Dahleen also prioritized funding their 529 plans, a type of tax-advantaged, state-sponsored investment account with high annual contribution limits.
"I had a goal of $100,000 in each of our two sons' 529 plans, and I made sure we had that prior to leaving my job," Dahleen says. As long as their investments keep up with the rate of inflation, he says, it should be enough to cover four years of public in-state tuition, at least. They also expect their kids to take advantage of scholarships.
"Student-loan debt is a monumental hurdle to overcome for recent college and medical school graduates. I would not have been comfortable walking away from a high-income profession without first making strides to lessen the potential debt load on our boys," says Dahleen, who paid off $75,000 of student debt in 2012.
As he writes in a blog post, "Having two boys increased my financial independence number, but I was also given two excellent reasons to reach it more quickly and to take decisive action once we were comfortably FI."
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