I spent the last 13 years of my life saving, investing, and building a business to grow my wealth to a level where I could retire early one day. I did it, and I was able to retire by 40. It was one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever accomplished, but should we expect something life-changing to be easy? In this video, I’m going to share with you the knowledge I’ve learned, the challenges I’ve faced, and a little bit more about my journey. From starting and building a business to achieving financial independence and retiring early at age 40.
Retiring early may not be for everyone, but it can be achieved by anyone, and in today’s video I’ll show you how.
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You just don’t retire by 40 – where did it begin?
I didn’t just become financially independent, and I didn’t just create a business that somebody wanted to buy. Fifteen years ago, I didn’t have the skills or experience that I have today. I wasn’t financially free, and to be completely honest, I didn’t even know that the opportunity of retiring early existed. Yet, I appreciate that it’s easy to look at someone who has achieved financial independence and retired early at 40 and think that you couldn’t personally do it, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
You may not have the skills, experience, or knowledge to become financially free, but I will add one word, and that word is “yet.” Learning new skills and gaining new experience requires the will to do so, and if you’re willing to put the effort in and take chances, and I’ll admit, be a little lucky at times, then you can achieve great things.
We didn’t grow up rich, but we never felt poor. There wasn’t an abundance of money to spend on luxurious items, and I do remember asking my Dad, just a few years back, “when did we go out for dinner?”. Well, the answer was we rarely did. It was always instilled in myself and my brothers that money didn’t grow on trees, that you never spent any money that you didn’t have in your pocket, and you worked hard to earn money. We saw both our parents work incredibly hard during our childhood and I credit it wholly to my own work ethic and setting me up with a strong foundation of financial well-being to ensure my own future success.
Back in school, I was a guy who sold sweets from the lockers. I went to the wholesalers and bought boxes of Chomps or fizzy Lizzie bars and sold them to my classmates for a profit. Though I’ll admit, I probably ate most of the profits, and I certainly didn’t think about investing for my financial well-being at age 13.
But I was always entrepreneurial, and I knew from an early age that business was in my future.
I’d like to say that I had a plan from those days through to now, but that’s just not true. Outside of self-employment, my career was relatively short, only 4 years. I worked in marketing roles from 2005 to 2009 and back then, marketing was primarily print-based. Now some of you might see where this was going, but at that point, I had no idea what type of business I could or would start. However, knowing that I wanted to start something eventually, I realised that I lacked sales skills and experience. So I took a job in a very high-pressure sales environment and was taught everything I know about selling.
Your career will not be linear, and you will find that you travel in different directions to meet your end goal. And you know what? That’s just fine, as long as you understand where you want the final destination to be.
After learning how to sell, starting a business seemed to be the next logical step. Except it was 2008, and the international banking crisis had shocked the world over. I had decided on my business idea and was confident I could make it a success. Most importantly for me, I worked out the absolute worst-case scenario if things didn’t go to plan. Which, I’ll note, was having to get a job in a bar. So, not really all that horrific.
After speaking at length with my family and having secured their moral support, I launched into the world of self-employment. For those of you who don’t know me from my past career, I started a printing business here in Northern Ireland. And we did quite well. A few years later, that business expanded into a branding agency and web development company, before being acquired in 2020.
Starting a business
Starting a business is hard, and starting one during a global recession is even harder. Considering that marketing budgets were being decimated across the country, building a brand-new printing firm was quite difficult. Very early into the business, my brother Martin joined the company and together we worked relentlessly to achieve success in our market. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to work 16-hour days, six days a week, to meet the needs of our growing customer base.
In our eyes, we did nothing special. We treated the customer the way they wanted to be treated: great service, next-level communication, and a quality product. Note that I haven’t talked about the price. We were not the cheapest printing company, but in an industry where customer service is notoriously bad and deadlines are missed on a daily basis. If we told you that your print would be ready on a certain day or at a certain time, you could guarantee that we worked through the night to make that happen.
One great example of this is a customer who is still a client of the company today. He needed leaflets for a last-minute trade show, and he placed the order at 4.50 pm on a Friday afternoon. He was flying out on the Monday morning and I remember meeting that client at 11 p.m on the Sunday night as the leaflets were literally hot off the press. That customer was a customer for life, because we treated his business like our own. And that was probably the key to our success.
You need to work hard
Nothing worth achieving is easy and starting a business does take a certain mindset. I will admit I’m somewhat of a workaholic. If I say I’m going to do something, I’ll put myself fully into it, and I’ll work extensively and single-mindedly to achieve that goal. It’s how I’m built, and I bring that back to the work ethic that was instilled in me by my parents at a very young age. It’s their fault
Looking back now, I do regret the 70 or 80-hour work weeks, but not so much that I would change them. Because if I did, I would not have retired at 40 and be recording this video for you now. When you’re building your business, be relentless in the pursuit of your goals and be relentlessly optimistic. Because as you grow, you have to be the person leading the charge, and your team. You won’t always have the answers to the questions they ask, but the will to go and find them is the most critical skill you can have in business. Being the problem solver in all areas.
How I retired by 40
There are many ways to achieve financial success and to retire early. However, in my opinion, entrepreneurship is the most effective way to do so. Some have argued that this is survivor bias creeping into my conversation and that may be true. However, with the nature of my business, I have been fortunate to meet thousands of other entrepreneurs and to help them in their own business journey. There is definitely a process to achieving success both in business and in your personal finances. Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel as I’ll be sharing these in future videos.
Increasing your income
Before I started my business, the most I ever earned in employment, was just over £20,000 per year. I was not a high earner, and if I had continued my career, yes, I may have earned more than that, but my life probably would not have changed in the manner it did.
Starting my business allowed me to grow my income exponentially. It allowed me to determine how much I could make, and not what an employer thought I was worth. In my first year, I barely replaced my income, but as the business grew over the next decade, my income grew substantially.
I firmly believe that self-employment, whether that is through starting your own business or starting a side hustle, is the key to creating enough wealth to become financially independent. It would have been impossible for me to retire at 40 if I was earning £ 20 or £30,000 per year. Increasing my income was a key factor.
Don’t let your lifestyle creep
As my income grew, I didn’t let my lifestyle creep. We are not the Joneses, nor do we have any ambition to become them. Of course, our spending increased, and we bought nice things. But in our biggest savings years, we still lived like we were on our modest incomes, and I remember clearly tallying an 80% savings rate in more than 1 year.
Paying off your mortgage
Being from Northern Ireland, there is an overriding mentality here, that any debt is bad. From a purely financial standpoint, paying off your mortgage may not be the most financially beneficial move. However, knowing that your home is paid for in full and that no one can take it away, does help me sleep better at night. As someone who was self-employed, the security of paying off our mortgage, was my first and only ambition when starting a business. Financial independence or retiring early came way later than that.
Early Retirement Extreme and Mr Money Mustache
I clearly remember an internet search back in 2010 when I came across a website called Early Retirement Extreme, where the author of that site and the companion book, Jacob Lund Fisker, retired at age 30, though he lived on only $7,000 per year. It opened up my mind to a new world, and I spent the following number of weeks researching financial independence and early retirement. You’ll not be surprised when you hear that there was little content on the internet at that time, especially content with a UK focus. But I did find out about an American blogger called Mr Money Mustache and I read his site from start to finish over a weekend. If you’ve not heard of him, I do urge you to go and check out his blog, which I’ll link in the notes below. It changed my life. So, if you’re watching this Pete, please have my utmost thanks.
Instead of buying things with your increased income, Mr Money Mustache promoted the ethos that experiences held more worth in a person’s life, than a new TV or fancy car. That philosophy, among other things, stuck with me and became my mantra for saving money also. You may have heard me say before, that you should spend money on the things you truly value and cut back everywhere else. To this day, I still live by that.
Putting any money to work for you
If you don’t put your money to work for you, you will always have to work for money. After learning about financial independence and retiring early from the Mr. Money Mustache blog, I now know that money must be invested to work for you. I made saving and investing a huge focus in my life, maybe not just a huge focus, but my entire life. I worked to maximize my income on one side and invested to maximize its growth on the other.
I’m a complete nerd when it comes to systems and processes because I hate wasted time and energy. Automating my investments every month allowed me to automatically pay myself first. Saving and investing are hard. It sucks because you feel like you’re depriving yourself of some future, far-off goal, that may never come. Staying motivated to invest over years and decades, is probably the most mentally challenging financial move someone can make. I decided at an early stage, that I would treat my saving and investing just like a bill. It must be paid each month, and it must be paid without fail. By doing this, I removed the emotion from my saving, it just had to be done.
Saving alone isn’t enough; you need to invest your money so that it can beat inflation and grow your wealth. I wasn’t an investor before my journey towards financial independence. I had no understanding or knowledge in this area. But like starting a business, this is something that can and should be learned by all who want to retire early or retire at any age.
Educating yourself on ways to invest your money is free to do so, with an array of YouTube videos and written tutorials online. Investing can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. Personally, I want to set and forget my investments. To buy them whenever I have the money and hold them for the long term. I want investments that will look after themselves and that I am confident in, over an extended investing horizon.
I don’t want to think about the stock price of an individual company, nor do I really want to care about the whims of their CEO. And I’m not an intelligent investor. I want to follow the markets loosely because, over the long term, they should generally go up. With that said, I look at low-cost index funds for all of my investing choices.
Getting your partner on board
If you are in a relationship, your partner will have the biggest single influence on your finances. I was incredibly fortunate that my wife shared similar values around saving and investing. Though at the very start, she and well, actually anyone that I spoke to, were sceptical about the financial independence retire early movement. And I get it, retiring at 40 is weird. It’s weird because nobody does it.
I still have the Excel and Word documents that I used to explain financial independence to Leanne. It’s quite funny really, because what we expected our financial independence number to be, were so far from where they ended up. Once we got into that saving and investing mode, we put all our combined energy into it. Our achievement of being able to retire in our 40s is as much a credit to her as anyone else.
How much do you need to retire early?
There are two things that you need to understand when you want to retire early: how much you expect to spend and how much you need in your investment accounts to fund this indefinitely.
To figure out how much you spend, you need to look at your current budget. Budgeting is the cornerstone of financial independence. It’s what will make you wealthy and will keep you wealthy in your retirement. I budget extensively because I need to know where I am financially, both in my personal spending and as a household. When you understand how much your life costs, you’ll know how much of that is discretionary and what is essential.
Once you understand how much your life costs, in accordance with the 4% rule, you would need 25 times this amount saved and invested, so that you can draw down your annual allowance from the total amount without ever running out of money. I will have another video very shortly on the 4% rule and why I don’t necessarily agree with it for those of us in the UK. But for the purpose of anyone beginning their journey towards financial independence, the 4% rule is a wonderful starting point.
Trusting the process
There is a huge challenge when it comes to retiring early. Outside of winning the lottery or receiving a significant inheritance, the process doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years or decades to achieve a financial position, that will allow you to retire. Saving and investing take time, compound growth takes even longer, and delayed gratification, while a huge factor in this process, can be hard for many people to maintain over the long term.
By following and trusting the process of saving and investing as much of your income as you can, you can shorten this process somewhat, but it will still take time. Not only that but sometimes bad things happen. The stock market goes down, a pandemic hits, or you need to dip into your investments to pay for a significant life event. This is all part of life, and while we can think and give consideration to some of these, undoubtedly we will experience emergencies or challenges along the way.
Trusting the process and pursuing it in the face of many challenges is key.
Building the business further
I started my business in this very bedroom over 13 years ago. In fact, it was on the 21st of September 2009 – I’ll never forget the date. From the very first day, we were a sales-driven company. I had reached my target sales for the week by 11 am on Monday morning. If I had taken my foot off the gas at that stage, I would have made a few pounds. However, I worked 80 or 90 hours that week, making hundreds of phone calls per day to prospective clients.
Being a marketer and a salesperson, I believe these two business functions are intrinsically linked. Using the power of marketing to complement the sales team, and vice versa, allowed us to build a brand in a market that was incredibly difficult to enter. We were known for our customer service, and to this day, the customer was always our primary focus. We didn’t always get it right, but the majority of the time, our service was best in class. Keeping a customer is always easier than finding new ones and creating customers for life, isn’t as hard as you think it will be.
Finances and maintaining good financial habits in your business are core to its success. Knowing where your profit and loss figures are on a daily basis allows you to keep on top of them. I lived in Xero every single day. I knew, and you should know also, the financial health of your business at any given moment. Never leave your finances to chance, both in business and your personal life.
Having a team is probably the hardest part of running your own company. We had great employees over the history of my time there, but as an employer and a manager, a huge weakness of my own was managing 40 other people. By empowering the team around me and team leaders in each of the core functions of our business, Martin and I were able to remove ourselves as the oracle and the bottlenecks in many of the processes. Building the right team to grow the business with you, is core to any company’s success.
I describe myself as a lifelong learner. I will always educate myself through a variety of mediums. I read extensively, listen to podcasts, and attend conferences and events. The more I learn, the more I understand I know very little. Accepting this, I focus on continuous improvement and self-development, and I urge everyone on our team to do the same. When your own team is levelling up around you, your business will undoubtedly grow.
Exiting the business
In December 2020, the sale of my company completed, and two years later in December 2022, I exited the business for the very last time. It would be easy to assume that the sale of the business was the catalyst towards my own financial independence; however, I was financially independent prior to selling the business. All of the principles of budgeting, saving, and investing that I mentioned previously, were the core factors that allowed me to achieve financial freedom. Selling the business was the cherry on top, which allowed me to exit the business that got me there.
Wealth is built and maintained by budgeting
I recorded this video on my 150th day after retirement. It wasn’t intentional, but it’s a great milestone. Life has significantly changed for the better. I’m definitely much happier, and I now put priorities that were often neglected first. I still feel an overwhelming need to be productive, but rather than getting up at 3 am every morning, I get up at a much more sociable hour now.
Budgeting is the key to building wealth, but it is also critical in keeping you wealthy. Each month, my wife and I give ourselves a household budget to work with, and this budget includes some discretionary spending for ourselves. The principles that allowed us to retire early, don’t stop when you stop working. In fact, they are probably more important now.
What the future holds
Retirement isn’t an age, but a number. The number at which your investments cover your living expenses is the determining factor. When you reframe retirement in this way, it no longer means that you sit on a beach drinking Mai Tais, but rather, work becomes an optional choice.
If I want to earn money in the future, that’s absolutely fine. Or, this channel which could be considered a 60-hour week hobby, may one day generate an income. For now, being able to bring objective and honest personal finance content, without any expectation of charge, is a great way for me to find purpose in my early retirement. In only a few short months, I have reached and engaged with thousands of people who are looking to better their own financial situation. It’s not that this is some form of altruism or I’m trying to give back. Well, maybe it is. I just wish the information that I’m able to share now was available 13 years ago when I needed it.
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