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Let’s talk about early retirement. Retirement seems to be something that every working class citizen dreams about. My parents managed to retire in their early 40’s. This is their story.
Their early retirement story
My parents are Chinese and moved to Canada in the mid-1980’s. My dad landed in Canada with not a penny to his name, with no proper schooling, and without any knowledge of the English language. Same goes for my mom.
In spite of all that, my parents still managed to retire by their 40’s (my mom was 40 and my dad was 45). What’s most impressive of all is that, to this day, they still don’t speak a word of English!
So how did my parents manage to retire at 40?
1. My parents started multiple businesses, some of which failed big time
My parents started working as soon as they moved to Canada. Shortly after, they started building their own businesses with the money they’d saved up. My parents tried a ton of different businesses simultaneously (real estate, restaurants, farming).
They invested in real estate right away and earned a passive income off of that. It was a good time to invest because real estate was cheap at the time. The properties ended up appreciating a lot.
My parents also grew their other businesses (restaurants & farming). By the time I was around 8 or 9, I remember that they had somewhere between 40-50 employees working for them. It was a big operation.
Despite not having a business degree, my parents were always actively looking for business ventures. They sought help from professionals when they didn’t have expertise in a particular field. They were also not afraid to take risks (personally, I thought that they were a bit too risk-seeking at times). Also, they relocated from Vancouver to Toronto because that was where the business opportunities were (follow the money).
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows either. I witnessed some hard times when my parents’ businesses failed. I remember the time they had to sell their restaurant because it was losing too much money. Or the time when one of their tenants wouldn’t pay rent and we couldn’t evict them (because they were protected by law). I also vividly remember all the times when a freak storm would hit and ruin all the crops on the farm.
2. My parents worked hard and saved everything they earned
Running all these businesses simultaneously was no easy feat. My parents were often away from home and I only saw them for half of the year, at best.
My parents grew up poor and even when their businesses started bringing in lots of money, they still continued to live a cheap lifestyle. Everything they earned went directly to savings or other investments. They never made any extravagant purchases or even took a vacation.
3. My parents lived frugally and taught frugality to all of their kids
Growing up, I had no idea that my parents were “rich.” I was under the impression that we were super poor. My parents always told my siblings and I that we didn’t have much money and therefore have to save as much as possible. I really believed them and I guess this helps them to reduce their living expenses as well 😛
What was their net worth at the time of retirement?
I cannot say for sure but I think, at the time of retirement (2004), my parents owned around 3-4 properties (mortgage-free) plus a warehouse. Back in the days I’d say those properties were each worth between $500,000-$1 million. Now, they must all be at least $1-1.5 million. My dad sold his business and still receives a $60,000 annual royalty fee from it.
Given that they don’t make any extravagant purchases, I think that this amount is more than enough to last them throughout their retirement.
How has my parents’ early retirement affected me?
1. It deprived me of a real childhood
As mentioned above, my parents were busy working hard and earning money. They were only around for about half the year.
It was super tough growing up without real parental figures in my life. I felt like my childhood was characterized by instability because I never knew exactly when the next time I would see my parents would be. I don’t even remember the last time my parents kissed me or gave me a hug. That’s pretty tough for a young kid growing up and I think that’s why I’ve become a relatively cold person who doesn’t form attachments easily.
2. It put a huge strain on my relationship with my parents but made me more independent as a result
I never got to spend time with my parents growing up and they were never really there when I needed their support. As a result, I have become super self-sufficient and independent. I hate asking people for help and I like doing everything on my own.
I would say that nowadays, my parents and I have a pretty weird relationship. For one, I never talk to my dad because he’s one of those Asian dads who show no emotion and only talk to his kids to inquire about grades and such. My mom, on the other hand, is a super controlling tiger mom. I can’t take it so I try to distance myself from her (that’s why I ran away to Switzerland, hehe).
I hate that I have such a distant relationship with my parents. However, I also feel like it’s almost impossible for me to close the gap now that I am living in Switzerland and leading a life of my own, one that they don’t entirely approve of.
3. It taught me to be frugal
One positive thing that came out of all of this is that I still carry with me the same values as my parents. I still lead an immensely frugal lifestyle. I don’t like spending money frivolously and I’m not one to blow money on useless things.
4. It made me want to start a business too
I remember the first time I started working for a corporation and wondering why I was working so hard for such little pay. Then I would think back to how my parents had worked so hard, but how everything they’d worked for would go right back into their own pockets. I realized, at that point, that I didn’t want to work for another person. I wanted to be my own boss, just like them.
5. It made me value a proper education
My parents always emphasized how they regret not having the opportunity to have a proper education and that’s why they have to work so hard (manual work). To them, the ultimate luxury is to be able to find a cushy office job.
I used to be embarrassed to talk about what my parents did for a living (i.e. farming) People would automatically assumd that my parents were stupid and poor. That’s not the case. My parents are super business-oriented and made smart life decisions.
I am grateful for the support that I’ve received from my parents over the years and their ability to provide for me. I am also glad that I never had to work difficult jobs like my parents had to do.
Most of all, I realize that education is a real luxury and I don’t take it for granted. That is also why I am going to pursue higher education (read my post about why I chose to do a PhD).
6. It turned me off from early retirement
Seeing my parents’ post-retirement lives for the past 15 years has made me have second thoughts about early retirement. My mom basically sits around all day at home, watching TV or talking on the phone. My dad is out everyday playing Mahjong. I have to say that I’d be pretty bored if I had to spend the rest of my life doing that.
Furthermore, my parents seem to be quite anxious all the time because they’re afraid that the money they’ve saved up wouldn’t last. They’re always trying to find some other new business venture to get into.
I feel a little bit sad that my parents aren’t taking advantage of their retirement and doing what most typical retirees do (i.e. travelling the world and learning new skills). My parents have never been interested in travelling or learning new skills (for one, they didn’t even bother to learn English…).
I sometimes wonder why my parents spent so much energy and effort to retire early when now they’re, for lack of a better word, just wasting their lives in their retirement.
Related: I Quit My Job, Not Once But Twice
What are my attitudes towards retirement?
Personally, I do not want to retire early. Despite the fact that I’ve quit my job a couple of times, I actually enjoy working a lot. If I am passionate about something, I don’t mind putting in the extra hours, even if it’s unpaid. You can witness this with my blog. I also enjoy helping others – I volunteer a lot and offer my services for free (I used to teach yoga for free, for example).
Another thing, I feel as if I’m already on a semi-retirement. I used to work (6 years as a CPA whoo!) and I really didn’t enjoy that line of work. I was good at crunching numbers but it didn’t make me happy. Now that I’m back in school, I feel like I’ve found my passion in life. And having to work hard (in school) doesn’t feel like real work to me because I really enjoy it!
My goal in life is to continue learning new skills and working on projects that bring me happiness. You know what they say, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I hate being cliché but that’s how I feel about my life right now 🙂
It’s possible to retire early even if you don’t have a proper education. It’s all about working hard and doing something you believe in. Taking calculated risks. My parents realized their “Canadian dream” by immigrating to Canada in the 1980’s, starting their business, and eventually retiring by 40.
Early retirement seems to be the dream. I, on the other hand, have witnessed the process it took my parents to retire early and I am not a fan. Sure, being able to retire early is a luxury, but you also make a lot of sacrifices for it (such as your youth and personal relationships). I think I’m on track to work a few more years and I don’t see early retirement on the horizon. And I totally don’t mind!
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