Retire Early With a Part-Time Job

You can retire sooner if you’re willing to keep working part time.

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I admit it. I am biased, because I've worked part time since taking early retirement ten years ago.

I was inspired by an older friend. We worked for the same company, and he got laid off two years before I was also deemed "redundant," as some companies call it.

Soon after I left work, we had lunch together. First, he assured me that there is life after work. Then he related his own experience. He didn't want to take another full-time job, so he turned his daughter's old bedroom into a home office. He arranged for some consulting work from our old company, and he picked up more projects from other contacts. Soon he was working 20 to 30 hours a week. He wasn't making as much money. But his kids were grown, so he didn't need as much income. "As soon as I left that job," he told me, "my back problems went away. I started to eat better and get more exercise. I make half as much money, but I feel twice as good, and I'm twice as happy."

I decided to follow a similar track. At the time, my younger child was almost finished with college, so my parental obligations were winding down. We sold our old house and moved into a townhouse, saving lots of money. I went to work for myself. And the result? Today I, too, make less money. But we make ends meet. And I feel twice as good and twice as happy.

I recently saw my old friend, who just turned 70, and asked if he now planned to finally and truly retire. “Why should I?” he replied. “I really retired a dozen years ago. Now I love what I'm doing.”

Our experience isn't for everybody. But a lot of people have retired early and lived to tell the tale, which proves it is possible. One friend was a salesman for a communications firm. He had a long commute and did a lot of traveling. He decided, at age 50, to leave the corporate world, in part because his daughter had health problems and he wanted to spend more time with his family. He quit his job and became a real estate agent–with no commute, no travel, and flexible hours. Later, his wife took a part-time job, and now together they are financially solid, with a more relaxing lifestyle.

One key to finding happiness with a part-time job is to shed your false corporate pride. I know one fellow who lived and worked on the west coast. He met a younger woman from Connecticut. Eventually he took early retirement, they got married, and he moved east.

He was pushing 60 at the time and didn't expect to find a new job. But his wife was in the prime of her career. They bought a house. And after busying himself for six months making renovations, he was at loose ends. So he got a job as a checkout clerk at a supermarket. Again, he doesn't make much money. But in the morning he gets up and gets ready for work, like his wife. But he only works four hours a day, with a five minute commute, so he has the afternoon to take care of the house and cook dinner for his wife who arrives home at 6:30. He's not hung up on position, power or prestige. But the job gives structure to his day, and he feels it puts him on an even keel with his wife. The bonus: He's met people from the new senior housing complex next door to the shopping center. He and his wife have been over there to have dinner with friends. They report that the place is pretty nice, and they’re now thinking of moving there after the wife retires in a few years.

Another friend, a film buff, works as an usher at our local multiplex. He sees all the new movies on opening weekend, for free. A mother whose children are now grown works in the children's room of the library. Another woman, a former lawyer, got her personal training certificate and works four afternoons a week at the fitness club. "I love helping people in a more relaxed atmosphere, and I don't have to bring any work home," she says.

Then there's my neighbor the golfer. After he retired he wanted to play more golf. He and his wife balked at the expense of the greens fees, so one April he drove over to a semi-private golf club and applied for a job. They didn't need him then, but a year later he got a call. Now he works in the pro shop three days a week. He only makes $11.50 an hour, but he can play all the golf he wants for free during the week–at a course that would otherwise cost him close to $100 a round. "Sometimes, after work, I go out and play six holes," he says. "I can do that because it's free. I can’t imagine a better deal.”

Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.