This is a guest post from P who married young, retired at 38 with 3 kids, and got divorced at 44. She is now 47, runs her own company, and plans to bike across the US next year.

I am not sure you are ever “post kids” but my youngest is off to college in a month. Then I will have 3 children in college for a year, until my oldest graduates next May.

Married Young, Kids Young

J (my ex) and I both came from big Catholic families of very modest means – he was working class kid from Brooklyn, son of a Irish NYC cop; I was from a small chicken farm outside of Guelph, ON, Canada, daughter of first generation Dutch immigrants.

J went to Stanford (needs blind admission) and had a good job. I had a professional architecture degree. We married and had kids young (3 kids between the ages of 25 and 29) – it was something we both really wanted. While our peers were traveling and buying stuff and living the YUPPY life, we were making babies and living more like students.

Frugal Beginnings – Keeping Our Wants Down

We didn’t own a car for years, had no TV and lived in a tiny townhouse, and sent out kids to public schools in Alexandria VA where the majority of the kids in our school were coming from housing projects – many people thought we were crazy.

We wanted to live on much less than we made and be financially free early. We put away 50% of J’s income. I was home full time with the kids.

Then a job transfer brought us to Pittsburgh. Our money went a lot farther here – we got a bigger house in a great suburb with top-notch schools (Mt. Lebanon PA). But our marriage started to show cracks. I stopped looking forward to J’s retirement. J and I would then be spending a lot more time together: The thought filled me with dread.

Early Retirement: 38 with wife & kids

J did retire at 38. We lived off investment income. We were both home together for 6 months, and it was very difficult. More cracks were showing in the marriage. I decided to go back to work full time, making very little money, but it got me out of the house and got us health insurance. J wrote a novel.

Our marriage had worked (in a contractual, business partner way) because we had common goals, even though our personalities were not suited for each other. Once we reached our joint goal, there was no more glue to keep us together. We had saved all this money to retire together young and then found out we didn’t want to be together!

Going back to work was the best thing that I did, and I probably would not have done it if J hadn’t quit his job. Through paid employment I gained the confidence to push for divorce.

After 4 years of retirement, Jerry went back to work. I quit my job and started by own business.

Divorce: Starting again at 44

We separated when we were both 44-years old after 20 years of marriage with 3 kids in high school. We didn’t want to give our savings to lawyers so we negotiated the divorce between ourselves and paid less than $1000 to have it drawn up and checked and filed by a lawyer.

I am now 47 years old, in great health, am planning to bicycle across the country next March. J and I have a good, friendly relationship – we both worked hard so the divorce never turned nasty. We both had endured a lot “for the sake of the kids” and we were not about to blow it just when we were almost done!

I am dating a great man – a freelance comic book artist. I have a small web design / search marketing business which gives me great flexibility. I am in the process of selling the family home (I got that in the divorce settlement) and moving into a small apartment.

I am excited about my life ahead. I feel like I am 18 years old again and get to pick how I want to live my life with no kids and no spouse to worry about. (Well – I do limit my travel in the summer because that’s when the kids are home from college but that leaves me 8 other months free, and I do have a serious relationship, but I am still master of my own ship – something I had not been for 20 years)

What about College Tuition?

We have $20,000/year earmarked for each of the kids for college. If they go to a state school or go to school in Canada (they are all Canadian citizens) they can graduate debt free.

We give it to the kids flat out at the beginning of the school year – they need to budget and manage – no “rescues” from Mom and Dad.

What Lessons for ERE Readers?

I feel like I lived the ERE life-style (well — kind of — it was NOT nearly as extreme as Jacob’s – we saved 50% not 80% but we did have 3 kids and a non-working spouse!!!) but I lost track towards the end.

You need to have a goal that excites you, and when I started dreading J’s retirement instead of looking forward to it, I lost all motivation. J did too, even though he did retire. We stopped trying to save money, maybe partially so we would have a reason to go back to work and not be together so much!

I started “compensating” for my unhappiness by spending money. My thing was not stuff so much but treats / services – massages, waxes, facials, dinner’s out, girls’ night out, a cleaning lady, etc – to make myself feel better.

I think this must be common – maybe the reason Americans spend so much money is that they are unhappy and need the boost of a little gift to themselves to temporarily feel better.

I now want to get back on track. I have a good nest egg (it was much more before the crash!!) which I do not want to touch for a while. When I sell the house (no mortgage) I should have another $350K. I want to support myself solely from my business for a while (maybe a pride issue here) and learn to live on less before I think of “retiring” again.

PS – Thank you Jacob!

Originally posted 2010-08-02 12:29:09.