Today we have an interview with Modern Gal, who quit her corporate career at age 35 and decided to join a non-profit and make a difference in the world. It seems that we have a lot in common.

Q: What is your early retirement story?

MG: About 7 years ago, at the age of 35, I decided to take a sabbatical from my work in a fast-pace corporate environment. Initially, I traveled a lot and visited friends that were at that time scattered across the globe, then, I decided to park myself in one location and decide what I wanted to do next. Since the first day of the ‘sabbatical’ I have been inundated with calls and emails of suggestions and invitations to participate in a wide array of interesting things.

A couple of years ago, after interacting and consulting for a non-profit organization off and on, I decided to increase my hours with them and take on a number of projects which probably equates to a full-time job. I love the mission of the non-profit and feel that it is making a large difference in the world in ways that my corporate life did not. While many people would not consider me retired today, the savings that I accumulated during my corporate work gives me the flexibility to choose the areas that I want to work on independent of the compensation. Perhaps a better name would be Career 2.0.

Compared to my former corporate salary, the non-profit represents an 80% pay cut. In a year or two (after completing some large projects) I will likely shift to full-time free-lancing which I view as staying intellectually engaged and living off dividends.

Q: How aggressively had you saved for early retirement during your work time?

MG: Initially, being a freshly out of graduate school on a relatively low salary, I saved about 15% of my earnings. In the final 3 years of working, when I knew I would not stay at the high salary job for too much longer, I was saving around 45% of my after tax income. I probably could have saved more, but I did feel pressure given the nature of the job to maintain a certain lifestyle (such as the dry cleaned business suits, cellphone, entertaining clients).

Q: How frugally do you live today?

MG: By Jacob’s standards, probably not very frugally, by the neighbors standards, shockingly so. My husband and I rent instead of own, share a car, and don’t have cable TV. We do travel, eat out about once a week, and live in a relatively expensive part of the country.

Q: What inspired your frugal tendencies?

MG: My parents were always frugal and I can remember as a kid times when stress over money caused a lot of arguments in the household. I think growing up in that environment had a profound effect on me and my brother where we are both showed an early interest in saving and investing and not having a lack of savings dictate important decisions.

When I lived outside of the United States for a few years, I became aware of how differently many people live overseas, whether rich or poor. Rather than buying as much stuff as possible, I observed smart purchases that were durable and of high quality. At present, as I’m learning more about climate change and environmental sustainability, I am becoming more interested in seeing that my purchasing patterns reflect my genuine desire to be less wasteful. I have been intrigued by the recession-triggered popularity of frugal behavior recently.

Q: What are your biggest financial concerns?

MG: Health care and rampant inflation. My health insurance premiums (private policy) have increased by about 25% each year for the last several years. I am also concerned that we may be moving into a big secular (not just cyclical) shift toward inflation.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise since ‘retiring’?

MG: That I don’t miss my former work life, at all. Sure, at times it would be nice to have the stream of paychecks again, but I don’t miss the office, the people, the clients, the business travel, or the environment. I was called by a headhunter about 4 years after leaving asking if I would consider returning, and I started laughing out loud.

Q: What advice would you give to people contemplating early retirement?

MG: The amount you save will never be “enough.” You simply have to bite the bullet one day and extricate yourself and make reasonable plans from there. And only after extricating, can you really put your mind to contemplating what to do with the rest of your life.

Q: Why did you start a blog?

MG: I started blogging at Modern Gal last December after envying other bloggers for all of the fun they were having. My original intent was to blog about my experiences of leaving corporate life, discuss investment strategies that create long-term income streams, and to explore living in a more frugal and sustainable way. Also, in my initial travels where I caught up with several friends, I noticed that many of them had suffered from a myriad of health issues that I thought were at least partially due to lifestyle considerations related to over-work and over-stress. I became interested in healthy eating, exercise, and stress management and thought that might be of interest to blog readers.

Interestingly, since launching the blog, I have a much larger percentage of posts related to food than I originally intended. My husband accidentally revealed me to his father, and after my first couple of posts, I started to receive the gentle in-law queries to see if we were having money troubles. This has resulted in a level of discomfort of discussing specifics regarding savings and investment, although much of that concern has abated. I will be the first to admit that I have not yet found my blog voice.

Q: What are your future plans?

MG: I ponder that one regularly. I would like to try my hand at completing a book-length piece of writing. In addition, I am interested in the policy dimension in the areas of climate change and innovation.

Originally posted 2009-04-20 09:50:47.