My husband and I have discussed retiring by the time we’re 50, and one of the major requirements that always comes up is how we want to be completely debt free — and that means no mortgage as well — in order to retire early and do a lot of what we want. (Incidentally, 50 is the age by which we will be childless again.) The reason we are focus on our debt is because other things are already pretty well taken care of: Retirement accounts have been set up, we’ve started a (small) emergency fund, and we plan to make additional modest investments.
But getting out of debt seems to be something that few people consider when they think about early retirement.
Here’s why it is so important to us:
- Debt, even if it is “only” a mortgage, requires regular obligations. True, other bills do as well. But the mortgage payment is the largest monthly obligation we have. It even beats out student loans (which we hope to have paid off well before retirement). If, at retirement, we didn’t have any mortgage payment, that would mean a great deal of money available to us. Which is why our next mortgage will be a 15 year mortgage; we want to be able to pay it off.
- Debt costs money. Interest charges on debt cost money. It is money paid for borrowing. Interest does not result in any increase of goods or quality of life. All it does is cost us money and enrich someone else. If we have all our debt paid off by age 50, we can retire early, knowing that more of our money remains to be used for our benefit. (Imagine being able to invest the money that you make in interest payments!)
- Debt brings with it a psychological toll. Emotionally and psychologically, debt can be damaging. We don’t want to spend our retirement years (or miss early retirement) because we are worried about the burden of debt. When you are worried about meeting your debt obligations, it is difficult to truly enjoy life, and we don’t want that hanging over us as 50 approaches.
The key, though, is to start early. We have a plan now, even though our early retirement goal is two decades away. It’s better if you start earlier because it gives you more time to pay off debt and build up retirement savings. For us, having a plan is what keeps us going and encourages when sacrifices have to be made. It will all be worth it when we retire early at age 50.