The Comprehensive Guide to an Early Retirement

Grab this opportunity to think about what “early” and “retirement” mean to you—and set yourself on a path to bring that vision to life. Some successful early retirees who now blog about their experience prefer the term “financial independence” to “retirement”: The essence is that you, and not an employer, get to call the shots on how you spend your days.

On average, men stop paid work at age 64 and women at 62, government statistics show. Nearly half of retirees end up leaving the workforce earlier than they had planned, according to a recent report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. That is often due to a layoff or an illness. But, encouragingly, a third speed up their exit because they can afford to.

Having a clear focus and a plan to retire early can be empowering. “It feels good to have a purpose and a strategy,” says Maggie Mistal, a career and executive coach in New York City. As you see your savings grow, “even the process of getting to your dream is fun and exciting,” she says.

That’s not to say that making an early exit is easy, though. The more ambitious your vision, the more important it is to start saving and planning as soon as possible and the more compromises between your current lifestyle and future goals you’ll likely need to make. Here are 12 key moves to make—from early in your career to your departure from the office—to turn your early-retirement dream into reality.