If life were Grand Theft Auto, all you’d need to do is enter a code on your controller to pad your bank accounts. But real life is not Grand Theft Auto, unfortunately (or thankfully, perhaps). And as such, there are no cheat codes that are going to send you into retirement at an early age. That doesn’t mean you can’t create your own cheats and shortcuts. Though there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there are methods and strategies you can employ to save more, spend less, and reach retirement at a much earlier age than your peers.
Even if some of them may be obvious, some of the following methods and strategies are underutilized or downright ignored by millions of people. But putting them to work can help you retire early — very early — with a combination of discipline and luck.
Let’s take a quick look at 15 cheats that can set you on the path to early retirement and financial independence.
1. Start with your significant other
- Retirement killer: The average divorce costs more than $15,000.
Love arrives when it’s least expected, for many. But if you’re taking a more strategic route, you may want to go old school — by marrying rich. Obviously, this is a little scuzzy, if not downright difficult. So, perhaps just look for a partner who is organized financially and won’t break the bank by spending money on status symbols. Again, you fall in love with who you fall in love with. But if you’re on the hunt? Find someone with similar values and goals. Plus, a divorce can be financially devastating.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…
2. Family planning
- Plan ahead: Having a baby can cost as much as $12,000.
One of the biggest factors that can determine your career prospects is whether you have children, particularly at a young age. Sometimes, things happen. But if you’re planning on having a family? Put some planning into it. Wait until you have a secure job and enough money to make it work. There’s no reason to rush into parenthood — especially if it’s not thrust upon you. Plan for it, save for it, and budget it.
With a family, though, comes the “dad bod”.
3. Stay in shape, learn to cook
- Fun fact: Unnecessary food expenses are the number one way in which American families waste money.
People waste a lot of money on food. Whether it be going out to eat a little too often, or simply buying too much stuff and watching it go bad, you can tidy up your finances by tidying up your pantry. A simple cheat? Start meal planning. Not only that, but exercise and eat healthy, too. You’ll save big in the long-term on health care costs, and feel better, too.
Food is expensive. But so are taxes.
4. Lower your tax bill
- Tax avoidance: Legal strategies can save you thousands over your lifetime — depending on your income.
Tax avoidance is not the same as tax evasion. One will land you in a lot of trouble. The other is something almost everyone with an accountant takes part in. We all want to pay less, and if you start early and employ some solid strategies, you can save untold amounts of money over the course of your career. It’s tricky, though, and you don’t want to run afoul of the law, so be careful and don’t actually “cheat” the system.
Next: Have fun and make money while you do it.
5. Develop a hobby that pays
- Hobbies can be cash cows: Example: The 12 top-earning Youtube stars earned more than $70 million in 2016.
Everybody does something to relax. It may be collecting coins or stamps, or playing video games. If you look deep enough, there’s earning potential in just about anything. But it’s not just the potential business that lies deep in your chosen discipline. Some hobbies can actively help your career in other ways. Try out some new hobbies — like golf or running — and see if something sticks.
Another cheat? Stay mobile.
6. Stay mobile
- Did you know? Earnings for people who never leave their hometowns are lower than those who leave.
One way in which you can get a leg up on your peers is by staying mobile. That is, be ready and willing to jump on opportunities no matter where they spring up. This, obviously, isn’t going to be an option for everyone. But if you can, be ready to move far away to take advantage of lower costs of living, deals on housing, or new jobs and education opportunities.
Another major life expense? Education. Have somebody else pay for it.
7. Offload your education costs
- Got Debt? The average 2016 graduate left school with more than $37,000 in debt.
Again, this isn’t going to be an option for everyone. But given how much college costs these days, finding a way — any way — to get it paid for is an avenue to be explored. Before you sign up for classes, look for every grant and scholarship out there. Or, you could even take an alternative route — get a job, and then see if your employer will help pay for you to get your degree.
If you can save on education, you have more time to focus on yourself. And your time is valuable.
8. Learn the value of your time
- Laundry by the pound: You can spend all day at the laundromat, or pay someone as little as $0.90 per pound to do your laundry.
Everyone’s time is valuable. It’s finite, and your most precious resource. When we work, we sell it to the highest bidder, typically. For that reason, you should be looking at your time and considering its value. Is it worth it to spend three hours at the laundromat? Would it be worth a few bucks to have somebody else do your chores or errands while you take another job? Do some rough calculations, and see where there’s money to be spent (or saved).
You’ll also want to take advantage of services that you’ve already paid for — at least in part.
9. Use public resources
- Budget hero: In some cities, riding the bus can save you more than $9,000 annually in transportation costs.
You pay for the roads, buses, subways, and libraries. Use them. While it’s often inconvenient and you have to share with others, these public resources are there for your use and consumption. Using them, over the long term, can save you huge amounts of money that can be saved and invested, inching you ever closer to retirement. You can also try pooling your money with neighbors or friends on things like wireless internet or lawnmowers to save even more.
Speaking of neighbors, you’ll want to choose yours wisely.
10. Choose your home and neighborhood wisely
- House for sale: In 2016, the average American home sold for $412,000.
Buying a home is a big investment. Often, it’s the biggest investment you’ll ever make. That means you’ll want to take your time and make a calculated decision when it comes time to put in an offer. Your neighborhood — and neighbors, by extension — are a part of that equation. You’ll want your home to appreciate, and if you don’t plan on moving, your neighborhood to grow, too, over the years. Buying in the right place and at the right time may be the biggest cheat of all.
You may not want a fixer-upper, but you don’t need a McMansion, either.
11. Learn to identify status symbols — and avoid them
- Budget buster: A small, low-end yacht runs around $90,000. A solid canoe? Around $400.
We can boil this point down for you — don’t buy big-ticket toys. That goes for expensive cars, watches, boats, etc. While you will want to make sure you’re buying quality products and services (more on this in a moment), you don’t need a flashy name brand just to puff up your ego. A Honda will get you to work just as easily as a Mercedes, for example. And that nice watch your mom got you for Christmas tells time just as well as a Rolex.
We mentioned it, and now we dive in: Buy for life.
12. Buy for life
- Be smart: The top recommended “buy it for life” brand from Reddit? Maglite flashlights.
You may have heard the phrase “buy for life” before, and it means more or less exactly what it sounds like. When you buy a product or service, you should be buying one of quality that will last a long time — hopefully, forever. There’s a fine line between spending too much on a flashy name brand or status symbol and buying for life, though. If you plan on spending the money, do your due diligence and research. You may not end up with the cheapest product, but you’ll save money by not purchasing it more than once.
We touched on the cost of living before. Next, we dig in further.
13. It’s all about that C.O.L.
- COL: New York City and Honolulu are the most expensive cities in America, in terms of cost of living.
Perhaps nothing will make a bigger impact on your ability to retire early than where and how you live. Specifically, we mean the cost of living where you live. If you live in a big, expensive city (New York, D.C., San Francisco, etc.) it can be shocking to head into the heartland and see how cheap an apartment is. Consider this when making career moves or buying a home. A lot of your paycheck can get eaten up by high costs of living, and if you’re serious about retiring young, you may want to stick it out in a cheaper area.
One thing that determines your location? Your career field. Choose wisely.
14. Choose a career that will save you money
- Career spotlight: Mechanics charge up to $125 per hour to fix your car. They don’t charge themselves, though.
One thing that’s neat about having a certain skill set is that you can use it to your own advantage. Contractor? Build your own house, or do your own renovations. Stock broker? Conduct your own trades and do research on the clock! Even if you’re a cook at McDonald’s, you suddenly know how to make delicious golden fries. Take the skills you learn at work and use them at home to save money. Or, if you’re still exploring careers, take the possible savings into consideration.
Finally, nothing will set you on the path toward financial independence quite like an attitude adjustment.
15. Adjust your attitude
When you get down to it, being frugal, economical, or just financially responsible requires the right attitude. It requires discipline. And if you’re serious about retiring early, you’ll need some serious discipline. It really is all about attitude. Keep your goals in mind when you feel the itch to spend money on unneeded items or some sort of flair. Save and invest with vigor, and you’ll be living large before you know it.