My Original Plan to Retire by Age 36 (and Why it Failed)

Plan to Retire by 36

Written by Liz

Just your regular 27-year-old, queer, super-introverted, FIRE-chasing, frugal Singaporean, who lives a pretty good life while earning only a modest salary, but still plans to retire at age 40 with $1,000,000. Click here to read more

May 18, 2020

Before discovering the financial independence and early retirement (FIRE) community back in 2017, I had a one-track mind when it came to finding a good corporate job, climbing the corporate ladder, and retiring at age 65.

It didn’t matter that I already felt hollow and lost. What mattered was that this was the conventional route to a good life, and that I shouldn’t stray from the path.

After discovering FIRE, disbelief set in. There was no way to retire early since I didn’t have a six-figure income, right? That was me in 2017.

In 2018, after deciding to take a leap of faith, I tweaked my budget, ran my numbers and felt that I could still retire by the time I was 45. “Not too shabby”, I thought. This was the year that I ploughed most of my cash into investments, and saw the beginnings of compound interest. It opened my eyes.

Then came 2019. I was still without a six-figure income (or even anything close to it), but I had a pretty sizable nest egg, and significantly more clarity on what made me happy in life. And I realised that I didn’t need a whole lot of money to afford that.

So, out of 2019 came my aggressive savings plan to retire by age 36.

Note: All currency stated in this post is in Singapore dollars (S$).

Retire by 65

Retire by 45

Retire by 36

How Much I Need to Retire

In a previous post I wrote, titled “Why I’m Shooting for a $1,000,000 Nest Egg for my Early Retirement“, I discussed the following:

  • Why I’m not shooting for Bare-Bones or Lean FIRE,
  • Why I’m aiming for Regular FIRE,
  • My future expenses of about $35,000 a year, and
  • Why I’m not using a withdrawal rate of 4%.

For the purposes of this blog post, all you need to know is that I plan to accumulate a nest egg of $1,000,000 to support my future needs. (This $1,000,000 has to exclude any money I have in my retirement accounts, as I have no control over my retirement accounts.)

If you’re interested in the details behind this decision, I’ll leave a link to the relevant post right here.

The Grand Plan to Retire in 10 Years (by Age 36)

As of this year, 2020, I’m 26 years old (turning 27 in October 2020), and as of my net worth update in April 2020, I have assets (cash, stocks and bonds) of approximately $180,000, the result of 5 years of hard work and frugality. (To reiterate, this excludes any amounts in my retirement accounts.)

The premise behind my grand plan is simple – Work full-time and juggle side hustles for the next 10 years until I reach financial independence.

Only after which, would I allow myself to buy a house, settle down and start a family.

My financial situation in 2019 is fairly unique – I live with my parents, earning $42,400 of take-home pay a year from my full-time job and an average of $12,000 a year from my side hustles, while spending about $9,500 a year. This gives me savings of about $45,000 a year. (The details of my finances have been provided in my related reading below.) I work about 55-60 hours a week on my dead-end job and side hustles, excluding time for commuting.

  Take-Home Salary   $42,400
  Side Hustles   $12,000
  Total Take-Home Salary   $54,400
  Less: Expenses   $9,500
  Total Savings   $44,900

I plan to live with my parents for another 2 years, while slowly breaking the news to them and having them come to accept my decision to move out.

Thus, the next 2 years of my financial journey will look something like this, assuming a 6% return on investment:

YearStarting BalanceSavingsROIEnding Balance
(1) 2020$180,000$45,000$10,800$235,800
(2) 2021$235,800$45,000$14,148$294,948

After which, I’ll move out. This will give me more freedom to get a much higher paying job. 

If I go for a government job, with my degree and existing job experience, I can expect a gross income of around $68,000 (since the Singapore Government regularly pays out good bonuses). This will bring my corporate job take-home salary to $55,000. Since government jobs are pretty cushy, I think that I would still have time to side hustle, bringing my total take-home income to about $67,000. 

Of course, expenses will likewise increase, but not by too much, as I planned to live as cheaply as possible. My extremely bare-bones annual expenses will amount to only $13,000 a year, giving me yearly savings of $54,000.

  Take-Home Office Salary   $55,000
  Side Hustle Income   $12,000
  Total Take-Home Income   $67,000
  Less: Expenses   ($13,000)
  Total Savings   $54,000


And here’s what my budget of $13,000 a year would look like:

Category Monthly Expenses (S$)
Rent and Fees$550
Household and Utilities$105
Living Expenses$37
Monthly Total$1,072
Yearly Total$12,864 ($1,072 x 12)

If we continue filling in the table of my financial journey, the rest of my working years will look something like this:

YearStarting BalanceSavingsROIEnding Balance
(3) 2022$294,948$54,000$17,697$366,645
(4) 2023$366,645$54,000$21,999$442,644
(5) 2024$442,644$54,000$26,559$523,202
(6) 2025$523,202$54,000$31,392$608,594
(7) 2026$608,594$54,000$36,516$699,110
(8) 2027$699,110$54,000$41,947$795,057
(9) 2028$795,057$54,000$47,703$896,760
(10) 2029$896,760$54,000$53,806$1,004,566

By the end of 2029, I’ll be 36 years of age, with a nest egg of a cool $1 million that can be used to support my annual expenses. Then, I’d be able to quit my job and retire from working life for good.


Conservative Assumptions in my Plan

First, my grand plan takes into account only a 6% real rate of return on investments. Considering that I’ve been shifting my asset allocation toward 90% stocks and 10% bonds, even after accounting for inflation, this is still a conservative rate of return.

Second, my grand plan assumes that I’d receive only inflationary wage increases and that I’d never get promoted in all my remaining 10 working years.

Third and last, my grand plan assumes that I’d never make any headway in my current side hustles or never pick up any more lucrative side hustles.

If the market continues to roar, and if I get promoted maybe 2 or 3 times during my working career, I think I’d be seeing early retirement in 8-9 years instead of a conservative 10 years.

Why My Grand Plan Failed Spectacularly

#1 – I Didn’t Prioritise Important Things

After putting together my plan to retire by 36 and working towards it for a year or so, I realised that there was something about my plan that left me very unsettled.

Reflecting on this made me realise that I was putting off the important things in life – such as being happy, and having children – in my quest to reach early retirement as soon as possible.

Happiness – I don’t think I could ever be truly happy or passionate in any corporate job (5 internships and 2 full-time jobs have taught me that), and yet I was willing to slog for another 10 of the best years of my life in exchange for money. Maybe I wouldn’t even have another 10 years to live. And then all of that would have been for nothing.

Children – I’ve always known that I want to start a family some day. Putting off starting a family because I want some extra money in my nest egg, even though I already have quite a bit, doesn’t seem like a wise thing to do.

After all, there’s no rush to early retirement.

Instead, what I should do is strike a balance – This means prioritising the important things in life while pursuing early retirement at the same time.


#2 – My Budget was Too Bare-Bones

Carrying on with my plan to retire by 36 consisted of many, many sacrifices, the most glaring of which required me to live on a bare-bones budget of $13,000 a year (or about $1,070 a month) until I accumulated my $1,000,000 nest egg.

Don’t get me wrong; I certainly consider myself extremely fortunate to have the option to be able to live on $13,000 a year in an expensive city, which includes:

  1. A roof over my head (albeit a very cheap public housing one);
  2. An internet plan;
  3. A cheap mobile plan;
  4. A reasonable grocery budget;
  5. Medical supplies and a few visits to the doctor and dentist; and
  6. Cheap public transportation that can take me anywhere I want to go in the city of Singapore.

However, I won’t be able to afford very much else. And I suspect that it will have a significant impact on my happiness, as I won’t be able to spend on a lot of things that I enjoy and prioritize, like:

  1. A nice, cozy apartment in a condominium complex with amenities (like a pool, gym and outdoor areas);
  2. Travel, entertainment, fun events; and
  3. Passion projects (such as blogging and music).
Exploring Jewel Changi Airport

Having a fun time in the Canopy Park of Jewel Changi Airport. Price of admission? $4.50. Something I wouldn’t be able to afford on a Bare-Bones budget.

By increasing my spending by just $4,000 a year, I should be able to afford all of the above, optimizing both my spending and my happiness. Here’s a new and improved budget of $16,800 a year, which would skyrocket my happiness.

CategoryMonthly Expenses (S$)
Rent and Fees$750
Household and Utilities$105
Groceries and Dining Out$200
Living Expenses$37
Transportation $100
Discretionary (Travel, Entertainment, Gifts, etc.)$80
Monthly Total$1,402
Yearly Total$16,824 ($1,402 x 12)

#3 – I’d be Spending a Lot of Time on Things I Dislike

Another sacrifice I will have to make is spending a whole lot of time working on things I am not passionate about. I work a dead-end corporate job (45 hours a week when full-time) and side hustle (anywhere between 8-10 hours a week) as a tutor, both of which I do not love, and would not do if I weren’t paid.

Between my full-time job, side hustles, commuting and getting ready, I will waste spend approximately 65-70 hours of my precious time a week doing things that I dislike; that’s more than 40% of waking hours. That’s excluding taking time to recover from all these activities.

#4 – I’d be Sacrificing Mental Health

In 2019, that’s exactly what I did. I worked 45 hours a week at my full-time job, while busting ass side hustling almost every single day. My days were packed, and I knew nothing other than work, commute, eat, and sleep (sometimes I felt so empty, I would lie awake in bed, wondering what went so wrong).

On this schedule, I hardly have time or the energy to do things I love, like:

  • Exploring passion projects,
  • Reading,
  • Exercising,
  • Walking in nature and getting fresh air,
  • Spending time with loved ones, and
  • Getting alone time to chill.

After just a year of working like this, I felt empty and lost. Some days I experience just negativity. Other days, I’m not so lucky; I struggle with full blown anxiety, insomnia, and other mental health issues.

If I force myself to do this for the next 10 years, it might break me.

My Office Desk

My first desk at the office, until I got moved to another department. I hated my job; coming in every morning to see this desk felt like misery.

Going Forward: Striking a Balance between Time and Money

Admittedly, even if I were forced to work those 65-70 hour weeks by holding down a full-time job and side hustle at the same time, my life wouldn’t exactly be torturous. I live in a first-world country, and can afford all the basic necessities of life. Life is far from painful, especially compared to all those who are less fortunate.

But since I have been afforded the privilege of a choice between time and money, I’m going to choose a little bit of both.

While I’m craving for more time to work on things that I’m passionate about, I’m not willing to give up my jobs entirely as I still have bills to pay, and would like to have as few money worries as possible.

So why not cut down my hours, earn a little less (but still enough for the basic necessities), and spend more time doing something I love (like writing, reading, and exercising in nature)?

Of course, this clearly extends my timeline to early retirement by a number of years. But if I’m happier and healthier during this whole journey, then I think I’ve come out much better.

After all, all that money isn’t going to be worth anything if I lose my mind and my physical health along the way.

Maybe I’m entitled and impatient for not wanting to stick things out and retire as soon as possible; after all, I’ve been on this grand plan for only slightly more than a year. Many other people slog it out a lot longer than I do.

But I don’t want that. I just don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to take my time to early retirement, to smell the roses along the way.


Visiting Sentosa, Singapore

Enjoying an awesome day out at one of Sentosa’s beaches in Singapore.

For all the reasons above, my original grand plan to retire by 36 failed spectacularly. And I think that’s a huge blessing in disguise.

Then again, only time will tell. Hopefully, you’ll stick around to find out.

What do you think about my decision to delay early retirement? Should I have gone full-steam ahead instead? What are your experiences with rushing towards FIRE vs. taking breaks or mini-retirements along the way? 

As always, thank you for reading and supporting this blog.

Become a Millionaire and Retire Early on a Modest Salary Book Cover

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  1. Budget Life List

    Girl, I think you made the right choice – 100%. The path you were on sounded toxic and the chances of you arriving at early retirement in a state where you could actually enjoy it seems unlikely. Your excessive work experiment was a great opportunity to find out what you don’t want in your life. That is as helpful as finding out what you do want in your life. Cheers to the balance of happiness, sanity, and employment.

    • Liz

      Aww I appreciate the vote of confidence 🙂 Yeah you’re right, I should stop thinking about my excessive work experiment as something that was wasted, but more as a great opportunity to discover myself, like what you said. Thanks for your opinion! I appreciate it 🙂