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Joe quit his job six years ago – and never looked back

Joe wondered whether he could retire at 58 and maintain the same lifestyle. Because he has been a responsible saver and a hands-on investor, six years later it turns out that he could afford to do just that. Joe wonderedVICTORIA, BC: SEPTEMBER 1, 2010 - Financial Facelift Hugh Morton in Victoria, BC. (Photo by Deddeda Stemler for the Globe and Mail)

Deddeda Stemler/The Globe and Mail

Regular readers of Financial Facelift might remember Joe, the fellow who at age 58, in a shaky economy, got so frustrated at work that he told his boss to take his job and stuff it.

Commenters were delighted. "Way to go, Joe," one online reader quipped. But Joe was worried. "Did I screw up?" he wrote in an e-mail. "I'm scared that I won't be able to survive and maintain a decent lifestyle," he added. He had been netting $3,000 a month.

That was in 2010.

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Joe was single with no dependents. He owned a condo in British Columbia and had a fair amount of savings. He had an RRSP, a tax-free savings account, some stocks and some guaranteed investment certificates in a defined-contribution pension plan from a previous employer.

"Can I retire and maintain the same lifestyle?" Joe wondered. He figured he could get by on $24,000 a year after tax – less than when he was working.

What the planner said

Joe was able to tell his boss to stuff it because he had been a responsible saver all his working life, said Warren MacKenzie, who prepared Joe's financial plan. Mr. MacKenzie, then CEO of Weigh House Investor Services, is now a principal at HighView Financial Group in Toronto.

"While a spur of the moment retirement decision is never recommended, one of the major benefits of becoming financially independent is to have the freedom to do what Joe did," the planner said.

Still, Mr. MacKenzie was concerned. He thought Joe should look for another job as soon as possible to plump up his financial cushion, have time to plan properly for retirement and fend off boredom, which could be a serious problem for a man who has worked all his life. Well, the planner need not have worried.

How it turned out

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Today, six years later, Joe keeps busy volunteering at the veteran's lodge – "that gives me something to do" – and travelling. "I'm a motorcyclist," Joe said in an interview. "I like to hop on my bike and take off for trips to the States." He never got another job, not even a part-time one. The fact that he retired debt-free made that decision easier, he says.

Back in 2010, Mr. MacKenzie had calculated Joe would get by if he could earn 5 per cent a year on his investments, or 2.5 per cent after inflation. To do so, though, Joe would have to make some changes to his portfolio, scaling back on risk and diversifying his stock holdings internationally, the planner said.

As it turns out, Joe is quite knowledgeable about investing. He describes himself as a hands-on investor who will listen to advice. He started saving at age 34 and has been "dabbling in the market" since 1972. He took the Canadian Securities Course in 1975 and he's worked with the same investment adviser (at a full-service investment dealer) for 30 years. "We've made our share of mistakes, as I'm sure others have done, but we have hit some home runs," Joe says.

When he started working, he liked the paycheque but not the job. "I said to myself, I want to retire early, so I saved for this," he says. "They had no respect for me in my position. I just got frustrated. Enough is enough."

Joe's brokerage statement from September of 2010 to September of 2016 shows his portfolio has grown to more than $780,000 (after new investments and withdrawals), for an annualized return of 8.7 per cent. He's proud of the result.

"I guess I was in the right place at the right time with the financial crisis and the monetary policy (of record low interest rates) that the central banks have taken," Joe says. "My savings were going toward producing income" – defensive stocks like the telecoms, pipelines and utilities, which climbed as investors looked for alternatives to bonds.

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Today he has switched mainly to exchange-traded funds. "Also, I like the covered call strategy for income and protection in a sideways or down market," Joe says.

He took the planner's advice to begin collecting Canada Pension Plan benefits at age 60, which meant he had to draw less on his savings and could loosen the purse strings a bit. He also took to heart the planner's concern that he might be too aggressive in his investing. "So I bought equities that had good balance sheets and income," Joe says. As suggested, he has diversified his holdings to the United States and Europe using ETFs.

After Joe quit work, he converted his RRSP to a registered retirement income fund and his defined contribution pension plan to a life income fund, which allows him to choose the investments.

Looking back, Joe says "leaving the security of employment was the scary part. I think that's one reason maybe some people who are able to retire early are afraid to. They're afraid of leaving the security of the workplace." More than anything, the Financial Facelift helped ease some of the stress of the moment, Joe says. "I didn't panic."

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