The Colorado couple retired early and built a net worth of $1.5 million

Debbie Emick remembers the moment that changed her view of money forever.

In 2014, shortly after she and her husband, Chris, welcomed their second daughter into the world, Debbie received bad news: The symptoms of a chronic illness she had discovered in 2012 were worsening. However, she is determined to hold on to her career as an elementary school teacher and continue earning to help her young family.

That was until one day when a colleague asked if Debbie would attend a professional development opportunity over the weekend. Debbie hesitated.

If it’s money, Debbie’s colleague assures her, don’t worry—there will be a stipend.

“I remember this little thing clicking,” Debbie said. “And I think I said out loud to her that I don’t need more money. I need more time.”

Debbie and Chris Emick.

Courtesy of Debbie and Chris Emick

Debbie quit her job later in 2014, and the Emicks, who had planned to retire in their mid-60s, began to refocus their money priorities. “I just started to realize that I was working for a retirement that I never really enjoyed,” Debbie said.

The couple, who live in Rocky Ford, Colorado, cut back on their spending, increased their savings and began investing aggressively in real estate. By 2019, they had earned enough from their properties that Chris was also able to quit his job as a network engineer.

In the four years from 2016 to 2019, the couple had 19 rental units. When they retire in 2019, each at age 40, the annual rental income from their property will total $45,000. Today, between a mix of investments, savings and real estate, Debbie and Chris, now 43, have a net worth of about $1.5 million.

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Enjoy the flexibility of early retirement

“Instead of having a job where I’d work 48 weeks a year and have four weeks off, now I’ll say I work maybe four weeks a year and have 48 weeks off,” Chris said.

the couple continues to save and invest. They spend anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000 per month, and lately have been investing the rest in a combination of retirement and investment accounts, health savings accounts and multiple cash accounts. All told, they have about $740,000 saved.

They have also been able to pursue passion. Debbie writes books and takes up surfing. And together, Debbie and Chris started “Go Bucket Yourself,” an online community for early retirees, which hosts events and retreats the couple plans.

When it comes to what’s next, “we’re really enjoying this freedom to connect and travel and explore,” says Chris.

And for the genesis of all this, Debbie says that her health has improved a lot since the decision to leave the 9-to-5.

“I don’t know what the percentage is, but it’s been dramatic since away from my job,” she said. “Both because I don’t have the daily stress, but also because it allows time and energy to work on my own [not only] physically, but also mentally and emotionally.”

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