How to retire at 45

The Minellis are in their late forties, and they want to retire now. Problem is, they’ve never invested in anything but GICs. Can they do it? Absolutely, say our experts. In fact they could have retired years ago.

by Julie Cazzin
April 5th, 2010

Online only.

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Sophia and Vincent Minelli want to change their lives. And they want to do it now. The problem isn’t their modest home in chilly Red Deer, Alta., or the five-hour drive it takes to visit family and friends in Lethbridge. It’s their jobs.

For the past 23 years, Vincent, 49, has earned a living as a construction superintendent for a home builder in Red Deer. Sophia, 47, is an office administrator at a local medical clinic. Despite their relatively young ages, the Minellis both want to quit their jobs right now and retire for good. “After so many years doing the same job, you start to get stale and you stop learning new things,” Vincent says. “Our jobs just don’t interest us anymore. When we were young and broke, we were motivated by annual raises. But now that’s worn off. Some people want to work until they’re 65. Believe me, that’s not us.”

Many people dream of retiring in their forties, but Sophia and Vincent (whose names we’ve changed to protect their privacy) are in a position to actually do it: they already have a nest egg worth $1.8 million. They didn’t inherit the money, or win the lottery. They amassed that impressive amount, dollar by dollar, over a little more than two decades by being extreme savers. They currently enjoy a total after-tax income of $130,000 a year, and incredibly, they save more than half of that—almost $100,000—each and every year. They’ve never had any debt, except for a $75,000 mortgage on a three-bedroom, two-storey home in Red Deer that they bought during the recession of 1991. They paid that mortgage off in five short years, and their home, originally purchased for $90,000, is now valued at $520,000.

They think they’re well prepared for retirement, but they have one big worry. While they are great savers, they are also very, very conservative investors. They have never invested in equities. All of their money has been in savings or term deposits for decades, yielding almost nothing in interest. “We’re getting less than a 1% return on the $1.28 million we have sitting in a savings account,” says Vincent. “The $460,000 in our RRSPs and tax-free savings accounts is doing a bit better in term deposits, but not by much.”

Few financial professionals would recommend such a conservative portfolio, but the Minellis have never felt the need to hire an adviser, who would likely push for more aggressive investments. “When the economic collapse happened two years ago, the guys at work kept kidding me, saying that I must have lost a bundle,” says Vincent. “I told them, ‘Well no. I didn’t lose a penny.’ Sophia and I sleep very well at night with our simple savings strategy.”

The Minellis’ approach to saving is firmly rooted in their childhoods. Vincent originally came from a family of savers. He grew up in Winnipeg where his parents owned a laundromat and dry cleaning business. He was the oldest of three boys and spent most of his time babysitting his two younger brothers while his parents ran the family business. “The laundromat was open seven days a week, 14 hours a day,” remembers Vincent. “The only time it was closed was Christmas and New Year’s. My parents had a strong work ethic.” He went on to study engineering at the University of Winnipeg and worked for three years in Manitoba before moving to Red Deer where he was hired as a construction manager for a small but growing building company. He’s been with that employer ever since.

Sophia, the daughter of a lab technician and clerical worker, also had parents who were keen savers. She grew up in a middle-class family in Lethbridge, Alta., the youngest of four kids. Her parents opened a savings account for her when she was just 12. “My dad explained the magic of compound interest to me that year and I was hooked,” says Sophia. “I’ve been an avid saver ever since.”

How the money is spent

YEARLY DISPOSABLE INCOME
Vincent’s income $115,000
Sophia’s income $70,000
Interest $5,000
Minus: taxes and other deductions -$60,000
Net disposable income $130,000
YEARLY EXPENSES
Shelter
Property taxes $3,300
Home insurance $525
Hydro/gas/water $3,100
Mobile/Internet/TV $1,575
Total shelter $8,500
Transportation
Car insurance $1,125
Gas $1,675
Maintenance $1,200
Total transportation $4,000
Personal
Groceries $5,500
Clothes, haircuts, etc. $750
Furniture $500
Vacation $5,000
Charity $1,500
Gifts for holidays and b-days $1,000
Restaurants $250
Miscellaneous $3,000
Total personal $17,500
TOTAL EXPENSES $30,000
Annual income available for investment (total income minues total expenses) $100,000

In 1986, Vincent met Sophia at a mutual friend’s wedding. She had graduated from a secretarial program in Lethbridge and had come to Red Deer to accept a job as an office administrator at a local medical clinic. They were married the following year, bought their three-bedroom home in 1991, and paid off the mortgage by 1996. Then they started saving aggressively for their retirement, contributing as much as $80,000 to $100,000 a year.

They now have $1.8 million in savings, but they are only earning about 0.75% on the money in their savings account and 3% on the GICs they hold in their RRSPs. So they aren’t sure their conservative portfolio will withstand unforeseen economic disasters, like a spike in inflation. “But to be honest, the last thing we want to do is invest in the stock market,” Vincent says. “We’ve heard all kinds of horror stories from the people at work who’ve lost thousands of dollars over the last couple of years with the declining markets.”

The Minellis say they won’t need a large income in retirement. They figure they can live on just $30,000 a year. That’s because they have always had an interest in the simple living movement, which stresses spiritual rather than material satisfaction. They volunteer at their local church, support the local food bank and do occasional building projects with Habitat for Humanity, a charity that builds homes for low-income families who can’t afford them. “It keeps us busy and allows us to meet great people,” says Sophia. “Vincent is good at building things and we love the satisfaction we get from watching a young family finally move into their home—a home they would never have been able to afford any other way.”

Whatever spare time the couple has left after doing their volunteer work is spent in their garage, which they converted into an art studio 10 years ago. The studio is full of Vincent’s watercolor paintings and Sophia’s clay sculptures. “Some people shop, some love music and movies,” says Sophia. “We love to create art together in our little studio.”

The Minellis eat out at restaurants only twice a year—on their birthdays—and prefer to cook and prepare meals at home. Sofia makes a mean chili while Vincent spends weekends experimenting with new chicken stir-fry recipes. On Saturday nights, the couple goes out to watch junior A hockey games at their local arena—a sport both Sophia and Vincent share a passion for. “I played hockey through high school and university,” says Vincent. “We love watching a good hockey game and we try to keep it affordable.”

Their only indulgence is their annual winter vacation. They usually go on a Caribbean cruise, but last year they went to Las Vegas for the first time and loved it. “We get pretty sick of winter by February,” says Sophia, who finds that the winters in Red Deer go on much too long. “When we retire we eventually want to spend two or three months down south instead of the two weeks we spend now. We hope that our good savings habits will be enough to allow all of the pieces of the financial puzzle to fall into place for us.”

The big unknown is whether they can continue to invest conservatively and still have enough to withdraw $30,000 a year from their portfolio for the rest of their lives. They don’t want to do it, but they wonder if they’ll have to take a chunk of their money and invest it in a conservative investment portfolio that includes some equities. “We view stocks and mutual funds as unnecessarily risky investments,” Vincent says. “But everywhere I turn I hear people talking about how good their returns have been this year and that’s started me wondering if we’re still on track with our simple plan. Can you help us?”

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Sophia and Vincent Minelli have managed to do what few people do these days—save their way to riches. In fact, both Marc Lamontagne, a fee-only planner for Ryan Lamontagne Inc. in Ottawa, and Alfred Feth, a fee-for-service planner in Waterloo, Ont., have never seen this type of investment strategy adopted so successfully by a couple so young. “The Minellis save much like my clients who grew up during the war,” says Feth. “They make up for low returns on their money by saving thousands of dollars. They’re extreme savers and the strategy has been successful.”

Both Feth and Lamontagne agree that the couple could indeed retire today and their assets would last them a lifetime. In fact, they could have retired when Vincent was 45. Despite their unusually conservative investments, they don’t even have to change their strategy much to accomplish their goals. Here’s what they should do:

Run the numbers

The Minellis say they need $30,000 a year, after taxes, to live comfortably. Lamontagne says that if the Minellis can increase the return on the money in their savings account from 0.75% to 3%, then based on a projected average annual inflation rate of 3%, the couple can live off their money for decades and still have $1 million left at age 90. “These projections mean that the couple’s returns are just keeping up with inflation over the next 40 years but even so, they will have plenty left over,” says Lamontagne. In fact, he says the Minellis could spend about $40,000 net annually and still be left with $250,000 at age 90—more than enough. “This is a very conservative projection,” says Lamontagne. “Still, when inflation increases, interest rates generally go up as well. So the Minellis can make the most of this by using a good GIC investment strategy to squeeze every penny of interest out of their investments.”

Where they stand

ASSETS
Home $520,000
Vicent’s RRSP $235,000
Sophia’s RRSP $215,000
Vincent’s TFSA $5,000
Sophia’s TFSA $5,000
Savings account $1,285,000
Cars $35,000
Total assets $2,300,000
Total liabilites $0
NET WORTH (Total assets minus total liabilites) $2,300,000

Try a laddered GIC portfolio
The Minellis should adopt a five-year laddered guaranteed investment certificate (GIC) portfolio. “Of course, I could tell them to split their money 50% in equity mutual funds and 50% in bonds and their returns would be higher but there’s two problems with that advice for this couple,” says Feth. “It disregards the fact that they’ve said they don’t really want to invest in equities because their risk tolerance is very, very low. That’s crucial. And, given their modest goal of $30,000 net annually, there’s no need for them to include equities in their portfolio for better returns.”

Adopting a laddered GIC strategy is simple. In the first year, the couple should invest one-fifth of their money in a five-year GIC. The second year, they will invest another fifth in a five-year GIC, and so on for five years until all of their money is invested in GICs. When the money they invested in the first year comes due in five years, they can reinvest it for five more years and so on so that each year they are reinvesting money at the five-year rate—yielding about 3.5% today. Investing this way has two advantages: five-year terms almost always pay more in interest than one-year terms and conveniently, this strategy allows the Minellis to have access to 20% of their money every year. “It’s all they really need for their savings to last until they die,” says Feth.

Plan a withdrawal strateg
Every year until age 60, the couple should draw down the $30,000 net they need to live on from their GIC savings (that’s about $35,000 before taxes). This means that for the first 10 to 12 years of retirement, they will be living off of their savings alone.

Collect CPP at 60
Starting at age 60, the couple should start collecting Canada Pension (CPP). This will guarantee them about $1,000 a month ($12,000 annually) for the rest of their lives. Then, at 65, the Minellis will begin collecting Old Age Security (OAS), which will amount to $1,100 (or $13,200 annually) for both of them for the rest of their lives. That means that by the time the two are 65, their government benefits will total $25,200 annually. The remainder of what they need—about $10,000 to $12,000 gross annually—can be withdrawn from their GICs as they come due.

Consider annuities
Stopping work at age 49 and 47 means the Minellis could potentially be retired for up to 40 or 50 years. A number of economic and tax issues can change over that length of time and upset the couple’s well-laid plans. To ensure that their money will last, both Feth and Lamontagne suggest the couple take a portion of their money and buy annuities.

An annuity is a contract with an insurance company. You pay the company a lump sum and then the company guarantees to pay you a monthly income for a set period of time, much like a pension. The payments you receive are based on your age (the older you are when the payments start, the higher the payment) and interest rates at the time of purchase (the higher the better).

Feth suggests the couple consider buying annuities with the money they now have invested in RRSPs. They should buy a so-called variable rate annuity with guaranteed monthly withdrawals. This type of annuity allows them to withdraw money if they need it, but gives them bonuses if they refrain from doing so. Interest rates are low now, so it’s not a good time to buy annuities immediately. Instead, they should buy when rates go up, which is likely to happen before they approach age 60. If they do that with the $450,000 they have in RRSPs, at age 71 they will be able to collect roughly $27,000 a year for the rest of their lives.

When this is combined with their CPP and OAS payments, it will be more than enough for them to live very comfortably until they die. “Of course, the downside is that you can never get that lump sum payment back,” says Lamontagne. “But the upside is lifelong income, even if they both live to be 100.”

151 comments on “How to retire at 45

  1. Firstly, congrats!! Secondly..really…you really couldn't figure out if you could retire?? Sorry but I am dumbfounded by this…..

  2. no kids…first thing i noticed….also, the low restaurant bills…confirmed in the article. $5000 for a cruise once a year….not the nicest available…very frugal…too bad you didn't buy RY or POT or have some financial advice about equities versus GIC….that's what happens when you just visit your local bank branch. I didn't check, do they even have a TV or cable or internet??? Friday night at the rink? no friends?? too cheap to stop working is my bet….

  3. Admirable ! Congrats on pulling together and saving ; that doesn't happen by accident . I think the couple should invest in some Gold for the 'you never know' scenario .Sometime this whole economic mess we are in will implode . Germans lost their money twice and the World came very close to an economic collapse with the sub prime , toxic assets Fiasco . Next time it may occur ( ex. Iceland-Greece etc.).Be "VERY" cautious of Financial Planners . Take it from one who knows . 73

  4. This would be my dream come true. My husband and I are 47 this year, and are very tired of our careers too. Any financial planners out there that are willing to look at our portfolio?

    • Many! They will take your money and otherwise you won't hear from them .
      When they lose your money there is always an excuse . Start doing your own investing its not that difficult ; you are still young enough . Start small . Study Buffet-Suzy Orman-etc . Remember at the end of the day its "YOUR" money/GL 72

    • I also was too tired of my career so I became self-employed. I love it. I make more money for less hours worked, have flexible hours and I can work from home. I am essentially semi-retired at 56 and I don't have 1.8M in savings.

  5. I applaud their frugality–way to go guys! You can also do a 5 to 10 year bond ladder and have equally safe investments with higher returns. My other comment is that they need to be fully addressing the inflationary erosion of their $30,000 per year. If you look back 40 years, houses, cars, gasoline and bread were about 1/10th the price they are today. That would mean that they would need $300,000 after tax in 2050–their portfolio won't do that.

  6. I think the title here is misleading. Anyone can retire at 45 if you already have 1.8 million saved.

  7. No kids and living in Red Deer facilitated their incredibly low expenses.

  8. No kids? Well, that will save you a heckuva lot of money. If we didn't have children, we'd be rich too. Sad and lonely, but rich.

  9. Agree, many of us could retire by 45 if we chose not to have kids and live our lives uninterestingly. You've missed all the good stuff on the front end. We work a bit longer (and who cares, I like my career) but life is very full. Remember, if you're saving all of your money for when you are old, remember one thing……. you'll be old.

    • great Mary, thank god for your kids or you would not know what to do with yourself. And no, many of you would not be retiring at 45 or any age for that matter, self entitlement is killing this country. Thanks for coming out though.

  10. Even without children and the low mortgage the article says they started saving 100 000 per year when they were done paying off their mortgage in 1996. I just dont see how they save 1.8 million and over 200, 000 each for their rrsp accounts. Something does not make sense here the numbers dont add up based on a net income of 130 ,000

  11. Wow. They would have probably had more of a nest egg if they put their money into another vehicle (Mutual Funds). $100,000/yr. compounding @ 8-10% for 20yrs. Do the Math. Usually GIC means Guranteed Insufficient Cash at retirement but they did it. Bravo.

    • Picking a mutual fund that will give me a 8 – 10% return for 20 years is easy to say . You have to be very disciplined to stay in a fund for that long of time. JOHN

  12. You have done well. Stick with your knitting, no need to take risk, if you do not need to. You pick the time to sit back and bask in the sun. There is no shortage of advice, especially from those who should not even be thinking of advising others. The first thing to ask these Advisors: How much money do you have? And, how did you accumulate it? I always enjoy spending other peoples money, hypothetically.

  13. Oh, I would be rich too, had I not stayed at home and raised children. OH yeah, and after 30 years had a marriage break up. But kudos to them if thats what they wanted. I applaud them for being frugal, perhaps too much so, but who am I to judge?? One thing I can't figure out though, is with the amount they saved, how could they not figure out how to retire??

  14. Oh, I would be rich too, had I not stayed at home and raised children. OH yeah, and after 30 years had a marriage break up. But kudos to them if thats what they wanted. I applaud them for being frugal, perhaps too much so, but who am I to judge?? One thing I can't figure out though, is with the amount they saved, how could they not figure out how to retire??

  15. Wow, so much animosity towards this couple for choosing to be childless and frugal! Not every child-free couple is ''sad and lonely" – many of us are happy and unencumbered, without the financial and emotional burden of raising children. Why do you assume they lead uninteresting lives? The article states they've chosen a simple and spiritual life, giving back to their community. I'm sure the Minellis don't judge you for choosing to spend your money raising a family, why judge them?

    • Well said! "Sad and lonely" just because there are no kids, what a crock. I'll just bet you'd "be rich too" if you hadn't had kids. Look around, the majority of people today are in consumer debt and it has nothing to do with the kids they chose to have or not, but more the unrealistic lifestyles they live.

    • Yes Sarah, others are judging this couple based on their own values. My wife and I probably are half a million behind on our savings because we took turns staying home to raise our children. We don't have any regrets and we don't judge other parents who both work by choice or those without children. North American's are full of debt and those who spend too much tend to criticize those who save. Live and let live. Most of us are in our situation because of the decisions we made. Before criticizing this couple people should consider the fact that this frugal couple may be happier than most.

  16. Actually, from the "where they stand" chart, it looks to me like their net worth is actually $2.3M not $1.8M. Oh well, only off by $700K !

  17. How many families have a household income of $185,000 per year? With that kind of income and life style, it is easy to save money without any strategies. Most people are concerned about retirement, because they want to keep good life style (not a frugal life style of $30,000 per year – going to restaurant only few times a year instead of a month). Just make a calculation on the house bought in 1991 at $90,000, now 2010 the house is worth $520,000. In about 20 years, how much is the inflatation rate? With an annual saving of $100,000, why don't buy a property every few years. With the high inflation rate, the savings of $1.8 million should be how many more times? There are much money to donate for worthy causes.

  18. It just doesn't add up. If they can salt 80-100 thousand dollars a year why did it take five years to pay off a $75000 dollar mortgage. They could of done it in a year.

  19. nice job, also a breath of fressh air from the other pathetic Rossi family. It looks like many here dont know how to enjoy their lives without their kids. Its like kids are the end all, news flash folks..kids are not needed in order for someone to have a fullfiling life.

    They have done a great job at accumulating that type of money, although i think they should of at least used a ladder style GIC investment, which could of given them a better return.

  20. Not having kids makes a huge difference. Having or not having kids is a personal choice , but if you calculate how much it costs to have even one child over 2O years or until they are done school, its quite a bit of money . Experts dont need to tell us that they did what many others don't which is save until their rich.I applaud them for being great savers , but they have few expenses compared to the average family and makes it easier to save this sum of money.

  21. This article is basically a fantasy. ANYONE making that much money can afford to save for reality. Tell me how the family making $80,000 a year can retire at 45…you know, the earnings of a typical Canadian family

    • Agreed, How many family/friends do you know make this much annually? This whole article is a joke.
      How to retire at 45 when you earn $180,000. . . . How about $60,000 to $80,000?

  22. Kids would be more than $1M dollar portolio. No need to regret we haven't yet retired!

  23. I really enjoyed reading this article on the Minellis. It is proof that where there's a will, there's a way. The pay cheques they were earning were a great start. Two people, without kids, and that type of money should have no problem saving money if they are "frugalistas". Many people I know could learn valuable lessons from this couple. I admire them because I am much the same; only single. I have no kids, retired at age 49 as a result of a package offered for early retirement, and have saved a good portion of my salar all my life even if I never earned the amounts of money that the Minellis did. I have travelled to many places, always purchased new cars, dine out about 6-8 times a year, donate to charity, but am definitely a home-body. At age 53, I am close to reaching my goal/dream of being a millionairess!

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