The Best Careers for Early Retirement

The Best Careers for Early RetirementIf you read early retirement blogs, then you probably notice that engineers are over-represented in this niche. Why does it seem like every early retirement blog is written by an engineer? Is engineering the perfect career for early retirement? I was an engineer for 16 years so I thought I’d share my experience and see why so many engineers retire early. There must be some defining characteristics that set engineering apart from other professions, right? Then I’ll need your help to brainstorm and find the other careers that are a good fit for early retirement. Every engineer should plan for early retirement, but we’re not the only one that gets early burn out.

*This post was originally written in 2015 when most early retirement blogs were by engineers. The niche is a lot more diverse now. There are doctors, lawyers, accountants, managers, and many different representatives from other careers.

Engineering changes as you gain seniority

I was 7 years old when I saw a computer at my uncle’s house in Bangkok. He was a college professor and he had a personal computer at home. I asked is this a TV? (A TV was uncommon there in the 70s and we didn’t have one.) He showed me how to insert a 5 ¼-inch floppy disk and booted up Space Invader. Wow! I could fly a little spaceship around and blow up aliens! This was way better than a TV! I loved it and played those games whenever I visited. Man, kids are so spoiled these days. RB40jr plays games on our FIRE HD 10 tablet and the graphic is amazing. Technology has come a long way since I was a kid.

When we moved to the US in 1984, I found a computer at the local library. That gave me the opportunity to learn more about them. I learned BASIC and wrote “Hello World.” It was my first step toward an engineering career. The personal computer was a growing field in the 80s and many people recommended going into engineering. I was good at math and science so engineering was a natural fit when it was time for college. Computer engineering was a grueling major, but I pushed through and earned an MS after 5 years.

The PC boom was still underway when I got a job with Intel right out of college. The Pentium was hot and Intel was raking in money hand over fist. I worked in research and development and it was exactly what I wanted to do. I loved designing and debugging computer chips. Every engineer likes solving technical problems and that’s what we got to do at the beginning of our careers.

In the old days, you could stick with solving technical problems your whole career and retire as a senior engineer. Now, companies demand more. Solving technical problems isn’t enough anymore. Senior engineers need to be a “force multiplier” and work through others. This means supervising or mentoring junior engineers, delegating your technical work, and attending a lot of meetings. Some senior engineers stick with the technical side by becoming a specialist in a particular niche. That’s one way to stay technical, but it has its own peril. Your niche can become obsolete and you’ll need to become specialized at something else. This can be difficult when you’re older and have a family. Many technical jobs could also be outsourced pretty easily.

Engineers who are good at their job and love working on technical problems will get promoted and gained more responsibilities. Eventually, they will need to figure out if they want to go into management or become a specialist. This is an inflection point. I couldn’t do either so I retired from my engineering career. The job wasn’t the right fit for me anymore. Most of my friends from college also moved away from R&D. They are in management, marketing, IT, venture capital, teaching, day trading, and more. None of my friends from college are in R&D at this point. It’s unfortunate we can’t do what we love anymore, but that’s life.

Workload and stress

Companies demand a lot from engineers these days. I used to work 80-90 hours per week frequently when I was in my 20s. It was fun at the beginning because I enjoyed the technical challenges and I didn’t have much of a social life anyway. Eventually, I got married and I didn’t want this kind of work commitment. It isn’t compatible with a happy family life especially after you have kids. I wanted to spend the weekend with my son, not my coworkers.

Engineering can also be very stressful when the deadline is looming. Companies will inevitably demand “all hands on deck” to push a product out the door. Working long hours in a stressful environment is a young person’s game. I couldn’t work from 8 am to 10 pm anymore. Well, I guess some older engineers like it, but I don’t. I’d rather work at my own pace so self-employment is the way to go.

Many engineers get burned out from the stress and long hours. This is why we see so many engineers transition out of R&D. There are exceptions of course. Some engineers achieved FI and they can pick and choose the work they want. They can say no to overtime and not worry about the annual performance review. One of our readers, Freebird, is at this point in his career and he’s enjoying engineering again.

Above-average pay

Engineers are paid relatively well early in their careers. I got several promotions in my 20s and my salary increased very quickly at the beginning of my career. The pace slowed down dramatically in my 30s. This means engineers can start saving and investing earlier than many other professions. It also means engineers get disgruntled in their 30s unless they move on to management.

I started saving in my 401k and Roth IRA right out and school and maxed them out soon after. Those accounts are the foundation of our retirement savings. As my income grew, I invested in our dividend portfolio, rental properties, and real estate crowdfunding. These passive income streams are instrumental to my early retirement.

Engineers who can control their lifestyle inflation should be able to retire early because they have an early start with investing.


Most engineers are trained to think logically and advanced mathematics is a requirement in school for us. The concept of compounding is easy for us to understand and it encourages us to invest early. The longer you invest, the more money you’ll have in retirement. This is a simple concept that a lot of people don’t understand. We also know we need to save for retirement. It’s a simple calculation. If you don’t save now, you won’t have money later. It’s logical.

Also, all engineers love optimization and that carries over to our personal finance. I’m always looking for ways to optimize our monthly bills. If you don’t watch much cable TV, then get rid of it and enjoy shows on DVD or the internet. Most people don’t like changes and will stay with the same plan even if there are more affordable options. Engineers will actively look for ways to optimize their life.  That makes us more frugal naturally.

Lastly, we can understand the 4% rule which is very important for early retirement. Basically, you can withdraw 4% from your portfolio and it should last 30+ years. It isn’t that complicated. Engineers also know that you need to build some margin into every scenario. 25x annual expense might not be enough for 50+ years of retirement so I saved up 30x. Engineers are good with numbers and problems solving. These calculations are second nature for us.

Unassuming Lifestyle

Most engineers have an unassuming lifestyle because we don’t have to impress clients and co-workers. I only wore a suit to work once in my 16 years career. Yes, it was for the interview. You probably don’t even need a suit today. The workplace dress code is super casual now.

Most engineers wear jeans and a t-shirt, drive economy cars, and life in a modest home. That keeps our monthly expenses down to a reasonable level. Lawyers and finance people have to dress the part and drive nice cars to impress their clients. Engineers don’t need to spend a lot of money to impress people. The boss only cares about the result, not what we wear.

Other professions

So, what do you think? Is engineering the best career for early retirement? It’s the combination of everything above that pushed and pulled me to early retirement. Of course, only a few engineers choose this path. Most engineers just change careers and continue to work in the corporate world. That’s good too. We need productive engineers to develop more new gadgets.

What other careers are a good fit for early retirement – say before 50? Let’s stick with regular careers that anyone can get into and skip sports stars and other entertainment careers.

Best careers for early retirement

  • Investment banking/high finance – The finance people get paid much better than engineers and they work crazy hours, too. They know the value of investing and this gives them the option to retire early. Investment banking is a great career if you want to go hard and burn out early.
  • Police officers and firefighters – I think police officers and firefighters can get their pension pretty quickly so retiring at 50 is a good possibility.
  • Entrepreneurs – If you strike gold with a popular product, you can easily retire early. Most entrepreneurs probably would continue to work, though. Real entrepreneurs never stop working completely.
  • Oil industry, seaman  – Great pay, but a lot of travel and long hours.
  • Military, teachers, federal jobs, and other careers that offer early retirement. Most of these jobs offer early retirement at 55 if you put in the time.
  • Law – Good pay, but long grueling hours. Probably need to spend a lot of money to keep up appearance. That’s another advantage of being an engineer. We can wear casual clothes and drive beaters. Nobody cares what engineers wear.
  • Airline pilots – Good pay and career may not last long. See John’s comment below.
  • ??? – help me out!

Worse careers for early retirement

Bonus – some careers that are terrible for early retirement.

  • Physicians – It takes forever to become a doctor and you will most likely have a ridiculous amount of student loan. Doctors make a lot of money, but they invested so much time and money to become a doctor. Most of them probably would hesitate to retire early.

Interestingly, there are many physician-focused early retirement blogs now. Doctors get burned out pretty quickly too. They also have high incomes. If they can control their lifestyle, they could save a huge amount and retire early.

Okay, I need some help with this list. What do you think are the best careers for early retirement?

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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95 thoughts on “The Best Careers for Early Retirement”

  1. I would add Nursing to your list. While it doesn’t make way more than average, it does pay more than most people make. Also, unlike Doctors RNs can get their education relatively cheaply. All you need is an Associate’s Degree to start in the field, and there is no absolute need to get any more education. Total cost of college for nursing can be less than $15,000. Then there are a good amount of scholarships specifically for nursing because it is a high demand field. It also ranks high on list of Best Jobs. I could go on, but think this field is worth mention.

  2. I’m currently debating on going for Electrical Engineering. I recently graduated at a tech college for Electrical Technology and I am working as an electrician earning hours for my Journeyman exam. I am 21 years old and was wondering should I drop everything and pursue a bachelors degree in EE or keep working as an electrician? Any input would be appreciated thanks.

    • Do you like being an electrician? You guys make a pretty good income, right? If you want to be a business owner, you probably should stay in that field. You can open up a business later.
      If you don’t love being an electrician, then you should try out the EE program. You might like it better.
      You’ll spend a ton of time in front of a computer, though. That’s a big change.

      • Yeah, I don’t mind being an electrician, it’s the occasional grunt work I don’t like. The only thing holding me back from EE is going through college again and taking more challenging classes.

  3. I want to clarify something and sorry in advance if someone has alluded to this. I’m a teacher in CA and while you can retire at 55 it’s only if you have 30 years in. By doing so, however, it greatly affects your pension as you are penalized. I’m under a full (2% X # of years worked X salary) pension plan at 60 but with reform a few years back it’s now at 2% at 62 for newer workers. So, for example say a 60 year old teacher making $80,000 in CA retires and has 30 years in teaching. His/her pension would be $48,000. That doesn’t go to far in southern CA.

    Police used to be able to get out at 50 if they had 30 years in. Their pension was based like the above example but instead of 2% it was 3%. So if you started when you were 20 you’d have 90% of your pay at 50 years old. That was the best deal as far as pensions are concerned . That’s changed too. Depending when you started it could be 3% at 55, 2.7% @ 57, 2.5% @ 55 or 2.5% at 57. Either way, those are much better than teachers retirements.

    I’m not writing this as a complaint or whining, just factual info.

    • Thank you for your input. I knew pensions are getting a reduction, but didn’t know the extent of it. The future will be more difficult because everyone lives longer now. Pension funds will be under a lot of pressure.

  4. A lot of optimism around early retirement was mostly due to the stock market bull run from 2012. If the stock market goes sideways or recession hits wondering what will happen then

    • I think this applies to younger FIRE enthusiasts. Older people like me already went through the great recession. We’re pretty conservative. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the FIRE movement when the next recession hits.

  5. Ditto on government. My sister retired from the feds at 57. For me, insurance. Never the highest paid, but never was out of work as my tech friends often were. Didn’t need more than a BA. After ten years in it it finally paid OK. But I’ve just given my notice to leave 4/1 after 33 years in the industry. I’m only 55 but I know I’ve got more than enough to be fine. The investment guy agrees. Obamacare still there and if it goes away I’ll just move abroad until Medicare. So, I’ve set it in motion. It can be done with insurance. Though I did also flip houses on the side in the 90s.

  6. This is a fascinating question. I think the best professions for early retirement would be relatively high-paying blue-collar jobs — like plumber, electrician, etc. — that don’t require college. You would not only save the financial cost of college, but also the four years of opportunity cost. I happen to know two plumbers, and both make very good salaries — one of them over 100k a year. A skilled blue-collar worker who can live on 40k a year and starts working at the age of 18 should easily be able to retire by his or her mid 30’s.
    It’s so funny, because most of us were raised with this idea that college is an essential step to wealth, but the FIRE movement and its ethos of frugal pragmatism and understanding the value of time have really turned that on its head. Paying $100,000 and 4 years of your life doesn’t necessarily get you ahead in the quest for early retirement — it may well put you behind.

  7. As a lawyer, another downside is that it is generally 7 years of school before you are in the workforce. This amount of schooling means more student loans for many and starting later to save. Then, new lawyers are frequently not very well paid (there are exceptions in some very large cities). It can take 10 years to build up your practice or seniority.

  8. Since early retirement hinges on the savings rate, choosing a career path that is going to net you 2x the cost of living in an area is a good start (50% savings rate). Focusing on frugality is one angle, but the perks of having a solid income are huge. For us, we increased that income by going freelance and cutting out the overhead associated with an employer.

  9. I was an accountant, not exactly high finance, but close enough to one of the professions on your updated list of professions. I boosted the income side by working overseas which had a better salary and much lower taxes.
    Slightly different to your article which was about professions, I’d be interested to see if there are some other factors that are particularly common in FIRE people. So not thinking about their jobs, their education or income etc, but perhaps looking at their personality and emotional traits etc to see if their is a common thread.

  10. i wrote one up once about being able to retire early from a blue collar manufacturing job. our place is probably like the intel plant where the line workers get paid pretty well. i know plenty of h.s. educated folks at my job who work in production and make over 100k regularly. they didn’t need student loans and lots of them started in their early 20’s. the only issue is having the sense and savvy to save and invest those big overtime dollars. i ought to give seminars in the union office on this to the rank and file.

  11. As creative people involved in artistic professions, my husband and I don’t know as much about careers in STEM. This was a very helpful article for me as a mom (my oldest is in high school and starting to consider his career options).

    At this point, he’s leaning towards engineering in some form. It suits his personality and strengths and we also like the lifestyle aspects. As you mentioned in the article, engineers tend not to care about flashy lifestyles. This in itself would make someone a lot wealthier—to NOT surrounded by people who are always upgrading and spending on fancy things.

    All of this inside knowledge is so helpful! Again, thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts. My eyes have been opened!

  12. I agree that being a physician can delay your ability to make money (by almost a decade) and that there is a high debt burden on top of that but if you are dedicated, there is a good chance you can retire by your late 40s early 50s. It is incredibly difficult however to retire early than your 40s just because of the late start.

    I certainly am on the FIRE path and hope to exit by my mid 50s.

  13. Thomas Stanley of ‘Millionare Next Door’ fame lists example occupations conducive to wealth generation: self-employed business owners, executives of privately held corporations, educators, engineers, supermarket/discount store managers, mathematicians, scientists, regional planners, writers, actuaries, property managers, farmers, and farm managers.

    Those working in high-income, high-status professions (doctor, lawyer, finance), tend not to efficiently accumulate wealth.

  14. Thanks for all the great info… The countdown for my retirement is now less than 4 months… Dec. 31st, 2015….. 50 years old…. Look at sales for a career, I have been a commercial insurance broker for 25 years. While I have a university degree, I am surrounding by most with nothing more than a high school education but excel at sales…. Where else can a 30-40 year old generate $200,000 plus annually. Be smart and you can sock it away … The problem I see is, as you outline, living over their means….. They need for cars, big houses, seasonal homes and divorces keep them handcuffed…… Save early and let it grow….

  15. I also prefer to work at my own pace and self employment is the way to go for me at present. I’m planning to retire at my 40, building a huge passive income with several online businesses. I’m still working on that. Because this will change not only my own, but my family’s life as well.

    Thank you for your investigation and sharing your opinion regarding careers which are best for early retirement. I’m always interested in such topics.

  16. Technical Sales can do well. I work in specialty chemical sales and it pays very well due to repeat business. There are other perks like making my own schedule and living 500 miles from my boss.

  17. I’m an airline pilot, which I believe can be an ideal career for early retirement. Earnings are quite good once you’re in the majors, which you should achieve by age 25 – 30 if you start straight out of school like I did. There are loads of part-time and contract flying opportunities worldwide to sustain yourself post-retirement if necessary.
    Like engineers, pilots are also generally logical and disciplined in the way they approach their financial lives and most pilots I know are very responsible with their finances. Although the vast majority of airline pilots select aviation because of an inherent passion for the profession, the high demands of the modern airline industry can be a real killer and many (including me) would prefer flying on his/her own terms for leisure or to fly professionally on a part-time basis.
    Due to the rigorous medical requirements a pilot is always at risk of losing his/her medical certification, especially with age. A full-time airline pilot’s working lifestyle may be among the most unhealthy of any profession – high stress-levels, irregular and long working shifts, constant jet lag, cosmic and solar radiation, long periods of complete physical inactivity, etc. Not to mention the toll a flying career can have on family life.
    The downsides are that a lot of pilots may have large training/student debts given how expensive the qualification (licence) is, and the fact that pilots tend to strongly link their identity to their careers. I would plan very carefully before taking the leap, including considering whether I would be able to engage in some type of flying post-retirement in order to get that fix.

    • That’s a great input. I will add it to the list. I didn’t know pilots are always at risk of losing their job.

  18. Air Traffic Controller is a great early retirement career! It’s hard to break into (and required to get in before age 31) but can retire between age 46-50 depending on hiring age and years of service. I’m eligible at 48 but still hoping to go much sooner!

    …Although you have to deal with being a government employee and everyone wanting to cut your job every time a budget comes into question.

  19. I think you hit the nail on the head. I am an engineer and I been thinking about early retirement, the number doesnt quite make sense yet. So I might need to put in a few more years of drudge work. And I been wanting to start a blog to make some side income. When I got out of college I had a hard time finding work, once I got an engineer job it was super stressful and unstable. So I save more than minimum because I dont know how long I will last at the job. Now I am at the inflection point where I dont want to specialize in something, because that will put my career in the corner. And I dont want to get into management, because I am not good at managing people. So I am thinking sales or project engineer, but then business dont hired people unless they have specific experience. So I am just chilling and wait to see what next for my career.

  20. I think a higher paying job that you hate would be a good one to get into early retirement. I however work in retail which is good and bad. First I hate it so that gives me a strong motivation to save everything I can in order to retire early. Second, it is flexible and you can almost easily go from full time to part time to retired, so for instance I used to work 40 to 50 hours a week until I had enough debt paid off that I no longer needed to and I moved down to 38 then 36 and now I work at around 34 hours a week all because retail is something that you can work as much or as little as you want.

    • How’s the pay in retail? Can you save enough to retire early? Transitioning to part time sounds like a good plan.

  21. Anything in sports. That should be retire by 30. The only difference almost no athlete is trained to handle money as so many overspend and go bankrupt.

  22. Don’t forget government employment! I can only speak to federal in the DC area, but it’s a pretty sweet gig if you can get it. Fairly high pay, especially for people with degrees in underwater basket weaving (like me), high job security, low stress, good benefits, the TSP, and a pension. And you get promoted pretty quickly, at least through the junior ranks. Plus, most people who aren’t at the very senior levels don’t have to work overtime, and if we do, we get paid for it.

    This last point is pretty important, I think. I have cousins who work on Wall Street and likely make over 2x what I do, but they probably have to work 80-90 hours a week for it and be “on call” all night and weekends, assuming they’re actually at home on Saturdays. So really, are they still making that much more than me for the effort? Plus, a lot of those high-flying jobs like corporate lawyer or investment banking have high pressure to “live the image”–fancy house, fancy car, fancy clothes, etc. You may not get promoted if you don’t look the part. And if you’re working 80 hours a week, you’re probably eating a lot of takeout and hiring someone to clean your house and do your laundry (no joke, they have services that will pick up your laundry, wash it, fold it, and return it. I only recently learned this was an actual thing). So, are they really saving much more than me? Maybe even less than me. Meanwhile, I can waltz into work in a $15 dress, no makeup or manicures, and an old car and no one bats an eye–much like engineers!

    Of course, the government is full of spendypants people as well, who are not taking advantage of any of these benefits, but that’s true everywhere. There was an article on fedsmith a little while ago on TSP millionaires (apparently there are only a few hundred) and the comments were priceless. Lots of “there’s no way you could ever be a millionaire on a government salary!” I will never be a TSP millionaire, but only because I’m planning on leaving about 20 years early. I’d easily be one if I stayed until 65, without even trying.

    • Government job is pretty good too. I think the earlier they can retire is 55, right? Unless there is a special deal.
      Only a few hundred TSP millionaires? That’s surprising to me. If you max out TSP, you should get there.
      If you leave at 45, you won’t get any pension, right?

      • The minimum retirement age for anyone who started working after 1970 is 57. You’ll get a pension as long as you worked longer than 5 years. Congress keeps threatening to mess with the formula though, so I’ve solved this problem by not counting any pension payments in my planning. Initial calculations indicate I’ll probably gross about $17k/yr, assuming I wait until 62 to start collecting (like Social Security, they knock you if you start early). If I stayed until 62 and made it to the top of the GS pay scale, it would be $63k, which is already more than we spend each year. So I see no reason to stick it out 🙂

        I’ve been spending way too much time on the OPM website the last few months trying to figure all this stuff out.

  23. I think the big thing is to focus on those hobby incomes as soon as one starts to work. Siphon off that extra money into retirement and investments to make it a lot easier to reach that early retirement.

  24. I too have found the parallel that many in the early retirement crowd and PF blog sites are engineers. Pete at MMM is a good example.

    I think another category you could add is Software. There are a variety of different roles one could do in that field. Some examples would be Engineering, Sales Support, Development, Sales, and for the most money or perhaps least money – Ownership. 🙂

    My career has been a blend of Software and Finance, with my rental real estate as my side hustle. That is how we will make it to early retirement.

  25. Love the article, Joe! We are a couple of engineers looking to retire early, so I guess we fit right in with this article. I think the above-average pay definitely helps, but you hit the nail on the head with the logical thinking aspect. I am sometimes accused of thinking too logically!

    The idea of retiring (really) early seems so crazy that I guess most people dismiss it. As an engineer, I see it as a problem that needs to be solved. We’ll see if we can do it in 10 years!

    -Mr. Retire by 35

  26. I think there’s a lot of engineer early retirees because the majority of them have the same personality trait. Specifically, the TJ traits (Myers-Briggs). Anybody with the Thinking and Judging preference is sure to be logical, organized and like to plan ahead. If you have an ESFP who went into engineering b/c of pressure from their parents, I can almost guarantee this engineer will not be an early retiree. lol. And if you have an INTJ who was pressured to go into medicine (parents again), there’s a higher chance this person will retire earlier relative to the ESFP engineer! Real life example, btw. On a different note, is your taxable account (where you hold your dividend stocks) with Vanguard? Any benefits of one broker over another for taxable accounts? I am looking at Vanguard, Charles Schwab and Scottrade right now. Perhaps this could be a topic for a blog post?

    • That’s a good point. I wonder if early retirees have similar personality type.
      No, my dividend stock is with Firstrade. I don’t think there are much difference between discount brokers.I have my retirement fund at Vanguard so I might consolidate at some point. Vanguard is great if you like Vanguard funds.

  27. It does seem many in the extreme early retire group were engineers. If you consider 50s early retirement, which most in the mainstream do, then government jobs definitely are #1 if you have the years. Pensions are rare these days. I will have one if I stay to 55 or so, but I’m hoping for retirement in my 40s….not sure it’ll happen though. Law can be tough…unlike engineering, attorneys require a JD and student loans make early retirement tougher plus most burnout at the big law firms which have the high paying jobs. Not all lawyers make the big bucks like the media portrays it.

  28. I’ve found my path, which took me from software engineering to sales engineering to sales. Sales enabled me to double my salary between 2007 and 2015 and make some great income. I’ve invested the increase into real estate, buying 2 rental homes with cash in addition to maxing out my 401K (without a match). We paid off our primary residence as well. It’s been a great career path, very enjoyable work overall, and I am visualizing 10 years to a great early retirement (admittedly that’s retirement by 52, not 40), maybe earlier with a couple big deals along the way.

    • I was waiting for this to be mentioned. Sales is a great path towards early retirement. Pay for results. Some of the best paid people in the world are in sales. Extra work, extra pay, extra investments, extra years of retirement.

  29. Joe,

    I am microtechnical engineer and I fully agree with you, engineering studies are providing the best growing opportunities in term of career and FI.

    I just get a promotion, looking forward the contract to check the pay check increase… Clearly more responsabilities, but new challenges and learning as well.



  30. I gotta say a military retirement is the surest way to early retirement. You can easily retire at 38 (after 20 years straight outta high school). Guaranteed yearly raises based on cost-of-living. Free health care for life. Free college for dependents (assuming you transfer your GI Bill). And, many retirees get compensation for some ailment or disability they have from their service years.

    I sometimes wonder why I didn’t retire (I left after 7 years). But, I think I’m happier now that I would’ve been in service.


    • “I sometimes wonder why I didn’t retire (I left after 7 years). But, I think I’m happier now that I would’ve been in service.” Just out of curiosity, why do u say this?

  31. I think I.T. professionals (programmers, etc..) would also be a good field for early retirement. Yes, it’s a job that can be outsourced but it’s also a location-independent job with flexibility and someone who is used to that life would probably be flexible enough to go part-time.
    I also think Engineering and I.T. professionals may be less status conscious than other high-paying professions. If you’re a doctor, lawyer, finance analyst etc.. you’ re more likely to value appearances and keeping up with the Joneses.

    • I include IT in the engineering field so I didn’t specifically point them out. You’re right about being less status conscious. Most of us don’t care about keeping up appearance.

  32. The tech field does seem over represented among early retirees. High earning potential and ease of living a funky, somewhat alternative lifestyle? In our house, we also have an investment banking/finance type with Mrs. RoG (though she’s not earning a Wall St. salary since we live in Raleigh). But hey, it works for us!

    I’m with you on doctors being a bad choice for early retirees. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but the extra 8 or so years after a bachelors degree before commencing the earning of the big bucks means a lot of lost opportunity to earn and save. I retired at 33 right about the time many of my high schools friends were finishing their residency or specialty training, for example. Sure, their earnings potential is way higher. And if earning $5 million or $10 million is your goal, being a doctor and aiming for a retirement at 50 years old isn’t a bad idea.

    • You got a great point about the funky lifestyle. Engineers don’t have to keep up appearance like lawyers and finance people. We can wear jeans and drive a 20 years old car to work and that’s normal. Our lifestyle is understated and that’s expected. I should add this to the main post.
      Yeah, you lost all those years that you could be compounding. Hopefully most doctors didn’t get into it because of money. 🙂

      • I’m doing my part to open the doctors’ eyes to the FIRE concept. I would agree with you, though. It makes little sense to spend about 12 years (the last 8 of which are very intense) to learn a trade, then only practice that trade for a short time. Early retirement is possible, but not at all practical by 40. Retiring by 50 is more reasonable early retirement goal for a physician, but even that requires a financial discipline that many physicians lack.

  33. Thank you for this post! It really resonates with me too as an engineer. When I was a junior engineer, I was outside 80 percent of the time and doing field work like surveying or supervising construction sites and ‘playing in the mud’ collecting samples. 13 years later, my time was 80 percent dedicated to meetings, calls, and travelling to more meetings! I’ve taken the self employment path now and choosing work/projects where I can always learn and grow as long as it is fun.

    As for other careers where you can retire early, I think accountants is another logical profession – good with numbers and money:). I also notice nurses retiring early and doing something different.

    • Being a junior engineer can be a lot of fun. It’s too bad we can’t stay on the technical side. Self employment is the next step for those of us who like to dictate our own work. Thanks!
      Nurses is a good one. I will add it to the list.

  34. If you ever change your mind about engineering I can put in a word for you at Inatrode.

    I’ll second So. Law can be good, but it’s important to make your dough early, save and invest in order to give yourself flexibility later on to do something you find more interesting or be able to cut your hours.

      • I may have gotten the name wrong of the engineering firm from Office Space where Michael and Samir went after quitting Initech. From which comes basically the extent of my knowledge of computer engineering. Oh well, failed attempt at a movie quote.

  35. Joe, wow memories, my first look at a PC was on my Dad’s desk at work, a Radio Shack TRS80. It had a BASIC interpreter and a demo program that was the first shooter game I ever saw, trying to hit targets zipping across the screen like skeet. I tweaked it a bit and thought the whole thing was awesome, but little did I realize its growth potential!

    I think a couple of bonus features associated with an engineering career make early retirement more attainable– first, income tends to be front-loaded meaning most engineers I know got their largest and most frequent raises in their 20s and 30s. Many of us in our 40s and 50s go years with minimal bumps. Second, the personality type that is able to finish an engineering curriculum is typically one that has the self-discipline to defer gratification. Nerds weren’t the frat house party animals (not at my college anyway), but they have a special ability to create a well thought out plan and execute it. You can tell whether a building is used by engineering R&D or sales/marketing by looking at the cars in the parking lot.

    But I think you nailed it, probably the main driver towards early retirement is the way the engineering career evolves over time. Many of my middle-aged colleagues enjoy work less over time because of the issues you mentioned– having to deal with people problems like coaching and office politics rather than design or solving technical problems, and rapid obsolescence in high technology. While most may start their careers in R&D, many will move to derivative paths like supervision, finance, or consulting. And the persistent heavy workload takes a toll, those all-nighters were easy and maybe even fun as an undergrad or new-hire, but it gets old fairly quickly.

    Finance careers I think are a mixed bag, it probably works best for those who can make but not drink the kool-aid; a big kill too early can addict them to money ball for life. You can probably add military to the other public services because of quicker access to pension income. On the difficult side, I’d agree with doctors and lawyers, but I know of pharmacists who made the grade. They control hours more than working conditions, so they often dip to part time to transition to early retirement. I don’t know of any ERs from academia– if anything many college professors seem to work into their 70s or even 80s. Of course for these people it’s almost always a positive force that keeps them on the payroll.

    • That’s a good point about the front load raises. I got a lot of raises when I first started and they tapered off in my 30s. Other careers seem to have more consistent, but smaller raises. So the peak earning years is much more concentrated in their 50s. R&D is a lot of fun when you’re young. It would be fun when you’re older too if you can pick and choose what to work on and when.
      I agree about finance careers. Most high income earners have a hard time living below their means. Engineers are more logical and we probably don’t care as much about status.

  36. Another engineer checking in and your career path sounds similar to mine, except I decided that I didn’t want to be in R&D and went for customer front facing role. I’ve recently transition my position to learn more things but not engineering related. I’m totally with you, it’s challenging to stay in R&D forever unless you want to be a specialist.

    Not sure how many lawyers end up retiring early. That might be an interesting data to find out.

    • Good luck with your new position. It’s good to get out of engineering.
      I haven’t seen much from lawyers, but I don’t have time to read that much these days.

  37. Retiring early as a real estate investor is a great way to do it. Maybe that is an Entrepreneur? Of course developing seed capital, from a scientific degree, engineering or IT, is a great way to start.

    A military retirement is also early, and the pension has a COLA and free health care.

    • I think being a real estate investor is a great way to retire early too. But, that’s not really a career, is it? It’s more of a side job or investment. That’s why I didn’t put in on the list.

  38. Teachers are similar to police officers and fire fighters, and can get their full pension at age 55. Some get a state pension and one from their school district. If you start teaching right out of college, you will do well. Unfortunately, I started teaching in my 40’s, and live in Wisconsin where things have drastically changed. My brother is a teacher for the Federal Government, even better.

    • Thanks for the input. Isn’t it tough to be a teacher until you’re 55? I bet a lot of teachers felt stuck in their career. Of course, there are great teachers that enjoy the career too. Mrs. RB40’s mom was a teacher and she retired around 60.

    • I agree military way to go, if you join at 18, you can retire at 38, and if you go to a federal job afterwards, put in another 10, retire at 48, with 30 years of a retirement and then because of military you get your healthcare for the rest of your life for min. yearly payment, now its close to 400 a year for full healthcare for you and partner…free meds, no copayments if care is a military facility,also if you do not use your education benefit with the military, you can pass off to your child for towards their education…

  39. I agree with doctor being on the lower end for retiring early. I did 7 years total to be a pharmacist and came with lots of debt! The average age of my graduating class was 30 years old before they even made any real income! Easily 100K + debt if you do not have parents to help you out.

    • 7 years isn’t that bad at all. It seems like my brother was in school forever to become a doctor. Then you have to do internship for so many years. It takes too long to start making good income. There is a big opportunity lost when you can’t save any money in your 20s.

      • Hi joe,
        I enjoy ur site.

        What kind of a doctor is ur brother?

        I know most doctors that go into surgical subspecialties, anesthesia, or gi make around 500k and up to millions.

        I think the bigger issue is that a doctor feels a certain minimal life style is deserved. “Heck, I’m a doctor. I should drive this car or live in this neighborhood” mentality. Basically, keeping up w peers and public expectations.

        If a person was strictly focused on an early retirement, and was willing to live on 100k a yr(which to most ppl is plenty) and that life style, most docs could retire at 40-50yo for sure.

        I know that the main reason a doctor doesn’t retire at 45yo is because of lifestyle choices and not because of debt/loans. So it definitely should not be discouraged as the “worst career for early retirement”. If a med student was solely focused on that goal, they could easily retire in their 40s and with a higher standard of living than a teacher, policeman, fireman, federal job, military, nurse, etc. (From your list)

        • He’s in the ER. I’m sure he’ll transition to something else pretty soon. Maybe urgent care?
          He’s been doing well so far with living under his means. It’s tough in silicon valley because housing is so expensive.

      • Yeah 7 years is not bad. The fastest you can become a pharmacist is 5 years if you know how to navigate the system and go to a accelerated program and forgo a residency.

        The longer track would be 4 years bachelors (most pharmacists these days), 4 more years for doctorate (pharmacy school), then an additional 1-3 years of residency to specialize

  40. Blogging isn’t on there? Seems like everyone who has retired early is a professional blogger. Definitely agree with you on how engineering career can lead to early retirement.
    Pharmacist/ health care is another subset that can lead to early retirement. Also I know a lot of folks in the military that are able to retire early to collect their benefits. Many of them work as a contractor or are self employed. Keep up the good posts- Chef

    • I don’t think of blogging as a traditional career. It’s pretty tough to make enough money to support yourself as a blogger. 🙂 Blogging is a great bridge to retirement, though. Thanks!

  41. Law’s OK if you have a high-powered job at the start of your career and can get through school with minimal loans. It’s a bit like I-banking with about 75% of the hours and 50% of the $.

    • Seaman sounds good too. I know they make pretty good money, but it has to be tough on the family to spend all that time away from home.

  42. Anything in oil! I’m from an oil rich country and know of many working in oil. My dad knows of someone who retired in his late 20s, bought a boat and sailed around the world. I also know of a LOT of people (personally) making 5 figures a MONTH via the oil industry (you may have to travel, though, if you are offshore)

    • I don’t know much about the oil industry. Is this a field anyone can get into? I guess oil rig workers make pretty good money.

  43. The best retirement career, in my opinion, is one related to an Engineering degree and an MBA (which I have).

    When you go into an MBA program, the university issuing the degree wants you to believe that MBA stands for “Mercedes Benz Awaiting.” After I got my MBA and went out into the real world, I realized that MBA stands for “Means Bugger All.”

    That’s why I decided to semi-retire when I had a net worth of MINUS $30,000 (due to student loans). People (particularly those with Engineering degrees and MBAs) told me that this was impossible. I proved them wrong.

    And don’t get be going about people with PhD’s. They should definitely take early retirement. These are my 10 stabs at what “PhD” stands for:

    * Potential hardship Deserved
    * Personality highly Deformed
    * Pacemaker has Damage
    * Possibly half Dead
    * Probably hardened Defeatist
    * Post honorary Depression
    * Position hardly Deserved
    * Perplexed hardstruck Dummy
    * Permanent hang-around Degree
    * Person harbors Delusions

    Don’t believe me? Below is an email that I actually received from an Associate Professor with a PhD at University of Canberra, Australia:

    “Dear Mr Zelinski,

    My name is Kishor. I am an Associate Professor at the University of Canberra, Australia.

    I have done a number of books focusing on college students (about college major/research) but not a single copy of any books have been selling (except that I have given away a few copies as gifts). I have invested a significant amount of time and money in this business but to no avail.

    As I read in one of the blogs where you said [book] marketing is about entertainment and there are at least 100 ways to do book marketing without having to use Facebook, the purpose of this email is to touch base to request you for your advice. Specifically, I would like to know if you have written any books or article on book marketing.

    While I understand your target market is very broad, I thought some students (or their parents) would come across my books on Amazon and buy one or two copies a day/week but this is not happening.

    I would very much appreciate if you could point me in the right direction.


    Bottom line: This guy has not sold even one copy of his books. Don’t you think that he should stop writing books and take early retirement?

  44. I work in supply chain management with strategic purchasing for a global company. I think this is a very good field for early retirement since it usually pays good and the main focus is more or less always to cut cost and optimise the supplier base. If you translate this in to you private financial area you will easily start to cut out unnecessary spend, compare alternatives and make long term plans. We also have a good understanding of numbers and the magical effect of compounding as well as a healthy mindset regarding return on investment.

    • That’s a great way to bring work home. 🙂 Are you planning to retire early? It sounds like being in supply chain management will give you a good financial background to do so. Are there any compelling reason to leave that career?


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