A Forbes article recently caught my eye by proclaiming that it is possible to retire in your 30s and travel the world. The article by Laura Begley Bloom went on to describe 33-year-old Anita Dhake, who is already enjoying retirement after spending a handful of years as a lawyer.
Because many of us (myself included) will never be lawyers with a cushy salary, one of the questions posed in the interview particularly caught my eye:
“Begley Bloom: I’m sure people will say, ‘She was a rich lawyer, so that made it easy.’ What about someone who is making $60,000 — or $30,000. Can they do it?
Dhake: Yes! It’s more about your savings rate than how much you earn. I knew people who made my salary and spent every penny. They will never retire. It will definitely be harder if you make less, but it’s doable. Embrace the thrifty lifestyle: You’ll find that you don’t need that much. I like to expand my worldview and realize that $30,000 is a fortune to a significant amount of the world. We take so much for granted. Get off the hedonistic treadmill and don’t buy stuff.”
Dhake’s comments got me thinking. We’ve convinced many young people today to head to college so that they can get a good job and earn a comfortable salary to support themselves for the rest of their life. Many of them dutifully follow this advice and take on loads of debt in the process.
But what if Dhake is correct in her assumption that a person can be successful and retire early on a salary as low as $30,000 simply by thrift and hard work? Does that not signal that spending exorbitant amounts of money to attend a college which will allegedly land a person in a dream job is not as necessary as we’ve been led to believe?
Another recent Forbes article noted that the U.S. is in sore need of skilled labor such as welders and carpenters. As the article points out, these types of jobs offer a comfortable salary with the benefit of minimal student debt and several years head start entering the workforce than the average college attendee:
“These jobs can pay well. Including overtime, welders can make more than $100,000 a year–and the lack of welders means there’s plenty of overtime. A welder will need a high school diploma or GED equivalent, followed by at least nine months of professional training. Private welding schools run about $16,000, but many junior colleges with a vocational focus offer training for far less. In financial terms the return on investment is terrific.”
Taken together, these two articles cause me to wonder if we are driving students toward success in the wrong way.
Instead of assuring students that the college path is the only way to success, would we be better off by teaching them the principles of wisdom and thrift, and then allowing them to decide how best to use those as they choose their future life’s path?
Instead of spurring them on toward frugal and wise living, have we taught students to look only for the glitter and the gold? Might they not find the glitter and the gold sooner if they learn to pursue alternative paths?
Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.