My (very) early retirement at 33

Ed Hawkins decided a life of leisure would be wasted on his old age. So he opted to quit his job now and save the rat race for later. And he’s not the only one

Cast your eyes over your workplace. You might see 100 or so people. Statistically five of your busying or bone-idle brethren will be dead before they reach retirement age.

Could be you. Could be me, I thought. So at the age of 33, I decided to retire. Last August, I gave up my job as a journalist, rented out my London flat and with my girlfriend – who heartily agreed with the plan – moved to the south-west of France. Hectic city life and economic blues were swapped for country walks and fireside chats.

Fear – and yes, OK, a tinge of weariness – was the catalyst. I worried that I was wasting the best years of my life blinking at a computer screen. And that when eventually I did pack up work, I would have hours to kill but only aching, weary joints to strike a feeble blow.

Even the Office for National Statistics backs up this notion. The healthy life-expectancy of the average UK male is 74. This is three years younger than the recently-hiked state pensionable age. Besides, in these times of austerity who knows how long we may be forced to work... 70? 75?

The solution seemed obvious, if a little risky: retire now and work later. Youth is wasted on the young, they say… but surely retirement is wasted on the old?

Many will think us foolhardy, as did some of our friends and family, not to mention bosses. But I’ve discovered we’re not the only ones who’ve chosen to live like pensioners, decades before our time. Having been in France for six months, we’ve met other couples who want to enjoy life in their prime and received news of friends back home who’ve likewise ditched high- powered careers.

These are not work-shy layabouts or trustafarians, either. They are ambitious professionals in their mid-30s or early 40s.

As for me, I have worked hard. I started as a journalist at 17 and had not stopped since. Early shifts, night shifts, weekends, Bank Holidays and Christmases: check.

And what was it all for? I got halfway up the ladder and realised I’m afraid of heights – or to be precise, professional responsibility and the attendant drudgery. It should not matter that I feel this way. I am not married, I don’t have kids and am damn lucky to be solvent. This is the time to relish temporary freedom.

Any doubts, fortunately, were allayed when it transpired that with careful budgeting and income from my flat, a simple, stress-free life in France was a realistic possibility. Simple being the operative word. With a tight budget, the customary trappings of London life would have to be forgotten.  We found a cosy gîte near Toulouse and travelled down in our beaten-up VW camper, an obstinate vehicle that occasionally required a push start.

So here we are, having spent the winter wining, walking and reading books by the wood burner. Stress has been reduced to wondering whether the fire will condescend to spit and crackle into life.

The summer promises the chance to perfect my petanque game with the locals, to lounge by the pool and taking supper on sun-baked terraces.

Our friends joke that we are a “bit young to be living like pensioners”, but we counter that by telling them the daily grind seems a generation away.

Certainly those who have also opted out share that view. Yvonne and Iain Morton live in the next village and gave up their jobs as IT consultants in the City for la vie Francaise. They began a Grand Designs-style building project in 2003, converting disused tractor sheds into a home.  In 2009, when Yvonne, 43, took redundancy, they moved here full-time. Iain stopped work 18 months ago when he was 43.

“Working in the City was full-on,” Yvonne says. “I spent the last five years always on call. I travelled a lot and saw more of Heathrow than home. I was on my BlackBerry at six in the morning and   it was the last thing I checked at night. Enough was enough. So I’ve retired. Now we grow our own vegetables, go skiing in the Pyrenees in the winter or swim every day in the summer.

“It’s relatively cheap to live here. Baguettes, wines and cheese don’t cost that much. We have an income from rental flats in London so we don’t need to work. Iain takes on contract work now and then to keep his hand in or if it’s an opportunity to work with people he really likes. And I know I can always do the same.”

The ability to return to work was a safety net which allowed another friend, Leonora Landau, 33, to leave her job as a lawyer for “retirement” in Argentina. “I knew I could always return,” she says. “And I don’t believe these days that people have to stay in the same line of work for 30 years.

“This isn’t something older generations understand, though. When I told my dad, he said: “Don’t be so ridiculous”. I think he just couldn’t understand why I wanted to do it at this time of my life when I should be settling down. He’s worked in the same office for his entire career and couldn’t understand the concept of this break.”

Instead of returning to a “cold” London flat on a Monday night, Leonora was able to enjoy the “outdoor” culture of Buenos Aires. “You pack more into the days,” she says. “You eat late, have a drink outside at a bar or go to a tango club. It beats a grey, wet London.”

There are risks, of course. I am not as fortunate as Yvonne and Iain, who can take on a contract whenever they fancy. Work is certainly not guaranteed when I decide to return to London.

There is also a question mark about successful repatriation. If a job is found, how to overcome the daily grind of self-doubt, to tolerate the early-morning starts and office politics once more?

Still, it will surely be worth it for the sweltering Monday afternoons when I can sit by the pool with a vin rouge in hand, listening to the rustle of hazy vineyards.  Normally at that time I would be slumped at a desk, listening to the hack and whirl of the coffee machine. Now honestly, which would you prefer?

A longer working life

A man or woman in their early thirties will reach their state pension at 68, a year later than people in their 40s and two years older than those in their 50s.

The number of people taking early retirement in the UK is decreasing. Between December 2012 and February 2013, 1.37m people took retirement before the age of 65, down 109,000 from the same period the previous year.

The decrease reflects the gradual change to the state pension age  – from 60 up to 65 – for women born on or after 6 April 1950, resulting in fewer women retiring before turning 65.

The average life expectancy for a UK male is 78, with females outliving them by four years. But healthy life expectancy is just 64 for men and 66 for women, two or four years before 20 or 30-somethings get their state pension.

Imogen Blake

Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own