[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-88hSQUR4tw]A pretty accurate definition of retirement is doing what you want when you want to do it. In other words, it’s when you are able to start living life on your terms financially. The amount of time to reach this point varies from person to person, but it comes down to more than just what you make.

In fact, income is just a small part of retirement. What’s really more important are the decisions you make, especially those you make when you are young. Some examples of these choices are:

  • Marrying a spender. If you marry someone who likes to spend, it will likely set your retirement back years.
  • Staying married. Getting divorced is expensive, so do your best to find a partner you have a solid chance of staying with for life.
  • Having kids. Kids cost a fortune. The more kids you have, the less money you have left for retirement.

Nobody is suggesting you shouldn’t have kids, or that you should only marry a frugal partner. These statements are simply making a point that multiple factors go into retirement. Ultimately, you need to do what makes you happy; after all, why live the bulk of your life being miserable?

Here are several additional factors that play into retirement timing:

  • Where you live. Living in a big city costs more than living in a small city. Living on the coast costs more than living inland.
  • What you do with your money. The old adage “Keeping up with the Joneses” will keep you from retiring early in most cases if you succumb to the stereotype.
  • How you invest what you save. Taking some risk in the stock market historically outperforms ordinary savings accounts. Over a number of decades this can make a huge difference.

Bottom line, it’s possible to make less than your friends and still retire earlier. It doesn’t always come down to what you make. More often it comes down to how you save, how you live your life, and how much you need to get by both now and in the future.