Retired at 50

Is it possible for someone who doesn't run a hedge fund or win the lottery to retire at 50 (or so)? Yes. Five people explain how they did just that - and how they made the transition to full-time not working.

Nancy Mueller
Nancy Mueller
Age: 63
Retirement Age: 55
Residence: Palo Alto, Calif.
Career: Small business owner
"This is really my second retirement. In 1972, I stopped working as a chemist after my second child was born and started volunteering at a nonprofit restaurant that served quiche. That got me thinking about the need for appetizers.

"So, in 1977, I started to package petite quiche appetizers and sell them to local grocery stores. In 1983, we got placement in Price Club and later in Sam's Club. We grew as they grew.

"My lifelong dream with my husband, a venture capitalist who never planned to stop working, was to someday sail the world. When he died in 1994, my business wasn't terribly big. By 1999, I had 350 employees, almost $60 million in revenues, and could make 11⁄2 million petite quiches in a day. But I was physically exhausted and ready for a break. And I still wanted to fulfill our dream.

"I hired an investment bank and sold the business in 1999 for a price that allowed me to finance building a boat and retiring. Now my money is in a smorgasbord of assets, managed by a financial consultant who makes sure I am diversified enough to weather market ups and downs.

"As for the boat , it is 140 feet long and accommodates eight people. I just got back from Vanuatu and will leave shortly for Western Samoa and Tonga. I am on it between six and seven months a year, almost always with friends. I love being on the boat, and I love photography, on land and underwater.

"As fate would have it, I am also a grandmother to three boys and a girl, and I like to see my 89-year-old mother, so I have the opposite pull on land. I spend a lot of time on airplanes. When I first retired, a group of my retired friends sat me down and said, 'Nancy, don't give your time away easily.' I have been very conscious of that, but my personality is, if I can do nine things, why can't I do ten? I like being busy."

John Greene

Nancy Mueller

Connie Davies

Bruce Entin

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