A 64-year-old who hasn’t touched his savings in 5 years of semi-retirement has 2 suggestions for anyone wanting to retire comfortably

  • James R. has been semi-retired for five years. He lives on part-time income from an online teaching job, and hasn’t had to dip into his retirement accounts yet. 
  • He found that because he already lived simply, spent little, and stayed out of debt before retiring, his retirement transition was simple. 
  • He would tell anyone wanting to retire soon to start buying less and consider paying off their mortgage
  • Business Insider is looking for retirement stories to feature in our Real Retirement series. If you’re in or nearing retirement and want to share, email
  • Read more personal finance coverage. 

After five years of being semi-retired, James R. hasn’t yet touched his retirement account. 

James, who asked not to use his full name to protect his privacy, is a college professor who retired from a full-time career in teaching at universities across the Midwest and Texas. He now lives with his wife in Minnesota, and still teaches part-time online. For a comfortable retirement, he says choosing the “simple life” over consumerism and being debt-free are key.

Live the simple life, and spend little

Living simply doesn’t mean giving up creature comforts — for James, 64, it’s about being happy with less. “The term ‘simple life’ means something very specific to some people,” he tells Business Insider. “For me, it’s not about growing a garden or anything like that. It’s about not having things you don’t need, and not spending money on a whim.” 

He says this lifestyle and mindset helped him avoid feeling a financial shock going into retirement. “There hasn’t been a big change in lifestyle with the semi-retirement,” he says. “My income dropped by a substantial amount, but not so much that I have to dip into the retirement account.” 

For him, living simply involves doing the things he enjoys, and spending only what he needs to. It’s always been that way. “My expenses before retirement compared to now have not changed that much,” James says. 

“We didn’t fly to Hawaii or to Europe before we retired. So, why would we think about doing it now? It’s just not normal for us,” he continues. Unlike other retirees who have changed their lives to travel, such as Edd and Cynthia Staton who moved to South America, or Karen and Joe Stermitz who sold their home to travel in a camper — James has decided to do what he’s always done.

“We’re more for staying in the Midwest, going on trips that involve driving few hundred miles,” he says. “We’re generally just living a low-key life.” For James, the philosophy is that less is more. 

Getting out of debt is key to an easy retirement

James and his wife paid off their mortgage 25 years ago. “We were already debt-free; that was normal for us,” he says. Going into retirement with no debt, he felt much more free.  

“The American way is to be in debt,” he says. The average US household has about $38,000 worth of debt not including mortgages, according to CNBC’s Megan Leonhardt. According to data from credit reporting bureau Experian, the average mortgage loan balance among borrowers in the US sits at $202,284 as of July 2019. 

James suggests that anyone wanting to retire easily should consider paying off their mortgage and being debt-free before retiring. “If you’re going to be retired or semi-retired, it would be a lot more comfortable if you weren’t paying a mortgage,” he says. 

Living simply and being debt-free made James’ transition from a full-time to part-time income seamless, he says. “Retirement didn’t require any major adjustments because my normal life accommodated this change without difficulty.”

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