Anita Dhake takes ‘carpe diem’ to the next level, taking her dream nomad adventure now rather than later.
Anita Dhake retired about two years ago. Like most retirees, she spends her time reading, traveling and meeting friends for relaxed lunches. Unlike most retirees, she can fit nearly all of her possessions into a suitcase and she has no single place she calls home. She’s 35 years old, and she spent the first part of her adult life working hard as a lawyer, saving her money and investing it before selling everything she owned two years ago so she could retire and be free to embark on a nomad adventure for the rest of her life.
“I really love my life,” Dhake says. “I’m so happy I don’t have to get dressed and go in to work. There’s just so much in life to see and do, and people to talk to, so many things to experience. I just don’t know how I had time to work a job.”
Dhake is part of a small but certainly not silent group of people who describe themselves as FIRE: Financially Independent, Retiring Early. They typically work high-paying jobs, they don’t tend to have children, and they budget aggressively, living in small homes and saving every penny so that they can retire decades before the average person does.
Some have plans to retire and live off the land. Others want to move to faraway locales and surf daily. Others, like Dhake, simply want to be free to do as they please on a worldwide nomad adventure.
“They say youth is wasted on the young, but by all means if you can afford to retire, I see little wrong with doing so as early as you can afford to,” says Nevin Adams, chief retirement communications officer with USA Retirement, based in Arlington, Virginia.
But, he says, the larger concern is that people tend to underestimate things like their ability to invest and manage their savings in retirement. “Even today people are looking at retirements that will be as long as, or longer than, their working careers,” Adams says.
When Dhake was a corporate lawyer in Chicago, she was earning about $225,000 per year while spending $1,500 per month. She worked five years and saved money by living with a roommate, taking lunch to work and sharing clothing with her sister. Her total expenses over those five years totaled $100,000, which included her student loan, rent, vacations. Dhake’s only frequent splurge was coconut water.
Still, Dhake’s mother, Mira Dhake, says she was apprehensive about her daughter’s plans. “She always said she wanted to travel for a long time. I was nervous for her — I’m her mom. When she wants to do something, she will do it. But I’m always nervous for her.”
But Anita Dhake is confident everything will be fine. When she retired, Dhake had $700,000 squared away in the bank. But she knew $700,000 wouldn’t sustain her retirement forever. So she started to educate herself about investments.
“I read every investment book I could get my hands on,” she says. “I don’t pay anyone to invest my funds, and so far so good.”
Right now, she has about $800,000 in the bank, so she’s been making money.
Still, it’s hard to determine exactly how much you’d need to save for a retirement, especially if you’re planning on retiring that early.
Eric Neumann, a wealth management adviser in Skokie, suggests making financial goals for retirement online at sites like Choose to Save.
Another way to make your money go further is to move to a less expensive state or even outside the United States, Neumann says. “A $3 million investment could provide income of $10,000 for decades and possibly for life,” Neumann says. “A more common trend I have seen is moving to a lower-cost area outside the United States, retiring with less money and living off a smaller budget.” Neumann suggests Mexico or Panama.
Dhake didn’t choose a single spot to rest her solo suitcase. She’s been to more than 50 countries, staying in Airbnbs (“If you rent the Airbnb for a full week, it’s cheaper than paying by the night,” she suggests), hostels and even house-sitting. She says she’s constantly checking out Kayak for low-priced flights, she never eats out, and she buys low-cost foods at her local grocery store. “I just don’t need much,” Dhake says.
Dhake spent five rent-free months in other people’s homes in Denver via a house-sitting website. While there, she did what she called Operation Don’t Die Alone. “I feel lonely,” she says. “I think I’m optimistic and hopeful about it, but there are days when it gets lonely.” Dhake went on 40 dates in Denver, but they didn’t go so well. “The longer I’ve been retired, the harder it is for me to relate to people,” she says. “I don’t understand why people have two cars that they can’t pay for. People are very different from me.”
But while her romantic life isn’t blooming, Dhake appears to be doing well in other aspects of retirement. She wrote and self-published a book about retiring early, and she plans to write another one, this one about stoicism and how to deal with life, though she has five other ideas for the topic of her second book.
In a typical day, Dhake wakes around 10:00 a.m., after staying up late the previous night. She’s a natural night owl, and with no one else to set her sleeping and waking times, she does whatever she wants.
She’ll read, write and meet with friends. “I read a lot, maybe six to eight books a month,” Dhake says. “I do at least two hours of writing a day, and I’m planning trips all the time.”
When she was a lawyer, Dhake says she’d come home at the end of a long day and binge-watch Netflix. “Now I don’t need to be recharged that way anymore,” she says. “That was my biggest fear — that I’d sit on my couch doing nothing. But now I spend my time much more intentionally.” She’s got her bucket list items: write the next book, learn to cook, read, get a six-pack.
“I’m very lucky that I get to live this life,” Dhake says. But she also says others can do it too, if they have the willpower.
When she was working, Dhake says there were temptations all around, and it would have been easy to give up her retirement dreams. “You have to think about the bigger life that you want,” she says. “Remind yourself of the bigger goal, and it’ll be a lot easier to avoid the pitfalls every day.” Like everyone, she was tempted to hit the snooze button every morning, but she knew she had to make the money then in order to ignore the alarm clock for the rest of her life.
“I would say to myself, ‘Only $20,000 left,’ and I’d count down the days to the next paycheck that I needed until retirement,” Dhake says.