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Insights & Education

Meet Denzel, a 36-year-old assistant director of academic support at a university

Denzel is 36 years old and lives in Gilbert, Arizona. He’s been with a state university for about 10 years. Although he and his wife would like to live in the same area when they retire, they also have big travel plans. Losing his parents a few years ago was the impetus for working with a financial planner, but Denzel has been focused on financial priorities like paying down debts for a while now. Here he talks about how he’s currently saving for an early retirement and whether he thinks that could actually happen.

Read Denzel's interview below or listen here.

Let’s start with a forward-looking question: What does your dream retirement look like?

For me, a 55 to 58 age window would be the ideal retirement. Even upwards to 60. In terms of living, my wife and I appreciate the weather and outdoor opportunities where we currently live in Arizona, so we’d probably continue living here. We would like to keep up our traveling, though. That’s something we like to do, and that’s one element that I want to stay consistent.

Would you say you’re on track to make that dream come true?

I do feel confident in terms of hitting retirement at the age of 61 or 62, but not with the amount of travel I want to do, having one or two exotic trips a year is the goal. I'm not confident in meeting my needs at 60 and doing what I want to do. Maybe early retirement could happen, but I'd probably be doing next to nothing, just with the financial outlook as it is right now. There are certain elements I've started to cut back on, like entertainment, and I think I'm contributing a good amount to retirement accounts based on my age. But with inflation rates and the value of the U.S. dollar, the stock market, the economy things like that, is the unknown.

I have a 401(k) through my employer, and they do a match of up to 7.5%, so I'm currently contributing the max there. I also have a Roth IRA through the passing of my parents. For that account, I work with a financial advisor to invest in stocks, dividends, and other funds. I'm much less versed in that area, so I lean on that individual to have that money separate.

I also recently got rid of my old car, which was paid off. I purchased a new one about a year ago, and I’m trying to aggressively pay it off quicker than the monthly payments. We also have a mortgage, and we’re always saving for the next big vacation. Besides retirement, another long-term financial goal is the potential purchase of a second home. It would be a bit of a rental and a vacation home for us. I wish I could be saving more, though. The challenging goals are the ones that are further out, because I’m not thinking about them as much in the present day. When I do tend to put money aside, it’s more towards our immediate goals, because I see the result quicker. It’s a negative dynamic internally because that goal seems so far.

When you think about the steps you’ve taken so far, how much, if at all, did advice from other people factor into your decisions?

There are individuals I’ve leaned on, older family members from either my side of the family or my wife’s, but that’s more just for random questions or advice as it relates to retirement. I have gone online a lot through different resources to use retirement calculators that help me see what my retirement number is, what it would look like. But I haven’t really gone beyond that. I do think I need to involve the help of a financial planner at some point. It’s on my radar in the next couple of years. From what I hear and what I’ve read, retirement is something you plan for now, not when you’re about to actually retire. I’m in the phase where I don’t want it to be too late. I’m fortunate that I have skin in the game and began saving a few years ago. But I won’t be able to educate myself exclusively forever. So I might miss out on things that turn into money loss. Hopefully not, but possibly.

What smart money moves do you think you’ve made? What would you change if you could?

I’d say the best thing I’ve done is being able to pay off debt quickly, that’s a priority for me, especially paying off debt related to loans or credit cards, so that I saved on the interest amounts, has been big. Part of that comes down to me cutting back on things I like to do, like hobbies. It’s a sacrifice. But I play around a lot with those online calculators and if I see the money I’d save by paying something down now as opposed to two years from now, that speaks volumes to me. That motivates me. 

One thing I would change is, early in my career, I lived at home with my parents for 2 and a half  years before getting my job here. That allowed me to save a lot. But I kept all that money in a regular savings account with minimal interest. Transitioning to our high-yield savings account and committing to freezing it for a six to 12-month window, I'd see a large difference in terms of the interest accrued, I’m sure. I think that’s something, if I had known more at an earlier age, I would have done it earlier. By this point I could have made a huge difference in terms of interest and overall savings. I also didn’t take advantage of a full 401(k) match. If I was more aware of what that meant, the benefits of it, I probably would have invested more time into doing that.

Research shows that people are living longer. Have you factored that into your plans at all?

I don’t know if I’ve really considered it. I value health and longevity. I’m frequently eating clean and healthy, I work out. I’m hoping, maybe even expecting, to live long. But I haven’t really factored it in. With what studies are showing, that would have me put a little pause on my early retirement confidence. I think I’m more mentally basing my retirement off an 85 to 87 age range.


These interviews are published for educational use only, and are not intended to provide financial, legal, fiduciary, accounting, or tax advice, nor are they intended to make any investment or insurance recommendations. Experiences presented may not be representative of the experiences of other individuals and there is no guarantee of similar results or success. Please consult with the appropriate legal, financial, or tax professional regarding your own financial situation and investment needs and objectives.


At the time of these interviews, the individuals interviewed were not clients, shareholders, or employees of Corebridge Financial, and no direct or indirect compensation was provided in return for such interviews. The interviews have been modified for content.

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