Retiring at 40, one peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a time

By Erika Angulo

To most thirtysomethings, retirement is a distant dream. But Jason Fieber, 30, of Sarasota, Florida, believes the dream of quitting work for good, traveling the world and playing golf is just 10 years away.

A car dealership service department clerk, Fieber, who lives in a city that's home to many retirees, told he'll be ready to join their ranks at age 40.

Fieber has been working towards retirement since he had "an epiphany" while balancing his checkbook online. After adding up his savings and subtracting his student loan debt, he was broke. "I was working and working and working and just digging myself a bigger hole," he said. "I felt like I was going nowhere."

He decided to start by paying fewer taxes. He found a job in Sarasota and moved from Michigan to state-tax-free Florida. The weather made waiting for public transportation bearable, so he sold his car and started taking the bus to work, saving on insurance and maintenance. That first year, Fieber halved his grocery bill, to $120 dollars a month, by replacing steak and potatoes with noodles and sandwiches.

"For dinner it was peanut butter and jelly a lot,” he said. “Occasionally I would mix in some deli meat, when I felt like splurging," he said. He has since added rice and beans, and today spends between $200 and $250 monthly.

"I try to save 60 to 70 percent of my net income every month," said Fieber, who earns about $50,000 a year. He spends $900 on rent, $200 on student loans, and $50 on transportation.

Fieber shares learnings on his blog, where his bio reads: "Trying to retire by 40 by investing in dividend growth stocks and living frugally, valuing time over money."

"Time is to me the most precious commodity we all have," he said. "We are given a very limited amount of it and people tend to trade it away so easily for stuff. And I value my time more than stuff, typically."

He has a girlfriend who shares his frugal sensibilities, and hopes his retirement will coincide with his parents', so they can take long trips together and play golf.

Fieber plans to live off the dividends he expects his stocks will pay. "Money works 24/7," joked Fieber. "Money works weekends and one day will be working when I'm not working."

Some financial analysts say living off dividends at age 40 is unrealistic for most.

"Industry experts generally agree that a 4 percent withdrawal rate from retirement income sources is sustainable, however this typically assumes a 30-year timeframe," says Derek G. Hassenpflug of Ameriprise Financial Services. "Potentially doubling this to 60 years in retirement takes this investor into uncharted and potentially disappointing territory."

The average retirement age is 59.7 for men and 57.2 for women, according to a 2012 MetLife survey of baby boomers. And a Boston College study found that most 30 year olds' savings won't be enough to retire even by age 62. Only 20 percent of households led by 30-39 year olds would be prepared to retire by 62, according to the study.

Younger people tend to be less prepared to retire because they are expected to live longer, which means they will need additional assets to cover a longer retirement period, according to the study.

Fieber's efforts are to be commended,said Andrew Kowalczyk, president and CEO of A.K. Capital, but his model is a tough one to follow. "There is the mathematics of living super modestly, but then there is the mathematics of real life."

There could be unexpected expenses, such as bills from a parent's sudden health problem, he said. The financial analyst describes the early retirement formula as “make a lot of money, invest it wisely and hope for a great return,” but that doesn't always work. "You have to be prepared for the curve balls that life throws at you."

For his part, Fieber doesn't plan on having children, and is optimistic he'll stay healthy.

And he'll keep saving. "I'm going to have peanut butter and jelly tonight again," he said. "If you really kind of respect what you want out of life and you really want it then that's what you're going to have to do."

TODAY's Marcie Rickun contributed to this report.