An early retiree describes the journey as a ‘death march’ and shares his top regrets: Working 80-hour weeks ‘made us wealthy, but I wouldn’t do it again’

  • Carl Jensen retired at 43 after building a seven-figure investment portfolio with his wife Mindy.
  • He describes his financial independence journey as a “death march” and wishes he’d enjoyed life more.
  • Ultimately, the hours he worked set him up for an early retirement, but he wouldn’t do it again.

Carl Jensen quit his software engineering job in April 2017.

He was 43 years old and, theoretically, didn’t have to work another day in his life. He and his wife Mindy had built a seven-figure investment portfolio that could sustain their lifestyle based on the 4% retirement withdrawal rule. Plus, they still had income from Mindy’s part-time job as a podcast host for BiggerPockets.

Carl spearheaded their financial independence journey after discovering blogs like “Get Rich Slowly” and “Mr. Money Mustache” around 2010. In 2013, he buckled down, setting the goal of building a $1 million portfolio and retiring in 1,500 days. He started his own blog, “1500 Days to Freedom,” to document his and Mindy’s journey.

He hit his goal, but not without major sacrifice. He likens his financial independence journey to “a death march” — and has regrets.

“I think we made too much of a compromise,” Carl told Business Insider. “If I could do it over again, I would have moved slower, made less money, and taken longer to retire because I missed out on life.”

One of their wealth-building strategies was doing “live-in flips.” They’d buy a house, rehab it while living there, and then sell it tax-free, thanks to an IRS rule known as the Section 121 Exclusion.

While highly effective — the Jensens, who are wrapping up their eighth live-in flip, estimate they’ve profited just over $1 million between their first seven — it’s a time-consuming strategy that requires you to live in a construction zone.

Jensen, who has done seven ‘live-in flips,’ chose to do most of the renovations himself. Courtesy of Carl Jensen
“This is a pretty rough way to live. We’ve had some bad moments,” said Carl, adding that executing live-in flips as parents was particularly challenging. “Kids need your time, and all of a sudden, I have a full-time job, and I’m working 40 hours a week on the house with two kids who like to wake up at 5 a.m. I don’t think I slept much during that time.”

Ultimately, the hours they put in “made us wealthy, but I wouldn’t do it again,” he said.

The couple’s net worth hovered around $5 million as of April 2024, according to screenshots detailing their investment accounts.

Carl, now 50, has been retired for seven years.

With time to reflect, he’s certain what he would tell his younger self — and others in pursuit of financial independence: It’s a worthy goal, but don’t let it get in the way of living a full, balanced, healthy life.

“The whole point of financial independence is to increase your happiness and live a better life,” he said. “What we did is, we postponed our happiness and living a better life in this pursuit of money — to get to this number. If you think about that, it’s kind of silly.”

He’s grateful for what his family has now, he added: “I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. I’m just saying, if I could hit the replay button, I would have slowed down and enjoyed life.”

Carl says he can’t help but wonder how detrimental his choices may have been: “I didn’t work out. I didn’t exercise. I had high blood pressure and was carrying too much weight, so who knows? I might have even shortened my life in this pursuit of money.”

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