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James R. retired from a career as a college professor at age 59 and a half with no debt. For him, being debt-free has always been a lifestyle.
On a business trip with colleagues when he was about 50, he realized just how rare it is to be debt-free, and how hard retirement can be with debt in the picture.
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Retiree James R., who asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy, considers debt to be the "golden handcuffs" that lock you into an expensive life — and compromise your retirement.
That's why he eliminated all of his debt before he retired five years ago, at age 59.
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"I was on a business trip about eight or nine years before I retired," the college professor told Business Insider. "We were talking about money, just the way people do. I just casually mentioned that we have no debt, our expenditures are low. I told them, 'There are no golden handcuffs on me, I can retire whenever I want.'"
"All the people around me, their eyes bugged out," he continued. "I think it never occurred to them that it was possible to have life without golden handcuffs, and without debt."
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Not being chained to a mortgage, car payment, or credit card payment made his retirement easy, he said. Even at 50, he already felt prepared.
"We were already debt-free, that was normal for us," James said. He and his wife, also a university faculty member, have never rented a home. They've bought several properties throughout the years — including duplexes, condos, and even once a four-bedroom house — throughout the midwest and Texas....
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