I’m single and 32, have a comfortable amount in my 401(k) (although it’s only half as comfortable as it was about 3 years ago…you know what I mean) but also have credit card debt. I don’t have a retirement date in mind yet; I’m more focused on eliminating the debt, cranking the 401(k) and IRA contribs to max, building a cash cushion and then saving for a down payment and “nonretirement” investing–that is, outside of a tax-deferred account.

I was smart and/or lucky enough to start contributing 15% of my gross income to my 401(k) since age 21 but didn’t have it invested intelligently, and I had a few thousand in credit card debt. About 6 years ago I read a couple of finance books, adjusted my investments and started working on the debt.

I always seemed to be 5 years away from paying it off. In March 2000 I bigheadedly quit my 11-year job and joined a startup company with stock options. They promptly went under and I stupidly “took a few months off” because I had some cash. During those months the economy and job market crashed and I was racking up more debt while looking for work. I finally took a desperation job for a couple of months to keep my head afloat before I got back into my industry at a lower-than-hoped-for-but-thankful-to-have salary. That company announced layoffs, and I didn’t get laid off but I was scared.

I got back with my 11-year company in mid-2001 at a much better salary. In mid-2002 I consolidated my debt with the help of a relative’s low-interest credit card, sold my fancy truck and bought a cheaper (but reliable) car from a relative. After all that I seemed 3 years away from being debt free.

However in this new year I started looking at what I had and rethinking. I could pay it all off in 2 1/2 years, or I could reduce my 401(k) contributions and/or take a loan from my 401(k) and pay off the credit card debt possibly as soon as December this year leaving just the interest-free payments to my relative for the car. (I’m leaving out a bunch of details and will probably post this in more detail in one of the other forums and request advice.)

So I’m in a position in my finances where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel where I will emerge debt free and relatively financially independent–not to the point of retiring but being able to support myself on minimum wage if necessary and still have retirement investments.

I will do a loud and raucous MF-LBYM-style Happy Dance when that happens. (When I’m independent, not necessarily when/if I’m making minimum wage!)

After that I can start thinking about when my retirement will be and what form it will take.

This is a December 15, 2011 republication of my Februrary 8, 2003 post on Early Retirement Forum. Glossary: MF is Motley Fool, a financial website that I no longer care for. LBYM is “live below your means”, a then-forum on Motley Fool focusing on frugal living.